Cleveland Browns’ sophomore head coach Pat Shurmur has some things to work on after the Browns’ “upset” bid fell short on Sunday afternoon.
The Browns defense, coached by Dick Jauron, stifled an explosive Philadelphia Eagles offense. It caused five turnovers, none of which, with exception to D’Qwell Jackson’s 27-yard interception return for a touchdown, were turned into touchdowns.
Cleveland’s supposedly retooled offense looked eerily similar to that of the past twelve seasons.
Was it a case of Philadelphia’s defense finally reaching its potential? How about offensive play calling for the Browns? What about the rookie factor?
Whatever the case may be, Shurmur is clearly on the hot seat as the Browns approach their change in ownership in the following months.
Let’s take a look at some observations from Shurmur during Sunday’s loss.
Play calling and rookie quarterbacks
Robert Griffin III, the only successful and winning rookie quarterback during Sunday’s Week 1 matchups, played well in the game plan of Mike Shanahan and his staff. Andrew Luck, Brandon Weeden, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill simply did not.
But why was it that Weeden seemed to struggle significantly more than his peers? Can you blame the offensive line, the running game or the play calling?
There’s a multitude of factors at play. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to take a look at the play calling and decision making of Pat Shurmur in comparison to that of the other coaches in question.
Weeden completed just 12-of-35 pass attempts. Luck and Tannehill were playing from behind in their respective games, leading to higher passing attempts.
The Browns, though, elected to throw 35 times while grinding out a defensive battle with the Eagles.
There was no innovation from Shurmur in the play calling, either, with the exception of a double-reverse to wide receiver Travis Benjamin. The running game was stale and straight forward and was easily stopped by the Eagles front seven.
Weeden had no business throwing as many passes as he did in his first NFL start.
Unlike Weeden, RGIII completed quick-release short passes within his team’s superior game plan instead of attempting to challenge seasoned cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugah and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on fade routes.
Was it the game plan or the decision making of Shurmur on sidelines that is to blame?
One thing is for sure, Shurmur certainly is not getting any better making in-game decisions and adjustments to keep up with the speed of the game.
Going for two
Shurmur’s decision to kick the extra point after taking a 15-10 lead on the Eagles early in the fourth quarter was a mind-boggling call.
All around the league, teams chose to take the risk and go for two because a six point lead simply doesn’t mean very much in the fourth quarter, especially against a high-powered offense like the Eagles.
In Denver, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made the right decision. With 14:11 to play, Tomlin found his team leading the Denver Broncos 19-14 and opted to go for the two-point conversion rather than give Peyton Manning the ability to beat him.
The Steelers failed to convert and the Broncos followed with a touchdown drive, as Tomlin expected. Denver, though, did not fail on its two-point conversion attempt and took at three point lead.
A defensive touchdown by the Broncos gave them a 31-19 lead with 1:58 left to play. The Broncos then went for two points instead of one.
The point is, simple math and conventional wisdom dictates that six points is not going to be enough to win a football game. This is especially true against an offense of the caliber of the Eagles.
Shurmur “laid up” when it mattered most. His offense was atrocious; did he really think the defense could hold Michael Vick and the Eagles to field goals for the length of the fourth quarter after spending the majority of the game on the field?
Conservatism and playing not to lose
The habit of playing not to lose is a symptom of a losing franchise that needs to be broken.
Not only did Shurmur make the wrong call to not go for the two-point conversion, he elected to flip on the conservative switch instead of winning the football game. Had the Browns been up 17-10, it’s understandable if Shurmur chose to rely on his team's excellent defense to hold the lead.
A touchdown would have forced overtime, not doomed the Browns to another home opener defeat. Instead, Shurmur took a page out of Marty Schottenheimer’s playbook and played it conservative and punted.
He didn’t want to play conservative all day, deciding rather to employ his rookie quarterback downfield. Then, with the game on the line, he simplified the playbook and actually ran the ball. After a nice third-and-short swing pass to Brandon Jackson, Shurmur dialed up another first down run to Richardson.
After that run pushed the Browns back a yard, he opted for two short pass plays which both fell incomplete.
Was he over-thinking it by trying to play games with Andy Reid’s staff? Whatever the case may be, the calls he made, with the opportunity to get into field goal range and potentially win the game, were questionable at best.
Kyle Shanahan, the Washington Redskins offensive coordinator, opted to dial up a 21-yard pass to a tight end when the New Orleans Saints began loading the box to prevent the Redskins from running out the clock.
"You can either be predictable,'' Griffin said, according to Peter King of Sports Illustrated, "or you can trust your players to make plays. I give a lot of credit to Kyle there for trusting me. When we were on the sidelines before that play, he asked me if I thought I could complete that throw. I said I was confident I could, and he called it.''
Shanahan trusted Griffin III, and Shurmur clearly didn’t trust his quarterback.
However, he trusted him to throw 35 other times during the course of the game and should have given him the opportunity to go downfield when the defense was stacking the box, knowing the Browns were attempting to burn the clock.
Mike Hoag is a Trends and Traffic writer for Bleacher Report and also covers the Cleveland Browns and the NFL for the site.