The Browns staged an improbable comeback, winning at home in December for only the second time in December since The Return. After laying an egg the previous week against the Bengals, the Browns played hard and there were a lot of encouraging signs. On the other hand, there were also things to be concerned about as well. Let's take a closer look at what happened.
Where have these guys been all year? The offense this year has rarely put together more than two quarters of solid football. In this game, they managed to put together four-plus quarters. It was very encouraging to see the team doing some unorthodox things here and there, staying with the run throughout the game, and moving the ball consistently throughout the game. The word that comes to my mind to describe the effort was "efficient". And for a change, the offense wasn't boring.
Obviously everyone is talking about the performance of Derek Anderson. Entering the game, his NFL experience consisted of one NFL snap taken after Charlie Frye had taken a blow to the head. He handed off and left the game. There were some encouraging signs in the preseason, but those came against guys who largely aren't on NFL rosters right now. To see Anderson come in cold and make some very nice throws right away impressed me. He throws a nice looking ball and all, but he needs to work on some touch. Even more surprising was Anderson's running. He is not known as a mobile quarterback, but he burned the Chiefs running more than once, including his 33-yard scramble in overtime. I liked his patience in the pocket, and I liked his ability to improvise, such as shoveling the ball underneath to move the chains.
This isn't to say Frye had a bad game. Before his injury, he was having perhaps his best game of the year. Frye also moved the team consistently and led them to 14 points. The only bad play was missing a wide-open Dennis Northcutt behind the defense, but that was into the wind with an injured wrist. While it was great to see Anderson come in and have success, it was disappointing that we didn't get to see what Frye could have done in the rest of the game.
Beyond the quarterbacks, though, it's hard to think of anyone on offense that did not contribute. Let's start with the much-maligned offensive line. This was probably their best game of the year. Kelly Butler has had his problems in previous starting assignments, but he did an admirable job in this game. This is his chance to stake a claim to a role on this line. The line did a very nice job protecting the quarterbacks for the most part, despite Frye's injuries. His ankle problem was due to being stepped on by Kevin Shaffer and he was scrambling when he hurt his wrist. Also, the Browns weren't exactly parting the Red Sea, but there were enough holes in the running game to help keep the heat off the quarterbacks. The Browns even converted on short yardage situations, including a key fourth down conversion.
I really like the combination of Reuben Droughns and Jason Wright. Their contrasting styles kept the Chiefs off balance all day. These two harken back to the days of Kevin Mack and Ernest Byner. Perhaps they don't have the same talent, but the bruising style of Droughns and the quickness of Wright really complemented each other. Wright was especially effective in the passing game, turning little dump offs into over 70 yards of offense. I must also single out fullback Terrelle Smith for his best game of the season. He never touched the ball, but over and over again, his blocking and blitz pickups opened up the game for the skill players.
The receivers didn't have huge numbers, but they were effective. It was tremendous to see Joe Jurevicius finally fulfilling the role we all expected him to take when he was signed. He made some fabulous catches that always seemed to be for first-down yardage. Braylon Edwards had an excellent touchdown catch. Josh Cribbs took a direct snap and went nine yards on first down, just one defender from breaking off a big play. Kellen Winslow had just one catch, but it was a big one, a beautiful catch of a high pass that went for a 26-yard gain in overtime. But, the attention being drawn by Winslow allowed Steve Heiden to burn the Chiefs. He had two touchdown catches, and was often open. Heiden may not have the talent of a Winslow, but he is an effective player. The Browns need to take better advantage of his skills as teams focus on the other marquee names on offense. The Browns effectively used Darnell Dinkins in similar fashion to Heiden.
Besides being efficient and effective, the offense was entertaining. It's been a long time since that could be said of the Browns. What I was talking about two weeks ago was showing some on Sunday. This team has some talent, but a decent performance by the offensive line was the key to allowing that talent to function.
While all three phases of the team contributed to the victory, the defense was the one that had the most problems. The Browns continue to play through a lot of injuries here, and that is a factor. Orpheus Roye did not play, and though Leigh Bodden returned from his ankle injury, it was obvious he was not 100%. The best indicator of how badly the defense did was that all of the Kansas City scoring drives were long ones, including a 99-yarder. At one point, the Chiefs were 8 out of 9 on third down.
The defensive line did a decent job in this game. Some individual plays stand out, such as Simon Fraser knocking the ball out of the hands of Trent Green. Ted Washington continues to play only part time, so Nick Eason and J'Vonne Parker saw a good deal of playing time. Probably the best thing you can say is that while the Browns did not shut down the run completely, they controlled the potent Kansas City running attack enough that it did not hurt them. For the most part, the Chiefs were getting their running yards to the outside, though they did gash one big one up the middle. That being said, the Browns had very little pass rush, even though they did manage a couple of sacks.
Perhaps the best thing that can be said of the line is that the linebackers were able to make some plays, a hallmark of the 3-4. Tops on the list has to be Willie McGinest, who had his finest game of the season. He made play after play, including a critical sack. On one play, he fought off a block and stuffed the runner attempting to go off tackle. Kamerion Wimbley had another sack on a monster underneath move. While Romeo Crennel made a point to single out the performance of Andra Davis, both he and D'Qwell Jackson had some plays sniffed out, but failed to make the tackle. What would have been losses went for gains. If even two or three of those plays are made, the Browns might not have been fighting from behind to win. It also bothered me that the Browns all too often lost outside containment, such as when the Chiefs had third-and-six from their own four. Tony Gonzalez took out Wimbley and nobody else was home out there. But overall, if the linebackers are making plays, that is a positive indication of how the front seven is doing in the 3-4.
