Good day, Browns fans!
Now, that's more like it! For the first time since The Return, the Browns thoroughly dominated an opponent, and managed to keep the lead all the way until the end. It was a great victory in a hostile environment. Admit it though – at halftime, you were saying, "Let's not get too excited yet, we've been here before." I was. I kept waiting for the team to blow it. But they didn't!
You know what I'm about to say, though. In what you find below, we'll look at some good performances by many players. But the Browns still have serious issues to face, and only time will tell if this game was a new norm or an aberration. Without further delay, let's take a look.
Couch has had good games before, such as the home game against the Steelers in 2000. But somehow, this one just seems different to me. Couch threw well with zip on the ball, he made good decisions, and he threw right on target. A 16 for 17 first half, with the lone incompletion a throw away at the goal line is incredible. Really, only the pass that was intercepted was a bad throw. But even the great ones made a bad throw now and again. Couch looked comfortable and in total control. He stood in against pressure, and did you notice that he was actually able to step up more than once? I also loved that he was willing to scramble, something that was a big part of his game in his early years.
My one complaint was locking on to one receiver at times. In a game like this, when the Steelers generated very little pass rush, you can get away with that. And it's hard to know how much to read into this performance since the Steeler defense is reeling right now. Can Couch do it week in and week out? Let's see what he can do in the coming weeks. However, I think Couch is making a statement toward reclaiming the starting job.
William Green had 115 yards, but early on, he was getting stuffed. Green ended the first half with 13 carries for 30 yards. Better than the playoff game, but not by much. But Green came back with 20 carries for 85 yards in the second half, though I will grant that he got a 26-yard run when the Steelers had pretty much given up. Once again, at times, Green burrowed through the defense when there was no hole. I am starting to become concerned that Green goes down at first contact too much. On one play near the goal line, he got through the line, but he bounced off one guy and went down when the end zone was a possibility. Where is that stiff arm we saw last year? But Green was effective on the whole. Green also got five yards on a swing pass.
Jamel White did not seem to be in the game that much despite a lot of long yardage downs (more on that later). On the stat sheet, all he got was one carry for a three-yard loss in the fourth quarter. Another short pass was wiped out by a penalty. James Jackson came almost came in when Green appeared to have twisted an ankle. I wondered if that was a fake, because Green ran for a healthy gain on the next play.
The Four Deuces contributed 15 catches in the game. Dennis Northcutt set the tone on the first drive by tipping a ball to himself on a third down catch. He ended up with a team-high five receptions for 58 yards. Andre Davis added three more for 32 yards, including a 23-yard pick up on the second play and the first Browns touchdown when he was wide open on third and goal. Kevin Johnson had a relatively quiet game, though he did catch a touchdown. He had just three receptions for 20 yards. Quincy Morgan had four catches for 51 yards. Two of those were attempts to run the wide receiver screen that went for a score last week against Cincinnati. One of those went for a short gain, while the other went nowhere. One play set up a goal to go situation on the first drive, a beautifully thrown ball that went for a 32-yard gain. The other was a key play on the final drive of the first half. Morgan twisted a knee and played just a couple of plays in the second half. Morgan caught the ball cleanly this week, something he has done many times the game after he had a big drop. The Browns also tried to run Morgan on an end around on third-and-goal from the two. He got one yard. It was an interesting play call.
Andre King made one catch on the final drive of the first half.
I think the biggest factor in this game was who did not play. I like his hustle and attitude, but the Browns play better without Aaron Shea. He is injured once again, and despite resigning him, I just don't think it makes sense to keep him.
That being said, Steve Heiden had probably his best game of the year. He had two receptions for 30 yards, including an important one on the Browns second drive of the night. He lined up as the fullback at times, and also in the backfield to pick up blitzers. Heiden is no Ozzie Newsome, but with the other receivers, he only has to be competent. In this game, he was. Darnell Sanders lined up on the line a lot of times to block. He also had one reception for six yards. Chad Beasley, a tackle, lined up at tight end from time to time.
After blasting these guys last week, I will give equal amounts of praise this week. The shuffling on the line seemed to lead to confusion last week. That was not the case here. I was astounded at how well the line, tight ends, and backs picked up blitzes. A week ago, the line had not played together and it was chaos. This week, they played like a unit. Sure, the running game struggled, especially early, and the protection wasn't perfect. Jeff Faine inexplicably snapped the ball when Couch was trying to call a timeout. Couch was sacked once, but that was on a third-and-23 play. I thought Barry Stokes did very well on a gimpy ankle, and Ryan Tucker really seems to be settling in at right tackle after a tough year in 2002. It was hard for me to see what Zukauskas did overall, but barring injury, I would stick with this line and see what they can do.
