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Game Review: Browns Lose Opener 23-10 Largely Due to Protection Issues

Chris Pokorny breaks down what went wrong on offense for the Cleveland Browns in their 23-10 loss to the Dolphins.

Browns fans were hoping to see the offense reach the end zone plenty of times against the Dolphins. It only happened once, and protection issues had a lot to do with that.
Browns fans were hoping to see the offense reach the end zone plenty of times against the Dolphins. It only happened once, and protection issues had a lot to do with that.
Jason Miller

The Cleveland Browns did not get off to a great start in the Rob Chudzinski era. I'm sure many fans feel like we're going through the same "rinse and repeat" cycle, but in fairness, every regime and coaching staff deserves their fair shake in being evaluated.

Remember how awful the Browns looked in 2007 when they opened against the Steelers? They ended up finishing the year at 10-6, and that is when Chudzinski was the team's offensive coordinator. He followed that season-opening loss up with an offensive explosion against our division rivaled Bengals. Can history repeat itself seven years later? We'll see. For now, let's get my complete game review to see exactly what went wrong against Miami.

Miami Dolphins vs. Cleveland Browns

1st 2nd 3rd 4th FINAL


  1. Goat of the Game: OG Oniel Cousins - Heading into the game, I underestimated just how bad Cousins was going to be against Miami. I knew how terrible he was as an offensive tackle, but it put my mind at ease (somewhat) to buy into the glimmer of hope that he'd be more protected at the guard position. I was dead wrong -- in fact, Cousins' individual performance against the Dolphins might be the worst performance by a Browns offensive lineman that I've ever seen.

    According to Pro Football Focus, Cousins gave up three pressures and two sacks, was detrimental in the run game, and was flagged four times (twice for holding, once for a false start, and once for illegal hands to the face). Cousins' penalties wiped out an 18-yard pass to Davone Bess that would've been a first down, and a 20-yard pass to Gary Barnidge that would've set up an onside kick with a last-ditch effort to rally.

    With all due respect to Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston, the liability the Browns have had at the offensive guard position is the reason I called OG Louis Vasquez the top free agent I wanted the team to sign prior to free agency. Now, the Browns are stuck in a situation where they really don't want to acquire or sign a veteran fill-in (not that there are any out there) because before long, Lauvao will be back. In the mean time, we have to suffer through Cousins, though.

  2. Awarding the Game Ball: TE Jordan Cameron - He was the Browns' leading receiver with 9 catches for 108 yards and 1 touchdown. It might seem a bit unfair to give this to Cameron when DE Desmond Bryant also had a very good game. Cameron stands out more to me because this has been building for a couple of years. We've waited to see what he can do, and after a slow start to camp, he showed he can get open and make the necessary catches when no one else is stepping up.

  3. One of Cousins' Miscues: There were too many miscues from or manhandling of RG Oniel Cousins against the Dolphins. I've cherry-picked just a few of them, otherwise I'd be here all day.
    On the Browns' second series of the game, facing a 2nd-and-10, the Browns run a pitch play to the right side with Trent Richardson. On these pitch plays, the running backs don't have time to wait around, otherwise the backside pursuit will get to them. On the outside here, Mitchell Schwartz has a block, as does Gary Barnidge. What the hell is Cousins doing, though?

    Cousins is standing 3-4 yards behind the line of scrimmage -- you can't tell from this still shot, but he keeps looking back and forth, as if he's waiting for a Dolphin to come to him. Instead, he is basically shuffling into Richardson's path, which makes the play go to hell. Richardson bounces back and fights his way back to the line of scrimmage, but if Cousins just goes out and hits a block, Richardson might have been able to get upfield with this.

  4. Weeden's First Interception - Deep Ball to Benjamin: Over the next three bullet points, we're going to take a look at the three interceptions that Brandon Weeden threw. I give the Dolphins credit for capitalizing, but agree with Davone Bess when he said "there were a lot of what we call self-inflicted negatives" following the game. That was true on each of the three interceptions.

    This is a 3rd-and-8 situation, with the Browns being outside of field goal range. With a new kicker in town, it's not a bad idea to take a shot beyond the first-down market, rather than trying to make it a closer attempt for Billy Cundiff. Listed above, I have outlined the routes that are being run.

