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Game Review: Browns Get Outcoached and Outplayed in 38-21 Loss to Redskins

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The Cleveland Browns suffered their worst loss of the season this past Sunday to the Washington Redskins, officially eliminating them from playoff contention with two games to go. Was it frustrating that Cleveland lost to a team being led by a rookie quarterback making his first start? Of course. The thing that was more frustrating were the number of fans who changed their tunes drastically. The optimism from a three-game winning streak should not go down the drain as quickly as it did.

This has nothing to do with what may happen in two weeks with head coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert. Should Shurmur and his assistants be held accountable for Sunday's loss? Indeed. On that given day, the Redskins clearly had a superior gameplan with great execution. So did the Falcons in a 34-0 shutout over the Giants. Every team has a "bad" game, and this was Cleveland's. We just didn't have it. If Shurmur and company are removed from office, it won't be because of this game alone.

With all of that said, let's get my complete game review to see why things went south against the Shanahan family.

Washington Redskins vs. Cleveland Browns

1st 2nd 3rd 4th FINAL

WEEK 15 -

  1. Goat of the Game: QB Brandon Weeden - For anyone who missed it, a few days ago in our instant recap thread from the game, one of our users, tabler84, did an excellent job outlining a level-headed take on Weeden to this point in the season, including his performance against the Redskins. He echoed the game thoughts I have had perfectly.

    In summary, while we know Weeden has a desirable set of skills, the optimism surrounding him was the fact that he was showing signs of growth for a certain stretch of the season. Over the past few games, that growth seems to have come to a halt. Too many passes are being batted down do to a combination of bad blocking and Weeden being predictable in his mannerisms. There seems to be no ability to audible, and his aggressiveness of taking shots down the field is starting to lack.

    Against the Redskins, Weeden was a definite factor in the team's loss. The Browns had not played very well in the first half, but still held a 14-10 lead. They were getting the ball first in the second half. It was a chance for the Browns to take a commanding lead to perhaps take Washington out of their intended gameplan. Instead, Weeden didn't see a linebacker dropping back in zone coverage and threw an interception. In the bullet point below, let's take a look at the second interception.
  2. Breaking Down Weeden's Second INT: Down by only ten points near the end of the third quarter, the Browns definitely could have changed the complexion of the game by scoring a touchdown on the drive they were putting together. Back-to-back throws of 12 and 28 yards gave the Browns a first down in Redskins territory.

    The thing that hurts with this play is that it should have worked. The Browns ran a playaction, and all of the Redskins' linebackers bit for it. You can see Greg Little coming free with no defensive back in sight. With a good throw, there is no way the nearest linebacker, London Fletcher, can make a play on the ball.

    Here is another perspective. Weeden sees Little open, but he needs to throw it. That's part of the problem with Weeden, though -- he's having difficulty pulling the trigger. Even staring at this picture right now, I'm begging for Weeden to just pull the trigger. Yes, his fullback, Alex Smith, came over for a block, but he's just too lax back there. He also has some room to step up to buy himself an extra half second if he needs it.

    Weeden has an extra hitch and then decides to get rid of the football as Little gets closer to the sideline. By now, the guy Smith is blocking if just barely able to grace Weeden's arm.

    That forces the ball to be underthrown and intercepted by Fletcher. I know Shurmur wanted Weeden to take better care of the football earlier this season. It's hard to say whether that is influencing Weeden to hold onto the football longer in a case like this or not. Whatever the case may be, Weeden needs to go with his first instinct when he sees this.

  3. Awarding the Game Balls: S T.J. Ward - It's a shame that Ward had to leave the game and is now on injured reserve, because I thought he was having his best game of the year. He had an early interception, some hard hits, and was doing a good job penetrating into the backfield to let others stuff Alfred Morris.

  4. Don't Shoot the Quarterback (Part I): Despite the mistakes Weeden made, this loss doesn't just fall on his shoulders. Despite being at home, let's take a look at a few opportunities the Browns missed in the first half, starting with their first drive of the game. After getting a couple of first downs, on a 2nd-and-10, Trent Richardson was stuffed for no gain. On the next play, the Browns committed a false start, making it 3rd-and-15.

