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Game Review: It's Easy to Pinpoint Where the Browns Blew It in 41-27 Loss to Giants

I thought starting off a game fast would be the Browns' recipe for success to picking up their first win of the season. Somehow, they found a way to make sure that didn't come to fruition.

Al Bello - Getty Images

"The Browns need to start the game fast."

That was something I preached all of last week on this site. Don't believe me? Here is how I led off last week's game review: "The Cleveland Browns have been fighting an uphill battle in each of their first four games. The script has been the same." For the first time this season, the Browns weren't fighting an uphill battle to start off a game. In fact, they were in prime position to be in control of the game.

With the assistance of a turnover and a big play on offense, Cleveland held a 14-0 lead after less than five minutes of play. The Giants responded with a touchdown after that, which is understandable -- they are the Giants, after all. You can pinpoint exactly when the Browns blew it against the Giants, though: toward the end of the second quarter, facing a third-and-one situation. (continued in the "Goat" section below)

Cleveland Browns vs. New York Giants
1st 2nd 3rd 4th FINAL

WEEK 5 -

  1. Goat of the Game: QB Brandon Weeden - I thought Weeden played well again, except for his two interceptions and a couple of other plays here and there. I loved seeing both of the passes he made to Josh Gordon for touchdowns, and it was nice to see him find a receiver who could catch the ball consistently (9 targets, 9 catches for Jordan Norwood). The reason Weeden is the goat is because he was right in the middle of the game-changing play toward the end of the second quarter.

    I am still irritated with everything about this play; when I re-watched it to grab the screenshot below, I literally had to stop and start binge-eating on some candycorn (Halloween is just around the corner!) to keep myself calm. The first thing I hated was seeing Trent Richardson sprint off the field, meaning he wasn't going to be a threat to the defense in a third-and-short situation. Then, we have Chris Ogbonnaya in an offset position. Forgive me if I am mistaken, but as rufio suggested last week, the majority of the time, the Browns aren't going to run from that look.

    Ok, so I am already irked about those two things. That isn't me saying that in hindsight; I thought both of those things as the game was unfolding live. Given the fact that a pass play was coming, Brandon Weeden and company could have made the worries go away by still converting the first down. This was a very basic play the Browns ran to try to get their slot receiver, Jordan Norwood, a quick look.

    There is a tight window for Weeden to hit Norwood in the screenshot above, but you can clearly see that the defender is chasing the receiver. The opportunity was there to convert a first down with an accurate throw, but Weeden didn't take it. Instead, he rolled out, threw across the grain to try to hit Josh Gordon, and was intercepted by Giants S Stevie Brown. More on what unfolded below.
  2. Impact of the Game-Changing Pick: Heading into the third-and-one, Cleveland was leading 17-10. In a worst-case non-turnover situation, we could have kicked a field goal and made it a 20-10 lead with just under four minutes to go in the half. The Browns' special teams coverage had been doing great, so New York would've had a long field to work with. Maybe they would've scored right away. Who knows. If the game had stayed 20-10 in favor of the Browns, Cleveland would have also gotten the ball first to begin the second half. The game would have been in their hands, and those players would have been stoked coming out of the half to finish the job.

    Instead, we saw the Giants go on a 17-0 run in less than four minutes to take a 27-17 lead heading into halftime. Holy crap. In my wildest imaginations, heading into that third-and-one play, I never would have guessed that things would crumble that bad so soon.

  3. Awarding the Game Ball: WR Josh Gordon - After receiving a ton of flak for looking lost in the preseason and at the start of the regular season, Gordon had taken a back seat in the offense the past several weeks, despite being healthy. He made the start against the Giants and responded with the first two touchdowns of his career. You'd like to see his catch ratio a bit higher, and he still has a long way to go in his development. Nonetheless, I was thrilled to see one of our young receivers rise to the occasion.

  4. First-Half Swing Hurts Richardson: When I looked at the final stat line, I wondered, "how in the world did Trent Richardson only get 17 carries for 81 yards against the Giants?" On the first drive of the game alone, Richardson had 2 carries for 23 yards. The offensive line also seemed to be crushing the Giants on pitch plays, and Richardson was running very hard. What happened? Again, I go back to the game-changing play in the first half which gave the Giants a two-possession lead the rest of the half.

    In the first half, Richardson had 13 carries for 67 yards. Not including his receptions, he had 4 carries for 17 yards in the second half. To compare, Ahmad Bradshaw had 15 carries for 80 yards in the first half, and 15 carries for 120 yards in the second half. One of those running backs was on a team trying to pass the ball to get back in the game (Richardson), and the other was on a team that was able to keep things balanced with a multiple-possession lead (Bradshaw). If the Browns had maintained their two-possession lead heading into the second half, Richardson's utilization might have been more comparable to Bradshaw's.
  5. Can't Stop the Bleeding: How can one player, like Joe Haden, make a big difference upon his return? For whatever the reason, I don't think we saw these types of mistakes (see below) when Haden was in the lineup. After Brandon Weeden's first interception, we needed someone to stop the bleeding on defense, right? On Eli Manning's first play, he ran a playaction fake and looked left.