Wow. That's all I can say. Granted, the Steelers have some serious issues on their offensive line. But you have to say that whatever the reason, the Browns disrupted the Steelers. Let's start with Courtney Brown. He had two sacks, one of which forced a fumble he recovered himself! That gives him four for the year already. Brown was disrupting plays and having his way with the Steeler tackles. Gerard Warren actually came up with a sack, but he ended up with just one tackle again. Kenard Lang had a great tackle for loss early, but that was his only tackle of the night. Orpheus Roye had a great game, as he always seems to do against his old team. The stat sheet shows just two tackles and a pass defensed, but Roye was all over the place.
Alvin McKinley had two tackles in limited duty. He was upset about something at one point in the second half and I saw Warren calming him down. Mark Word played a lot, but was a no-show in terms of tackles or other stats.
There is no question that generating pressure up front led to a lot of Steeler mistakes.
Andra Davis had what for him is a quiet game. He had only five tackles. However, a couple of them were key tackles. For example, after a muffed punt, Davis tackled Zeroue on third and one for no gain, forcing a field goal. The guy is turning into a monster in the middle. I can only fault him for missed tackles, including a big one on a pass play that ended up gaining 30 yards rather than ten. Ben Taylor also had five tackles. He is coming along. Kevin Bentley had two tackles, and it looked as if he was actually involved in the game. Brant Boyer had just two tackles, but he is playing very well. The guy is a true field general out there.
Barry Gardner had one tackle in limited chances on defense, but he had another three on special teams. Chaun Thompson had just one tackle on special teams.
Let's start with the corners. Anthony Henry and Daylon McCutcheon, along with Lewis Sanders on passing downs shut down the vaunted duo of Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress. The two combined for just three receptions, with none after halftime. Antwaan Randle El had just three catches for 25 yards, all in the second half. McCutcheon jumped a route on a bad pass and returned the interception 75 yards for a score. He also had a pass defensed. Henry had two passes defensed. Very good work here.
A 69-yard kickoff return by Andre Davis and a 13-yard punt return by Northcutt were the highlights here. After that, the special teams had a lot of problems. Kick coverage was terrible. The Browns were fortunate that a punt return they allowed was negated by a penalty. The Steelers has 156 yards on seven kickoff returns, including a 53-yarder. An extra point was blocked. Dennis Northcutt for some reason tried to handle a punt that went over his head. The muff led to a Steeler field goal.
There were some improvements in the play calling, but the Browns are still running on obvious running downs. Too many times, a run on first down was leaving the Browns in second-and-12 or second-and-15. The interesting thing is, once they got into a third and long situation, the Browns were still able to convert. In fact, the Browns went 7 for 13 on third down. The Browns need to pass more on first down to set up the run.
While the Browns didn't go into the prevent defense or run every play too early, they were far more conservative after half time. The Browns were torching the Steelers with three and four receiver sets. After the half, the Browns were more conservative. Against an opponent that is not shooting themselves in the foot every other play, this could come back to haunt the Browns.
For Dave Campo, I say only that the Steelers were 1 of 11 on third down. Wow.
I already mentioned that the Browns were better off without Aaron Shea in the game. I won't go that far with Quincy Morgan. Still, the Browns were able to pass effectively without Morgan in the lineup.
It is good to see just two penalties after the debacle last week. The Browns have to continue to play mistake free. Meanwhile, the Steelers killed themselves with stupid penalties. Accepting a penalty on a kickoff allowed Andre Davis to get another chance and a 69-yard return. In another case, accepting a penalty wiped out taking over at their own 39, and instead, they started at their own 22. A penalty on a third-and-short play made a longer distance and the Steelers ended up punting. In another case, they were going to go on fourth and short, and jumping offside forced them to punt instead. It was nice to see the opponent making all the dumb mistakes for a change.
Butch Davis is hinting Couch will go next week against Oakland. I agree. Don't risk Holcomb's health, and right now, Couch has the hot hand.
Once again people are calling this "The Win That Saved The Season". While I totally agree that the season was on the brink, the thing that will save the season is winning the next two at home when the Browns host Oakland and San Diego. The Browns really need both of those games.
This was a great victory. The question is whether the team can reproduce this success against other teams, and especially at home. If the Browns can dominate the Raiders and Chargers as they did the Steelers, then we are talking.
The Barneys were off. The Bengals dominated the first half against Buffalo, but had just six points to show for it. They ultimately lost in overtime.
The season is short. Bark hard!