Inexcusable coaching moves:
This was probably the Browns worst coached game of the year. In addition, this one game will have a drastic impact on next season, as now a true QB controversy will exist. But before I get to that mistake, and highlight 2 others that are absolutely inexcusable, I want to reaffirm my belief of three things:
1) Savage is a genius as a GM (article coming at the end of the season). There isn’t a single justifiable argument that the team hasn’t made huge steps since he came onboard.
2) A good relationship between the GM and coach makes all the difference in the world (Chargers with AJ Smith and Shottenheimer, Al Davis, Patriots success)
3) Midseason coaching changes don’t solve anything, they just create long term problems
4) The head coach/GM combined position is enormous, and shouldn’t be handled by one person. (will elaborate on this in a latter post)
Three inexcusable mistakes
1) The QB change
Starting off, I want to be clear of my goal for this situation with the Browns. We have two above average QBs, who are both young and will likely be in the league for at least another 3-5 years. Further, as much as I hate Notre Dame (and thus Quinn in college) I want to see him succeed for the Browns. Most importantly, the Browns must maximize the value of the QB that they decide not to keep.
The first reason why the QB change shouldn’t have been made is that Quinn really wasn’t playing all that bad. Yes, he had thrown 2 picks in three attempts. The first one, was a cleverly disguised zone blitz, where Quinn made an initial correct read (two LBs blitzing from his right, so look to attack that zone), but didn’t realize that the DL had dropped back into coverage. Is Quinn entirely at fault in this situation, absolutely. However, this is his 3rd NFL start, and seeing these blitzes and reading them only comes with game experience.
On the 2nd INT, he throw a bad ball to Braylon. Was this entirely Quinn’s fault? Not really. Chud called the exact same play, in the same formation (except flipped from Braylon on the right, to Braylon on the left). The same CB that had just given up 10 yards to Braylon 3 plays earlier on 3rd and short, was guarding him again. Thus, he was probably thinking slant to Braylon as well. A “sluggo” (slant/go route) probably would have left Braylon wide open.
The 2nd reason why the QB change shouldn’t have been made is that as soon as the Browns turned to Quinn, the decision should mean, stay with Quinn. Not only does the quick hook potentially damage Quinn’s ego, but it also signals indecision among the other players on the team. Quinn had looked good in his 1st start, ok in his 2nd, and was obviously having some issues in his 3rd. This shouldn’t have been a surprise, seeing that very few rookies (essentially what Quinn is), take the ball in game 1 and excel the rest of their careers (both Payton Manning and Troy Aikman led teams to 1-15 records). Collectively, their numbers were terrible, but the teams were committed to letting them learn on the job, which is what the Browns should have done with Quinn.
The most obvious reason for not making this change, is that there’s no chance that Anderson was ready to play. He’d probably thrown no more than 30 balls warming up before coming in the game. He likely had next to no time in practice with the starting line-up (if he did, it was a mistake to not give all of that time to Quinn), thus he probably had lost timing with his receivers and running backs (Jamal’s fumble on the hand-off). None of these things are Derek’s fault. Also, the Browns followed his arrival with 2 false starts. This can’t be a coincidence. Is it possible the players had grown accustomed to Quinn’s voice, or at least his cadence?
The most problematic issue related to the QB swap, is that it made Anderson look less valuable. It was possible to believe that Anderson would have netted the Browns at least an early #2 pick, potentially a late #1 prior to the season. Quinn reportedly was worth 2 #1’s. With how Anderson has performed, part as I’ve mentioned was due to injuries and tough opponents, his trade value has dropped. Putting him in the game with no practice leads him to look even worse.
Lastly, from an external standpoint, Crennel has just put himself in a situation where he has no chance of being correct next week. Start Anderson and he plays wellà why did you give Quinn the ball if you stuck with him. If Anderson doesn’t play well, then surely, Quinn would have played better. If Quinn starts and plays well, yesterday’s decision looks even worse. If Quinn plays bad, Crennel may be forced to go back to Anderson. Obviously, I’m not going to make any of these ridiculous arguments that allow people to take both sides of an issue.
My recommendation: Start Quinn and forget Anderson’s on the team. Make a comment to the media along the lines of “Brady was struggling with some defensive alignments he hadn’t seen in the pros before, and we wanted to make sure he knew how to read them”. If Quinn plays horribly, keep him in. Say something along the lines of “He’s our guy, and we’re committed to seeing how he plays out the rest of this season”. This strategy leaves the door open to potentially keeping Anderson (which increases his trade value) and gives the team confidence that the QB they have now, will be the QB for the next 5 games.
2) The 2nd inexcusable coaching mistake (which has been repeated numerous times before during the season) is giving Jamal the ball more than 4 times in a row. He’s a 30 year old 245 lb man running and wrestling with 270lb+ defenders. That tires someone out. On Lewis’ 5th straight carry, he shuffled his feat and picked up 2 yards in a decent sized hole. I’m not sure if Crennel or Chud makes these decisions, but there is no statistical evidence that proves any back over a period of 4+ carries improves his yards per carry after the 4th attempt (Football Outsiders research). Let alone, a 245 lb. back. Get him off the field for 1 or 2 plays and bring him back on.
