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Game Review: Slow Start and Bess' Muff Haunt Browns in 23-17 Loss to Chiefs

Chris Pokorny breaks down the Cleveland Browns' 23-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

David Welker

The Cleveland Browns fought to the end to take out the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs, but fell just short. WR Davone Bess received a lot of the blame, and rightly so. Sure, a better first-half defensive performance could have made a difference too, but Bess' mistakes came at crunch time after the defense had helped Cleveland seize the momentum in the second half. Let's get to my complete game review to see all of the positives and negatives.

Cleveland Browns vs. Kansas City Chiefs

1st 2nd 3rd 4th FINAL


  1. Goat of the Game: WR Davone Bess - For five years, Davone Bess was considered a decent slot receiver, with his best asset being that he doesn't drop passes. Naturally, now that he is a member of the Browns, he leads the league in dropped passes.

    We'll go over several of the plays Bess failed to execute on in the remainder of the game review below, but obviously, the biggest blunder was the muffed punt. Bess has actually lost 9 fumbles in his career now; Joshua Cribbs lost 9 fumbles in his career too, but he's played for several more years and also saw significantly more reps at the kick and punt return positions.

  2. Awarding the Game Ball: NT Phil Taylor - The Browns needed somebody to disrupt what the Chiefs were doing, and several defenders, including Phil Taylor, answered the call for help. There have been some questions as to why Taylor isn't playing more often, but it seems clear that a little less than half the snaps per game is what Ray Horton is comfortable with to keep him fresh. If the third down defense was better, like it was in the second half against the Chiefs, Taylor's reps would seem like less of an issue.

  3. Taking an Early Shot for Gordon: After the Browns' defense gave up an opening field goal to the Chiefs, Cleveland faced a 3rd-and-7 on offense on their first possession.

    Cleveland went for an aggressive call right off the bat against a sack-happy defense. The receiver at the bottom of the screen is WR Josh Gordon.

    Although Gordon doesn't have his defender burned, the safety is playing the middle of the field, so Campbell heaves a pass deep down the left sideline.

    The ball appears to be overthrown by about 3-4 yards. When watching the game live, though, Gordon's effort on the ball seemed a bit unusual. After the game, Gordon clarified that Campbell threw a perfect pass, but unfortunately, he didn't see it initially and therefore played it wrong. If Gordon had seen the pass and catches this on a dead sprint, it could've gone for a touchdown.

  4. Bess Starts Off Poorly Again: With the Browns' defense bending but not breaking twice in a row (now down 6-0), they needed the offense to pick them up.

    This will end up being the first of Davone Bess' mistakes on the afternoon. Bess is lined up as the middle receiver to Jason Campbell's right side.

    The pass is thrown right in stride, but Bess drops it. If Bess catches this, maybe Cleveland gets their offense clicking a little earlier in the game, at least to a point where they could have prevented the Chiefs from going up by multiple possessions. A drop like this forces you to continue playing from behind later in a game, rather than possibly having the lead already later in a game.

  5. Defeated by the Screen Pass: On the Chiefs' first possession, Alex Smith threw a screen pass to Jamaal Charles for 24 yards on a 3rd-and-9. On their third possession, they were facing a 3rd-and-10 situation from the 12 yard line.

    The Chiefs are going to run a screen pass again, this time to fullback Anthony Sherman. The three middle linemen are going to leak out late as lead blockers.

    The Chiefs do a good job matching each of their blockers with a defender, and Sherman exhibits good patience in letting this play develop.

    This was a slightly questionable play on ILB Craig Robertson, as it looks like the offensive lineman grabs him from behind for a brief second before shielding him off again. Should it have been flagged? Maybe, but it might not have made a difference, and I'm not so sure it was your typical holding call (i.e. a glaring one). My question is how does CB Chris Owens get blocked for so long in the end zone (far left) without getting free from his man?

  6. Holding Call Disparity: Disclaimer: I can't profess to know the full extent of the rules when it comes to knowing what is and isn't a hold in the NFL.

    My hunch would be that reaching in front of a pass rusher from behind with your arm is a hold, but I don't know for certain -- is it fine because the arm is on the front of OLB Paul Kruger's body?