    I drew a yellow line to indicate where the first-down marker will be. Jordan Cameron and Davone Bess are each coming across the middle, but well short of the marker. Greg Little is going to be doing an up-and-in route, but it takes awhile to develop. The protection from the offensive line here is pretty good, but the issue stems from where I drew the arrow: Chris Ogbonnaya steps up too far, misjudges where to block is guy, and allows a defender to have a clean shot at Weeden.

    Weeden is about to get hit here, but he still gets a lot on this ball, as evidenced by the yellow dot I drew in the upper right-hand corner (that is where the ball will land). My issue here isn't with Weeden's decision necessarily, but with the personnel usage. Benjamin is not a physical receiver. His strengths are to use his straight-line speed to catch-and-run.

    If you go back to the first screenshot, right at the snap, Benjamin is bowing his route inward immediately, presumably to avoid the option of him being jammed by CB Nolan Carroll. The issue this creates? Knowing he has safety help on the inside, Carroll is able to stay on the outside part of the field, basically shielding Benjamin off from going there, which cuts off Benjamin's speed as he tries to take his route back to the flag.

    If this were Josh Gordon, he could gain an advantage at the line of scrimmage by not tipping the defender off with what he's doing. Perhaps this play turns out differently in that case. Instead, the safety has the leverage. This was not a throw into double coverage -- Benjamin just didn't win the battle.

  5. Weeden's Second Interception - Missing Bess: The next interception came on a 3rd-and-2 at the end of the first quarter; this was one of many third downs the Browns failed to complete.

    From this vantage point, the receiver going toward the right is Greg Little. That is who Weeden is going to rocket the ball to. The ball is a little high, but it is in stride and is not anything that Little needs to jump for. If he catches it, he'd have just enough yards for a first down. Instead, the ball goes in and out of Little's hands and rolls right onto Dimitri Patterson for an interception. This interception is Little's fault, no doubt.

    On the same note, we acquired Davone Bess for a reason -- to find him on third downs. What was the issue? Was he not getting open? To the contrary, he was getting open. He is the receiver going to the left in the screenshot above. The defender I circled is calling for someone to pick Bess up, because he is beaten. From what I can tell, nobody was close to Bess. If Weeden dumps this pass off to him instead, this is a big gain.

  6. Weeden's Third Interception - Plenty of Time: If the first interception was on the personnel usage/situation, and the second one was on Little, then the third one was solely on the shoulders of Brandon Weeden.

    This drive started off with a 22-yard reception by Jordan Cameron. We have our best field position of the day, and are facing a 1st-and-10. Weeden might have the best protection he's face all game here, and he decides to go to Cameron going accross the field. He has the time to wait a little bit longer, but fine -- he wants to hit the guy again who just made a big play.

    Weeden delivers a rocket that is behind Cameron, though. There are some plays in which you say, "the receiver has to come down with the catch if he got his hand on it." That wasn't the case here. Cameron was running full stride and tried to twist around to catch a rocket. He just barely got one hand up before the pass went up into the air and was intercepted.

    If I want to nitpick, Trent Richardson is peeling off to the right, opposite of Cameron, as seen above. There is a defender behind him (unseen), but there is a little more space than the other side, and you have to like Richardson's chances better than Cameron's of making yards after the catch. Weeden's quick trigger might have stemmed from previous protection problems during the game.

  7. D'Qwell Saves the Day: You can give an assist to ILB D'Qwell Jackson for the Browns being able to go into the half with a 7-6 lead.

    This pass is intended for the Dolphins Brandon Gibson, and it's not a bad throw. We saw Ryan Tannehill take advantage of the Browns' defense over the middle a couple of times, and this would have gone for a ton of yardage had it been completed. It could have taken the Browns out of the game in the first half. Instead, Jackson makes a great deflection, which then floats back into the arms of Tashaun Gipson. That set up Cleveland's only touchdown-scoring drive of the game.

  8. Something to Celebrate: There was nothing too fancy about the Browns' touchdown pass, but it is one of the few things positive on offense that we can look back on.
    Greg Little as at the top of the screen, running a short route across the field. Jordan Cameron is going to run a simple flag route to the corner. Trent Richardson is going to pick up a rusher on the left. Davone Bess fakes an inside move and then goes out. Travis Benjamin just kind of streaks to the back of the end zone.

    Here is a well-blocked play for Weeden, allowing him to step into his throw.