    The Redskins show a seven-man front here, with Chris Ogbonnaya lined up in the backfield as a blocker.

    As I've stated before, I am far from an expert on breaking down offensive line protection schemes, so if anyone has a chance to re-watch this play, feel free to offer any additional insight. The Redskins drop four of the seven back, meaning they are only rushing three guys. The issue seems to be that John Greco and Joe Thomas look to their right and end up blocking nobody, while Ogbonnaya has to spot the free man on the other side and come over. By then, it's too late. Weeden feels the pressure and has to take off for a run shy of the first down.
  5. Don't Shoot the Quarterback (Part II): Up 7-0 and with the Redskins punting again in the first quarter after a great defensive series, the Browns started their next drive at their own 38 yard line. At the time, my initial mindset was that the Browns could drive down and put the game away early. Instead, the drive started with a false start by Joe Thomas, making it 1st-and-15. Bummer.

    On 1st-and-15, before Brandon Weeden can even finish his dropback, a free blitzer is coming at him. There are no quick hitter routes that Weeden can do to, so he tucks up and actually gets a throw off to Jordan Cameron while in the grasp for a gain of two yards.

    I circled the next play for emphasis to show how predictable the Browns can be with their formations at times, and just how little push Cleveland gets on a play like this. There are ten Redskins defenders in this scrum, that close to the line of scrimmage. It gains two yards and sets up a 3rd-and-11.

    Again, 3rd-and-11 isn't a desirable situation, but the Redskins did have a poorly-ranked pass defense heading into this game. The Redskins only brought a four-man rush, but Mitchell Schwartz gets beat by his man. Schwartz actually ends up pushing his defender behind Weeden at the last second, but Weeden checks it down to Greg Little despite not having other pressure in front of him. My guess is that he felt the pressure, and that the defenders swipe might have even graced Weeden from behind, forcing him to hurry things up.

  6. Don't Shoot the Quarterback (Part III): After the Browns forced another quick stop of the Redskins, Cleveland had another chance to capitalize.

    On first down, the Browns went with a run play. You can see how crowded things are behind the line of scrimmage here. Trent Richardson tries to cut it back but can only manage a yard.

    On 2nd-and-9, the Browns have single coverage on the outside with a lot of free space in the middle of the field. The coverage on those guys is pretty good, though, and Brandon Weeden recognizes Trent Richardson with quite a bit of room in the flat. He swings the pass out to him. The problem is that London Fletcher makes a fantastic play with a good open-field tackle to hit Richardson for a loss of six yards.

    That set up a 3rd-and-15 again. Did some people forget how many difficult situations Weeden was put in early in the game? The Redskins show the same look as earlier -- show seven, but bring three. This time, Thomas picks up the outside guy to give Weeden some time. With so many guys in coverage, though, Weeden has to throw it out of bounds.
  7. Again...Should We Reconsider Some Blame? At first glance, when you see Brandon Weeden throw a slant that falls incomplete to Josh Gordon, it looks like an inaccurate throw. At the beginning of the second quarter to start a drive, that wasn't the case.

    Weeden's first read on the slant is Gordon, but the linebacker gets in the way in his attempt to cover Jordan Cameron. The other three receivers on the play really aren't about to go anywhere either. Weeden waits in the event that Gordon still breaks open. He doesn't, so he throws it behind Gordon. It's a throwaway in my book.

