Good day, Browns fans!
What a difference a week makes. After a game for the ages last week, the Browns had an awful game against an opponent that repeatedly tried to give the game away. But every time, the Browns made mistake after mistake to scuttle each opportunity. Add to the dismal play six starters lost to injury, and you have perhaps the worst day for this team since The Return.
We'll take an abbreviated look at each position, then I'll offer a few comments.
Last week Jeff Garcia played smart. This week he played like Maxwell Smart. Would you believe, three interceptions?
A lot has been made of this dismal performance by a player that has more talent than was shown Sunday. I'm not a huge believer in the NFL's goofy quarterback rating system, but when you become only the second player ever to achieve a 0.0 rating, it says something about the level of futility. Doug Pederson and Spurgeon Wynn didn't even do this badly. This is beyond even Ryan Leaf territory! Garcia missed wide-open receivers, made some horrendous throws (he could have easily had two more picks), and bailed out on plays. Of course, when the protection is as bad as it has been so far this season, that's somewhat understandable.
Consider this: After playing poorly and only trailing 10-9 at the half, Garcia went 3 of 14 with three interceptions in the second half. OK, OK, the one late in the game to Northcutt was complete even though ruled otherwise, but Northcutt made a great play rather than it being a great throw.
All this being said, Garcia had plenty of help in blowing this game, as we will see.
Luke McCown was pressed into service to throw the Hail Mary pass at the end, trying to recapture his preseason magic. It didn't work.
William Green did fairly well in this game. He fought hard for yards a couple of times, just like last week. A lot of times, there was no hole, just like last week. Green also failed to follow his lead blocker once or twice, but that was improved over last week. Too many runs went nowhere or backward, but I can't fault Green when the line played the way they did.
Credit to James Jackson for turning a "give up" call before halftime into a 38-yard run. His three runs for 50 yards showed better effort than last week. On the other hand, his missed catch turned into a deflection and a Dallas interception.
Terrelle Smith has some devastating blocks. I wish he had company.
Garcia seems to have settled on Quincy Morgan as his favorite receiver. He is finding out why Morgan has often complained about not getting the ball. Maybe if he caught it sometimes...
Sure, the missed TD catch would have been cancelled out by a stupid mental mistake. But maybe fleeting success would have sparked something. Morgan had one nice block on a run, but other than that, he didn't prevent an interception, didn't seem to be running hard at times, and was ineffective. This may have been the single worst game of Morgan's career. I thought players picked things up in their contract years?
Compared to the other receivers, Andre Davis was Jerry Rice in his prime. He topped the team with three whopping receptions. The best was on his signature play, the slant. Dennis Northcutt had one catch early, a Browns tradition – the six-yard catch on third-and-seven. He had the one phantom catch that was ruled incomplete late, and was overthrown when he was behind the defense. Where are the inside handoffs and other plays that let Northcutt use his speed and shiftiness?
Kellen Winslow was a $40 million decoy. Of course, it was very effective because he was wide open several times. I'll save any further comment for later.
Aaron Shea held his own on a couple of plays. For the most part, he was manhandled. Whiffed blocks led to pressure on Garcia.
What a mess. When Ryan Tucker is making mental mistakes and missing blocks, it's going to be a long day. Let's not even mention his injury late in the game. Paul Zukauskas was pushed around much of the game. Jeff Faine seemed to fare decently, but Ross Verba was on the ground more than once. Say what you will, Kelvin Garmon is a liability. He was terrible on passing plays, and if you have a tape, watch him. He wasn't all that great blocking for running plays, either. Poor Joaquin Gonzalez came in at desperation time and was forced to hold in the end zone to keep Garcia from getting decked. Lose by five, lose by seven, it doesn't really matter, I suppose.
Considering the Browns lost both Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren early, this wasn't a bad performance. The Browns were forced to play the remaining guys more than they wanted to in blistering heat, yet the line was fairly good until wearing down late in the game. Kenard Lang followed up a career game with a fairly pedestrian effort. I thought the gimpy Ebenezer Ekuban outplayed Lang and made more of an impact. At tackle, if Michael Myers continues to play the way he has in these first two games, I don't care if Warren ever comes back. Myers won't make the occasional big play we've seen from Warren, but he is solid play in and play out. Likewise, Orpheus Roye played well for the most part. Alvin McKinley was part of the rotation and played OK.
Bottom line, though, the Browns game up too many long running plays, though some came late when fatigue set in. They missed Brown here. And there wasn't nearly enough pass pressure, though when it happened, it helped the Browns make plays in the secondary.
