The Cleveland Browns were victimized by some questionable and outright wrong penalty calls, but they also killed themselves with penalties. For as much as the Browns struggled, especially on the offensive side of the ball, they really looked undisciplined at times and lacked composure at others and while some will be quick to question coaching and perhaps fairly, the onus ultimately falls on the players that committed them. In the end, the Browns had 12 penalties called on them for 106 yards in all and it made winning that much more difficult this week, which looks that much worse when compared to their rushing yardage (83) and their passing yardage (149).
There are penalties coaches and teams can live with, either because of the nature of the penalty or because of how quickly the game transpires. Usually, these penalties are okay because they come while the player is competing to make a player or at least trying to help their team win a game. An offensive lineman committing a holding penalty to avoid letting their quarterback get killed or a call of offsides by a defensive linemen trying to get the snap count are not ideal by any stretch, but they are not the end of the world. On the other hand, plays before the snap and especially after the whistle kill teams. The Browns committed a number of these types of penalties that proved costly.
Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz were both hit with false start penalties. These penalties happen, but they hurt. And for a team that can make gaining 10 yards for a first down feel like scoring a touchdown with some offenses, giving away yardage and field position is difficult to do on a regular basis.
The bigger problem was with personal foul penalties. Paul Kruger, who has been a great defender in terms of impact but not in terms of raw numbers, got nailed for a personal foul when he head butted an opponent. Emotions run high and certainly things happen after the play, but that is a selfish penalty that hurts a team.
Eric Martin was hit for a personal foul later in the game when he decided beating a guy on a play was not enough. Martin hit a Packer player and knocked him out of bounds, which was great. The problem was he then got up and was already a yard or so out of bounds and then hit the player again, which resulted in a 15 yard penalty. This was a case of a player who had a guy dominated and wanted to send an extra message. Maybe he did, but it was not worth the price.
Another crucial penalty happened on the onside kick as the Browns attempted to get the ball back after scoring their only touchdown when the score was 24-13. Tank Carder was called offsides on the kickoff and though Joe Haden was able to recover the kick, the play was called back as a result. Offsides on the kickoff is really tough to take because so much time is spent on timing that up in practice. It was not a borderline call either; it was obvious. That penalty hurt the Browns in a big way as well.
There were two calls against the Browns that were questionable at best and awful at worst. The first was called on Tashaun Gipson for hitting a defenseless receiver when he made a tackle on Jermichael Finley. Finley caught a pass slanting up the middle of the field and put his head down to try to brace for impact. Gipson maneuvered so his shoulder made the impact on the tackle and Finley went down with a head injury, ultimately needing to be carted off of the field on a stretcher and taken to a hospital. While the hope is that everything goes well for Finley and he can recover fully, Gipson had no choice in what to do. He did not aim for Finley’s head. Finley put his head into Gipson’s shoulder and in doing so, injured himself. As tough as that is and no one wants to see Finley hurt, Gipson did not do anything to cause the injury. He had nothing else to tackle and ultimately was run into by Finley. Nevertheless, the refs called a 15 yard penalty on Gipson which would later turn into a touchdown.
On the Packers’ final scoring drive, there was another extremely questionable call made against Buster Skrine. On a play near the sideline where both Skrine and Jarrett Boykin competed for a pass, it looked as though both were fighting for the ball and that perhaps Boykin had actually committed the penalty as Skrine was in far better position to make a play on the football and potentially could have intercept the pass. Another questionable call at best, a big play for the Packers as they continued moving down the field and scored the final touchdown of the game.
The Browns did not deserve to win the game. They played poorly in a lot of areas and while they tried to make it interesting late, they were just beaten. Part of that was because of self-inflicted wounds with bad or stupid penalties in the form of mental mistakes. Those bad calls just ended up taking the legs out of the Browns in the end as the Packers went on to win the game. Nevertheless, the Browns have got to clean up those mental mistakes going forward so this does not become an ongoing problem.