Good day, Browns fans.
The Browns played the team that is my pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl tough on the road. I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, the Browns exceeded the expectations of many by playing it so close. On the other hand, the Browns might have won the game if not for some serious mental mistakes. As always, let's examine what happened.
Trent Dilfer is one tough guy. After going two games without being sacked, the Colts got to Dilfer four times, all in the second quarter, and knocked him down numerous times in the second half. On one play, the Colts went for his knees. But Dilfer hung in and was accurate throwing the ball. Not only is Dilfer a good leader, which is as advertised, but he has done a good job on the field overall.
Likewise, Reuben Droughns once again didn't have monster stats, but this guy is tough, too. One memorable play had Droughns going through the middle, breaking tackles and spinning off defenders. Droughns was knocked out of the game at one point, but he came back and scrapped for tough yards, especially on a critical fourth down play. There is a tenacious style we have not seen in Cleveland since the days of Kevin Mack and Leroy Hoard. Droughns continues to make plays catching the ball as well. Lee Suggs got a couple of touches in the game, but when Droughns left, William Green stepped in. Neither Green or Suggs did much of note. Terelle Smith had a couple of nice blocks. One sprung Droughns on his big run up the middle.
The receivers were another story. Braylon Edwards made a few nice catches, but killed the opening drive with a stupid taunting penalty. He's a rookie, so it's somewhat understandable. On the other hand, the veteran Antonio Bryant was dumb enough to do the same thing later in the game. Bryant got beat up pretty good, including on a pass that looked like a touchdown, but that was dropped when Bryant got clobbered. Frisman Jackson and Dennis Northcutt were not tremendous factors in the game, especially with the Browns going to a double tight end look at times.
The tight ends were not nearly the factor in the game they were in Green Bay. Steve Heiden did have a big third down catch to keep a drive alive. Billy Miller once again didn't capitalize on one chance to handle the ball.
It's hard to say great things about the offensive line on a day where the quarterback got battered a bit, but overall, it was not a terrible performance. The Browns used screen plays to counter the speed of the Colts' front seven, and the line did an excellent job of pulling and blocking in front of the play. Despite giving up the four sacks, the line settled down in the second half and made some adjustments that held the Colts without a sack after halftime. L.J. Shelton was called for holding, but it was on a play where if he hadn't tackled the rusher, Dilfer would have been killed. The blocking on runs in the middle could have been better, and those plays largely did not work well. That probably wasn't the place to attack this defense anyway.
It's interesting to hear how the different announcing crews have been impressed with the ability of offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon to mix up the plays. For the most part, I've liked what I've seen, though perhaps the Browns could have run a bit more in this game. It's hard to criticize that much when the Browns played from behind for much of the game.
This game was largely lost because of the inability of the defense to get the ball back when the Colts took over with more than seven minutes left. While it was disappointing to watch the defense give up several third down conversions, this is not entirely unexpected. We knew the run defense was a problem going into the season.
The line got little pressure on Peyton Manning, nor was it able to effectively hold the point of attack. Still, I though dinged up Orpheus Roye had another solid game, and both Nick Eason and Ethan Kelley made plays at times. Alvin McKinley was in on one play, and it was hard to tell if Jason Fisk was even on the field. The Browns even tried Kenard Lang at end late in the game to see if they could get a rush. Other than one play where I believe Roye got near Manning and was tackled (with no flag), Manning was not harassed much at all.
Both Andra Davis and Ben Taylor had double digit tackles, but other than Taylor's break up of a pass to Dallas Clark in the end zone, I wasn't especially impressed. Davis in particular was definitely out of position. He seems to be reading and reacting at times more than filling his gap. Chaun Thompson was able to get into the backfield some. Kenard Lang was like 25 yards down field on one play. But overall, the linebackers did a miserable job against the run. The kept Edgerrin James from cutting back early, but it seemed like they lost discipline late in the game and James was able to cut back and run free when the Browns desperately needed a stop. The linebackers are a work in progress, and this is an audition for 2006.
I thought overall the defensive backs did a good job of keeping plays in front of them and forcing Manning to dump the ball short. Daylon McCutcheon had a nice interception and Gary Baxter made a couple of plays, but one of the best things you can say is that the defensive backs often didn't get involved in the play. Sure, they let the Colts turn a short pass into a 62-yard gain. I still think taken as a whole, the secondary did a solid job.
Obviously a punt return for a touchdown being called back is a huge play in a 13-6 game, and even more so when it could have given the Browns an early lead. Dennis Northcutt has had two punt returns wiped out in three games. On kickoff returns, I thought William Green was awful. He must have studied under Andre Davis – run up to the pile and fall down. Kyle Richardson shanked a punt late when the Browns needed field position, though decent role kept it from being a total disaster. Phil Dawson had decent kickoffs and made two field goals. Overall, this was a poor effort by the special teams.
Time will tell how things work out, but I really like what Romeo Crennel has shown so far. I like his "no moral victories" stance. I loved the way he got in the face of the receivers who thought taunting was appropriate coming from a team that was 4-12 last year. I love his honesty. I love the fact that he won't excuse away mistakes regardless of the fact the Browns weren't expected to win the game. I fully expect to see the mental mistakes go away, even if it means the offending players go away. What a reversal from Team Butch.
Crennel and his staff gave the Browns a solid chance to win on the road against a team with superior talent. That's impressive. It's also nice to have a coach that people in football respect.
The Browns go into an early bye at 1-2. Many expected to be 0-3. But the Browns should have a decent chance to win each of their games in October. I'm not saying they will win them all, because frankly, the kinds of mistakes the Browns are making will hurt them just as much against losing teams. The offense has moved the ball but not racked up a lot of points. The struggles of the defense are well documented. The special teams haven't been very special. Yet, the team has improved week to week. The Browns have a chance to win a few games that will help them build confidence.
This team isn't playoff bound, but it isn't a doormat, either. And at this point, I'll take it.
The season is short, bark hard!