Good teams find a way to overcome obstacles. Contenders rarely beat themselves, while pretenders often fail to capitalize on opportunities, especially when on the road.
Turnovers, failure to execute and questionable clock management will haunt the Browns, and are significantly responsible for their loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17-14, in Tampa, Florida, Sunday afternoon.
Seemingly in control 14-3 late in the second quarter, a Jake Delhomme pass was intercepted and returned deep into Browns territory by veteran CB Ronde Barber. The interception proved instrumental for the Buccaneers and was a turning point in the ballgame.
Following a Tampa Bay touchdown prior to the half, the Browns offense was listless throughout the second half of the season opener.
In breaking down this Browns loss, the following items are of immediate concern --
- Veteran QB Jake Delhomme did not protect the football. Often the QB threw into coverage and did not display the patience, accuracy and field leadership that endeared him to those around him throughout training camp.
Despite these issues, the largest aspect which contributed heavily to this discouraging start of the season for Delhomme was a foot injury which hampered his ability to come through each pass attempt, as well as the inability of wide receivers to gain separation and an offensive line often beaten at the point of attack. One has to believe the pressure created by the Buccaneers took some opportunities away from Delhomme and the Browns offense, but the issue remains the same and Delhomme appeared to struggle mentally as much as physically at times.
- With Delhomme struggling physically, head coach Eric Mangini has to be questioned about his decision to stick with Delhomme. There is little question the head coach is committed to the starting QB, but on this day Delhomme was not even close to his physical best. With Seneca Wallace coming off a solid pre-season, healthy and a much more mobile threat, his capabilities may have been a change of pace needed to slow an aggressive Tampa Bay front seven.
- Surprisingly, the Browns offensive line struggled with the relentlessness of the Buccaneers defensive line. The Buccaneers four down linemen pressed the Browns linemen and became an increasing presence as the game wore on.
- RB Jerome Harrison, coming off a tremendous late season surge a season ago, found himself under-utilized once again. Granted, his nine carries for 52-yards may be misleading due to a 39 yard run, but refusing to put the ball into the hands of a potential play-maker often is a questionable proposition.
While some ‘rust' was expected along the right-side of the Browns offensive line with RG Floyd Womack returning from knee surgery and RT John St. Clair back on the field following a break for personal reasons, it was the unexpected physicality demonstrated against the balance of the Browns line that is a reason for concern. In this battle, LT Joe Thomas, LG Eric Steinbach and C Alex Mack were often pushed back on their heels, which eliminated passing lanes throughout and minimized consistency in the running game.
- The clock management late in the fourth quarter was inexcusable. With the game hanging in the balance, the Browns faced a fourth and four-yards to go with over a minute remaining in the game. Rather than stopping the clock and getting the offense set, the Browns wasted valuable clock-time and a false start against RT John St. Clair ensued. A fourth and nine-yards to go pass attempt was wildly off the mark and the Buccaneers stopped the Browns on downs.
While we will never know if the Tampa Bay play-calling would have changed if more time remained on the game-clock. The Browns, after stopping the Buccaneers on downs deep in their territory, could have had nearly a minute on the clock when the offense got back on the field.
- Delhomme's interceptions proved costly. Running back Peyton Hillis' fumbles, especially one in the third quarter, were disheartening, as the Browns were in position to possibly put points on the scoreboard.
- As was the case throughout the pre-season, the Browns offense utilized the tight ends early and often. As the game wore on, the TEs were the viable option, as the young Browns receivers struggled to find the soft spots within the Buccaneers cover-two defensive scheme.
- Throughout the off-season, the ‘present' readiness of talent at the wide receiver had been questioned. Outside of WR Mohamed Massaquoi's 41-yard touchdown reception, the Browns wide receivers had an uneventful season opener. The youth and inexperience at the position didn't help the Browns cause, and this inconsistency could hamper the offense as players develop.
The Browns left many challenges unanswered on Sunday in Tampa, in a game that was there for the taking.