There's no other way to describe this past week's loss. The Eagles are one of the elite teams in the league, and a win would have put us at 4-0 at home and 4-3 overall heading into our bye week, while at the same time doing wonders for the teams psyche and self-confidence.
We all wondered how the team would respond after a dominating home win over the Bengals. A similar type performance last season versus Arizona was followed by five consecutive losses, quickly deflating the hopes of fans and derailing the Browns season. We saw no such letdown this week (outside of the team's first quarter defense), and for the most part, the team traded blows and held their own against the mighty Eagles.
As I've mentioned several times before, I feel this year's Browns team is better than the '02 version that won nine games and nearly knocked off the Steelers in an opening round road playoff game at that ridiculous stadium with the giant ketchup bottle. However, making the playoffs is going to be a very difficult task to repeat for this year's team.
4TH AND ONE
Let's get this right out of the way. Punting the football on fourth and one from their own 47 yard line was absolutely the right call in that scenario. I've received several e-mails this week from fans that feel differently, and could not disagree with them more.
I would have done it a little different myself though. Why call the time out there? Why not let the play clock expire, increasing the chances of someone jumping, and giving Derrick Frost an extra five yards so he doesn't have to try and get cute with a three quarter pooch?
Still, it was the right call. Frost has made a habit of pinning people deep
this year, and there was no reason to believe he would not do so in that
situation. It turned out to be a poor punt, but the chances were high in that
situation that we would have Philly starting from about their own ten-. Had we
went for it, and been stopped, the game would essentially have been over, and
Philly would have needed just six to seven yards to get into Akers range.
PAGING JERRY SHERK
In my visits to training camp this summer, I remember being downright giddy about the perceived depth that the Browns had at defensive end. Courtney Brown and Kenard Lang appeared poised for big seasons, and we had brought Ebenezer Ekuban in via free agency. Felipe Claybrooks and Corey Jackson were 1-2 in the voting for NFL Europe Defensive Player of the Year. Mark Word was appearing to make progress, and had shown a consistent ability to pressure the quarterback the past two seasons. The team even had former 1st round pick Jamal Reynolds in camp.
Now, what are we left with? Courtney once again was lost for the year, and McKinley, Word, and Reynolds were all released and have not latched on elsewhere. Corey Jackson has been inactive for every game.
What remains is Lang, Ekuban, and Tyrone Rogers … who was picked up off the scrap heap after being waived by Green Bay in training camp. Lang and Ekuban are both having solid all-around seasons, but in the wake of Courtney's injury, they are simply on the field too much to be able to generate a consistent pass rush.
Not only are the Browns thin at defensive end, but their hesitant stance towards blitzing is putting a lot of pressure on Lang and Ekuban, as well as our defensive tackles. They're being forced to rush four against six blockers on nearly every pass play by our opponents, which you can see is wearing them down. If you are going to count on your defensive ends to essentially be your sole source of pass pressure, how can you only have three active on game day?
In my opinion, the team needs to activate Corey Jackson immediately following the bye week, and see what he's all about. Additionally, I would experiment with using Chaun Thompson off the edge on 3rd downs as well.
THE OPTIMIST AND THE PESSIMIST
Optimist: "Well, last week you told me not to get excited about a win over the lowly Bengals. What say you now?"
Pessimist: "I say that we lost. There are no moral victories in a sport where you play just sixteen games, and usually need ten wins to get to the playoffs. Has living in this tortured sports town brought you so low that you have the pom-poms out after a loss?"
Optimist: "No, but it is now clear to me that this is a team and an offense on the right track."
Pessimist: "Let's see the Browns offense do something on the road before we get too excited here. The progress we've seen has been encouraging, but remember, the Eagles and Bengals are two of the worst run defenses in all of football."
Optimist: "Would you at least agree that his is the most talented Browns team since the early nineties, and that we're well ahead of where we were at this point in 2002, when we went to the post-season?"
Pessimist: "I would say a couple things to that. One, the 2002 team put heat on the opposing quarterback, and created a lot of turnovers. Two, we weren't in as deep of a hole in '02. The Steelers and Ravens are 5-1 and 4-2 respectively. Lastly, our remaining home schedule is murderous, and we've yet to prove we can beat anyone on the road."
Optimist: "But we get the Steelers and Ravens right after the bye week. We have a chance to pull right back into this thing, and have a soft latter portion of the schedule."
Pessimist: "Going into Baltimore after what we did to them in week one is going to be an incredibly difficult game. Look up Garcia's stats from when he went in there with San Fran last year. And Pittsburgh, they are in a different league than us right now … and showed their clear talent advantage in their spanking of us three weeks ago."
Optimist: "You're a bad fan! When this team is still playing football in January, I'll be here to remind you how wrong you were!"
Pessimist: "Nothing would make me happier than to be wrong. I just try and look at things with a lack of bias, and a dose of reality. We're both Browns fans, just different kinds of Browns fans."
I still believe Anthony Henry is one of the league's five best cornerbacks despite getting beat by TO twice in the first half last week.
I believe than I have never seen more atrocious kick returning in my entire life.
I believe that Terry Robiskie is utilizing Suggs and Green PERFECTLY, and I applaud him for that.
I believe that, after seeing Heiden and Shea used effectively, I know now why Butch was so dead set on drafting Kellen Winslow Jr.
I believe that Dennis Northcutt should be returning kickoffs, and that he is overrated as a wide receiver.
I believe that Jeff Garcia is a very good NFL quarterback, who is a great fit for this offense when the offensive line shows up.
I believe that we have some of the best corners in football, but also have the worst safeties in the league.
I believe that Leigh Bodden is a serious candidate to make the Pro Bowl as a special teamer.
I believe Terrelle Smith seriously wants to hurt someone when he's taken out of the game.
No game to look ahead to this week, as the Browns will enjoy their bye week. Most players will tell you that they prefer a bye right around the middle of the season, and the Browns have had that luxury the last couple of seasons after being screwed with very early and late bye weeks in their first few seasons back in the league.
The Browns are 1-2 coming off of their bye week since Butch Davis has come to town. In 2001, they lost the notorious overtime thriller to the Bears (27-21) when the Browns fell apart late in regulation, and Mike Brown took back a tipped Tim Couch interception at the beginning of overtime. In 2002, we went on the road to Cincinnati and emerged with a 27-20 win. Last season, we were stomped 41-20 by the Chiefs at Arrowhead.
I anticipate that the Browns will continue to give special attention to three areas during the bye. Consistent pass protection from the offensive line, finding a way to get to opposing quarterbacks, and the disaster that is also known as our kick return game.
We have three incredibly crucial games after our bye week, and we need to win two of them. We play at Baltimore on Sunday night, and then come home to host the 5-1 Steelers and 5-1 Jets. Losing two of those three games would put the team at 4-6, and needing to win out to assure themselves of a playoff spot.