The Cleveland Browns' effort ended up feeling lifeless by the end of the team's 24-6 loss to the St. Louis Rams, even though one play near the end of the third quarter was the definitive nail in the coffin. Here is my film review of this week's game.
NFL Week 7 Film Review
|Cleveland Browns vs. St. Louis Rams
- Goat of the Game: WR Taylor Gabriel - This was a toss-up between any of the three Browns players who fumbled the ball. Ultimately, I had to give it to Gabriel because his turnover gave the Rams an instant 7-0 lead in a type of game where neither offense scored an offensive touchdown until late in the third quarter.
- Awarding the Game Ball: DL Randy Starks - The veteran lineman had several high-impact plays in the game, whether it be stopping the run for a loss of notching a key sack in the third quarter after a long run by RB Todd Gurley. Starks was also graded positively in both run defense and his pass rush by PFF.
- Don't Let Gurley Get Started: In all of RB Todd Gurley's games so far, his statistics after about 7 carries would probably have him averaging about 1.0 yards per carry. Heading into the game, I knew that Gurley was going to pop off a big run or two at some point, but my question was then whether or not Cleveland could minimize the damage with a field goal try.
The Browns' run defense got off to a good start. Facing a 2nd-and-10 from their own 33 yard line, the Rams have their tight end and fullback next to the right tackle. The blocker next to the right tackle is going to take on OLB Paul Kruger, while the furthest blocker is going to take on FS Jordan Poyer (not pictured).
Kruger pushes his man a couple of yards into the backfield and then takes a direct angle at Gurley, who then has to bounce his run further to the outside. Poyer then sheds his man and drops Gurley for a loss of four yards.
- Playing With Confidence: The Browns' defense played with confidence for a good portion of the game, and rightly so. Cleveland knew if they stopped Gurley on first down to set up second- or third-and-long, QB Nick Foles wasn't going to beat them very often for a variety of reasons.
Facing a 3rd-and-14 on their first series, the Browns play an eight-man zone right around the first down marker. Bringing only a three-man rush, DL Randy Starks' spin move is going to get pressure on Foles.
Yes, that's right -- three offensive linemen can't contain a spin move by Sparks.
Foles throws an incomplete pass as Starks delivers a hit, and the Rams are forced to punt.
- Bye Week Scouting: In my pre-game writeup, I warned that CB Janoris Jenkins loves to take a chance and jump passes -- I just didn't think it'd be on the team's first pass attempt of the game.
The Browns' first two plays were runs by RB Isaiah Crowell, which set Cleveland up with a 1st-and-10 from the 19 yard line. Now, Cleveland shows a three-receiver look to the left with QB Josh McCown in Shotgun. WR Travis Benjamin is on the outside, WR Andrew Hawkins in the slot, and WR Taylor Gabriel closest to McCown. The idea is for the two outside receivers to fake streak routes before cutting in to block the defensive backs in front of them.
Right at the snap, Jenkins sniffs this play out and blows by Benjamin. In the background, S Rodney McLeod is coming upfield (the eventual loose ball takes a fortunate bounce right to him for a scoop + score for a 7-0 lead with 11:59 to play in the first quarter).
This is a bang/bang hit, with Gabriel only having about half a second to react with no momentum as Jenkins comes charging at him. You hate to outright say this was Gabriel's fault, but after further review, I do think he should have held on to the ball. After this team suffered a similar giveaway for a touchdown last week (a completely uncontested run in the first half), this had to be pretty demoralizing. It was especially demoralizing because the Rams' offense could play looser with the lead.
- Cam Stumbles on Early Rep: With TE Rob Housler and TE E.J. Bibbs inactive, Cleveland gave an early rep to OL Cameron Erving as an extra blocker on the edge of the line. It didn't go well.
Erving is next to LT Joe Thomas. To the left of Erving are TE Jim Dray and TE Gary Barnidge. Thomas is going to let the rush beat him to his left and then force him upfield, which opens up what looks to be a designed cutback run for RB Duke Johnson. Erving will chip the guy to his left before trying to get to the second level, where he should have an advantage over a linebacker.
Everything is going well, except that you can see that Erving is stumbling as he tries to get to the second level.
Now, Erving is flat on his stomach and Johnson is staring down a defender in the hole, who crashes down on him for a loss of three yards. If Erving had stayed on his feet and shielded off the defender to the inside, Johnson would have had a big hole.
