Well, it wasn't the prettiest of wins, but after five plus years that haven't been the kindest to Browns fans … I'll take it. And thanks to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Browns are in a good spot this week. Defeat the hated Steelers, and the team will be in first place with early tiebreak advantages over both Baltimore and Pittsburgh heading into a home game against the Bengals.
THE ITALIAN STALLION
Anyone that's been reading this corner for any length of time knows of my admiration for Dave Campo, and I thought his game plan for the Washington game was nothing short of brilliant. Many argue that Dave does not blitz enough … but it's hard to argue with the results thus far. Despite being on the field more than all but three other NFL teams, the Browns are yielding just 3.6 yards per carry on the ground, and are the only team in the NFL (that has played four games) that has allowed just one passing touchdown so far this season. In addition, the 15.5 points per game we are allowing is third best in the AFC, and we are only allowing teams to complete 28.0% of their third down conversions, which is second best in the AFC.
If you watch the tape of the Redskins game, you will see exactly how well prepared this defense was. They threw numerous different looks at the ‘Skins defensively, were ready for everything they came at us with, and quickly adjusted to the few things that fooled them. We held Clinton Portis to 58 yards just three weeks after holding Jamal Lewis to 57. After the game Portis said "The Browns knew every play we were doing. It was like running into a brick wall."
In addition to the stout run defense, the team covered very well in the secondary, forcing Brunell to throw the ball away several times after having plenty of time to survey the field. They also continued to tackle well … a big change from last season. At training camp, Campo ruthlessly harped on the fundamentals of tackling … and we are seeing the fruits of that labor thus far this season.
The pass rush, or lack thereof, is the biggest concern with this defense, but a review of the game tape shows that the Redskins were in a lot of max protect sets. Still, we need to do a better job of pressuring opposing quarterbacks.
Keep up the great work Dave.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD?
Of all the miserable offensive line play I have watched on tape over the last five seasons, I struggle to recant anything that was as hard to watch as the first half performance of Paul Zukaukas this past weekend. It is worth pointing out that Zuk did not appear to be 100% recovered from a lingering knee injury … but even when healthy it is clear that the offensive guards are still a glaring weakness on this football team. I also want to take a second to say that I thought Kelvin Garmon, who I've been hard on, played a pretty solid game overall, and his best game as a Brown.
Both Garmon and Zukauskas are respectable run blockers, especially when plowing straight ahead. But each has slow feet, and they are consistently being exploited by opposing defensive coordinators when Garcia goes back to pass. To their credit, they have been able to adjust to some of the things they've seen as the games have progressed, but our inability to pass protect in the first halves of games has crippled this offense to date. For the fourth consecutive game, we failed to score a first quarter touchdown, and mustered just 13 yards passing in the first quarter and 58 yards passing in the first half.
Enoch DeMar replaced Zukauskas in the third quarter and was an immediate upgrade. Is DeMar a better full time solution? I'm not quite sure yet. And either is Butch, who has yet to name a starter for the Steelers game at that vital left guard position.
The single biggest need for this football team is a legitimate offensive guard. How many teams can say that?
Mark my words, by the end of this season Anthony Henry will be mentioned as one of the top cornerbacks in this league. The job Henry has done for this defense so far has been off the charts, and looking back, his absence was crippling in the Giants game.
Hank intercepted ten balls as a rookie, before suffering a bit of the sophomore jinx in year two. Last year, I thought Henry had a phenomenal (and largely unheralded) season despite only tallying one interception. He has continued to elevate his game this season … and has completely shut down many of the league's top receivers over the course of the last couple years. He has great size for a corner, as well as B+ speed, strength, and tackling ability.
I would go as far as to say that he and McCutcheon are the best tackling pair of cornerbacks in football, and the best tackling corners that I have ever seen don the all orange helmets. It's arguable that our corners are better tacklers than our safeties … another item from the "How many teams can say that?" department.
It's amazing how just one win, irregardless of the brutally aesthetic nature of it, can dramatically brighten the nature of the landscape that lies ahead of you in this league. We are now in position to take control of this division this week, if we can just somehow manage to escape from that ridiculous stadium with the giant ketchup bottle with a win over The Inbred.
It will not be an easy task. We've already seen this season how hard it is to beat anyone on the road. And this is a much better Pittsburgh team than the one we pummeled 33-13 in their own place on Sunday night a year ago. They have rededicated themselves to smash mouth football behind an improved offensive line and newly acquired Duce Staley, leading the entire NFL with 34 rushing attempts per game. They've improved their secondary, thanks largely to a young pair of safeties in Troy Polamalu and Chris Hope, who have been making plays for them. They are allowing just 3.6 yards per rush, and their opponents are completing under 53% of their passes. They appear to have found their future at quarterback in the impressive looking Ben Roethlisberger, who has displayed the patience and poise of a savvy veteran.
This all being said, no one can convince me that the Steelers are a better football team than we are. Their three wins all have come against teams sure to have high draft selections next year, and they were drubbed by the same Ravens team we handled in week one. They've been particularly awful on special teams, an area this Browns team has consistently beat teams at this season. Their kicker has missed as many field goals as he has made, and they rank amongst the dregs of the league in both returning and covering kicks and punts. We've got Lee Suggs, Anthony Henry, and Daylon McCutcheon back to full health … and I have a "gut feeling" that Roethlisberger is due for a rookie performance.
Let's get it done this week fellas.