Rain, mud, two 4-9 teams playing out the string. It made for an ugly day in Oakland. But for Browns fans, beauty was in the eye of the victors. The Browns came back to secure their first win in Oakland since 1973. It was nice to see the Browns find a way to win instead of a way to lose this close game. Let's look at what happened.
Charlie Frye got his first win in his third NFL start. He paid for it, too, as the Raiders sacked him three times, but hit him several more times. Frye showed a lot of toughness, often still managing to make a good throw while being hammered. Frye continues to make rookie mistakes, such as failing to notice uncovered receivers, make bad decisions, holding the ball too long, and taking unnecessary sacks. But, in a sign he is learning, when the clock was running down on a play, he called timeout rather than allow the timer to expire like last week.
I was impressed with Frye on several points. First, his toughness. He was hurting, but with the game on the line, Frye made plays. This was despite some suspect play calling. Frye throws accurately. His sideline throws more than once allowed receivers to use the field boundary to screen the defender off the ball. More than once, it appeared he was throwing the ball away when he was really giving the receiver a chance to make a play. Frye looks as is he is comfortable and in charge. There is a lot to like here so far.
I hate to say it, but Reuben Droughns had his worst game as a Brown. Once again, the Raiders, already tough up the middle, schemed to take away the run and force Frye to throw. I think the frustration took its toll as Droughns made some mental mistakes such as not taking the handoff on more than one occasion. Maybe those were Frye's fault, but Droughns just had a tough day. Lee Suggs got on the field a few times and got a few touches. I did like the fact that the Browns got Suggs and Droughns on the field together a couple of times. I like seeing Terelle Smith catching passes out of the backfield, especially with the tight ends banged up. Smith leaped a would-be tackler to pick up a first down late in the game. Corey McIntyre figured into two plays, and neither was good. He was pretty much responsible for tackling Droughns on fourth and goal from the one. He was also the target of an ill-advised sideline streak pass on third and one in the fourth quarter. McIntyre had terrible position and the ball was intercepted.
Antonio Bryant had five catches, but his inability to catch a pass late in the third quarter forced the Browns to settle for a field goal. Bryant had another drop as well. On the other hand, he had a nice sideline catch and got wide open behind the defense, but Frye didn't see it. Dennis Northcutt had two clutch catches early, then disappeared. Frisman Jackson made two big-time catches at crunch time, something I've wanted to see out of him. One was a great catch falling out of bounds while touching both toes in and was critical to the success of the winning drive. Let's see what he can do against the Steelers. Josh Cribbs got his first NFL reception on the way to a field goal just before halftime.
The offensive line had problems in the run game, and despite the sacks and harassment, they did not have an awful game. Some of the problems were because Frye held the ball, and some were blitzes where there simply weren't enough guys to block. Once again, Mike Pucillo had to come off the bench, this time to replace Jeff Faine after a season-ending arm injury. Pucillo did a solid job against a tough defensive front. He in particular had a great block on a draw play on the final drive. L.J. Shelton has had his problems, but he had a pretty nice game. This was somewhat of a surprise because he often struggles with edge rushers like those of the Raiders.
Despite making plays here and there, the offense had only 10 first downs until the final drive. More about that below.
The defense had its problems in this game, yet, once again, they managed to hold an opponent to very few points. In this particular game, injuries put the Browns at a disadvantage, yet they still had some success. It should be noted, though, that the Raiders didn't always play to the level of their talent.
I've consistently criticized Jason Fisk, and he has had a lot of problems this year. It wasn't a great performance by objective standards, but Fisk had one of his better games. At times, he was able to hold the point of attack. That isn't to say that at other times, he wasn't tossed aside like a dummy. It was feast or famine, with the run either being stuffed or the back ripping off eight to ten yards. Joining him in getting pushed around was Alvin McKinley, yet he came up with a big sack. Nick Eason saw playing time and Kenard Lang even line up at end because Orpheus Roye, fighting nagging injuries all year, played sparingly. When in the game, he made his presence felt, though. Roye is the only chance the Browns have against the run these days, though Eason made a ice play on short yardage.
