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Browns' rookie backs said three's a crowd -- so who sits now?

Oct 22, 2014 -- 3:18pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Extra Points …

Wait and see: If restoring the running game is the key to everything the Browns do on offense, then the major decisions of the practice week are these:

* Who plays center and right guard?

* What’s the rotation at running back?

The short answers are we won’t know until the end of the week. As usual, coach Mike Pettine will choose his best option based on performance at practice.

Here are the options considered for each decision:

Center and right guard

Nick McDonald is the Alex Mack replacement-in-training, but Pettine indicated on Wednesday that it still might be too soon to expect the center to make his first start with a new club. McDonald came off a reserve list last week after finishing off rehab of a wrist injury. Pettine disclosed that McDonald took reps last week mostly on the scout team.

“In limited reps he got last week, more scout team than anything else, he looked like he was getting back into it,” Pettine said. “That’s a lot to ask to put him right back in there. We do have that three-week window (to activate McDonald). I don’t want the circumstances to accelerate that. You want a guy to be ready when he’s ready. It’s something we’ll evaluate at end of the week.”

If McDonald is not ready, John Greco would make his second career start at center. Right guard then becomes a question.

The Browns could give Paul McQuistan another try or give Vinston Painter his first start in a regular game. Painter has appeared in two games on special teams.

Running back

Pettine confirmed coaches have discussed the merits of reducing the workload to two – feature back Ben Tate and a backup.

So after rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell both spoke on the difficulty of finding a rhythm in a three-back rotation, one will pay the price and probably not see the field on Sunday.

“It’s still going to play out during practice this week,” Pettine said. “That’s something we did discuss and have a plan for the week practice-wise. Then we’ll revisit it at the end, and then make a decision on how we’re going to substitute those guys.

“It is a luxury to have, the three backs. To me, every week’s diferent. We’ll look at some different things. I don’t want to lock it in and say we’re set on three.”

Wildcat redux?: When I asked Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano about exhuming the Wildcat – the gimmick offense that propelled his Miami Dolphins team from 1-15 to 11-5 in 2008 – he laughed.

“Any time I show up anyplace I guess there’s that rumor going around,” Sparano said on a conference call. “That’s what they are, rumors. We’re going to do whatever’s in the best interest of the Oakland Raiders to try to win a football game.”

Don’t laugh.

Sparano used the Wildcat in the 2008 season as a means of getting backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown on the field together. It took the NFL by storm and was effective simply because nobody else was doing it and defenses couldn’t prepare for it in the early going.

Even His Eminence, Bill Belichick, was blindsided. Sparano debuted the Wildcat in Game 3 and rolled up 216 rushing yards against Belichick’s befuddled Patriots in an epic 38-13 shellacking. (Belichick won the rematch nine weeks later, 48-28, as Sparano expected a Wildcat-prevent defense and had Chad Pennington throw 41 times.)

As NFL defenses saw more of the Wildcat and prepared for it at practice, the offense returned to the cold storage tank. Some day, it will be back.

The perfect storm could be approaching to warrant a cameo appearance.

The Raiders are 0-6. They have a rookie quarterback learning the ropes. Their feature back, Darren McFadden, was exposed to the Wildcat at Arkansas. And free agent pickup Maurice Jones-Drew is closer than ever to being 100 percent after early-season hand surgery.

Further, the Raiders’ conventional running game has sputtered to the tune of 69.3 yards per game. And did I mention the Browns’ historic problems defending the run? They check in this week ranked dead last, yielding an average of 155.5 yards on the ground.

So, beware the Wildcat. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Brownie bits: Nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin (ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis. Pettine said that while Rubin did receive a second opinion on his ankle injury, surgery was never a serious option … Nickel back K’Waun Williams (concussion) also returned on a limited basis … We all jumped the gun on Pettine’s appearance at linebacker Khalil Mack’s pre-draft pro day last March in Buffalo, where Pettine last worked and still had a home. Mack has been surprisingly stout against the run, but has yet to record a sack in six games … Did Raiders QB Derek Carr see anything helpful on film of fellow rookie Blake Bortles’ victory over the Browns last week? “Some lady did have a funny Blake Bortles face picture in the back of the end zone,” he said. “So I took a picture and sent that to him.”

