Good day, Browns fans!
The Browns hosted the Redskins for the first time since Bernie Kosar's rookie year. A game that was an exercise in frustration in the first half somehow found its way into the win column. There were a few positive signs along the way, but many of the alarming trends we have seen in the team since the preseason continued.
As usual, let's take a look at what happened on a positional basis.
Jeff Garcia has played badly at times. In this game, it's hard to evaluate a lot of what he did because of some terrible breakdowns on the line. Starting the game with a sack set the tone for a dismal first half. Garcia is showing a troubling tendency to be "gun shy" and scramble around even when the protection is OK because he has been running for his life a lot.
After halftime, the Browns moved Garcia around and it made a huge difference. It helped to minimize the protection problems and allowed Garcia to play more to his strengths. That being said, even though his numbers look decent on paper, Garcia has a ways to go to be able to spark the anemic Browns offense. He could also use help from the skill positions.
Lee Suggs returned, though he did not start. An 80+ yard effort is a god start after missing a month. In the first half, Suggs started with a 25-yard run. But after five more carries, he was still sitting on six rushes for 25 yards. In the second half, Suggs began to break things open a little more, in part I believe because of a change up front (see below). All in all, a solid showing for Suggs.
William Green started, but after four early carries for 17 yards, he ended up on the bench. On one of those carries, Green again fought to carry some defenders with him. But Green never even got on the field after halftime. We have consistently been told that the backs would split carries. While I felt that Suggs outperformed Green in the preseason, Green was still good and keeping both backs fresh seems like a good strategy. I agree with riding the "hot hand", but this was out of balance. That is, assuming that Davis is being straight with us when he says he wants to split time between the backs.
Terrelle Smith was more involved in the offense than in previous games. He got one solid carry and caught two swing passes. While smith doesn't need to be a focal point of the game plan, I like seeing him be used in this way so that opponents cannot ignore him. Smith was very effective blocking for Suggs in particular, since he is more used to working with a fullback than Green.
The "Quincy Morgan as go to guy" kick that Jeff Garcia had been on earlier might be coming to an end. Morgan caught just two passes for 18 yards and fumbled at the end of one, killing a promising first-half possession. Meanwhile, Andre Davis caught three passes for over 90 yards, the shortest of which went for 23. All three were key plays in the game. Northcutt has also been involved, but it seems like opposing teams are keying on him, holding him to short gains. Andre King made more than one appearance in the game, especially as the lone receiver on some running plays.
Overall, with problems pass blocking, the receivers have been fairly ineffective. It would be nice to get them into the game for more than the occasional deep throw, but deep throws are good.
With Heiden returning, the tight ends were actually a factor in the game. Heiden isn't a devastating blocker, but he is solid and helps the running game. While Shea is a lousy blocker on balance, he did make a couple of nice plays blocking in this game. Finally, for the first time since he was a rookie, the Browns got Shea into situations where he could use his talent to make plays in the passing game. His touchdown on a drag route has been a long time in coming. Now if we could only see him on a deep seam pass!
The line had its problems again. Most of the carnage can be traced to Paul Zukauskas. He has been hampered by a bad knee, but even before that, he was getting shoved all over the place. Finally, after blowing a critical third and one situation and allowing two sacks, Zukauskas was replaced with Enoch DeMar. The two practically played to a draw in camp, but I liked DeMar a little better for his athleticism. When DeMar came in, the running game was at its best, and Garcia had better protection. I'd like to see DeMar get an extended chance to play.
I've blasted Kelvin Garmon up to now, and with good cause, but I have to admit, this was his best game so far. That isn't saying much, but he did a solid job on the run and was not as bad as in previous games against the pass. Juaquin Gonzalez improved a lot since he wasn't facing Michael Strahan. And then there is the issue of whether all the problems last week were his fault in the first place. I wasn't blown away by Ross Verba in this game.
Still, all of the above being said, it isn't like the line had a great game, and you can lay blame for the majority of the problems in the first half right here.
A decent, solid performance. The Browns got some pressure with the front four, though most of that came late in the game. Ebenezer Ekuban and Tyrone Rogers were quiet, but Kenard Lang had another active game, especially late. He missed out on a sack because he didn't wrap Brunnel up, but others came and finished the job. Lang is having his best season as a Brown so far.
At tackle, the trio of Orpheus Roye, Alvin McKinley, and Michael Myers has been very solid, and they really helped in stuffing the run. Myers excellent tackle of Clinton Portis forced the fumble that got the Browns back in the game. Amon Gordon got some token playing time.
