Browns, Cleveland Browns Film Room

Browns Film Room: Lack of big plays not all on Kessler

The Cleveland Browns lost their tenth game of the season on Thursday, falling to the Baltimore Ravens, 28-7. The team once again played a game of halfs. The first half saw a strong performance from the Browns defense, leading Cleveland to a 7-6 halftime lead. But, the second half was a different story. The Browns were outscored 22-0 in the second half.1

Part of the second half troubles was the benching of quarterback Cody Kessler in the third quarter. Head Coach Hue Jackson believed the team needed a spark at the quarterback spot, causing him to insert Josh McCown. One of the main reasons Jackson pulled Kessler was because of the rookie’s inability to throw the ball down field and make big plays through the air. But the lack of big plays and downfield passes cannot be blamed totally on Kessler.

In this week’s Browns film room, I will look at the main reasons the Browns have struggled to throw downfield and make big plays in the passing game with Cody Kessler under center.

Browns Film Room Series: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8, Week 9

Cleveland Browns Film Room

Poor Pass Protection

One of the first reasons the Browns and Cody Kessler struggle to get the ball down field is because of poor pass protection. The Browns have allowed the second most sacks in the league, with 30 allowed. Here is an example of the poor pass protection.

On the play, the Browns have five on the line along with a back in the backfield to help pass protect. They have four wide with all four targets running at least ten yards down field. The Ravens bring just five guys, including a blitzer on the outside. The Browns should be able to handle the pressure, but Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, lined up on the left side of the line, curls around his teammate on the right and attacks Browns center Cameron Erving. (A recipe for success.)

Suggs runs right past Erving and into the face of Kessler. Kessler is grabbed by Suggs, which gets him off balance. Kessler makes a terrible decision to throw the ball, floating it into the secondary, but it luckily falls to the ground for an incompletion. Kessler had little time to throw to any of the deep routes that were run on the play by his receivers.

Get Cleveland Browns Salute To Service Gear Hear!

No One Open

Another reason the Browns have struggled to throw the ball down field is because of the lack of consistency of the receivers to get open down field. Here is an example of the Browns receivers unable to get open down field.

On the play, the Browns line up in a shotgun with three out wide and two in the backfield beside quarterback Cody Kessler. The receivers on the outside are covered man-to-man by the Ravens, while the rest of the field is covered with zone coverage. The Browns run a play action pass, with Kessler rolling out of the pocket to the right.


As you can see here, there is no one open down field to make a big play. Especially with the play call calling for Kessler to roll out to the right, this cuts the field down. To add to the fact that no one is open, Kessler is also getting rushed by a free rusher which hurts his ability to wait for someone to get open. The receiver on the right sideline has not reached the top of his route and is closely covered by the cornerback. The receiver crossing the field is double covered and the tight end in the flat is covered, too, but that would not produce a big play anyway. The only receiver slightly open is the one on the left side of the field, but he is not covered as much because the defense knows that he is out of range for Kessler because he rolling to the right sideline and would need to throw across his body.

Play Calling

Some of the lack of downfield passing and big plays can be attributed to the play calling. Many of the calls only give short to intermediate routes, including an insane amount of comeback routes. So, big plays are harder to form with these types of plays. Other calls have been flawed, giving Kessler an extremely difficult chance to throw downfield because of lack of viable options. Here is an example of the play calling making it difficult for big plays downfield.

On the play, the Browns line up in a single back set with a receiver on both sides of the line and two tight ends on the end of the right side of the line. The Ravens line up in zone coverage with seven defenders dropping back into coverage. The play is immediately flawed because it only has the two receivers going out, with both running 15-yard curl routes. The only other receiving target in the play is the running back running out to the flat.

The Browns have three receivers being covered with seven defenders. There is no way the receivers could get open in the zone coverage because the defenders can double or even triple-team his receiver. It was a failed play, and it was even made worse by the pressure allowed by the offensive line.

Kessler Missing Opportunities

But some of the blame can be place on the shoulders of quarterback Cody Kessler. Kessler has missed opportunities to throw downfield. He has relied heavily on short to intermediate routes. Here is an example of a missed opportunity by Kessler.

On the play, the Browns line up in a shotgun with three receivers out wide, a tight end on the right side of the line and a running back beside Kessler. The Ravens line up in man coverage on the four targets running down field, with a single deep safety on the right side of the field.


