Formation Follies

Mental errors, especially like those caused by third-down back Chris Ogbonnaya in the Browns' last game, has become a worrisome problem for the 2-7 team.

There were plenty of questions floating around in my head after the Cleveland Browns finished the 2011 season 4-12. One question that wasn't of the utmost importance, but especially nagging: What happened to Chris Ogbonnaya?

In a two-game span last season filling in for an injured Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty, Ogbonnaya rushed for 205 yards on 30 carries. When Hills returned later in the season, Ogbonnaya returned to the bench. Deep on that bench. Ogbonnaya finished with four carries in the Browns' final five games.

This year, Ogbonnaya has seen a role reversal. He's the Browns third-down back beating out Brandon Jackson, Trent Richardson and Hardesty. Ogbonnaya is fourth on the team with 20 catches for 182 yards and has five carries for 20 yards. He has noticeable speed and quickness. On third downs, he can catch the ball out of the backfield, make defenders miss and rack up yards after the catch. But that's only when he catches the ball or doesn't fumble.

But after nine games of the 2012 season — especially that ninth game — one question was particularly nagging me: Why do we continue to see Chris Obgonnaya?

With 9:33 remaining in the game and the Browns trailing 14-12, Brandon Weeden connected with Josh Gordon on a slant. Gordon broke a tackle inside the Ravens' 5-yard line and cross the goal line. Cleveland Browns Stadium went nuts. The Browns took an 18-14 lead. Then, everyone's attention went to the yellow flag on the field.

For whatever reason, the play formation had Obgonnaya split out wide. He covered up the tight end who was lined up next to Browns' right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. This is a no-no. This is basic football knowledge. This is a mistake that should have never happened. The result: illegal formation on the Browns. Replay third down.

"Usually you communicate with your hands, you'll point to the ref to indicate whether you're on the line of scrimmage or off," said Ogbonnaya after the game Nov. 4. "And you know I was pointing to him I thought I was set and I ran my route. The flag was thrown that I was lined illegally so it nullified the touchdown."

"That was a penalty," Browns head coach Pat Shurmur said. "We weren't lined up right. It was a penalty."

Some of the fault lies with Ogbonnaya. Well, a lot of the fault. But when it comes to play design, what good does it do to split your third-down running back out wide? And isn't Trent Richardson supposed to be an every-down back?

Mistakes happen. The Browns are prone to make mistakes as evident by the team's last nine games and their 2-7 record. A pass interference call here. An offside's there. OK, it sucks, but it's part of the game.

Ogbonnaya's illegal formation was unacceptable. A pre-snap penalty is just a mental error. Successful NFL teams limit those mental errors, especially at key moments of the game. Ogbonnaya's penalty was not only a mental error, but it took points off the board. Key points at a key moment of the game.

Gordon's touchdown would not have solidified a Browns a victory. Also, a 3-6 record also does not help the Browns' playoff hopes.

If this young team is going to progress positively, these types of errors need to stop. Unfortunately it comes at the expense of Ogbonnaya, who has shown flashes of ability, but is not consistent enough to be counted on when the game is on the line.

Hopefully the coaches can see this. We've seen this coaching staff take its time on coming around on solving issues that are clearly not working. I present Owen Marecic vs. Basic Football Skills as evidence.

In summation, more Trent Richardson in the fourth quarter, please.

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