 

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 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Tony Grossi's Scouting Report: Oakland Raiders

Oct 22, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

                        Browns vs. Oakland Raiders

                        Sunday, 4:25 p.m., in FirstEnergy Stadium

Record: 0-6.

Last game: Lost to Arizona Cardinals, 24-13, Oct. 18, in Oakland, CA.

Coach: Tony Sparano, 0-2, (interim); 29-34 overall.

Series record: Raiders lead, 13-9 (counting postseason).

Last meeting: Browns won, 20-17, Dec. 2, 2012, in Oakland.

League rankings: Offense is 32nd overall (32nd rushing, 26th passing), defense is 22nd (29th rushing, 11th passing) and turnover differential is minus-4.

Offensive overview: With rookie Derek Carr entrenched as the starting quarterback, Sparano has tried to scale back the offense. Carr has quietly put together a decent start to his career (8 touchdowns v. 5 interceptions), but you’d never know it looking at the offense’s rankings – 32nd in total yards, 32nd in rushing and 31st in points. The rushing figure sabotages everything because offensive coordinator Greg Olson would like to use the running game to set up play-action, like his former mentor Jon Gruden. Free agent Maurice Jones-Drew was signed to wrestle away the feature back role from Darren McFadden, but hand surgery cost him time and now he is a backup. McFadden (3.8 yards a rush) is not the player he was three years ago. The team’s longest run of 41 yards was produced by Carr. Despite the unproductive running game, Carr’s pass protection has been outstanding (four sacks in 199 dropbacks). He leans on veteran wideout James Jones (30 receptions) and gets big plays from 6-4 wideout Andre Holmes (16.8-yard average), who can go up and get the throw-it-up balls, but can also break a QB’s heart with drops.

Defensive overview: Jason Tarver was retained as defensive coordinator after Dennis Allen was fired, but some subtle changes have emerged since Sparano assumed the job as interim coach. Downsizing the gameplan has resulted in more players being rotated in with the hope of keeping the unit fresher and faster. It has a terrible time getting off the field. Opponents are converted a league-high 52.8 percent of third downs. That figure would be higher if not for three kneeldowns among the Raiders’ 40 “stops.” Rookie linebacker Khalil Mack has been an ironman, seldom leaving the field, and is flying all over against the run but has yet to produce a sack in the pass rush. Like most teams, they show 3-4 and 4-3 looks and sometimes have standup ends rush the quarterback while other linemen drop back into zone coverage. The defense is loaded with minimum-wage veterans on their second or third team who aren’t the players they were with their first teams, such as end LaMarr Woodley, end Justin Tuck and cornerback Carlos Rogers. But don’t count Charles Woodson in that group. At 38, the free safety is still covering a lot of ground and making plays from sideline to sideline.

Special teams overview: Kicker Sebastian Janikowski is 5 of 6 on field goals with a long of 53 yards and ranks 25th with 15 touchbacks. Janikowski lost trust in punter Marquette King as the holder and a recent change resulted in backup quarterback Matt Schaub taking over the role. King is 30th in gross punting (43.3 yards) and 11th in net (40.4). Rookie TJ Carrie is 10th in punt return average (9.4 yards) and had a 60-yard return last week erased by penalty. Carrie recently assumed kick returns, too, and has a 24.3 average. The coverage teams have yielded a 29-yard punt return and a kickoff return of 44 yards.

Players to watch:

1. Quarterback Derek Carr: Not a sack waiting to happen like his older brother David was, he’s completing 60.5 percent of his passes, has 8 touchdowns v. 5 interceptions and has managed a decent passer rating of 80.9 through his first six starts.

