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Game Review: Browns Miss Plenty of Opportunities in 34-12 Loss to Broncos

Dustin Bradford

I hope everyone enjoyed their Christmas. I had a great day and ended up finishing off in the closing hours by reviewing Cleveland's 34-12 loss to Denver.

My review of the Browns vs. Broncos game below will not be a standard review. I'll pick a goat and award a game ball like I usually do, but the plays that I choose to analyze will be more random. Unlike other games this season, there really isn't something I can look back at and say, "this was the turning point of the game."

The fact is that the Browns were pretty much dominated in every facet of the game from start to finish in terms of execution. They were missing too many players in their secondary. It's hard to take things too seriously at this point in terms of evaluation, because this really isn't the same complete product that will be on the field next season.

With all of that said, let's get my complete game review, including what I saw from Brad Smelley and other selective observations.

Cleveland Browns vs. Denver Broncos

1st 2nd 3rd 4th FINAL

WEEK 16 -

  1. Goat of the Game: LG John Greco - A bunch of players made mistakes against the Broncos, and Greco isn't necessarily more deserving of this than the other players. Someone has to get it, and, to help illustrate a few points, he gets it this week.


    On 2nd-and-goal in the first quarter, the Browns ran a pitch play to Trent Richardson. The play shows some potential here, but the problem is that Greco ends up whiffing on both defenders. Richardson dodges the first guy a bit behind the line of scrimmage, but the next guy takes him down after a gain of four yards.


    Next up, we have a tight end screen that the Browns tried to run in the second quarter on 2nd-and-5. This play actually looks good in the screenshot above. Alex Smith breaks open, Weeden gets the pass off, and three blockers are out in front. At this point, Greco is the only guy engaged with a defender in that circle.


    The problem is that Greco basically releases the guy, allowing him to have a clear path to the non-agile Smith. The play goes for a loss of two yards.

  2. Awarding the Game Balls: S Usama Young - Don't treat this as a normal game ball, because Usama Young was picked apart by Peyton Manning just like the rest of the secondary. He was beat out in a foot race by a tight end, missed a tackle on a tight end, etc.


    Young does score points for having a crucial interception at the end of the first half, which at least made it possible for the Browns to have somewhat of a chance still in the second half, considering they were set to get the ball first. On this play, Peyton Manning is already throwing the ball before his receiver, Knowshon Moreno, turns around. Manning expects Moreno to stay short along the goal line, but he ends up drifting behind Young. Miscommunication, and Young made an athletic play to get the pick.
  3. Marecic's Only Play: Sometimes, the Browns' use of personnel is a bit peculiar. For example, the Browns activated both of their fullbacks, Owen Marecic and Brad Smelley, against the Broncos. They started off the game with Alex Smith at fullback. Marecic got in on one play in the first quarter, and then Smelley played some snaps after that. Here is what happened on Marecic's only play:

    Marecic starts off as an outside receiver.

    He then gets motioned back to the fullback position. The Browns run a playaction; when it looks like it's a run, Marecic fakes a block to the left. He then quickly swings back over to the right in pass protection.

    The protection is good all around, and Brandon Weeden is able to hook up for a gain of 13 yards to TE Benjamin Watson.
  4. Debut of Brad Smelley: Here are some notes on the debut of seventh-round draft pick Brad Smelley:


    The Browns didn't really use Smelley at the traditional fullback position, but rather at tight end or in the slot. In his first play above (which came right after Marecic's play), he is the blocker at the top. The play goes for a gain of three yards.


    A little later in the drive, Smelley lines up in the slot and runs a peel out. Brandon Weeden quickly looks his way and hits him for a gain of three yards.


    In the second quarter, Smelley ends up getting the call to block Elvis Dumervil on back-to-back plays. This one is a run play, and he holds his own against Dumervil, with Montario Hardesty gaining three yards.


    The next play is a swing pass to Hardesty, and Smelley does a good job riding Dumervil around the edge. Even Joe Thomas looks on and is impressed. For the rest of the game, Smelley ran some routes up the field as if he was a deep threat tight end. Without access to All-22 at the moment, I can't tell if he was open or not, though.
  5. Picked Apart on Third Down: The Broncos were excellent on third down early in the game. They finished 9-of-15, but were 6-of-8 on third downs in the first half.