- Another Fumble on Third Down: The fumbles on third down for QB Josh McCown have returned.
On the team's second series of the game, facing a 3rd-and-8 from their own 32 yard line, Cleveland had their receivers running some long-developing routes 15-20 yards downfield, except for TE Gary Barnidge, who ran to the sideline short of the sticks.
Nobody is open as the two outside receivers have yet to make their break and a defender has dropped back into zone coverage to double team the receiver over the middle.
McCown doesn't take particularly long to make a decision before DE William Hayes beats RT Mitchell Schwartz around the edge for the strip+sack as OLB Akeem Ayers recovers. The Rams capitalized with a 39 yard field goal with 7:33 left in the first quarter to give them a 10-0 lead.
- Worthy of a Tooth: Down 10-0 after having fumbled on their first two offensive possessions, the Browns started clicking on their third possession.
Facing a 2nd-and-10 from the 37 yard line, the Browns lined up with five receivers. On the left were WR Travis Benjamin running an intermediate in route and RB Duke Johnson running a button hook. On the right, TE Gary Barnidge is running a shallow out route, WR Taylor Gabriel is running to the middle of the field, and WR Andrew Hawkins is setting a pick.
There is the pick, and QB Josh McCown fires it out to Barnidge, who catches it near the sideline and then rumbles past the sticks for 12 yards and a first down.
The first down wasn't without consequence, though. His helmet was knocked off as he was tackled to the ground, and one of the defender's feet hit Barnidge in the face, costing him a tooth.
- Only Red Zone Trip: The Browns' drive extended to the beginning of the second quarter.
Cleveland faced a 3rd-and-2 from the 7 yard line. At the top of the screen is RB Duke Johnson. He really doesn't run much of a route, almost looking like a decoy? TE Gary Barnidge runs an out-and-in, but will be tightly covered. At the bottom of the screen, WR Brian Hartline goes to the front left corner of the end zone, WR Taylor Gabriel runs to the flat, and WR Travis Benjamin sits down at the first down with a little slant route.
There aren't a lot of openings, but QB Josh McCown should have fired a low pass to the body of Benjamin here for the first down. Perhaps he didn't see him or didn't think he had a good enough lane to throw the ball without a deflection by the defensive line. Instead, McCown steps up and rolls to his right.
With Johnson on the perimeter, he's got to come back for the ball and give McCown a spot to throw the ball to so either Johnson gets it or no one gets it.
Instead, Johnson floats to the back corner of the end zone. If this were a tight end, maybe McCown gives them a high pass to try to bring down. There's no way he can float a pass over the defensive back to Johnson, so he tries to run for it. The defensive pursuit stops McCown for no gain. Cleveland settled for a 27-yard field goal by K Travis Coons, cutting the Rams' lead to 10-3 with 14:05 left in the second quarter. The drive lasted 8:28 for Cleveland.
- Jet Sweep Springs Gurley: The Browns were having their way with the Rams' traditional blockers on runs by RB Todd Gurley, so on their first drive of the second quarter, they found a non-traditional way to get him the ball in space.
At the snap, QB Nick Foles fakes the jet sweep to the motion man. On the left edge of the like is OLB Nate Orchard. He starts crashing hard down the line, which means he'll be well out of position when Foles flips the ball out to Gurley instead.
There is the pitch to Gurley, who uses his speed to get around Orchard and then his athleticism to leap over a would-be tackle by FS Jordan Poyer downfield. The run ends up going for a total of 14 yards.
- Bringing More Than They Can Block: The Browns' defense had their way with the Rams the majority of the first half, continuing to doubt that QB Nick Foles could beat them.
Facing a 3rd-and-6 from their own 40 yard line, Cleveland brings seven rushers when the Rams are only in position to block six. ILB Karlos Dansby doesn't bring a true rush -- he just fakes a rush toward the center before taking a step back -- but he does enough to distract a blocker for long enough. With the running back helping the left tackle on OLB Paul Kruger, DL Xavier Cooper gets a free release on Foles.
The play looks like it's designed to be a quick hitter to WR Tavon Austin. Foles has him open, but Cleveland would likely get their defensive backs over to him before he could get a first down. The pass sails way over Austin's head and out of bounds, though.
I'm not sure if Foles felt the pressure from Cooper and rushed it, but the incomplete pass forced a punt. On the punt, WR Travis Benjamin made a big mistake to wave off the punt and let it bounce at the 20 yard line before being downed at the 4 yard line. Cleveland battled on the losing end of field position for much of the rest of the quarter because of it.
