First and Ten – The curious case of third-and-1

1) I guess I’m in the minority of folks who was not outraged by Pat Shurmur’s decision to throw on third-and-1 from the Browns 25 with the Browns up seven in the second quarter against the Giants. Was it the best call in the Browns playbook? Probably not. But was it a call that could have worked? Yes, absolutely. In fact, Brandon Weeden’s indecision turned what should have been a quick drop and throw — think Joe Montana dropping back and getting rid of the ball in about two seconds — into a disaster. 
2) Let’s go over the play, and this is my guesswork, not any inside information. But it seems logical.
The Browns lined up with Jordan Norwood in the slot and Josh Gordon outside. Chris Ogbonnaya was in the game, presumably for pass protection. Yes, I’m sure the Giants knew that too, and that might not have helped the cause. Greg Little was wide left:
After the snap, Norwood broke laterally along the line of scrimmage and as he dropped Weeden had him open — by a fraction. Now this was not a simple throw, but it was a professional throw that professionals should be able to make. For whatever reason, Weeden didn’t make the throw right away. It could be because a Giants linebacker got in his line of sight, but Ogbonnaya blocked him well. Note Chase Blackburn (93) is not even chasing Weeden yet:
He who hesitates is lost, and Weeden hesitated. He stopped rolling, and threw to Gordon as Blackburn bore down on him. Gordon was open, but Weeden threw poorly and the ball, as we all know, was intercepted. Obviously the better play would have been to throw the ball out of bounds. Because once he hesitated on Norwood, the play turned into a mess:
Was this a bad play? Of course, because it didn’t work. But the point is it could have worked, had it been run properly.
3) I get the feeling this is what coaches refer to when they bring up things like “lack of execution.” Glad we got that down.
4) Were there better plays, safer plays? Of course. And could the Browns have kept the Giants a little more off-balance by keeping Richardson on the field? Of course. But at some point the players have to back up their coach with their play. Weeden is capable of making that throw, and had he thrown the ball immediately he might have completed it. Had he thrown it outside, it would have been Norwood or nobody who caught the ball.
5) Am I trying to justify my feelings with this detailed a look? Perhaps. We all like to justify our thoughts. In this case, I’ll admit that Shurmur left himself open to second-guessing with his call and by not having Richardson on the field, but any call can be second-guessed. Had he run and Richardson been stopped, I can hear some folks saying he was too predictable because he ran on an earlier third-and-1 and Richardson lost two yards. So this time he threw. The safer call? Clearly a run. Remember what Woody Hayes used to say about three things can happen on a pass, and two of them were bad? But … the web site posted some information stating that on second- or third-and-1 this season, Richardson ran five times and made the first down once, and Weeden threw for it three times and made it twice (all including the Giants). Does this prove things one way or the other? No. It just shows the debate. Shurmur had Weeden throw, and his players let him down by not executing a simple play that should have taken four or five seconds to run.
6) That Shurmur did call for a pass should not have surprised anyone. A year ago in the second week of the season against the Colts, the Browns threw form the shotgun on third-and-2. After the game Shurmur said he’d throw from anywhere at any time. It didn’t get noticed because the Browns converted, and because the Browns won. But Shurmur made his thinking clear at that time.
7) Finally, for those who say Trent Richardson was drafted for plays like that, and that the Browns traded extra draft picks to go up and get him for plays like that … well … there’s no real retort to that one. It’s quite simply a valid point.
8) That call does not explain some other things. Like the defense caving after the return. Or Josh Cribbs fumbling the kickoff return. Or Buster Skrine (Skr-eye-ne, as Dan Dierdorf might say) inexplicably interfering as the Giants desperately tried to get in field goal range before the half ended. That interception doesn’t explain any of those plays. And if it does, it sure says a lot about the Browns fragile mental state. Because one play should not lead to a collapse.
9) It also doesn’t explain the overall pass-run disparity, which continues to be skewed toward the pass. Weeden threw 35 passes and ranks second in the league in attempts (behind only Drew Brees) with 202, despite the fact he is 33rd in passer rating (64.5), 31st in yards per attempt (6.38) and tied for first in interceptions with nine. Yet Weeden has more than twice as many passes (202) as Richardson has runs (81). Some of that is determined by score, but wasn’t the idea that Richardson would be a workhorse, which would help the passing game? Perhaps the fact the Browns fell behind against New York dictated the calls, because in the first half Richardson had 13 carries and Weeden 13 throws. Once the Giants went ahead 34-17, Weeden threw 18 passes and Richardson carried the ball three times. That might explain one half, but 202 throws to 81 runs in five games? That’s out of wack.
10) And it does not explain the Browns defense absolutely collapsing against New York. Young, old, hurt, healthy , white uniforms, brown pants, Coke, Pepsi … that was bad. Real bad. Unless of course you consider a game when the opposition gets three touchdown passes and runs for 243 yards a not-so-bad game. Once again, the Browns are struggling to stop the run. Unless you consider giving up 142 yards per game stopping the run. This defense seems to live on some mirage that it’s competitive. It hasn’t played well in some games, and in ones it has it still wasn’t good enough to win.
For the rest of the story, including a random Scott Rehberg reference as well as thoughts on D’Qwell Jackson’s injury impact and Joe Haden’s return, head here, to the blog. And please, drive carefully.