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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.

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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.

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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. []