    Manning ends up throwing to WR Rueben Randle on the left sideline. Based on the reaction of Sheldon Brown, who let Randle run right by him and was backpedaling slowly, I'm guessing he was not playing Randle in man coverage. Brown almost seems to be gesturing here to Usama Young, wondering where his safety help was. Despite Young's impressive stat line, he may have missed this play, and he also whiffs on the initial tackle to allow Randle to get all the way down to the 4 yard line.
  6. Jackson's Head Injury at an Inopportune Time: After Joshua Cribbs' fumble on special teams, the Browns' defense needed a stop just to keep it a tie game. They got a first down stop when Randle dropped a pass. On second down, OL Kevin Boothe, who Pro Football Focus praised as having his best game in all the years the site has been tracking his play, pulled from his left guard position and leveled LB D'Qwell Jackson in the head. I'm not saying it was intentional or anything; it just happened.

    On the first play that Jackson is out on, Jabaal Sheard jumps offsides, and Manning goes after the area Jackson probably would've been covering: TE Martellus Bennett over the middle for a first down. Fort also missed a tackle on the play and was in coverage well beyond the first down marker.
  7. Eli Has His Choice: This is sort of a continuation of the previous bullet point. A couple of plays later, Eli Manning hits WR Victor Cruz for a wide open touchdown in the top left corner of the end zone. In this picture, you can see CB Dimitri Patterson in coverage. If we advanced the screenshot forward a few frames, you'd see that Patterson basically stays in the same spot he is in now. He then looks around, puzzled, as if he expected someone else to pick up Cruz.

    Even if Patterson had stayed glued to Cruz, it's not like Manning didn't have his other two receivers pretty wide open on the play too. Granted, that's going to happen when eight defenders come up and bite on the run, but still, it's another sign that this team needs Joe Haden to get by with something like this.

  8. Staying Aggressive: To the credit of head coach Pat Shurmur, he seemed to understand the circumstance that the Browns needed to strike back to start the second half. Facing a 4th-and-1 from their own 36, Shurmur allowed the offense to go for it. Brandon Weeden executed the quarterback sneak and got the first down. The Browns had run the ball twice with Trent Richardson on the drive.

    After a 12-yard Richardson run, they ran the double reverse that they ran to Travis Benjamin back in Week 1 against the Bengals. This time, they ran it with Jordan Norwood. The Giants read it better, but the play still had the potential to be a big gainer. Weeden tried to make a block but failed, and ultimately, that is the reason Norwood couldn't get more than a one-yard gain. Weeden's next pass, intended for Josh Gordon, was tipped at the line of scrimmage and fell incomplete. The Browns had to punt, but the offense had done a "good enough job" by pinning the Giants back at the 5 yard line after a punt. A few plays later, Ahmad Bradshaw had his first big burst of the game -- a 37-yard run up the sideline, a play that was probably the final dagger in Cleveland's collapse.

  9. Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: If you missed them, here are the links to our Week 5 snap count trackers for offense (link) and defense (link). On offense, despite Greg Little playing most of the game, he was only targeted twice and did not have a single catch. To his credit, I still saw him blocking his tail off out there, and I've never accused him of dogging it out there. On defense, I was surprised to see Juqua Parker get a lot more reps than Frostee Rucker against the Giants. Rucker is supposed to excel at stopping the run, and the Giants gashed Cleveland in that area.
  10. Hardesty Gets His First Snap: He does exist! RB Montario Hardesty saw his first snap of the season in a triangle running back look that featured Hardesty to Brandon Weeden's right, Chris Ogbonnaya to his left, and Trent Richardson behind him in Shotgun.

    This play appeared to have a lot of potential. The handoff goes to Richardson, and Hardesty and Ogbonnaya block a linebacker and safety, respectively. For some reason, Joe Thomas either drops back two full yards as if he is in pass protection, or Jason Pierre-Paul just blows him two yards off the line. Considering Thomas dominated JPP most of the game, and the two-yard distance in a short period of time (to Thomas?), I have to imagine there was some miscommunication. The penetration got to Richardson, who had to stop, fight it off, and still manage three tough yards. It would've been a lot more with a good run block from Thomas.

  11. Special Teams Tackles: The Browns had eight tackles on special teams, led by two each from CB Buster Skrine and CB Johnson Bademosi. Registering one tackle each were RB Chris Ogbonnaya, LB L.J. Fort, S Ray Ventrone, and CB Trevin Wade. There were also four assists, one each from LB Tank Carder, LB Craig Robertson, CB Buster Skrine, and CB Johnson Bademosi. The coverage was a lot better against a good-returning Giants team. On five kickoffs, the Giants only averaged 13.5 yards per return, which is great news for Cleveland. The Giants only returned 1 punt for 8 yards, and Hodges did pretty well on his three punts.

  12. Brownies: CB Trevin Wade got schooled by Victor Cruz on the receiver's third down reception of the game... His fumble was unforgivable (I'm sure Cribbs would be adamant about that too), but Joshua Cribbs had the best kick return game I've seen from him perhaps since last year's opener against the Bengals. ... There was a report that WR Jordan Norwood may have suffered an injury during the game and could miss this week's contest against the Bengals. ... I covered QB Brandon Weeden's double pass attempt here. ... CB Buster Skrine should have had an interception in the second quarter that would've prevented a Giants field goal. ... CB Sheldon Brown may have interfered, but he still broke up a pass and the refs didn't call the penalty, allowing S Usama Young to come up with an interception that almost gave Cleveland a chance to rally in the fourth quarter.

Up next, the Browns will get CB Joe Haden back as they take on the Bengals at home. Can they finally snap their division (and overall) losing streak?