Good day, Browns fans!
The Browns defeated the Raiders in Cleveland for the first time ever. In fact, it was only the fifth win in 14 tries over the Raiders at any location. This was a tough game to get a read on. Some very encouraging things happened. Some things happened that leave me with the impression that playing a less aged, less injured team would have led to a very different outcome. Let's examine each unit to see which is which.
Tim Couch had his poorest game numbers-wise since taking over for the injured Holcomb. He completed 16 of 26 passes for only 127 yards. He also forced the ball a few times. One was intercepted, but it was a free play and Couch might have taken a chance on that one. But at least three other throws could have easily been intercepted. The longest pass play of the day was only 17 yards. But on the other hand, Couch also played smart. The Browns didn't need a big passing day, and in the second half in particular, the Browns were able to turn things over to the running game. I did like some plays such as Couch avoiding a sack and throwing down the sideline, and another where Couch caught his own pass. He was trying to make things happen by doing something other than forcing the ball. These are things Couch did more in his early years and it is good to see them again. I guess if you can win with just 127 yards passing, you take it.
I personally thought Couch didn't have a great day. It wasn't horrible, either. He did what it took to win. That's the bottom line.
William Green had the first back-to-back 100 yard rushing games since Kevin Mack did it in 1986. He ended up with 26 carries for 145 yards. Things got off to a rough start, with the running game not gaining a whole lot, and then with Green fumbling on the Browns' fourth play. That fumble led to a Raider touchdown, and the way the game developed, the Browns might well have shut them out without this gaffe. Green seemed to me to be going down easily again at first. But, as often happens, as the defense tired, Green was able to pick up 99 yards on 15 carries after halftime. The Browns had nine – that's right – nine first downs rushing in the second half of the game. Green did a better job as the game wore on of not going down at first contact, and as the holes opened up, he made a lot of yards.
Jamel White had some playing time early. He caught three passes for 30 yards, including a 17-yard and a 13-yard gain to convert third downs. On one, he was short of the sticks and broke a tackle to get there. White also had one carry for no gain during the two-minute drill at the end of the first half, and had another positive carry wiped out by a penalty. I've wondered if White has been healthy, and if that has been part of the problem. White still danced around some (and in fact, so did Green), but this was his best effort to date. Unfortunately, because the Browns went to more of a running attack after halftime, White did not get on the field much.
James Jackson spelled Green on the final Browns drive and had one carry for three yards. While Jackson isn't on par with Green, I worry that the Browns have had Green carry the ball 59 times the last two games. That will take its toll over time. If the Browns used Jackson on a series earlier in the second half, it might keep Green fresh for the stretch run of the game.
The Four Deuces were held to just 11 receptions for the game. Kevin Johnson
alone had that many in San Francisco. For a strength of the team, these aren't
good numbers. Worse, Andre Davis and Dennis Northcutt had 17-yard receptions and
these were the longest pass plays of the day. The Browns had only four
receptions total in the second half, in part because of a run-oriented offense,
and Northcutt and Quincy Morgan had all of those for a total of just 39 yards.
Northcutt led the team with five receptions for just 54 yards. However, two of
those were big third-down conversions. He had two more receptions wiped out by
penalties. He also had a nice eight-yard run to convert a third down. Quincy
Morgan had three catches, including two of those wide receiver screen plays that
went nowhere. Note to Bruce Arians: the other teams all saw the Cincinnati game
and the surprise factor is gone. Maybe bigger were the catches Morgan did not
make. Even his ten yard catch was once again being juggled. Kevin Johnson made
two tough catches for just 17 yards. Andre Davis caught just one for 17 yards on
a nice play.
As Butch Davis himself pointed out, Aaron Shea's injury gets the Browns more size on the field at the tight end position. Overall, I think that is making a difference in the running game in particular, but it is going to take some time. No tight end caught a pass. Steve Heiden had a great chance when Tim Couch somehow scrambled out of what looked to be a sure sack and threw to Heiden behind the entire defense. He dropped it. I was thinking on that play what a difference it would make if the Browns had a tight end that had some real talent. Darnell Sanders had a holding penalty that wiped out a run for a first down. Chad Mustard got in the game as a blocker as well.