- Just Find Benjamin: There were a couple of third down situations in this game that QB Josh McCown could have converted had he just been able to find WR Travis Benjamin short.
Facing a 3rd-and-5 from their own 9 yard line, WR Travis Benjamin was the lone receiver wide right, running a crossing route. On the left were WR Brian Hartline crossing underneath Benjamin, TE Gary Barnidge running an out route beyond the first down, and WR Andrew Hawkins faking an in before going out.
Here, you can see that the Rams have multiple defenders where Hartline is headed, and a defender is already creeping up on Hawkins' underneath route.
Here is the play from McCown's perspective. He is looking for Hartline on the crosser from the start, but gets a bit antsy near his own end zone when he sees LG Joel Bitonio pass off a rusher. Will RB Duke Johnson actually pick up the rusher in time?
The answer is yes (although Johnson is obscured in this photo, he pushes the rusher into the end zone so McCown can step up. As McCown steps up, he bails on Hartline's route...
...and throws it left to Hawkins, who is immediately drilled after only a gain of two yards. Unbeknownst to McCown, the defender over the middle also began to shade toward Hartline as Benjamin was crossing in front of him. If McCown had thrown this to Benjamin instead, he would've had a pretty good amount of running room in front of him.
- Catching a Few Breaks on Defense: After runs of 6, 3, and 15 yards by RB Todd Gurley, the Rams were in Cleveland territory.
Facing a 2nd-and-11 from the 32 yard line, QB Nick Foles faked the Shotgun handoff to his running back, which drew both of the Browns' inside linebackers up.
That allowed TE Jared Cook to get behind the coverage. SS Donte Whitner pursued him and was able to force a fumble after a gain of 17 yards.
I know that you always want to make sure you at least safely secure the turnover, so I can't be too upset at FS Jordan Poyer for falling on the loose ball and then not being able to get up. However, just imagine if Poyer had been able to scoop the ball up while standing, just like the Rams did to start the game.
- Well-Protected: Accuracy wasn't a problem for QB Josh McCown, who completed over 80% of his passes against the Rams. He even completed some passes as he was being taken to the ground.
With under three minutes to go in the first half, the Browns faced a 3rd-and-8 from their own 34 yard line. WR Travis Benjamin lined up wide right, running a deep out route with a fake to the inside. WR Andrew Hawkins and WR Taylor Gabriel both ran shallow in routes on the left, while TE Gary Barnidge ran a route beyond the first down over the middle.
RB Duke Johnson stepped up and delivered a nice block over the middle, and the rest of the Browns' line blocks this play well. Benjamin does a little hand-fighting with his defender downfield, and his defender slips as Benjamin breaks to the outside. McCown hits him for a gain of 21 yards in to St. Louis territory.
- Nothing Goes Right on the Pull Guard: The Browns needed to run one more play heading into the two-minute warning, and it wasn't pretty.
The Browns tried running a pull guard run with RB Isaiah Crowell, and the results were terrible. I'm a fan of these types of runs, but good lord, you better execute it better than this. DL Aaron Donald lines up over LG Joel Bitonio, so C Alex Mack needs to get enough of a chip on Donals so Bitionio can pull without Donald having a free rush at Crowell. On the right side, Bitonio needs to attack the edge defender, while allowing the lines of TE Jim Dray and FB Malcolm Johnson to start blocking at the second level.
Donald gets free, and Bitonio doesn't get over to the edge defender in time (which might be aided by the fullback not having enough of a chip). The result is Crowell being immediately met in the backfield for a loss of five yards. I'm surprised our running backs have not fumbled this year.
- Manziel Would've Let it Loose: Coming out of the two-minute warning, facing a 2nd-and-15 from midfield, the Rams got pressure right up the middle.
QB Josh McCown made the wise decision to roll out to his left, buying himself a lot of extra time for something improvisational to happen. McCown has two options to his left, but neither one is a sure-completion or good gain.
Benjamin breaks deep across the field, much like he did with QB Johnny Manziel earlier this year. Given the amount of space in front of McCown, I'd think he could see him.
Even from this perspective, it looks like McCown is thinking of sending a rope downfield to Benjamin. Instead, right after this frame, he pulls it down and just runs over to the sideline for a gain of two yards. Cleveland eventually had to punt.
