Browns 17, Lions 10: Preseason Game Review
August 21, 2004 at Cleveland Browns Stadium
Good day, Browns fans!
This game was unquestionably an improvement over the dismal showing the team had in Nashville the previous week. However, there is still a lot of work to be done. Once again, I've watched some of the line play player by player on video. We'll take the usual look at the team by position.
Jeff Garcia had enough time week to make a meaningful contribution to the game. Things did not start out well, though.
Garcia and Jeff Faine could not make the exchange and the Lions recovered the fumble on the third offensive play. After that, though, Garcia settled down and showed some great things. First, Garcia has been lobbying for plays that get him on the move. The very first play was a nice rollout pass to tight end Steve Heiden for 12 yards. Garcia had to move around from time to time due to protection breakdowns.
Garcia only completed five of seven passes, but a couple were excellent plays. He got the ball to Quincy Morgan on a fourth and eight play when Morgan had two defenders near him. The best play had to be the one to Kellen Winslow that converted a third and 13 and set up the first touchdown. On that play, Garcia actually looked off the safety, something we haven't seen in Cleveland since the Kosar era. Garcia is tough and smart, and if he can get some protection, things could get interesting.
After a solid performance against the Titans, Kelley Holcomb was the QB that struggled this week. Though he went four of six, Holcomb's time in the game was marred by a fumble on a handoff and penalties. Add to that the fact that the #2 line really struggled, and it's hard to say much that is meaningful about Holcomb in this one. I did see him noticeably going through his progressions, but didn't really see much in terms of looking off receivers. Luke McCown had another promising outing, completing three of five passes late in the game. Unfortunately, with the Browns ahead, McCown's time in the game was spent doing a lot of running. He throws a nice looking ball.
Top to bottom, this crew really did an impressive job.
It starts with Lee Suggs. For the third straight time (including the Buffalo scrimmage) Suggs made the most of his time in the game. His six carries for 63 yards included touchdowns of eight and 15 yards, and a great cutback run for 25. Suggs continues to impress with his vision.
William Green might have been overshadowed a little due to Suggs' numbers, but he was no slouch, either. Green ended with six carries for 24 yards, including a conversion of a fourth and 2 that led to the second Browns touchdown.
Green was involved in the handoff from Holcomb that was fumbled. It seemed to me like Green was trying to run before getting the ball, but that's hard to back up. Green was also hampered by one series behind the #2 line.
James Jackson had another strong performance, perhaps showcasing his abilities for potential trades. Jackson's four runs for 15 yards were hampered by problems with the #2 line, but he had a very nice 11-yard run. He also caught two passes for 17 yards. Jackson looks fast. Nick Maddox helped run out the clock. He had just 11 yards on four carries, but one went for eight yards plowing right up the middle. That run assured the Browns would kill the clock. I thought Dee Brown had the poorest showing, running for just 21 yards on nine carries.
Terrelle Smith did not seem to be in quite as much as in the last game, but he had a couple of good blocks including one on the fourth and two play (though Green didn't follow him). He also made a nice catch to help Garcia on a play where he was on the run. I didn't notice as much of Corey McIntyre as last week, but he was in the game quite a bit. Ben Miller was in the game late, and then mostly as a tight end.
The wide receivers didn't play a huge part in this game, so there won't be a lot to say here. I'm not sure if this is by design because the Browns are evaluating the running game and the tight ends, or if it is because the protection won't let the team go down field. However, Quincy Morgan did have a good game. His one catch was for nine yards on fourth and eight. The fact that it was past the sticks does seem to indicate progress for the Browns offense as opposed to prior years. Perhaps more impressive was the crack-back block he threw on a tight end to allow Suggs to run 15 yards untouched for his second TD. Andre Davis had a nice block on a play, but didn't catch a pass. I don't believe he was thrown to. Dennis Northcutt was the only receiver to catch two passes for a meager 16 yards.
