Browns-Panthers: Joe's Game Review

Joe Brownlee offers his take on the win that felt like a loss

The Jets game was a loss that felt like a win.

This game was a win that felt like a loss.

The Browns did a lot of good things in jumping out to a 21-7 lead. They did a lot of bad things to blow that lead. They did more good things to re-take the lead. The they did enough bad things to nearly lose at the very end. It was quite the rollercoaster.

Here are some random thoughts about what I saw:

•The first thing I noticed on the first play from scrimmage was how flat the defense looked. They played like it, too, giving up huge chunks of yardage on the ground. The opening drive score broke the streak of games without allowing a team to score on its opening possession. Then, once the Browns scored, the defense played better. Was it the Panthers 1-9 record? Was it being a big favorite at home? I don't know, but if this defense thinks it can just show up and win, it's sadly mistaken.

•Speaking of the defense, the Browns are now officially the worst tackling team in the NFL, at least as awarded by me. Congratulations. Honorable mention to the Philadelphia Eagles for their performance against the Bears on Sunday.

•I advocated starting Seneca Wallace because of the fact that he makes less mistakes. But Delhomme started the game strong. Delhomme knows the game and understands how to run the offense. I admit, when he is on, he can make the offense hum. Late in the first half, I was thinking, "Perhaps I underestimated Delhomme." Then, the fumble on the last play of the half, followed by two interceptions on the first three plays of the second half. Both interceptions were terrible throws. The fact is, Delhomme threw two more interceptions in the first half but the Panthers didn't hold onto them. One of them was a duplicate of the disaster in Tampa on opening day, throwing while falling down. For all that Delhomme did well, the killer mistakes allowed the game to go down to the last play.

•It's hard to believe I am about to say this when the Peyton Hillis has 131 yards rushing, but the offensive line play was not great again. It was good having Floyd Womack back, but John St. Clair got manhandled much of the day. His being shoved into Jake Delhomme on the last play of the first half was what caused the fumble in the first place. Alex Mack had a few adventures as well. It was a step up from a week ago, but not what we saw earlier in the year. Considering he did not even make the team out of training camp, this team misses Billy Yates.

•Peyton Hillis is the real deal. Running, leaping, catching, he had another great game. Not only did he have 131 yards rushing, but he added six receptions for a total of nearly 200 yards. His 11 touchdowns rushing are the most since Kevin Mack in 1986, and no Brown has had more other than two Hall of Famers, Jim Brown and Leroy Kelley. He also has two touchdowns though the air. I loved the post game press conference when Hillis was humble and displayed a great attitude. Cleveland is the right place for a guy like Hillis.

•The Browns really missed a healthy Joshua Cribbs on both special teams and offense. Cribbs had a couple of so-so returns which are pretty remarkable for having four dislocated toes. Clifton Smith is definitely not the answer in the return game, especially considering his nearly disastrous fumble.

•It was nice to see both Mohammed Massaquoi and Brian Robiske play key roles throughout the game. Seven catches for Robiske in this game matches his total for all of 2009. Yes, it was for just 50 yards, but some of those short catches moved the chains. Massaquoi had some lapses, though. He wasn't even looking for the ball on one throw that went his way, and he could have made a better play on the ball to prevent the pick six.

Joe Haden had a very solid game in his first start. He made some good tackles. He had a big interception at the end of the game. T.J. Ward also had some big plays including a big tackle for loss.

•The experience of Sheldon Brown is really important with both Scott Fujita and Eric Wright out. I wish he could have held on to a couple of passes that came his direction.

•OK, I called for more of Evan Moore and then he fumbled. Moore has shown a tendency to put the ball on the ground. I still think it was better to have him on the field more, and he was.

•Quietly, Kenyon Coleman had another nice game. Despite the fact that the Browns gave up way too many rushing yards, the no-name defensive line has been playing solid football. Ahtyba Rubin has done a good job anchoring this group. The run defense suffers when he is not in there.

Shaun Rogers is a mixed bag. He made some plays, and the "blow to the head" penalty was a phantom call. He tapped Clausen's helmet at worst. But he looks like he can barely move between plays. He didn't even run out onto the field. Is he hurting that much?

