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Game Review: Lack of Red Zone Success Bites Browns in 25-15 Loss to Ravens

I'm a sucker for a great day by Phil Dawson, but Cleveland desperately needed better execution in the red zone against Baltimore.
I'm a sucker for a great day by Phil Dawson, but Cleveland desperately needed better execution in the red zone against Baltimore.
Jason Miller

Several days later, the Cleveland Browns' 25-15 loss to the Baltimore Ravens doesn't feel any better. It was the type of performance fans didn't want to see heading into a bye week.

You can't give a ton of credit to the defense; although they forced seven consecutive three-and-outs half way through the game, they also spotted the Ravens 14 points and then ended up giving up a touchdown right after Cleveland had their first lead of the game. The offense did a fair job moving the ball during the stretch in which the defense forced three-and-outs, but every time the Browns got to the red zone, the drives stalled. Five field goals is a nice statistical day for Phil Dawson, but I guarantee you that he'd much rather see a couple of those kicks converted into touchdowns. It wasn't such a tall task to ask for against a depleted Ravens defense, either.

Let's get to this week's goat of the game, followed by the rest of my complete game review.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns

1st 2nd 3rd 4th FINAL

WEEK 9 -

  1. Goat of the Game: QB Brandon Weeden - This was not a game that we'll want to put on Weeden's highlight reel at the end of the season. I should have suspected something from the beginning, when he kept checking the ball down to Alex Smith in the flat on third down. The rookie quarterback was not letting it rip to his receivers, something I'll get into a little bit later when I talk about the team's red zone struggles. Here is one play you can't make as a quarterback, though:

    This was the pass that Weeden had intercepted in the third quarter. Our screen game has had issues against certain teams, but Weeden's been doing a better job at just throwing the ball in the dirt if nothing is there. After a playaction fake here, Weeden turns around to see Haltoi Ngata bearing down on him from his right side. He had to quickly look left, and my guess is that he can't find Trent Richardson quick enough amidst the other players in the area.

    Weeden sees Jordan Cameron open down the field. He gives a hesitation pump and then throws it up for his tight end. The problem? Cameron never looked back, and I don't blame him. This looks like a screen pass all the way, and I'm sure the last thing Cameron expects is for the ball to be coming his direction. He is focused on blocking cornerback Cary Williams, just as the play calls for. Weeden needed to either throw this in the dirt, or loft it closer to Richardson's area, where he could have done some serious damage with all of the space in front of him.

  2. Awarding the Game Ball: K Phil Dawson - The Browns' veteran kicked connected on kicks of 32, 28, 29, 33, and 41 yards. Stunningly, those five field goals allowed the Browns to go on a 15-0 run to take the lead in the fourth quarter. The kicks might not have been the most difficult ones to make in terms of length, but it still takes a high level of consistency to get every one through the uprights. Dawson improved to a perfect 17-of-17 on the season. Kickers seem to be quite high in accuracy around the league this season, but Dawson is one of three kickers that remains perfect (and he has the most attempts among those three).

  3. Red Zone Failure #1: In the next several bullet points, I'll take a look at each of the Browns' red zone failures, picking at least one play that could have gone differently with better execution or a different play call.

    Our first red zone failure begins with a 1st-and-10 run to Trent Richardson for a yard. The Browns had tried a pitch play, and it had a lot of potential. S Ed Reed made a heck of an effort to dive through the legs of RT Mitchell Schwartz and get to Richardson in the backfield, though. On second down, Weeden looked around, couldn't find anybody, and then checked down to a covered Richardson in the flat, with the pass falling incomplete. Facing a 3rd-and-9, the Browns called a timeout.

    Weeden drops back and has a very clean pocket; the protection is very good, and the Ravens only decided to rush three guys. The decision is to immediately check down to Alex Smith in the flat, who is stuffed after a gain of two yards. This is where you'd expect Weeden to be more aggressive, especially with the team down by two touchdowns. In this first picture, it almost looks like he'd have to see Greg Little.

    It wouldn't have been the easiest throw in the world, but that's why Weeden has a fun. He could have fired a pass toward the front pylon, and Little would've been the only player who could have gotten the ball. There's no chance that Smith can get a first down on this play; even if he made the first guy miss, he doesn't have the speed to get by the other pursuing defenders.
  4. Red Zone Failure #2: The second red zone failure came toward the end of the second quarter. Brandon Weeden had just completed big passes of 26 and 23 yards to Josh Gordon and Greg Little, respectively, to set up a 1st-and-10 at the 17 yard line. The next two plays were a pitch play and a draw to Richardson, each of which went for three yards. I don't have a big issue with either play call; they looked to have some potential, but things just worked out in Baltimore's favor.

    The two-minute warning struck, so Cleveland had a long time to draw up a good 3rd-and-8 play. Frustration ensued when Weeden, for the second straight series in the exact same situation, quickly checked down to Alex Smith in the flat.

    Here is a shot of the play from the All-22 perspective. Weeden playactions to Trent Richardson, and immediately sees Alex Smith open in the flat. This is fine if you only need maybe two yards for the first down, but we need right. There are three Ravens already getting ready to hammer Smith. Even if no one is open, the better option would be to check it down to Richardson over the middle (am I crazy, or do the Browns rarely seem to check down over the middle?).