    Here is an example situation -- 3rd-and-6 in the second quarter. Peyton Manning rarely targeted Joe Haden in this game, but here is an exception. Haden starts off locked up on Eric Decker at the top of the screen.


    Decker runs up the field a little bit and looks to be going inside at this moment.

    Decker then proceeds to make the slightest move to the outside. It is enough to make Haden retreat just a tad. At this point, Manning isn't even looking in Decker's direction.


    Decker's move is enough to give him enough of a cushion to cut accross the field past the first down marker. The pocket is collapsing on Manning, but he goes through his reads quickly and finds Decker.


    First down. I'm not trying to say this was some unbelievable play or anything, but you just have to have an appreciation for how easy Manning and company make it look.
  6. Emphasize the Pump Fake: I've been calling for more pump fakes by Brandon Weeden, and here is an example of it paying off.


    A frame before the screenshot above, Brandon Weeden pump faked. The defender in the yellow circle raises his hand to try to bat the pass. On this play, he's not necessarily in position to bat the pass anyway, but you never know. The fake and quick follow-up release allows Weeden to avoid any lineman interfering in the play.


    The result is a nice third-down connection for 19 yards to TE Benjamin Watson.
  7. Wildcat / Richardson's Blocking: The Browns busted out the Wildcat for the third straight game, but only for one play. Here's an example of where you'd really like to see Trent Richardson's blocking improve.


    In the screenshot above, Richardson is in decent position to get a block on the guy in front of him. Alex Smith is doing a great job bulldozing his guy to the sideline. If Richardson hits his block, this could actually be a foot race to the end zone from a trailing cornerback on the other side of the field for Cribbs.


    Instead, Richardson misses his block. Cribbs fights off the defender, but can only get three yards before his momentum now carries him out of bounds. Cleveland never went back to the Wildcat, but it's probably harder for the coaching staff to call those plays when your team is down by multiple possessions.

  8. Accuracy Goes a Long Way vs. Manning: When you're facing a red-hot Peyton Manning, you can't afford to miss opportunities on offense.


    On this third down play, Brandon Weeden has very good protection. As a side note, WR Travis Benjamin gets absolutely demolished across the middle, but it's legal because he is within five yards of the line of scrimmage.


    Weeden throws on the run to an open-enough Benjamin Watson. If it's a wide receiver, the catch is probably made. The pass just missed the outstretched reach of Watson, though, and Cleveland has to punt.
  9. Denver's Demoralizing TE Screen: Despite being down 14-3 in the first half, the Browns had a great situation here. The Broncos were backed up in a 3rd-and-10. If the defense forces a stop, the punt would likely set Cleveland up with great field position. A field goal or touchdown, coupled with the fact that the Browns get the ball first in the second half, makes things much more interesting.


    The Broncos run a unique screen pass over the middle to their running back. I call it unique because none of their offensive linemen go out for the screen. Instead, the receivers run shallow routes and turn into blockers.


    The execution is perfect, unfortunately, as the Browns' defenders are drifting back in hopes of keeping their receivers in front of them. By the time the screen pass is out to Moreno, they are flatfooted and getting blocked by the receivers, leading to a first down and a prolonged drive.
  10. Missing Josh Gordon - Who's at Fault? With the score 14-3 in the third quarter, the Browns were putting together a solid opening drive for the second half in a row. The problem is that Brandon Weeden and Josh Gordon could not connect on a play that looked like a blown coverage.


    Josh Gordon runs by his defender who is in zone coverage.


    As soon as Gordon gets behind the defender, he starts to bend this toward the middle of the field. I assume that this is how the route is designed, and I'm guessing that Weeden is starting to pull the trigger just about now. (I can't confirm this without access to the All-22 yet; I can only surmise it).


    Gordon gets a peak that the safety is far away from him and now makes the adjustment back up the field. He makes a slight hand gesture to try to signal Weeden. Bear in mind, this is all happening very quickly, so it's not like seconds are going by or anything.