2. Free safety Charles Woodson: The 2009 NFL defensive player of the year, his 13 defensive touchdowns are tied for the most in league history. He is the league’s active leader with 58 career interceptions and needs one Pick 6 to tie Rod Woodson’s career record of 12.

3. Wide receiver Andre Holmes: At 6-4, he has a wide catching radius and can come down with jump balls. He is a big play threat with a 16.8-yard receiving average and three touchdowns.

Injury report: FS Usama Young (knee) is out; DE Justin Tuck (knee) and FB Marcel Reese (knee) missed the last game; DE Lamarr Woodley (undisclosed) left the last game. WR Vincent Brown (hamstring) has missed the last two games.

Small world: Interim head coach Tony Sparano was on the Browns’ coaching staff in 1999 and 2000 … free safety Usama Young played with the Browns in 2011-12.

 

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 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Brian Hoyer's accuracy has to improve for the Browns to achieve consistency on offense

Oct 21, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

The Morning Kickoff …

Consistently inconsistent: Brian Hoyer has had his moments in this young season, marked mostly by streaky runs of clutch throws during breath-taking comebacks.

He has etched his name in the history books twice in six games, authoring the biggest comeback win on the road in an NFL regular-season game and the largest Browns’ win over the Steelers in 25 years.

But those have been offset by some inexplicable stretches of misfires, rushed throws and bad aim.

There was a 4-of-11 first half in Pittsburgh, and a 5-of-11 first half in the rematch in Cleveland. There was a 9-of-19 first half against New Orleans, and an 8-of-21 first half against Jacksonville, which was followed by an 8-of-20 second half against the Jaguars.

The overall 16-of-41 day in Jacksonville came on the heels of an 8-of-17 effort in the big win over Pittsburgh. So, in the last two games, Hoyer is a 41.3 percent thrower. That is an amazing number.

Hoyer’s season completion mark of 55.8 percent ranks last among NFL starting quarterbacks – lower than Geno Smith’s 57.3 – in a season in which the league average is 63.3. And this in Kyle Shanahan’s “quarterback-friendly” offensive system that has seen past quarterbacks such as Matt Schaub, Sage Rosenfels, Robert Griffin 3 and Kirk Cousins post completion figures of 66.1, 66.7, 67.9, 65.6 and 68.8.

I asked Hoyer if he felt that completion percentage was a relevant statistic.

““Yeah,” he answered. “I mean, you go 16 of 41, regardless if there are batted balls or throwaways, even with those, you’d like to be in the 60s. I think it’s about being efficient. For me, I wasn’t efficient (Sunday) regardless of the situation. You’ve got to be able to get out there and complete the passes.”

The system: Shanahan’s offensive system sets up its quarterback with the wide-zone running scheme. When that gets rolling, the play-action and bootleg misdirection passing game can produce big plays from quarterbacks.

We’ve seen unheralded Browns receivers running wide open in secondaries as Ben Tate, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West took turns having big games – or, at least, big portions of games.

Hoyer, the quarterback, has been the beneficiary of the Browns’ highly-ranked offensive line and running game. So the questions not spoken have been: What happens when the running game is stopped? Can Hoyer make the plays from the pocket?

The answer on Sunday was no. A single play by Hoyer may have stolen that game in Jacksonville on a day in which the Jaguars “wanted it more than the Browns.”

The one play could have come on the pass to Jordan Cameron, open in the back of the end zone on the third-down play preceding the Browns’ second field goal. Or it could have come after Andrew Hawkins’ 65-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter.

But it didn’t come.

Hoyer’s pass for Cameron, which came not from play-action but from the pocket in “empty” formation – no backs – was high and uncatchable.

On Monday, Hoyer attributed “a few missed throws” to lack of patience in the pocket.

“Things felt like they were flying around a little bit more than usual,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to hang in there a little bit longer even when you don’t think you can. It’s something that I need to work on.”

But on the misfire for Cameron, he said, “That wasn’t a thing with the pass rush or anything like that. It was just … I’m trying to look off a safety and I came back to throw to his spot. He kind of … it was kind of that he thought one thing and I thought another. We’ve just got to get on the same page with that, especially on a critical play like that.”

