Besides the fact that the Cleveland Browns won to improve to 7-4 on the season, if you are looking for a positive from the team's 26-24 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, then how about this one: they are finding different ways to win, which is an important experience to have as a player and grow together as a locker room.
We've seen the Browns pull off a competitive nail-biter (New Orleans), a stunning point margin comeback (Tennessee), winning ugly (Tampa Bay & Oakland), and winning dominantly (Pittsburgh & Cincinnati). The new experience? Feeling like you handled the opposition very well, collapsed, but then still held on for a victory (Atlanta). Good teams find ways to win, and that's exactly what Mike Pettine's club is doing in 2014. Let's get to my complete game review to see how everything went down.
WEEK 12 - CLEVELAND BROWNS VS. ATLANTA FALCONS
(COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
- Awarding the Game Ball: CB Justin Gilbert - The rookie cornerback played only eight snaps but had two pass breakups. The second pass breakup came on Atlanta's final offensive play, which forced the Falcons to leave more time on the clock when they kicked their 53-yard field goal. It was a big play at a big moment for the youngster -- the game is over if he doesn't snap his head around and deflect the pass when he did.
- Goat of the Game: QB Brian Hoyer - In the losses to the Jaguars and the Texans, it felt like the Browns collectively struggled as an offense. Against the Falcons, Cleveland was winning all of the battles, but Hoyer made several critical errors that kept the game close. His interception before the end of the first half (when his receiver was wide open) allowed Atlanta to take a halftime lead.
His interception on first down at the six yard line with under five minutes to go in the game, while Cleveland had a lead, was an unnecessary risk. His interception a few minutes later came when WR Josh Gordon was wide open. Hoyer also missed a wide open Gordon twice in the first half on plays in which he was wide open for big yardage. Hoyer was money on the final drive to save the day, but we can't forget why Cleveland was in that position in the first place.
- Leonhard Can't Jump Route: Although QB Brian Hoyer struggled on the day, QB Matt Ryan made some equally bad decisions -- it's just that Cleveland's secondary didn't make him pay with as many interceptions.
On the Falcons' first drive, Ryan faced a 3rd-and-7 with a trips bunch of receivers to his right. The receiver in the middle of the trips bunch is WR Roddy White, who will fade to the outside a bit before coming back to the middle of the field.
In the screenshot above, one Falcons receiver is running deep, but S Jim Leonhard sees Ryan winding up to throw. He is going to come off of his route to be in position to jump the in route by White, with our other cornerback trailing.
Although Leonhard recognized the play, White ran right in front of him to catch the pass for a gain of 20 yards and a first down. One of two things happened: (1) Leonhard camped at a stand still spot, thinking the pass was thrown inaccurately and he could intercept it, or (2) he wanted to jump the route better but couldn't get his footing / started up again after releasing the deep receiver.
- Containing the Run: Despite Cleveland's run defense being torched by the Texans last week, Atlanta had no success on the ground against Cleveland. RB Steven Jackson had 13 carries for 34 yards, and as a team, the Falcons averaged 2.7 YPC.
Besides the fact that Jackson is over-the-hill as a running back, Cleveland had good containment this week. As you can see here, ILB Chris Kirksey and FS Tashaun Gipson stay patient on the outside. Rather than over-pursuing, they wait -- they are willing to give up 2-3 yards, because that's a win for the defense. On this play, Jackson tries to cut back inside where help is waiting as DE Desmond Bryant tackles Jackson after a gain of three yards.
- Gilbert Breaks Up Third Down Pass: Since I gave him the game ball, it's only fitting that I break down both of CB Justin Gilbert's pass breakups.
Still on Atlanta's first drive of the game, QB Matt Ryan faced another 3rd-and-7. CB Justin Gilbert is at the top of the screen and everybody appears to be in man coverage. WR Harry Douglas is in the slot at the top of the screen with WR K'Waun Williams guarding him.
Ryan sees the man coverage and wants to take advantage of the space that Douglas has to the sideline on his out route. When Gilbert gets to the first down marker, he releases his man to the safety and plays the out route.
Williams would've had very good coverage anyway, but Gilbert breaks up the pass nonetheless. If the ball is thrown to the outside just a tad more, Gilbert might have had his first interception of the season.
