Like many of you, I thought I had seen pretty much every possible way for the Browns to lose a game. But just when you think so, we get this stunning turn of events. Much like Butch Davis, though, I certainly do not believe the Browns lost the game just because of a helmet being flung. The problems were far deeper, and the Browns should never have been in a position to lose in the first place.
We were told not to put too much stock in the outstanding performance of the offense in the preseason. The vaunted Browns' defense, we were assured, would come together with more playing time. Instead, we found out that the tendencies and problems we saw in the games that didn't count carried over to this one that did. Let's look position by position at what took place.
I can't add much to the superlatives being heaped on Kelly Holcomb. They are well deserved. To step in as a backup and play at the level he played here, it has to give the Browns tremendous confidence. The way Holcomb threw the deep ball in particular was just a thing of beauty. I think the thing that the Browns lost without Tim Couch, though, was the ability to make something out of nothing at times. For example, I wonder what Tim Couch might have done with that first short field after the early interception. I also suspect that Couch would have better been able to handle the situation where Holcomb rolled into the direction of a blitz and fumbled due to his experience. But overall, Holcomb played a superb game.
Jamel White was a surprise starter, and though he didn't go wild, he did some good things. As usual, he showed a good burst of speed to get around the corner a couple of times. As many fans were predicting, the Browns did trot out the so-called "Light Green Backfield" with both Green and White on the field at the same time. That might have been more effective had Green done anything in the game. He looked overwhelmed, and he didn't get much help up front, either. The one play where he might have turned in a decent gain, he hesitated and got cut down early. Green has a ways to go. I also have to single out some truly excellent blitz pickup work by White in this game, especially for his size.
R. J. Bowers started the game at H-Back. He didn't do very much of note, though the Browns in general did well picking up the blitz. His one notable play was a stupid and flagrant clipping penalty that wiped out a 34-yard screen pass to White.
I don't think anyone will argue if I say that this was the single finest game by the Browns receiving corps since The Return. Let's start with Quincy Morgan. When we last saw Morgan in a home game, he was dropping a fourth down pass on the way to Bottlegate. This was far and away his best game, with nine catches for 150-plus yards. He made tough catches. He made easy catches. He got wide open more than once. He made big plays. And even more than that, the man threw some fine blocks on the outside. This was truly an all-around performance. But let's not leave out the other starting receiver. Kevin Johnson had what has become for him, a routine game with eight catches for just shy of 100 yards. Johnson also made some very tough catches. If this is what we are going to see this season, the Browns have a quite a one-two punch here, and it will really open things up for the offense.
But it didn't stop there. All five active receivers played well. Dennis Northcutt got his first career touchdown on a bomb from Holcomb. Northcutt was wide open. Andre Davis made some key catches to keep drives alive along with a nice play for his first touchdown. Andre King also chipped in with a key play or two. It's hard not to be very optimistic about what all of these guys can accomplish this year.
This was a solid, if nondescript, game from the tight ends. I though Mark Campbell did a nice job. He blocked well, did a good job picking up the blitz, and he showed his trademark soft hands. Darnell Sanders saw some playing time. He was the target of one pass where he was blanketed. Steve Heiden did get in the game, but I assume he is still learning the offense. These guys have to pick it up in the running game.
Just like in the preseason, the offensive line did great in pass protection, but lousy on running plays. Things really degenerated when Ryan Tucker sprained a knee early in the game and the Browns sent Roger Chanoine in the game. He looked awful on the run. The Browns need Tucker in there. Overall, I thought the line was best in shifting around to counter the numerous blitz looks the Chiefs threw at them. They did really well on the screen pass to White, got out in front nicely and made some great blocks. In fact, it worked so well I have to wonder why we never saw that play again. I am hoping that continuity will help the Browns improve in the running game over time.
I don't normally comment on a unit as a whole, but in this case, I fell compelled to do so. This was a flat out embarrassing performance by a veteran defense against a team that is not exactly an offensive juggernaut. I echo comments I have read elsewhere that the defense simply did not look ready to play. Could it be this bunch has been reading their own press clippings and figured they could just mail it in? I have never seen such horrible tackling, including in 1999. You can't just body check the guy, you have to wrap him up. Numerous plays went like this, both on defense and special teams.
Forgive me in advance for what you are about to read below, but my emotions are still running high, and I had much higher expectations of players with this level of talent than what we witnessed on Sunday.
If you watched the game, I ask you: name one play that stood out by a defensive lineman. I'd say there weren't any, and I'm including all seven guys who played (McKinley was inactive). The best plays of the day were two when Courtney Brown drew holding penalties on Willie Roaf. Whoopee. There was no, nada, zip pass rush, and that was even true when the Browns blitzed. Butch Davis often talks about getting off blocks, disengaging from the offensive man to push to the quarterback. The Browns in general did a terrible job of getting off blocks, but the defensive line was the main culprit. Since there was no pressure on the quarterback, it exposed the rest of the defense. Then, there is the run. The Browns knew coming in the Chiefs would run. They did, to the tune of nearly 200 yards, and the Browns were powerless to stop it. It's not like it was a surprise.
