Good day, Browns Fans!
The Browns started the 2003 campaign with a lackluster effort against the Titans. While the special teams had a great night, the Browns had some problems on defense early and problems on offense throughout. I have watched the tape of the game with particular emphasis on individual players on the offensive and defensive lines. As usual, we'll look at the team position by position to analyze player performances.
This is the hot topic this off-season, of course, but I believe the Browns have far greater issues elsewhere. On top of that, a poor showing by the offense most of the night makes it difficult to compare Couch and Holcomb. If you have read this space in the past, you will realize I am no Couch apologist, and it is not easy to defend a 4-of-8-for-17-yards performance. Sheesh, that's a shade over two yards per pass play. But Couch was victimized by three factors:
- Two dropped passes that would have sustained drives, though they would not have gone for big yardage.
- No running game whatsoever.
- Terrible offensive line play by the starters, leading to players in Couch's face nearly every down.
Couch did at least beat the blitz and throw to the right guy. But he also tripped coming out from under center, either on William Green or nothing, and he just looked rattled. On the trip play, credit Couch for being heads up enough to get up and scramble to try to make something out of a bad situation. I know the Titans are a pretty decent defensive team, but I would have expected more. Still, Couch might have had a touchdown if an open receiver would have caught a ball that was in his hands. I find it hard to make much of an assessment on Couch from this game.
Holcomb probably did not play his best game in this one, but overall, he looked better than Couch to me. The numbers don't contradict that since Holcomb completed 7 of 11 passes for 71 yards, but this hardly Hall of Fame stuff. Costly drops, and Kevin Johnson attempting to stretch a pass reception over the goal line also victimized Holcomb. Still, Holcomb just looked more comfortable, though I didn't feel he ever settled into a groove. He made a couple of nice throws on slant plays.
Of the quarterbacks, the one who played most and really looked best was Josh Booty. Compared to last year, Booty seemed to have a much better command of the offense. Though he was just 6 of 12 for 97 yards, he seemed to go to the right place with the ball. The guy throws a great looking pass, and he zipped the ball in on slants underneath and threw a beautiful looking long ball on the final drive. Another deep pass was incomplete, but Booty threw it nicely. He did have an interception, the only one for the Browns on the night, but it was the result of his arm being hit while throwing. Booty also had a fumble, but that came on a bad shotgun snap. I am anxious to see more of Booty this preseason, as he may have developed into a viable #2 quarterback.
Nate Hybl threw just twice with one completion for seven yards, but he did impress me as not being as awful as some of the training camp reports were saying. That being said, he's still a first wave cut victim.
William Green also has to get an incomplete in this game. He rushed six times for 11 yards. That sounds bad enough, but consider that his first run went for five of those yards. The worst was on a third down and one play, where Green tried to bounce to the outside and was stuffed. It was like the early part of 2002. In Green's defense, the blocking was terrible.
Jamel White played sparingly, with two rushes for no gain, and a pass reception for a yard. He looked as if he was still injured, and sure enough, he has been sitting out of practice this week. James Jackson did surprisingly well during his stint in the game, but it was against the backups. His first run was classic JJ: too slow to the hole and dropped for a loss of three. He did rip off a couple of longer runs, including one for 15 yards, ending up as the leading rusher with seven carries for 37 yards.
The other backs are unlikely to make the roster, and for the most part, they played like it. Kevin McLeod, added back to the roster this week, looked miserable on two swing passes totaling two yards. Are the Browns this desperate for a fullback? Billy Blanchard is supposed to be a fullback, but he runs like a halfback to me. He gave good effort and ended up with 12 yards on four carries. Two of those ended badly, though. One was ruled a fumble, though the replay showed he was down when the ball came out. The other was a run that was stuffed on the final series.
This was not a great night for the receivers as a whole. Kevin Johnson had three catches for 33 yards, but he had the aforementioned fumble, and during a 2:00 situation, he turned inside rather than getting out of bounds for little gain. This was not Johnson's best game. Quincy Morgan had just one catch for seven yards. Of the top receivers, Northcutt probably looked best, catching just three passes for 16 yards, but one was a nice third down conversion. Andre Davis did not dress for the game.
Among the backups, Andre King might have wished he was still injured. He dropped two passes, one each from Couch and Holcomb. Couch's pass might have been a touchdown on a third and goal. King did make two catches for 35 yards, one of which led to the field goal right before halftime. On the other hand, C. J. Jones looked brilliant, even though the NFL's official site seems to have expunged him from the statistics. He caught three passes for 25 yards and looked fast doing it. He also took a reverse for 12 yards. Granted, he made a rookie mistake of going backward on a third down reception and losing the first down, but he'll learn. Antoine Burns made the biggest catch of the night – a 60-yard bomb from Booty that setup a chance to win at the end. Burns looked very fast. Richard Alston had a pass thrown to him, but he had no chance to catch it. Marc Soumah was ripped off. On fourth down at the end, he scooped up a low pass from Booty. On replays, it looked as if he had managed to cradle the ball just off the ground, but it was ruled a trap and the replay official did not review the play.