    This is where it gets a little questionable for me. As Kruger continues to beat RT Eric Fisher, Fisher appears to use his other hand to tug on Kruger's jersey, which is enough to prevent him from being able to drop QB Alex Smith here. Smith scrambles for two yards, and upon replay review, is awarded a first down.

  7. Taylor Sniffs Out a Screen: A few plays later, the Chiefs faced a 3rd-and-3.

    With the Browns already down 13-0 and the first half almost over, they were in desperate need of a third-down stop. What were the Chiefs going to run here?

    QB Alex Smith isn't looking to his left, but NT Phil Taylor, who is being blocked, sees RB Jamaal Charles coming through to that side.

    Taylor must have sensed something, as he stays glued to Charles' back as the offensive linemen leak out for another attempt at a screen pass. Smith throws this one into the dirt, setting up a 52-yard field goal, which K Ryan Succop misses.

  8. Browns Finally Get a First Down: With 3:36 left in the first half, the Browns finally picked up their first first down of the game.

    The routes from the play are diagrammed above. WR Travis Benjamin (who we wish a good recovery) is being used to stretch the field at the bottom of the screen, so the safety drops back (cyan). That frees up the window in the green circle, which is where TE Jordan Cameron is going.

    QB Jason Campbell also did a good job stepping up in the pocket as he fired this pass to Cameron, which went for 19 yards.

  9. Fleaflicker Actually Works for a TD: On the very next play, the Browns went for the home run ball.

    I rarely see fleaflickers work these days for touchdowns, but the play went in Cleveland's favor here. Perhaps it shows just how much teams are playing the run against the Browns. Two receivers go out here -- WR Greg Little sprints to the middle of the field, and WR Josh Gordon starts in but then goes back to the flag.

    At this point, the ball has been handed off to the running back. You could buy that WR Greg Little is going for a block on one of the defensive backs. The two guys near him start creeping up a tad, while the other safety is playing deep still. The cornerback on Josh Gordon has his eyes in the backfield.

    When the ball is pitched back to Campbell, Little has a full head of steam, so he can out-run the two defenders near him on a deep ball. The deeper safety immediately runs to the middle of the field, which opens things up for Gordon, who has already beaten his defender.

    There is the separation. The circle indicates where the ball eventually lands, and it is nicely placed so Gordon doesn't have to wait for it or reach out too far for it. Touchdown. I think the fact that fleaflickers often target the middle of the field helps Cleveland here, and just like that, they were right back in the game at 13-7.

  10. Botched Coverage on TD to McCluster: ...that didn't last long.

    Before the end of the half, QB Alex Smith hit WR Dexter McCluster for a wide open touchdown pass. The Browns clearly messed something up in coverage. The Chiefs were lined up trips right, with McCluster in the magenta circle. The two players in the cyan -- S T.J. Ward and CB Buster Skrine, both take the inside receiver to the sideline. CB Joe Haden, who is in the green, takes TE Anthony Fasano on the outside.

    Here you can see McCluster running free. I circled S Tashaun Gipson, just in the off chance he was supposed to be helping out over there. Maybe one of our defensive experts can weigh in on who botched their assignment here.

  11. Pick Play Before Half Closes Gap: It looked like the Browns were going to head into the half down 20-7. Facing a 3rd-and-3 with 0:40 left (but three timeouts), how could they get all the way down into field goal range?

    Simple -- dial up the 47-yard, catch-and-run pick play. WR Davone Bess is in the slot to the right, and he will set a legal pick as WR Josh Gordon comes from the left and runs underneath the pick.

    There is the pick being set, and Gordon is able to catch and run a long distance as the other defensive back on that side of the field is too busy chasing his receiver in coverage still.

  12. Campbell Misses an Opportunity to Bess: Although I'm happy the Browns were able to come away with a field goal, they could have had more.

    Facing a 2nd-and-10 with 0:26 left, the Browns still had three timeouts, so they could work the middle of the field. WR Davone Bess is the closest receiver to QB Jason Campbell's left, and he runs out diagonally before coming back in.

