Two teams faced off Sunday that are near mirror images of each other. The predicted offensive shootout did not happen, and instead, this was a game of defense and missed opportunities. In the end, there isn't that much to say about this game because it is fairly easy to analyze.
As usual, we will examine what happened position by position.
Kelly Holcomb landed with a distinct thud. Oh, now numbers-wise, his 20 for 29 performance for 182 yards isn't that bad. But two interceptions, the second one particularly foolish, really hurt the Browns. Add to that plays that were incomplete that were bad throws such as a third-and-goal swing pass to William Green that was behind him, and Holcomb did a lot to lose the game. In fact, while there were some struggles elsewhere, I'm going to go as far as to say that Holcomb's play was a key factor in the loss.
Perhaps more disappointing than the poor execution was the lack of the aggressiveness we saw in the preseason. Is this because of the play calling on the sideline? The play-to-play match ups? Holcomb's play selections on the field? It's hard to say. Holcomb criticized himself for being too reckless and greedy. Perhaps. But from where I sit, I did not see much of that. I saw forcing the ball at times. This performance was remarkably Couch-like. Coincidence? Maybe the jitters of being the new starter at home against your old team just got to Holcomb. It is far too early to judge anything yet, but I'll be watching.
William Green had a solid day with 21 carries for 86 yards, with the bulk of that success in the second half. But the plays that were not made loom large. The failure to get into the end zone on multiple attempts and the inability to haul in an admittedly badly thrown ball spring to mind. But overall, I thought Green had a solid day. He looks more comfortable and seems to be better in the passing game.
James Jackson spelled Green at one point and ran twice for six yards. Jackson looked solid running in the middle, just as in the preseason. Jamel White had a tough day. Six touches (two run, four catch) resulted in only 26 yards. White is dancing too much.
Perhaps most interesting was who did not play. Fullback Kevin MacLeod was inactive. Might the Browns have done better in short yardage with him blocking? Hard to say.
I suppose holding the vaunted Browns receiving corps to 10 catches for 115 yards is as much of an accomplishment for the Colts as it was for the Browns to hold Marvin Harrison in check. Dennis Northcutt did best, repeatedly finding mismatches against linebackers and safeties. Northcutt led all receivers with five catches, but for only 57 yards. Northcutt had a couple of clutch third down catches. Kevin Johnson quietly had a three-catch day. Andre Davis had a big catch to help the Browns get into the red zone. Quincy Morgan had one catch but was a surprisingly small factor in the game. Andre King was on the field a lot, often as the only receiver, but predictably, the Browns didn't throw to him much.
We saw a lot of three-tight end sets in this game. Sorry to say they weren't very effective. It is interesting to me that the Browns actually used Shaun O'Hara as a tight end and brought in Paul Zukauskas at guard rather than use the regular tight ends at times. Perhaps the Browns have finally come to realize that Aaron Shea is just not a blocker. Shea did have one catch in the game for seven yards. Steve Heiden had two catches, including a very nice 16-yard reception down the middle. He was also the target of the worst of Holcomb's two interceptions. Darnell Sanders played but was not the target of a pass.
Given six plays from inside the three and the team cannot manage a touchdown, that's not a great statement for the offensive line. There were also far too many holding and false start penalties that hurt or killed drives. Given all that, you might think I am crazy, but I felt that the line did pretty well overall. I thought Barry Stokes did a solid job at left tackle. He struggled once or twice, but Holcomb was never sacked. Ryan Tucker did blow a block on third down of the first red zone possession, but he is the best of the lineman and showed it. Jeff Faine hustled to make the tackle on one of the interception returns. As much as I have been on the case of Melvin Fowler, I have to admit that he look pretty good pulling on running plays, and made some nice blocks. He had some real problems with pass blocking, though.
While he wasn't a dominant force, Courtney Brown had a very solid game, including a nice job on the game's only sack. Brown was active and made a difference when he was in the game. Mark Word contributed more here than in the entire preseason, and Kenard Lang nicely blew up a third-and-short play on a run. I think the end rotation was very effective. Brown really helped contain the run.
Then there are the tackles. Orpheus Roye quietly had two tackles and batted down a pass. Alvin McKinley played hard, especially late in the game. Gerard Warren at least got credit for two tackles, but both were downfield after the play was made. Warren had cramps that kept him off the field at the critical point in the game. Warren did not really look different than 2002.
As much as the new linebackers struggled in the preseason, they shone in this game. Andra Davis had eight solo tackles, and that's considering he missed a couple he might have made. Ben Taylor led all defensive players with 11 tackles, a pass defense, and he had a very nice interception on a tipped pass. Kevin Bentley had one three tackles, but he had a very nice interception in the end zone on the opening drive of the game.
If you compare the play of the linebackers to those of last year, there is simply no comparison. Davis and Taylor in particular made a lot of plays, and Bentley didn't have lots of plays, but the one play was a huge one. I particularly liked one tackle of Marvin Harrison where all three linebackers converged on him at once. Yes, they missed plays, like Davis' attempt to collar-tackle Edge James (he did make it work later), but I'll gladly take those learning mistakes when you get the kind of play we got here.
After a shaky preseason, the defensive backs held their own nicely. The one huge busted coverage that allowed Harrison to get wide open in the end zone did not hurt the Browns when Manning's pass was off target. But my favorite part of that play was Robert Griffin's reaction. It showed me he really is taking charge out there. Griffith looked good. He was able to fill the hole, and though he missed one tackle, it looked to me like that was due to the cast on his hand keeping him from wrapping up. Griffith had size tackles. Daylon McCutcheon led the secondary with nine, and he had a good game. Anthony Henry had two tackles and did not get burned like last year's game. Earl Little had two tackles.
Chris Crocker had some problems, but did chip in two tackles. Lewis Sanders did play defense but ended up with only a special teams tackle. Leigh Bodden and Micheal Jameson played on special teams and each made a play.
There isn't much to say here. Chris Gardocki and Phil Dawson were fine, though Dawson could still get more leg into his kickoffs. Dennis Northcutt was quiet. He had one chance for a decent punt return, but muffed the ball and could not get going. Quincy Morgan and Andre King were less than spectacular on kickoff returns. The kickoff coverage team had a few problems. The punt coverage did manage to down a ball inside the five.
After an aggressive preseason, the Browns went conservative. I've got to tell you, I'm really starting to lose faith in Butch Davis for some really bad game-day handling. It isn't the team's inability to finish games that is the problem, it is his inability to finish them! Some of the play calls were just inexplicable, like throwing a swing pass five yards behind the line on third-and-five. The play lost five yards, killing the last Browns' possession.
Even more puzzling were the personnel groupings. If you are the Colts, would you rather see Shea, Heiden, Darnell Sanders, and Shaun O'Hara at the goal line, or KJ, Morgan, and Northcutt? So which did we throw at them? We have all this talent and we leave it on the bench, tort out players with far less talent, then we are surprised that we lost.
Bottom line, you hold Manning, James, and Harrison to nine points, you need to win the game.
I do have to give kudos to Dave Campo for an excellent game plan and getting fantastic production out of our defensive players.
How long before Small Change is on the bench? How long would it take if Chris Palmer had drafted him?
The Steelers wiped out the Bruises, who fell apart on defense of all things. How good are the Steelers? How bad are the Barneys? Everyone says the Bengals are going to be better. They look the same, allowing Jake Plummer to throw three interceptions while they still lose by 20. How smart is it to wear all black on an 80 degree day?
The Browns head to the Land of the Crab Cake to play one final time in front of Mr. I Had No Choice.
The season is short. Bark hard!