- No Hail Mary Attempt: After the Rams missed a 63-yard field goal attempt, Cleveland had one crack at a Hail Mary attempt.
Usually, the All-22 angle would show the end zone defenders too, but they don't on this play. Note that there should be four defenders already in the end zone. Rather than sending a three- or four-man rush, the Rams bring six rushers. Cleveland has six blockers to match them, but they weren't prepared for the pressure coming from the top of the screen.
McCown looked left at the start of the play, so I don't think he felt the pressure coming from his right. If he had been looking right, he could've thrown it to the back receiver. How far would he have gotten before being tackled? Maybe it turns into a punt-return-type-score, but we didn't get that chance as McCown dumped an incomplete pass over the middle.
- Out-and-Up: The Browns started the second half with a bang, having back-to-back 20+ yard plays.
On the first play of the half, the Rams are going to get caught up in zone coverage over the middle. TE Gary Barnidge is going to fake a short out route before bending upfield. As the announcers pointed out, this is a route you'd commonly see teams run in the red zone.
Both defenders get caught up staring at the quarterback, and the one on the hashmarks starts peaking at RB Robert Turbin. When Barnidge turns upfield...
...QB Josh McCown delivers a nice pass for a gain of 27 yards.
- Fresh Dose of Turbin: On the next play, the Browns gave the ball to RB Robert Turbin, who seemed to take on more of the second half workload than RB Isaiah Crowell.
Things started well for Turbin, thanks in large part to FB Malcolm Johnson filling a key block in the hole that Turbin is going to run through. RT Mitchell Schwartz is also able to seal his defender on the edge, and Turbin does a good job bouncing his run to the outside.
WR Andrew Hawkins delivers a cut block to spring Turbin for some more yardage. The 22 yard run sets the Browns up at the 31 yard line.
Unfortunately, the Browns' next two runs went for -1 and 3 yards, setting up a 3rd-and-8. QB Josh McCown threw a pass like this to TE Gary Barnidge earlier in the game on the sideline, and he was able to rumble for a first down at the expense of a tooth. This time, McCown must not see him and decides to dump the ball off to WR Travis Benjamin, who can only get 3 yards. The Browns settle for a 44-yard field goal by K Travis Coons, cutting the Rams' lead to 10-6 with 11:45 to go in the third quarter.
- Gurley Breaks the Big One: Before the game, I said that it was OK if RB Todd Gurley broke one big run in the second half, as he's been doing, because the Rams aren't a good enough team offensively to do much with it.
Gurley's big run came on their second play of the second half. Both inside linebackers, ILB Karlos Dansby and ILB Tank Carder, attack the line and at least one of them will get through. Gurley is going to make a really nice cut, but that's where DL Xavier Cooper neews to do a better job being in position to make a stop.
Cooper can't wrap Gurley up, and then Gurley takes off for a 48-yard run in to Browns territory. St. Louis missed a 35-yard field goal attempt, though, keeping the game at 10-6 mid-way through the third quarter.
- Let's Try This Again: The Browns opened the half with an out-and-up with TE Gary Barnidge. On their next drive, they did it again.
Facing a 2nd-and-21 from their own 14 yard line, Barnidge runs the same route he did to start the half. This time, C Alex Mack is yielding pressure in the face of QB Josh McCown.
The play is open, but McCown's throw sails because of the defender coming right at him. Fortunately, Barnidge reaches up high with one hand and tips the ball to himself for an awesome 28-yard completion.
- The Game-Changer: If there was one definitive turning point in the game, this was it.
Facing a 3rd-and-9 on the same series, QB Josh McCown decides to air one out deep down the sideline to WR Travis Benjamin, who is tightly covered. LT Joe Thomas is ruled as taking down the pass rusher here. It's not like this is a phantom call -- I can see why the officials ruled it a takedown. Because I think the takedown didn't impact the play, given it happened as McCown was throwing it, and because I don't really think Thomas really hooked the defender down, I wish it had been let go...
...especially since Benjamin made a heck of a catch here for 36 yards. The Browns would've have a fresh set of downs 21 yards away from the end zone. At a minimum, they are getting at least a field goal out of that, and who knows -- maybe they finally get a touchdown to take the lead. Instead, they have to punt.
- Foles Finally Burns Cleveland: For the first time all game, QB Nick Foles came out on the next series with the Rams wanting to attack downfield.
Foles had just gotten CB Pierre Desir on a 26-yard pass interference penalty on a play where he was covering WR Kenny Britt up the right sideline. On the very next play, Foles went to the same matchup.
