The Cleveland Browns finished their season with a game that epitomized the season, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 27-24, in overtime. The game was against a Steelers team that was missing many of its star players, especially on offense. The Browns, quite frankly, should have won the game comfortably, but missed opportunities crushed the team’s hopes of getting win No. 2.
The Browns had ample opportunities to score more points and take down Pittsburgh, but they missed these opportunities. In the final Browns film room of the 2016 regular season, I will examine the missed opportunities the Browns had that could have given them their second win of the season.
Q2 3:46: QB Robert Griffin III throws interception
This interception was a crushing turnover that ended the Browns threat to extend their 14-0 lead late in the second quarter. The Browns line up on 1st-and-10 in a shotgun formation with three receivers, a tight end on the end of the right side of the line and a running back on the left of quarterback Robert Griffin III who had completed 10 consecutive passes to this point.
The Browns design the play for the two outside receivers to run streaks down the sideline and the slot receiver and tight end to run post routes. The Steelers are in a zone coverage with the linebackers in the middle of the field covering the underneath areas and the two safeties covering over the top. Griffin makes the mistake of trying to fit the ball into the tight window to receiver Rashard Higgins in the slot. Griffin throws it behind Higgins and right into the area of linebacker Ryan Shazier, who picks off the pass. Griffin did not need to throw the risky ball on a 1st down play. He could have used his eyes better to control the linebackers and also throw a more accurate pass to one of the targets running post routes in the play.
Q2 2:06: Bad snap by C Anthony Fabiano
This is another play where the Browns had an opportunity to drive and add points to the board late in the second quarter. The play is simple: The Browns were in a shotgun formation with four receivers wide and a tight end on the left end of the offensive line.
Griffin is ready for the snap, but center Anthony Fabiano snaps it too high for Griffin, soaring it over the quarterback’s head. Griffin should have been able to recover it, but he was pushed out of the way by safety Sean Davis when he tried to land on the ball. It was a big turnover that led to the Steelers first touchdown of the game.
Q3 3:40: CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun fumbles on interception return
This is yet another play where the Browns could have made the 14-7 lead to a two touchdown lead. The Steelers line up on 3rd-and-11 in a shotgun with a bunch formation on the left, a tight end on the right end of the line and a running back to the right of quarterback Landry Jones. The Browns rush four defenders and cover the play in a deep zone coverage in order to keep the play in front of them. The deep routes are well covered by the Browns defense, while the intermediate routes are covered less tightly in order to draw a short throw to lessen the likelihood of a first down on the 3rd and long.
Jones, however, tries to go long and he misses the throw badly. He overthrows the receiver, allowing Browns cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun to easily pick off the pass. It was a game-changing play for Cleveland up until Boddy-Calhoun was stripped at the goal line, fumbling in the end zone. The Browns lose the touchdown and the possession of the ball. Another play gone by the wayside for the Browns.
Q4 8:19: QB Robert Griffin III sacked
This 3rd-and-five play was a huge moment in the fourth quarter. The Browns were approaching the red zone, poised to score at least a field goal. On the play, the Browns line up in a shotgun with a bunch formation on the left slot, a receiver to the right and a running back to the right of Griffin. The Steelers rushed five on the play, leaving the secondary in single man coverage on each of the Browns pass catchers and a deep safety over the middle of the field. This sack is on the line, in particular center Anthony Fabiano, but also the good initial coverage by the Steelers. Griffin’s first option was the bunch formation. He thought he would get one of the three open for him to complete a pass.
The Steelers covered it perfectly, allowing none of the three targets to get open. With his first option gone, Griffin had no time to search for another target because Fabiano was manhandled by Steelers defensive lineman Daniel McCullers. McCullers pushed Fabiano back into Griffin’s face, grabbing Griffin for a sack in matters of seconds. Fabiano did not give Griffin enough time to scan the field for other options. The sack not only held the Browns from getting a first down, but the sack pushed the ball back, making a tougher field goal for kicker Cody Parkey. The longer field goal results in a missed field goal on the next play.