Grade them, you say? Two number one draft picks and two high dollar veteran free agents should provide some value. Sorry guys, you flunk. Pathetic.
Helmet tossing aside, I thought Dwayne Rudd had the one good game of the linebackers. Of course, with his major bonehead play that cost the game, Rudd will be remembered with the likes of Leon Lett for a stupid mistake that put himself ahead of the team. While releasing him is too rash a reaction, as some are demanding, I think Rudd would have to be clear that another such incident and he is unemployed. Darren Hambrick's best play might have been his deep downfield coverage of a running back on a streak pass. But otherwise, where was he? He seemed to be largely watching someone run past him. Where was that nose for the ball we saw in the preseason? Earl Holmes was MIA. He made a couple of plays, but largely, he wasn't anywhere around the play. At least Wali Rainer gave some effort. More galling were Holmes remarks in an interview Monday where he seemed to be making excuses for his poor play and the poor play of the defense in general. "We didn't expect them to run once they got behind." Yeah, right. Brant Boyer played on passing downs (and there were plenty of them) and did little. Kevin Bentley got in the game according to Butch Davis, but I didn't see him do anything.
Lay a good deal of the 190-plus rushing yards at the feet of these guys. Make some room in the corner with the dunce caps, defensive line, these fellows will be joining you.
I have to assume Corey Fuller had a good game. You see, he was not involved in many plays. It seemed like the Chiefs were throwing away from him. Though he went out with an injury, Daylon McCutcheon had an interception and made a good tackle early. Lewis Sanders saw significant playing time and his play was much like the preseason. He made some hard hits, but was out of position at times. I officially say here what has been nagging at me all during the preseason: that Anthony Henry is struggling. He got badly burned on a deep ball, and just doesn't look the same as last year.
Let's talk about the safeties. Remember how Robert Griffith was going to help us against the run? Uh huh. I've seen people praise the game he had, and he did make some plays. But he also got embarrassed by Tony Gonzalez (I know, many players have been), and in general, he didn't look like he knew what was going on. Griffith had a Pro Bowl performance compared to Devin Bush. I thought for a minute Percy Ellsworth had snuck into the game wearing number 23, except that's an insult to Percy. Bush is a terrible tackler and was behind plays all day long. This was a "thanks for playing, you're cut" performance by Bush.
Let's start with what was good. You have to like four more field goals by Phil Dawson without a miss. You have to like Chris Gardocki not getting on the field very much. You have to like an excellent punt return by Dennis Northcutt. You have to like seeing Andre Davis twice get within a step or two of breaking a kickoff return. All of those things are continuations of what we saw in the preseason.
On the other hand, you had terrible kickoff coverage teams, something that was supposed to be an area of improvement. And why, why, why are the kicker and holder taunting guys after a field goal. The Browns acted like they already have the Super Bowl locked up. Once you guys actually win something, like say, oh, a football game, then we'll see. I like what Butch Davis said: the best taunt is to have the opposition look at the scoreboard at the end of the game and find they have lost.
Where to begin…
A lot of the fault for what happened in this game has to go to Butch Davis. The buck stops there. The Browns defense did not come prepared to play football. Players like Rudd, Dawson and/or Gardocki were clearly out of control. People liked the "swagger" of the Browns last year. Here, this was a team that didn't know how to win with class, so it lost. Davis has to get control of this before Sunday. Things have to change and change now.
I go along with many who felt Davis played too conservative at the end in settling for a field goal. It was almost like giving up when we were moving the ball with ease in the passing game. This smacks of the way the Browns played the end of the Seattle game last year. A nice, safe pass play might have picked up the first down.
I agreed with the decision to go for the two-point conversion, and while many questioned the play call, it appeared that Holcomb changed the play. Nobody is talking about that.
It's hard to question the offense when so many things went right. I'd have liked to see more of the screen pass against a hard-blitzing team, especially since the one we tried worked so well. The option pass was a great call and if you watch Morgan, the way he started really sold the run. Great job there. If the Browns can pass protect as well as they did in this game, they will eat the Bengals' secondary alive.
If this is the defense the Browns will be fielding this season, they won't sniff the playoffs. Let's hope that fixing the problems Butch Davis noted in communication will make a marked improvement.
Thanks to the rest of the AFC North for losing and keeping the Browns in first place. The Steelers got rolled by the Patriots, the Bengals were surprisingly bad against the Chargers, and the Crabcakes lost to the pathetic Panthers.
The Bengals come to town, and they'll be angry. This is a critical division game, and is a must win for the Browns.
The season is short. Bark hard!