Rams vs. Browns: 6 Things We Learned from Cleveland's Loss to St. Louis
Yet another Sunday afternoon ended in heartbreak today for the Browns in the "Factory of Sadness" that is Cleveland Browns Stadium, thanks to a 13-12 loss to the St. Louis Rams, who came into this game at 1-7 on the season.
While the Rams improve to 2-7, the Browns fall to 3-6 after once again failing to produce on offense.
The defense and Phil Dawson tried their best to keep the Browns in the game, but the sputtering offense once again couldn't find the end zone all game long.
The Browns made plenty of mistakes this afternoon, but on the bright side, we also finally saw some improvements in areas where they were long overdue.
As is always the case in a losing effort, the bad outweighed the good, but at least Cleveland appears to have figured out a few fixes for a handful of their many, many problems. It's unfortunate that we've been reduced to this "take whatever you can get" approach to the Browns, but it is what it is.
Here are six things we learned about the Browns in their loss to the Rams today.
1. Live by the Field Goal, Die by the Field Goal
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The Gospel of Matthew warns that those who live by the sword, die by the sword.
The Gospel of the Browns should probably warn that if you live the field goal, you die by the field goal.
Thanks to Franchise Phil, we Browns fans have become used to relying on Dawson as our only reliable means of scoring points.
Today that came back to bite us, as the Browns once again couldn't find the end zone on offense and got burned on their typical field goal fall-back when the potential winning chip shot kick sailed wide left after center Alex Mack inadvertently kicked the snap on its way to the holder.
You certainly can't blame Dawson for this, as he wasn't the one who made the error on the play and he's also the only person on the team who scored any points at all today.
And while the botched snap is frustrating, the real problem remains that the offense can't find the end zone. No team can expect to win when field goals are their only means of putting points on the board.
Today, as is the case all too often, the Browns lived by the field goal, and then died by it. Particularly in Cursed Cleveland, you can't expect to do something five times in a game and have a 100 percent success rate.
If the Browns offense could have put even one measly touchdown up, they would have won. The Browns are out of excuses on offense. I saw some improvement today in terms of play calling and moving the ball downfield, but in the end, none of that matters if it doesn't result in a single touchdown.
2. Trick Plays Produce Mixed Results
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The Browns' play-calling on Sunday still left much to be desired, but say this for head coach Pat Shurmur: at least he tried to mix it up a little in an attempt to kick his excessive predictability addiction.
West Coast offenses generally aren't big on the trick play, but today we saw the Wildcat formation (which has been absent from the Browns' playbook for the most part since last season), as well as a reasonably well-executed end around play.
The Browns pledged to get Josh Cribbs more involved on offense this week. We've heard that one before, but this week it did turn out to be at least kind of true.
Generally speaking, I don't like trick plays much. Most of the time they succeed due to luck or the element of surprise rather than any real skill, and therefore should be used on a limited basis and only in very specific situations.
Still, when the Browns brought in Seneca Wallace for the Wildcat today, it actually worked out pretty well. Obviously it never produced a touchdown, but since nothing else the Browns do on offense produces one either, I'm glad Shurmur at least attempted to try something new.
Unfortunately outside of the trick plays and a handful of other more innovative calls, we still saw entirely too much predictability in the play-calling, clearly evident in the lack of points it produced.
3. Big-Time Little
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While it's unfortunately true that he never found the end zone, rookie Greg Little's performance today had the very encouraging look of a breakout game.
Little, who had several frustrating drops last week against the Texans, rebounded nicely today, catching six of six targets for 84 receiving yards.
While it's true that he's still very, very raw as a wide receiver, I was extremely encouraged by what I saw from him today.
Perhaps even more important than Little's numbers alone is that we finally started to see some chemistry beginning to kindle between he and QB Colt McCoy.