- Few Blemishes for Browns' Running Game: Cleveland had very few blemishes in the running game, but I saw that C Nick McDonald was graded negatively again by Pro Football Focus. Here is an example why.
Facing a 1st-and-10 on their first drive, RB Isaiah Crowell gets a handoff (not a pitch) from QB Brian Hoyer.
McDonald gets beat by his man right off the snap. Crowell stumbles and is touched down for a loss of three yards, but I'm guessing he only stumbled because he was thinking about what move he could make to avoid contact as soon as he touched the ball.
- Hoyer Misses Cake Throw to Benjamin: The advantage of Kyle Shanahan's playaction calls is that receivers often end up being wide open, which should make things easy for the quarterback.
Facing a 2nd-and-8, Hoyer runs a playaction pass with two receivers running out routes. Because the Falcons have eight in the box, the receivers will have one-on-one matchups since the safety is playing center field.
At the bottom of the screen, the cornerback played well off of WR Travis Benjamin, having to respect his speed. Benjamin is wide open by NFL standards, and QB Brian Hoyer isn't facing significant pressure.
The throw is too outside -- Benjamin is only able to keep one foot in bounds, so it results in an incomplete pass instead of a fresh set of downs.
- First Shot to Gordon: On the next play, facing a 3rd-and-8, QB Brian Hoyer took his first shot at WR Josh Gordon.
Gordon is lined up in the slot to Hoyer's right. Starting at the numbers, he will be running down the sideline, which gives Hoyer plenty of room to throw a pass to Gordon's outside.
The safety is late in coming over, so the Browns have a shot at connecting here.
In a perfect world, I think the throw could have been a tad more to the outside, given the space Gordon had between him and the sideline. With that said, CB Desmond Trufant also deserves credit for having tight coverage on Gordon and trying to make a play on the ball. After the incompletion, the Browns punted.
- Whitner Misses Pick Six: This one would've haunted SS Donte Whitner had the Browns not been able to pull off a victory.
Facing a 2nd-and-8 in Cleveland territory, SS Donte Whitner is in the green circle with the non-safeties playing man coverage across the board. CB K'Waun Williams is lined up on WR Devin Hester in the slot to the right of QB Matt Ryan.
I'm not sure what Ryan saw that made him think this was a good throw. First, Williams undercuts the route and is in position for an interception or a pass breakup. Whitner is jumping the route with an opportunity for a pick six.
Whitner has the ball clear in his breadbasket here, and there is no way anybody would have caught him. He bobbles the ball and drops it, much to his dismay. It sets up a third down play, but OLB Jabaal Sheard jumped offsides to help extend Atlanta's drive.
- Haden Bites on Falcons' First TD: Facing a 2nd-and-10 from the 24 yard line, Atlanta ran a play that worked beautifully against the Browns' defense.
With how many playaction fakes the Browns do and how many pitch plays they do, I've been surprised that we don't see QB Brian Hoyer do a fake pitch bootleg. That's what QB Matt Ryan does here -- he fakes a pitch to the running back on the left side and then rolls out to his right.
CB Joe Haden is in man coverage on WR Julio Jones at the bottom of the screen and CB Buster Skrine has man coverage on WR Roddy White at the top of the screen. The lone safety is SS Donte Whitner in the green.
One thing to note about this play is that Atlanta kind of quick snapped the Browns. As soon as he got under center, he snapped the ball immediately, which I think caught the Browns a bit flat-footed as they were still trying to communicate pre-snap.
In this screenshot, you can see that Haden is sprinting toward the running back, thinking this is a run play. During the game, fans wondered if Haden was passing Jones off to Whitner here, and I'd venture to say, "no." What if Jones had run a flag route? Haden took a chance, and it didn't pay off. Ryan rolls out to his right, so that is the direction Whitner starts gravitating towards.
Ryan spots the wide open Jones and hits him for the touchdown to give Atlanta a 7-0 lead. He also had another receiver fairly wide open underneath.
- Gordon's First Reception in 2014: Mid-way through the first quarter, WR Josh Gordon caught his first pass of the 2014 season.
Facing a 3rd-and-6, the Falcons are in man coverage. WR Josh Gordon is at the bottom of the screen running a shallow crossing route. TE Gary Barnidge is lined up next to him running straight up the field. At the top of the screen, WR Andrew Hawkins is in the slow, running a route that ends up turning into a delayed block, while WR Miles Austin is on the outside clearing out space. In the green is CB Desmond Trufant.
