Good day, Browns fans.
What a disappointing performance. The really sad part of it is that as bad as the Browns played in this game, one play could have turned this into a win. The defense continues to be inconsistent while holding its own, but the offense was terrible. Let's look at some of the reasons, then we'll get into where we go from here.
The last couple of games, I've advocated considering some of the extenuating circumstances regarding Trent Dilfer's performance. The Bears and Ravens do have tough defensive units. The offensive line had a very tough day last week. This week, while the offensive line didn't play great and there were problems throughout the offense, Dilfer had a terrible game. He locked on receivers, he held on to the ball too long, he threw passes that had no business being thrown, and he missed open receiver. I'll give him that one of his three interceptions was tipped, but it was like a volleyball block and probably shouldn't have been thrown anyway. I was dumbfounded by Dilfer holding onto the ball at times when the play was going nowhere and he could easily throw the ball away, such as on the last series. Even when Dilfer did make a play, he didn't get a lot of help.
Reuben Droughns did a nice job running, and the Browns made a commitment to the run. But after running up 80-plus yards by halftime, the Lions adjusted and Droughns ended with just 100 for the game. William Green got a couple of token touches. He was open on a dump pass to convert a third down, but Dilfer airmailed the ball.
Braylon Edwards had just three catches in the game, but they were good ones and big ones. However, he jumped offside on the final possession and helped bury the Browns. Beyond that, though, things were thin. Antonio Bryant had a poor game. Until Dre Bly left with an injury, he blanketed Bryant. His one chance to make a huge impact play was on a third and 16 late in the game that would have put the Browns in long field goal range. Bryant was wide open and let the ball bounce off of him. Bryant is following up a great preseason with a lousy campaign to date. Dennis Northcutt might as well not have played on offense for as much as he was involved. The tight ends caught a couple of dump passes.
The offensive line did a nice job on the run, but they were so-so passing and had too many penalties. By my count, every starter drew at least one flag but Ryan Tucker. L.J. Shelton had another bad effort, including some very damaging penalties.
This was not the Colts, Ravens, or Bears. The Lions have had problems on defense, too. The Browns largely defeated themselves on offense through bad performances and mistakes.
I'm not going to go into to tons of detail here. This performance was like the last two games. It was far from perfect, but it was certainly good enough to win. While the defense continues to get gashed by the run, and its inability to hold the Lions on three downs at the end was the capper of a rotten day, the defense was on the field far too long due to the ineptitude of the offense.
I do want to give kudos to another very solid effort by Orpheus Roye. I also though Leigh Bodden did a very solid job coming in off the bench to replace the injured Gary Baxter. Chris Crocker and Matt Stewart continue to be solid.
Despite the problems, the defense is managing to come up with a play when needed most of the time.
Josh Cribbs finally showed his preseason form with a nifty 90-yard kickoff return. It came at a great time, too, right after Detroit's only touchdown of the day. Kyle Richardson was awful. He had two very bad punts and overall did not help the Browns in the second half. Given the struggle of the offense, better field position might have made a huge difference. The coverage teams were better than the last few weeks and there were no flags for a change. Dennis Northcutt made a very questionable decision to fair catch a ball at the seven.
First, I want to comment on the controversy over the final punt. Crennel chose to punt with under 2:00 from deep in his own end on a fourth and 26. The fans booed, largely I'm sure because of a similar decision last week. In this case, Crennel made the right call. The Browns still had three timeouts and had a better chance of holding the Lions and getting the ball back with a fresh start. On the other hand, while it was the right move, I wasn't surprised when the defense failed to hold the Lions, largely on the strength of a poor job on second down.
While many are lambasting Maurice Carthon over his play calls, the Browns tried to run, and did a good job with it. But in the second half, the Lions adjusted and Carthon did no adjust back. Given the terrible performance of the offense, it's hard to know what kind of job he was doing. Earlier in the season, the Browns were in good distance situations on third down. Putting Dilfer in third down situations with over ten yards to go is a recipe for failure.
Given all of this, the question on everyone's mind is whether to allow Charlie Frye to play. Many feel that young quarterbacks like Tim Couch and David Klingler have been ruined by playing too soon. Others look at the success of players who played immediately like Big Ben in Pittsburgh, or the success of players who sat like Carson Palmer. This is a very tough call.
While I would probably opt for staying the course for now, one has to admit that Houston could be a good team to make a switch against. Their defense has struggled and their offensive line is a shambles. At some point, the Browns are going to have to see if Frye can play in real game situations, not just the "mirage" of the preseason. It would help the Browns to see if Frye is a keeper. The real question is whether this offense is good enough to allow the Browns to get a reading on that. While Dilfer has struggled, the rest of the offense didn't exactly shine. Still, Dilfer's inability to buy time with his feet hurt big time on several plays. Frye could have done something there.
If I'm the coach, I start Dilfer Sunday. However, if he tanks – and I mean ‘tanks', not down 3-0 – I would consider switching to Frye in the second half.
We're going to start to see some of what this coaching staff is made of now. Let's hope it's good.
The season is short, bark hard!