Hoyer was leveled to the ground by Jacksonville tackle Sen’Derrick Marks on the fifth play of the game. I asked him if that hit “accelerated” his mental time clock and caused his impatience.

“No, I think I always have a pretty good clock,” he responded. “I’ll hang in there and take a hit. But I don’t want to be taking sacks. I think sacks set you back. So I always do try to go through progressions pretty quickly and sometimes you get through them a little too quick, where somebody ends up popping up after you’ve already moved on from them. So, it’s just something that comes with repetition and just kind of slowing your mind down a little bit, especially when they are bringing a good pass rush. You still got to just be the same tempo in your mind.”

The leash: There is another statistic that speaks to Hoyer’s inconsistency and feeds the perception that he is more inaccurate when throwing from the pocket without the benefit of play-action.

On third downs, Hoyer is a 48.4 percent passer with a QB rating of 67.4. Third downs are generally when the play-action game is rendered ineffective because defenses aren’t going to respect handoffs in those situations.

I asked coach Mike Pettine if Hoyer’s low completion percentage was a concern.

“To me, I know this one severely dropped it, so, I don’t want to put it all (on the Jacksonville game),” he said. “If it becomes a couple more games, still a trend like that, that’s something to look at, but to me, we just looked at his effectiveness and the offense there.

“Sometimes, the completion percentage will be affected, whether you’re trying to throw the ball away or take some more shots downfield where your percentage isn’t going to be as high, but you don’t need to hit as many.

“That’s not something that, to me, is a concern … today.”

In the context of considering playing time for Johnny Manziel, Pettine said, “Nothing has changed … We’re not going to hit the panic button after one loss. We know that while the quarterback position needed to be more productive, it was more symptomatic of the entire offense. Brian is still firmly our starter.”

The statistic that governs that decision is wins and losses. In the meantime, the ones to watch are completion percentage and third-down passing. Hoyer’s have to improve.

 

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 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Browns want Terrance West to stop all the dancing, will review rotation at running back

Oct 20, 2014 -- 5:47pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Extra Points …

Go north: Terrance West didn’t like the “baby backs” nickname somebody coined for fellow rookie Isaiah Crowell and him after Game 1. If he doesn’t alter his running style in short yardage carries, people might start calling him Terrance East-West.

West failed to convert consecutive short-yardage carries in the first half in Jacksonville because he stuttered-stepped in search of bigger plays. He gained 1 yard on a second-and-2 carry at the Jaguars’ 25-yard line, and then was stacked up for no gain on third-and-1.

On Monday, West repeated a coaching point that the coaches have made to him.

“I was trying to go for the big play,” he said. “When it comes down to it, I should’ve just got the first down.

"If I’d have kept running outside on the (third) down, I’d probably have gotten seven yards more. I just stopped and tried to cut back in and go for the bigger play instead of going for the first down. I ran into the back of my offensive lineman. I wish I could get it back, just got to learn from it and let it be motivation.”

Those failed opportunities turned crucial when Mike Pettine elected to go for it on fourth down rather than try a 42-yard field goal and go up, 9-0. The Jaguars defended the play and converted the turnover on downs into a touchdown and a 7-6 lead at halftime. They never surrendered it.

And West never returned to the field in the second half. The first back in to relieve starter Ben Tate, West totaled 10 offensive snaps – all in the first half. Crowell had 23 and Tate had 41.

West attributed his desire to swing for the fences to his limited play time in the crowded Browns’ backfield.

“On that play right there, I know I’ve got limited reps,” he said. “So I know when I’m in the game, I’m trying to get that big play. I’ve got to go back to the books and take what the defense gives me. I’m a rookie, I’m going to learn from it. Some of the best running backs that ever played the game, they did the same mistakes. It’s all about how you react to it.”

