Good day, Browns fans!
It's good to be back in that most wonderful time of the year again: football season! The Browns went on the road to face a team that, while not what it once was, still has talent. The result was the first victory of the Romeo Crennel era. Let's look inside what happened.
The Browns offense has talent, but it is still coming together. It is taking time for the players that haven't played together before to mesh, but throughout the preseason and now into the regular season, slowly but surely, the offense is coming together. I personally like what Maurice Carthon is doing with the offense. He's mixing it up in an unpredictable way, something that is a stark contrast to the last four years. I'll admit, Carthon has outguessed himself at times, especially in the first game, but overall, Carthon is using the players the Browns have, spreading the ball around, and allowing guys who aren't Pro Bowl players to still contribute.
Trent Dilfer did what he is being asked to do against the Packers, and that is manage the game and make good decisions. He actually looks off receivers, something we haven't seen in Cleveland since before The Move, and he generally makes decent decisions. He did miss Edwards open in the end zone at the end of the first half, but I wonder if that was more of a lack of confidence in the rookie in that situation as opposed to misreading the play. Dilfer isn't always the most accurate at times, but Antonio Bryant bailed him out with a shoestring catch. On the whole, Dilfer has been pretty much what I expected so far.
Reuben Droughns didn't have a great day running the ball, especially in the second half, but he did make plays when needed. The guy is able to bull forward even when there isn't always a hole. He's shown good hands so far, and I thought he showed good awareness to stay in bounds on a play at the end of the game. I'm looking forward to seeing more. I also liked the play where the Browns faked to Droughns and ran a screen to William Green on the other side. I think getting Green and Droughns both on the field is a good idea, at least from time to time. Terrelle Smith was not as involved in the game as I thought he might be.
The receivers has a rough day other than Braylon Edwards. According to published reports, former Brown and Green Bay backup safety Earl Little warned the Packers to keep an eye on Dennis Northcutt, and if they watched any film, the Packers knew they had to take away Antonio Bryant who was mugged much of the game. Both had some key catches. But Edwards took advantage of the attention paid to the other guys and made plays. I'd have liked to see him catch the ball that was off his fingertips, and I suspect in the future, he will. The radio coverage said that Edwards was pretty upset with himself for missing that ball. I also liked the middle screen to last week's star, Frisman Jackson.
You can't complain about the production from the tight end. Raise your hand if you thought Steve Heiden would have a 100-yard receiving game. Nobody? Me neither. But I like the way Carthon is making the tight ends an important part of the offense. It makes me wonder what Aaron Shea might do if healthy. Billy Miller blew two chances to make plays in the game, but he's probably still learning the system, so I'll cut him some slack.
Finally, let's get to the guys that are making all of this go. The offensive line may not be one of the top units in the NFL, but even an average line would be a huge improvement for the Browns. While the line struggled to open holes for the running game at times, they have done a fabulous job in the passing game. Dilfer has often had time to throw and has yet to be sacked this young season. My read on the problems with the running game, especially in the second half, was that the Packers were taking away the run and daring Dilfer to beat them. I think this strategy contributed to the two long touchdown plays.
The problems with the Browns front seven are well documented. I had hoped that Crennel might be able to use scheme to overcome some of the skill and experience deficits the Browns are fighting. In the Bengals game, that didn't happen. In this game, it was better.
While nobody on out defensive line scares anyone, you have to give Orpheus Roye credit for a great effort considering he was injured. But still, the Packers had good success running the ball, and the Browns got very little pressure on Favre, even with blitzes. I like Alvin McKinley as a rotation-type player. I am really not sold at all on Jason Fisk. I think the Browns have had much better success in the middle with Ethan Kelley and Nick Eason.
The linebackers are really a work in progress. Kenard Lang gives effort and has done OK in coverage situations so far. Chaun Thompson makes the occasional play, but otherwise, he is the invisible man. Ben Taylor recovered from a miserable game against Cincinnati with a decent effort here. Orlando Ruff suffered a concussion in the game. Nick Speegle shows hustle, but he is learning. Andra Davis had 19 tackles and was very active, but I'm not sure he is always where he is supposed to be.
With both starters back, the secondary had a nice game. Gary Baxter had one of the finest interceptions you'll ever seen. Daylon McCutcheon showed some of his good tackling technique. Ray Mickens struggled, making me wonder what Lee Bodden might have done in this game had he been healthy. I though Chris Crocker has a so-so game, and Brian Russell hits people, but he doesn't wrap up. The Packers got too many completions in the second half. Yet, when a play was needed, the secondary seemed to come up with one.
Overall, this was not a great effort. But the Browns really rode some individual defensive plays to keep the Packers from getting back in the game.
Phil Dawson made his two field goals, but had an extra point blocked that could have been a huge factor in the outcome. Kyle Richardson had a solid game punting. In the return game, Antonio Perkins didn't do anything special on kickoff returns. William Green had a huge kickoff return nullified by a penalty. Dennis Northcutt's one chance to return a punt lost 11 yards.
It's hard to judge some of the coaching simply because the team is clearly still coming together. The lack of talent at certain positions isn't always easy to cover up. Yet, the Browns managed to win on the road on an emotion-filled day. It's hard to complain about that.
The Browns face a difficult game in Indianapolis this Sunday. While the Colts offense has struggled, the defense has been stifling. This will be quite a test for the offensive line. On defense, I expect the Colts to use the run against the weak front seven of the Browns to open up their passing game. While there is a lot of optimism right now, I think it is a tall task for the Browns to win this one without getting some breaks such as turnovers.
However, once past this game and the bye week, the Browns enter an October schedule with some games that are winnable. Chicago and Detroit have some talent, but they also have weaknesses. Houston has struggled in the early going. The Ravens don't look nearly as tough as many pundits predicted. I'm not saying the Browns will win all these games, but they should have a chance to compete in them. As the team continues to find itself, especially on defense, there is reason for optimism.
Remember, however, that the best fix for what ails the Browns right now is an infusion of talent, and that will come in the offseason. In the meantime, the coaching staff can see who steps up and who starts to learn and excel in the new schemes on both sides of the ball.
The season is short, bark hard!