It was an interesting juxtaposition in this game with the Rams, where we were forced to bite back our jealousy and watch Sam Bradford and Brandon Lloyd display their own seemingly excellent chemistry for the St. Louis offense.
Furthering the frustration is that up until today, this was the first time Bradford and Lloyd saw game action together, as Bradford was out with an ankle injury when Lloyd arrived via trade in St. Louis and only just returned today.
Little and McCoy, who have had a great deal more time together on the field already, are clearly moving at a slower pace, but at least they're finally starting to get there.
4. McCoy Makes Some Strides Toward Silencing Critics
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Today was far from a flawless game for QB Colt McCoy, who seemed to be able to move the ball down the field but couldn't punch it into the end zone, but overall he executed well and showed a few very encouraging signs as far as the things he's continually questioned about by his detractors.
McCoy was 20-of-27 passing today for 218 yards and a 97.5 passer rating. Not too shabby for a guy who was sacked twice, hit three times and forced to run for his life as per usual on nearly every passing play.
Perhaps most encouraging was the 52-yard bomb he threw to Greg Little, an important show of strength and precision for a QB who has been maligned by critics for having a weak arm.
This should also at least temporarily silence the whispers that McCoy won't be able to hack it in the bad weather that plagues Cleveland for much of the second half of the season.
As anybody who has tried to throw into the wind while playing backyard football can tell you, it's very tough to put any distance on the toss and have it land anywhere near where you want it to go. The winds on the field today were ugly, yet McCoy still managed to float one right to Little, who was half a football field away.
Granted one throw does not a great cold weather quarterback make, but this combined with a pretty solid day for McCoy otherwise gives Browns fans at least a little something positive to take away from a highly frustrating loss.
5. Seeing a Terrible Offensive Line from the Other Side
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Colt McCoy, plagued by his own offensive line's poor protection week in and week out, probably has a lot of sympathy for his friend and college rival Sam Bradford, who unfortunately has it even worse.
The Rams are the worst in the league in pass protection, and poor Bradford was sporting the ankle brace today to prove it.
The Browns' solid pass defense took advantage of this, limiting Bradford to just 155 passing yards, hitting him hard three times and picking him off once. But of course the Rams still won.
That of course sheds some dim light on the similar problems the Browns have on offense in that St. Louis, as bad as its pass protection is, managed to come out a winner today because it still has a decent run game to fall back on. By contrast, with the running game being virtually non-existent for the Browns, shortcomings in pass protection are exponentially more devastating to the offense as a whole.
RB Chris Ogbonnaya did do better this week, with a very respectable 90 yards on 19 carries. But he was bested by Rams star running back Steven Jackson, who rushed for 128 yards on 27 carries. While both averaged 4.7 yards per carry, in a game lost by one point, those 38 extra yards are a huge difference maker.
6. No True Winner in the Battle of Shurmur vs. His Old Team
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I know, I know...technically the Rams got the edge over their former offensive coordinator because, well, they won.
But I'm not exactly sure you can truly say either side was "better" than the other if you dig a little deeper, because for the most part, both teams just plain old played a pretty lousy game of football.
We saw flashes of excellence on both sides: McCoy's 52-yard bomb to Little, Bradford's TD pass to Lloyd, the Cleveland defense's forced turnovers and St. Louis' excellent red-zone defense.
But overall, what we saw was two young teams that both have a lot of potential talent and has thus far been overshadowed by depth problems, inexperience and coaching miscues.
In some ways the similarities between the two teams make this loss a bit easier to swallow for the Browns' faithful...at least this team is in the same boat as we are, right? But in other ways, it makes it worse.
Based on their record, the Rams clearly got off to an even slower start than the Browns, yet their win today says that, however close the margin, they're currently the better team and the one whose progress has advanced the further.
Whether Shurmur or his old team had the edge here is largely irrelevant to the bigger picture, but for the Browns, whose morale is at a terrible low after consecutive weeks of failures, it could have been a helpful symbolic boost for their confidence.