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The State of Confusion at the End of the First Half

I hope everyone enjoyed their holiday weekend. One of the controversial sequences the Cleveland Browns had this past weekend came at the end of the first half. With just over a minute to go, Greg Little did a great job to break several tackles and get the Browns into a 2nd-and-1 situation at the 8-yard line instead of a 2nd-and-14 situation. The Browns wisely burned their final timeout, in my opinion, because after Little's great effort after the catch, it would've taken awhile to gather everyone together up to the line of scrimmage.

The Browns wanted a fresh set of downs, and they got it by running Peyton Hillis up the middle for a gain of three yards. After that, with the clock running, the Browns had two options: clock the ball to discuss the next play, or run the next play. With how quickly they got up to the line, it seemed probable that with the previous time out, they had already called two plays: the run, and then an ensuing pass play. Again, there was nothing wrong with this. The next snap came on first down with about 0:35 seconds left at the five-yard line. As long as you don't stay in the field of play or take a sack, you should be fine.

The pass went to Evan Moore in the flat near the sidelines at about the 3-yard line. As soon as Moore turned around, he was met by a defender. Moore is not known as a powerful guy, so I didn't expect him to drive forward into the end zone. Moore was driven back about a yard and a half as he fought his way to the sidelines. He got to the sidelines, but then the referee ruled for the clock to keep running. By rule, the official can rule that if a player's forward progress ended in bounds, the clock can keep going. It's basically a reward for the defender who prevented forward progress; they don't want to take that reward away just because the offensive player got out of bounds backwards.

The issue is this: the play called anticipated that Moore would get out of bounds. On top of that, I think some players thought the clock had stopped. Instead, it kept rolling, and the confusion ensued. Head coach Pat Shurmur confirms what the original plan was:

"We called two plays -- one to get us the first down and one to either throw it into the end zone or to the sideline and get out of bounds; that was the design," Shurmur said. "From there, we wanted to make sure we got the clock stopped on the second down play. Evan caught the ball on the sideline, did not get out of bounds, so the clock was still running. Then, what we wanted to do was get the clock stopped. Get the clock stopped and then, be able to regroup in the huddle, maybe have one play at the end zone. If we don’t, kick the field goal. That’s what we wanted to get done."

If the Browns had clocked it, they still would've had either two shots at the end zone, or one shot and then a field goal attempt. Wallace decided to audible Shurmur's call to clock the ball, hoping he would catch the Ravens' defense off guard.

"I knew we had no timeouts left," Wallace said of the run call. "It was very loud in that end. It was bad communication on my behalf. I heard Pat (Shurmur) yelling, ‘Clock, clock, clock,’ but I wasn’t sure everyone was on the same page, and that’s my job. It’s not the head coach’s fault. I called 66T, a running play, and it didn’t work. It was a tough situation, but I should have handled it better."

I don't think you can blame anyone else in that situation but Wallace. Maybe you catch them off guard with a run play from the one yard line, but not from three yards out. With the 11 players on the field though, the quarterback is the one who dictates the call. Even if the other 10 offensive players were thinking, "what the hell?", they have to roll with it. When Hillis didn't get in, the dumbfounded look on their faces was probably in response to the play call (made by Wallace). I don't think you can really blame Shurmur in that situation, as frustrating as the sequence was.