End of first half against the Lions sums up the Browns season

Just what the heck happened? How did the Cleveland Browns manage to not score any points despite having second and goal from the two yard line with 15 seconds left in the first half against the Detroit Lions? And, whose call was it for quarterback DeShone Kizer to attempt a sneak from that distance? The play itself could summarize the 2017 season as the Cleveland Browns found a way to lose their ninth game out of nine to remain the last team without a win for the second consecutive season.

The stage was set when the Browns managed to give away a 44 yard fumble return for a touchdown on the previous drive to Nevin Lawson. The score gave the Lions a 17-10 lead. The Browns would receive the ball on their own 25 yard line with less than four minutes remaining in the half. Most games this season it would have meant the Lions would have plenty of time to find a way to push it to a two-score lead before the half. However, the Browns offense showed signs of life on Sunday. Duke Johnson, DeShone Kizer, and Rashard Higgins helped move the ball to the Lions two yard line with 15 seconds remaining in the half.

Here is where it should be noted there should have been much more time left on the clock. The first three plays after the two minute warning left the Browns with only 40 seconds remaining. Kizer scrambled for the last 18 yards to setup the situation at the goalline but much of the remaining clock was burnt. After a quick incomplete to David Njoku in the end zone, the Browns would manage to waste the rest of the clock and go into halftime down a touchdown.

The play call is one of wonder. The formation has the Browns in an offset-I with both receivers tight to the ball. If the call was supposed to be a sweep to the left, the Lions have leverage on their initial positions both on receiver and tackle, which would make a run to this side difficult. However, the right side of the offensive formation appears to have a great possibility of kicking a run to the outside. Including fullback Danny Vitale, the Browns have five blockers to four defenders. Duke Johnson could well find a lane across the end line. If the Browns were to attempt one of their ever-famous endzone fade routes, the receivers might have to fight through the line, but the tight formation appears to have left that route as a possibility. The defensive tackles are not playing wide, but the linebackers are in the endzone if a sneak was being thought of at the line.1

Now for the play itself.

Kizer takes the quarterback sneak up the middle, but the Lions sniff it out and collapse on center where the Browns get zero intial push. Before he can obtain any momentum, his legs are wrapped and it is just a matter of time before the Lions finish off the tackle. As this happens, precious seconds tick away until it becomes impossible for the Browns to have the time to spike the ball and attempt a field goal.

Notice the rest of this odd play though. There is no deception, no attempt to give the Lions something to think about other than taking the ball and ramming it down the throat of the defense; albeit without actually doing so. Both receivers give half-hearted blocks likely knowing the play is not coming near them. Neither Vitale nor Johnson does much of anything as they meander towards the action after the snap. For some reason Seth DeValve releases for a delayed drag across the endzone. Shon Coleman falls on his face for good measure.

After the game, the genesis of the call was a source for some confusion. Head coach Hue Jackson took blame for the play but refused to offer any specifics leaving many to wonder what else there was to it. He instructed Kizer to defer any questions about the end of the first half, which he did. If not for DeValve, we might not have known that a different play was initially called before Kizer audibled to the sneak though he did not disclose the initial play.

Overall, the end of the first half summed up much of the Browns season thus far. There were some positives in that the Browns demonstrated a capability of driving the field against a decent team with the clock ticking against them. There were players who stepped up and provided the spark (and yards) the team desperately needed after suffering from a self-inflicted wound. The issue is that the talent is just not there yet to complete drives and plays, which leaves the Browns consistently coming up short. On this particular drive and in every single game of the year.

  1. Hat-tip to Jake Burns for play formation discussion. []