Britt has a step on Desir and there is really no safety help, since the safety on that side is playing man coverage on his own receiver.
Desir catches up to make this a contest catch, but Britt hauls it in. FS Jordan Poyer does a nice job delivering a clean and jarring hit as Britt catches the pass, but he's able to hang on at the 1 yard line.
- Caught With 10 Defenders: If you can't stop the run with 11 defenders, how are you going to stop it with just 10?
OLB Paul Kruger crashes in on the edge, leaving ILB Tank Carder as the only defender with a fighting chance to break something up. The Rams have their fullback leading the way to take on Carder, though, so RB Todd Gurley walks in. If the Browns had 11 men, they probably still don't stop Gurley, but you at least have to give yourselves a chance. The 1-yard touchdown run by Gurley gives the Rams a 17-6 lead with 2:14 left in the third quarter.
- Glimmer of Hope is Shut Down: Now in the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Browns still had a glimmer of hope as they've been a high-scoring fourth quarter team the past few weeks.
Facing a 1st-and-10 at their own 38 yard line, QB Josh McCown is going to find WR Travis Benjamin in the soft spot of the zone coverage (the green area). The Browns have been consistent with lining Benjamin up as an outside receiver, so I like the fact that they mixed it up and had him inside here.
There's the opening that McCown finds Benjamin. It would put Cleveland close to field goal range at a minimum, but the Rams converge and sandwich Benjamin, forcing a fumble.
Then, after DL Nick Fairley recovers the fumble, poor Andrew Hawkins gets frickin' CRUSHED with a helmet shot by the stumbling defensive lineman. Hawkins took a couple of big hits this week, but this is the one that probably concussed him.
- Gurley's 2nd TD Run: After a bogus defensive holding call on CB K'Waun Williams, the Rams' next drive was extended. Had the flag not been thrown, a Rams field goal would've made it a 14-point game with over 8 minutes to go. That's an unlikely comeback scenario for Cleveland, but it still gives you marginal hope.
Facing a 1st-and-10 from the 16 yard line, the Browns' run defense up front, including OLB Nate Orchard on the edge, are going to crash hard to the inside. RB Todd Gurley will take the run wide and then make a sharp cut to the inside to avoid the Browns' defensive backs.
Here is the play developing...
...and here is the cutback. The Browns whiff on a couple of tackle attempts too, as St. Louis takes a 24-6 lead with 8:11 to go in the game. It's at this point where you just want to lock yourself in closet or something.
Manziel Enters: QB Josh McCown suffered a shoulder injury on his next series. When Cleveland got the ball back one more time, QB Johnny Manziel was in.
There's not much to critique with Manziel's series, but I wanted to show again the improvising that can be done with him. Manziel ended up taking off and running here, but as soon as he took off, WR Brian Hartline sprung wide open deep. If Manziel had ran forward and then pulled up to let it loose, no one would've been within 30 yards of Hartline in the end zone.
- Special Teams Notes: The Browns had 3 special teams tackles 1 each from ILB Tank Carder, S Ibraheim Campbell, and CB Johnson Bademosi. There were 2 assists, with 1 each from S Jordan Poyer and ILB Christian Kirksey. P Andy Lee averaged 45.4 yards per attempt on 5 punts, with a net average of 38.4 yards. K Travis Coons was 2-of-2 on field goals, hitting from 25 and 44 yards. I think he's getting to know what it felt like to be K Phil Dawson.
- Snap Counts on Offense & Defense: If you missed them, here are the links to our snap count trackers for offense (link) and defense (link).
- Brownies: The Browns converted 3-of-12 (25%) 3rd down attempts, while the Rams converted 1-of-9 (11%) 3rd down attempts. ... Cleveland out-gained the Rams in yardage 364 to 308. ... Cleveland had 11 penalties for 98 yards, while St. Louis had 9 penalties for 75 yards, with a lot of those being self-inflicted offsides penalties. ... The Browns had the ball for 35:33 compared to the Rams having it for 24:27. ... Before the Browns' defense faltered a bit late, they held off the Rams pretty well but could've overcome four fumbles by the offense. ... OL Cameron Erving replaced RG John Greco on the final series, but the Rams just brought three-man rushes so he really wasn't "tested."
Up next, the Browns take on the Arizona Cardinals at home. Keep it tuned to Dawgs By Nature for our coverage leading up to the game!