The Cleveland Browns lost to the Chicago Bears, 20-3, marking head coach Hue Jackson’s first loss on Christmas Eve.
The team’s loss sends the team one game closer to historic ineptitude.
Here’s what you missed in case you finished your Christmas shopping instead of staying at home to watch another bad game:
1. Hue you gonna call? An offensive coordinator hopefully: The Browns did better with balancing the run, but still did not call enough run plays.
Hue Jackson and the Browns showed an early dedication to the run, with four Isaiah Crowell runs on the first drive of the game, one less than Crowell’s total all of last week.
Following the drive, Jackson seemed to forget about the run again, however. Jackson called 7 passes and 4 runs the rest of the first quarter. The Browns called three passes on one drive, resulting in a quick three-and-out for the offense. The Browns’ first four drives resulted in just 2 first downs.
Crowell did not run the ball exceptionally early on, but Crowell pounded forward and gave the Browns 3rd down and manageable plays when Jackson remembered to give him the ball.
The run-pass spread was nearly even in the first half, with 14 rushes and 17 passes called by Jackson. That’s better than last week, but with Kizer’s lack of early success, Jackson should have relied on his running game more.
Late in the third quarter, with the Browns down 17, the Browns unsurprisingly all but abandoned the run. When you’re trailing by 17, you pretty much have to stick to the pass.
To Jackson’s credit, however, the offensive coaching staff found ways to get the ball into the hands of Duke Johnson. The talented back grabbed four passes for 62 yards to lead the team in receiving in the first three quarters. Johnson finished with 7 receptions to 81 yards, becoming the single-season Browns’ leader in receptions by a running back.
Even still, Jackson could have involved Crowell more in the ground game. The Browns’ first drive of the second quarter was successful up until Kizer’s interception. Crowell and Johnson shouldered the load, ushering the Browns down the field and killing clock all the way. The lengthy drive allowed time for the Browns’ defense to rest and recuperate after a long Bears drive.
That should be the strategy for every Browns drive early in games – run the ball on first and second down (throw in the occasional playaction) to gain 6-8 yards. That sets up a third and short, which can be converted with a short Kizer throw across the middle or to the flat.
2. Freezing cold Kizer: The Browns’ rookie quarterback struggled early on, completing just 1 of his first 7 passes. His receivers dropped a couple passes, as Josh Gordon saw the ball clank off his hands on one occasion.
But for the most part, Kizer did not run through his progressions. Kizer could not find the open wideout and even then did not have great accuracy early on.
Kizer seemed to find his groove in the second quarter, completing three short passes in a row. Relying on his tight ends and running backs in the flat, Kizer dumped off the ball with success.
Kizer often felt pressured by the Bears’ blitz. Kizer was hit three times on his first 8 dropbacks. Short passes, especially to the flat, worked well in allowing Kizer to get the ball out of his hand quicker.
The Browns’ lengthy drive in the second half imploded with a Kizer interception. Kizer and Josh Gordon did not appear to be on the same page, as Kizer was looking for Gordon to run a hitch and go. Gordon ran the hitch, planted, and jogged upfield instead of sprinting. Gordon’s awful route allowed Will Fuller to get to the ball before Gordon, resulting in a drive killer.
Kizer is not fully absolved of wrongdoing. Kizer appeared to have Duke Johnson open on an intermediate route, and in retrospect, should have thrown it to him. However, you’re an 0-14 team. Looking to take advantage of single coverage with your best wide receiver isn’t a bad risk to take, especially on 2nd and 4.
To Kizer’s credit, the rookie signalcaller did not allow the pick affect him, rebounding quickly on his next drive. Kizer guided the Browns down the field before the end of the half. Kizer found Ricardo Louis across the middle for a 35-yard completion, resulting in an impressive 49-yard Zane Gonzalez field goal on the next play.
At the start of the third quarter, Kizer tried to find Gordon. Kizer tossed it it to Gordon on 3rd and 15 after just missing Seth DeValve on second down. Gordon should have caught the ball and picked up the first down. Sure, it was a tough play to make, and it was near the sidelines. However, Gordon got both hands on the ball and has incredible athletic ability. It was a catchable pass for Gordon.
With the end of the season here, you can just hear the “Gordon has checked out” narrative gaining traction again. Gordon was targeted 8 times, but caught just 2 passes for 19 yards. Yes, defenses are guarding Gordon closely. But Gordon should have caught a couple more of the balls thrown his way.