    I don't want to nitpick too much about Jordan Cameron drifting open toward the left corner of the end zone, as I'm sure the safety might react differently if Weeden had ever attempted to look to the left (he looked right the entire way). In a situation like this, though, you've got to give your route runners a chance -- Smith should be the last resort in Weeden's progressions.
  5. Red Zone Failure #3: The third red zone failure does not count as your typical failure, considering the circumstances. The Browns completed a 19-yard pass to Travis Benjamin to get down to the 11 yard line, but only 0:06 remained in the first half. With no timeouts left, Pat Shurmur opted to kick the field goal rather than risk running a play and having time run out. I agreed with that decision.

    Is it possible to get a play off, and have it fall incomplete, with only five seconds off the clock? Of course it is. In fact, the previous 19-yard hookup to Benjamin only took five seconds off the clock. The risk is in the fact that the end zone makes things much tighter, and Weeden has to make up his mind the second the ball gets to his hands. The defense knows that too. Taking the points here was the right thing to do.
  6. Red Zone Failure #4: Our fourth red zone failure came toward the end of the third quarter. Brandon Weeden scrambled for six yards on third down, setting up a 1st-and-10 at the 18 yard line. The first play was a run to Trent Richardson that went for a yard. The second play was the dreaded checkdown to Alex Smith again.

    This time, Weeden appeared to look elsewhere before going to Smith, who caught the ball on the sideline for a gain of two yards. I have circled each potential receiver for the Browns, since the photo is kind of far away. Everyone down the field is covered for this deep of a throw. Smith is covered too, so in this case, I'm not enraged that he went to him.

    Two things stand out, though. A checkdown to Trent Richardson is always a better option, in case he makes defenders miss. He may even get a block from Smith. Also, look at all of the space Weeden go back toward the hashmarks and step up in the pocket to extend the play. If he does that, maybe you draw the defender at the five-yard line up a bit and maybe the receiver at the top of the screen works back to the left corner of the end zone in one-on-one coverage. This is probably another example of where Weeden expects the heat, but the Ravens threw zone coverage at him this time around, and it throws off his rhythm.

    That was a second down play, though. The Browns still had third down to work with, and here's what happened:

    Weeden makes a quick throw to Mohamed Massaquoi, but here is the problem I have with it: instead of working back to the ball, Massaquoi drops to a knee and waits for the ball to come to him. I guess he doesn't remember that Ed Reed is in the Ravens' secondary and always looking to jump a pass. I'm a Massaquoi supporter, but a third-down play like this makes my yearn for Josh Cooper or Jordan Norwood. If you don't remember what happened, Reed nearly comes away with the pick six. (Note: I'm not absolving Weeden of some blame here, too).
  7. Red Zone Failure #5: On the team's final red zone failure of the game, the Browns began with a 2nd-and-6 at the 18 yard line. The play on second down was a playaction to Trent Richardson, as they hoped to set up a screen to him. It wasn't there, so Weeden threw the ball into the dirt. On third down, the Browns got what they wanted -- the Ravens actually brought a blitz this time! It's fitting that this is what Weeden prepared for, because he immediately found Josh Gordon over the middle for an 18-yard go-ahead touchdown pass.

    Chris Ogbonnaya lined up illegally on the play and could not correct it before the snap came. It really had nothing to do with the outcome of the play, but it has to be called by the officials. The Browns would have taken a five or six point lead had the touchdown stood. Sure, the Ravens ended up driving and scoring a touchdown, but they did so with the mentality that they only needed a field goal to take the lead. Knowing that they needed a touchdown certainly changes things and could have produced a different outcome.

    After the penalty, the Browns were out of the red zone and decided to call a safe draw play. I have no problem with the call there, since a field goal does give Cleveland the lead, and 3rd-and-11 isn't easy to convert.

    Had Shawn Lauvao been able to hold his block a hair longer, Richardson actually had some nice blocks set up down field with room to run toward the left sideline. There was one free defender (in the red), but I like the thought of "what could have been."
  8. Terrible Call on T.J. Ward: The officials made poor decisions on three plays that cost the Browns; an offensive pass interference call on Josh Gordon, an unnecessary roughness call on Gordon for blocking Ed Reed on a trick pitch to Travis Benjamin, and the roughing the passer call on T.J. Ward. The call on Ward was especially devastating. Our defense had been rolling since the first quarter, and Joe Flacco's second-down duck fell incomplete midway through the fourth quarter. It should have been 3rd-and-8 from the Ravens' 42 yard line. Instead, Baltimore had a fresh set of downs and were basically in field goal range already. Killer.
  9. Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: If you missed them, here are the links to our Week 8 snap count trackers for offense (link) and defense (link). On offense, WR Mohamed Massaquoi played a little bit but was bothered by his hamstring. On defense, DT Phil Taylor debuted to taking 50 percent on the reps on defense.

  10. Special Teams Tackles: The Browns had four special teams tackles. S Ray Ventrone led the way with two tackles, and registering one tackle each were LB Kaluka Maiava and CB Buster Skrine. There were four assists, one each from LB L.J. Fort, LB Tank Carder, CB Buster Skrine, and CB Johnson Bademosi.

  11. Brownies: Besides Phil Dawson having a great day, P Reggie Hodges probably had his best day of the season, although it still wasn't anything spectacular. ... After averaging 5.35 yards per carry in the first half, Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce were held to an average of 2.2 yards per carry in the second half. ... CB Joe Haden didn't have his best day, as you'd like to see him come up with the defining stop when Joe Flacco challenges him. ... Just because Alex Smith lines up at fullback, that doesn't mean he needs to be limited to one-yard flat routes. ... Hard to believe the Browns held a fourth quarter lead again, eh? The pain continues.

Up next, the Browns have a bye week and then will be on the road to Dallas. We'll have a few midseason reports here on DBN over the next week or two, so stay tuned.