As the Browns' road tour of the NFL elite has now dropped the team to 0-5, it's getting easier to put this entire 2012 season in context. Or, if you're among the remaining faithful who has already conceded that major change will be occurring in a few months, it's probably easier to just take a look at a few moments.
So enough of the overriding themes of overwhelmed coaches and too young rosters – let's talk about a few plays instead. Beyond the 500 yards of offense the Browns' surrendered, Sunday's game could have turned on just a few plays.
2nd Quarter – 14:24 Remaining – Browns 14-7 – 2nd and 1 at Giants' 12
Despite what occurred in the second half, the Browns legitimately had the Super Bowl champions in a prone position early on – and could have opened up a two-touchdown lead. However, this series – innocuous as it was – foreshadowed the vortex of despair that essentially turned the game later.
1st Down – Richardson for 9
At this time, the Browns' offensive line (who probably played their best game of the season) began to give Trent Richardson some running room. A 9-yard first down gain set Shurmur's offense up with a prime second down play calling opportunity.
2nd Down – Slant dropped by Gordon. In fairness to Gordon, Brandon Weeden rifled this pass a yard behind Gordon.
3rd Down – Everyone knows what's coming here. Everyone on the Browns' offensive line (and Ben Watson) blocks right. The Giants' front eight loads right. Richardson has to cut left, is trapped and loses a bunch of yards.
4th Down – Phil Dawson Field Goal
Remembering the above series, let's take a look at later in the quarter.
But first, some kind of mention has to go to Shurmur wandering a bit outside his play calling box with this formation.
But then again, based on the Giants' alignment, I think they knew exactly what was coming.
After big swing pass gainer to Chris Ogbannaya, the Browns are again set up in a prime scoring position. And again, Richardson and the Browns' offensive line are churning out some much-needed yards – and giving Shurmur the offensive play calling flexibility needed for successful NFL offenses.
2nd Quarter – 4:00 Remaining – Browns 17-10 – 3rd and 1 at Giants' 25
1st Down – Delay to Richardson for 5
2nd Down – Richardson left guard for 4
3rd Down – Weeden INT
Either remembering Richardson's 3rd down stop earlier, or just wanting to be creative for creative's sake, Shurmur eschews an effective running play and puts his rookie quarterback in a rather untenable third-down position.
At first glance, most people could sense that there are only so many possibilities with this formation.
And as the play unfolds, it's apparent that Weeden basically has two receiving options – both of which are stuck in a tight space.
Weeden's "alley-oop" attempt seemed destined for Kevin Durant rather than a 6'2 NFL wide receiver. (Note that Norwood first runs out of bounds, then just falls down along the sideline). And then….
You know what happens next.
Instead of going into anymore detail regarding how over matched Shurmur is as an NFL head coach, let's instead just focus on the following mantra regarding Shurmur as an OFFENSIVE PLAY CALLER.
head coaches offensive play callers put their players in a position to succeed.
And on a 3rd and 1 in your opponents' territory – with a lead and a successful running game – it's beyond ridiculous that Shurmur would call a play that does the following:
1. Makes your not so mobile quarterback roll out of the pocket and throw on the move.
2. Completely shortens the field and only offers two receiving options.
3. Essentially removes one of the receiving options because the route takes the receiver out of bounds.
4. Doesn't account for any additional pass rushing pressure – despite the idea that only three receivers are advancing past the line of scrimmage.
5. Takes the ball out of the hands of the player who gained nine yards on the previous two downs.
And while I fully understand that everything that followed this play was NOT a result of Shurmur's play call, it just seems that every scrap of momentum the Browns had vanished and a virtual wormhole, a literal Vortex of Suck opened and the following happened….
2. Ahmad Bradshaw goes untouched for a game-tying TD.
3. Josh Cribbs' second effort results in a fumbled kickoff return.
4. A possession later, Dmitri Patterson thinks he has "over the top" safety help with only 8 yards of end zone behind him.
5. On the Browns' alleged "two-minute drive" to end the first half, Jordan Norwood and Alex Mack commit consecutive "illegal crack back" and "block in the back" penalties. These penalties lead Shurmur to engage in "clandestine face", as he thinks that somehow the Giants will figure out the next two play calls.
BTW, the next two play calls were a Draw Play and WR Screen. Who would have guessed?
6. Buster Skrine commits a Pass Interference penalty with 0:04 left, giving the Giants a very cheap three points.
And at this point, the Browns have moved so far down the Vortex of Suck that anything more would just be a numbing set of colossal regrets and what if's.
Still, and mainly because I don't what to delve into how terrible a player Usama Young is (you know, the Browns' safety who woke up this morning with a #44 imprint in his chest), let's instead focus on a few positives.
7. Yes, Josh Gordon outran a linebacker for his first big NFL play, but at least it's progress from the still too-raw rookie. And real Browns fans should at least take note that Chase Blackburn was a real reason for the Giants' Super Bowl win earlier this year and that Gordon should be celebrated NOW, because we know what will happen to him as a wide receiver in Cleveland.
8. I saw two things early on that I never thought I would see. First, the Browns completed a successful screen pass to Richardson (of course) and Owen Marecic delivered an effective lead block.
9. The Browns' offensive line as a whole played well and showed the kind of precise (and necessary) run blocking movement that we haven't seen in a couple years. On a few plays, the line moved well, got upfield and gave Richardson some room to run.
10. Finally (and yet again), until Weeden is put into positions to succeed, it is unfair for Browns' fans and media to swallow him whole like we have done to 17 other quarterbacks. More importantly, let's focus on true Browns' veterans like D'Qwell Jackson and Ahtyba Rubin who were banged up in yet another frustrating loss.