At Football Outsiders, we've had been a long-held belief that fumble recovery luck is random – through there are teams exceptionally skilled in causing fumbles (such as whatever team Chris Harris might have been playing for over the last few seasons), teams are not more or less adept at recovering fumbles, whether those fumbles come from home or away teams. Stuff happens, to put it simply. The oddities of fumble luck were made very apparent in the Browns' 13-6 loss against the Bills. While it may seem nuts to say that a team losing to Buffalo was lucky, it is absolutely the case. In their second possession of the third quarter, the Browns lost three fumbles … and recovered each one. That's just goofy.
On that drive, Peyton Hillis fumbled the first two footballs (capping a truly horrific day for the rushing star), but it's my belief that the coaching staff set the Bills up to play the run almost exclusively from the start of the game. The Browns didn't throw a pass until their third drive, and the first completed pass came with 3:33 left in the first-quarter, when Jake Delhomme completed a one-yard pass to Chansi Stuckey. On third-and-8. When you give a team no reason to fear you in the passing game, they are going to tee off until you make them stop. And the primary reason for the Browns' recent tumble is the lack of offensive balance needed to make any defense think twice.
The play I really questioned on that third-quarter drive was the third fumble, on an end-around to Josh Cribbs. I'm a big fan of Cribbs in the option packages the Browns call "Flash", and I have been since Romeo Crennel was the head coach. But in this case, the Browns did not give alternate looks to the defense. They have become eminently predictable, and that's a death sentence in today's NFL.
On the play, the Browns lined up in a power set, with two tight ends to the right, two wide receivers, and Cribbs wide right. Hillis was the single back. The Bills countered with a 5-2-4; even on first-and-10, they were clearly reading run. Cribbs inched inside a bt pre-snap, which probably gave the Bills a pretty good indicator of what was coming. Hillis added a Three Stooges element to the play by falling down in the backfield on the playfake (thus negating at least one blocking or receiving option), and Delhomme handed off to Cribbs as it was an afterthought – my first thought was that this was supposed to be a playfake with a fake sweep to pass because the end around was executed so poorly.
Many bad things happened on the Browns' line, pretty much all at once. Robert Royal's (84) move from right to left seemed to be neither a block nor a route... it was more a disconnected series of moves designed to have no effect. Defensive tackle Kyle Williams (95, absolutely the most underrated defensive player in the NFL right now) almost blew through the center-guard double team, and as Joe Thomas headed right upfield to block linebacker Paul Posluszny, right defensive end Chris Kelsay (90) came through completely unblocked to strip the ball away from Cribbs. Given that Thomas is generally one of the most assignment-correct players at his position, I have to wonder if Royal wasn't supposed to seal the left edge as Thomas headed upfield.
In any case, the play was a disaster from start to finish, and it seemed to symbolize – to a degree – Cleveland's difficulties in keeping everything together on a play-by-play basis. There is a lot of talent on this team, and it shows at times, but you can also easily see the holes common to any team in the middle of the rebuild.
You've heard it before and you may hear it again, Browns fans – patience is still a virtue.