Joe's Game Review: Browns 13, Niners 12

Fan Commentator Joe Brownlee undoubtedly has more fun doing reviews of wins than losses. Regardless, Joe still sees a lot that worries him about the Browns. As usual, Joe picks up on a lot of things that were easy to miss watching the game on Sunday. Just in time for lunchbreak, here's Joe's unit-by-unit review...

Good day, Browns fans!


The Browns got their first win of the season, and as usual did it in dramatic fashion. It was an exciting win with some great play by the defense and an offense that finally played one quarter of football the way it should. However, as we look a little deeper into what happened, this team still faces serious issues in all phases of the game, and in my opinion, on the sidelines.

This week we'll go back to the usual position by position look at the game.


Quarterback

Kelly Holcomb had a performance that will long be remembered for a gutsy fourth-quarter rally. Holcomb was beaten to a pulp in the game, yet he somehow gutted it out enough to hang in for a pretty amazing performance. Holcomb's 91-yard drive over 17 plays at crunch time was very nicely executed. Who can complain about 11 first downs in the fourth quarter, including converting all six third downs they team faced.

But let's look a little deeper. Granted, Holcomb had poor protection a lot of times, some strange play calls, and after the first play of the second possession, he was hurt. But Holcomb threw an interception that never should have been thrown. Yes, it was a timing pattern, but Jamel White was blanketed. Holcomb threw a fair number of balls that were too high, practically getting Kevin Johnson killed. On his two touchdowns, one was too low and the other was too high. Andre Davis made nice plays on both balls. Holcomb took some needless sacks, but I wonder if he was gun shy because he was called for grounding.

It looks likely that Holcomb will be on the bench against the Bengals. It will be very interesting to see what comes of that. Holcomb was tough as nails, but he did not play was well as the result would lead you to believe.


Running Backs

William Green led all rushers in the game with 47 yards on 15 carries. Green had a couple of good runs, one going for 10 yards, but overall, it seemed like there wasn't really anywhere to run. The Browns got behind and left little room for a running game. Jamel White had one carry on a draw play on the final drive, but the 49ers strung out a run to the outside for no gain. White caught two passes for 13 yards. One was an effective throw on a third down and six from their own five-yard line. The Browns had one play that I noticed with both Green and White both on the field.

I did not see James Jackson in the game on offense. Kevin McLeod was active for the first time this season, but was not a factor in the game.


Wide Receivers

For the first time this season, the famed Browns wide receiver corps stepped up, and did so without offensive spark plug Dennis Northcutt. Kevin Johnson not only reached a career mark for receptions in a game with 11, but those were some of the toughest catches you will ever see. The fact that the plays only went for 109 yards tells the tale of how the Browns were forced to take the underneath throws the 49ers were giving them. KJ's best and perhaps most critical catch was a beautiful sideline route that went for 19 yards and set up the go ahead touchdown. KJ was leveled in the end zone, but after the obligatory one play out of the game, there was KJ back on the field. Some lament Johnson's lack of speed or size, but he showed why he is such a valuable part of the offense in this game.

Quincy Morgan continues to have a quiet early season. Morgan ended up with two catches, both for 12 yards, but his biggest play was the one he did not catch. A pass interference call on a pass to Morgan set up the first Browns touchdown. My biggest disappointment was the fade to Morgan on the next to the last offensive play. It was right on the money, but the defender knocked it away. Morgan did not really attempt to fight for the ball.

Andre Davis had a day where the stat sheet doesn't really do it justice. He caught five passes for 43 yards, but two of those were touchdowns. The first was a great effort to stretch the ball to the pylon. The second was a fabulous leaping catch to take the lead, the signature play for the game. Davis leaped high over five 49er defenders to make the grab. Another catch went for seven yards on a third and one on the final drive. Yet another was a 21-yard gain to dig the Browns out from their own 15. Davis also had a three-yard run on an end around that did not fool the 49ers. Davis is beginning to show signs that he may wrest the starting nod away from one of the incumbents. Watch out, Mr. Morgan.

Andre King made a big catch to convert a third down on the final drive.


Tight Ends

Tight ends accounted for four catches for 27 yards in the game. Steve Heiden had three of those, and one was a play where he broke a tackle and stretched a dump pass into a nine-yard gain and ducked out of bounds. However, Heiden's terrible blocking in the first half nearly got Holcomb killed. He did better in the second half when they often lined him up next to Holcomb in the backfield. Aaron Shea caught the other pass for two yards. While they started Shea, he seems to be less and less of a factor in the games. Darnell Sanders saw limited action.


Offensive Line

Let's start out with the good. I thought both tackles did a decent job. Barry Stokes is fighting ankle problems of his own, and overall, he did a decent job against a hard-rushing 49er team. Then there is Melvin Fowler. He had probably his worst game of the season. He was getting shoved everywhere and he had a false start on the final drive that made second-and-two into second-and-seven. Shaun O'Hara is doing OK. He also had a false start that put the Browns in a second and long situation. Jeff Faine has got to learn how to snap in the shotgun. This is too weeks in a row where most every snap is low. Some of them are so low they disrupt the play.

