Pre-Season Game Review: Browns vs. Lions

Fan Commentator Joe Brownlee takes a look at last Saturday's Browns-Lions pre-season game. Joe, per usual, breaks down the game by looking at each unit on offense and defense.

Good day, Browns Fans!

Another win is great, even if it doesn't really count. The Browns did some good things in the two phases of the game where they struggled in 2001: on offense and special teams. But while there were some good individual performances, there were some problems on defense that have me a little concerned. Certainly some of these were due to the linebacker auditions going on in the wake of the Jamir Miller injury. Some were due to mismatches created by the Lions leaving their starters in the game longer than the Browns did. But it still leaves me wondering if my expectations for our defense are too high.

As I go through each position, let me say that I taped the game, and went back and watched the line play on both sides of the ball play by play and player by player for the entire first half of the game and some plays in the second half. In particular, I wanted to see how our linemen were handling their assignments as much as I can tell without being privy to the Browns' playbook. Some of my observations may not match yours, and they certainly don't match some of what I've read in the press or online since the game. I offer these as my opinion realizing that some will disagree.

Quarterbacks

It's hard to find much wrong with the play of any of the quarterbacks. All looked solid, all threw for high completion percentages, and all made some good plays. Kelly Holcomb made a bad decision on one pass that killed a promising drive, and he had some protection problems with the 2nd offensive line, but other than that, it is hard to find a lot of problems.

Tim Couch completed 9 of 12 passes, and two were dropped by William Green (one was thrown slightly behind Green on a screen pass), and the other was essentially thrown away when nobody was open. I particularly noted one play where Couch seemed to look off two options, one a deep pattern, and dumped the ball to Green. Holcomb also looked crisp while going 14 of 18. Kudos for breaking from the play that was called and seeing Northcutt open behind the defense for a TD. Butch Davis said that was not the route that was supposed to happen, but both QB and receiver were on the same page. I loved Holcomb's TD throw to Mark Campbell. Josh Booty looked very good, going 5 of 6, including a five-play drive where he had three pass plays of 20 yards or more, including a beautiful 27-yard TD throw to JuJuan Dawson. Kevin Thompson did not get in the game, presumably because of lingering effects from his injury last week, but he was in uniform.

Running Backs

Jamel White saw very little action, with the Browns instead giving time to the other backs to see what they could do. White had only two touches and was definitely on the field for far less than 10 plays. White did blow his one carry, a pitch play that was designed to go around the end. He tried to cut back and got just one yard on third down and three. The Browns did pick it up on fourth down, though. William Green was featured, and while inconsistent, he showed flashes of talent. He had eight carries for just 28 yards, but two runs stood out. On one, Green bounced outside for a nine-yard gain. On the other, he found just a crease in the middle and plowed through for seven yards. Green also caught two passes for 10 yards, the best being the aforementioned dump pass on which he made a couple of moves.

James Jackson was being written off by some, but he stepped up and had a much better performance that he has shown so far this preseason. He bounced a couple of runs outside, and ran hard inside, gaining 35 yards on seven carries. He also looked good on two pass receptions totaling 25 yards. I don't think he showed enough to jump back into the starter derby, but he did make a statement regarding a roster spot. Autry Denson didn't look as good as in the Minnesota game, but some of his playing time came with the 3rd unit, and he didn't get a lot of help. In particular, Denson was visibly upset by the penalties that hurt a couple of his chances. He ended up with seven rushes for 22 yards. Carl Fair got in at garbage time and had just one run for two yards.

Both of the new fullbacks played. I didn't think either Floyd or McLeod did much of note. Both caught passes, but neither gained more than four yards. The blocking I watched looked mediocre at best.

Wide Receivers

Overall, the wide receivers had a great game. In addition to catches and runs, I saw some decent blocking, too. Let's start with Kevin Johnson, fresh off his contract extension. He caught just two passes for 10 yards. Quincy Morgan had two tough catches for 22 yards, both with defenders all over him. Butch Davis said he pulled these two early to get a longer look at the rest of the contenders.

