Good day, Browns fans!
It was good to see the Browns win and take sole possession of first place in the AFC North. The offense did not make the big plays of a week ago, but it was efficient, and considering the weather conditions, that is understandable. Most of the second half was played in a steady rain. Once again, however, this game showed signs of serious problems with this team that are cause for concern heading into two critical and difficult road games.
Many writers have written about the improvement of the defense after giving up 39 points last week. In short, while there was improvement, in many ways the Bengals did more to stop themselves than the Browns did to stop them. The defense was better, but a better opponent would have had a lot of success.
Kelly Holcomb did not have the spectacular game he had a week ago, but he was efficient. Once again, he threw some nice deep balls and made some plays to keep drives alive. You have to applaud the way the Browns were able to overcome poor field position, especially in the first half, by at least picking up a first down or two before giving the ball back. But I noticed like some of the Insiders did how Holcomb missed bigger plays that were there to be had. For example, on one third down, Holcomb threw to the outside to Quincy Morgan, I believe. On that play, Kevin Johnson was open about five yards deeper with room to run. Also, Holcomb threw some balls into situations that other teams would have intercepted. In particular, Artrel Hawkins could have had a couple of interceptions. Now, don't get me wrong – Holcomb has done a fine job in place of Tim Couch. Still, you have to look at his play realistically. I think Couch's experience and his ability to make something out of nothing might have helped this game to be more of a blowout.
The Browns force-fed the ball to William Green in this game, particularly in the second half. He generally continued to look tentative and did not hit holes with authority (despite what Butch Davis said Monday to the contrary). In the second half, though, Green looked a little better. In one sequence with the Browns deep in their own end, Green got the ball something like five plays in a row and did a decent job of getting three or four yards per play. It is somewhat hard to judge that situation, because in the second half with the rain, the Browns played somewhat conservatively, and it almost had the feel of a preseason game. While Green showed flashes, he is simply not showing on the field that he is ready to be the starting running back for this team. Green's inability to be any kind of threat really hurt the offense.
Meanwhile, Jamel White continues to shine. On one play after a penalty, White sprinted past the tackle for a 10-yard run. White looked good again on the screen, and he is just so quick to the corner. He often makes what looks like a loss into a gain, and if it becomes a loss, it is not because of a lack of effort. White is the best back on the team right now.
R. J. Bowers got significant time at H-Back. It was hard for me to judge his blocking, but I didn't see any really killer blocks. I think he is doing OK and is an upgrade for the guys who played the position in the preseason but that isn't saying a lot. Bowers is probably an improvement on Aaron Shea in the blocking department, but the Browns miss Shea as a receiving threat.
The Browns now face two tough road games. Butch Davis is going to have to go to White as the primary running back, and give Green more playing time against some of the weaker teams after that. Green can be a change of pace back in the interim. While I say this, and it seems obvious based on a scrimmage and six games so far, I question whether it will actually happen.
Once again, this was not the spectacular performance of a week ago, but considering the conditions, the receivers did well. Forget the numbers for a moment and consider that when the Browns needed a play, the receivers were able to step up and make one. Let's start with Kevin Johnson, the Bengal killer. A four-catch day seems almost like an off day for KJ. His catches were some tough plays. On his touchdown catch, he wasn't even open and still managed to hang on. Quincy Morgan had a couple of nice catches, but did not have the gaudy numbers of a week ago. Andre Davis might have had the best day of this group, starting with two tough catches on third down and a nice little TD catch. Dennis Northcutt played but didn't get involved in the passing game.
Mark Campbell continues to show toughness and soft hands. I never expected him to end up the starter, but so far, he has been solid. He was also the target of a would-be TD pass, but he got chipped off the line and could not get there in time. Darnell Sanders caught a pass when he was tightly covered, though it went for no gain on a third and short play. Steve Heiden played and got involved, but he still looks a bit confused on the offense. It is hard to evaluate him right now.
With all the shuffling this week, I actually thought the line did pretty well. Let's start with Roger Chanoine who I criticized last week. Chanoine got hurt in the game, but still came back and played pretty well. He lost Justin Smith on one play that turned into a sack, but overall, he held his own. I thought Shaun O'Hara did well at center, and Paul Zukauskas did a decent job at guard. I noted Zukauskas well out in front on a screen to White that went for a good gain. Barry Stokes showed toughness in manhandling some guys. My only gripe with the line was the numerous false start penalties. I suppose with all the changes, this was to be expected. I'd also say that in the second half, the line began to open some holes for the running game. That is not to say there is not room for improvement, and Holcomb got hit a lot more than a week ago, but given the personnel changes, the line did OK.
This was a better performance than last week. You can definitely point to plays that were made this week. For example, Mark Word, starting in place of Courtney Brown, racked up three sacks. Orpheus Roye brought pressure up the middle that led to an ill-advised throw and an interception by Kenard Lang. The Bengals largely took Gerard Warren out of the equation with double teams. But all that being said, most of the "pass rush" the Browns had was more due to the ineffectiveness of the Bengal passing game. Often the problems were caused by good coverage in the secondary that forced Gus Frerotte to hold the ball too long.
