Browns mistakes handed the Rams 10 points Sunday before they made a first down.
Though nearly every unit was guilty of costly mistakes throughout the game, the offense’s came earlier and more often. They turned the ball over 4 times and committed the lion’s share of the Browns 11 penalties for 98 yards. In addition to giving the Rams points, their mistakes consistently prevented them from mounting any sort of comeback. In the end, they could score only 6 points despite quarterback Josh McCown efficiently completing 81% of his passes for 270 yards. McCown was not immune to blame, though, the biggest of his two mistakes coming in the early-going when he lost the ball on a sack-fumble that the Rams converted into 3 of those 10 points. The Browns many mistakes meant that game was effectively decided in the first quarter, despite a push by the team to make it competitive in the third. That effort ended with more mistakes, this time in the form of drive ending penalties and another fumble that resulted in more Rams points. Kicker Travis Coons was the lone bright spot as the rookie from the University of Washington hit twice to remain perfect on the season.
The Browns never established any offensive balance, amassing only 82 yards on the ground, with 26 of those yard coming off of quarterback scrambles. No single running back carried the ball more than 8 times. Robert Turbin rushed for a relatively healthy 6 yards per carry on his 5 rushes, but the majority of his 30 yards came on one 22 yard attempt in the third quarter. Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson each rushed for less than 3 yards per carry, though Johnson caught 7 passes for 73 yards and remains the Browns’ lone legitimate dual-purpose threat out of the backfield. On the receiving front, Gary Barnidge caught 6 passes for 101 yards, continuing his late career breakout season.
The defense kept the team in the game until late in the third quarter, but they ended up allowing 158 yards on the ground and another 100 yard rusher on the season. Todd Gurley, the rookie from Georgia, amassed 128 yards and 2 touchdowns, most of it coming in the second half after the defense kept him contained to just 45 yards in the first. With the Rams holding a comfortable lead throughout the game, not much was asked of quarterback Nick Foles, who completed 15 of 23 passes for 163 yards in a mostly workmanlike effort, though he did exploit Browns secondary mistakes once, connecting on a 41 yard strike to Kenny Britt just before Gurley’s first touchdown. Late in the game, the Rams offensive line took over, dominating the beleaguered Browns defense with gashing running plays as Foles mostly watched.
McCown was injured in the late stages of the game, giving way to 2nd year quarterback Johnny Manziel, who completed 4 of 5 passes for 27 yards and scrambling once for 5 yards, which was stopped short of the first down marker on 4th down, ending his only series of the day. Overall, Browns’ quarterbacks completed 30 of 37 passes for 297 yards for the game, a seemingly inexplicable statistic given that the team only managed 6 points.
At 11:59 of the first quarter, on the Browns’ third offensive play, with the game tied 0-0, wide receiver Taylor Gabriel coughed up the football at the Browns’ 20 yard line. Rams Safety Rodney McLeod scooped up the loose ball and returned it to the end zone for what turned out to be the game winning score.
Other key plays
– Three plays after that, McCown was sacked at the Browns’ 24, losing the ball in the process. The Rams would subsequently tack on all the insurance they would need with a 39 field goal by kicker Greg Zuerlein.
– Trailing 10-6 midway through the third quarter with the ball at the Cleveland 43 yard line, McCown completed a 36 yard pass to Travis Benjamin to the Rams 21 that was nullified by a holding penalty on left tackle Joe Thomas. The penalty was the 4th on Browns linemen during the drive and the biggest of the offensive line’s many mistakes on the afternoon, sapping any momentum the team gained when Zuerline missed his second field goal of the game. The Rams scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive, increasing their lead to 17-6.
Keys to the Defeat:
– Turnovers. Teams that lose the turnover battle lose consistently in the NFL, especially when their opponents subsequently convert those turnovers into points. The Rams converted 4 turnovers into net +17. The Browns did not convert their lone takeaway into any points as the ensuing drive after the Rams’ fumble stalled at the St. Louis 42 yard line. The Browns are not the type of team that can overcome these types of mistakes.
– Penalties. In addition to the costly Thomas penalty that all but wiped points for the Browns off the board, during the ensuing Rams touchdown drive, cornerback Pierre Desir was tagged for a 26 yard pass interference penalty just before Foles’ bomb to Britt. The Browns effectively lost 72 yards of field position between this call and the call on Thomas. These sorts of game altering mistakes and huge chunk penalties have haunted Browns teams for years, often turning contests that could be competitive into lopsided affairs.
– Run Defense. After limiting Gurley to a pedestrian first half, the Browns’ run defense collapsed in the second, allowing the rookie to run wild for 83 yards and 2 touchdowns. Gurley rushed 19 times. No other Rams running back had more than 4 attempts. The Browns coaching staff might make a note of this as he gradually wore the Browns down until he finally broke a 48 yard run in the third quarter that seemed to spell the end of the Browns’ resistance.
– Offensive Line. McCown suffered 4 sacks and 7 QB hits on the day. Even with quarterback scrambles factored in, the running game only managed 3.4 yards a carry. Without them, Browns running backs only rushed for 56 yards with a 2.9 YPC average. Without the 22 yard run from Turbin, the remaining 18 rushes averaged a paltry 1.9 yards per carry. Not all of this can be laid at the feet of the offensive line, but combined with their other mistakes, the poor pass blocking and disastrous penalties, Sunday was a day the unit would like to forget.
The Browns return home to face the NFC West leading Arizona Cardinals, who will have a short week after playing the Ravens on Monday Night Football. The Cardinals’ prolific offense is led by the late-career resurgence of quarterback Carson Palmer who has a 107 passer rating with 14 touchdowns against 5 interceptions for the season going into Monday night’s game. In addition, the Cardinals’ defense is ranked 5th in yards allowed per game and 8th in points allowed per game on the season. The Browns offense cannot afford to make the kinds of mistakes they made against the Rams against this team. Manziel will likely start the game, even as the investigation continues into an act of domestic violence he allegedly committed against his girlfriend Colleen Crowley while the two were in a moving vehicle.