Even down by 17, Kizer did not relent, keeping his team alive with a nice drive. Kizer found Johnson on a good screen throw and with a nice toss while falling down to Rashard Higgins. The Browns’ young wideout weaved his way through the Bears’ defense before a big hit and a strip separated him from the ball inside the 5-yard line, effectively killing all hopes of a comeback before the end of the third quarter. The fumble was the team’s 10th turnover in the red zone, a whopping six more than any other club in the league.
Kizer certainly did not look as good as Trubisky. But Kizer did not play all that poorly in the snow and cold, at least after a tough start. Kizer’s receivers dropped throws, understandable in the cold, and turnovers caused in part by bad receiver play crushed Kizer.
3. Good day to be a Cardinal, err, a Bear: The former Mentor Cardinal performed well against his hometown team on Christmas Eve. Trubisky threw the ball well, but did just as well on the ground.
With the Browns utilizing a good deal of zone coverage, Trubisky took advantage, beating the Browns across the middle. The rookie completed passes of 24 and 28 yards in the first half, completing 6-of-11 passes for 79 yards in total.
Without a quarterback spy on most plays, Trubisky galloped through the middle of the Browns’ offense on several occasions. Trubisky, seeing man coverage without a spy on one play, snuck up the middle for a first down through the Browns defense. Trubisky finished the first half with 40 yards on 6 carries, five of those scrambles. The Bears’ other rushers only managed 15 yards on 7 carries in the first half.
Trubisky, following a near-interception on the first play of the second half, rebounded with a touchdown drive. The rookie tossed a perfect screen pass underneath for a big gain, taking advantage of the Browns’ aggressive blitz. Trubisky’s short memory is to be commended, but the Browns’ inability to stop a simple screen play is not.
Credit Trubisky with rolling through his progressions and waiting for his wideouts to come open. Trubisky made smart throws, hanging in the pocket through the pressure to find the open man. On third and long with 5:15 left in the third, Trubisky found Tarik Cohen just before receiving a big blow from Kai Nacua. Trubisky tossed a bullet under pressure and found the open man.
Trubisky will be a fun player to watch in the future.
4. Give me the ball: Crowell and Duke Johnson shouldered the load well when Jackson allowed them to do so.
Crowell showed off the chip on his shoulder and ran the ball well. Crowell showed aggression in hitting his holes. Sometimes Crowell dances too much in the backfield, but he avoided doing so too much today. Crowell followed his blockers, often Dan Vitale, from an offset I formation.
Crowell did not have any breakout runs like last week, but still enjoyed a solid game in the snow. Crowell showed the grit and determination with the inside run that Jackson said he was looking for this week. Never a proponent of the run game, Jackson had no excuse for ignoring Crowell this week after Crowell did exactly what Jackson asked him to do.
Crowell finished the game with 12 carries for 44 yards and Johnson notched 20 yards on 5 carries. As a team, the Browns finished with 75 yards on 20 attempts.
That’s a solid output for a snowy day without a lot of traction. No running back on either team notched a carry of over 16 yards, due to the ground conditions. The Browns managed nearly 4 yards per carry, even on limited carries.
Based on the statements Jackson made to the media last week, it’s hard to imagine Crowell returning next season. Jackson only used Crowell for 12 carries this week, even on a snowy day made for grinding out a win on the ground.
5. Boom or bust blitzing: Gregg Williams’ aggressive defense helped and hindered the Browns again on Sunday. Another frustrating game of watching a talented but limited Browns’ defense.
On nearly every third down, the Browns sent the house after Trubisky. On some plays, the strategy worked. The Browns notched three sacks on third downs, thanks to aggressive defensive back blitzes featuring Kai Nacua, Justin Currie, and the corners. Myles Garrett also made a great play on an outstanding day for the rookie.
On other plays, the tactic resulted in disaster. On 3rd and 6 from the Chicago 44-yard line, Trubisky found Benny Cunningham for 40 yards on a screen play. Trubisky also exploited space up the middle for quarterback scramble.
Speaking of exploitation, the Bears took advantage of two plays that the Browns just can’t defend – the screen pass and the quarterback draw in the red zone out of the shotgun.
Twice in the third quarter, the Browns’ defensive linemen charged forward after the Bears’ linemen released. The inability of the Browns to drop back and close the vacuum allowed the Bears’ linemen to block the Browns’ linebackers and charge upfield to the Browns’ deep safeties.
