Good day, Browns fans!
This was not the opener any of us waited for the entire offseason. It was disappointing and embarrassing. There were some bright spots here and there, though. Let's look a little at what happened.
Coming into the game, I had thought
about what I would do if I were the Saints defensive coordinator. Given that the
Browns dinked and dunked all preseason and that they are fielding an
inexperienced quarterback, I would stack the line, take away the run, and dare
the Browns to throw over
I always say the offense hinges on the line. As such, the Browns fielded a line where only 60% of it played together in the preseason. Hank Fraley is learning the names of the other guys, let alone the plays. Ryan Tucker played all of six plays in the preseason, but he isn't the problem. The line made mistakes, got no push, and could not protect the quarterback. While disappointing with a veteran line, you expect them to do better. Kevin Shaffer single-handedly killed the first series with a holding call that wiped out a 75-yard touchdown and two sacks allowed. Cosey Coleman's holding call wiped out a 20-yard gain on fourth down. This was a dismal performance by a line that has problems, but should be better than this.
Mistakes killed the offense. Charlie Frye threw a bad interception, and while his short throw to Northcutt was off the mark, Winslow was open another seven yards deep. A dropped pass by Northcutt killed what would have been a big third down conversion. A questionable holding call on Northcutt wiped out a 19-yard run by Reuben Droughns on a day when rushing yards were rare. Jerome Harrison botched another handoff from Frye, killing a drive that might have made it 9-7 at halftime. Braylon Edwards let a good pass bounce off his chest for an interception when the Browns had a great chance to come back and win.
However, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the heady performance by Charlie Frye in the second half. He scrambled and made things happen. I loved the play where he did his best imitation of Fran Tarkenton looping all over the field away from the pass rush and finally completing a pass to Steve Heiden. You can't live and die with your quarterback running, though. Kellen Winslow made plays despite getting mugged all too often.
I said in my season preview first downs would sometimes be hard to come by, and until 2:25 left in the first half, the Browns didn't have one.
It's hard to get too upset with the defense when it was on the field the majority of the game. They did manage to hold the Saints to field goals all but once. But on the other hand, most observers expected better than what we saw out of this group. It was back to the "bend but don't break" mode that was the hallmark of the 2005 team.
The ability of the Saints to consistently run on the defense was distressing. What was a surprise was how much of it happened even with Ted Washington in the game. Too many runs were going for five, six, or seven yards, especially on first down. We did not see the linebackers able to make many plays except too far down field. As expected, there was virtually no pass rush, and the Browns failed to get pressure even with blitzes. Kamerion Wimbley did have a very nice tackle behind the line.
The Saints weak receiving corps was
able to get open on the defensive backs. Leigh Bodden played at a high level,
but as expected Ralph Brown had problems. Guys were open on him most times
within five yards. On the other hand, he made a few plays and did better than I
expected. I'm not a huge Gary Baxter fan, and he made a couple of plays, but
guys were getting open on him, too. The safeties had a solid game. Sean Jones
recovered a fumble and did a nice job. Brodney Pool made a few plays. Brian Russell may not have superior talent, but after begging the coaches to let him
play, he made good effort.
The return teams did a nice job, not to
mention the returners. Phil Dawson had some good, deep kickoffs. Beyond that, it
was not a great day. Dave Zastudil did his best Kyle Richardson with a bad punt
when the Browns needed field position. The coverage teams had problems. D'Qwell
Jackson was illegally downfield on a punt that resulted in a 40-yard swing in
This team did not look ready to play, and its offensive game plan and (lack of) adjustments were terrible. You can't peg the entire thing on Maurice Carthon, though. It's hard to have success with any play when your line can't block. But it would also help if you aren't calling sweeps to a rookie fullback on third and one – twice. Carthon simply can't be allowed to allow the talent the Browns have found to languish because of play calls that try too hard to outthink the opponents. In the end, the only person would got outthought was Carthon.
I find it concerning that Romeo Crennel could not get the team to play with any kind of intensity in an albeit meaningless final preseason game, then allows it to happen again in the opener. Not good.
Before the game, Phil Savage made a veiled accusation at the fans regarding the lack of home field advantage at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Before pointing fingers at the fans, let's consider how the Browns vaunted offseason acquisitions did in this game:
- Kevin Shaffer. Not a great debut. I wonder how the game might have gone had the first play stood up. On the other hand, without the hold, that play is probably a sack anyway.
- Joe Jurevicius. Made a nice play on fourth down that got wiped out by a penalty. Not only didn't the play count, but JJ has some kind of rib injury.
- Dave Zastudil. He has a long way to go to master directional punting.
- Ted Washington. Had the best game of this bunch, but the Saints surprising ran right at big Ted, and with decent success. Of course, when Washington was out, the Saints blew Ethan Kelly off the ball.
- Willie McGinest. Missed a key tackle. Other than that, didn't do much.
The fans showed up ready for the game. I wish the same could be said of the team in general.
I'm not giving up on this team yet. Some of these problems can be shored up. The line may yet gel given more time. But if this team doesn't play better, they will get blown off the field by upper echelon teams. On top of that, every team will do what the Saints did. If the Browns can't throw the ball more beyond ten yards, everyone will stack the line and put pressure on the offensive line. Even if the line plays better, Carthon had better find a way to get things going.
The Browns travel to Cincinnati to face the potent offense of the Bengals.
The season is short, bark hard!