Of the guys fighting for the backup spots, I think the five main contenders all played well. Andre Davis caught a pass to convert a fourth down, blocked well on a couple of running plays, but had his night cut short by a wrist bruise. He finished with just the one catch, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Dennis Northcutt made a nice adjustment for a 24-yard TD on third down as mentioned above. It was also his lone catch. JuJuan Dawson had a solid performance, including a 27-yard catch for the go-ahead TD. He helped set up that play with a 33-yard catch and run on second down and 15 earlier in the drive. On a play late in the first half, Holcomb overthrew Dawson on a post pattern that might have gone for a 76-yard TD. Dawson ended up leading the Browns receivers with four catches for 87 yards. Frisman Jackson was right on his heels, though, with four catches for 53 yards, including a 22-yarder on the winning TD drive. Andre King had just one catch, but it converted a third down.

Veteran Chris Sanders and Kwame Cavil played sparingly, if at all. Sanders was released the next day.

Tight Ends

The tight ends were not involved all that much in the passing game, except for Mark Campbell. Ricky Dudley had one catch for five yards, and overall looked quite solid blocking. His one lapse was costly, though, as his man recorded the lone sack of the night and resulted in a 12-yard loss. Aaron Shea in particular looked much better blocking than in Minnesota or the scrimmages. His one catch converted a third down and he had to stretch to do so. Mark Campbell saw a lot of playing time, and caught two passes for 25 yards, including a nice catch for an 18-yard TD on a play where he was being held. Campbell was also called for a hold that negated a 10-yard run by James Jackson, which hurt because it was away from the play. Darnell Sanders didn't get a chance on a pass, but he continues to look solid blocking.

Offensive Line

The first line did not play all that long, but after watching each man on each play, I'd say their biggest problem is inconsistency. People talk about waiting for the line to "gel". Part of the problem is that you see plays where two guys block one man while someone else comes in unblocked. These were the kinds of breakdowns I saw. Of the first unit, I think they did fairly well on pass plays, but continue to struggle on running plays. In particular, though, I want to single out Ryan Tucker for some nice work on running plays. Dave Wohlabaugh let his man get away and level Couch after a throw. I thought Stokes did well overall, and I liked Shaun O'Hara pushing his man past Couch on one play. Verba looked very good on pass plays, but average on runs. Melvin Fowler took over at center after Wohlabaugh strained a hip, and I saw some nice work from him on a couple of running plays. I see definite progress since the intrasquad scrimmage here.

The backup lines were inconsistent. Too many dumb penalties hurt the backups. Of the backup group, I thought Roger Chanoine had a poor outing, and I won't be surprised if he does not make the team. Qasim Mitchell is sure a mountain of a man, and he can push guys out of the way. Nobody stood out in particular to me, but it does seem like there is progress.

Defensive Line

The first unit did not do much. They played very little, but once again, I was disappointed in them. They were getting little pressure. Only Courtney Brown came close enough to wave at a ball and perhaps disrupt the play a little. Kenard Lang pursued well downfield a couple of times, as did Orpheus Roye once. But on their watch, James Stewart ripped off a 39-yard run, and they let McMahon scramble and convert two third downs. Yeah, it's preseason and all that, but these guys are capable of a lot better.

The backups are another story, because they are fighting for jobs. I thought Arnold Miller had another good game. He used his speed well. I thought Alvin McKinley played very hard at tackle, and I liked what I saw of Damian Gregory. Mark Word rushed hard enough to get held, and Mark Smith also looked good. Tyrone Rogers was scrapping but didn't make any big plays. Felipe Claybrooks gets involved in plays from time to time, but probably not enough to secure a spot. One thing for certain, some decent players are going to get cut from this group. I did not see Marcus Spriggs in the game, though maybe I missed him.