•Two sacks for Abe Elam. I wonder if using him as a blitzer might be a decent role for him. He does a better job of getting there than Mike Adams or some of the other DBs.

•The linebackers had their problems. Matt Roth did have a sack. But the lack of speed in this group, especially without Fujita, really showed in the running game. Eric Barton was out of position again. On one of the many long third down conversions, Barton did not stay at home and chased Clausen. He then threw to the man Barton was covering.

Lawrence Vickers was blowing guys up as usual. So why in the world would you take him off the field on fourth down? This coaching staff out thought itself at several key moments in this game. Please, though, Lawrence -- learn to catch. It would open some options for the offense.

•Speaking of calls, once again, the Browns dialed up a trick play at the right time, and it was there for the taking. Hillis just made a bad throw. On the other hand, a quarterback sneak with a yard and a half to go with Delhomme? Really? With Peyton Hillis blowing them up? And the runs up the middle on the last possession were puzzling given that the Browns were killing the Panthers with sweeps all day.

•My only problem with going on fourth down was the play call. It's debatable, no doubt about it. The kick would have put the Browns up 28-23, but with a lot of time left. The Browns had been moving the ball and could have really eaten up the clock if they had converted.

•I felt like the Browns were really letting the Panthers dictate the play calls. Carolina consistently lined up with eight and nine in the box on first down. The Browns countered by throwing a lot on early downs. No problem there. Delhomme, though, changed a lot of plays, including the play on which Moore fumbled. That ball was forced into a very tight window.

•Two Carlton Mitchell sightings on offense: an end around and an incomplete pass. If the Browns could have gotten a lead, maybe we could have seen more of him.

•Great penetration on that final field goal attempt. Most of the Browns were in the backfield.

•No wildcat. Presumably they don't want to risk Seneca Wallace with Colt McCoy injured. Presumably, the same thing can be said of why they didn't allow Joe Haden to return kickoffs with Eric Wright out.

•The officiating was awful. I'm not saying that because it cost the game or was one-sided. It was just bad. The bad call on the next to last play might well have cost the Browns the game when if the tackle was made in bounds (it was), the clock should have run out. Why is Jeff Triplette still around? His crew didn't know what down it was, could not figure out the rules for intentional grounding, and missed some blatant holding and block in the back calls. There was a terrible block in the back on the long punt return just before halftime that allowed Carolina to get a field goal. It was right next to the ball carrier.

Analysis

The Browns probably should have lost this game, but won. They've had more than one this year they could have won but lost. Perhaps things are evening out. But to let the team with the worst record in the NFL come back like this on your home field is not good.

I feel like this game will raise questions again about this coaching staff. Was the team really ready to play? Though there are injuries, are the Browns playing sound football on defense? How could the Browns let the Panthers drive the field from the five-yard line with no timeouts? Is the offensive play calling putting the team in the best position to win? Are we too busy trying to fool teams rather than playing to our strengths? Are the best players being put on the field?

If I am Mike Holmgren, I am trying to look not just at the result, but how we got there. To quote Herm Edwards, "You play to win the game." Fair enough. The Browns won. But how the Browns escaped with this win can't sit well with the team president.

The Quarterback Conundrum

I believe that if Colt McCoy had started this game, the Browns would have won handily. I'm not saying that because McCoy was going to be winging the ball all over. I'm saying it because I think he would have avoided some of the big mistakes.

That being said, Eric Magini said in his post game remarks that they would not name a starter for the next game until he saw how Colt McCoy was coming along. That tells you what he is thinking at this point. If McCoy can't go again, might the Browns think of going to Wallace? Mangini pause when asked if he had thought about making the change to Wallace, so it at least was on his mind.

While Delhomme is class all the way and he has a good football mind, I just don't think he has the physical ability to play the gunslinger style of play that was his signature in his prime. He may indeed be the best option right now, but the numbers so far this season suggest Wallace is the safer option.

Regardless, it should be interesting following the doings in Berea this week.

Next Up

The Browns take on another team with a winning record when they travel to Miami to face the Dolphins.

The season is short. Bark hard!


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