    The play uses WR Greg Little as a pick of sorts to help free Bess. If this pass is thrown in stride to Bess, he can take the completion up to the 15 yard line at least; with the right move, maybe he even gets into the end zone. Unfortunately, this is probably Campbell's worst pass of the afternoon, as he throws it well behind Bess, and he is unable to haul it in.

  13. Timing Pattern to Gordon: Down 20-10 in the second half, would the Browns fade offensively, or strike right away to stay in the game?

    I always like to see a quarterback be able to deliver a well-timed pass before a receiver comes out of his break. From near midfield, QB Jason Campbell is going to do just that to WR Josh Gordon at the bottom of the screen.

    Gordon has yet to turn around, but Campbell is already getting ready to release the pass.

    Gordon turns, and BANG, there's the completion for 23 yards and a first down.

  14. Campbell's Ability to Escape Pressure: One of QB Jason Campbell's best assets, which I vastly underrated when remembering his abilities as a quarterback, is his mobility. Maybe I'm just calling it "one of his best assets" because I'm so used to seeing how poor the mobility of QB Brandon Weeden is.

    Facing a 2nd-and-10 in the third quarter, Campbell was in Shotgun with a running back behind him. He playaction fakes to the running back, but OG Shawn Lauvao loses his man right away. Upon turning around, this is what Campbell sees.

    Campbell spins to his left, and because the blocking from LT Joe Thomas and LG John Greco was solid, Campbell is able to turn this into a 3rd-and-5. That's much better than a 3rd-and-17, which is what this would've been with QB Brandon Weeden under center.

  15. Wheel Route TD to Whittaker: After converting a 4th-and-1 with RB Willis McGahee, the Browns struck for their final score of the game.

    RB Fozzy Whittaker is in the backfield, and WR Josh Gordon will do his best to set a pick for Whittaker's wheel route. The Chiefs are bringing a blitz off the edge, so the circled cyan defender has a long way to go to get to Whittaker.

    There is the pick, and Campbell knows Whittaker is going to be open. Will be throw the pass like QB Brandon Weeden would to RB Chris Ogbonnaya?

    Nope -- thankfully, Campbell delivers the pass right on target, and Whittaker scores his first career touchdown.

  16. Cameron Shows How to Get Open: Facing a 3rd-and-9 on their next offensive series, TE Jordan Cameron shows a lesson in how to get open.

    Cameron is going to be running an in and out, which I also like to refer to as the Wes Welker route.

    Cameron plants his foot in the ground. Also notice that while QB Jason Campbell can probably see Cameron here, he is not staring a hole in him, which keeps the defensive line from getting in the way of the pass.

    Look at that separation. Campbell delivers another accurate pass, the protection is very good, and this play goes for a gain of 14 yards.

  17. Run Blitzing by Ward: I've talked about S T.J. Ward pulling off some run blitzes the past few weeks, and if I didn't give NT Phil Taylor the game ball this week, I might have given it to Ward. Ward stopped Charles three times with aggressive play in the game, and this example highlights one of those instances.

    There is Ward in the yellow circle on a 2nd-and-7 in the third quarter.

    There is a lot of traffic, but Ward ends up shooting through it all and is on the ground in front of Charles. Ward isn't credited with the tackle here, but he does enough to trip up Charles a little for a teammate to stop him for no gain.

  18. Corner Blitz is Successful Again: On the next play, the Browns busted out their weekly corner blitz, which continues to have a 100% success rate.

    You can see the diagram of where all the pressure is coming from and the coverage assignments.

    The receivers are covered, and although the Browns brought a corner blitz, the Chiefs don't allow a free man.

    The blitz did cause some disruption, though. Amidst the heavy pressure from the right, one of the Chiefs' offensive lineman fell to the ground. Campbell wants to run when he sees everyone covered, but can't jump over the pile. Our pursuit from the backside gets to Smith, as he is sacked for a short loss. The Browns ran a corner blitz later on, too, and Smith avoided the pressure and threw to WR Dexter McCluster, who was drilled by CB Buster Skrine, forcing an incomplete pass.

