Oh so close.
The Cleveland Browns could not finish off the Green Bay Packers at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday, falling 27-21 in overtime.
The Browns collapsed in the fourth quarter, with negative plays on defense and special teams killing the team in the end.
Three games still remain on the schedule to avoid a “Perfect Season Parade,” but today’s loss hurts more than others before it. The team had victory within its grasp but let it slip away.
Many of these points focus on the positives of this loss, in which the Browns showed plenty of promise, especially early on in the game. Expect an “Overtime Extra Point” either later tonight or or Monday evening. I will be reviewing and analyzing the Browns’ cover schemes, particularly down the stretch.
In the meantime, here’s what you missed if you stayed away from the TV today:
1. Explosive start: The Packers are one of the best teams in the NFL at scoring on opening drives, while the Browns are one of the worst. The game started off on an interesting note on Sunday.
The Packers entered the game with 6 touchdowns and 47 points on opening drives this season. The Browns came into the contest with 0 touchdowns and 0 points on the first possession of the game.
As expected, the Packers scored, but it took more effort than you would think. The Packers successfully faked a punt, as Darius Hillary was stiff-armed for a first down. Green Bay also had to convert a fourth and one play, as head coach Mike McCarthy showed plenty of intestinal fortitude.
More surprising was the Browns’ success on the first drive of the game.
The Cleveland offense showed aggressiveness and set the tone for the day. Josh Gordon hauled in a lengthy pass on the first offensive play from scrimmage and a touchdown pass (more on that later) to tie the contest.
The playcalling was impressive, Kizer’s presence in the pocket was good to see, and the execution was spot-on.
Kizer often doesn’t receive enough credit for his ability to scramble. His feet gave the Browns eight yards to the Green Bay 33 on 3rd and 5, proving to be a clutch play. Without anyone open, Kizer still managed to get the first down, which allowed the Browns to score a touchdown three plays later.
Also, Kizer’s ball to Gordon on the touchdown was a thing of beauty. Kizer threw it above the linebacker and into Gordon’s outstretched hands, placing it perfectly. Talk about Kizer’s accuracy, but he can throw the seam route to perfection. Good on Hue for taking advantage.
The team’s touchdown set the tone for the game, as the Browns scored another in the second quarter to take a lead into halftime for the first time since Christmas Eve last season.
2. Hue Who? Hue Jackson’s playcalling vastly improved on Sunday. After a predictable game against the Chargers, Jackson’s offense showed plenty of wrinkles, especially early on.
Thanks in part to Jackson’s playcalling, the Browns’ offense roared to a hot start and claimed a 14-7 early lead. The Browns showcased smart inside runs that kept the Packers looking inside before Kizer popped the ball over the top to Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon.
Jackson did well at making the most of Kizer’s skills. Jackson used short passes to build the youngster’s confidence, and utilizing the running back underneath as a safety blanket. Jackson even called a brilliant pitch play to Johnson
Jackson more effectively used Josh Gordon, not simply using him to run fly routes every play. The second-year Browns coach called slant and smart, option routes for his outstanding receiver. Coleman also saw more effective usage, running hook and curl routes in zone coverage. Coleman also ran a nice inside route on his touchdown reception, turning his back to the end zone to block out the defensive back.
I’ve been critical of Jackson this season, and still think he could use some help calling plays. However, the results speak for themselves. The Browns outgained the Packers, 202-94, in the first half. Kizer completed an impressive 15-of-18 passes for 174 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Kizer might have had another if not for face-guarding Packers defensive back Josh Jones.
Kizer enjoyed a break-through day, playing much better today. With three games remaining, we still have more time to evaluate Kizer. It’s clear that Kizer is not the proverbial franchise quarterback, but Kizer could still develop into a serviceable NFL starter or backup. However, throws like his interception in overtime say otherwise, as that throw killed the Browns. We shall see.
On a different note, both a positive and negative is the Browns’ frequent shifting on offense. The adjustment shifts cost the Browns two timeouts, as Gordon did not know the play on both occasions. Losing two timeouts in such a manner should not happen.
On the other hand, the shifts confused the Packers and granted the Browns an extra advantage. One such play resulted in a first down pickup on a run by Isaiah Crowell.
