So much for that fleeting feeling of optimism that lingered after the Bengals game. And so it goes for the Browns' ultra-young roster, who sometimes appear to be running in multiple directions. And so went the Browns' offensive line and energetic defense - two areas that not so long ago seemed like bright spots.
While there are countless areas to review, perhaps the best place to start is my personal crucible - a microcosm of NFL competency - the screen pass.
First, here's the Browns trying to defend one.
And here's an overhead shot of what I shall now refer to as: The Horror.
I uber-criticize screen passes, but they are really effective against either aggressive or undisciplined defenses. On Spiller's score, the Browns' front four along with D'Qwell Jackson and Craig Robertson charge the line and are basically sucked into the trap. Robertson in particular was completely lost on the play.
Since the Bills loaded up receivers on the right side of the field, the left side was wide open - minus a few Browns' defenders, including safety T.J. Ward - who never, never, never, ever takes a bad angle on an open-field ball carrier.
T.J. Ward often takes a bad angle on an open-field ball carrier.
Spiller fakes inside and shifts Ward, giving Spiller a clear lane along the sideline and into the end zone.
I alluded to this last night, but the play of Ward, Usama Young and even Tashaun Gipson really annoys me. While Ward does make some plays against the run, both he and Young seem more concerned about delivering a knockout blow to a ball carrier - despite the fact that both players (especially Young) are usually out of position and/or giving up huge yardage.
Yet, when Browns' fans see Young make a big hit at the end of a 20-yard gain, they suddenly think we have Troy Polamalu in the secondary - instead of a career backup who is stealing playing time.
And someone explain to me how a combination of Young and Gipson are an improvement over Eric Hagg? Hagg wasn't exactly transcendent against the Bengals, but I also don't think that Young would have somehow improved the secondary last week - and he didn't do anything beyond trying to injure players after plays were finished on Sunday.
Anyway, here's the Browns' rebuttal - their own screen pass minutes later. While it was tempting to think that Shurmur offered his own screen pass in response, that hypothesis would indicate that Shurmur didn't coach in a total vacuum, completely removed from the tone of the game unfolding in front of him.
This was the most successful of the Browns' screen attempts, as Richardson's grinding running style netted 7 yards. Compared to previous screens over the first two weeks of the regular season and during the preseason, this was a fairly well-blocked screen. Both Jason Pinkston and Alex Mack get upfield and Weeden has a relatively clean pocket to throw out of.
However, Shurmur is calling a screen against a Bills' defense that had basically been rushing four throughout the game and leaving their linebackers in the front seven box - not exactly the hard-charging ideal that the Bills' offense exploited before. Add in the Bills' constant targeting of Richardson and the idea that Weeden essentially throws a four-yard screen (as opposed to the Bills' six-yard version) and the results are as expected. Only Richardson breaking a tackle prevents a 2-3 yard gain.
Speaking of which...
And for a final contrast, here's another screen to Richardson. Shurmur called three against the Bills...because you know, they are so effective and the opponent wouldn't think that the Browns would call them. Shurmur loves the META-SURPRISE.
This time, the Browns bring a receiver in motion and run everyone to the left side of the field, setting up what by now is a clear tell to the Bills' defense. And again, with such increased focus on Richardson, this play was doomed before it even began.
And so it goes with screens and this Browns' offense. Again, I'm not sure what Shurmur's fascination is with screen passes - at least based on the extent that he (over)uses them. Screens are great momentum changers but rely on defensive tendencies, rather than offensive repetition. And clearly, the emphasis that defenses will apply to Richardson makes the play even more unlikely to succeed.
But somehow I don't think these truths will stop Shurmur.
Some final thoughts...
1. Brandon Weeden wasn't terrible, which goes against what the mouth-breathing faction of Browns' fan will think this week. Moreover, he is starting to look like a QB who can excel in a rhythmic type of passing game. When he's given quick developing plays and shorter drop backs, he looks like a first-round QB. Now, if the Browns could only find an offense where such plays, drop backs and routes are utilized.
Oh, right. Never mind.
2. Weeden tends to struggle when he takes a deeper drop and has to scan the entire field. In these situations, Weeden is a bit late to realize pressure and not nimble enough to elude it. And when he does have time and/or escapes pressure, Weeden's downfield throws are a bit shaky. And yes, he wasn't always helped out by his receivers.
3. And while I'm not sure what the instant pulse on Pat Shurmur fandom is at the moment. (He was instantly popular after the Bengals' game), it is again worth noting that the Browns' offense reverted back to an ill-fitting mold of scheme to talent, rather than talent to scheme.
Speaking of which, here's a funny shot of Owen Marecic.
Owen Marecic: "High-Character Guy"
4. As an example, the Browns' offensive line struggles when asked to block for longer routes. Obviously on 3rd and Forever, this situation cannot be helped. However, on the early downs, this situation needs to be addressed. Similarly, the first and second down play calling can only be characterized as unimaginative - if not completely lifeless.
5. Beyond Shurmur and his now 4-15 record and endless offensive struggles, it's telling when a rookie who has three games of experience - and is not the 28-year old quarterback - has assumed the role of offensive team leader. But until the play calling becomes more reflective of actual game-planning and not static diagrams on a laminated sheet and until the receivers become sure-handed, Trent Richardson is the heart of the Browns' offense.
And Usama Young alternating with Tashaun Gipson is the reality of the Browns' defense.