The key routes on this play are the two on left side of the field. Receiver Corey Coleman is on the outside running a streak route, while receiver Andrew Hawkins is in the slot running a post route. Both players are single covered with no help over top. As you can see above, Kessler had an opportunity to make a big play here. He drew the safety to the right, leaving the defensive backs on an island on the left side. Hawkins runs a great post route and is poised to leave his coverage behind.

The defensive back covering him is too focused on Kessler’s eyes that he easily allows Hawkins behind him. If Kessler had scanned back to the left side of the field, he would see Hawkins wide open and Coleman one on one in a streak route, which is his best route. It was a big play that was missed by Kessler, who was more focused on the safe comeback route by Terrelle Pryor.

Highlight of the Game

The highlight of the game versus the Baltimore Ravens was linebacker Jamie Collins. Collins really showed his talent and what so many love about him. In the game, he had nine tackles, two tackles for loss, one quarterback hit and one sack. He showed his versatility against the Ravens, showcasing his coverage ability, run stopping ability and pass rushing ability.

Lowlight of the Game

The lowlight of the game versus the Baltimore Ravens was quarterback Josh McCown. The decision by head coach Hue Jackson to bench quarterback Cody Kessler for Josh McCown was a mistake in my opinion. Kessler did not deserve to be benched. But nonetheless, when McCown went into the game, he played horribly. In the game, McCown completed 6-of-13 for 59 yards and two interceptions, while also fumbling once. McCown was just bad, leading the offense that was outscored 22-0 in the second half.

  1. The Browns are 9-1 against first-half spreads this season while being 2-8 against full-game. It’s remarkable. []

  • RGB

    Big plays are directly proportional to the amount of time a QB has to throw the ball.
    When the pocket-time is measured in nanoseconds, the big plays evaporate to nothing.
    And long QB runs are not big plays. They are self-preservation.

  • Garry_Owen

    Well done, as usual, Joe.

    My primary take-away from these shots is play design and play calling. In that first gif, none of the routes even open up until late, and then they all do it at the exact same moment, leaving no room for progression, let alone poor pass protection. The same could be said for the second play, though I’m not even sure what the outside receiver on the left (Pryor?) is doing. He’s technically open; but he’s also not technically running a route. Obviously, there are other factors at play (poor execution by some receivers; good defensive scheme; etc.), but it’s not clear what some of these plays are even designed to do. That, unfortunately, has to fall on Hue.

    Another take-away: the lack of any film or threat of Kessler going downfield is obviously helping the defense. In the last play, Coleman is also open on his fly route, but only because it’s clear that the CB has no fear of being burned. That’s troublesome.

  • RGB

    Every time Care Bear is on the field, we are literally playing with 4 Olinemen.

  • Garry_Owen

    In fairness, though, he only gets beat in one of the plays shown above. He actually blocks pretty well in the others. I think it’s best to say that when Care Bear is good, he’s average; but when he’s bad, it’s criminal battery of the QB.

  • RGB

    I’m sure PFF ranks him as an All-Pro.

  • Garry_Owen

    Also, I’m sure this has been discussed already, but re Kessler’s benching: Thursday’s game was one of only 2 games this year that I was able to watch at all, but when Hue benched Kessler, I applauded. Not because of the supposed need for a “spark” (because I’m certain that three turnovers was not the spark Hue was looking for), but because I had the same thought right before he was benched. In my mind, if Kessler is not willing to go deep – which I’m convinced is the problem, here – then he needs to sit until he becomes willing. I think there were 2 consecutive series where, on 3rd and medium or long, instead of even TRYING to make a play, he threw it out of bounds. I literally figuratively barfed both times.

    Cody, Cody, Cody, I know you’re reading this, so allow me to state the following: You’ve protected the ball well for a rookie. Okay. Nice work, I guess. But your team is winless. Risk it, dude. Chuck that ball. What’s the worst that can happen? You throw an INT and lose a game for your team? Your team is winless. Chuck it. Winless. So chuck it. Say it with me: Winless; Chuck it. Winless; Chuck it. Good. Now you’re getting it!

    Winless; Chuck it.

    Winless; Chuck it.

  • RGB

    I’m going to buy him a WWDLD wristband.