Last week, Pettine remarked about distractions changing based on wins v. losses. The crowded backfield situation is a prime example. When the Browns win, it’s a good problem to have. When they lose, and the backs are stuffed for 2.3 a carry, it’s framed as a problem because none of the backs gets in a rhythm.

Pettine said Monday, “We’ll have discussions this week as to how best to rotate those guys. You can make the argument it’s a good problem to have.”

Upon further review: Pettine was asked if he second-guessed himself for not kicking the field goal to go up, 9-0.

“When it doesn’t work, absolutely,” he said.

Then he elaborated, “I thought we were playing well defensively. It turned out the worst-case scenario for us. The way the game was going and how they were defending us, we didn’t have a great feel for how many more times we’d get down to the 20. When it was second and 1, we made the decision it was four-down mode. You live with it.”

Roster changes: The Browns waived fullback Ray Agnew and replaced him with fullback Kiero Small.

Agnew, one of several undrafted rookies to make the opening day roster, had started all six games. Small, a seventh-round draft pick of Seattle, had been on the practice squad since the Seahawks cut him in July.

“As we talk about often, we’re built on the premise of competition,” Pettine said. “We’ve had Kiero here since the end of training camp. We debated drafting him and hoped we could get him. When he became available we signed him to practice squad. He’s been doing outstanding job for us on scout team and felt it was time to see what he could do.”

Also, nose tackle Jacobbi McDaniel, who was promoted from the practice squad last week and activated in Jacksonville, Tweeted that he was cut by the Browns on Monday. The Browns had no immediate announcement on that roster move.

Brownie bits: Pettine was asked if he considered using Johnny Manziel to spark the slumbering offense in Jacksonville. “We didn’t,” he said, adding, “It was discussed briefly, but it was a situation where we still wanted to end the game with Brian.”… The center-right guard combination will be under review again this week. Efforts are being made to prepare newly activated Nick McDonald to play center and move John Greco back to right guard. If McDonald needs more time, Greco would stay at center and Vinston Painter would join Paul McQuistan in competition at right guard … Pettine said that nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin sought a second opinion on his ankle injury and surgery has not been ruled out. Rubin's status for this week is uncertain ... This is what West had to say about the 24-6 loss to the previously winless Jaguars: “Yesterday they were the better team. They made a lot more plays than we did. They wanted it more than we did. When you look back at it, we looked like the 0-6 team and they looked like the 3-2 team.”

 

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 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Tony Grossi's Take: Always take the points on the road

Oct 19, 2014 -- 7:19pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

JACKSONVILLE, FL

Tony Grossi’s Take on Browns’ 24-6 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars

Offense: Skeptics wondered what was more responsible for Brian Hoyer’s success this year – the system’s unstoppable running game or Hoyer himself? This clunker fed the belief that it has been the running game. The Jaguars kept the run game to a 2.3-yard average. Ben Tate had an 18-yard run, and then 18 yards on his 15 other carries. Those stops created third-and-long situations for Hoyer, and he produced his worst game – 25 incompletions in 41 attempts. The offensive line, featuring John Greco at center for the injured Alex Mack and Paul McQuistan at right guard, was handled by Jacksonville’s front eight. When Hoyer’s passes weren’t batted down (four times), he was terribly off the mark, missing an open Jordan Cameron in the end zone early in the game, and turned the ball over twice on a fumble and interception. Another interception was dropped, as were more passes by his receivers than in any other game. Bottom line: Won’t be on Kyle Shanahan’s resume tape.

Defense: Some good, some bad. Three interceptions of Blake Bortles – two by Tashaun Gipson, one by Buster Skrine -- should have been enough to carry the day, but they weren’t. The short-handed defensive front got stampeded by the Jaguars running game. Denard Robinson, the former Michigan quarterback, gashed them for 127 yards and a touchdown on 22 attempts. Bortles had 37 yards on five designed zone-read option keepers. Cecil Shorts didn’t hurt anyone (3 catches for 12 yards on 9 targets), but rookie receiver Allen Robinson shook off Skrine at the 22-yard line to complete a 31-yard touchdown at the end of the first half. Bottom line: Three picks usually win a game.

