You have every right to be mad.
It’s been twelve hours, and i’m still nearly as frustrated as I was when I watched the winning field goal clear the uprights.
Browns fans have every right to be upset. It’s a different excuse or moral victory for each game, but the fact remains; the Browns have had a decisive win in the palm of their hands for the first 4 weeks of the NFL season, and in 3 of these cases, lost the game due to persistent errors and mental mistakes. For all 3 losses, the Browns snatched a loss from the jaws of victory multiple times.
The moral victory Monday crowd, or those looking for a silver lining, will have an easy time finding joy in the Browns thrilling yet ultimately heartbreaking 45-42 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday. The emergence of Baker Mayfield as a bonafide QB prospect, looking unreasonably prepared for his first start in a tremendously hostile environment, will provide an undercurrent of hope and joy in the weeks to come. Nick Chubb electrified the offense with two runs yesterday, and the young standout defensive talent of Myles Garett, Denzel Ward, and Damarious Randall was on full display. Browns fans will find comfort in those facts as the week goes on, but in the moment, it’s difficult to look past the mostly ridiculous reasons the Browns couldn’t escape with a win.
Objectionably awful missed calls from the referees in the key moments of the game will undoubtedly bear the majority of the fan angst, but a potential win was frittered away by all three phases of the Browns attack.
Without further adieu...
I bring this phase of the team up first, since it’s objectively the most embarrassing and incomprehensible failure of the current Browns coaching staff. (This is a high bar!) It’s remarkable that after years of grumbling about the repeated under performing special teams units led by Chris Tabor, the Browns would manage to find the coach that makes Tabor look like a hall of famer.
- Bad starting field position due to coverage. The Browns gave up enormous chunks of field position every time they exchanged the ball. The punt coverage units, for four straight weeks, have been absolutely abysmal. Plays that don’t feature a holding penalty typically show undisciplined gunners flying past ball carriers, and the Browns are unable (or unwilling) to funnel returners into the heart of the coverage unit.
- Kickoff and punt returning is a catastrophe. Jabrill Peppers continues to only return balls when defenders are near, and had multiple awful returns driven by indecision and hesitation or by executing “Leeeeeroy Jennnnnnkins” maneuvers out of the end zone. Antonio Callaway (after much wailing and gnashing of teeth) finally got an opportunity to return a kick, and promptly almost fumbled the ball.
- Every single punt, received or kicked, that doesn’t produce a holding or block in the back penalty is a surprise. The Browns even managed the rare “procedural shift” penalty (I don’t think this is the correct name, but i’m too lazy to look it up) Oakland hadn’t heard of it either, and declined.
- The place kicking didn’t have a chance to impact this game, but i’m putting it in here because i’m sure Joseph would have borked it up, if he was given the opportunity. As a reminder, the Browns weren’t forced to add a 69% career kicker to the roster; they did this to themselves.
- Browns fans and national pundits lauded the team defense through three weeks, and that left me with a sense of unease. The play from individual contributors such as Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi, Denzel Ward, Terrance Mitchell, Joe Schobert and Damarious Randall was stellar through the first 3 weeks. Even during close games, Gregg Williams continued to relentlessly bring 5 and 6 defenders on blitz packages, leaving enormous holes in the defensive secondary. In week 1 versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, the weather assisted around 6-10 different misfired passes from Ben Roethlesburger to various targets, landing just out of reach of pass catchers that were wide open with plenty of grass in front of them. Forced fumbles in the first 3 weeks flipped the field position frequently, but receivers were open for chunk plays and teams failed to capitalize on it. Despite the litany of dropped balls for Derek Carr’s pass catchers, including a walk in touchdown, it was easy pitch and catch for most of the day, en route to Oakland piling up a staggering 565 yards of offense. These numbers could have been significantly worse if it wasn’t for turnovers and the Raiders starting deep inside Browns territory on a number of drives. The luck finally ran out for this defensive unit.
