Joe's Game Review: Titans 24, Browns 3

As the only Browns site that actively seeks out and promotes fan opinions, we ask only one thing of our commentators: Tell the complete truth as you see it. Joe Brownlee does, as you can tell by his review of last Saturday's initial pre-season game...

Good day, Browns fans!

The Browns opened the preseason with a thud in Nashville. It's hard to know how seriously to take a defeat like this in the first preseason game, but the Browns appeared overmatched, and many of the same problems that plagued the 2003 team appeared again. While I realize it is early, I also recognize that the rose colored glasses of the last several preseasons made it easy to ignore problems that continued throughout the season. Frankly, I expected the defense to be ahead of the offense and for there to be problems with rustiness, young players not knowing what to do, and so forth. In my opinion, this goes beyond that.

Two things may put some of this in context. In preparation for the game, I watched the 2003 finale at Cincinnati. I have also watched much of the first half play by play, isolating on linemen or other players on both sides of the ball to the extent that you can do so from TV coverage. Given how this game went, I'm going to offer some positional observations rather than comment on every individual player.

Quarterback

It was very difficult to evaluate Jeff Garcia when he takes a three-step drop and already has no pocket. I'll say this, though, the guy is tough. He tried to step up to elude the rush but he had no lane to step up through. I am looking forward to seeing him in meaningful action.

Kelley Holcomb was the typical preseason Holcomb, solid if unspectacular. His numbers were good, and his 8 of 12 passing could have been better if receivers could hang onto the ball. Holcomb had more time behind the #2 line. I did see him noticeably going through his progressions, but didn't really see much in terms of looking off receivers. Luke McCown showed enough that I am anxious to see more. He seemed poised for a rookie and throws a nice looking ball. At garbage time, he threw an interception to end a touchdown scoring threat.

Running Backs

You really can't complain here. William Green had two runs of over 10 yards and Lee Suggs had one in very limited action. Suggs also caught a screen pass. James Jackson was the workhorse with the second team, and did some nice things. On one play, he was bottled up along the sideline by a linebacker for no gain, but bulled past him for a gain of eight yards. All of the backs did a lot of outside running, so it's hard to talk much about hitting the hole. Dee Brown was fairly disappointing, but I was not optimistic about him given how he has bounced around. Nick Maddox also got a carry.

Terrelle Smith is the real deal at fullback. He slams hard into the line and had some nice blocks. Corey McIntyre played most of the rest of the game and I'm looking forward to seeing more of what he can do. If Ben Miller got in, I missed it.

Wide Receivers

The top three guys saw limited action. Andre Davis made a catch and had some nice blocks on the outside. Dennis Northcutt had an end around play go for a short gain and caught a pass. One was called back that would have given the Browns a third-and-one. Quincy Morgan caught a pass, but dropped one that would have converted a third down. He also failed miserably on a block that would have sprung Northcutt on his end around play.

Among the reserves, Andre King did some nice things, but the play that will stand out is his drop of a touchdown pass on fourth down. In his defense, he was decked and suffered a mild concussion on the play. Frisman Jackson saw a lot of playing time, but didn't do much. He did get an offside penalty. CJ Jones also played a lot. He didn't wow me like last year. Richard Alston showed that his play last preseason and in NFL Europe was no fluke, catching three passes. Shame of it is, he may not make the roster anyway.

Tight Ends

This wasn't a great debut for Kellen Winslow. On one early blocking assignment, he was on the ground within one second of the snap. On another play as a decoy, he drew no attention whatsoever in the flat. He did catch a pass, but that was at the quarter change so the coaches could be sure he knew the play. His most noticeable play resulted in a personal foul. Evidently, Winslow had tangled with the DB in question on an earlier play. Winslow had the players face mask with both hands, and when the player objected, Winslow took a swing at him. Clearly, Winslow initiated the trouble on that particular play. The penalty wiped out Northcutt's catch and instead of third-and-one it became third-and-16.

Among the others, Heiden saw a lot of playing time and actually did a decent job. He blocked better than I remember in the past, especially on the outside. He caught a TD pass, but he also negated it by lining up behind the line instead of on it. The Browns ended up with no points on that possession. Darnell Sanders also played a lot. He was little factor in the passing game, and in fact failed to catch a pass that was right to him. Aaron Shea saw some action. Chad Mustard made three nice catches at the very end of the game to help the Browns set up a potential scoring chance.

Offensive Line

Folks, there isn't much to say here but that the line is a shambles. Before you object that the Browns ran for 50 yards against the Titans #1 defense, I will point out that all three big runs by Green and Suggs went outside the tackles and to the right. In each case, the defensive line of the Titans ended up clogging up the middle of the field and the run beat DBs or linebackers on the outside. If you watch the plays, you'll find that the tight ends, fullback, and wide receivers did more to help those runs than the line did.

