Good day, Browns fans!
As expected, the Browns lost to the Bengals. If you are like me, you aren't up for a rehash of this poor performance. However, what happened does provide insight into the happenings in Berea. There were also a few bright spots, amid the wreckage of this game.
Last week, a terrible performance by the offensive line pretty much killed any chance the Browns had in the game. This week, the line was able to pass protect. Charlie Frye was not sacked once and was not hit after the play many times. This against a Bengal defense that had seven sacks in Kansas City the previous week. The fact that David Pollack was injured early possibly contributed, but overall, the line looked much better coordinated. Now the running game is another matter. The line got no push at all and could not open a hole to save their lives. The only good running plays were trick plays (reverse to Northcutt, naked bootleg by Frye) or cutback runs by Reuben Droughns. In fact, the Bengals were actually in the backfield before the handoff on one play, forcing a fumble.
Charlie Frye had a so-so game. He made a nice throw on a deep ball, a 75-yard pass play to Braylon Edwards. But that was the only deep ball of the entire afternoon with the Browns already down 20-3. Frye threw into traffic way too many times and was lucky to have only one of those intercepted. A second interception came when Reuben Droughns could not handle a short pass that bounced off his facemask. Frye had a solid completion percentage, mostly aided by the horizontal passing game, though numerous drops hurt, especially three by Braylon Edwards. Edwards finished with over 100 yards receiving, but could have had a much better day if he had caught the ball. I wondered if he was thinking too much about the one he did not catch last week. But Frye threw behind receivers at least three times, often in situations where he had a man open for what might have been a big gain.
After an excellent performance in the opener, Kellen Winslow was a non-factor. When he got the ball, he was dragging tacklers along. But the Browns threw to Winslow sparingly. It was a shock that he was off the field on third down more than once. Likewise, rookie Jerome Harrison did not even get on the field until garbage time. I guess he is in the doghouse for the fumbled exchange he had in the opener.
Once again, first downs were hard to come by until too late, and this despite often being in favorable yardage situations. The inability to convert on third and short is killing this team.
I had predicted the Browns would have a top ten defense in 2006. Perhaps in yards or points allowed. The defense was going to have to carry this offense to have any chance at success this year, and that isn't happening. To put it simply, despite the Browns playing a physical game, the Bengals were able to essentially do whatever they wanted.
The problems start with the inability of the Browns to hold the point of attack. In the 3-4, this is key. If this does not happen, the linebackers cannot flow to the play. The Bengals made masterful use of the no-huddle to keep Ted Washington off the field, and the Browns defense looked like 2005 all over again. The inability to stop the run hurt throughout the game.
The Bengals came out with two throws to the tight end to start the game, exposing the inability of the linebackers and safeties to cover them. The Browns did make an adjustment here, and after early success, they shut that down. Andra Davis helped by intercepting a ball intended for the tight end.
Even without T. J. Houshmenzadeh on the field, the Benglas had their way against a depleted secondary. If the Browns played zone, Carson Palmer was able to find the soft spots easily because there was very little pass rush. If the Browns played man to man, Palmer was able to torch Ralph Brown and Gary Baxter. I know Baxter is playing hurt, and I could excuse his bad tackling, but his coverage was worse, and a pectoral problem doesn't explain that. Ralph Brown is terrible and in addition to bad coverage, he missed numerous tackles.
Before you object that the Browns did have a pass rush because of four sacks, most of those came on blitzes, which I suppose is progress. Last week, blitzing didn't allow the Browns to get to the quarterback. The Bengals were missing left tackle Levi Jones coming into the game, and they lost veteran center Rich Brahm, allowing the Browns to bring pressure up the middle.
Despite all the breakdowns in all three units on defense, the key is third down. The Browns simply could not get the stops they needed on third down to allow them to get off the field. When the Browns did anything to take momentum, the defense was unable to stop the Bengals and gave the momentum right back. This coupled with the inability of the offense to sustain anything allowed the defense to wear down on a warm day. By the fourth quarter, missed tackles were rampant.
There were a few bright spots. Leigh Bodden continues to play well. Brodney Pool had some nice plays in limited work. Kamerion Wimbley got his first start and made plays. Chaun Thompson did some good things. Overall, though, the linebackers aren't making many plays, and that's a sure sign the 3-4 isn't working right. The defense was soundly beaten in this game.
The special teams set the Browns up with good field position all day. Dave Zastudil is getting praise for great punting, including three inside the 20. However, one of those was pure luck as it hit at the one and rolled sideways out of bounds. The return game was solid and the coverage teams were improved over last week.
What a shambles. Romeo Crennel has a mess on his hands. It is starting to look like he is losing the team, and in large part, I believe this is due to his insistence on sticking with offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon. Clearly Carthon is reading the criticisms in the press. After getting hammered for not throwing deep in the preseason, the Browns came out with a deep throw on the first play last week. This week, after being called out for not sticking with the running game, the Browns came out with five consecutive runs to start. The last two pretty much doomed a series starting at the Bengals 17. The Browns settled for a field goal.
Carthon taking Winslow and last week Droughns off the field on third down is astounding. In one case, the play was a screen pass. Wouldn't lining Winslow up on the opposite side at least draw coverage away? Dumping a coach in the middle of a season is rarely helpful, but the Browns can't afford to have this season go down the tubes over Carthon. His leash has to be getting short or this season is over.
Todd Grantham did a much better job last year with a unit that, at least on paper, had less talent. However, it just seemed like whatever he did in this game didn't work out. If the blitz came from one side, the play went to the other. Still, if the Browns can't hold the line up front, can't cover anyone in the secondary (except for Bodden), and have little or no pass rush, no coordinator is going to have much success.
Now Kellen Winslow has gone public saying the coaching staff (meaning Carthon) is holding back the players. Unfortunately, he is correct. This team has more talent than a year ago, yet is playing worse. The coaching staff seems lost right now. You can't replace some of the players who are weak links during the season, but there is enough talent that things should be better than this. Watch this week and see if things improve.
If things don't change, the Browns will easily be looking at a top five pick in the draft.
The Browns return home to face a rejuvenated Ravens defense.
The season is short, bark hard!