Because of how far off Trufant was, he immediately loses Gordon in man coverage. The middle linebacker is coming in for a delayed blitz, which will open up the middle of the field more for Gordon. Since everyone else is still playing man coverage, the other cornerbacks aren't coming off of their coverage to look for Gordon as they might in zone coverage.
Gordon catches the pass with a slot bobble, and Hawkins throws a little block to help spring the returning receiver for a gain of 12 yards and a first down.
- Hawkins in Space: Perhaps more than any other game this season, WR Andrew Hawkins was able to take advantage of spacing and yards after the catch. Maybe it was because he was up against a poor pass defense, or maybe the presence of WR Josh Gordon allowed him to have some better matchups.
This is the play after Gordon's first catch, facing a 1st-and-10. QB Brian Hoyer runs a playaction fake and Hawkins sells like he's not doing anything. The cornerback covering him has his eyes in the backfield.
When Hawkins makes his move toward the outside, Hoyer finds him for a catch-and-run of 17 yards and in to Atlanta territory.
- Falcons Tackle Barnidge on 4th Down: The Browns ran three straight run plays, each of which gained three yards to set up a 4th-and-1 at the Falcons' 38 yard line.
One might say the Browns should have run the ball given the fact that Atlanta was having a tough time penetrating into Cleveland's backfield, but Kyle Shanahan dialed up another playaction pass. TE Gary Barnidge is Hoyer's primary target over the middle.
Because television cameras don't show the whole field, when Hoyer didn't throw it over the middle (his first read), I suspected trouble. When he floated an incomplete pass to FB Ray Agnew leaking out late, I felt pretty depressed. Looking at the All-22 above, though, you can get a glimpse of the safety grabbing Barnidge from behind...
..and stumbling into him for a tackle. The officials threw the flag to give Cleveland a fresh set of downs. That's the good news, but I also would have liked to have seen Hoyer still find a way to connect with Agnew here. I mean, we have to complete a pass to Agnew at some point, right? Or is this the new, "every quarterback always overthrows TE MarQueis Gray" situation from 2013?
- Quick WR Screen to Gordon: In the first game back for WR Josh Gordon last year vs. Minnesota, the Browns threw a bubble screen to him. They pulled it out twice against the Falcons and it worked both times.
This is the first play after the previously discussed play. When QB Brian Hoyer saw this pre-snap alignment for the Falcons' defense, he had to be salivating. Atlanta doesn't line up any defensive linemen outside the left guard, so there is no threat of a pass rusher getting in the way of the pass. No one goes in motion with the tight end either, indicating zone coverage. FB Ray Agnew is at the top of the screen with Gordon in the slot.
Hoyer takes the snap and immediately whips it out to Gordon.
Agnew maintains his block on the defensive back, LT Joe Thomas has his man blocked, and the tight end chips away at the other defender. Gordon then reminds everybody how good he is weaving through space as he takes this for a 22 yard gain, down to the 11 yard line.
- Benjamin Drops Catch After Hoyer Improvises: On the very next play, QB Brian Hoyer made a great read that should have paid off for a touchdown.
This appears to be a called run play, but look at the uncovered WR Travis Benjamin. No. 27 of the Falcons (cyan circle) is making his way over to line up over Benjamin, but he's taking his good old time. Hoyer quick snaps the ball, abandons the run, and throws an improvised screen out to Benjamin.
Unfortunately, Benjamin bobbled and then dropped the pass. Gordon would have likely been able to get a block on his man and run in for the score.
- Crowell's First TD Run: Despite Cleveland's missed opportunity, the Browns capitalized on the next play with RB Isaiah Crowell.
Crowell takes the handoff and is going to cut to the left
The Falcons' safety is overaggressive and tries to hit this open hole, but Crowell continues his cut to the outside where WR Miles Austin and TE Gary Barnidge form a nice lane for the 11-yard rushing touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
- Haden Undercuts Route for INT: Cleveland's kick coverage stopped Devin Hester at the 9 yard line on the ensuing kickoff and then NT Ahtyba Rubin sacked Matt Ryan for a loss of six yards.