  19. Checking Down to the RB: I can't be greedy and expect the offense to convert every third down situation. If I want to nitpick, though, I would say that QB Jason Campbell checked down to his running backs several times on third down, rather than taking a chance elsewhere.

    Here are the routes being run.

    The Chiefs only bring a three-man rush, but Campbell decides to give RB Chris Ogbonnaya a chance to make a play in the flat. The two defenders close in very quickly and hold him to a gain of just one yard. I'm not really sure who else was open here. Ideally, Cambpell would have stepped up a bit and then been able to hit TE Jordan Cameron on a crossing route, just like he did on our first first down of the game. Again, though, I am nitpicking a bit here.

  20. Taylor Winning Another Battle: I gave the game ball this week to NT Phil Taylor, and here is another example of why.

    Taylor starts off between the right guard and center.

    The center goes up to block Taylor, but Taylor does a quick swim move on him.

    And now, Smith is running for his life. He actually evades a big hit from Taylor, but he's above to trip him up for a loss of four yards, setting up a 2nd-and-14 in the fourth quarter.

  21. Delayed Safety Blitz: Two plays later, the Browns got to Smith again, this time by bringing a delayed safety blitz, which is one of the first ones I recall this season.

    The heavy pressure is initially from QB Alex Smith's left side -- OLB Barkevious Mingo off the edge, ILB D'Qwell Jackson, DE Armonty Bryant, and a delay from S T.J. Ward. From the diagram, you can see how Bryant will wrap around late.

    Here is an updated look at the progression of the play. RB Jamaal Charles is trying to take on Jackson.

    Charles chips Jackson to the inside, but basically whiffs on him. When Smith sees this, he tries to scramble to his left.

    "Whoa, where did Ward come from," Smith thinks as he tucks this for an 8-yard sack.

  22. Big Play to Cameron Sets Up Hope: On the Browns' next offensive possession, QB Jason Campbell found TE Jordan Cameron for a huge pass play.
    Cameron is going to be running an out-and-up at the bottom of the screen, with only a single safety in the middle of the field.

    The safety goes to the other side, so Cameron has a one-on-one opportunity here.Campbell is releasing the ball at this point.

    Cameron goes back-and-forth a couple of times as he tries to locate the ball, and it might be a tad underthrown. Nonetheless, he does a nice job eventually finding it and catching it as he is tumbling to the ground. This play went for 37 yards, and gave Cleveland the ball 36 yards away from the end zone, down 20-17 in the fourth quarter.

  23. Questionable Holding Call on Joe Thomas: This is where things started to fall apart offensively, and it might not have even been our fault.

    The Browns are running the ball one play after TE Jordan Cameron's catch. RB Willis McGahee picks up 9 yards to set up what could be a 2nd-and-1 at the 27 yard line, in field goal range. Instead, a hold is called on LT Joe Thomas. I'll let you be the judge of whether you see a hold or not.

    The Chiefs defenders collided as they tried to stop McGahee, and as the play ends, the official tosses his flag. I don't agree with it, and it force the Browns into a 1st-and-20 back near midfield again.

  24. The Chiefs' Only Sack: The Chiefs led the league in sacks heading into the game, but they only got one against the Browns. It came on the play after Thomas' holding penalty.

    Here are the routes were trying to run on the 1st-and-20. Pay attention to WR Josh Gordon at the top of the screen.

    Just prior to this screenshot, QB Jason Campbell had delivered a pump fake toward Gordon, and his defender bit for it and then stumbled to the ground on the double move. I think Campbell was going to launch this for a possible score, but the pressure finally got to him. It happens, especially when the defense knows it's a passing situation.

  25. Bess' Muff Ruins Comeback Attempt: Ugh. This is like the Chansi Stuckey fumble against the Jets.

    WR Davone Bess runs up to field the short punt right at midfield. The ball looks like it should be reasonably secure here.

    In fact, Bess has gone almost a full yard and still has his hands on the ball.