    Weeden looked to be expecting the original route, and that's where he threw it. The pass falls incomplete. Who was right and who was wrong? I'll let you decide.
  11. Still Dancing: It was a decent game statistically for Trent Richardson, who did the most he could with his 11 carries.


    I still want to nitpick on a play like this, though. In the third quarter, Richardson clearly has a good NFL hole right up the guy (the cyan arrow). He is going to end up trying a cut and bouncing this to the outside.


    This is the NFL, though, and right now, Richardson isn't quick enough to do something like this and make it worthwhile (he looked much quicker way back in training camp). The result is a gain of one yard. As a side note, this play actually took place previous to the Gordon one I highlighted in bullet point ten.
  12. Great Bull Rush: Great job by Browns defensive tackle Billy Winn for getting a bull rush that knocked an offensive lineman into Peyton Manning. Manning was in the process of throwing the football, and the result was a sky high duck that you rarely see in the NFL.


    Sadly, with the coverage the Browns were playing, no one was in the vicinity to catch the ball. Otherwise, this could have been a pick six.
  13. Another Big Play Avoided: On the very next play, the Browns avoided yet another big play that could have changed the game.


    On a 3rd-and-7 in the third quarter, Peyton Manning hits Eric Decker over the middle for a first down.


    As Decker is being tackled, the ball comes loose. This was the only angle CBS showed, but I reviewed this thing multiple times. The screenshot above is the first point at which I believe Decker's knee hits the ground, and the ball is clearly out.

    CB Buster Skrine scoops up the ball and has a good chance to run this in for a touchdown. The referees are quickly blowing the whistle, though, so Skrine stops. There is no good reason why the whistle should have blown.

    Maybe a challenge could have changed things and at least given Cleveland the ball. The issue is that it was a moot point. Buster Skrine was flagged for hands to the face at the start of the play. Is this a penalty? By rule, yes. But it literally happened for a hair of a second and was so insignificant to the outcome of the play. Ticky-tack foul that cost Cleveland.

  14. One of Those Days: It's bad enough that Peyton Manning is on fire against a depleted secondary. On top of that, here is the "good fortune" that the Browns had on Sunday:

    -The Broncos muffed two punts, including one near the five yard line, but recovered both of them. The Browns muffed one punt, and Denver immediately recovered, leading to a touchdown.

    -The two plays in the bullet points above -- the bullrush by Winn and the near-fumble-touchdown -- didn't result in turnovers. The Broncos also got a completion to Brandon Stokley (instead of an interception) after a receiver had a pass tip off of his hands.

    -After being depleted on defense, Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson left the game, meaning Cleveland could enter next week with Colt McCoy and Montario Hardesty starting against the Steelers.

    Yep. This game blew chunks.

  15. 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 mixed in both of their fullbacks, but Josh Cooper hardly saw the field. On defense, the defensive tackles saw an even amount of reps, and Jabaal Sheard's play percentage was reduced with newly-signed Hall Davis getting some reps.

  16. Special Teams Tackles: The Browns had five special teams tackles -- two by WR Joshua Cribbs and one each by LB Kaluka Maiava, CB Johnson Bademosi, and LS Christian Yount.

  17. Brownies: I honestly don't know what the hell QB Colt McCoy was doing when he was in the game, and believe me, I do want the guy to still succeed if he's under center with the Browns. ... Another solid outing by WR Greg Little. ... K Phil Dawson drilled two more field goals, including one from 52 yards. ... I've been a fan of Brandon Stokley's but was very irritated to see him try to defend himself after a clear blindside pick/shoulder he laid into CB Sheldon Brown that could end up halting his long consecutive games streak. ... I wish we didn't cut CB Dimitri Patterson prior to the end of the season, both in hindsight and foresight. ... With all of the running back blocking issues, it makes me wonder even more why Brandon Jackson keeps sitting on the inactive list.

Up next, the Browns finish off the season with a road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is still a big game that we should be amped up for. Cleveland has a chance to not only ensure the Steelers finish below .500 for the first time since 2003, but they can sweep Pittsburgh for the first time in their post-1999 era.