Browns-Bengals: Report Card and Notes

NFL Scout takes a look at the Browns loss to the Bengals and gives their view...

PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- The Browns came up with one big play on a 68-yard throw-and-run to Frisman Jackson, but didn't do much otherwise. Trent Dilfer had two costly interceptions, neither of which were entirely his fault. There were times the passing offense clicked, but other times when a receiver didn't seem ready for the ball or a pass didn't connect. Dilfer threw 43 times - way too many for a team that will struggle to win like the Browns.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus -- Reuben Droughns started the game strong, gaining 41 yards in the first period. But he had as many carries the final three periods (six) as he had in the first. Some of it was circumstance - the Browns fell behind and had to throw. But some of it was play-calling; on short-yardage the Browns threw the ball on eight of nine plays. The Browns seem to be a team that needs to depend on ball control to help the defense, so a larger commitment to the running game is needed.

PASS DEFENSE: D -- The Browns' weakness in the secondary and at cornerback showed. Cleveland does not have a true cover corner, and with Gary Baxter sidelined, they have an inexperienced corner, Leigh Bodden, playing in his place. Cincinnati relied on T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson all day, and Carson Palmer took advantage. The secondary simply is not ready to handle big-play receivers - which it showed when it gave up a 35-yard pass on second-and-25.

RUSH DEFENSE: D -- Rudi Johnson's 126 yards look good only when compared to the 202 yards he gained last season against the Browns. The team's suspect front seven did little to quell preseason concerns that the run defense might struggle.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- A touchdown punt return by Dennis Northcutt was wiped out by a penalty, and the kickoff coverage gave up a 50-yard return. Other than that, the special teams were solid.

COACHING: C-minus -- The Browns coaches seem to have out-thought themselves in some of their play-calling. Calling for a pass on so many short-yardage plays seemed to show a lack of confidence in the offensive line - even though the line blocked well for the run. The Browns are not a team that can throw the ball 43 times a game and succeed, but that's how many passes Trent Dilfer threw in the season opener.


  • The Browns' play-calling in short-yardage against Cincinnati was interesting. The offense had third or fourth down and one or two to go nine times, and threw on eight of those downs. Six of the passes failed, two succeeded, and the one run by Reuben Droughns came up short. Going two-for-nine in short-yardage does not make for a good offensive day.
  • Wide receiver Dennis Northcutt continues to show that he is best used as a third receiver. Northcutt has talent, but as a starter he's often lost. In the season opener against Cincinnati, Northcutt had just four catches for 16 yards. As a slot receiver, Northcutt could go against opposing team's third cornerback -- which gives him an advantage. If first-round draft pick Braylon Edwards progresses as hoped, he should start opposite Antonio Bryant, with Northcutt used in his more valuable role as third receiver.
  • WR Frisman Jackson had a career day with eight catches for 128 yards and a touchdown, but it might be his high-water mark for the season. Jackson is the Browns' fourth receiver, and often found himself lined up against a linebacker in spread situations. To his credit, he took advantage of the mismatch.
  • KR Joshua Cribbs was very effective in preseason, but left the season opener in the second period with a knee injury. Cribbs gave way to Reuben Droughns, which meant that the starting running back was also returning kickoffs. Cribbs has a knee sprain that could sideline him for a month.
  • RB Reuben Droughns made a strong case for being the team's primary back. Droughns averaged six yards per carry, and started the game with a 24-yard run. Droughns seems much more fluid and instinctive than William Green, and probably earned more playing time.
  • WR Braylon Edwards was little factor in his rookie debut, and contributed to one of Trent Dilfer's two interceptions. Edwards kept running downfield on a route, but Dilfer threw as if Edwards would cut in. The ball was easily picked off.
  • RB William Green struggled in the opener, gaining just 12 yards on four carries. Green appeared hesitant and did not seem able to make people miss. He seems to be thinking too much instead of just running.

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