    What Would Daryle Lamonica Do?

  • Garry_Owen

    I love it.

    Might as well. At this point, who cares if he doesn’t have the arm? And at least we’ll know for sure.

    In fact, just for the sake of winning the one game that I hope the Browns win this year, I really want to see RG3 get back on the field for this very purpose.

    Robert, since I’m talking to the QBs today . . . yes, it’s me, glad you remembered. Look, when you get back on the field, you have one job. Just one. That’s it. I don’t care what else you do; but you will chuck it. Chuck. It.

  • CBI

    Even more than the 30 sacks, Browns are dead last in the league in QB hits with 79. A full ten more hits then the team one spot above them. League average is about 50.

  • CBI

    Speaking of which, Browns still top 10!! Looks like they’re dumping the blame square on Cody.

  • Pat Leonard

    Kessler certainly shares some of that blame as a rookie who is still trying to get up to NFL speed, but I would put most of the problem on Cam Erving, Austin Pasztor, and that shaky offensive line (Joe Thomas excluded, of course).

  • Pat Leonard

    Less Filling!!

  • RGB

    Those PFF guys don’t know their asses from a hole in the ground.

  • Pat Leonard

    Well said sir… and what the heck, I can’t even detect a hint of snark in this comment. What’s happened to you?

  • Skulb

    The first clip highlighted why the Reiter injury was so bad. No way he gets punked like that if he’s on the field.

  • RGB

    The third sentence was a weak attempt at snark.
    Sorry, definitely not up to snuff.

  • CB Everett

    Fun fact: Did you know in Seinfeld that Kramer was originally going to be named Kessler?

    That’s all I’ve got to contribute to this discussion.

  • mgbode

    #TeamSnark is feeling the effects of a long season. Don’t worry, the Tabor post filled the snark quota for the day on its own.

  • RGB

    I’m already feeling the effects from the upcoming yinzer beatdown.

  • tigersbrowns2

    niiiice … that’s our boy Care Bear getting burnt in that first clip. am i the only one that thinks Pasztor is playing decent ??

  • Pat Leonard

    What was his Bizzaro world equivalent’s name? Do you remember that episode? Was it Kessler?

  • Pat Leonard

    I went ahead and chose the Browns to win this week in my pick’em pool. Because the hell with everyone, that’s why.

  • CB Everett

    That was a great ep! I don’t remember his name though. Kessler was the orig name for Kramer on the pilot. I read somewhere one time that Larry David had to convince the real life Kramer to use his name and that was the hitch. Apparently the real life Kramer tried to later capitalize on his “fame” and did bus tours, which gave way to the Kramer bus tour ep.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi GARRY … i thought the same thing as well … you have Terrelle Pryor out there … even if he’s double-covered , throw it up there & let him do his thing. i’m anxious to see what Kessler does this week.

  • mgbode

    it also is the reason that Kramer is initially not part of the script when they pitch the show about nothing to NBC

  • mgbode

    run blocking, no – he’s had his moments

    pass blocking, probably

  • Pat Leonard

    I got curious and googled it. Feldman! Darn… it wasn’t Kessler.

  • CBI

    There is blame for the line, QBs, RBs, TEs, and even the coaches. Pass protection has so many faucets… My concern, we’re going to draft a tackle, sign a gourd, think it’s fixed, and spend another year getting QBs killed back there.

  • Dave

    That might also explain Kessler’s lack of a willingness to look downfield. If all you can see is 3 pass rushers coming at you basically untouched, you’re looking for anybody at all to dump it off to.

  • Harv

    Great study, Joe. Regarding your last example of Kessler clearly not looking downfield despite a rare sufficient pocket, I wonder if that has something to do with so many previous collapsing pockets setting off alarms in his head to throw while he can. Don’t want to make excuses for him because he might not be a downfield kinda guy. But with this horrible protection it’s difficult to find game conditions suitable to re-train him.

    Here’s what we all can see even without your great film breakdowns: they need to get Erving out of there. Game experience is not helping. His ongoing combo of physical deficiencies and mental mistakes tell us that if he can still improve it will have to come with off-season work on his body and mind and maybe at another position. For this season, unimpeded consistent pressure up the middle screws up everyone else’s development and would screw up even genius level game plans.

  • Sam Gold