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The Longest Yard isn't getting any easier for the Browns to convert

Oct 31, 2012 -- 4:28pm

By Tony Grossi


Extra Points …

The Longest Yard, revisited: Last week we christened the title of the 2012 Browns season in review film The Longest Yard because of the team’s excruciating performance in traversing 36 inches when absolutely needed.

A couple of the season’s low points thus far have occurred in these situations – the interception that tripped the avalanche in the Giants game, and the decision to punt on fourth-and-1 in the Colts game because of past short-yardage failures.

Merely failing to convert one yard on the football field in the beginning or middle of a game is bad enough. At the very least, it’s a kick in the gut – an affront to an offensive team’s manhood.

Other times, it can be a game-changer, as the above examples certainly were. Ask the Chargers what failing on fourth-and-1 at the Browns’ 30 on their first offensive possession did to their collective psyche in last Sunday’s 7-6 loss.

I don’t have the data league-wide to prove it, but it sure seems like the Browns face third- and fourth-and-1 more than most teams. They have to figure out a way to win those critical plays.

The update: The Browns had four more of these situations Sunday against San Diego, bringing their season total to 18. They have converted nine times – six times on the ground and three through the air. That’s not good enough and they know it.

Against the Chargers, they made a fourth-and-1 on a Brandon Weeden sneak. That’s their best option all year; he is now 4-for-4 on short-yardage sneaks for first downs.

Trent Richardson converted his first third-and-1 Sunday, running around left tackle for an 11-yard gain. But Richardson then failed on two other opportunities, getting stacked for no gain and a loss of two.

Richardson now is 2-for-7 on third-and-1 attempts – the worst mark in the NFL, according to league statistics. San Francisco’s Frank Gore is next-worse at 2-for-6. Gore’s mark is even more surprising because: 1. He is an accomplished, experienced, hard-driving NFL back, and, 2. The 49ers under coach Jim Harbaugh have acquired the smash-mouth mentality that seem to make them virtually unstoppable in those situations; they play AFC North-style football.

I asked coach Pat Shurmur on Wednesday what is the problem with Richardson in short-yardage situations.

“We did a study on it. We’ll keep our results to ourselves,” Shurmur responded. “I think it’s important, on third-and-1, you need to be able to execute at a very high percentage for one yard. We’ve had a combination of things that have happened to us. It’s not always on the runner, but we need to enforce our will and get a yard. I’m aware of those numbers, and we’re working on it to get better.”

T-Rich’s take?: I have heard grumblings that if there is one criticism of Richardson internally, it is his habit of not hitting the right spot in these short-yardage plays. Each play is designed to create a specific crease, and if the runner doesn’t attack it from the get-go and he elects to free-lance, then the play blows up.

I have also heard that Richardson’s lack of consistent practice time behind his offensive line, because of the preseason knee surgery and recent bout with sore ribs, has contributed.

I wanted to ask Richardson about it but he was made unavailable to reporters in the locker room on Wednesday, his normal day of entertaining questions. He was present, all right, but Brian Smith, coordinator of media relations, was there posting up at his locker like a Buckingham Palace guard. Reporters were told that Richardson would speak on Thursday.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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