Warrick Holdman hustles and made a few plays. I'm seeing that the book on Kevin Bentley is make two good plays, then blow one. On the fourth down where Dallas went for it, Bentley had the runner tackled for loss and could not bring him down. Ben Taylor got shoved around. Andra Davis plays hard, but he just does not seem as effective as last year so far. Chaun Thompson also saw some action.
The best player on defense was probably Anthony Henry. In addition to an interception and 51-yard return, Henry played well against both the pass and the run. Daylon McCutcheon had an interception, but he also got burned to set up the first Dallas touchdown. Robert Griffith reverted to his earlier Browns form after a great game last week. He did have an interception, but he was often called upon to provide coverage and was pretty bad. Earl Little did make a play or two, but also had a bonehead personal foul penalty. Chris Crocker also played.
There were some great punts again by Derrick Frost. Phil Dawson had four field goals in four attempts, some great deep kickoffs, and he managed to allow the Browns to recover yet another onside kick. Dennis Northcutt had a nice punt return.
Beyond that, there were some problems. Dee Brown did not show the kick return form we had seen in the preseason, and he muffed a kickoff late. But worse, the Browns were caught napping in an obvious fake punt situation and allowed a 34-yard run by the up man on fourth and one. That was pathetic and really hurt.
The defensive game plan seemed decent enough, though the injuries on the defensive line had ripple effects to the entire unit. The offensive game plan, and I assume there was one, seemed like it was to run a lot and throw deep. The running game had flashes, but was ineffective more often than not. A deep passing game is not in the cards until the offensive line can provide some measure of protection.
Butch Davis has been criticized for using starters like Winslow on the onside kick team. I am forced to agree with Davis that as long as the outcome is in doubt, you have to play all out to win. Recovering the kick, which the Browns did, still left them with a chance, albeit a remote one, to win on the final play. I can't argue with the decision, though the result was not what any of us would have hoped.
This game featured yet another case of questionable clock management. How in the world do you end up having to call time out after the end of the third quarter? Then there was the timeout called with 2:04 remaining, only to see Dallas complete a 36-yard pass play. It also seemed like the Browns wasted a lot of time in their two-minute drill before the half, especially when they had all three timeouts remaining.
This is more than just one loss in a 16-game season. The injuries suffered make a repeat of last year's 5-11 season a real possibility. Courtney Brown is out for the year, and I expect he has seen his last game as a Brown. The loss of Kellen Winslow will put more pressure on an anemic and struggling offense. The loss of Ryan Tucker will hurt tremendously on the offensive line. I'm not sure, frankly, that Zukauskas is any better than Enoch DeMar, nor would I argue with someone who says the Browns won't miss Gerard Warren all that much.
Likewise, you have to wonder if Jeff Garcia can improve much behind some shaky protection. Garcia called it correctly when he said the timing wasn't there back in the preseason, and the Browns are paying the price. But as bad as Garcia was - and he was horrible - the offensive line matched it, and the line is making Garcia look for the scrambling lanes rather than to make pass plays. Garcia was also victimized by other offensive players who failed to make plays on their end, most notably, Morgan.
There are a lot of questions about conditioning and why the Browns are always among the most injured. Broken bones are mostly bad luck, but so many muscle and ligament strains make you wonder. I'm going to advance a theory on this issue that might be a little controversial: blame it on the offensive line.
If you are puzzled by this assertion, let me explain. I believe that the lack of blocking leads directly to injuries by skill players. The quarterback gets sacked, or the running back takes a hard hit, or a receiver has to leap for a hurried pass. Those are direct results of poor blocking up front. I will also argue that poor play forces players like Ryan Tucker to do too much to make up for the problems elsewhere on the line. Watch the line play, and you will see especially Faine and Tucker trying to do their own job and keep one eye on the job of the struggling guards next to them.
I believe this also extends to the defense. Poor line play keeps the defense on the field longer, forcing them to stay in for too many plays. Even with the rotation system the Browns use, it catches up to you eventually. Add all of this to a hot day and facing a legendary opposing coach on a week following an embarrassing loss, and the results aren't all that surprising, I suppose.
Some are calling for the head of Butch Davis. I think it is far too early for that. I will not argue, however, that the temperature of the seat under Davis is higher now than it was Saturday. If there is one place I fault him, it is the lack of doing what it takes to develop even an average NFL offensive line. With a little blocking up front, the Browns are easily 2-0. I think things may start sliding away a bit if next week's game doesn't result in a decent showing. On the other hand, the Davis-era Browns seem to play their best in "backs to the wall" situations.
The Browns travel to New York to face the Giants.
The season is short. Bark hard!