The Browns had yet another terrible game at home in their worst performance of the season. The Browns were never in the game and played poorly in all three phases. My take on this game is somewhat different than a lot of the pundits, so hang with me even though it will be unpleasant to sift through the wreckage of this stinker.
It is hard to believe things have regressed this far. For the first time under Jeff Davidson as offensive coordinator, the Browns came out with a game plan that seemed ill-suited to attack the opponent. The Bengals came in the worst defense in the NFL and have injuries in their secondary. It seemed reasonable to expect the Browns to throw to attack that weakness. They didn't. In fact, when the Browns went to a hurry up, passing attack with about 5:00 remaining in the first half, they moved the ball consistently for the only time in the game. This led to a missed field goal.
Charlie Frye is being singled out for a bad performance, the worst in several weeks. He had a lot of help. His receivers were rarely open, but when they were, Frye sometimes didn't see them either due to pressure or locking on his primary. For example, on the second play of the game, Kellen Winslow was wide open along the sideline. There was no Bengal within 10 yards of him. Frye dumped it over the middle to Jason Wright, who dropped the ball. If the Browns got to a third down, Frye was a dead duck due to problems on the offensive line and some very questionable blitz pickup arrangements. Having Jerome Harrison blocking defensive ends one on one is a matchup every opponent would drool over. Some of Frye's throws were head scratchers, including interceptions with no Brown near them and dump offs on third and fourth downs with long yardage to go. This game was far from one person's fault, but Frye certainly has to take some of the blame.
The offensive line is a shambles. Joe Andruzzi is stuggling mightily. The guy can barely walk back to the huddle let alone block defenders. I know he is a veteran giving it his best, but he has just had it. It doesn't speak well of the complete lack of depth that Andruzzi is considered a better option than Lenny Friedman. Fans have been on the case of Ryan Tucker, but Kelly Butler is showing why the Lions discarded him despite the fact that he started every game a right tackle for him last year. Once Tucker was out, the Bengals sent pressure on the right side and Butler was getting eaten alive. Kevin Shaffer was called for holding and killed the only decent drive of the day, but Frye might have been killed otherwise. I actually think Hank Fraley is doing OK. Not great, but OK. He at least will go downfield on running plays.
There's little point in discussing the skill positions, because with the problems on the line, they didn't get much chance to do anything. It does not say much for the Browns vaunted receivers that they could not get open against an ailing Cincinnati secondary. Dennis Northcutt complained this week about being relegated to punt returns, yet he had the only decent offensive play of the day on a 43-yard catch and a nice run, but that ended in a fumble. For all the controversy over Braylon Edwards, his effort after a catch was a departure from the malaise of this game. Jason Wright was OK, but since the Browns were down 14-0 early, the running game became a non-factor quickly. Jerome Harrison had a nice run on a draw in garbage time.
The defense has held the Browns in games all year long. With the offense doing nothing, the defense did little. They stopped the run decently after the first Bengal drive, but to make up for it, they could not stop the pass all day. Cincinnati predictably ran no huddle early, something they hurt the Browns with in the earlier meeting, and that the Steelers used to carve up the secondary last week. Todd Grantham and the defense looked like this was a surprise to them. They trotted out Ted Washington on the first play, and when the Bengals went no huddle, Washington and Alvin McKinley came out and stayed out most of the game, replaced by Simon Fraser and Nick Eason mostly. They weren't awful, but it still seemed to take the defense out of their game.
The Browns got no pressure on Carson Palmer, even with blitzes. Palmer had tons of time to throw. The three official sacks are deceptive. One came on a busted play and another was a sack of Anthony Wright in garbage time. With no pressure, Palmer had time to carve up zone coverage and in particular go after Ralph Brown wherever he lined up. In the first half, Daven Holly pretty much shut out Chad Johnson. In the second half, Johnson was often running completely free, sometimes due to blown coverages, other times hitting holes in soft zones.
Despite a miserable performance by the defense, you have to recognize an outstanding effort by D'Qwell Jackson. On one play, he came all the way from the far side to snuff out a running play for a loss. His effort really stood out in a lackluster performance by most of the defensive unit. Likewise, Brian Russell tries to lead by example. He had a nice interception.
Not much good to say here. The opening kickoff was returned for a touchdown, but a needless holding penalty wiped that out. Cribbs had a couple of other nice returns. Dennis Northcutt did nothing on punt returns, few that there were. Phil Dawson missed yet another field goal. You can't blame the weather for this miss. He is becoming questionable over 40 yards. About the only good thing was Zastudil's punting.
Where to begin? This team is a mess and it starts with the coaching staff. Romeo Crennell's postgame remarks about the team not being ready to play reminded me of Chris Palmer's runaway train thing. Crennel acts as if he is a dispassionate observer of what is going on, watching as things spin out of control while he is powerless to stop it. There is no question this team is hamstrung by a lack of talent on both lines. The team had worse talent on the defensive line in 2005, and at least comparable if not worse talent on the offensive line and they played better than this. Yeah, I know the schedule is tougher, but the line play on both sides is terrible. You'd expect it to be at least as good as last year.
On the offensive side, Davidson has consistently had a reasonable game plan until this week. A run-oriented game plan says that either he does not believe the team can protect Frye or he does not trust Frye, or both. Clearly, when the Browns were forced to put the game in his hands, it was not pretty. If Frye has to carry the team, as he did in the second half, they are in big trouble. So maybe a "give up" game plan is at least understandable. Unacceptable, in my opinion, but at least understandable. Big Ben got sacked nine times by the Ravens. What will our game plan be for that one? Are they going to concede that game?
What is up with Reuben Droughns? He isn't well enough to play on offense but he is well enough to be on the kickoff teams? What kind of logic is that? Has he been demoted? That isn't the rhetoric coming from the team.
Really, I don't have a problem with the Braylon Edwards thing during the game. Someone on this team has to say that losing isn't OK. Maybe it isn't his place to call out the offensive line. I'm not thrilled with his remarks about Brian Russell, but somebody has to raise the bar. I can also only go from what I am seeing from the outside, but there were many players who were playing hard. I just think they aren't up to the task in some cases, but I don't think they've quit on the coaching staff yet. But cracks are showing, and they'll need leadership to patch them.
That's my problem. I think there is plenty of evidence that Crennel is not going to succeed. He doesn't have a firm hand on things and the team is slowly falling apart. Problem is, a loss like this accelerates the process. The fact that he himself said he was prepared for questions about whether he has lost the team tells you a lot. In my opinion, the only reason to keep Crennel now is continuity. Maybe that's a good enough reason. I don't want to start over, junk the 3-4 and all of that. But is staying the course going to tank the 2007 season (a la Maurice Carthon)?
It's too early to say yet whether the team can consider retaining Crennel. While this was an inexcusable performance, it would not shock me for the Browns to come up with a decent game against the Chiefs. Other than the two Bengal games, the team has been in every game this year. I think the fans would be willing to live with showing progress during the rest of yet another lost season. The problem is, it is hard to see much progress right now, even ignoring this game.
The bottom line is, this is yet another loss where the team was unprepared to play. It was at home in a stadium full of the other team's fans because Browns fans have lost faith in this organization. The Browns are now 0-4 in their division and 1-9 overall under Crennel. John Cooper had a similar record against Michigan and he's now out of coaching. This is not the way for the team to compete, let alone for Crennel to keep his job. Crennel is on thin ice. He had better step up and take control of things. Otherwise, it will be back to square one. Again.
The Browns face the Chiefs. If they play the game and nobody shows up, does it still stink?