Wow, what a horrible showing. Aaron Shea caught one pass for about five yards, but it was wiped out by penalty. This guy just can't block, though, and he contributed to the problems up front. Steve Heiden has supposedly been impressive in camp, but two critical drops that killed drives overshadowed his one catch for 10 yards and some decent blocking work here and there. Darnell Sanders caught one pass for three yards. Otherwise, he was largely invisible. I did not notice any of the others in the game.
Stink doesn't begin to cover this one. Of the starting line, the only one I thought had a good night was Ryan Tucker. Jeff Faine made more good plays than bad, and on some running plays, had his guys shoved five to 10 yards downfield. Too bad the same can't be said of the guards. Faine did cause a fumble with a bad shotgun snap. Melvin Fowler was horrible. He couldn't block anyone and was consistently showed backward or lost his man entirely. Shaun O'Hara wasn't as bad, but he wasn't good. He got some later plays at center and looked better, but that was against the scrubs. Ross Verba had a surprisingly poor game.
The backups did not do much of note, though it looked like Stokes was decent. Faine and Fowler got significant playing time with the backups, and even Shaun O'Hara got some time in at center. One good thing was the lack of penalties. Another was the fact that the backup running backs had more success, though a lot of James Jackson's best plays were on cutbacks.
After watching each player individually, the starting line looked as if it were in midseason form. That is not a compliment. Let's start with Gerard Warren. "Small Change" loafed through his playing time giving little effort. He faced a double team once or twice, and on those plays, he gave up. I know Butch Davis claims he set up Lang's near sack, but I didn't see it. I saw one play where he went deep into the backfield, but took himself out of the play. If there are any Warren apologists out there, watch the tap and isolate on Small Change.
The other starters were like 2002. The underrated Orpheus Roye played hard and made some key plays. Kenard Lang was OK other than losing McNair on what should have been a sack. Mark Word seemed to play hard, but overran some run plays. He made little impact on this game.
Several of the backup players looked very good. Let's start with Alvin McKinley, a fellow who is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. He plays hard and makes plays. How about five tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble? Not bad. Cedric Scott also did pretty nicely on the inside, as did Anotnio Garay with the scrubs. At end, Felipe Claybrooks followed up an active game at the scrimmage with another strong performance, including a fumble recovery. Tyrone Rogers, a starter in place of the injured Courtney Brown last year, will have to work hard to even make the team. Thomas Pittman also was impressive with the bottom players on the depth chart.
I didn't come away with tons of opinions on the linebackers, but this one is clear: Andra Davis must start over Barry Gardner. Gardner hustles, but much like Brant Boyer, he just doesn't have the speed or perhaps the instincts to start. Davis, on the other hand, went hard in his time with the starters and the backups and looked good doing it. With Gardner in the game, Eddie George ran wild. With Davis, the Titans had a much harder time. Kevin Bentley was pursuing to pass plays, though too late to make much of a difference, and he did make a nice tackle. Overall, I still thought Bentley was better last year. Ben Taylor also gave a lot of effort but missed a tackle. Brant Boyer played some but was quiet.
There are a lot of backup players, and most have a chance to make the roster only through special teams play. Sherrod Coates, Mason Unck, and Michael Josiah had some isolated nice plays. On one play, Unck was late getting there but was bailed out by a defensive back. Probably only one or two of those guys can make the team. All seem to have potential.
The Titans really went after Daylon McCutcheon. Or maybe it just seemed that way because the player going against Cutch was open. McCutcheon has had better days. Anthony Henry didn't get a chance to do much of anything as a result. Earl Little was also quiet. Michael Jameson had some decent plays. He was used a lot as a blitzer on running downs with mixed success.
Several of the backups did well. Lewis Sanders had a pretty solid game. It included a nice pass breakup and near interception. Kalvin Pearson had a number of one-on-one tackles against a much larger tight end and also broke up a pass. He did miss one tackle, but overall, Pearson looked very good. I was also impressed with the showing of Michael Lehan, including a nice pass breakup. Others played, but nobody really caught my eye.
Ryan Pontbriand had a bad first snap, but after that, he settled down and had a good night. Perhaps this contributed to two field goals by Phil Dawson, one from 50 yards, and some excellent punting by Chris Gardocki. Gardocki and the coverage team twice combined to pin the Titans inside their own five-yard line. Dennis Northcutt had a 22-yard punt return and C. J. Jones had one very nice kickoff return. Andre King also was in as both a kickoff and punt return man, but did little.
There were really only to negative plays. One was a long kickoff return where the coverage team lost outside containment. The other was a good play turned bad. On a punt, Sherrod Coates broke through to the punter, but rather than kick, the punter was able to pull the ball down and run for a first down.
I just don't know what was going on with allowing Holcomb and Booty to air out the ball while Couch handed off and threw two-yard out patterns. Conspiracy theorists are having a field day with this. I guess all I can say is preseason. Little scheming is being done. All is not as it appears. We'll just have to wait and see how things work out.
The officials looked in midseason form. They were blind and did terribly. Obvious replays weren't enough to reverse bad calls, and I can't possibly explain why a fourth down catch in the end zone inside two minutes would not merit an automatic review when it was that close.
I can't say this game encouraged me or made me raise my estimate of wins for this year's team. There are serious problems on the offensive line and on defense. It is early. Hopefully, things will improve.
The season is short. Bark hard!