Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Monday leftovers (Tuesday edition)

Looking for other reasons the Browns could have finished better than a 7-9 record this season? Try this group of figures as one of the main culprits.

Of course finishing three games better than last season is quite an accomplishment, but it could have been so much better. These numbers show why.

They are all about drives, or possession of the football, over the course of the season. They fall into four main categories: Number of drives, number of three-and-outs, number of drives five plays or fewer and number of drives that consumed 10 or more plays.

Winning time of possession in a 60-minute game is one of the main goals of coaches, along with winning the turnover ratio. Both play vital roles in achieving a victory.

The following is a breakdown of how the Browns did with their possessions this season, discounting short end-of-half possessions that had no bearing on the outcome of games.

The Browns started 185 drives in their 16 games with season highs of 15 in the Jacksonville loss and 14 in the loss to Indianapolis. Of those 185 drives, 62 (33.5%) wound up as a three and out.

In other words, one out of every three possessions and the defense was back on the field. The more your defense is on the field, the more likely it will tire. And the more it tires, second-half leads begin to disappear.

Of those 62 three and outs, 19 were recorded in the Browns’ seven victories. The nine losses yielded 43. When the offense remained on the field longer, better results occurred.

Now comes a more telling statistic. Of the 185 possessions, 116 required punter Spencer Lanning to enter the game no more than five plays into a drive. That figure includes five that produced touchdowns.

That’s a 62.7% failure rate to sustain drives, almost two of every three possessions. Breaking it down even further, 45 of the 116 were recorded in victories.

Now in drives that lasted 10 or more plays, the Cleveland offense recorded a measly 28, or less than two a game, with highs of four each in back-to-back victories over Tennessee and the second Pittsburgh game. Only 11 were recorded in the nine losses.

So when replaying the season in your mind and wondering where it fell apart and resulted in a frustrating loss or two, consider that the offense failed to do its part, especially in the second half of the season when only 11 of 92 possessions stretched to 10 or more plays and 34 were three and outs.
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A lot of fans were impressed with Connor Shaw’s performance in the season-ending loss in Baltimore. Many of them clamored for the undrafted rookie free agent when it was obvious Johnny Manziel was overmatched in his brief time at quarterback.

Shaw, on the other hand, showed poise, toughness, a terrific ability to extend plays with his scrambling and a pocket presence that belied his young age and relative inexperience. But he’s not the answer.

Granted he did not look out of place, but he is at best a marginal National Football League quarterback. He doesn’t have a strong arm and seemed to have trouble seeing over taller defensive linemen in an effort to locate his receivers.

Once he plants his back foot when dropping back to pass, he has a tendency to hesitate instead of getting the ball out quickly. Just about every time he hesitated, he was either sacked or barely managed to escape before throwing the ball.

He’s a nice third-string quarterback just good enough at this level to some day maybe move up and be a backup. But it was sure nice to see him scare the Ravens for the better part of three quarters Sunday. Manziel couldn’t have done it.
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Ever notice how infrequently Browns quarterbacks throw to the running backs? It seems as though incorporating the running backs in the passing game is so deep in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s playbook, it is almost an afterthought.

Not sure whether it’s his lack of confidence in the ability for Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West to catch a thrown football. Whatever it is, it certainly makes life easier for opposing defensive coordinators because it’s one less thing to worry about.

This season, Cleveland quarterbacks connected on only 32 passes to Crowell, West and the departed Ben Tate and Ray Agnew. West scored the lone touchdown via that route.

Last season in a much more pass-oriented Cleveland offense, Chris Ogbonnaya alone had 48 receptions and two touchdowns. Five other running backs combined for another 48 catches and two scores.

When he was offensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins, Shanahan showed the same disdain for throwing to running backs even though he had a terrific player in Alfred Morris. Most everything was directed at either wide receivers or tight ends.
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If Justin Gilbert has any designs on becoming a successful cornerback in the NFL, it might be a good idea to emulate fellow corner Buster Skrine. The little guy (5-9 and 185 pounds) from Tennessee-Chattanooga brings a toughness to the game that belies his stature.

Ever since a shaky start with the Browns in his first two seasons, Skrine has come on strong the last couple of seasons, bringing an aggressive attitude to each game. He was supposed to be the slot corner for the Browns this season, but had no trouble winning the starting job outside and limiting Gilbert’s reps.

If Gilbert can somehow replicate what Skrine brings to games and apply it to his natural talent, then maybe the Browns’ secondary will benefit. That’s a big if, though. It’s all up to the kid. But Skrine would be a nice starting place.
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Notebook: At one point in the loss to the Ravens Sunday, the Cleveland pass rush along the defensive line consisted of Sione Fua, Jamie Meder and Scott Solomon. Who were those guys? . . . At the end of the third quarter of that game, the Browns owned a 26:13-18:47 lead in time of possession and a 10-3 lead on the scoreboard. When they outscored the Browns, 17-0, in the final quarter, the Ravens won the TOP battle, 10:30-4:30. . . . The Browns ran 15 plays in the final quarter, eight of them on the final drive, and gained 32 yards. The Ravens ran 22 plays and gained 248 yards. That includes two kneel downs at the end of the game. . . . It’s almost as though the Ravens toyed with the Browns for the first three quarters then decided to stop screwing around.    


  1. "Ever notice how infrequently Browns quarterbacks throw to the running backs?"

    YES! I've noticed this all year. It's not the only reason, but it is one reason Hoyer had such a low completion percentage.

    Regarding Shaw, that slight hesitation is correctable. At least it's better than staring at your receiver until he comes open, wait another second to make sure he's open, then make a throw just as the DBs have time to adjust because they know where the ball is going (a la Weeden). If only we could give him another arm.

  2. Hi Strummer,

    Hoyer's completion percentage was so low in part because he stared down receivers and waited until they got open. The last Cleveland QB who threw to a specific area and counted on his receiver to be there was Derek Anderson. One of the main reasons for his high interception total was the receiver was either late to the spot or ran a different route.

    Lack of arm strength is Shaw's biggest hurdle. Right behind is lack of height. He's good enough to be an NFL backup. Nothing more.

    Happy New Year!! And tnx for sticking with this little blog. It is appreciated.

  3. Hoyer actually threw incompletions (and some interceptions) because receivers ran wrong routes. He threw where they were going to be according to the play/read. So I'll have to respectfully disagree.

  4. I didn't see it quite the same way. Agreed there were a few picks where that was the case. But for the most part, he either held on to the ball too long and was sacked or waited until his main target uncovered.

    Whatever the case, it is moot because Hoyer will either back up whoever starts for the Browns next season or land on another team's roster as a backup. He's not nearly good enough to be a full-time starter.

    If I'm wrong and he is Cleveland''s starter next season, buckle up for a much bumpier ride than the one you saw this season.