Butch Davis noted that the strategy in this game was not to give up the 15-yard run, but to just hold Corey Dillon in check. The Browns defensive line was largely manhandled by a solid Bengals line on running plays. On most runs, the defensive line was not anywhere near making a play unless it got strung to the outside. Even with Eddie George nicked up, the Titans and Steelers are going to torch these guys without a better effort.
Earl Holmes led the team in tackles. But this was a Rainer-esque performance, with most of those tackles coming well beyond the line. So far, Holmes has lived down to my preseason expectations. I hope he improves and I am wrong. Darren Hambrick made a couple of plays this week including a sack, but I still want to see the nose for the ball he showed in the preseason. Dwayne Rudd had a quiet game, something he was probably thankful for after the events of the previous week. Kevin Bentley also played some, but did not do much of note. While Brant Boyer had a nice interception, he was behind plays, missed tackles, and generally did not look good to me.
Overall, I thought the secondary did a pretty good job. The corners in general were quite good, and shut down a lot of the Bengal passing game, though that is not saying much. The only problem here is Anthony Henry. He had another off game, was behind on plays and got beat. Call it the sophomore slump or whatever you want to call it, but Henry is having some problems. Lewis Sanders also needs to be a little tighter in coverage and to tackle better. He did make a great block on Lang's interception return.
The safety play was better, but still, I'd like to see less trash talking and more play making from Robert Griffith. He had a garbage time interception and made a couple of plays. But Griffith has been terrible against the run and he needs to tackle someone. You can't just go for the hard hit and bounce off. That would also apply to Devin Bush, who did very little in this game. Kalvin Pearson got in the game, too.
This game had good kicking, including three field goals by Phil Dawson (although one was wiped out by a penalty) including a 52-yarder that might have been good from 60. Also, Dawson continued with some fine kickoffs. These last two games have been the best of his career in that area. Chris Gardocki and the punt gunners pinned the Bengals deep, especially in the second half. The only miscue here was a stupid holding penalty on Andra Davis that wiped out a fumble by the Bengals on a kick that would have given the Browns a short field and put the game away. Andra Davis did have a nice special teams tackle, though.
On the return game, Dennis Northcutt had another good punt return. Boy, he has turned it up! Andre Davis continues to look good on kickoff returns, but Andre King really suffers by comparison. I want to see Davis handling that ball more. The kickoff coverage in particular was very good, with the Browns holding the Bengals to a measly 13-yard average on kickoff returns. The Browns just have to eliminate dumb penalties on the coverage teams.
Butch Davis talked this past week about fixing mistakes. Well, a lot of them aren't fixed. Let's start once again with just terrible tackling. Do the Browns teach any fundamentals in this area at all? Wrap a guy up. Thank goodness for Daylon McCutcheon as a tackler.
I liked the aggressiveness the Browns showed when the rain subsided. Even late in the game with a fairly commanding lead, the Browns still went for some big plays. They just missed a couple of times, one a nice catch of a long ball by Kevin Johnson where he had only one foot in bounds.
Butch Davis made a nice challenge of a fourth down catch by the Bengals that was ruled no catch after review.
The Bengals are just bad. They really did not do one thing right except run the ball. It started with the fake field goal that turned into a backward punt, then there was the inability of Michael Westbrook to look like a professional wide receiver, along with Frerotte literally throwing the game away. Without that ill-advised play, it might have been 10-3 or 10-7 at the half, and with the rain, who knows what might have happened? Dick LeBeau isn't even playing his best players, considering T. J. Houshmanzadeh was left on the bench in the first half. If he can't see that Frerotte is not getting the job done, I have to question his coaching ability. The frustration shows that the Bengals are a team ready to implode. So, yes, the Browns held the Bengals to a single garbage time touchdown. But the Browns looked downright poor at times in doing it, especially on defense and in the running game. Forgive me if I'm just not all that impressed. There was way too much bending, even if they did not break.
I have two big issues from this game. First, Butch Davis is going to have to face reality in the William Green situation. He just isn't ready to be an every down back yet. That will come later in the year, I believe, but the holdout and nagging injuries really hurt his progress. The Browns can't afford to be running training camp in games that count. Green is going to have to sit. Second, it was completely inexcusable for Mark Word to chance taking off his helmet with one foot still on the field. Butch Davis was seen laying into him, and well so. Word would be deep in my doghouse, three sacks or not. It shows me that Davis has not fixed the problems he claims they addressed last week.
Once again, the Browns face a must-win game this week. They cannot afford to go into Pittsburgh at 1-2. That means the Browns are going to have to stop the run, even if Eddie George is nicked up, and they have to stop Steve McNair if he is recovered from his encounter with the equipment carrier. McNair's scrambling scares me to death against our underachieving defense.
Once again, the rest of the AFC North all lost to fall to 0-2. The Steelers allowed the Raiders to pass them silly at home, and the Barneys were shut out by Tampa Bay in their home opener. It's going to get ugly in that city to the southeast. The Bengals are just a bad football team (who was it that thought they'd make the playoffs?), and looking ahead at their schedule, they could easily be 0-6 at their bye. The Steelers are off this week with an extra week to prepare for a must-win game for them against the Browns.
The Browns head to Nashville for the last scheduled meeting with the former division-rival Titans/Oilers until 2006.
The season is short. Bark hard!