After a short completion on second down, the Falcons faced a 3rd-and-9. The only route I diagrammed above is the one that WR Julio Jones is running, which I thought was fitting since that is where Ryan looked the entire time.
Jones is running a deep out route. As soon as Haden sees Jones take a cut to the outside, he undercuts the route. The bad news for Ryan is that he's already throwing this ball, not anticipating that Haden will take the chance that he does.
Haden has now run the route better than the receiver and leaps up for an interception. It's a great play and one that you like to see cornerbacks take at times. Could it have burned the Browns? Yes -- because if Jones took one step to the outside and then streaked upfield, Ryan would have Jones open for a big play.
Haden knows the situation, though -- Jones made his cut on the out route at about 20 yards downfield, and seeing a double move at that length would take a lot of time for the quarterback to have to sit in the pocket. The interception gave Cleveland the ball 29 yards away from the end zone.
- Gordon Stumbles on 3rd Down: After picking up one first down and running a couple more plays, the Browns faced a 3rd-and-6 at the 15 yard line.
WR Josh Gordon is running a fade to the outside at the top of the screen, while a bunch of other stuff is happening at the bottom of the screen.
At the snap, QB Brian Hoyer is looking left, perhaps to draw the safety away from Gordon. The route by WR Miles Austin helps do just that. If you look at Gordon at the top of the screen, he is stumbling at the beginning of his route. It's not a big stumble, but what it does is give the Falcons' cornerback the tipoff that Gordon is fading and not any threat to come back to the inside part of the field.
Hoyer then snaps back to his right and throws to a spot in the end zone (indicated by the yellow asterisk). I feel this is the type of timing route these guys would have worked on in practice. Because Gordon stumbled and the cornerback had shielded Gordon off to the sideline, the pass falls incomplete. Without the stumble, this would still be a contested pass, but Gordon would've had a fair chance at catching it. Instead, the Browns settled for a 33 yard field goal by K Billy Cundiff to take a 10-7 lead a few minutes in to the second quarter.
- Kruger Strip Sacks Ryan for Turnover: On the Falcons' next drive, they are facing a 3rd-and-3 situation from near midfield.
I'm not exactly sure what the Falcons' offensive line was designed to do here, so maybe one of our offensive line experts can chime in. OLB Barkevious Mingo and OLB Paul Kruger are both lined up wide and will rush the quarterback.
Mingo gets by untouched as the left tackle isn't concerned with him. The running back leaks out as a receiver. Kruger is going untouched at first as the right tackle ignores him, but the right guard comes out late for a chip. Was the left guard supposed to do the same with Mingo?
Ryan feels Mingo coming and steps up after he gets a hand on him. Kruger then does a spin more to the inside...
...and prepares the tomahawk chop on Ryan's throwing arm. Kruger gets the strip and the sack, and DE Desmond Bryant comes away from the pile with the recovery. Cleveland took over at the 40 yard line, in Atlanta territory for the second drive in a row.
- Hoyer Misses Gordon on Inaccurate Crosser: On the Browns' first play, they ran one of their bread-and-butter / uncoverable plays from last year to WR Josh Gordon, the Bang 8 route for a gain of 17 yards.
Cleveland now faced a 1st-and-10 at the 23 yard line. QB Brian Hoyer runs a playaction fake.
When we had our "unknown" receivers getting wide open off of these fakes all year, I was cringing with glee at the thought of how open Gordon would be on them. Sure enough, Gordon is so wide open on the crossing route here that it is just...beautiful.
What isn't so beautiful is the throw. It is way behind Gordon. Don't get the wrong impression by the defensive back being so close to Gordon -- he is only that close because Gordon had to stop all of his momentum and try to jump and reach back with one hand.
This should have been the easiest throw a quarterback could make, and if it's in stride, Gordon walks down to the five yard line and could get into the end zone with a good open field move. Instead, it is incomplete, and then Hoyer bobbled the snap on the next play for a loss of yards, which basically forced Cleveland to settle for another field goal. K Billy Cundiff was good from 37 yards out to increase the Browns' lead to 13-7.