    This is when the ball comes loose. I can't really explain what happened to Bess on this. My hunch is that he wanted to switch the ball to one arm or the other and lost it in the fast-moving transition of the play. Cleveland should have started a drive 45 yards away from the end zone. Instead, the Chiefs recovered the muff, ate up some clock, and forced the Browns to take the rest of their timeouts.

  26. Looking for Bess on 3rd Down: The defense did come up with another stop, though, so if Cleveland could keep moving the ball, they had a chance to tie or win the game. This was a 3rd-and-7 on what ended up being their last "true" attempt at a drive in the fourth quarter.

    Here are the routes, and WR Davone Bess is going to be the targeted receiver on the left side of the field.

    This is another situation where I am admittedly nitpicking. On third down, it can be a bang-bang play. Campbell knows Bess will be breaking at the first down marker and wants to anticipate a throw to him. Because of that, he doesn't spot the blitzer coming from where TE Jordan Cameron was, and a possible quick hitter to Cameron being open.

    Here is another angle of Cameron. Campbell ends up getting hit a little as he throws toward Bess, and the pass falls short of him.

  27. Bess Strikes Again on Final Heave: It's 4th-and-7 -- this is it. Let's pay attention to two players: TE Jordan Cameron and WR Davone Bess.

    Cameron is the first receiver to QB Jason Campbell's left, and Bess is to the left of Cameron. Initially, Campbell looks to the left side of the field -- he wants to go to Cameron here, but it just doesn't open up.

    Campbell rolls to his right to try to keep the play alive. See the player I circled? That is Bess (enlarge if you can't see it), walking around as if the play is over. To be fair, a half second later, he starts sprinting back toward the first down marker as he sees Campbell looking across the field. Why is any receiver not fighting back to the ball in a situation like this, though, even if a completion may seem unlikely? It's do-or-die.

    I really appreciate Campbell doing whatever he could to give someone a chance at making a play here -- it's better than the situations where quarterbacks horribly just take a sack or dump the ball out of bounds. Bess goes to a slide, and would have had enough for a first down.

    Bess cups his hands to his body before the ball gets there, and therefore, the pass bounces off of him. This certainly isn't the easiest catch in the world to make, but Bess needed redemption, and he couldn't deliver.

  28. Final Assessments: I'll have to be cautious about my optimism with QB Jason Campbell. If he continues to play like he did against the Chiefs, though, this team could get right back into contention. The defense played lights out in the second half of the game -- it was as if they finally let loose. I think that half was the defining moment of the season for them, or rather, the turning point, when it comes to generating pressure and doing better on third  down defense.

  29. Special Teams Tackles: There were eight special teams tackles by the Browns with two from CB Johnson Bademosi and one each from TE Gary Barnidge, TE MarQueis Gray, LB Craig Robertson, LB Eric Martin, LB Tank Carder, and CB Chris Owens.

  30. Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: If you missed them, here are the links to our snap count trackers for offense (link) and defense (link). On offense, the playing time was pretty standard, although RB Fozzy Whittaker didn't get any carries. On defense, CB Leon McFadden supposedly played his first snap of the season, and the percentages for the safeties were a little lower than usual.

  31. Brownies: OLB Barkevious Mingo had a nice speed sack when the Chiefs tried to run a fleaflicker of their own in the second half. ... If only WR Travis Benjamin hadn't tried a spin move twice on that one punt return. ... There aren't a lot of 80-yard plays to run at the end of a game, but there is no way RB Fozzy Whittaker should have taken a knee in the end zone in that situation. ... WR Greg Little missed a possible catch that was perfectly floated over a linebacker's head, but Little looked to be concerned that the linebacker would tip the pass.

    The Browns had QB Jason Campbell go in motion on one play, with RB Willis McGahee taking the snap from the Wildcat. ... I didn't see a lot of glaring holds by the Chiefs' players; everything was borderline. ... The questionable plays came against Cleveland's players, although LT Joe Thomas probably did hold on one other instance to save QB Jason Campbell from taking a sack. ... After having 281 yards of offense in the first half, the Chiefs only managed 50 yards of offense in the second half.

Up next, the Browns take on the Baltimore Ravens before heading into the bye week. This could be the defining point of the season for Cleveland -- will they snap their three-game losing streak?