Missing the Top Objective

Browns offense is settling for points instead of scoring points this season.

It is all in the verbiage.

Football teams "settle" for field goals and "score" touchdowns.

You get points for field goals, too. Why don't you "score" field goals? Well, because touchdowns — not field goals — are the top objective of an offense.

Last Sunday, the Cleveland Browns consistently failed to achieve that top objective and the result was a 13-12 loss to the previously one-win St. Louis Rams.

The Browns' final possession was a comedy of errors that has since been rehashed by anyone and everyone who has an unhealthy obsession with this football team. Fans freaked out at head coach Pat Shurmur for his play calls, for "settling" for a field goal and for not even attempting to "score" a touchdown.

Shurmur may be with a different team this season, but the disdain he is drawing from fans is the same. Rewind to last season. In Week 17, the Rams were playing the Seattle Seahawks. The winner would earn the NFC West championship and a berth in the playoffs.

The Seahawks won 16-6, which was only part of the story. Shurmur, the Rams offensive coordinator, faced criticism from fans and media for St. Louis' performance on offense. Running back Steven Jackson carried the ball only 11 times for 45 yards while the rookie quarterback, Sam Bradford, was 19-for-36 for 155 yards with one interception.

Last January, The Orange and Brown Report caught up with Howard Balzer, who has covered the Rams for years and currently works for AM 590 The Fan.

"People freaked out after the Seattle game," Balzer said. "People think the Rams lost because of (Shurmur). The offense wasn't any different in that game than it was all year. It was very controlled, a lot of short passes and an offense devised not to expose Bradford, but take advantage of what he can do with an inexperienced wide receiving corps."

Balzer said a lot of the Rams' conservatism in that game was because of head coach Steve Spagnuolo.

"His idea was he knew he had a good defense and a rookie quarterback," Balzer said. "So he wanted to keep it close and give themselves a chance to win in the fourth quarter."

Fast forward to last Sunday. The Browns certainly had a chance to win in the fourth quarter. Down by two points and facing first and goal from the Rams' 9-yard-line, the Browns don't attempt a single pass toward the end zone.

"I was not trying not to score," Shurmur said on Monday. "What I was trying to do was run the ball and score. If we didn't, then the advantage to doing that was the clock is running and you are forcing them to use a timeout. If we didn't get the touchdown, then we were in a position to kick a field goal and go ahead. That's what I was trying to do. The defense was playing extremely well. I felt confident that if we kicked the field goal and went ahead then we'd have an outstanding chance to win the football game. We could have thrown the ball and we could have thrown a touchdown or we could have had an incomplete and stopped the clock. There could have been a lot of things to do. We had done a nice job of moving the football basically into that area by running it, we were having some success and I continued to do it."

So, it was essentially the same philosophy Shurmur and Spagnuolo had entering the 2010 season finale.

The problem is that philosophy failed the Rams last season and it has failed the Browns this season.

Let's play a quick game of what if.

If the Browns executed the field goal, they would have had a two-point lead with about two minutes to go. The Rams' offense would have had about two minutes to drive 50 or so yards to attempt a game-winning field goal and win 16-15.

If the Browns score a touchdown and take a six-point lead — regardless of how much time remained — the Rams' would need to score a touchdown, which is a lower-percentage result. At this point, did it matter if the Rams had four minutes with all three time outs or two minutes with no time outs?

It is a direct relationship. By the Browns being aggressive and trying to score a touchdown the percentage rate of success for the Rams' offense to either tie the game or take the lead drops dramatically.

Unfortunately, what played out was one of the more bizarre losses since 1999.

There was no head coach to pass the buck this time. Just like in St. Louis, the conservative play calling rested on the shoulders of Shurmur.

Offensively, the Browns have struggled for a variety of reasons in 2011. In all, the Browns have scored 12 touchdowns and kicked 16 field goals, but nowhere are the Browns' struggles more evident than inside the opponents' 20-yard line.

In 18 red-zone opportunities, the Browns have scored only eight touchdowns (44.44 percent). By comparison, Tennessee scored a touchdown 71.43 percent of the time in the red zone followed by New England (63.41), Green Bay (62.16), New York Jets (61.54), Buffalo (61.29), New York Giants (58.06), Atlanta (58.06) and Oakland (57.69). Those eight teams are a combined 20 games over .500. The Browns are 3-6.

The NFL does not have much forgiveness for timid personalities in positions of leadership. Aggressiveness is the name of the game and it is a common trait possessed by the head coaches of those aforementioned eight teams.

Hopefully, Shurmur finally learned that lesson last Sunday.


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