No Miracle in the Meadowlands

<BR>Frank Derry takes a look at the Browns loss, and offers some thoughts on the key elements that made it a long day for the Dawgs. More insight from a Browns observer who has been reporting on this team since the days of Sam Rutigliano...<BR><BR>

In hindsight, it should have been obvious long before the Browns took the field Sunday afternoon at The Meadowlands that they were in for a long day.

Take four key players off any NFL starting defensive unit and three guys out of the offensive picture and you have the makings of big problems, especially when three of those players are former first-round draft picks.

A miracle would have been needed just to make the game respectable. Unfortunately, none was forthcoming.

The result: a 27-10 loss, a tie for last place in the AFC North Division and a boxcar full of questions heading into next Sunday's home game against the Washington Redskins.

Folks, it wasn't pretty Sunday and, quite frankly, it doesn't figure to get any prettier any time soon.

Yeah, head coach Butch Davis's team might be able to beat the Redskins at home. Washington, under veteran coach Joe Gibbs, is not one of the NFL' premier teams. Plus, they will be coming off an extremely motional Monday night game against their arch-rivals, the Dallas Cowboys.

So if Davis could hand-pick an opponent for his struggling team to get well against, the Redskins, in this scenario, would likely be the choice.

But a victory in Week Four would only mask for a short time the fact the Browns are a long, long way from being a well-oiled offensive machine.

Quarterback Jeff Garcia's numbers against the Giants were a vast improvement over the previous week's effort versus the Cowboys, against whom he turned in a record-setting performance. Unfortunately, the record was one he would have preferred to do without, becoming just the seventh quarterback since 1970 to rack up a 0.0 rating.

To achieve that lowlight takes a great deal of effort when you consider backup quarterback Luke McCown threw just one pass, an incomplete bomb to end the game, and came away with a 39.6 rating.

So how does one get a zero, nothing, nada? Interceptions, my friends, interceptions. And plenty of them. Garcia had three against the Cowboys.

Sunday afternoon against the Giants, he tossed just one pick, which matched his touchdown total, a 3-yarder to Quincy Morgan. Overall, he was 21-of-31 for 180 yards. His rating was 80.0, a respectable number, but still 17.6 below his career number coming into the 2004 season.    

The one thing the Browns seemed to have re-enforced against the Giants was that they are not going to be successful moving the ball if they try to play a vertical game. They MUST run a ball-control offense, one which relies heavily upon grinding out yardage on the ground and hitting short to mid-range passes.

The light bulb went on when the Browns headed to the locker room trailing 10-0, thus extending their touchdown-less streak to six quarters which goes back to the fourth quarter of the season-opener against the Ravens.

After going scoreless in the third quarter, the Browns finally put up 10 points in the final frame against the Giants. Granted, all of the points came after the Giants had built up a seemingly insurmountable 17-0 lead and had gone into a more conservative defensive game plan.

Bu at least the late touchdown and field goal are something upon which to build going into next weekend when they will once again be without four of their stars, tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., offensive tackle Ryan Tucker, defensive tackle Gerard Warren and defensive end Courtney Brown.

Hopefully returning next week will be cornerbacks Daylon McCutchon (finger) and Anthony Henry (vertigo), and running back Lee Suggs (neck).

No doubt, the Giants took advantage of the absence of McCutcheon and Henry from the starting lineup. Kurt Warner looked like his old self in going 19-for-27 for 286 yards. He had a 104.9 quarterback rating and was a perfect compliment for the Giants' running game that produced 116 yards.

Well-balanced offenses will give the Browns' defense trouble, even when it is full strength. Defensive coordinator Dave Campo's group delights in being able to take one aspect or the other away from the opposing offense.

Sunday, due in part to the absence of McCutcheon and Henry, they couldn't do so, thus the Giants were able to rack up 390 net yards and 25 first downs while controlling the clock 32:02-27:56.

Playing without McCutcheon and Henry hurt far more than the absence of Brown and Warren, both of whom are backed by solid veterans in Ebenezer Ekuban and Michael Myers, respectively.

Brown and Warren's injuries hurt the defensive line depth, but that is about it.

Speaking of injuries, much has been made of the fact Winslow was injured while participating on special teams in the closing seconds against the Cowboys. Browns fans world-wide wondered why Davis was using his star player in such a situation.

Well, in his particular situation, I have no problem whatsoever with Winslow being on the field. It was a do-or-die situation that called for the "hands" team being used. Winslow wanted to be out there to contribute to the team.

The one area I do have a problem with in regards to Winslow being used on special tams is as a defensive lineman on the punt team. A player in that role is very susceptible to the chop block, which is a leading cause of knee injuries.

It will be very interesting to see whether Davis changes his philosophy of using star players on special teams.  

I remember two decades ago questioning then-head coach Sam Rutigliano on why he didn't use some of his star players on special teams at a time when the special teams were anything but special.

Rutigliano quite emphatically stated that it wasn't worth the risk of injury. You can bet that Winslow would not have been on the field if he were the head coach.

But you also have to remember that Rutigliano, despite what he might have said, didn't place as much importance upon special teams as many coaches.

How do I know? Most telling was the fact he kept John Petercuskie on his staff as special teams coach from 1978-84. Petercuskie was a very nice elderly gentleman and probably was a guy who could inspire his unit when he was in the prime of his coaching career.

But at that stage of his coaching career, Petercuskie did little to inspire his players and, quite frankly, special teams is all about emotion.

It didn't take long for Rutigliano's replacement, Marty Schottenheimer, to bring in inspirational Bill Cowher to take over as special teams coach in 1985. It was a brilliant move by Schottenheimer.

I have a feeling current special teams coach Jerry Rosburg is a lot more like Cowher than Petercusckie. While you won't see him knocking players down as he runs up and down the sidelines, he is the type who can get the best out of players, whether they are stars or supersubs. 

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