I would have liked to have seen a play action pass to one of the tight ends
on the final drive, but if I am calling the plays, I'm not sure I risk it with
this bunch. Somebody needs to step up here.
After a so-so beginning, the line really started making some strides in the second half. Paul Zukauskas had two holding penalties in the game, and both wiped out first down conversions. While I get really upset with that, Zukauskas has little game experience and you have to let him play through it. He also got rolled up on late in the first half and had to leave the game briefly. Overall, though, I think Zukauskas is making a lot of improvement from some of the really poor play he showed in the preseason. He looks much better. Barry Stokes continues to tough out his ankle problem. Remember last year when Ryan Tucker jumped offside constantly? Now he is the best man on the line. Jeff Faine continues to come along and is starting to show that mean streak we've wanted to see. Shaun O'Hara was moving out ahead of the plays nicely. When Zukauskas had to leave the game, the Browns brought in Chad Beasley at right guard. Talk about a turnstile. Lucky Zukauskas came back into the game, because Beasley was terrible.
In the second half, the line did a really good job. On that final possession, the Browns took over with 7:54 left at their own six yard line. The Raiders knew the Browns would run. The Browns did run – nine plays in a row. Those plays gained 14, 20, 6, 10, 6, 3, 2, 4, and 1 yard. Even the shovel pass to Northcutt was a glorified running play. I think the drop off in yardage is more from Green getting gassed than anything else. I can't remember a run-it-down-their-throat drive like this one since the days of Kevin Mack.
As I said last week, this line needs time to play together. This was the kind of dominating performance they can build on and gain confidence. In fact, I'll go as far as to say that this possession might be a defining moment in this season. We may look back at it as the time when the offensive line turned things around. The next step is to do the same thing in the first half of a game, and to open some holes on first down.
Let me start by saying the defensive line did some really good things. But against an offensive line made up of essentially all backups, I think this was an underachieving performance. Courtney Brown continued his strong play, including yet another sack and a forced fumble. He also batted down a pass and had three tackles. Brown now has five sacks on the year. He is making a huge difference disrupting the opposing team. Now what he needs is some company. The only other linemen who I thought played consistently well were Orpheus Roye and Alvin McKinley. Both had five tackles. Roye in particular really moved well to the outside, as usual.
Despite Randy Cross fawning over him on TV, Gerard Warren was inconsistent again. I'll grant you that Warren did come up with three tackles. There were times that he pushed someone around. But the play that was highlighted on TV was a great example of why Warren is ineffective. Sure, he pushed his man back eight yards. He also went right past the quarterback and took himself out of the play. Warren had a chance at a sack and let Gannon escape. I'll give Warren some credit for hustling on a couple of scrambles. Kenard Lang had two tackles but had a pretty quiet game overall. Mark Word batted down a pass.
Pressure up front was there at times and made a difference, but there has to be some pass rush coming from other than just Courtney Brown.
Have I mentioned that I love the hustle of this group? Once again, They led the team in tackles, but this time it was Ben Taylor with 12 tackles, including a whopping seven in the second half. Andra Davis contributed another eight tackles in what was for him a relatively quiet game. Kevin Bentley had three tackles, including perhaps his best play of the season other than the interception against the Colts. The best thing is these guys are making tackles nearer the line and keeping the number of plays making it into the secondary low. I wonder how much poor linebacker play contributed to all of the injuries in the secondary the last two years by exposing them to too many hits?
Once again, you have to give credit to the secondary. They have shut down Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Hines Ward, and Plaxico Burress. In this game, they secondary held the duo of Jerry Rice and Tim Brown to just four catches for a total of 33 yards, with no catches in the first half. The Raiders' leading receiver, Doug Jolley, caught just three passes for 20 yards. The longest pass play of the day was a 32-yarder to Whitted that probably should have been broken up. Both Robert Griffith and Anthony Henry led the secondary with four tackles each. Griffith broke up a pass, and Daylon McCutcheon broke up two. Earl Little did not have a tackle, and he had a ball I still don't know how he did not intercept.