The Chiefs could not run much, but boy, could they pass. The secondary had been torched by the Steelers and Bengals the previous two games, and this was more of the same. Bodden was less than healthy, and though Daven Holly, Ralph Brown, and Jeremy Perry have played well above what you could expect of them, their lack of experience shows at times. Holly had a nice interception in the end zone that was a huge play in the game. It bailed the Browns out after Dinkins fumbled a kickoff. The Browns rarely got meaningful pressure on Green, and that allowed him to kill the patchwork secondary much of the day.
Where the Browns really suffered was the safety play. Week after week, Sean Jones, Brian Russell, and Brodney Pool have made hard hits, shutting down some great tight ends like Antonio Gates and Algee Crumpler. Gonzalez took them to school. Granted, since he is a big name, Gonzalez was getting away with murder on a lot of plays. But it has been rare for a team or a player to out-physical the Browns this year, and Gonzalez did it. On his first touchdown, I wasn't sure if he was catching the ball or Brodney Pool's head! And clearly, Gonzalez running wide open on the Chiefs' final score was a blown coverage. I'm not faulting our safeties for a lack of effort by any means, but sometimes you show up, play your best, and still lose the battle. Such was the case here.
Despite a lot of problems on defense, there are some real positives. First, even if plays aren't always being made, for the most part, the defense is recognizing the play. So despite some potential losses not being realized, at least the players are reading the play correctly. They need to improve their execution and technique. There were way too many missed tackles in this game. The Gonzalez touchdown was bad, but it reminded my how few blown coverages we have seen this year, and this with a revolving door at cornerback. Some credit there must go to field general Brian Russell. And finally, when the Browns needed stops to win, the defense came up with them, especially in overtime after losing the toss. The Browns held the Chiefs on three of their final four third downs.
Other than the Darnell Dinkins fumble, the special teams came up huge again. Dinkins was even surprising on the return. If he'd held onto the ball, he'd be praised for a great run on that play. Josh Cribbs came up with big returns several times. In fact, the one time he didn't, the Browns still drove it 81 yards to tie the game. Dave Zastudil dropped two punts inside the five, one of which the coverage team managed to down at the one. Phil Daswon not only kicked the game winning field goal off a less than ideal field, he had great kickoffs all day long. Even when he kicked short, his directional kicking led to the Chiefs either being bottled up or nearly losing the ball. One kick was like a deep onside kick and the Browns nearly recovered it. Dennis Northcutt didn't have a lot of running room on punt returns.
Once again, this game was a watershed in the character of the Cleveland Browns. Many observers expected the team to tank. It looked last week like Crennel had lost control of the players. Clearly, this team showed character. If this game was the players' referendum on the coaching staff, then maybe it is appropriate to give the staff more time. I said last week that Crennel had the remainder of the season to show something. He certainly did that here.
Let's start with a good game plan, something I'm not sure the Browns had against Cincinnati. The Browns did not come out with a "play not to lose" approach, and that made a huge difference. Jeff Davidson dug into the playbook and had two flea-flickers, a "slash" play from Josh Cribbs, shovel passes, and yes, the first screen pass since he took over the play calling. The Browns threw in the intermediate range with both quarterbacks and consistently attacked the weakness of the Kansas City defense in the middle of the field. The Browns have not thrown that much to their backs this year, but in this game, that was a tactic that the Chiefs never did stop all day. They also spread the ball around to a variety of receivers. The Browns didn't get big yards in the running game, but even down 28-14 in the fourth quarter, they continued to use the run effectively.
On defense, the Browns did not gamble much. They were conservative with blitzing, and chose to rush three and cover with eight at times. I'm not a huge fan of the three-man rush, but when the Browns needed a stop, they got it using that approach. I wonder if Todd Grantham would have blitzed more if the secondary was having more success. It also might have been a decision to try to keep Gonzalez in check by covering him with a safety, thus not leaving anyone to blitz. But, if the offense can score some points, then the defense can afford to be a little more conservative.
If I have one criticism of the game, once again, the Browns were pulling Kellen Winslow off the field on third down. Perhaps this was a strategy to try to use Jurevicius more in those situations. I'd still rather have both of those guys on the field rather than, say, Dennis Northcutt. The Chiefs pulled Gonzalez off the field on third down several times, so I know that teams do it, but I don't think that was a smart play for them, either.
Finally, Romeo Crennel is just terrible with the red flag. Once again, he challenged a play that was obvious. Last week, he watched two replays and still the flag when everyone in the stadium knew it was a touchdown. While this one was a little less obvious, it was a similar situation and a similar result. While losing the time out did not ultimately affect the outcome, it very well could have in a close game like this one.
Finally, for all you Derek Anderson lovers out there, this was part of one game. The Chiefs did not prepare for Anderson, had no film on him, and then saw him do things that simply would not be expected of him given his college career. Anderson threw a lot of interceptions in college, and he got away with some throws. The one interception he did throw at the end of regulation might well have cost the Browns the game. On top of that, the Chiefs defense isn't exactly the 1985 Bears. Anderson did some nice things, far more than I would have expected, but let's see what he can do against the Steelers before we get too excited.
A short week and a small audience as the Browns take on the Steelers on NFL Network.The season is short. Bark hard!