After a weak performance at Cincinnati, the linebackers were even worse in this game. They were nearly universally ineffective. Chaun Thompson did have a sack on a blitz, but when the Browns did blitz, they usually didn't get to the quarterback. Despite three sacks, Kerry Collins usually had all day to throw. Thompson also took himself out of plays in the backfield through overpursuit, and took poor angles on outside running plays. Andra Davis and Ben Taylor did little but mop up plays too late. Matt Stewart did little. Kenard Lang was ineffective both rushing and in coverage. Orlando Ruff, known for his defense against the run, didn't do much when the Riaders had short-yardage downs. A few weeks ago, you had the feeling progress was being made by the linebackers. The last two games looked like we are back in August again.
Thank goodness for the secondary. Despite injuries that sidelined both Daylon McCutcheon and Ray Mickens during portions of the game, the secondary largely shut down the talented Raider receivers. It helped that Randy Moss looked like he wanted to be anywhere but on the football field. The Browns have to bring back Leigh Bodden. I think he is the best corner on the team, including the big-money signing Gary Baxter. He had yet another good game, including a nice interception of a deflected pass. When in the game, both McCutcheon and Mickens made some good plays. Sean Jones saw a lot of playing time, but his most visible play was in one-on-one coverage with Moss on the only touchdown of the game. Brian Russell had the Browns' lone penalty, an unnecessary roughness call. The secondary was forced to make a lot of tackles because of the inability of the front seven to stop the run. Despite lots of time to throw, Collins was unable to make many plays.
There were problems, but overall, this might have been the best performance by the special teams all year. Dennis Northcutt inexplicably fielded a punt on the one-yard line, then returned it 40 yards. On the other hand, he failed to field balls in at least two situations that cost the Browns 10 to 20 yards. Josh Cribbs had a great return of the kickoff following the Oakland touchdown, setting up a field goal. He also had a great tackle on punt coverage. Overall, the kick coverage team had problems on the opening kickoff, but settled down after that. While Kyle Richardson had another poor day punting, his ability to handle a bad snap on the winning field goal was huge. Phil Dawson accounted for all of the scoring for the Browns, including the game winner as time expired. Alvin McKinley blocked yet another field goal attempt, and it was huge.
You hate to complain when a defense without much talent is holding the opponent to seven points and they are winning a road game in a tough environment while allowing a rookie quarterback to play. I'm going to do it anyway.
I have no problem with going on fourth and goal from the one. However, you can't just run up the middle three consecutive times. Where was Frye's patented roll out? Where was a pass to the tight end? There seems to be a pattern that the Browns tend to ignore the strengths of the opponent and settle on play selections they like. Against the Raiders and Jaguars, the Browns insisted on running up the middle. When they began to run to the perimeter in the second half, they had more success.
On the play calling, I had felt going into this game that the Browns needed to allow Frye to throw and use the pass to open up the run. Starting with the run-run-pass pattern hurt the Browns. When they began to throw on first down, they had more success. Once again, the Browns outsmarted themselves with calls like the fullback streak pass and the fake reverse play that led to Droughns' fumble.
On defense, you can tell Grantham would like to blitz more, but the Browns just don't get the quarterback when they do. What he and Crennel are doing with this defense is nothing short of amazing. They will face a tall test Saturday against the Steelers.
It was great to see Frye direct a game-winning drive. The experience Frye picks up now will be invaluable going into next year. Frye will have film to look at all winter.
The Browns face a difficult task in coming up with a way to beat the Steelers. For the Browns, they need to treat this as their Super Bowl. The Browns need to stop the run better than they have all year. If they can do that and avoid mistakes, they have a chance. This will also be a great test for Frye. All of the pressure will be on the Steelers, since they need this game to control their own destiny for a playoff spot. The Steelers could still get in even if they lose, though.
The season is short, bark hard!