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WHAT I SAW- Browns, Chargers and the Quarter Mark

3-1.

Say it with me. 3-1, 3-1, 3-1 and in first place, 3-1 and in first place. Feels good, doesn't it.

After 4 weeks of the 2001 season, the Browns are sitting atop the AFC Central division and looking not too shabby in doing so. It's fun to be a fan of this team right now so it's important this team remain focused game-to-game and continue their improvement.

Thoughts on the Chargers game...
Wow. I'm not sure what more I can add to that one-word statement. Doug Flutie completed about 4 meaningful passes all game and didn't hurt the Browns with his feet. The pass rush obviously did an exceptional job of maintaining lanes rather than going all-out after Flutie and I think it paid off. RB LaDainian Tomlinson was a non-factor aside from his 50+ yard run in the first drive after the half. The Browns did a nice job of bottling him up most of the day. Greg Spires deserves more playing time, in my opinion. Ditto that for Jammi German on the offense.

The offense looked like they were playing against a very tough, hard-nosed defense... they were. The Chargers threw a lot of blitz packages against the offense and this line did a nice job of picking it up most of the time. The running game wasn't as effective as I'm sure many would like, but that is a talented defense. There are times where you take what you can get and hope it sets up something else.   I've seen many complaints about the 1-yard runs up the middle, but they are essential in setting up the play action passing game by forcing the linebackers to read the run fake first, giving the receivers and tight ends a chance to get behind them. Ricky Dudley had a nice game in part because of this action.

But most importantly, when the time came, Tim Couch was money. On the two scoring drives in the 4th quarter, Couch became a playmaker, relying on Dudley, Northcutt, Dawson and KJ. I haven't seen a pass/catch as pretty as the key third down completion from Couch to KJ on the game-winning drive in many, many years. Perfect pass and great concentration and catch on KJ's part. Unlike the Jacksonville and Seattle games, Butch Davis put this game in the hands of the 1999 #1 overall draft pick and watched his playmakers rise to the top.

Building team confidence continues...

Looking forward...
I keep hearing that this defense is dominating, and each week, they continue to prove they are an effective unit. Dominating? Not sure I would go that far yet, but it is a talented group that will only get better when some of the holes are filled up and some depth added. The eventual return of Courtney Brown will make the defensive line much more effective against the run, allowing more rotation at the DE position and likely at the DT position. It will be interesting to see how Davis and Fazio work the new rotation after Brown returns. Does Orpheus Roye moving inside to rotate at DT? The potential loss of Marcus Spriggs to a re-fractured arm may lead to Roye moving to the inside rotation. Something that will bear watching.

My main concern on defense is depth at the linebacker positions.Right now, Dwayne Rudd and Jamir Miller are staying on the field on passing downs with Miller rushing the QB from a two-point stance at the left end position. If either goes down for an extended period of time, the team will have problems. Otherwise, they are both playing at a very high level.

I think the offense took another step forward in this game and is really starting to get it together. But only starting to. I like Quincy Morgan, but I also believe he would be best served watching some of the others run routes for a while. It just seems like he and Couch are reading from different books at this point. With Northcutt returning from injury, the Browns have several WRs who can contribute while Morgan continues to learn the game. German continues to stick out to me as a real playmaker and someone who could be dangerous with the right opportunity.

Additionally, while Jeremy Mckinney has done a nice job in pass pro, I think the loss of Tre' Johnson is becoming evident in the running game.

The numbers at the quarter mark...
Compared to last season, the Browns are only 1 game better, having been 2-2 after 4 games. So what's the difference?

 

  2001
Browns
2000
Browns
2001
Opponents
2000
Opponents
TOTAL FIRST DOWNS 65 55 63 82
THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS 24/59 (40.7%) 12/47 (25.5%) 15/55 (27.3%) 27/58 (46.6%)
TOTAL OFFENSIVE YARDS 1187 1210 1116 1354
OFFENSE (Plays-Yards per play) 243 - 4.0 216-5.63 242 - 4.0 254-4.94
TOTAL RUSHING YARDS 421 351 407 502
RUSHING (Att- YPC) 129 - 3.3 93/3.77 92 - 4.4 122-4.11
TOTAL PASSING YARDS 766 866 709 874
PASSING (Comp-Att-Int-Avg) 67-114-4-6.72 79-123-3-7.04 78-150-11-4.73 71-132-3-6.62
COMPLETION % 58.77% 64.2% 52.0% 53.8%
FIELD GOALS 8/11 5/6 6/8 6/7
TOUCHDOWNS 7 7 5 10
POINTS SCORED/
POINTS PER GAME
73/18.25 64/16.0 53/13.25 90/22.5
TURNOVER RATIO +4 -1 -4 +1
TIME OF POSSESSION 31:44 28:26 28:17 31:45

Looking at these statistics, what jumps out at me are the figures in bold text. Third down offense and defense have both improved tremendously, aiding in keeping the offense on the field and the defense rested. Couple that with the rushing attempts and the total first downs stats and you can see why the time of possession has turned to the Browns favor. Finally, while the offense is scoring only marginally better than last season, the rested and improved defense is yielding about 9 points  less per game.

So while the records are similar between last season and this season at the quarter mark, the Browns are certainly more competitive. The lone loss this season  was by 3 points to Seattle. The two losses to this point last season were by a combined  63-17 score.

So far, so good...


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