It's hard to evaluate the players further down the roster because they just didn't get thrown to for the most part. The backup offensive line threw a wrinkle into the passing game. The only backups to catch passes were Richard Alston (a nice catch for 11 yards) and Andre King (one pass for four yards). Frisman Jackson and C. J. Jones both saw action. The Browns will have to make a point to work them in to give them a look.
One final note: the Lions did not play any of their starters in the secondary, making these anemic numbers by the wide receivers even more questionable.
After a tough debut for Kellen Winslow, he saw more playing time here, including some plays as a blocker. Playing with the first unit, he had just the one reception, but it was a leaping athletic catch covering 25 yards to convert a third down. Garcia looked off the safety, and found Winslow matched up with a linebacker. The Browns will look to exploit mismatches like that all season.
As stated earlier, Heiden caught one pass on the first offensive play. Beyond that, he jumped on a fourth and two play, killing the ability to go for it. Luckily, the Lions jumped on the next play, a field goal try, and the Browns then converted the fourth down on the final attempt. His blocking seemed OK. Darnell Sanders and Aaron Shea played with the second team. Sanders had a very nice catch for 15 yards. Shea had one catch for 10 yards. Chad Mustard and Ben Miller saw action with the third unit.
Many of you will argue that with the great rushing statistics, the line had a great game. I'll agree it was an improvement, but there were still a lot of problems.
On passing downs, Kelvin Garmon continues to be a huge liability. On one play, Garmon whiffed on his block, and Garcia ended up trying to throw the ball while falling forward. Garmon also got called for holding on an absolute take down.
On running plays, it was interesting to me that Suggs, Green, and Jackson all took plays intended to be run inside and tried to cut them back. Suggs was able to make a big play because the Lions did not stay at home on defense. Green's change of direction came on the fourth and two play. He was supposed to follow Terrelle Smith behind Zukauskas. It looked like Green would have made it inside, but without some nice work to balance himself on one hand to keep his knee off the ground, Green would not have made it outside. Jackson's attempt resulted in a modest gain.
The point is that Cleveland backs are consistently having to take plays designed to go inside to the perimeter, not to mention the fact that many if not most of the plays are going outside anyway. In the regular season, teams will game plan and take that away. I thought Verba was OK. Zukauskas was decent enough, though he was not able to get the push on some running plays. Tucker did a pretty good job. Of the starters, I thought Faine was far and away the best.
The second line really had problems. This group included Scott Osborne, Enoch DeMar, Craig Osika, Chad Beasley, and Joaquin Gonzalez. These guys had trouble, pass or run, pretty much their entire time in the game. Osika had a penalty. Of this group, I thought the best was DeMar. He seemed to do pretty well, but given the fact that he was considered good enough to try as a starter, he probably should be the best of this group.
News flash: this game included a Gerard Warren sighting. He actually looked active, pressuring the quarterback, making a tackle for loss, and causing some of the disruption we have occasionally seen from him. I've been hard on Warren, so I want to give him his due. He still had some problems on some plays, but this is a step in the right direction.
The Browns continued to move Courtney Brown inside on some plays. This week, those were not all long yardage plays. One, for example, was a second and four. Orpheus Roye didn't do much this week, but he was double teamed on several plays. Brown did chase the quarterback once, and he continues to look stout against the run. Kenard Lang was also quiet. Ebenezer Ekuban was the extra end when Courtney moved inside. He did move around a bit out there, but didn't make any great plays. Even with the improved effort, the Browns were not able to get consistent pressure up front and still struggled against some running plays.
The second unit showed a lot of fire, especially when the Lions were pinned
deep right before the half. In particular, Alvin McKinley, Michael Myers, and
Mark Word did some nice things. Word showed once again that he is not good
against the run, but overall was solid. Corey Jackson, the NFL Europe defensive
player of the year hasn't showed much in his two games. I was hoping to see
more. John Nix and Amon Gordon also saw playing time.