    When you see the connection between Brandon Weeden and Jordan Cameron, it provides some optimism for a dynamic offensive threat this season. Cameron did a great job avoiding the jam at the line of scrimmage to beat the linebacker. Brent Grimes, who was covering Little in the first screenshot, actually drops back for the double coverage. If Weeden throws a poor pass, it could get picked. Instead, the placement and timing is picture perfect.

  9. Second-Half Momentum Killers: To start the second half, Joe Haden almost intercepted a long pass intended for Mike Wallace, Paul Kruger notched a sack, and the Dolphins went three-and-out to punt. With Cleveland leading 7-6 and having scored on their previous possession, this was a chance for them to really take control of the game. Things quickly started spiraling downward, though, starting with the punt.
    I love the explosiveness that Travis Benjamin has on punt returns, but he's waving this punt off too early (even before this still shot was taken). Brandon Fields is a good punter, but this one didn't have much air on it. The ball lands at the 38, and Benjamin lets it go an additional 16 yards to the 22 yard line. The Browns lost an edge they could've had in the game of field position.

    Nonetheless, Trent Richardson got the ball right away and picked up 8 yards with some nice moves, setting up a quick 2nd-and-2. The Browns decided to feed Richardson again, but this time, he was swallowed up.

    You can see everyone's favorite offensive lineman, Oniel Cousins, getting beat by his man before Richardson even has the ball in his arms. There is one guy the Browns are letting go unblocked on the backside, so ideally, if this were blocked, Richardson would touch the ball and then cut to the right for the first down.
    Squash. No chance of success, and for those who say Richardson didn't do more with what he was given, just look at this play. That made it a 3rd-and-5, and then Weeden delivered an awful third-down throw in the direction of Davone Bess. Bess was covered, but we saw Weeden make those chain-moving throws in the preseason. He was out of rhythm from the Dolphins' pass rush.

  10. Another of Cousins' Miscues: Again, I am cherry-picking the plays with Cousins, but here's another one with the Browns facing a 3rd-and-18 (set up by a sack on the previous down).
    In this screenshot and at the right guard position, the defender has just made contact with Oniel Cousins for the first time.
    In probably less than a second, Cousins gets blown back three yards off of his spot, and the defender releases right into Weeden. Weeden quickly tries to shuffle a pass off to Chris Ogbonnaya, but it falls incomplete. I don't have the All-22 on this play, but Ogbonnaya actually has a step on his guy. This might have been one of those plays where the guy underneath crushes the defense with a catch-and-run for a first down. Cousins prevented that possibility from coming to fruition.

  11. Looking at Tannehill: The Browns got to Ryan Tannehill quite a bit for the first half of the game and the first couple of drives in the third quarter. The defense held strong up until that point, but they couldn't hold down the fort forever.
    The Browns are going to bring a seven-man blitz here on 3rd-and-9.
    Despite having some offensive line issues, the Dolphins pick the blitz up very well, and Tannehill delivers a strike to a wide open receiver. I'd like to see the safeties, in this case Tashaun Gipson, play a little closer, treating this as man-to-man, but I'm guessing he was afraid to come up and then be flat-footed if the receiver just streaked up the field for a deep ball.
    Two plays later, Miami cashes in with the go-ahead touchdown pass. Again, you can see that Tannehill has a clean pocket to step in to, and Brian Hartline makes a nice move on Buster Skrine down the sideline.
    People will say that Tannehill played a much better game than Weeden, but I disagree -- I thought they were pretty much on the same skill level. The difference? While Tannehill was under pressure, those pressures came at opportune times. Weeden, on the other hand, was probably under duress more times than he wasn't under duress. When he gets the protection he needs, as seen above, he's usually able to find the open guy. This play went for 21 yards to Jordan Cameron.

  12. Tight Ends Blocking: It wasn't just the offensive linemen who weren't getting the blocks down pat -- the tight ends and blocking backs weren't helping matters either. I already mentioned Chris Ogbonnaya's whiff on Brandon Weeden's first interception.
    Here, we look at tight end Gary Barnidge on a run play. Weeden pitches the ball to Richardson, and it looks like he's got space to run. Unfortunately, we have another guy who doesn't know who to block on a play, and this time, it's Barnidge (that is who the arrow is pointing to). Ideally, he would block or chip the guy I circled. Instead, he is basically...blocking our own offensive lineman?
    Richardson now has to bow more toward the outside because the guy I circled earlier was coming in for a free shot. As Richardson gets to the sideline, more defenders swarm him. He still manages two tough yards out of this, believe it or not.