3) The 3rd mistake, the aforementioned slant to Edwards for the 2nd straight 3rd down attempt. I pointed out the Browns have issues running the ball in short yardage situations, but that’s normally because they attack right over Fraley (who gets pushed back), or pull Thomas who sometimes gets in the way. My point is that I’d call any play, instead of the one that I called 3 plays earlier in the same situation. Just a horrid, horrid play call.
Now to the position analysis (not as in depth b/c I watched the game in a bar)
I’m not evaluating Anderson, because he shouldn’t be in the game, and probably wasn’t ready to play. Quinn looked OK. He obviously made a bad read on the zone blitz INT, however, he moved well within the pocket. Also, he overthrew a couple of passes.
Harrison and Lewis played well, but they miss Wright’s pass blocking ability (more on that below). Basically, all that needs to be done is to get a better rotation. Crennel/Chud seem to view “change of pace” as 1 drive with Lewis, 1 drive with Harrison, not factoring in enough how tired one of the backs may get.
I focused on 3 parts of the line while watching the game. The first was Joe Thomas against Mario Williams. Thomas won this match-up hands down. Williams made 1 play, beating Thomas to the inside. However, the reason why Mario went inside was because Quinn stepped up too far. So it really wasn’t a bad job blocking by Thomas. On the 2nd time Williams “beat” Thomas, he essentially bull rushed him, pushing him in to Quinn. Again, a little bit better pocket presence was the fault of this “beat”. What’s always separated Williams from his counterparts is his ability against the run. His quickness was shown on one attempted trap play on him. Thomas blocked down on the DT, and Hadnot pulled from the right side to block Williams. Williams ducked under the block and made the tackle. It was an exceptional play by Williams.
Occasionally, Williams was blocked by Shaffer. Surprisingly, Shaffer did a good job, and kept Williams out of the backfield.
Fraley had his 2nd straight bad game, again, repeating the mistake made in the Bills game, either not making the right line call to pick up the blitzing middle line backer, or not realizing that he’s coming. In this game he tended to be quick to help Hadnot out Amobi Okoye. I’m not sure if Okoye is worth that 2nd blocker, Hadnot is having trouble, or Hadnot’s just not seeing the LB come. Regardless, this is leading to too much pressure coming right up the middle.
Braylon’s dropped the ball. A lot. He could be over thinking it, but I really have no idea what the issue is. The good news is that he seems to be getting a lot of separation from the guys covering him, but he just can’t seem to pull it in.
Interesting to see very few throws to Stallworth. Due to the camera angle, it’s hard to see if he’s not getting open, or just not a 1st or 2nd option. Same thing with Winslow. However, he’s also had an issue with drops as well this season, unfortunately, normally coming on important 3rd or 4th downs.
The two most obvious observations in the game could be made watching the brown’s DL. First, and as usual, Houston struggled to block Rodgers. It’s not their fault, he’s playing like a man possessed, and is holding this line together. The other observation was that about 75% of Houston’s runs were away from Corey Williams (aka towards Thomas, or Leonard). I don’t have the stats, but they clearly had a lot of success on that side.
The next issue, and again not unique to this game, was the lack of pressure created by non-Rodgers DL. The team really misses Robaire’s pass rushing ability. This lack of pressure from the front 3 and McGinnest gives the Browns two options: A) Rush 4 and drop everyone else back ( not working that well because it left Rosenfels way too much time to find an open receiver) or B) Blitz and leave McDonald on an island against Walters or Andre Johnson (again, not a really good option).
The one non-Rodgers bright spot was Rubin not totally sucking backing Rodgers up. He seemed to hold his own against Houston.
4 quick things I noticed:
D’Qwell has phenomenal lateral movement, and is a good tackler. Unfortunately, he gets to the ball carriers a little far down field (mostly due to the DL getting pushed back).
On Kamerion’s sack, Rodgers was triple teamed. That makes it a little easier for the LBs.
I can’t wait to not have to watch Willie drop into coverage and have someone catch a pass within 3 yards of him next year.
Kamerion did a good job slowing down runs on his side (defensive right). The gains seemed to come inside of him (where Leonard or Thomas were playing)
McDonald is really struggling in coverage, but the zone helps protect him. I can’t help but think he’d be better in a cover 2 where his tackling ability was rewarded more.
Pool is clearly the Browns best DB. I hope he gets some recognition and makes it to the all-pro game.
Kick off coverage
Something clearly needs to be done. I mentioned Alex Hall as an issue last week. I’m not sure who’s normally on the kick-off team (is Vickers?), but it’s been a precipitous decline, and I can’t attribute it to any other injuries.