The starters were in and out of the game. I saw Andra Davis, Kevin Bentley, Ben Taylor, and Warrick Holdman all in with the starters. Bentley actually came flying into one play to make a tackle. Davis had a nice tackle on the outside. Other than that, the starters didn't do much. The Lions had a short field on their first possession and they moved the ball on the second, though that one led to a blocked field goal.
Among the backups, Eric Westmoreland seemed to be the guy who was always
around the ball. I have to give credit to Barry Gardner, who looked probably the
best I've seen him on defense since he has been in Cleveland. You can't fault
his effort, but does he have the talent to be a solid backup? Mason Unck had a
couple of tackles. Sherrod Coates and Uyi Osunde didn't show a great deal.
Daylon McCutcheon got burned again for the only Detroit touchdown of the game. In his defense, Charles Rogers has the height advantage, and Harrington threw the ball high where there was no way McCutcheon would be able to jump up for it. McCutcheon brings a lot to the table otherwise. Anthony Henry made a couple of nice stops in the running game. Michael Lehan impressed once again – until he left with an injury. This is becoming all too common a story. Leigh Bodden saw playing time, but didn't do much.
At safety, Robert Griffith had one play where he at least tried to make a tackle against the run and missed it. Likewise, Earl Little made a stop against the run, but not before being knocked back three yards. Chris Crocker was flying around the field in perhaps his best game to date before he took on a much larger tight end, which resulted in a concussion. Also, Michael Jameson, a player I had just about given up on, showed up and showed a lot of hustle. He seemed to be in on a lot of plays, even though the stat sheet shows just two tackles and one pass defensed.
Of the guys at the bottom of the roster, two impressed me. Ricky Sharpe had
an interception overturned by replay, but it wasn't for lack of effort. But,
even better was David Young. He had just one tackle and one pass defensed
officially, but this guy was bringing it in this game.
The special teams were much improved as well. Dee Brown returned a kickoff 56
yards behind some nice blocking, and Richard Alston returned one 30 yards.
Derrick Frost placed one of his two punts very nicely inside the ten-yard line
in a position where the coverage team was able to down it at the three.
Meanwhile, Ryan Dutton had two kicks close to being blocked. Kellen Winslow
nearly blocked a punt himself. Gerard Warren blocked a field goal, with some
help from inside push provided by Alvin McKinley. The effort and intensity on
the special teams seemed vastly better than in Tennessee.
After being embarrassed the previous week, the team bounced back. This was especially important at home, where the Browns have struggled since The Return. But while improved effort helps, some of the same concerns rear their ugly heads.
The offensive line play was still weak, especially in the passing game and with the backups. Depth is once again a concern here. The starting defense didn't exactly shut down the Lions. In fact, Roy Williams did more to help the Browns than some members of the defense, missing at least three potential catches. In general, there is still not enough of a pass rush, exposing problems in the secondary, and run defense, though not a glaring problem in this game, still looked weak. The upcoming game against the Chiefs will provide a much better test.
After a good opener health-wise, the Browns got some players banged up in this one. In particular, Michael Lehan and Joaquin Gonzalez are players the Browns really wanted to take a hard look at during the preseason. Hopefully, the injury to Chris Crocker won't keep him out long.
On the bright side, Jeff Garcia was able to do a lot to bail the Browns out of problems, especially those created by penalties. The running game continues to look strong despite problems upfront. Kellen Winslow is learning, but his one catch was enough to see that teams will have to account for him. Any signs of life from the underachieving defensive line have to be taken as positive. Some young players continue to display promise. Enoch DeMar may not be quite finished as a possibility at guard, and Zukauskas wasn't awful. Derrick Frost looks to be a solid punter so far (but can he kick in bad weather?). Some solid options have emerged in the battle for the kickoff return spot. Good special teams play such as shown in this game will really help this team, just as it did in 2002.
Beating the Lions is a step in the right direction, even if they probably aren't contenders. Perhaps it will be something to build on going into a game against a vastly superior opponent this weekend.
The Browns face the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday night.
The season is short. Bark hard!