- Hoyer Underthrows Dray on INT: The Falcons moved into Cleveland territory on their next drive, but had to punt when they couldn't convert on a 3rd-and-4 from the 43 yard line. The Browns began their drive at the 20 yard line but moved the ball quickly with plays like this: RB Terrance West for 9 yards on the ground, WR Andrew Hawkins for 17 yards through the air, and RB Isaiah Crowell for 7 yards on the ground.
The last play (run by Crowell) moved the ball into Falcons territory. Facing a 1st-and-10 from the 44 yard line, QB Brian Hoyer is going to get another receiver open on a crossing route.
Falcons SS Kemal Ishmael came up for the run initially, but dropped back into coverage a little bit when he saw Hoyer hold on to the ball. Again, by NFL standards, TE Jim Dray is wide open on the crossing route. The depth of the throw should be at the cyan mark. Instead, Hoyer lobs it to the green mark, which allows Ishmael to intercept the pass.
This came on a first down play with three minutes left in the first half. If the Browns converted this play as they should have, they likely possess the ball heading into two minutes of play and would be in field goal range. At a minimum, they could've gone into the half with a two-possession lead at 16-7.
- Falcons Execute in Red Zone: One situation that the Browns' defense has executed poorly at has been when they've faced adversity at the end of the first half. When the offense makes a mistake, can't they stop the bleeding at least once?
After picking up three first downs, the Falcons faced a 1st-and-goal from the 8 yard line with 1:00 to play. QB Matt Ryan ran a quick playfake and then immediately looked to the outside receiver. This drove OLB Paul Kruger into the outside passing lane by design so that Ryan could so a nice little flip to RB Jacquizz Rodgers. No. 75 then leaks out to the second level...
...and it is another well-designed play by the Falcons inside the 25 yard line. Ryan might have struggled throughout the day, but he and the Falcons gave Browns defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil some looks that the defense needs to improve upon. Rodgers' score gave the Falcons a 14-13 lead.
- Missing Gordon Before the Half: The Browns had one minute and a full batch of timeouts to work with before the end of the first half. The idea was to set into field goal range, but head coach Mike Pettine made the inexplicable decision to not use a timeout after a 19 yard bubble screen to WR Josh Gordon.
Gordon was tackled with 0:43 left. Instead of using their first timeout, the Browns went to the line and snapped the ball with 0:27 left. That is 16 seconds of wasted time, which equates to about two plays.
After a couple more completions to WR Andrew Hawkins, the Browns faced a 2nd-and-5 at the 42 yard line with 0:08 left (and two timeouts still banked). The Falcons' defense let's WR Josh Gordon run up the field, playing as if Cleveland is going for a short completion. The deep safety recognizes Gordon going upfield, so his momentum starts going to the left side of the field.
At this point, QB Brian Hoyer is already releasing the pass for Gordon. The deep safety isn't in position to catch him with a throw in stride. The defender in green might be able to make a tackle if he recognizes Gordon running free, but he might be preoccupied still trying to defend his own receiver.
The throw is high and behind Gordon again, resulting in an incompletion.
- Bitonio Saves Mike Pettine: With just 0:03 left in the half, the Browns lined up for a 60-yard field goal by K Billy Cundiff. I thought, "no way," and his first kick was not even close distance-wise, but the Falcons had called a timeout. Mike Pettine later admitted to his mistake; he should have gone for the Hail Mary. Instead, he allowed Cundiff to try again because he told him that he had let up on the first kick once he heard the timeout. Bogus. The kick was exactly the same the second time around.
That's when disaster almost struck. KR Devin Hester fields the ball and then works his magic like only he can. The green circle indicates the position of OG Joel Bitonio as Hester comes out of the end zone. The magenta arrow represents P Spencer Lanning, who is playing the "last resort" role off screen.
Here is another progression with Lanning trying to distract Hester as Bitonio continues his sprint.
If Hester takes this to the outside, he probably has a touchdown. There is a risk of stepping out of bounds, though, and he probably thinks that the punter is the only person he needs to beat here. Remember, this is a field goal return (which has tight ends and offensive linemen giving chase), not a kick return (which would have defensive backs giving chase).
Lanning deserves credit for the attempt, enough to slow Hester for just a second as you can see the big man Bitonio still huffing and puffing his way to Hester. If you're a Falcons fan, you're probably screaming for No. 41 to turn around and chip Bitonio.