The pass blocking was especially poor. First offensive play, Garcia takes a short drop to pass. Garmon waves at his man going straight into the backfield. Third play, Garcia takes a short drop, the Titans stunt. The line looks unable to cope. Faine ends up blocking nobody. Even Verba and Tucker had some problems here and there.

For my money, Faine looked the best of anyone, consistently handling his man and pushing them either past the QB on passes or downfield on runs. Verba and Tucker were OK. Garmon lived up to his billing. He is decent on running plays (but even there, not perfect), but flat out terrible on passing plays. Enoch DeMar didn't embarrass himself, but when Zukaskas came in with the #1 line, things got better. He is clearly ahead of DeMar right now.

The backup lines did better, perhaps because of playing the Titans' backups. I did note that Melvin Fowler was playing with the #3 line. The second unit did better than the third.

Defensive Line

There was no pressure on McNair or Volek, and the Titans pretty much ran at will. I didn't feel any of the starters had a good game. Courtney Brown showed maybe a little more than the others. The Browns did shift Brown inside on obvious passing downs and brought in Ekuban at end. With the Titans buried deep, Brown ripped off an 18-yard run. On that play, Lang over-pursued and everyone else was caught inside. Even the backups didn't do much. The only player on the line I thought had a good game was Michael Myers. He had a sack and a tackle. Mark Word showed some effort, too.

I wondered if maybe this was a case of the veterans coasting a little, but based on Warren's comments, it doesn't appear that way. There is a lot of work to do here.

Linebackers

When Andra Davis is missing tackles, you know you are in trouble. He had plenty of company. In his defense, Davis probably had the best game among the linebackers, even if it wasn't up to what we've seen from him in the past. I didn't see Holdman do anything of consequence, or Bentley for that matter. What is wrong with Ben Taylor? He missed tackles, overran plays, and looked terrible. Barry Gardner is a better special teamer than defensive player, and he isn't that great on special teams. Sherrod Coates saw a fair amount of playing time as well. Eric Westmoreland was also in the game.

Once again, it's hard to say much positive when the opposing team runs on you like Tennessee did.

Defensive Backs

Daylon McCutcheon had an interception on a deflected pass. From there, his night went downhill, drawing a 45-yard pass interference penalty and getting burned for a TD. At least he was burned by the veteran Mason, while Anthony Henry was burned by the rookie out of Akron. Ouch. Earl Little did nothing. Robert Griffith did make the tackle on the 18-yard run. Hey, better than a 70-yard run, right?

The backups were interesting. Chris Crocker looked improved. He did draw a penalty, but I'm looking forward to seeing more from him. Of the backups, Ricky Sharpe showed a lot of hustle. He always seemed to be around the ball. I was hoping Roosevelt Williams would show more, and Michael Lehan did not play.

Special Teams

Phil Dawson boomed the 50-yard field goal for the only points of the night. Derrick Frost had a pretty good night with three punts inside the 20. CJ Jones had a decent kickoff return killed by a penalty. Beyond that, the coverage teams struggled. On one exchange, the Browns kicked off and had a reasonable stop. Someone was offside and on the re-kick, the Titans got a 41-yard return. Dennis Northcutt did nothing n punt returns.

Coaching

This team didn't look ready to play. When it is across the board like this was, you have to question coaching. Granted, in the preseason, you don't game plan and all that. Either this team was flat or the coaching staff must be masters of game planning to get the team to compete at all last year.

I really didn't like the "fatherly talk" Butch Davis had with Winslow after his cheap shot. He deserved to be yanked from the game for making a bonehead mistake like that, rookie or not. I suppose we can look for Winslow to get a free pass from Davis as some of his other high draft picks have enjoyed in the past. In this case, though, Winslow is a loose cannon, and Davis best beware. Better to get control of this now.

I've read over and over how the Browns lack talent. National publications say we don't have anyone in the NFL's top 100 players, or more recently, that we have just two in the top 200. At times I've thought that the reason for this was that the national media simply doesn't see the Browns' players. Then you see a game like this one. With no game planning and vanilla schemes, the Titans outclassed the Browns. To me, that speaks of a talent gap.

Before we completely panic, there were a few bright spots. Hopefully, the defense had a clunker game and will bounce back at home after this poor showing. On the other hand, problems on the offensive line seem to me beyond the point where chemistry will make a significant difference. Garmon has huge problems in the passing game that made him a casualty from perhaps the only NFL line worse than this one. Zukaskas may be the class of the LG candidates, but he probably is a backup on most NFL lines. The problems in the secondary are worrisome, especially if the line gets no pressure as it did through most of 2003.

All reports were Butch Davis was pretty down after the game. I don't think he expected this kind of performance. Maybe that's a good sign indicating that the team just didn't play as well as it could. On the other hand, Davis and his staff may be looking at too tall an order to right this ship before the opener September 12. If the team plays at the level they showed here in the regular season, the Browns will be vying for the top pick in the draft in 2005.

Next Up

The Browns open the home preseason against the Lions on Saturday.

The season is short. Bark hard!


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