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A Frustrating Finish: Poor Play by Offensive Line Leads to 24-20 Loss to Jaguars

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If you didn't notice, the beginning of the title in this week's post is a direct comparison to last week's review, which began with, "A Close Finish: ..."

This week, "frustration" is the best way to convey my thoughts on how the Cleveland Browns played on Sunday. I'm still trying to figure out how any NFL team could have a 6:0 turnover ratio most of the game, not give up any special teams touchdowns, and still lose. It's unfathomable, but typical of a Cleveland Browns team that has shown it can't consistently finish in close games. The creativity in the gameplan offensively seems to be correlated with the projected competitiveness of our opponents, something that has prevented Cleveland from building upon leads before the fourth quarter.

Let's get to the review of this week's game, starting with the goats and then the game ball...


Goats of the Game:

  • The Offensive Line: The whole unit seemed to struggle, preventing Colt McCoy or Peyton Hillis from getting into a groove in the second half. McCoy was sacked six times, and for the first time this season, we saw Hillis hit at the line of scrimmage and gang tackled before he could even get started. More on this in the general thoughts section below.
  • Phil Dawson: From trying to kick field goals myself, I know how incredibly difficult it is just to get a 30-yarder through the posts. That's why I had a tough time listing Dawson as a goat for missing two 51-yarders. On the same note though, he is in the NFL, where kickers are expected to make those type of kicks at least half the time. The weather didn't seem too bad. Also, it's not like Dawson doesn't have the range -- he drilled a 58-yarder in the preseason. Dawson needs to make at least one of those field goals to give the offense some points that they were so desperately lacking.

Awarding the Game Ball:

  • Abram Elam: To summarize what I said in the game ball post, Elam's two turnovers especially stood out on the defensive side of the ball. His first came in the second quarter when he intercepted an option pass by Maurice Jones-Drew. His second came near the start of the third quarter, when he stripped Jones-Drew after an eight-yard run, scooped up the football, and returned it for a touchdown. It's too bad none of our other defenders scored touchdowns on their turnovers, because our offense certainly wasn't going to help them.

General Thoughts:

