Each season, it's very hard not to overreact one way or another to the Browns first pre-season game. After watching the team go against one another in training camp, it's our first chance as fans to evaluate the teams' strengths and weaknesses in live action against another team. My excitement leading up to this game was quickly subdued, as the Browns struggled in nearly all aspects of the game against a Titan team that displayed better depth and overall talent than our beloved Browns.
While I'm not ready to press the panic button, several of the same weaknesses of the '03 team reared their ugly heads Saturday night. The most notable problem areas were the offensive guards and the overall tackling and defensive technique.
I think Saturday's game will provide a wake up call for a Browns team that has been outwardly confident and optimistic about their '04 prospects. I will be watching the Lions game this coming Saturday with a keen eye, looking for improvement in many of the areas that disappointed me last night. While it was clear who the more dominant team in nearly all phases was, this could have easily been a very close football game had the Browns been able to convert in the red zone at the ends of each half.
I taped the game, and had a chance to watch that tape this morning. I reviewed several plays four or five times, trying to find the breakdowns... and often pausing the play at the point of impact in the hopes of being able to get a better sense of the happenings in the trenches, a glaring area of weakness for this franchise since their return to the league in 1999.
Our mechanics were again very poor defensively, which was disconcerting considering how much time has been spent on improving mechanics in camp. I still am a firm believer in Dave Campo, and believe that he will use this game tape to help reinforce how much we still need to improve as a tackling team before facing Crackmore and reputed felon Jamal Lewis in the opener on September 12th.
Here's my review, by position, of the 24-3 loss to the Titans:
- I like our trio of quarterbacks. But they are at the mercy of their protection, and their receivers' ability to separate, both areas this team has been poor at for the last five years.
- Hard to evaluate Garcia, as he had no chance. On his passes, the interior of the line was quickly pushed back into him.
- Holcomb and McCown both looked pretty good, though both had better protection than Garcia.
- Green and Suggs both looked great. Quick, strong, and decisive. Both have the talent to be top backs in this league.
- James Jackson also looked good. Was this a showcase game for him? Does he have any trade value?
- I wanted to see more Nick Maddox, but it appeared the team may have been showcasing JJ for a potential trade.
- Look for the team to try and use Green and Suggs together often this year in the hopes of trying to force defenses to pay attention to both and open things up in the pass game. If we truly are as limited on the OL as it appears, the team will need to use the duo together as well as the presence of KW2 to try and create single coverage opportunities for the wide receivers in the short pass game.
- Both Terrelle Smith and Corey McIntyre were effective, and helped the run game. It's nice to see a fullback in the mix. McIntyre has skipped Ben Miller in the competition for the backup fullback job, and it's likely the Browns will keep two fullbacks. And no, Aaron Shea is not a fullback in any sense of the word.
- Did Winslow look good in a Browns uniform! The kid is in amazing shape and has guns for arms. He reeks of greatness. I'm glad he got that unsportsmanlike call, as he needs to realize how badly those hurt the team. Didn't get a real chance to evaluate him as a blocker, which I will watch closely over the next month. He will need to be an effective blocker for this team as he will be on the field a lot in running situations as a decoy.
- Heiden was his usual solid self, minus the bonehead play where he lined up wrong and denied us a TD (which he ended up catching). Was solid in the run game as a blocker, showed an ability to get open. We could do a lot worse at the second TE spot.
- Because of his size, blocking ability, and potential to help us in short yardage situations (where we were abysmal last year) … I would love to see Chad Mustard make this team. It was nice to see him snag a couple balls late.
- Other tight ends were non-descript in all areas.
- Though it's hard to evaluate on tape, it appeared the Browns receivers struggled in their ability to create separation.
- The receivers all blocked very well in the run game. Very well. One of the brightest spots of the game to me. In many cases, their blocks allowed our runners to pick up extra yards at the ends of runs.
- Andre King looked crisp, but he has to stop the ridiculous celebrations after routine catches when we are down by double digits. As a Browns fan, it's embarrassing to me.
- Let's start with the positives. Joaquin Gonzalez had a phenomenal game. Sealed off the edge consistently in his pass blocking, opened several holes for JJ in his run blocking. Gonzalez looked very good.
- Zukauskas also looked good on multiple occasions in opening holes in the run game, and he was brought in quickly at LG after DeMar's early struggles. Still, Paul is a streaky player that has lapses, especially in his pass blocking … where he was pushed back into the QB several times.
- Our guards are still a huge weakness. Garmon showed me little to nothing. Both he, Zuk, and DeMar were consistently pushed back in their pass blocking by the first team Titan defense. This is a huge concern of mine, and an area the Browns should have addressed more aggressively in the off-season. Beasley played little against the first team Titan defense and did little to impress me when he was in the game in the 2nd and 3rd quarters.
- The Browns need to teach someone else to play backup center. Melvin Fowler again showed he is just not strong or powerful enough to deal with above average DT's in this league. If he makes this team, I will be horrified.
- Kenard Lang and Orpheus Roye were both non-factors, and the Tennessee OL had their way with them. Have these two already played their best football? We desperately need solid seasons from this duo. I may be overreacting here.
- Gerard Warren was active, was also held on several plays. He looked better to me out there. I'm optimistic that Gerard will have by far his best season this year.
- The DE's as a whole just could not shed a block to save their lives last night. No creative type spin or swim moves, and little factor all night. They were just ridden exactly where the Titan OT's wanted to move them.
- Did Ebenezer Ekuban play? I saw him just a couple times and he was a non-factor.
- Mark Word may be the best pure pass rusher on this team, but still is brutal against the run. Anytime he has to change direction or fight through blocks laterally, he struggles.
- Cedric Scott had a chance to take down Gesser for a 10-12 yard sack, but his mechanics were terrible, as he took a bad angle and allowed Gesser to escape and scramble for several yards on a play called back by penalty eventually.
- I was disappointed that Corey Jackson did not make more of an impact. He's a guy that has really impressed me at camp. Is the talent in NFL Europe that poor? Claybrooks as well.
- Ben Taylor was atrocious. Missed several tackles, poor mechanics, looked too small and slow and not strong enough to compete at this level as a starter.
- Warrick Holdman was also a complete non-factor. Was pushed around and out of position. This is a guy that dominated three seasons ago. We need him to get back there.
- Andra Davis is one of our best players, and without a doubt our best linebacker, but even he struggled to fill holes last night. Andra will be OK though.
- Kevin Bentley is not a starter in this league. We desperately need Chaun Thompson to get back soon, and become an impact player for this team. Chaun is quickly becoming, in my view, one of the most important players for this '04 Browns team.
- It's also very hard to evaluate DB's on game tape you get from the regular television feed. One thing I will say is that I am not worried whatsoever about our cornerbacks, assuming we will eventually be able to get some pressure on the opposing QB. Cutch is solid, had a bad day, that's all. On the TD Henry gave up, he was right there, and arguably pushed.
- Crocker and Jameson were active and played well, but are they good enough to ever be starting safeties in this league? Crocker intrigues me, but he looks smallish out there.
- Frost was solid, he has the leg up on Dutton, and is the least of my worries this season.
- Kudos to Dawson for drilling the 50-yarder and averting the shutout. Dawson is one of the more underrated kickers in football in my opinion.
- There were lapses by Gardner and Crocker on the one kick the Titans took back towards midfield, but other than that I thought the coverage units were OK in their limited work.
- Return teams were non descript.