Good day, Browns fans!
Everyone is happy to see the Browns at .500. Fans are thumbing their noses at pundits who said the Browns would go 2-14 this season. Some media people are finding it fashionable to start labeling Romeo Crennel the latest coaching genius. That's great. It was an exciting win. However, you can't ignore the fact that the Browns did a lot of things wrong and would have lost against a better opponent. Let's examine just what transpired.
Trent Dilfer was both goat and hero all in one game. The two early interceptions kept the offense from getting the Browns a solid early lead. The first was a throw to a spot, but when it was obvious Reuben Droughns wasn't going to make it to that spot, he should have thrown it away. The second was a flat out overthrow. After that, Dilfer played it safe with short throws and several throwaways. Dilfer didn't look horrible, but he'd moved the team better in other games. But, when the Browns got their chance to take control of the game, Dilfer made two big-time throws to put up 14 points in a span on 38 seconds. I appreciate the fact Dilfer didn't let the early problems affect his later play, and that even though the Bears largely crumbled in the fourth quarter, Dilfer made the plays necessary to take advantage of it.
It was another workman like performance for Reuben Droughns, at least when the Browns chose to run. His average was good and he continues to make plays. I wish the same could be said of William Green. It's hard to get anything going when you get one touch a half, but it's also hard to justify giving Green more touches when they don't gain yards and include fumbles. Lee Suggs was in on some passing plays but was not a factor in the game. Now he's out a month, again. It was nice to see Terrelle Smith pick up a first down on a short-yardage play.
With Braylon Edwards out, I expected to see the other receivers step up. For the most part, that didn't happen. Antonio Bryant did have the two big TD catches, but the rest of his game was pedestrian. In his defense, he was getting open deep early, but the Browns were largely looking short. Dennis Northcutt's best play of the game was a great sideline catch that was wiped out by a holding penalty. Frisman Jackson had a golden opportunity to make some plays, but he dropped a pass that was slightly high that would have converted a first down, and that pretty much sums up his day.
Aaron Shea is always a rumored roster cut every preseason. With Kellen Winslow out for the year, Shea lost a great chance to step up with a pectoral injury suffered late in the final preseason game. In his first action of the regular season, Shea showed why he is a great fit for this offense. His ability to get open 15-20 yards down the field is very valuable. He forced the Bears to pay attention to the tight ends. That being said, Shea's blocking continues to be weak, but that's a known downside. Steve Heiden played a reduced role in the passing game, but he made a big third down catch on the first of the two fourth-quarter touchdown drives.
The offensive line had a very mixed game. The running game was so-so. They did a decent job of protecting Dilfer most of the game. L.J. Shelton had some problems against a tough defensive front. Joe Andruzzi had a holding call that was a blatant take down, but it did keep Dilfer from getting hurt. After being called out by Crennel, the line pulled together and did a nice job at crunch time.
Other than Orpheus Roye, the defensive line continues to struggle. Roye had a monster game. He made a lot of plays in the first half. In the second half, the Bears began to run away from Roye. Alvin McKinley made a couple of plays, but for the most part, he and Jason Fisk were manhandled. Fisk is turning into a huge liability. In fact, the Browns stuffed a couple of short yardage plays, most notably an early fourth down attempt, but you could see the difference when Nick Eason and Ethan Kelley were in the game. It's getting to be time to think about some changes.
While there were a few plays from the linebackers, most notably Chaun Thompson getting a sack and a tackle or two, this continues to be a huge area of concern. The goal of the 3-4 is to get the linemen to tie up blockers, allowing linebackers to make plays. The linebackers are having two primary problems. First, they get blocked and can't get off the block. Watch a play and isolate on Ben Taylor, for example, and see how he can't shake free from the offensive blockers. The second problem is that players are consistently leaving their responsibilities to "make a play", only to take themselves out of the play instead. Chaun Thompson did the reverse on the Bears' lone touchdown. As fullback Marc Edwards came out of the backfield, Thompson didn't even look to cover him. Edwards went in untouched for the score.
The defensive backs did a decent job. Daylon McCutcheon had a great game, making some fantastic takles. Gary Baxter didn't get mentioned a lot, but he did make some hard hits. Chris Crocker had been getting some hegative press, but he had a great game, particularly on run blitzes up the middle. One forced the final fumble of the day for the Bears. Brian Russell had phantom interception overturned by replay, but it was a good job of acting. He missed some tackles again. Ray Mickens actually had a couple of decent plays. Brodney Pool continues to get some playing time.
Despite the tremendous lapses in the running game, the defense is improving. The defense has gone from consistently not being able to stop anyone to where they are now inconsistent. At times, they were stuffing runs, yet at other times, they were getting killed. I think a lot of this has to do with who is on the field at the time. There is progress, but these lapses will kill the Browns against good offenses.
Phil Dawson made his field goals, but even his kickoffs with the wind were short. Kyle Richardson had a so-so game punting. Dennis Northcutt had one decent punt return at a critical time. Josh Cribbs returned to kickoff return duty and showed little. The kickoff coverage team in particular did not have a great game.
Once again, Crennel did a great job of confronting players on the sideline. He got after Dilfer about being careless with the ball. I will always remember when he was giving the offensive line what for, yet Ryan Tucker was looking him in the eye nodding his head. Yes, the coach gets upset, but he has their respect and he is pushing the right buttons.
Props to Maurice Carthon for the "go for the throat" call on the final touchdown. I love this attitude, shown twice now, where instead of going conservative with running plays and punting, the Browns go for broke with passes. On the other hand, I really wish the Browns would show more commitment to the running game. I think that would really help Dilfer not to have to take the whole game on his back.
I have to say that I knew nothing of Todd Grantham before Cleveland, but I like this guy's attitude. I liked the run blitzes, especially as badly as the Bears were gashing the middle of the defense. Still, he and Crennel have to do something to shore up the run defense, either by personnel or by scheme.
Someone get Antonio Bryant a belt. There was not supposed to be a full moon Sunday.
This is the beginning of a stretch of winnable games. The Browns did a lot of things that could have lost this game, yet, they found a way to win. This is a nice turnaround from seeing the Browns collapse at the end of the game. Once again, I don't expect the Browns to win them all, but getting the first one at home is big. Building confidence will help going into some tougher games later on.
The season is short, bark hard!