GORE! GORE! GORE! Ok, maybe it's not a gore, but it felt like it. Bitonio's save kept it a 14-13 Falcons lead at the half.
- Pick Play Gets Hawk Open: One play after WR Josh Gordon threw a pass to avoid a massive loss of yards on a botched wide receiver reverse, the Browns faced a 3rd-and-6 on their first drive of the second half.
The Browns are going to run a little pick play to spring WR Andrew Hawkins free. Hawkins is lined up to the right of QB Brian Hoyer in the slot stack, but behind WR Miles Austin.
The Falcons are in man coverage, so Austin's route picks Hawkins' defender.
Hoyer delivers a good pass over the middle and with the center of the field vacated, Hawkins' catch-and-run goes for 40 yards! It's his second biggest play of the season.
- Austin Drops TD in Traffic: After a couple more plays, the Browns faced a 2nd-and-goal at the 5 yard line.
QB Brian Hoyer lines up in Shotgun. WR Miles Austin is split left with TE Gary Barnidge running upfield from the tight end position.
The Browns did a lot of pick-type plays against the Falcons, and this was one of them. Austin is not going to keep running toward the middle of the field -- he's going to sit down in the soft spot as Hoyer delivers a dart.
It's a tight window with defenders close to flashing on on Austin, but the pass still hits him accurately in the hands. Austin drops it. Although he had a good game other than this play, it would've been nice to get six. Instead, the Browns settled for another field goal from K Billy Cundiff, this time from 32 yards out, to re-take the lead at 16-14.
- Kruger Gets Ryan Again: On the Falcons' first drive of the second half, OLB Paul Kruger sacked QB Matt Ryan for the second time of the game.
The Browns are going to bring six players on this 3rd-and-3 play with an overload to the right side. The person on the far right of Atlanta's line is OT Gabe Carimi, who they used on 20% of their snaps as a sixth offensive lineman.
Kruger gets initial pressure on Ryan, but Carimi is able to push Kruger out of the way and to the ground as Ryan escapes. Inexplicable, Ryan then heads back to where Kruger just was...
...and it's pretty hilarious to watch Kruger get up and just take Ryan to the ground for the 12-yard sack mid-way through the third quarter.
- Crowell's Ability on Display for 2nd TD: The Browns' next drive began with RB Terrance West as the featured running back. With a few pass plays mixed in, West had 5 carries for 19 yards on the drive, but two of those carries went for first downs.
On a 2nd-and-7 from the 26 yard line, RB Isaiah Crowell was brought back into the game. DBN's Tim Miller broke this play down in depth here. Above, you can see what the plan is pre-snap.
TE Gary Barnidge comes around to block No. 55, but doesn't get in his way a whole lot. Crowell has the quickness to bounce to the outside, where TE Jim Dray has done a good job on his man.
Once Crowell gets to the second level, he takes advantage of the Falcons' defensive backs having their momentum going one way, so he takes this back to the other side of the field for the 26-yard touchdown that included a few shoving away of defenders. The touchdown gave the Browns what seemed like a comfortable lead at 23-14 with under a minute to play in the third quarter.
- Haden & Gipson Both Jump Ryan: The Falcons put together a good response drive to begin the fourth quarter.
Facing a 1st-and-10 from the 21 yard line, WR Julio Jones ran a post route to the middle of the field. As soon as he ran the post, CB Joe Haden undercut the route and is in position for the interception. FS Tashaun Gipson is eying QB Matt Ryan the entire time and is also going for the pick.
As you can see, both players read it right. Unfortunately, they collided with each other. Haden just got the wind knocked out of him, but Gipson suffered a semi-serious knee injury that will keep him out the rest of the regular season. The Browns were flagged for defensive holding on the play too, so an interception wouldn't have counted.
A few plays later, Falcons RB Steven Jackson scored from 1 yard out to close the gap to 23-21 with under ten minutes to play in the game.
- Hoyer's Late Blunder for INT, Part 1: The Browns responded by putting together what was shaping up to be a game-sealing drive. The Browns were doing well on the ground with runs of 7 and 18 yards by RB Isaiah Crowell and a 20-yard run by RB Terrance West. There were also pass plays of 12 yards (WR Josh Gordon) and 13 yards (WR Taylor Gabriel).
All of those gains led the Browns to having a 1st-and-goal from the 6 yard line with under five minutes to play in the game.