    Again, Weeden isn't off the hook, but the Browns faced these types of situations for a good portion of the game. To make matters worse, Reggie Hodges had a 34-yard duck after this to set Washington up with great field position.
  8. Stuffing the Run: Without Robert Griffin III, the defensive gameplan was evident: stop Alfred Morris at all costs, and force Kirk Cousins to make plays. For the first four drives of the game, it worked. The Redskins went three-and-out on each of those drives, and Cleveland had a lot of intensity. In terms of stopping the run, the Browns got the job done. They held Morris to 2.0 yards per carry in the first half, and 3.2 yards per carry on the day. His season average coming into the game was 4.9 yards per carry. The problem came to the second part of the equation: Cousins didn't just make one or two plays, he made them from the end of the first quarter onward in large.
  9. The Bootleg From Hell: I never want to see a bootleg again, because it gave me and the Browns' defense nightmares on Sunday. The Browns kept selling out for the run. Every time Cousins ran the bootleg, one of two things happened: there wasn't a defender anywhere near him, or a defender tried to rush in to be the hero but there was a wide open receiver left behind him. At times, a regular playaction fake worked just as well for Cousins. One thing you could notice right away with Cousins: he sells the playaction fake way better than Weeden.

    In the second quarter, this one is just a simple playaction fake. You can see how all of the Browns' front eight get sucked up waiting to defend the run, but no one is even near Cousins. As soon as Cousins turns around, he is going to confidently fire a pass to Pierre Garcon over the middle.

    It's great coverage by Sheldon Brown, but it's an even better throw and concentration on the catch. I know the Browns' defense got gassed later in the game, but this play is a large example of why I'm not necessarily upset at our individual defenders for the way they played against Washington. Instead, I believe that Kyle Shanahan had a great gameplan, and Dick Jauron failed to call a defense/make assignments to adjust mid-game. The defense did what they were asked.
  10. Credit to the Redskins Offense: Again, looking back, I am more in awe at what the Redskins were able to achieve on offense versus what the Browns did on defense. Take a look at this beauty down in the red zone which gave Washington a ten-point lead in the third quarter:

    Pre-snap, the Redskins sent wide receiver Leonard Hankerson in motion. Cousins sees Joe Haden follow him across the line, so he's got man coverage on him. The two receivers at the top cross to the middle, creating a logjam in the middle of the end zone.

    The Browns send Dimitri Patterson on a blitz, but the route has Hankerson running back across the field where he just motioned from. Haden gets picked in the congestion, and it's a simple loft-throw touchdown for Cousins. Whatever the Browns did, the Redskins had an answer. With how well the Redskins executed, I think they are simply one of the better teams we've faced right now. They are now on a five-game winning streak and will be a dangerous team if they make the playoffs.
  11. Not Breaking Down Any Further: I feel like I didn't get to physically break down as many plays as I could have, but there's a reason: you would just see more of the same. The Redskins constantly got quick pressure on Weeden or the Browns constantly were set in 3rd-and-long due to no running game or false starts. The defense was playing with a good intensity but were out-schemed repeatedly. No one person was at fault. This was a team loss, and I expect us to rebound and play a competitive game against the Broncos. That doesn't mean we'll win, but I think we'll see a better turnout.
  12. 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, the Browns got Chris Ogbonnaya into the game for three plays. On defense, S Usama Young and S Tashaun Gipson saw more reps than T.J. Ward due to his injury.

  13. Special Teams Tackles: The Browns had three special teams tackles -- two by WR Joshua Cribbs and one by CB Johnson Bademosi.

  14. Brownies: It looks like WR Joshua Cribbs hasn't lost it when it comes to running the Wildcat, as he picked up 20 yards to set up a touchdown in his only attempt. ... RB Montario Hardesty didn't look very good as a blocker. ... I think this was RT Mitchell Schwartz worst game of the season; whatever the Redskins did, it confused him. ... WR Pierre Garcon is a punk. ...P Reggie Hodges should not be on the roster still, and the patience with him this year versus Ryan Pontbriand last year is surprising. ... Even when the Browns read the bootleg a few times, Cousins still got some completions in. ... I'd really like to see the Browns run the ball more from a spread formation.

Up next, the Browns go on the road to take on the Broncos. After the Browns, watching Peyton Manning play is the next most exciting thing for me as a football fan. Despite being 0-5 against him, Cleveland has an unusual streak of keeping Peyton Manning in check statistically. We'll see if that continues this time around.