Cleveland Browns: Don't miss the big point — Terry PlutoSeptember 16, 2018
MISSING A BIG POINT
A lot of the media discussion after the Pittsburgh game was about how Todd Haley and Hue Jackson failed to communicate about the starting lineup.
Browns Head Coach Jackson said Josh Gordon would not start.
Browns offensive coordinator Haley had Gordon on the field for the first play.
How easily that could have been avoided. Each team writes out the first 6-12 plays it plans to use in a game. There was a list somewhere.
Haley’s opening play featured one wide receiver (Gordon) and three tight ends. Beats me how Jackson didn’t see that.
Anyway, it’s hardly something that will change Western Civilization. It had zero impact on the 21-21 tie with the Steelers.
But something did bother me early in the game…and it has to be fixed.
The play calling.
1. The first two plays were passes, although quarterback Tyrod Taylor ran on one of those when he couldn’t find an open receiver.
2. Next, the Browns had back-to-back false start penalties. Then Taylor ran for a first down.
3. Of the Browns first 10 plays, nine were some type of passing play. Taylor ran a few times. But only once in the first 10 plays did running back Carlos Hyde carry the ball.
Far more than the starting lineup, I’m more concerned with why Haley was throwing the ball so often — especially early in the game on a rain-drenched Sunday afternoon in Cleveland.
General Manager John Dorsey built the Browns to be able to run the ball.
It’s why he signed Hyde and drafted Nick Chubb in the second round. Both are bullish running backs.
It’s part of the reason the Browns decided to return Joel Bitonio back to his more comfortable left guard spot. The Browns wanted Bitonio (who had spent some time at left tackle) teaming up with center JC Tretter and guard Kevin Zeitler to block inside for that running game.
The Browns can’t be Air Tyrod. They are supposed to be a physical running team capable of breaking off some big passing plays. But the heartbeat of the offense is supposed to be running the ball.
You can argue the Browns did run the ball, having nearly a 50-50 run/pass split.
1. They ran it 39 times.
2. They threw it 40 times.
3. But eight of those runs were by Taylor, when he was originally supposed to pass. He also was sacked seven times. That’s like adding 15 more passing plays to the total — even though passes weren’t thrown.
4. Hyde, Chubb and Duke Johnson had 30 total carries.
5. I know this is not 1936 and teams in the NFL can’t live on the ground. But in poor weather conditions with a team built to run, why was there so much emphasis on throwing the ball?
Jackson was correct when he said the rushing stats (177 yards on the ground) “are a little inflated” because Taylor rushed for 77 yards in eight carries.
Hyde, Chubb and Johnson had 100 yards rushing in 30 carries. The Browns need to improve on that.
ABOUT BAKER MAYFIELD
A few fans emailed about Baker Mayfield not playing in the opener.
How smart is it to put a rookie quarterback into his first game against the Pittsburgh Steelers…
In the unrelenting rain…
With an offensive line that had never played a single preseason game snap together…
With a rookie left tackle who wasn’t drafted and played last season at West Georgia…
On a team that has a 4-44 record in the last three years…
The reason Dorsey acquired so many veteran players at key spots is so the Browns don’t have to rush their rookies into action.
He doesn’t want Mayfield to be another Tim Couch or another young quarterback rushed into action before the team was ready to help him.
Perhaps Mayfield is one of those rare players who can go right from college to immediately starting in the pros for a team with the NFL’s worst record over the last three seasons.
When I interviewed Dorsey a few weeks ago, he stressed how young quarterbacks are “never hurt by having to wait to play.” But they could take a real beating (physically and emotionally) when rushed into action.
ABOUT JOSH GORDON
Todd Haley told the truth when he said this about the Browns receiver: “It’s a process. … We have a guy who missed an extended amount of time when he was not here practicing. That not only slows his process, but the process of our entire offense.”
Gordon has not always known all the plays in the past. The best way to learn them is muscle-memory — practicing. He didn’t play in a single preseason game.
“You can’t just snap your fingers and say, ‘Put him in there,'” said Haley.
Yet Haley had Gordon on the field for 69 of 89 snaps. That’s Haley’s fault.
The Browns have known for a while something was wrong with Gordon … again. He didn’t know all the plays. He didn’t practice much. And then he had more personal problems this weekend, leading to his release.
While not many will say so publicly, it was hard for coaches and players (especially on offense) to deal with Gordon. Then didn’t know when he’d be there, how long he’d stay with the team … or if he knew the playbook.
Gordon has only played 11 games since 2013. The Browns have tried everything to help Gordon with his addiction issues. Now, it’s solely on him to be responsible for his recovery.
ABOUT THE BROWNS
1. One of the quiet moves by the front office that could pay off is the trade for Damarious Randall, who is a natural deep safety. He plays the “angel” in the Greg Williams defense, the last line of defense. He made a terrific interception against the Steelers.
2. The Browns traded DeShone Kizer to Green Bay for Randall. Kizer played briefly for Green Bay when Aaron Rodgers was hurt in the opener. He was 4-of-7 passing. But he lost a fumble. He also threw an interception that was run back for a TD.
3. Randall had 10 interceptions in three seasons with the Packers. He played a lot of cornerback. The Browns believe he is best suited for safety, his primary position at Arizona State.
4. The Browns coaches were pleased with the play of center JC Tretter, who did a good job against some rugged interior defenders.
5. A lot of the attention went to Browns defenders Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward. They deserved it. Ward was named the NFL’s Rookie of the Week. But the coaches were very happy with defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who had seven tackles and a sack.
6. Ogunjobi was facing Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, making his performance all the more impressive. The third-rounder from North Carolina-Charlotte could become an impact player.
7. It’s not something that makes headlines, but the Browns have had very few soft tissue injuries (muscle pulls, etc.). V.P. of Player Health and Development Joe Sheehan has developed a plan, and the coaching staff bought into it to cut down on these injuries.
8. The debate between Jackson and Haley on “Hard Knocks” about some players not practicing dealt with Jackson following the program to avoid those injuries. Gordon has a hamstring injury, but he showed up in camp with a hamstring problem.