Flash Analysis: The Untold Story

The Browns fell short in San Diego, 32-25, as a thin defensive unit was pounded down in the game's second half by a strong Chargers squad. Frank Derry believes that there has been a neglected and positive story that might get lost behind the 2-6 record and today's defeat...

I guess the scenario could have been worse … maybe.

All 11 starters on the Browns' defense could have suffered a case of food poisoning on Saturday night, thus forcing head coach Romeo Crennel to go with backups at every position.

Or, worse yet, the team bus carrying all of the defensive players to the game could have made a wrong turn end and spent the afternoon in Tiajuana.

As it was, "only" three of the Browns' projected defensive starters – linebacker Willie McGinest, defensive end Orpheus Roye and cornerback Devon Holey – were inactive for Sunday's game at San Diego due to injuries. Also missing the game, of course, were veteran cornerbacks Dayon McCutcheon and Gary Baxter, both out for the season.

Then, on the game's third play, probably the most consistent defensive player this season, cornerback Leigh Bodden, limped off with an apparent knee injury.

This would have made life difficult for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's group even if it had been playing against the pitiful Oakland Raiders' offense.

So, when you take a banged up defensive unit against a high-powered offense that ranks second in the NFL in scoring (30.9 ppg) and rushing offense (157.7), and third in overall offense (370.3), it doesn't take Jean Dixon to predict the outcome.

San Diego 32, Cleveland 25.

But the score doesn't tell the real story of this game. In particular, it doesn't reflect the tremendous job done by the Browns' defense.

For nearly three quarters, the high-powered, Ladanian Tomlinson-led Charger offense was pretty much rendered helpless by an injury-depleted Browns defense.

Grantham's gang gave up a field goal on the Chargers' opening drive and then kept them off the scoreboard until late in the third frame.

The only other seven points given up before the final minute of the third quarter came as the result of a Charlie Frye fumble that resulted in a San Diego touchdown. 

I'm convinced that far too many of us – media and fans alike – spent too much time criticizing former offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon this year rather than complimenting the job Grantham has done as defensive coordinator.

Grantham has taken a bunch of no-names and converted them into a stout defense which more and more reminds me of the type of teams Crennel and Bill Belichick fielded for years in New England. With those Patriot teams, it didn't matter who was on the field; they somehow managed to get the job done.

Sunday afternoon, there were guys playing defense for the Browns that weren't even on the depth chart to begin the year.

But as was the case for the Patriots, the names aren't important. Rather it's the schemes being run that are proving to be extremely effective.

There's a rumor going around that Grantham might be interested in the head coaching job at Michigan State next season. I hope it's not true. The Browns need to do whatever it takes to keep him right where he is for the foreseeable future.

The job Grantham has done of converting the Browns into a successful 3-4 defense in just two years is nothing short of remarkable. I'm convinced that had he been the defensive coordinator in the mid to late 1980s, John Elway wouldn't have done what he did to the Browns in the playoffs.

Considering the circumstances heading into Sunday's game, it seemed almost a given that the Chargers were going to get their points, most of which came against a worn-out defense in the final 16 minutes.

The only question that had to be answered was whether the Jeff Davidson-led Browns offense would be able to make things interesting.

Gone from Sunday's game was the obvious emotion which came with the promotion of Davidson, the former offensive line coach who took over as offensive coordinator when Maurice Carthon resigned on Oct. 23. That extra boost of adrenalin helped lift the Browns over the Jets in Davidson's debut.

To the offense's credit, and with a big hand from punt return man Dennis Northcutt, they were able to score 25 points, including a club-record six field goals by Phil Dawson, who shared the previous record of five with Matt Stover and Don Cockroft.

It was disappointing that they couldn't put the ball in the end zone until the final minute, but the real concern for me comes in the fact Frye continues to do two things which a good starting NFL quarterback can't do. He often telegraphs his passes by staring down his receiver. That leads to far too many interceptions.

He also far too often is out of control and gets the ball knocked out of his hands while eluding the pass rush. Frye deserves a great deal of credit for his ability to scramble, but the price he pays is a steep one when he coughs up the ball.

Frye was charged with one fumble and one interception on Sunday, but he had another fumble negated by a penalty and at least three other potential interceptions dropped. For the year, he has thrown 12 interceptions and lost three fumbles.

If Frye continues to turn the ball over via interceptions and fumbles, it won't matter how good Grantham's defense is playing.

And that's shame because as it stands now, the defense and special teams are playing well enough to win, and the offense under Davison has shown some potential.

But turnovers remain public enemy No. 1 and the guy most guilty has been Frye, whose future in the NFL might very well rest on his ability to play under control and take care of the football. 


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