Q4 1:04: Crowell fumbles inside the 10-yard line
This is the biggest missed opportunity of the game. On the play, the Browns have a 1st-and-goal on the five-yard line. Cleveland lines up in a shotgun formation with three receivers out wide, a tight end on the end of the left side of the line and a running back to the left of Griffin. The Steelers line up with seven in the box. The Browns run a handoff to running back Isaiah Crowell up the middle of the line. Crowell shoots through the middle of the line, gaining what looks to be a short yardage gain, but he is stripped of the ball before going down. Pittsburgh is able recover the fumble and kill the opportunity for what probably would have been the game-winning field goal or touchdown. This fumble causes the game to go into overtime.
OT 8:24: QB Robert Griffin III incomplete pass
This is a 1st-and-goal play on the two-yard line. The Browns are poised to get the game-winning field goal. Cleveland lines up in an I-formation with a tight end on both sides of the line and an extra blocker inside the tight end on the left side of the line. The Steelers line up with almost everyone in the box. The Browns design a play action pass with tight end Randall Telfer, who is running a corner route, as the only real receiving option on the play. Telfer goes out and is single covered by a cornerback. Telfer is sort of open because the defender is behind him.
Griffin airmails the pass over the tight end’s head for an incompletion. It was a questionable play call and underwhelming execution.
OT 8:19: QB Robert Griffin III to WR Andrew Hawkins for a loss of 14 yards
On the next play at 2nd-and-goal from the two-yard line, the Browns squander their touchdown opportunity for this drive. On the play, the Browns line up in a shotgun formation with three receivers to the left, a tight end to the right end of the line and a running back to the right of Griffin. The Steelers line up in man coverage on the two receivers on the far outside, while the slot receiver is covered in off-man coverage. The Browns call a receiver screen with receiver Andrew Hawkins rolling out to receive the ball and head up field. The play is completely blown up by Steelers corner William Gay. He reads the play immediately shooting straight to the backfield. Gay’s quick reaction allows him to beat receiver Terrelle Pryor to get to Hawkins, stuffing Hawkins, who is forced to change direction and look for another lane.
The play is over from there, ending in a 14-yard loss. The players needed better awareness on the play. Griffin should have read the corner’s quick reaction and not thrown the ball to Hawkins. Pryor should have been more ready to get in front of Gay to block him. And Hawkins should have changed his route to react to Gay because he ran right into Gay. It was a disaster of a play. At the very worst, Griffin should have thrown the ball away and lived another day. He’s lucky it wasn’t intercepted for six the other way.
OT 3:48: QB Landry Jones to WR Demarcus Ayers for six-yard first down conversion
This could have been the game. The Steelers faced a 4th-and-2 in overtime, needing two yards to continue their drive. The Steelers line up in a shotgun formation with four receivers out wide and a running back to the left of Jones. The Browns are in man coverage on the four receiving targets and have a deep safety over top. The Browns are bringing six rushers on the play. The key routes to watch for the Steelers are the two crossing routes. Receiver Eli Rogers crosses the field from the right slot, while receiver Demarcus Ayers runs the crossing route from left side of the field. The two receivers come together at the middle of the field and that helps Ayers get a little bit of separation from Browns cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who is already trailing Ayers and has to slightly avoid Rogers when he crosses him. Jones gets off the throw while he is getting hit by Browns rusher Emmanuel Ogbah, throwing an accurate pass to Ayers for the big first down. This play continued the game and set up the Steelers’ game-winning touchdown on the following play.
Highlight of the Game
The highlight of the game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers was the Browns earning the No. 1 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. The loss was tough, but it helped the team get the No. 1 pick and get any player they want (Myles Garrett). It was a win in that sense.
Lowlight of the Game
The lowlight of the game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers was the offensive play calling. The Browns squandered some great opportunities to win the game because of bad play calling. In the redzone, the Browns went away from the run game that was successful and decided to pass on many of those downs. The pass calls were questionable and the tendency to go away from the run game was frustrating.