If it is possible for a head coach to be too aggressive on one play and then too conservative on the next, Cleveland Browns’ head coach Pat Shurmur achieved it today.
After having a good game plan that finally opened up the offense, and mixed in some trick plays with a sound, ball-control attack, the Browns fell short once again, 13-12 to the St. Louis Rams, on a play that would be unbelievable except that we all saw it.
The Browns had a first and goal at the Rams’ 8 with 4:36 remaining, poised to go ahead and claim their fourth victory of the year.
Then Pat Shurmur seemingly went schizophrenic.
A very conservative call on first down resulted in a one yard loss by RB Chris Ogbonnaya. On the next play, the coach called for a handoff to TE Alex Smith, who was lined up in the backfield. Smith didn’t handle the play cleanly, but fortunately, Josh Cribbs fell on the ball so Cleveland kept possession.
On third down, Ogbonnaya got the ball again, and carried it to the STL 3.
So, with three plays inside the 10 yard line, Shurmur did not allow QB Colt McCoy, who had a good game, hitting 20 of 27 throws for 218 yards, to take a shot at the end zone.
A curious decision to be sure.
Still, the ball was put in position for what appeared to be an easy Phil Dawson field goal.
But Ryan Pontbriand’s snap hit Alex Mack’s foot and rolled back to holder Brad Maynard. The timing of the play was destroyed and Dawson had to stop during his approach to the ball. He missed the short field goal, and the Browns lost a game it appeared to have in hand.
The team looked stunned as it left the field, now 3-6 for the season, and losers of three straight.
The bad snap was the second bad special teams play of the day, after Cribbs’ fumble of a punt return set up the winning points for the Rams. It’s hard to find fault with the standout on kicking plays, but the bobble gave St. Louis life after they had trouble moving the ball much of the second half.
The defeat was a shame for several reasons. One, of course, is because it came at home to a team with just one other victory on the year. Another is because Shurmur’s offense showed life.
He used Cribbs in the wildcat formation a few times, he threw a pass to back up QB Seneca Wallace off a double reverse. They ran end around handoffs to both Cribbs and WR Greg Little, and threw a 52-yard pass to Little to set up a field goal before the half.
Here’s hoping we see more of that during the rest of the season. There is no reason not to use these plays.
However, the play calling became very stale in the red zone. McCoy threw just one catchable ball into the end zone all day, to Evan Moore, who appeared to be interfered with. Moore was guilty of a face mask on the play, so it would have just made it off-setting penalties had it been called.
The defense played well too. Stephen Jackson gained 128 yards in 27 carries, but was held pretty much in check. LB Scott Fujita had an interception, and LB Chris Gocong was all over the field, forcing a Jackson fumble, and recovering it himself.
Rookie DT Phil Taylor played well also. With people saying he had hit a rookie wall, Taylor had several big hits and recording Cleveland’s only sack of the day. The secondary did a good job, as St. Louis’s longest pass play was a 24-yard sensational catch by WR Brandon Lloyd.
There is no question this was a tough defeat for the Browns. It will be a test to see what kind of leader Shurmur is with next week’s contest against Jacksonville being very winnable. Cleveland’s only road win was in week two against the Colts, and this team needs a victory in the worst sort of way.