As a lineman, you have to feel the offensive line moving away from their blocks and sense a screen play coming. With the offensive linemen free-releasing, the linebackers will be absorbed, allowing the running back to gallop through to the third level, the safeties and corners. Your defensive linemen must display awareness and attempt to blow up the play in the backfield, or at least occupy the offensive line to allow the linebackers to shoot into the tackle.
In a similar way, the Browns’ defensive linemen do not recognize the draw play in the red zone. The Bears attempted the quarterback draw play twice – it did not work the first time, but burned the Browns on the second occasion. The Browns play so off in coverage, including with the linebackers, that all you need to do is spread out the defense with 4 or 5 receivers, and the Browns’ defensive backs will be taken out of the play by the coverage scheme.
Williams’ defense has played better than last season’s squad. However, the sheer inability of Williams and the Browns to adjust is certainly disappointing and concerning. The defense has talent, as evidenced by the 5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, and 7 quarterback hits today.
However, the coaching scheme does not seem to place the defense in a position to win.
6. Killer penalties: The Browns made dumb mistakes that sank the team’s chances. Carl Nassib, in particular, made a couple dumb penalties.
Nassib negated a Myles Garrett interception return for a touchdown. Nassib lined up offsides, wiping away Garrett’s great play and wiping six points off the scoreboard.
As a defensive lineman, you need to know where to line up. As a second-year lineman, you cannot line up offsides. You can be drawn offsides, but lining up over the line of scrimmage is absolutely unacceptable, especially for any player besides a rookie. Nassib looked upset on the sidelines, and he should have been. The offsides call changed the course of the game, turning a Browns lead into a 10-point deficit.
Jabrill Peppers also lined up WAY offsides on 4th and 1 late in the third quarter. Jordan Howard picked up the first down anyways, but Peppers should have seen where the ball was.
Nassib’s offsides penalty wasn’t even his first offense. Nassib was called for an unnecessary personal foul call for taunting. Nassib was later called for a holding call on a Bears extra point, too. Nassib was a penalty machine today.
I like Nassib, but his stupid penalty changed the game. Once the Bears scored the touchdown at the end of the drive, was pretty much over. If Nassib avoids the offsides, the Browns have a legitimate shot at winning the game. Nassib did not lose the game all by himself, but his play changed the nature of the game.
7. Looking at a parade: The Browns have one game remaining – a New Year’s Eve showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even worse, the game will be at Heinz Field, a place known for giving the Browns nightmares.
We’ll hear lots of talk about Reflog’s parade this week. Many fans at DBN and a host of local media have expressed displeasure at the thought of a parade. In some ways, it’s understandable.
However, in this writer’s opinion, fans should embrace it. If we’re going to finish 0-16, we might as well do it in style. A parade would be fun, and provide a long-needed occasion to celebrate. Without a win since last Christmas Eve, a parade would be a nice way to have fun as a fanbase, since FirstEnergy Stadium has proven to be a “Factory of Sadness.”
From a player’s perspective, a parade is a little embarrassing. Having fans celebrate your 0-16 season isn’t great. Ask the 2008 Lions – after a winless season, you want to go home and forget the year without any hoopla.
On the other hand, the team’s awful losses this season are far more embarrassing than a parade. If the reason you’re against the parade is that you’re worried about embarrassing or shaming a Browns player, then you need to forget about it.
The Browns’ on-field results have embarrassed this city moreso than a parade ever could. To the team’s credit, the Browns do wonderful things for the local community off the field. Kizer visited University Hospitals this week, Joe Thomas took local kids on a shopping spree, and Elyria High School Athletics received $1,000 from the Browns this week. And look at what the Browns have done to renovate local high school football fields.
However, the on-field product has granted the city a reputation for losing and ineptitude at football. Here’s proof – go on a trip or vacation wearing Browns gear and see how people react.
In addition, the parade also serves as a motivating factor this week and in the future. If the Browns players or coaches think about quitting next week, all they need to do is remember that a parade is coming if they fail against the Steelers. A parade should also spur ownership and the football staff to work more efficiently in the offseason to acquire better talent, particularly on the sidelines in the coaching staff.
The Browns fanbase will not tolerate more losing. Fans are already voting with their feet. The Browns saw the lowest attendance in 2017 since the team returned in 1999. Fans have had enough of losing.
A parade will further enforce that fans will not ignore the losing. We will shine a spotlight on the losing, in order to affect change in the Browns’ organization, until the team begins to devote the proper resources to building a winning football team in Cleveland.