I have to admit, Chaun Thompson is growing on me. He is fast and he seems to have a knack for making plays. Once he truly understands the defense and has two good wrists, it will be interesting to see what he can do. I'd like to see him get a chance to rush the passer. Warrick Holdman isn't a star, but he is steady. Andra Davis continues to play hard but not as well as I'd like to see. His lack of speed hurts at times. Kevin Bentley is shaping up as a guy who makes plays, but counterbalances that with stupid mistakes. Two big penalties hurt the Browns in this game. Eric Westmoreland is getting a small bit of playing time with the loss of Ben Taylor.
Anthony Henry is off to a fine start. He has done a good job in coverage, he has defended passes well, and his tackling is so vastly improved that you can't help but notice. Daylon McCutcheon returned and also had a decent game. Chris Crocker is making plays when he gets the chance, and seems to be a good tackler.
Then there are the safeties. While Earl Little did make a couple of positive plays, he was invisible a lot of times. Considering a couple of plays when receivers ran free, such as the fourth down play in the second quarter, one has to wonder just where Little is hiding. Robert Griffith always seems to end up trailing plays in coverage. I'm taking it that teams are looking for his zone when they throw knowing they'll generally make the completion.
Derrick Frost wasn't up to his standards from earlier games, but he is still doing a solid job in the punting game. Of course, he set the bar pretty high early. On the other hand, I don't expect him to get a quarterbacking job after his performance on the fake field goal. A weak run when three receivers were open left the door open for the Redskins to rally. Luckily they didn't.
Phil Dawson had yet another field goal. He had some good kickoffs, but a weak one late in the game did not help. Dennis Northcutt had an excellent day returning punts that might have been better if it weren't for penalties. Dee Brown took back the kickoff return job and did OK. The kick coverage continues to be improved over last year.
One of my pet peeves with the staff during the Butch Davis era has been the inability to make meaningful in-game adjustments. You can't fault the staff for that in this game. Getting Garcia on the move was a key to the comeback in the second half.
You can fault the staff in other areas. The disparity in carries between Green and Suggs was a little strange, "hot hand" strategy aside. And was Suggs really all that hot? I like Suggs and think he should be the primary back, but even I was scratching my head. Worse, there were reportedly issue with how Green handled the situation, which is hardly unexpected when the coaching staff keeps the players in the dark about their roles. In the business world, this kind of tactic would be considered very poor handling of team members. Is this all that different? To top it off, James Jackson was inactive after two weeks of solid performances as a "change of pace" back. You can point fingers at Jackson because of his inability to contribute on special teams, but that situation is a ticking time bomb as well.
I am fed up with stupid penalties like illegal formation. How long have these guys been playing football? It bothers me that the coaching staff isn't correcting this, and in fact, almost seems to be tolerating it.
I suppose the fake field goal would be hailed as brilliant if it worked. It just seemed like a big gamble when the Redskins needed a touchdown and had no timeouts.
Finally, I will say there was one thing I liked that Butch Davis did, and it is something he has done far too infrequently. We've seen Davis react to players like Kellen Winslow by patting them on the head after a bad play. Perhaps because the heat has been turned up on him, Davis laid into Kevin Bentley after a very dumb penalty for hitting a guy who was on the ground. On top of that, while TV did not show it, the radio reported that after failing to pick up the third-and-one play in the third quarter, Davis blasted the offensive line and made it quite clear that such a circumstance was unacceptable. I applaud his move to replace the ineffective Zukauskas with DeMar. Zukauskas has made too many mental mistakes, and he has struggled in blocking.
This win was ugly. I was ready to fire Butch Davis at halftime. There were some positive signs in the second half, but a better team would have buried the Browns. The team was lucky to be in the game after a dismal first half. This kind of effort won't beat the Steelers.
That being said, I think the next two games against the Steelers and Bengals are critical to determining how the 2004 season will go. Win them both and the Browns are 4-2 and 3-0 in their division. They would be guaranteed to have at least a share of first place with a tough contest with Eagles to follow before the bye. Lose both, and things could get ugly. A split probably leaves everyone wondering just what this team is about. The time for excuses is over. It is time for Butch Davis to lead his team to seize control of a weak division. If they aren't up to it, Davis has no one to blame but himself.
The Browns travel to Pittsburgh to face Big Ben and the Steelers.
The season is short. Bark hard!