Chris Crocker is still learning the game. He had one tackle, but overall, I haven't been that impressed. He doesn't seem to be in good position much of the time. Lewis Sanders had just one tackle and was out the game at crunch time with cramps. Michael Lehan was pressed into service and ended up having to cover Tim Brown one-on-one. He stayed with him, but had bad position. Luckily, the ball was overthrown. Lehan did get credit for a tackle.
Let's start with the kickers. They certainly did their regular jobs. Phil Dawson had two field goals on a very windy day. He had some good kickoffs with the wind. Chris Gardocki dropped three punts inside the 20 that made a huge difference in field position. But of course, the key play of the game was a beautifully executed fake field goal that allowed Dawson to run 14 yards on fourth and six. Gutsy call and excellent execution, even if Dawson is really slow.
Beyond that, the return teams continue to struggle, in part due to penalties. Of six penalties against the Browns, three were on special teams. Chaun Thompson had two, and Kevin Bentley had another. Thompson's penalty on the opening kickoff took the Browns from their own 31 back to the 14. Bentley's penalty wiped out an 18-yard punt return by Northcutt and pushed the Browns from the 43 back to their own 15. How much did these killer penalties do to keep the Browns from putting up more points? Speaking of Northcutt, he looks like he is doing the Eric Metcalf dance routine. If he runs forward, as he did on the 18-yard return, he has success. A block or two wouldn't hurt. The coverage teams are really having problems right now.
Give Butch Davis and the staff credit for a great call on the fake field goal. They had done their homework and it worked. Had it not worked, they would have had the Raiders deep and the defense was playing an outstanding game. I like taking a reasonable chance in a game like this. I also thought Davis made the right call on his challenge of the spot of the ball right before the two minute warning. I don't see how the call was upheld.
Bruce Arians at least attempted a pass on the first play of the game for a change. But still, running on 19 of 36 first down plays in the game is just too predictable. The Browns have to mix things up more, not necessarily in terms of what is being called but when it is being called. It's time to put the wide receiver screen on the shelf for a few games. Also, with the opposition often clogging up the middle, I really wanted to see some draw plays or a screen. I know Stokes can't move out well right now on his ankle, but some plays like that would take some heat off Couch. It wouldn't hurt to have a reliable receiving option at tight end, either. That would open up the middle somewhat. I'd also like to see Green and White both on the field more than once per game.
Dave Campo deserves a lot of credit. Not only is the defense playing at a level nobody would have predicted, I think they are really starting to understand the scheme. Did you notice that not one of the seven penalties (six accepted) on the Browns came on defense? Granted, the Browns didn't have their best day of the season against the run, though 90 yards total isn't bad. The Browns gave up a lot of yards on the Raiders' final drive, but they did not go to a three-man rush. One thing you have to applaud is the opponent's third-down conversion rate. The Browns held the Raiders to just 3 of 12, and only one third down converted in the entire second half, and that came on a third-and-one on the final drive. That's just 4 of 23 in the last two games. This had been a sore point for the Browns since The Return. It has consistently been much better this season.
You have to love a win, but a questionable fourth down play away from potentially losing to an aging and badly injured opponent, and needing a fake field goal to do it isn't exactly the convincing follow up to the performance in Pittsburgh that I was hoping for. I'll still take it.
This was an important win, and a necessary win. Before the season, I was guessing that the Browns would be 3-3 at this point, but I guessed a different set of outcomes to get there. I see this week's game against San Diego as another must-win. After that, the schedule will be very difficult. The Browns will travel to New England, take a bye, travel to Kansas City, host Arizona, re-match the Steelers at home, make the long trip to Seattle to face a tough Seahawk team, host the Rams on Monday night, then travel to Denver. This part of the schedule is brutal and it will prove what kind of team the Browns have.
It may come down to those final two games against the Bruises and Bengals to see if the Browns can get to the playoffs again. In the short term, the next two games are absolutely critical to put the Browns in a position to make any kind of run at all.
The Steelers saw their late comeback thwarted as they lost 17-14 at Denver. The Barneys did not manage an offensive touchdown and still dispatched the Cardinals.
The Browns face their old friend Marty Schottenheimer and the winless – and therefore dangerous – San Diego Chargers.
The season is short. Bark hard!