Lots of people are saying the Browns won ugly. One national article said that the "hapless Browns" were able to win. Sorry, I can't agree. This was just an old-school, smash-mouth, defense-oriented game. Give Miami's defense credit, they were every bit as tough as advertised. But the Browns matched them and played four quarters of football, something they have not always done.
Here are some random thoughts about what I saw:
•Before getting into the individual performances, last week I noted how flat the defense was and how poorly they tackled. The staff made the players work in full pads this week, and boy did it have an impact. This is probably the best 60-minute performance we have seen from the defense this year. The tackling wasn't perfect, but it was much improved.
•This game was the official coming out party for Joe Haden. Whether it was tackling, defending passes, or intercepting, Haden was all over the field. One series was single-handedly stopped by Haden, both run and pass. On the interception, he was beaten, but he showed great recovery speed to come back and make the pick. What a performance!
•Shaun Rogers had by far his best game of the year. Last week I was saying how slow he looked, perhaps due to injury. I wonder if he is simply beginning to feel better. Whatever the reason, he was a force on defense and blocked the 14th kick of his career, a huge play in what turned out to be a three-point win. He got to the quarterback twice and showed strength to get him down with just his hands. More of this would be welcome in the final quarter of the season.
•Reggie Hodges had some early struggles, but has become an excellent and a consistent punter. This was a masterful performance with several punts inside the 20 and some good directional kicking. Credit Mike Adams for an excellent assist in keeping a ball out of the end zone. Also, Hodges did a great job to get the final kick down on a snap that was a bit high.
•Jake Delhomme clearly was focusing on playing smarter with the football. He had two bad throws, one off his back foot while falling in the first half (see a pattern there?) and one that was a pick six waiting to happen. Luckily the defender dropped it. Yet, Delhomme made some nice throws, especially in the second half, and his veteran play to quick snap when the Dolphins had 12 men on the field got the Browns a free first down. My biggest beef was taking some sacks that really hurt, especially the one before Phil Dawson's missed field goal.
•While the offensive line was better than last week, especially Alex Mack, John St. Clair was shoved all over the place. I know the guy is giving effort, but he was overmatched all day. He was the culprit on a lot of negative plays on offense. Floyd Womack had a few problems as well.
•Clearly, the Dolphins keyed on Peyton Hillis. He had just 18 carries for 57 yards. But Hillis made a few plays in the passing game and had a couple of nice runs. The best part was that the Browns made an effective adjustment at halftime and began hitting the tight end, especially Ben Watson, in the space vacated by the linebackers keying on Hillis. One wonders what the Browns could have done if Even Moore had not left injured early in the game.
•Speaking of Watson, 10 catches for 100 yards? Wow! Watson has already far eclipsed his receiving numbers from New England last season.
•Mohammed Massaquoi had two big catches on the touchdown drive. One was a leaping, spinning catch that got the Browns out of bad field position. The gain of 37 yards set the table for the rest of the drive. The other play, a 33-yard pickup, came when a defender fell down, but Massaquoi emerged from traffic and ran well after the catch, taking the ball inside the five yard line. Four catches was a nice day for Massaquoi.
•The Browns have to get Chansi Stuckey beyond the sticks on third down. He is not going to break a tackle. He also did not hang onto a ball that was admittedly a tough catch in the back of the end zone, but that's a play that would have made a huge difference in the game.
•Once again, I have to give props to Abe Elam for another interception and some improved tackling. As T.J. Ward has become more comfortable, perhaps Elam has become more free to play to his strengths. Earlier in the year, Elam was a disaster in the running game. There is a very noticeable improvement.
•Eric Wright returned and played the slot and did a solid job.
•Do the Browns miss Scott Fujita? Chris Gocong played hard, but missed some plays. Eric Barton has had better games. Once again, my biggest knock on him is being out of position. Meanwhile, Matt Roth had a solid game, but he missed out on some sack opportunities by not closing out the play again. Marcus Benard continues to impress as a pass rusher.
•David Bowens used his veteran moxie throughout the game. He noted that they saw that Chad Henne threw low passes on film, and Bowens batted down some passes, including what turned out to be the key play at the end of the game. One play looked similar to the play Bowens made in New Orleans, but he could not catch it. Granted, the play to Adams was a lucky bounce, but even without the interception, Bowens breaks up the pass on third down and the Dolphins are forced to punt.
•If only Joshua Cribbs was healthy. The Browns miss him on special teams and on offense. At least he got one decoy handoff on offense.
•I felt like the Browns did not do a great job against the run, and especially the wildcat. But they came up with some plays when they needed them. There were too many plays that should have been stopped for no gain that got three or four yards. A lot of that was the linebackers.
•Once again, no wildcat. I understand McCoy is hurt, but I really thought maybe a change of pace with Seneca Wallace here and there might have helped.
•Hey, you make a 60 yard field goal, I tip my hat to you. I wonder if the Browns should have placed someone deep to try to jump up and knock it down. It just barely cleared the crossbar.
People can say what they want about this game. Perhaps the Dolphins were the better team with better stats on offense. But unlike many games in the past, the Browns came up with the game-changing plays on defense and special teams, and the offense did just enough including playing much better in the second half. What a welcome change!
Give Eric Mangini credit for addressing the horrendous tackling of the last few weeks in practice. It made a big difference in the game. With the score close, perhaps one missed tackle might have turned the game.
There has been a lot of second-guessing on the play calls, and perhaps it took too long to decide to try something other than running Hillis. But I am glad they did not give up on the run, and they did pop some good runs here and there. I thought the kneel-downs at the end were a great call. I might have thought about making the kick on third down rather than fourth, but that would have left time on the clock and after the events at the end of the Panthers game, I can certainly see playing it the way that they did.
The Browns now have two road games against teams that have won just two games each. These are trap games for a team like the Browns. They cannot afford to take anyone for granted. But if the Browns could win those games and claw their way back to .500 after a 1-5 start, that would be quite an accomplishment. Consider that the Browns are 4-2 in their last six games, and 9-7 in their last 16.
This time last year, the Browns had shown some improvement, but were sitting at 1-11 after losing a to San Diego in a game where they roared back from a 20-point deficit to get close at the end, and that largely without a passing game. Things seem so different this year. A 5-7 team is not something to get overly excited about, but at least the Browns seem to be going in the right direction.
The Quarterback Conundrum
Delhomme was better in this game, but let's face it, he is lucky that the bad pass at the end didn't become a pick six. The Browns might have been able to win anyway, but that would have been a huge blow to this team. He's made some good plays, no doubt about it, but it only takes one bad play to wreck it all, especially for a team like the Browns.
Until Colt McCoy is healthy again, there isn't much of a decision to make. But I am concerned that while McCoy was totally engaged in the game, headset on, following the play calls, talking to Delhomme, Seneca Walace seemed disengaged. Maybe he is a veteran and feels he doesn't need to do all that, but hope he is not heading toward the same kind of attitude we saw from Jerome Harrison.
The Browns head up I-90 to Buffalo to take on a scrappy and dangerous Bills team.
The season is short. Bark hard!