Special teams: It was a draw except for one error – Jordan Poyer’s fumble of a Jacksonville punt while trying to field it at the 5-yard line. That fourth-quarter foible led to a touchdown to make it a two-score game with about 6 minutes to go. Poyer said he decided to try to field the ball because he felt he could get the offense another 15 yards. Possession-specialist Jim Leonhard normally would be in that spot, but the coaches didn’t feel that Poyer put them at risk of a turnover. Also on that play, Tank Carder jumped offsides. Jabaal Sheard looked like he was all over a block of a Josh Scobee 30-yard field goal, but somehow the ball eluded his outstretched mitts. Bottom line: One killer play in each of the three losses.

Coaching: Mike Pettine tried to be aggressive in eschewing a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the Jaguars 24 late in the first half. It was the wrong thing to do because a field goal there would have given the Browns a 9-0 lead at halftime. On a bad day for an offense and playing against a rookie quarterback, sometimes field goals do win games. It blew up in Pettine’s face as the Jaguars sped downfield for a 7-6 lead. Another questionable call was the hokey attempt in the fourth quarter to draw the Jaguars into a penalty on an apparent punt. The coaches rushed the offense back onto the field to try to draw the Jaguars into an illegal substitution situation, or offsides, or something. The Browns weren’t supposed to snap the ball, but it was snapped and Hoyer was forced to pitch the ball to a surprised Tate, who was crushed for a 2-yard loss near mid-field. Wasted opportunity there, though the Jaguars didn’t capitalize on a bonehead Browns play. Bottom line: Two coaching points for the coaches.

 

 

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 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Browns lay egg in Jacksonville, lose, 24-6, to winless Jaguars

Oct 19, 2014 -- 4:17pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Updated at 6:43 p.m.

JACKSONVILLE, FL

It takes a total team effort to lose so badly to a previously winless team, and that’s what happened to the Browns on Sunday.

The offense was in preseason form, as Brian Hoyer experienced his worst game in a Cleveland uniform. The defense intercepted Blake Bortles three times, but allowed former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson to rush for a career-high 127 yards and a touchdown. And the special teams contributed a key fumble deep in their own end on a Jacksonville punt.

But the turning point of this abysmal 24-6 stinker came near the end of the first half. Mike Pettine suffered his first brain-lock as Browns coach.

The Browns were ahead, 6-0, and Tashaun Gipson’s second interception gave them the ball at Jacksonville’s 33-yard line. At the two-minute warning, it was third-and-1 at the 24. A handoff to Terrance West, newly released from the coaches’ doghouse, resulted in no gain as he stuttered at the wall in front of him.

A field goal would have given the Browns a two-score lead against a Jaguars team that didn’t look like it could score once, let alone twice.

But Pettine kept his offense on the field, and Hoyer’s fourth-down pass to the right sideline for tight end Jordan Cameron -- like a shocking majority of his passes on this day – fell off the mark.

Uplifted, Bortles and his offense sped 76 yards on only three pass plays for the touchdown.

7-6, Jaguars at halftime.

Ballgame.

Pettine took accountability for the call when pressed on it.

“It ended up playing out as bad as it could,” the coach said.

“We felt that we had less than a yard and two plays to get it. They defended us well. We’ve got to understand, with that short of distance, we’ve got to be able to get it.

“We’d been playing well defensively to that point. I just felt for the way we had moved the ball at times, to just come away with just another field goal … you get into that game where you’re just kicking field goals. Given the short distance, we felt we could get it and if we didn’t get it, that they were backed up enough.

“And it couldn’t have gone worse for us.”

No doubt the game was still winnable. But two things became clear early in the second half. The Jaguars weren’t going to loosen their vise grip on the Browns’ running game. Running back Ben Tate, the former Houston Texan, said Jacksonville always has defended the wide-zone run scheme well. And Hoyer wasn’t going to make any plays to mount another comeback.