Another negative was the playcalling in the two-minute drill. The Browns squandered a chance to score before the end of the first half. Also, more importantly, the Browns called two consecutive passes when trying to run out the clock, leading to an incompletion on 3rd down that stopped the clock. As a result, the Packers got the ball back with a timeout and 2:37 left.
Either way, credit Jackson with reading our talking points from last week and switching it up on offense enough to score points against the Packers.
3. Guess who’s back: Josh Gordon returned to FirstEnergy Stadium for the first time since December 14, 2014. Gordon quickly made his presence known.
On the very first play from scrimmage, Gordon ran a smart route, weaving right behind another wideout and finding an opening along the left sideline. Gordon hauled in a perfect pass from DeShone Kizer, galloping for a 48-yard gain.
Only a few plays later, Gordon hauled in a wonderful 18-yard touchdown pass later on the drive. Running a seam route, Gordon beat the linebacker playing a Cover 2 Buc scheme (two deep safeties, the linebacker plays deep middle). Kizer’s pass was picture-perfect, and Gordon is one of the few receivers in the league who could extend his arms to make such a catch. Gordon’s combination of athleticism and ability is amazing.
It’s remarkable how Gordon has stayed in shape despite his long time away from the football field. Gordon’s touchdown score was his first in 1,456 days, according to the FOX broadcast. Gordon’s last touchdown came on December 15, 2013 against the Bears. Speaking of milestones, this was the Browns’ first opening drive touchdown since last season’s win.
Beyond his athleticism, Gordon has also displayed excellent route running in his first two games back in action. The 26 year old is running crisp routes, as exhibited on a nice slant route for a first down during the Browns’ touchdown drive midway through the second quarter.
It would have been nice to see Gordon utilized more in the third and fourth quarters, but Gordon seemed at times to be confused about the playcall on the field, so the onus does not fall completely on the coaches.
Let’s also talk about the Browns new tradition. Gordon put on sunglasses after his touchdown, and fans on Twitter and the radio broadcast wondered what was going on.
As it turns out, whoever scores a touchdown for the Browns dons the shades on the sidelines. It’s not quite Miami’s “U” turnover chain, but I like the tradition. It seems to be inspiring more Browns touchdowns, so I’m all for it.
4. No room to run: With Brett Hundley starting at quarterback for the Packers, the Browns focused on stopping the run on Sunday. The tactic worked well.
Even without Danny Shelton and Emmanuel Ogbah, the Browns’ interior defense held strong, while the Browns’ linebackers held the edge and attacked the gaps well. Caleb Brantley, Larry Ogunjobi, and Trevon Coley held strong inside for much of the day against a strong Packers’ offensive line.
Nate Orchard deserves credit for keeping his eyes on Hundley on a rollout, attacking him on a rollout. Carl Nassib shot through his gap on a couple occasions, blowing up plays in the backfield. Joe Schobert blew past blockers to make big plays in the running game.
We’ve talked about it before, but Schobert deserves a heap of credit. The second-year linebacker has adjusted well to the middle linebacker position,
In the first half, the Packers managed just 22 yards on 12 carries, which is impressive considering the success of Green Bay’s rookie running backs.
The Browns did not do as great of a job of stopping Hundley scrambles. Derrick Kindred, blitzing from his safety spot, twice missed opportunities to sack Hundley in the backfield. Hundley burned the Browns for a 19-yard run on 3rd down on the Packers’ first drive of the second half. Fortunately, the Packers blew a 4th down call, which the Browns defended well to thwart the drive.
At the end of the day, the Packers finished with 85 yards on 27 attempts, not bad for an offense averaging 108 yards per game on 22 carries per game.
5. Keep feeding the Crow: Isaiah Crowell enjoyed his best game of the season, showing great vision and setting up a Browns’ touchdown in the third quarter. Incredible blocking by the Browns’ offensive line deserves much of the kudos, too.
Crowell exceeded 100 yards for the first time this season, running for 121 yards on 19 carries. Playing for a big contract over the offseason, Crowell helped his case today.
Crowell used his blockers well and exhibited much better vision out of the backfield today. Crowell used cutbacks and running lanes that were not the original holes on the playcall. The third-year back has been criticized often for not running to daylight. That wasn’t a problem today.
Crowell’s best run of the day came late in the third quarter, as Crowell dashed 38 yards to setup a short touchdown pass from Kizer to Coleman. Crowell juked a defender at the line of scrimmage and hurried to the right, thanks to a great block by Spencer Drango on the left side. Crowell cut several times before diving down around the 5-yard line, obviously gassed.