Linebackers

With open auditions going on to replace Jamir Miller, linebacker was unsettled all night. Butch Davis noted there was a lot of confusion with guys not sure what their assignments were. With Andra Davis and Anthony Denman starting, half the time it looked like poor Dwayne Rudd was trying to hold down all three linebacker positions at once. With his speed, he closed and made some plays. This led to the very poor showing of the Browns against the run. Andra Davis made one or two nice plays, but he was out of the picture totally on Stewart's big run, and he let his man (a tight end) escape him for the Lions' first TD. The guy has talent, but he just looked confused. Rumor had it that Anthony Denman started on the strong side, but you wouldn't know it because he was not around the ball at all. I would consider this experiment a failure at least from this one game.

Among the backups, far and away, Kevin Bentley was the man. He had three solo tackles and three assists, and he was always around the ball. He sniffed out a screen and leveled the running back. He made hard hits, as evidenced by his helmet spending more time on the field than on his head! I think Butch Davis has to give him a shot with the starters on the strong side. Darren Hambrick saw his first action, and though he is still learning the defense, you can see the guy has some talent. I saw enough from him to want to see more. Brant Boyer saw very little playing time. Ben Taylor mad one nice play in particular, but maybe he is still slowed a bit by that leg whip he suffered against the Bills. Lenoy Jones played in the middle late in the game and was clearly calling the signals. He looked solid, but not spectacular. Michael Smith had a nice play. It's looking like the Marquis Smith experiment is not panning out, though he made one nice play on special teams.

Defensive Backs

When Earthwind Moreland was burned for a TD, I realized that the defensive backs really had played quite well across the board to that point. It started with a jarring tackle by Corey Fuller on the Lions' first offensive play. I thought Lewis Sanders and Anthony Henry looked solid. Kalvin Pearson also continues to play very hard. It is hard not to be impressed with the speed and hitting of Michael Jameson. Chris Akins made a couple of plays late.

On the negative side, it seemed like Robert Griffin was caught out of position a few times. Moreland's only play of the preseason so far was a bad one. I think Calvin Spears got significant time with the second unit and seemed to be behind every play. Devin Bush made a weak tackle attempt on Stewart's big run. I did not see Earl Little or Emmanuel McDaniel in the game.

Special Teams

Another big return by Dennis Northcutt, this an 18-yarder, set up the Browns' first TD. Andre King had a good kickoff return, as did Autry Denson. Gardocki and Dawson did well. Jay Taylor kicked two extra points, and also had two nice punts averaging 51+ yards. The coverage teams did well. Overall, a solid performance here.

Coaching

The Browns did better than last week in two categories. First, they cut down their penalties from 15 to 8, and most of those were on the backups. Second, the Browns converted 7 of 13 third downs, or better than 50%. Of course, allowing the Lions to convert 10 of 17 is not good.

Butch Davis is correct that the inability of the Browns to contain the QB is a reason for concern. I'll chalk up the problems against the run to problems with the revolving door at linebacker for now. But, boy, giving up 432 yards (138 rushing) to the Lions is not a performance to be proud of. I will note that the Lions played their starters pretty much the whole first half while the Browns' starters made a fairly early exit. That contributed some to the inflated numbers for the Lions. It might have been worse, though, if the Lions' starters had not had so many penalties.

Butch Davis had his game face on, challenging calls and showing that he wanted to win. I liked the way he was encouraging some of the players after they did something good.

I know this much: I am glad I don't have to make the final cuts this year. It is going to be a very hard job.

I don't normally comment on the opposing team, but I have to agree with a lot I've heard and read – this Joey Harrington is a player.

Summary

You have to be encouraged by the performance of the offense in this game. You have to be encouraged by the special teams play. You have to hope the defense will improve as the Browns settle on who is playing where. But it is still nice to win. We'll see how the Browns do against a much stronger team in Green Bay next week.

The season is short. Bark hard!


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