- Gregg Williams continued to play same aggressive scheme and leave 4th and 5th string defensive backs alone on coverage islands. EJ Gaines has been active in practice for two weeks, and TJ Carrie is primarily an inside corner. It showed, as Carrie failed multiple times to jam receivers on the line or keep his balance, giving Carr easy throwing lanes for pass catchers on the boundary. Williams continually left Schobert alone in space with Jared Cook, who was being played as a WR, and the results shouldn’t surprise anyone. Fans should remember Gregg telling on himself and saying that this result is the soft spot of his defense, while also hoping to keep 3 and 4 linebackers on the field at all times. The Browns were unable to stop the run consistently all day, while keeping these linebackers on the field for the litany of screen passes and TE actions, created easy opportunities for the pass game. Gregg Williams scheme was the biggest reason 42 points was insufficient for the Browns to get the W, not the referees.
- Snap counts! Inevitably, the heavy snaps played for key defenders was going to pay a toll. Late in the game, the Browns defenders (especially on the defensive line) had trouble getting lined up, were on their heels, and had hands on hips as they struggled to match the tempo of Oakland’s offense. The Browns don’t trust the backup players up front, aside from Chris Smith, and it showed late in the game.
- Coverage breakdowns in the defensive backfield showed up relentlessly as the Browns failed to pass receivers between coverage zones. I’ve never seen as many receivers without a body around them as I did in the Browns game on Sunday.
- It’s difficult to trash the Browns offense after scoring 42 points. It has been years since the Browns were able to put 30 points or more on the board, and this was a bonanza of offensive output. Yet, we soldier on.
- The Browns offense spotted Oakland more than 14 points off of self inflicted errors. A pick six generated from a receiver falling down in a route, and two fumbles in the heart of the Browns end zone, created impossible situations for the Browns defense.
- After going up 14 points in the second half, the Browns went five straight drives without a first down, coupled with the aforementioned turnovers in their own half of the field.
- The first time the Browns run a jet sweep in which the timing isn’t clunky and where they aren’t nearly fumbling or turning the ball over will be the first. Haley ran this play more than 4 times on Sunday, and while they weren’t always catastrophes, they’re an poor idea within 3 yards of the end zone, and the hand offs/exchanges were always fraught with a tremendous amount of risk. The reward from this play isn’t worth the danger it presents, and the Browns were lucky it didn’t get worse.
- 6 total touches for Duke Johnson, 3 for Nick Chubb. Total. Chubb had long house calls on two of his three touches, and was still out touched 22 to 3. I understand that it’s difficult to play a rookie running back, with typically suspect pass blocking, in front of a rookie quarterback. It’s especially difficult when you’ve got a pass-first offense. There’s still no excuse for failing to get both of these players involved for the, well.....always-th time. The Browns do this every week.
- Lack of first team reps for Baker Mayfield and the familiarity it would develop were primary proponents for the fumbled exchange and lack of chemistry on the timing plays, like the jet sweeps and the RPO passes. The Browns offense is still getting used to Mayfield, and it showed. Offensive motion/action was off all day.
- LAST, but certainly not least, is the decision to punt the ball back to the Raiders with an 8 point lead. Once the spot, unfairly or not, was established as 4th and inches, the Browns had the opportunity to put the game away for good. The defense had already given up over 450 yards to the Raiders, was gassed, and was missing half of the starting cornerbacks. A QB sneak or ISO dive play has an 80%+ chance of getting the first down and deciding the outcome. The Browns, conservatively, gave the ball back to Oakland with a chance to score and tie. On the road, in that environment, i’d like to see an aggressive play call.
Browns fans, the future is bright. The talent on the 2018 Browns is evident. Extracting the most from this talent, who will continue to act their age, will be the biggest challenge for the coaching staff, who have (at many levels) shown an inflexible nature and unwillingness to change. If this staff wants another chance in 2019, they will have to adapt and improve, quickly.