Joe Brownlee's Game Review

Like most Browns fans, Joe doesn't have a lot of enthusiasm for going over the Ratbird game in detaiil. Instead, Joe offers his take on what he's seen this year that concerns him, and what he hopes the Browns can correct. On-target and objective analysis, as usual, from Joe...

Barneys 33, Browns 13
September 14, 2003 at Embarrassed Sponsor Stadium

Good day, Browns fans!

Like many of you, I am stunned by the poor performance of the Browns on Sunday. This was a clunker of epic proportions, and like many of you, this brought back for me those glory days of 1999 and 2000 where an overmatched team with little talent and no depth had to be grateful to even make a first down or hold a team on any possession. The current team has more talent than that, but a performance like this has me scratching my head.

If you normally read this space, you know that my habit is to break the team down unit by unit. Individual performances really mean little in this game. For example, I can point out that Andra Davis has 14 tackles. He also missed one that led to one of the big runs. So, I'm asking that you indulge me as I talk to you fan to fan.

In the preseason, I began to worry that we were seeing some bad signs. But the players go in and out so much, the schemes are bogus, and teams are trying all kinds of things so that you can't tell much. But when the pundits were saying the Browns would be 7-9, I was saying maybe 6-10. It isn't just the linebackers or the new defense or Holcomb's inexperience. Part of it was the schedule. I felt that September was the key. The Browns had some tough games in the first half of the season, but splitting the first four games would really help the Browns. I felt if the team could reach the bye at 4-4, it would be OK. Maybe even 3-5 might do the job. But I was skeptical they could even manage that. I wondered if the Browns were 2-6 at the bye if the team would give up on Butch Davis and if the fans would give up on the team.

This does not look like a team that can win even six games right now. Playing as it is, with the schedule that looms ahead, 5-11 or worse could be possible. Why do I say that? Many of you will chastise me for giving up on the team too early, and you may be right. Let me give you ten reasons.

  1. The Defense. It is hard to pin the defensive problems on a single player or player group. You don't give up 343 yards rushing without it being a team effort. Funny thing is, Kenard Lang and Andra Davis did play hard. Nearly everyone made a good play at some point. But these guys can't tackle, can't get off a block, and don't finish plays. I am so tired of seeing a player, like usually Small Change, bust into the backfield, get to the quarterback, and not make the sack. Yes, they held the Colts to 9 points, and the team was in the game until midway through the fourth quarter Sunday. But I am tired of excuses. Play football. Hit someone.
  2. The Offensive Line. Losing Ross Verba has hurt. I think that Barry Stokes has been more than adequate filling in at tackle, and I've seen little coverage of the fact he played on a bad ankle Sunday. The radio coverage discussed it (after I turned off the annoying CBS crew and their blatant inaccurate coverage). The problem isn't Stokes. It is Melvin Folwer. He looks good when he pulls, but other than that, the guy can't pass block to save his life. Or more to the point, Holcomb's life. We knew what we had in O'Hara, and he may even be better than last year, but is that enough? And, boy Jeff Faine was awful out of the shotgun on Sunday. Ryan Tucker has been the anchor, but even he whiffed against the Colts and cost a chance to score.
  3. Kelly Holcomb. I admit, I voted for Holcomb, even though it wasn't a landslide in my mind. I'm willing to give him more time, but not a lot more. He has to solve the cover two, and he has to do it now. He can't panic. He has to make accurate throws, especially on the sideline. And he can't keep throwing five yards on third-and-12. I really dislike that he is blaming the rest of the team for the problems. The fact that Holcomb looks just like Couch did tells me the problem is at least as much on the sideline as the field. I might be willing to go 0-4 before I would make a change, but it depends on how we play in the game. Couch best stay sharp. I suspect he will be back in the saddle soon.
  4. The Four Deuces. Already Quincy Morgan is carping to the press about being open and not getting the ball. Butch Davis says he wasn't open. There is a lot of talent here, but who cares if the Browns can't get them the ball? Morgan and Andre Davis have been a non-factor so far. Dennis Northcutt is great as long as he is in a coverage mismatch.
  5. Jamel White. What happened to the quick playmaker we saw a year ago? White seems to have taken lessons at the Eric Metcalf School of Dancing. He did fight for a couple of extra yards Sunday on one play, but the so-called best third down back in the NFL has really been a liability thus far.
  6. Those Tight End-Type Guys. They can't block. They can't catch. They make penalties. They keep our talented receivers off the field. Other than these things, they are great. Aaron Shea never knew how to block and now he forgot how to catch. Steve Heiden has had far too many penalties. Darnell Sanders has been a disappointment to date.
  7. Penalties. I believe the only reason we managed to get away with just seven penalties is because some were declined. Four on special teams alone? These flags just killed drives. They really buried the team in bad field position.
  8. Special Teams Breakdowns. You have 10-yard punts, 40+ yard punt returns, penalties, and you accept a penalty that allows them to use their designated long kicker to make a 56-yard field goal. Your punter tells the radio people he shanked a punt because his black shoes made his feet you're your kicker has some kickoffs that land at the 20. Top that off with your best special teamer, Michael Lehan, going down with an injury. Not good.
  9. Denial. Butch Davis would not admit that the sky is blue. I am tired of his spin doctoring. He tells us Holcomb isn't the problem, Gerard Warren is playing well, our young linebackers are doing great (did Bentley and Taylor play Sunday? Oops, they did), and blah blah blah. The problem isn't with coaching, either, right? The Browns were unprepared in all three phases of the game. After giving up 82 and 63 yard runs, maybe you make some adjustments. Did we see adjustments? No. In the first half, we had two of seven drives that went more than three plays, and only one over four plays. It went six plays. The longest of these drives went 11 yards. Butch, admit it. There are problems with the team. We all see it. Admit it. What are you going to do about it?
  10. Pride. Jamal Lewis says he will break a record. He starts with an 82-yard run on the second play. Does the defense stiffen up? Do we make any adjustments, especially considering how horrible the Prunes are as a passing team? You let them do this to you, it shows a lack of pride in your play.

Given all this, I still have not given up. There is still a chance to salvage things. The team will have to show up Sunday in San Francisco, and that means players and coaches. This is a critical game that will help set the tone for the rest of the year. Lose this one and we could all be in for a very long season.

Next Up

The Browns head to the San Francisco to visit the 49ers for the first time since the Bernie Kosar era.

The season is short. Bark hard!

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