Here we are the day after yet another Browns loss and Browns Nation, hungering for any type of victory, is somewhat befuddled by an argument-producing decision made by coach Hue Jackson Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.
Jackson, somewhat surprisingly, elected to attempt a two-point conversion after the Browns rallied to pull within 28-19 of the Titans late in the fourth quarter.
“I went for two early because I knew at some point I was going to need to go for it,” Jackson said after the game. “I’d rather go for it now than have to come back and do it again.”
It made more sense to insure the opportunity to go for the tie later by allowing Cody Parkey to attempt a placement for the one point and make it a one-possession deficit. It made more statistical sense that way.
The way Jackson played it, he robbed his team of any opportunity to have a chance at ending this season’s five-game losing streak. By attempting to do so after pulling within 28-19 of the Titans, he gambled and lost, keeping it a two-possession game.
There are those who would argue that even if Jackson had chosen to go for the PAT initially that the subsequent two-point try after the next touchdown might have failed.
Maybe so, but we’ll never know because the coach made what turned out to be the wrong decision, especially after the Browns recovered the ensuing onsides kick. Recovering and subsequently scoring again with 27 seconds left only fueled the argument.
Jackson said he used a chart to come to his conclusion and would not second-guess himself. “I am making these decisions with good information from people I trust,” he told reporters, “That is what we decided to do.
“It’s on me regardless of who I’m getting the information from. I made a decision and I take responsibility for it. I don’t run from that.” A rather defensive stance taken by Jackson.
No one is accusing him of running from anything. He has proven to be a standup guy. No argument there. Some, me included, do not question his stance in matters such as this. They question his wisdom.
There is nothing wrong with using a common sense approach to the thought process. Don’t be a slave to what the charts say. Think for yourself. It’s easier to blame yourself that way if something, like what happened Sunday, goes wrong. You get more respect for admitting a mistake.
Coaches like to say the goal in coaching is to put players in a position to succeed and ultimately win. The same should be applied to the coaches themselves. In this case, it clearly wasn’t.
* * *
It was just one play in a game that featured more than 100. But if it had turned out differently, there’s no telling how the Titans game would have turned out.
Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota started the game by skirting left end on a designed play and raced – he showed the kind of speed you rarely see from a quarterback – 41 yards down the sideline to ignite what became a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive.
But the second play of that opening possession might have foretold what the Browns had to contend with the rest of the afternoon. And it could have made a big difference in the outcome.
Mariota dropped back to pass on that play from the Cleveland 34-yard line and tried to hook up with wide receiver Andre Johnson in the right flat. But rookie outside linebacker Joe Schobert sniffed out the play and got his hands on the ball with nothing but green in front of him.
And he dropped it. Bad hands no doubt. Maybe that’s why he’s a linebacker and not, say, a tight end. He catches it and runs it back for a pick 6, the Browns jump in front just two plays into the game.
Momentum is a funny thing in football. It often can dictate how a game unfolds. Some teams jump all over it when it arrives and never let it go. That’s what coulda happened in the Titans game if Schobert hangs on. But you know what they say about coulda. Woulda, coulda, didn’t.
And that’s what eventuated in this case. So close and yet so very far. We’ll never know, of course, what would have occurred had Schobert hung on for one good reason The Browns aren’t one of those teams that takes advantage of momentum. The Titans took advantage of their good fortune and never lost the early lead.
* * *
More and more, Danny Shelton is playing like the nose tackle the Browns thought they drafted out of college. He has become a barrier in the middle of the defensive line, making it difficult for opponents to run up the middle.
DeMarco Murray, one of the best running backs in the NFL, was held to a meager 24 yards in the first half, forcing Mariota to put the ball up more often than the coaching staff wanted. Murray wound up with just 65 yards and a touchdown, but they didn’t come easily.
Shelton often draws double teams, which affords inside linebackers Demario Davis and Christian Kirksey the luxury of filling the gaps and making plays before they explode. The burly nose tackle, who recorded his first sack of the season against the Titans on a bull rush, is the main reason Davis’ and Kirksey’s tackle totals are high.
And now that Shelton is settling in, it behooves defensive coordinator Ray Horton to surround him with the kind of talent that causes opposing teams to back off on double teaming him.
Perhaps when rookie defensive end Carl Nassib recovers sufficiently from his broken hand, is able to go full time and becomes the pass rusher the club expected whey they drafted him, that situation will improve.
* * *
Even though he had his moments, there is no doubt rookie quarterback Cody Kessler is growing up in a hurry. He was playing with tender ribs and behind an offensive line that sprung leaks most of the afternoon and yet was able to guide two late scoring drives that made the 28-26 final somewhat more palatable.
He was sacked six times, hit 11 more times and hurried on numerous other occasions on his 43 dropbacks. The fact he completed 26 passes for 336 yards and a pair of touchdowns with no interceptions is a testament to his toughness.
Josh McCown is expected back this Sunday against Cincinnati, but Kessler did not embarrass himself in his NFL baptism. If nothing else, he proved he can hang with the big boys.
* * *
One of the reasons the Browns have had trouble offensively is positive starting positive field position.
Of their 12 possessions against Tennessee, four started out at the 25-yard line, where drives begin when kickoffs are not returned; one began at the Cleveland 40 following a Tramon Williams pick (great effort); one started at the 38 following a successful onsides kick; and the remaining ones began at the 11, 22, 19, 8, 6 and 6.
That doesn’t make the offense’s job any easier. The Browns need someone like Travis Benjamin, who shortened fields the last few seasons (when he wasn’t injured) with strong returns on punts and kickoffs. Too bad he plays in San Diego now.
* * *
And finally . . . It’s about time Jackson and his coaches clean up the rash of dumb penalties. There is nothing more aggravating than pre-snap penalties, especially the false starts, illegal formations and delays of game on offense. Not to mention the holding and block-in-the-back penalties by special teams that abort good returns. No excuse for them. There is nothing wrong with penalties for aggression. It’s those others that frustrate and show lack of discipline. . . . If the Browns don’t beat the Bengals Sunday, they will join the expansion 1999 Browns as the only teams to open the season with seven losses. . . . Until Corey Coleman returns, it looks as though Jackson likes Ricardo Louis better than Rashard Higgins at wide receiver. . . . Look for wideout Terrelle Pryor and tight end Gary Barnidge to get plenty of looks from McCown upon his return. . . . The 137 yards the Browns surrendered to the Tennessee running game is deceiving because 41 of those yards (Mariota’s run) came on the game’s first play. . . . Center Cameron Erving returned from his bruised lung and did not improve the quality of play at the position. He was beaten badly by Titans defensive tackle Karl Klug on a third-and-1 at the Tennessee 13 on the Browns’ second possession of the game. It caused a six-yard loss for Isaiah Crowell, who was hit a fraction of a second after taking the handoff. Instead of a first down, the Browns had to settle for the second of Parkey’s two field goals. . . . Punter Britton has punted 13 times in the last two games. Sunday, he booted seven times for an average of nearly 51 yards. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. watch: four carries for 18 yards, four receptions for 56 yards and two punt returns for six yards. More touches please.