Upon Further Review: Browns - Bengals II

For the more conspiratorial of readers, perhaps the thick plague of misfortune cast by Art Modell and the Lerner family is about to be lifted (perhaps on Tuesday) and better days lie ahead.

When an event as rare as a Browns' win occurs, there can only be so many ways to measure the phenomenon.

Either everything in the universe is truly a random, cosmic event or a Pat Shurmur-led Browns' team finally played a four-quarter game.

Or, for the more conspiratorial of readers, perhaps the thick plague of misfortune cast by Art Modell and the Lerner family is about to be lifted (perhaps on Tuesday) and better days lie ahead.

But then again, it's possible that cosmic collisions and curses are no match for a Marvin Lewis-coached team.

As I keep saying, strange things happen when the Browns and Bengals meet.

And when it comes to "random" – and occasionally "collisions" – meet the Browns' safeties.

Let's call it an unfortunate symptom of watching Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed for a decade – but T.J. Ward is not a game-changing safety. Instead, he's a reliable second-level tackler, occasional blitzer, excellent special teams player – and probably a huge upgrade over what came before him in Cleveland.

However, Ward can be a bit indecisive in pass coverage, which shows on Gresham's TD. Ward gets a bit lost between Gresham's vertical route and the sideline out (which was already covered) – giving the already huge Bengals' tight end an even bigger mid-field gap.

Ward's momentum quickly takes him out of the play, Craig Robertson can't get a hold of Gresham and of course what happens next is pure Usama Young magic.

Young is (typically) out of control as he approaches Gresham and offers a flaccid arm tackle attempt, which Gresham easily sheds. Since Gresham was a large, moving target, it looks like Young flinched upon entering – which runs counter to Young's normal tendency of trying to deliver knockout blows to defenseless receivers.

The rest is another long and easily preventable Bengals' TD, and somehow we're supposed to believe that Young is a better free safety option than Eric Hagg. But then again, some moron will point to Young's two garbage time interceptions as some type of progress.

Only six more months until the Browns hopefully upgrade the position. Anyway, onto more positive non-Usama Young developments.

THIS is a beautiful sight. Never mind Jordan Cameron getting swallowed up, just take a look at Mitchell Schwartz, Alex Mack and Shawn Lauvao on the move. Lauvao in particular probably had his best game of the season – and the Browns' offensive line has now had two consecutive solid performances.

And bonus points for John Greco stepping in AND everyone's favorite scapegoat/one of the better blocking wide receivers in the league, Greg Little.

Anyway, before we get to the GOOD SHURMUR, let's take a look at how the Browns' Head Coach/Offensive Play Caller nearly sent his team into another Late First Half Wormhole/Vortex of Suck.

After a 1st and 5 turned into a 2nd and 6, Shurmur again called a rollout for Weeden that could only result in one of two options.

1) Incompletion
2) Sack

The play – yet another Shurmur variation on a Screen – seemingly calls for Ben Watson to chip and release the Bengals' outside linebacker. The only problem here is that Watson bounces off his assignment and steps directly into coverage – leaving Weeden completely exposed.

Both the speed and design of the play leaves Weeden with only one option – which is to gently eat the football.

And what does it say about this season when 70,000 fans all felt that collective clenching of their bowels – thinking that the Bengals would score another three touchdowns before heading into the locker room for halftime.

After yet another Special Teams Punt coverage breakdown – where somehow the Browns gave up a 40-yard return AND had an illegal man down field and this run, where Ward and Young combine to get blasted by Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis…

…the Browns somehow only surrender one late-first half TD and get a rare dumb luck gift when the Bengals (allegedly) run out of time.

Once again – was it cosmic fate or something more sinister?

That's a tough call…..

Anyway, after the following occurs,

Browns followed the touchdown with three three-and-outs and a total of 7 yards


Zac Jackson

That QB Keeper/Sneak was the BEST BEST BEST Pat Shurmur 3rd Down call EVER. #Browns


Dave Kolonich

And my aborted one-liner….

Q: "What was on those papers that flew from the Browns' sideline to the Bengals?
A: "Pat Shurmur's Resume"

Pat Shurmur makes the most bold Third down play call of his career.

But first, here's the play that could have easily set up the big Red Zone completion to Jordan Cameron.

I'm not trying to be overly negative towards Shurmur's play calling – which was excellent for nearly a 1 1/2 quarters. But, the Bengals don't do a lot on defense and their safeties were a bit of a mess Sunday. On the above shot, take a look at how lost the coverage on Cameron becomes.

Let's hope that one of the 38 coaches in the Browns' press box took note and remembered this a few minutes later.

And how great was this?

And who knows what will happen over the remainder of the season? But at least, the Browns avoid 0-16 and several players who have been savaged by Browns' Nation delivered some classic F— You performances.

In particular, Josh Cribbs, Sheldon Brown, Buster Skrine, Shawn Lauvao and Montario Hardesty had outstanding moments Sunday. Hardesty in particular (though I was just waiting for a fumble) ran hard and perfectly played the role of a complementary back.

Now, let's wait for the mouth breathers to start their raspy calls for Hardesty to start over Trent Richardson.

Anyway, here's the pivotal moment of Sunday's game – and probably the biggest moment for Shurmur as an offensive play caller.

First, here's that familiar 3rd and 1, bowel-clenching feeling.

Yet, if you're going to run play action against an NFL defense – make sure it's the Bengals.

Remember this?

And remember the earlier talk about cosmic accidents? The Browns get a huge break thanks to Cameron falling down. How's that for a reverse dumb luck jinx? Cameron's stumble causes veteran safety Chris Crocker to basically give up on him and focus his attention on Hardesty.

Remembering the Browns' first two offensive series – where Shurmur called a series of running back check downs – and based on the down and distance – Crocker and the Bengals' ROLB have their eyes in the Browns' backfield, while two defenders on the opposite side of the field are still frozen.

Again, the Bengals don't react well to play action.

You can see where this play is going IF Cameron doesn't fall down initially. Weeden has one option in Hardesty – who has garnered a lot of attention.

However, in a nod to Shurmur – the spacing of this play is more advantageous for the Browns compared to last week's pivotal play.

And while an entire argument can be structured around Crocker's decision to ignore Cameron, it's worth commending Shurmur for using the field better and for finally showing a better grasp of the realities of the game.

Certainly, this was Shurmur's best offensive play calling stretch of his Browns' tenure. While the Browns' offense hit their normal lulls, Shurmur called a terrific 1 1/2 quarters of football – which was enough to support an otherwise solid defensive effort and give the Browns their first win of the season.

And without question, the Bengals are a great opponent for the Browns' offense – as their defense has devolved into a less aggressive and overly vanilla unit. Much like a month ago, the Bengals' linebackers and safeties turn to jelly whenever play action occurs. However on Sunday, the Browns were finally able to take advantage.

Most importantly, the Browns get a badly-needed win in a season that was spiraling out of control.

And of course, in the grand cosmic context of the universe, the Browns received their greatest victory of the expansion era simply by saying goodbye to an owner who never wanted to be here in the first place.

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