I don't mind running a playaction fake here -- if we want to always brag about how open it gets guys, we can't be too picky about when and how Kyle Shanahan uses it. The specific play we ran is the exact same one that RB Terrance West scored on several weeks ago against the Buccaneers. On that play, the Browns were two yards away from the end zone and West went pretty much uncovered out of the backfield.
This time, a defender is in on West. It's not the fastest defender, so you'd like to let West run to the corner and lead him with a good pass on the run -- either it's caught, or it's too outside and incomplete.
Instead, Hoyer keeps backing up. At this precise point in time, WR Josh Gordon looks like he might have a shot at a touchdown on his late crossing route.
Here is what it looks like from Hoyer's perspective. Yes, there is a defender underneath, but Hoyer could deliver a pass on a line drive (but over his head) to about the last letter "A" in the word "Atlanta" in the end zone.
Instead, Hoyer pats the ball once, presumably to see if he can make the pass rusher bearing down on him jump. The rusher just keeps coming, so Hoyer backpedals to the 20 yard line and throws a lob off his back foot to the corner of the end zone, which is intercepted. CB Desmond Trufant made a heck of a play on the ball, but at that point, Hoyer has to throw it away. We would have had 2nd-and-goal at the 6 yard line! This was the most frustrating play of the game because it was a decision-making error vs. just him being inaccurate.
- Browns' Defense Brings the Heat: The Browns' defense might not have responded to adversity at the end of the first half, but they responded in this situation.
On 2nd-and-10, Falcons CB K'Waun Williams came untouched on a corner blitz and hit QB Matt Ryan in the midsection as he threw a pass. The wobbler (luckily) connected with WR Roddy White for five yards. On the next play, facing a 3rd-and-5, Williams came on the blitz again, this time from the other side.
Williams gets the free rush...
...and hits Ryan as he throws.
CB Buster Skrine sees the duck and does into the air to grab it, but he can't hang on to the interception because WR Julio Jones breaks it up. With under four minutes to play, the Falcons decide to punt.
- Risky on Pass Too High for Barnidge: The Browns' first play was a good one -- an 8-yard run by RB Isaiah Crowell. Then, OG Joel Bitonio false started as QB Brian Hoyer called out a late adjustment from under center.
Facing a 2nd-and-7, QB Brian Hoyer ran a playaction fake, quickly turned around, and fired to TE Gary Barnidge over the middle.
Yes, there was a window to fit this in to. This was one of the few plays in which the Falcons weren't really fooled by the playaction fake, and Cleveland only sent two receivers into the route, so Hoyer needed to go with his first read. If this pass is lower, he might have a completion to Barnidge. Nonetheless, it looks pretty risky, doesn't it?
- Missing a Chance to Seal the Game: This is another example of where the inaccuracy issues for QB Brian Hoyer continue to shine prominently.
Facing a 3rd-and-7 with 2:51 left in the game, the Falcons are in zone coverage. WR Josh Gordon is at the bottom of the screen.
Gordon runs upfield pretty much unguarded as the safety is well late in coming over. Gordon goes toward the sideline, where there is a ton of open space. Note: this is still a 30+ yard throw to the farther end of the field, but you'd expect the ball to be completed in the relative vicinity of Gordon.
Gordon finds the open area and runs to it. The ball lands at the green asterisk, which the deep safety sees and is able to make a play on for the interception.
The only thing I can come up with here is that Hoyer never saw the safety and just put the ball up there for Gordon? The chemistry factor could always be to blame too, but from a pure situational football perspective, I can't see how Gordon did anything wrong here. The interception put Atlanta close to field goal range with 2:42 left in the game.
- Gilbert Turns Just in Time: Here is the play that CB Justin Gilbert earned the game ball for. Again -- it's not about it being a spectacular play, it's about coming up with a positive play in a key moment when your number is called.
The Falcons faced a 3rd-and-2 from the 35 yard line, having already done Cleveland a favor by calling an immediate timeout with 0:55 left in the game. WR Devin Hester is lined up at the top of the screen, doing a bit of a fade route on CB Justin Gilbert. Personally, I would've recommended a double move since Gilbert has jumped on those, but that's not what Hester did.
Gilbert pays attention to the receiver rather than the quarterback.