Allowing three sacks in this game does not begin to tell the story. Holcomb was constantly harassed all day long, and was hit many times. On many run plays, there was no hole at all. As long as the offensive line struggles, so will the offense and so will the team.


Defensive Line

I thought all of the ends had solid games. Kenard Lang did not make the same number of big plays as a week ago, but five tackles and an active game are good indicators that Lang is over the nagging injuries that plagued him in 2002. Courtney Brown also quietly had a solid game. As usual, he was especially good against the run. Brown had three tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. Mark Word added two tackles and a sack, but he continues to over-pursue on running plays.

The tackles continue to struggle. As usual, Orpheus Roye and Alvin McKinley continue to play hard, but the two of them combined for just three tackles. Gerard Warren had one tackle. That probably overstates his contribution to the game. He just looks like he is taking plays off to me.


Linebackers

Andra Davis once again led all tacklers with 10, his third straight double-digit game. I like his hustle. He also had a pass defensed. It just seems like he needs to be in the right place at times, but overall, I think Davis is off to a fantastic start and he made a huge contribution to this game. Ben Taylor had seven tackles, but he still seemed to be out of position at times. Kevin Bentley had three tackles on defense, but he seemed to be replaced by Barry Gardner in the second half. Gardner had three defensive tackles as well. Overall, Gardner looked a lot better than in the preseason, and unlike Bentley, he seems to be around the plays. But Gardner also had a helmet-to-helmet hit on Jeff Garcia in the fourth quarter that might well have cost the Browns the game. Luckily, after the penalty, the defense held the 49ers on three more plays.

Chaun Thompson saw limited action on defense and managed two tackles. It will be interesting to see if his role expands and if so, how. Brant Boyer also had two tackles in limited duty.


Defensive Backs

Much like the opener, Terrell Owens did catch eight passes, but only for 90 yards. The secondary did a good job of holding the San Francisco receivers without the big play. Nobody really got burned. Anthony Henry had the interception that sealed the game, along with eight tackles. Robert Griffith had six tackles, but he still seems to me like he isn't always wrapping up the opposing player. That might still be because of his hand injury. Daylon McCutcheon also had five tackles. Earl Little had another quiet game, but one of his two tackles was important in holding the 49ers. Interesting that Chris Crocker played at nickel back and had a tackle. Meanwhile, Lewis Sanders did not appear on the state sheet.


Special Teams

This was another less than perfect day for the special teams. Phil Dawson badly missed a 48-yard field goal. Andre Davis fumbled a punt. His kickoff returns were so-so at best. The only good return of the day was reverse where James Jackson picked up 29 yards. I will say that the kick coverage teams did a good job, especially on the kickoff after the go ahead touchdown. Special teams needs some work overall, though.


Coaching

I have to agree with a lot of folks online who are saying that Butch Davis was afraid of Tim Couch coming in and playing well, so he risked Kelly Holcomb's health by putting him on the field when he was obviously hurt. Is a healthy Tim Couch that much of a drop off? I don't think so. This was purely a move to protect his credibility. That is disappointing, even though it turned out great. But the national pundits who are labeling Davis a genius for sticking with Holcomb need to look at the big picture. Was it really worth risking Holcomb when you just released your #3 quarterback?

What will Davis do if Couch plays and plays well against the Bengals? I fully expect that when healthy, Holcomb will return unless Couch really makes a night-and-day improvement. Nevertheless, this could get very interesting.

Some of the play calling seemed a little strange in this game. Is that the doing of Bruce Arians? Or is Butch Davis dictating the strategy here? Facing a hard-charging defense, where were the screens and draws to keep the 49ers honest? The screen had big success for the Browns in the preseason and the Colts game.

I have often criticized the inability of the team to make adjustments. In this game, I noticed two meaningful changes. First, the Browns started keeping a tight end in the backfield in the second half after the 49ers pummeled Holcomb by blitzing in the first half. It made a big difference with Heiden in the backfield and not on the line. Also, the Browns had no answer when the Raisins blitzed two linebackers from one side last week. This week, the 49ers tried the same thing. In fact, the first touchdown was just such a play. The Browns countered by throwing a quick pass to the side the blitzers vacated. Most of them weren't big plays, but it was effective in countering this tactic.

A tip of the cap to Dave Campo for getting his troops ready to play just a week after the debacle in Baltimourge.

Small Change is killing the Browns inside. I don't expect them to do a thing about it.
 

A Salute

To the west coast contingent at the game, I salute each of you. The fourth quarter sounded like a home game for the Browns. Very impressive.
 

The Competition

The Steelers dumped the Bengals 17-10, though the Bengals at least played a fairly reasonable game. The Bruises got a lucky bounce to take an early lead in San Diego. They went on to win the game.
 

Next Up

The Browns return home to face the improved and dangerous 0-3 Bengals. These cats are not the pushovers of the last 12 years. Beware!

The season is short. Bark hard!


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