There were so many issues in the Cleveland Browns disappointing loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday it would be inaccurate to say anything in particular was the main culprit. The defense was the only area of the team that carried its weight.
The issues on special teams were not all that difficult to figure out. Players did not make their blocks so the Bengals got their hands on punts.
Offensively, however, it was more difficult to decide exactly what went wrong. Quarterback Jason Campbell seemed to be settling for checkdown passes instead of challenging the defense vertically.
If you take away his 74-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Josh Gordon, he averaged just three yards per pass attempt.
Were the receivers failing to get open? Was there too much pressure on Campbell forcing him to throw the ball early? Or was Campbell being too safe and ignoring deeper targets for his passes?
The game film shows Campbell was too tentative and afraid to take a risk of moving the ball down field.
Let’s take a look at three plays where Campbell missed better options in this week’s film breakdown.
Play 1: 3rd-and-5 with 6:05 left in the first quarter
This is a play early in the first quarter while the game was still scoreless. The Browns were threatening and had just moved the ball into the Bengals’ red zone.
On this play, the Browns have an empty backfield with three wide receivers and running back Chris Ogbonnaya (bottom of the screenshot) spread out wide. He will run a simple out route.
As you can see, the ball is snapped and the protection is perfect. Campbell has a nice pocket to dissect the defense and deliver the football.
Instead of looking over the defense, however, he stays locked on Ogbonnaya and throws the second he comes open.
On the top of the screen, you can see wide receiver Davone Bess has beaten his man out of the slot and there is no safety help over the top. He is wide open for a touchdown.
Also, wide receiver Greg Little beat his man on a comeback route and has four yards of separation near the top sideline.
Campbell delivers the pass to Ogbonnaya and he is quickly pushed out of bounds.
While Campbell moved the chains and picked up a first down with the throw to Ogbonnaya, he missed a sure six points if he had looked to the other side of the formation.
This drive ended up stalling and the Browns had to settle for a field goal. That was four points missed.
Play 2: 2nd-and-5 with 3:20 left in the first quarter
This is the Browns' very next drive and they are once again in the Bengals’ red zone. This time they are on the nine-yard line.
Campbell has three routes to the right side of the formation. Ogbonnaya is going to run a route in and then back towards the sideline, tight end Jordan Cameron is going to run a streak straight for the end zone and wide receiver Josh Gordon is running a comeback route to the front corner of the end zone.
Once again Campbell has a perfect pocket to work out of and plenty of time to examine the defense. Ogbonnaya comes open and both the linebacker and the cornerback collapse on his short route.
This leaves Cameron wide open in the end zone. Campbell is looking directly at this portion of the field.
Instead of hitting Cameron for six easy points, Campbell opts to throw to Ogbonnaya. To compound the poor decision he also overthrew the ball and it landed incomplete.
If he had led Ogbonnaya, he has Gordon out in front of him to block and may have had a chance at a touchdown.
Once again Campbell missed a wide-open touchdown and this time there was no excuse. He didn’t even have to move his head. Cameron should have been in his field of vision
Instead, he opted for the safer route and then threw a bad pass. The Browns once again had to settle for a field goal and instead of making it a 10-0 game it was just 6-0.
Play 3: 2nd-and-13 with 5:21 left in the second quarter
By this time in the second quarter the wheels were starting to fall off and the Browns needed to stop the bleeding. They had allowed 21 unanswered points and now trailed 21-13.
They were backed up at their own 17-yard line on this play. Campbell had two receivers to his left that would cross routes, a receiver to his right that was running a streak and Ogbonnaya running a wheel route out of the backfield.
Campbell once again has plenty of time to examine the defense, as he is facing zero pressure.
Both routes to the left of the formation are open but wide receiver Davone Bess has no one anywhere near him on the top sideline.
Instead, Campbell stayed locked on Ogbonnaya and decided to make the pass into the teeth of three defenders.
Ogbonnaya catches the pass and is immediately hit and fumbles the football as the three defenders converge on him.
A completion to Bess on the outside may have only been for three or four yards but at least it was in a position where the football would have been taken care of.
Campbell led Ogbonnaya directly into oncoming traffic and those defenders caused another fumble that was returned for a touchdown. At that point the game was all but out of reach.
These are just three examples of plays where Campbell was far too hesitant to test the Bengals secondary. He has playmakers at the wide receiver position and must trust them.
This is something that Campbell has been criticized for his entire career but the Browns had not seen it until Sunday. Whether it was hurt ribs or lack of confidence, something needs to change quickly if the Browns are going to score enough points to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.