A good throw to the outside might have led to a completion, but Hester has to come back inside a little bit.
Given the height difference, Hester has to jump for the ball. Up until Hester jumped, Gilbert was on pace to run in to the receiver for pass interference. As soon as Gilbert saw Hester leave his feet, his instinct was to whip his head around and stick his arm in the air. It worked -- Gilbert batted the ball away and avoided any flag. The Falcons still kicked a 53-yard field goal to go ahead 24-23, but the stop at least gave Cleveland a glimmer of hope.
- Final Gasp - Gordon for 24 Yards: 0:44 left. 3 timeouts. Non-long-distance kicker. Difficult for most NFL quarterbacks. For QB Brian Hoyer, coming off of terrible interceptions on back-to-back drives? He was made for this. On the first completion, Hoyer lofted an 11-yard sideline pass to WR Miles Austin after the Falcons brought a corner blitz. TIMEOUT!
On 1st-and-10 from the 31 yard line with 0:32 left, Hoyer is going to find WR Josh Gordon for 24 yards over the middle. Gordon starts at the bottom of the screen, running a long route that cuts to the middle of the field.
The Falcons are in zone coverage and Hoyer steps up and past the pressure.
Gordon is open, but Hoyer still needed a nice pass to get over the linebacker's head. The pass is right on the money. TIMEOUT!
- Final Gasp - Barnidge for 15 Yards: Heading into the next play, the Browns faced a 1st-and-10 at the Falcons' 45 yard line with 0:24 to play.
TE Gary Barnidge is the far left receiver in the trips bunch to the right of QB Brian Hoyer. Barnidge is running a simple route over the middle.
Barnidge gains inside position in his man and QB Brian Hoyer fires.
Bang, right on the money -- a little high, but in stride. After Barnidge makes the catch, the Falcons defenders collide with each other so he's able to run for five more yards down to the 30 yard line. FINAL TIMEOUT!
- Final Gasp - Austin for 11 Yards: The Browns were now out of timeouts, but 47 yards is still a long field goal attempt for K Billy Cundiff. Cleveland was looking for a way to get yardage without bleeding the clock to 0:00 before they could get another snap off.
What should Cleveland do? Well, if the pick play has been working for the Browns all game, why not try it again? The Browns moved TE Gary Barnidge in motion to the right side to confirm that the Falcons were in man coverage. WR Miles Austin (green arrow) is going to cut underneath Barnidge's route.
This works out perfectly for Cleveland. Barnidge sets the pick, and the Falcons bring a six-man blitz rather than dropping a linebacker in coverage over the middle.
Austin is wide open, makes the catch, and then slides down at the Falcons' 19 yard line after a gain of 11 yards. Cleveland hurries back to the line of scrimmage. They clock it with 0:05 to go. For as badly as the Browns botched the first half one-minute drill with three timeouts, they worked it to perfection here. The coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for being able to pick up ten yards and get back to the line of scrimmage for a spike in just 11 seconds. Well done.
K Billy Cundiff marched onto the field and confidently kicked the 37-yard game winner as time expired, his fourth field goal of the game. The Browns won 26-24.
- Special Teams Tackles: There were 5 special teams tackles with 1 each from OG Joel Bitonio, S Jim Leonhard, S Johnson Bademosi, S Jordan Poyer, and CB K'Waun Williams. There were 2 assists with 1 each from ILB Tank Carder and S Jim Leonhard.
- 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, RB Isaiah Crowell saw 60% of the snaps, while RB Terrance West played 40% of the snaps and had more carries. On defense, OLB Jabaal Sheard was able to contribute despite having a foot injury.
- Brownies: The Browns were 4-of-10 (40%) on 3rd down. ... The Falcons were 9-of-16 on 3rd down (56%). ... The Browns out-gained the Falcons in yards 475 to 315. ... Cleveland was a putrid 1-of-6 (17%) in the red zone, showing how many opportunities they failed to convert on. ... The time of possession was about even at 30:37 to 29:23. ... WR Taylor Gabriel and WR Travis Benjamin both lined up for kickoffs, but neither got to take one out. ... WR Josh Gordon had two tackles and threw a pass in his first game back.
Up next, the Browns take on theon the road. Keep it tuned to Dawgs By Nature for our coverage leading up to the game!