  13. Benjamin With Another Cautious Return: I don't know if Travis Benjamin is still afraid of muffing a punt, but this is not the type of space you want to see when a guy with Benjamin's speed makes a fair catch while you're trailing in the fourth quarter:

  14. Last Stand Falls Short: Toward the beginning of the fourth quarter, Brandon Weeden did what he could to try to lead the offense back.

    Here's a throw that he didn't shy away from despite a defender coming free right at him -- he hits Greg Little for a first down.

    On the next play, Weeden zings a pass to Travis Benjamin about 20 yards down the field...and Benjamin drops it. Some of you asked if Benjamin could've gone the distance on this play, but we can only guess. If Benjamin catches it cleanly and comes down in stride, he has the speed to zoom by the two converging defenders for a touchdown. If he stumbles a bit, which seems likely after coming down with a leaping reception, he'd probably be hit by one of these two guys.

    Things went downhill from there. A few plays later, Gary Barnidge wasn't used as a chip blocker on Cameron Wake, and Weeden was sacked for a loss of nine yards. On the next play, the Browns had a screen play set up with blockers in front. Mitchell Schwartz, who wasn't one of the "release your guy on purpose" players, got beat right off the bat from the other side, though, forcing Weeden to deliver an errant pass.

  15. Final Assessment: After watching the game for the second time through, I am much higher on Weeden's performance than I was originally. This wasn't the same, completely incompetent-looking player who opened the season against the Eagles last season. His offensive line was terrible. I think the only player I didn't see screw him over was Alex Mack; even Joe Thomas had a play where he was bullrushed right into Weeden's face before he even finished his dropback. The pass protection schemes need to be fine-tuned fast. It is fixable, though. Four out of five of these linemen did well in pass protection last season, and they looked good in the preseason.

    Weeden had some bad throws, namely the interception on the pass intended for Jordan Cameron, an overthrow to Davone Bess, and the failed screen pass to Trent Richardson. He also made some nice, strong throws, a couple of which were dropped. Also, I thought Richardson's utilization in the running game was fine. He made the most of what he could, and the Browns didn't abandond the running game as much as I thought they did. Penalties or the clock winding down heightened the number of passes that Weeden had to throw. With that said, I thought Richardson should have been a bigger part of the gameplan in the passing game and on third down plays, instead of Chris Ogbonnaya.

  16. Defensive Praise: I spoke very little about the defense in this column, but I thought the front seven was very good. I've never seen a Browns' front seven do that to an opposing team's running game. The pass rush was adequate, but I think it can and will get better when you have more bodies like Ahtyba Rubin and Barkevious Mingo in the mix.

    The secondary was not terrible. The coverage on some plays by Chris Owens and the safeties on blitzes was a little softer than what I desired, but the secondary was not as bad as it was made out to be. There was one series where I thought to myself, "can we scrub this from the books?", and that was the touchdown-scoring drive that put Miami up 23-10 half-way through the fourth quarter. The Browns got very little pass rush, and the coverage was generally soft.

  17. Special Teams Tackles: There were two special teams tackles by the Browns and two assists. S Johnson Bademosi and CB Leon McFadden each had a tackle; Bademosi and CB Buster Skrine each had an assist. WR Travis Benjamin gets the unfortunate credit of making two "miscellaneous tackles," which means they came after your team turned the ball over.

  18. 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, Josh Cooper only saw one snap. On defense, I questioned why the safeties' play percentages didn't add up to a full game played.

  19. Brownies: In future weeks, Bobby Rainey should think twice about returning kickoffs that are 8-9 yards deep in the end zone. ... Spencer Lanning was solid on his punts, putting together a more reliable day than we saw from Reggie Hodges all of last season. ... Billy Cundiff boomed two kickoffs for touchbacks, and the other one was seven yards deep into the end zone (and taken out to the 17). ... T.J. Ward left briefly with an injury but returned. ... Ward and Joe Haden each dropped interceptions; Ward's came on a drive that led to a touchdown. ... The Browns held the Dolphins to 20 yards on 23 carries (0.9 average). ... Cleveland converted just 1-of-14 third downs, but were 2-of-4 on fourth downs. ... Brandon Weeden's stats were a bit exagerrated by the fact that he attempted 15 passes in 3:00 worth of time on the final drive.

Up next, the Browns travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens, as they will be celebrating their Super Bowl win from a year ago. Feel free to leave some more of your thoughts on the game.