  1. The Right Side: I'm not going to give Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach, and Alex Mack a complete pass for the demise of the offensive line against Jacksonville. The big change in this game was the right side of the offensive line. Rookie Shawn Lauvao earned his first start of the season, and right tackle John St. Clair was back for the first time in weeks. The Browns were without Floyd Womack most of the game, who was hampered by a sore left knee.
    If Sunday's game against Jacksonville was any indication of what we can expect from the Lauvao-St. Clar tandem, then I don't want to see that group together the rest of the season. Womack is supposed to return to action this week against Carolina, but it is unclear whether he'll be at right tackle or right guard. My guess is that he'll man the right guard position.
  2. Missing Cribbs: I took a greater appreciation to what Joshua Cribbs offers the Browns after seeing the game against Jacksonville. On kickoffs, I was baffled by how slow Clifton Smith looked compared to Cribbs. On offense, Cleveland really struggled. If Cribbs had been available, you can almost guarantee he would've been involved in several of those drives-after-turnovers in the third quarter. Carlton Mitchell seemed to replace Cribbs in the blocker role in one-receiver sets at times. My guess is that the defense found that easier to defend Hillis, believing Mitchell was no threat to get the football.
  3. McCoy's "Rookie" Debut: This was the closest that McCoy came to looking like a "rookie," which is really just another way of saying he struggled at times. While tucking and running has proven to be an advantage for him at times -- it led to a touchdown flip to Peyton Hillis early on and then an awesome first-down scramble in the fourth quarter -- he seemed to pull it down early a few times and play right into the hands of the pass rush. He also was almost inexplicably picked off when he threw the ball right at the chest of a defensive lineman rather than throwing the ball out of bounds. His first-quarter long pass down the sideline to Mohamed Massaquoi was underthrown big time.
  4. Under Two Minutes to Play: This week's "one minute drill" under McCoy was a tougher situation to work with, having to go the entire field with no timeouts. Early on, he didn't lead Massaquoi to the sideline close enough which kept the clock moving. Later on, he threw a pass over the middle to Chansi Stuckey. With no timeouts, unless that ball is thrown at least 10+ yards down the field, you don't even try to throw it. It was thrown at the line of scrimmage, and Stuckey, despite his desperate attempt, couldn't reach the out of bounds line before being tackled. McCoy then had a nice sideline pass to Evan Moore, putting the ball at the 29 yard line with 13 seconds to play.
  5. The Final Play: With 13 seconds left, you have to recognize the scenario. Any completion that is not in the end zone or does not get the receiver out of bounds is going to result in the end of the game, because there's no way the team would have time to run up and clock it. McCoy seemed to be well-protected on the play but fired early over the middle to Ben Watson. I'm guessing he hoped he could hit Watson in stride and go a few more yards for the score, but that's difficult to do when the defense is playing back. McCoy's pass was deflected by a defender right before it reached Watson and then was intercepted by the same defender to end the game.
  6. The Bad Garrard: This was a weird game for Jacksonville. They are usually hot or cold as a team. This week, they had the "bad" David Garrard -- the one who threw for three interceptions and also fumbled. However, on defense, they looked like a shutdown unit. More times than not, if one aspect of the Jaguars' game is cold, so is the other. As much as I fault Cleveland offensively, Jacksonville's defense played very well.
  7. Sick Feeling: After the Browns only scored three offensive points on four straight turnovers in the third quarter, I had a sick feeling in my stomach, despite Cleveland having the lead. It seemed inevitable that Jacksonville would eventually get things together on offense. Before I get to the late defensive collapse, I'll give credit to some more of our defenders.
  8. Brown to Ward: I guess we found out a way to get T.J. Ward some interceptions -- he needs a few tips from cornerback Sheldon Brown. On both of Ward's interceptions, Brown defended the pass and Ward grabbed the live ball while it was still in the air. It was Ward's first two interceptions of the season.
  9. Rookie Party: After seeing one rookie do it, Joe Haden felt compelled to get his second interception of the season too. Haden had a nice 31-yard return before...ahhhhhh!!! Look out from behind! You know you cringed when you saw Kasim Osgood racing toward Haden ready to hack at the football from behind.
  10. Gocong Recovers Two: After having one fumble recovered in his career, Gocong looked like a pro in gathering the ball twice against Jacksonville. He quickly fell on top of the ball when Haden lost it on his interception. A little later, when Ray Ventrone jarred the ball loose from Garrard, Gocong was the recovering player.
  11. Jaguars Strike Back: Jacksonville was down by a touchdown when they started their drive with 9:47 to play. They were able to slowly march the ball down the field, eventually getting a 1st-and-goal from the five. On first down, Matt Roth and Shaun Rogers combined for a big sack, setting up a 2nd-and-goal from the 14. After a second down incompletion, the Jaguars were forced into a 3rd-and-goal from the 14 with 3:41 to play.
    I felt really good about our chances to win at that point, despite our offensive struggles. I felt that it would be very tough to get a throw into the end zone from that distance, and there was enough time on the clock that I think Del Rio would've opted to kick a field goal. That means Cleveland would've had a four point lead with about 3:30 to go. Instead, the Browns somehow allowed Jacksonville's only threat from that distance, Marcades Lewis, to post up like a basketball player at the one, catch it, and then fall forward for a touchdown. Ray Ventrone was in on the coverage with Mike Adams out.
  12. A Little Moore Too Late: It is now borderline irritating that Evan Moore is making huge catches but isn't being thrown the ball until late in the game. He recognized McCoy rolling out on the ensuing drive and positioned himself down the sideline for a 38 yard reception. Maybe I am just way too confident in Moore, but I seriously see this guy being capable of putting up Pro Bowl type numbers as a tight end, or above average numbers for a wide receiver. If there is one player gripe I have this season, it's been the fact that Moore isn't a starting receiver.
  13. First Down Needed: After the Moore completion and McCoy's run, Cleveland faced a 1st-and-10 from the 18. Jacksonville had all three timeouts, but given the time on the clock, with one first down, Cleveland basically would have been able to attempt a field goal with no time left. On that drive, I didn't mind trying to grind things out with Hillis again, but I wish the pitch play would've gone to the left side and on first down rather than second down. McCoy was sacked on third down, leaving Cleveland with 2:51 to play and a three point lead.
  14. "False Hope Part III, The End": Our special teams unit did a good job forcing Jacksonville to start their drive at the 13 yard line. Things were looking good since Jacksonville had no timeouts left...that is, until the Jaguars connected on a 75-yard screen pass to Maurice Jones-Drew before he was stopped at the one by Joe Haden. At that moment, I felt like I was just punched in the gut again -- it was the same feeling I had after Santonio Holmes' touchdown a week earlier in overtime. Jones-Drew scored a little later with 1:20 left, and Cleveland couldn't retaliate. Ugh.
  15. Started With One, Ended With Another: The problems for Cleveland started on offense in the third quarter with the poor play of the offensive line. It ended, however, with the defense then failing to get stops. I know you can't expect them to hold the lead forever, but giving up a touchdown on 3rd-and-goal from the 14, and then basically yielding a 75-yard screen pass touchdown at two minutes to go, within a span of a couple of minutes, is unheard of.
  16. Special Teams Tackles: The Browns had nine special teams tackles. Leading the way was Nick Sorensen with three tackles, and Eric King had two tackles. The solo tackles went to Chris Gocong, Titus Brown, Jason Trusnik, and the now IR'ed Blake Costanzo.
  17. Negative Plays to Mike Bell: Remember when Peyton Hillis had the awesome 47-yard catch and run in the second quarter? The problem is that after a big play like that, Mike Bell had to come in. He actually ran for one yard, higher than his average, but in the end, it was a wasted play. I'm convinced that if Hillis needs to leave the game for a breather, the Browns should just try a pass play because running the ball with someone else just isn't working.
    The next play after that involved Bell as well, on a failed screen pass. Because McCoy didn't get Bell the ball soon enough, Brian Robiskie was flagged for pass interference for blocking early. That set the Browns back 10 yards. Dawson's field goal from 51 yards then fell short.
  18. Wright Goes Down: Is it a coincidence that when Eric Wright had to leave the game early that our defense had four interceptions? It was as if Jacksonville couldn't pick on anyone anymore. Joe Haden was beat on a deep, deep ball at first, but he had great recovery speed and was able to defend the pass well.
  19. Brownies: Banged up throughout the game, Ben Watson didn't have a catch...Brian Robiskie couldn't haul in a third down slant pass, but McCoy should've fired it sooner...Reggie Hodges continues to punt the ball well...after McCoy's injury, I don't think their is a right or wrong answer as to whether or not Seneca Wallace should have entered the game...however, being without Cribbs, Cleveland could've incorporated some creativity had they involved Wallace somehow.

Next up, the Browns take on the Carolina Panthers. I won't be taking this game for granted, but at the same time I consider Carolina the worst team in football. Cleveland needs to respond after the disappointing effort against Carolina with a tough, well-executed gameplan against the Panthers.