A lost fumble on a sack occurred on Hoyer’s first possession of the third quarter, resulting in a 10-6 Jacksonville lead after a field goal.

And there were throws all over the place hitting the hard Bermuda grass field. Four of them were deflected at the line of scrimmage by a Jacksonville defensive front smelling blood in the first full game the Browns played without center Alex Mack in over five years.

Finally in the fourth quarter, with the score still at 10-6, somebody on the Browns’ offense made a play. Andrew Hawkins took a short pass on second-and-10 from the Browns’ 6 and accelerated through the middle of the field before being brought down at the Jaguars’ 29 after a 65-yard catch-and-run.

But the possession imploded on a 4-yard loss by Isaiah Crowell, an 8-yard sack of Hoyer and a fruitless throw by Hoyer while backpedaling from pressure.

That three-play sequence with 6:01 to play exterminated hopes of another Hoyer comeback.

“When you hit Hawk on a three-step drop on a 6-yard pass and he gains, what, 65 yards, and when they shut you done again, it’s demoralizing,” Hoyer said.

“Yeah,” agreed Hawkins. “In games like that, momentum can swing both ways and when you’re on the wrong side of momentum, things go bad quickly. As you can see out there.”

The Jaguars tacked on two touchdowns in the span of 1 minute, 23 seconds to make it a rout.

The first was set up when punt returner Jordan Poyer had the ball clank off his helmet visor while trying to field a Jacksonville punt inside the Browns’ 5.

“I thought when the ball was coming down I was on the 5,” Poyer said. “I felt I could get the offense at least another 15 yards. It was one of those plays I wish I had back. I felt I let my team down, the coaches down.”

Denard Robinson then scooted eight yards around the left edge for the touchdown on the very next play. Robinson, the former Michigan quarterback, spanked the Browns’ defense for a career-high 127 yards on 22 attempts.

Hoyer took over after the kickoff, now down, 17-6. On second down, he was hit by tackle Abry Jones as he threw, and the ball was intercepted by linebacker Telvin Smith, who returned it 15 yards to the 7.

Two plays later, Storm Johnson scored on a 3-yard run to wrap up Jacksonville’s first win in seven games.

The Browns played into the cynical predictions of not being ready yet for consistent winning. They fell to 3-3 on their worst performance of the Pettine era.

“We just didn’t play well. We got our butts kicked. We just couldn’t get anything going,” said Hoyer, who could just have well been speaking of his individual play.

Hoyer, who entered the game ranked ninth in the NFL among starting quarterbacks with a 99.5 passer rating, finished with ugly numbers – 16 of 41 passing for 215 yards, three sacks, one interception, one lost fumble, and a rating of 46.3. Thud!

Take away Hawkins’ 65-yard catch-and-run and Hoyer had 150 yards passing.

It was a natural to point to the absence of Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, who missed the first start of his career after having season-ending surgery on a broken leg and torn ankle ligaments. It was obvious that the John Greco-Paul McQuistan center-right guard tandem had their hands full with Jacksonville’s jacked-up defensive front, led by tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, who was credited with two quarterback hits and one pass knockdown.

“It’s tough (recovering from the lineup changes),” Hoyer said. “That is probably the best front seven that we’ve played. But that’s no excuse. We’re more than capable of overcoming that. We knew coming in this could be tough sledding for us.”

“They schemed us pretty well, but I knew that. They always play our scheme really well,” said Tate, who led the Browns with 36 yards on 16 rushing attempts.

Crowell had 7 rushes for 18 yards and West five for 8 yards. As a team, the Browns, ranked third in the NFL in rushing, had 30 attempts for 69 yards – a 2.3-yard average.

“Offensively, we played our worst game,” Hoyer said. “Our defense played great. They could only do so much.

“We have to take this and learn everything from it. When you get beat like this, it’s a copycat league. Teams are going to do exactly what Jacksonville did. They handed it to us.”

Pettine warned everyone that the Jaguars were capable of doing exactly that. It turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

 

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 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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