This game was a tale of two halves, and also a tale of both good and evil. The Browns played a solid first half followed by a frustrating and disappointing second half. We'll look at why. For good, the Browns got a start from a promising rookie quarterback and a 1000-yard rushing performance for the first time in 20 years. But we also watched in horror as yet another 1st round pick was carted off the field.
A lot of the talk from this game focuses on Charlie Frye, and well it should. Frye did a lot of good things. He made some excellent throws. He scrambled when it would keep a play alive or result in a first down. He showed poise under pressure. But Frye also held the ball too long and in my estimation, he directly caused three of the five sacks he suffered. But given the fact that his receivers did not always help him and that the Browns had some issues with their game plan, I think you have to call this first start a success. More on the quarterback situation later.
The Jaguars clearly game planned to stop Rueben Droughns. Despite that fact, Droughns still managed 88 tough yards. Several times Droughns made something out of nothing. Droughns has clearly been the MVP of the 2005 season.
Braylon Edwards was having a very good game before his injury. He leaped to make catches, and his first touchdown on a free play came when he was well-covered in the end zone, but took the ball away from the defenders. It was such a shame that he was injured. Antonio Bryant made a couple of catches, but in my opinion, he may have played his way off the team with his drops. Dennis Northcutt made a big catch on a play when Frye scrambled. Northcutt got behind the defense, but then ducked out of bounds. Frisman Jackson had a couple of catches.
The offensive line is banged up, and the Jaguars are really strong on the interior of their defensive line. Given that, I felt the line gave a decent performance. Cosey Coleman struggled, whether due to his sore knee or just the fact that he isn't that good, I'm not sure. I wasn't impressed when he stood and watched Frye take his first sack rather than maybe blocking someone. Jeff Faine bounced back decently from a rough game in Minnesota.
While the defense has played "bend but don't break" all year, this game was maddening at times. The Browns struggled against the run, got no pressure on the quarterback most of the time, and probably had their worst game in the secondary all year. Not a good combination.
Orpheus Roye had another good game, and after Edwards' injury, he looked like the only person on the defense who didn't give up. Jason Fisk had extensive playing time, and the results were sadly predictable.
Andra Davis had a rough game, but not so much from his own doing. He got called for a phantom personal foul face mask. He also suffered a concussion, yet he played most of the game anyway. Chaun Thompson had his best performance of his career, making some nice plays behind the line. Ben Taylor was active, but he constantly gets bowled over or misses tackles. Orlando Ruff saw some action..
After a rough game in Minnesota, Daylon McCutcheon followed it with one of his worst ever performances. He'd have been completely toasted if the normally reliable Jimmy Smith hadn't dropped a couple of passes. McCutcheon was not able to close well on receivers. Leigh Bodden made a couple of nice plays, but he also had some problems. Ray Mickens broke up a pass. Chris Crocker had a mixed day, making some plays, but also missing some tackles.
Other than hard running by Josh Cribbs on kickoff returns, very little went right. A long kickoff return by the Jaguars opening the second half put the Browns in a field position hole that helped to turn the game. Phil Dawson missed a makeable field goal. Kyle Richardson failed to come up with a big punt when needed. Dennis Northcutt fair caught a returnable punt, then let another one roll past him and cost the team 10 or more yards. Another punt was downed at the one yard line.
I know the Browns wanted to "help" Frye by running the ball, but predictable play calling into the teeth of the Jaguar defense made little sense. I was screaming for the Browns to throw on first down at least once in a while.
Plays like the fourth down run on the first series were puzzling. Why run up the middle at the excellent defensive tackles of Jacksonville? If Droughns had gone off tackle, he gets that first down. I know Frye is inexperienced, but consistently putting him in third and long situations is not helping. Also, where were the plays to take the heat off Frye? They tried one screen, and Droughns was held and the play was wiped out by the defensive penalty.
Let's talk about the quarterback situation. I say Frye needs to continue to play. First, he needs to get experience in meaningful games. Facing two winning teams in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh and Oakland on the road will be good tests. Plus, Frye showed in the preseason that he learned from his mistakes. But more than that, even with all of his inexperience, Frye is simply better. His throws are accurate, he can make plays with his feet, he is smart, and despite his inexperience, I think he'll actually take care of the ball better despite the inevitable interceptions that come from rookie quarterbacks.
The coaching staff has to continue to commit to the run, but not to the point of predictability.
It's hard to be optimistic about the game at Cincinnati this week. Perhaps Cincinnati will be too busy reading their press clippings to take the Browns seriously. But since this is a division game, and critical to the Bengals who split their games with the Steelers, that seems unlikely.
Finally, congratulations to the Massillon Tigers for a great season, despite losing the Division I state championship to an excellent Cincinnati St. Xavier team. Despite being down 24-3 at one point in the third quarter, the Tigers fought back to have a chance at the end. Also, congratulations to my Akron Zips on their first ever bowl game, the result of an incredible comeback against Northern Illinois.
The season is short. Bark hard!