Along with Drango, credit the rest of the Browns’ line on a job well done in the running game. Shon Coleman pancaked block a Packer lineman on the right edge for a first-down run immediately following the Packers’ failed fourth down play. Coleman did well on the right edge all day.
Joel Bitonio had a helluva game. The team’s talented guard pulled frequently on running plays, and it paid off. Bitonio often forced his way to the second level, gobbling up the Packers’ linebackers. Bitonio provided the crucial block on Duke Johnson’s touchdown. The Browns’ Pro Bowl guard blocked the tough Jake Ryan, leaving a yellow brick road to the end zone for Johnson.
Crowell will likely receive all of the credit for today’s outburst, but don’t forget the big uglies up front. The Browns’ offensive linemen made all of the difference today.
6. Third down flags: The Browns’ defense committed plenty of miscues, especially early on in the game. Fortunately, the mistakes did not hurt.
In the first half, the Browns were flagged three times on third down. The club was called for illegal hands to the face, offsides, and a personal foul.
To the team’s credit, the Myles Garrett offsides penalty did not hurt, as the Packers committed a false start on the next play. Also, Mike Jordan’s illegal hands penalty was definitely ticky-tack.
The personal foul call on Kai Nacua was silly, however. The young safety, playing in place of Jabrill Peppers, had no business taunting the Packers’ wideout. You have to control your emotions better on the field, though sometimes that’s easier said than done.
As giving as the Browns felt, the Packers did not take advantage. Save for the first down on the personal foul call, Green Bay did not have any success on third down in the first half. The Packers had to convert on fourth down twice to score on the opening drive.
In fact, the Packers did not have any third down conversions in the first 30 minutes, failing on all 6 attempts. The Browns’ defense did well in defending the sticks, playing off the ball but not giving too much of a cushion in pass coverage. The run defense also did a wonderful job of gang tackling in third down.
The Packers did rebound in the second half, however, converting 6-of-8 chances on third down. That can’t happen.
The Browns were on the receiving end of an awful third down call with 6:45 left. Jason McCourty drew an illegal contact call after Davante Adams blocked him with his hands. McCourty should never have been called for it. Thankfully, the call did not hurt the Browns, as the defense held strong on the ensuing few plays. Even still, it’s plays such as that that make one wish that penalties were reviewable in-game.
7. Killer teams: The Browns’ special teams hindered the team once again. At the worst possible moment, the Browns’ special teams failed.
Following a missed chance to get a first down, the Browns punted in the hopes of pinning the Packers back deep with one timeout left and under 150 seconds left to play.
Trevor Davis dodged about 4-5 tacklers, escaping the grips of a number of Browns players before dashing up the field. Davis is a shifty runner, but the Browns had him hemmed in and should have been more aggressive in tackling.
Davis dashed 65 yards as a result of the Browns’ failure to tackle, setting up the Packers in great field position. Green Bay scored a touchdown not long after, thanks in part to the great field position afforded by the Browns’ special teams.
As I’ve said before, I do not like calling for another person’s job. Coaching is a livelihood, and calling for someone’s job should not be done lightly.
However, new general manager John Dorsey should take a long, hard look at the Browns’ performance on special teams under coordinator Chris Tabor.
Entering the game, the Browns ranked 28th in special teams Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, according to Football Outsiders. If you’re not an analytical person, Football Outsiders defines DVOA as calculating “a team's success based on the down-and-distance of each play during the season, then calculates how much more or less successful each team is compared to the league average.”
The Browns have a -5.4% special teams DVOA overall, which ranks only above the Giants, Cardinals, Broncos, and Chargers. The Browns rank 28th in field goals/extra points (-7.2%), 17th on kickoffs (+0.7%), 6th on kick returns (+2.3%), T-28th on punts returns, (-4.5%), and a whopping 30th on punts (-11.6%).
The Browns are having an overall poor seasons in most aspects of special teams, with defending punt returns being the worst. The Browns were allowing 10.3 yards per return entering Sunday’s game, ranking 25th in the league.
Again, I’m not necessarily calling for Tabor’s head. He has not had a ton of talent to work with this season or in the seasons before. However, the Browns lack of special teams ability is not promising for the future.