Game Review: Browns 31, Titans 28 OT

Here Joe with this week's game review. As usual, Joe breaks it down unit-by-unit and offers the balanced and fair commentary readers of this column have come to expect. Here's Joe's impressions following the Browns' thrilling overtime victory in Nashville.

Good day, Browns fans!

 

This game featured an amazing comeback that will be long remembered by Browns fans. I think the most exciting aspect of the game was that the Browns made enough mistakes to lose big, yet still overcame them to win. Best of all, these mistakes can be corrected. The offense continued to play well despite the return of a rusty Tim Couch and a mistake-prone William Green, the defense had its best game of the young season, and the special teams really contributed to the win.

 

As usual, let's look at the team position by position to see what happened.

 

Quarterback

 

There may not be a quarterback controversy, but the media has done all it can to fuel one, down to showing Kelly Holcomb on the sidelines numerous times throughout the game. Tim Couch came out of his month layoff, and started the game looking crisp, leading the Browns downfield to a touchdown on the opening drive out of a spread formation. After that, the Browns played more conventionally, and Couch was continually harassed by the pass rush. By the end of the half, Couch looked rattled, and that included throwing a very poor pass that ended up a Titan touchdown. Had I been the coach, I might have been tempted to pull the plug on Couch at that point. Not because of the mistake, but because Couch just didn't look ready, and to top it off, there was some concern about something with his hand. However, after halftime, Couch regained his composure and looked a lot better. When the game was on the line late, Couch made the plays. One thing I really liked was how he threw the ball into some tight situations where the receiver had to make a play to catch the ball. Couch is showing more confidence in his receivers in that way. Both Kevin Johnson and Andre Davis made plays in those situations, and Quincy Morgan gave it a try.

 

While I was a little disappointed in Couch's judgment on the interception, in general, he played smart football. When you complete 36 of 50 passes (72%), it shows something. The other team knows you are going to throw, and you are still making the vast majority of the plays. Couch brings the intangibles to the position. His ability to run and turn nothing into something is something I just don't see in Holcomb, and it's what makes Couch special. I think given the layoff, Couch did a fantastic job in this game.

 

Running Backs

 

Let's start here with the positives. Jamel White started and continues to make plays. He caught nine passes, most of them short dump offs, and ran another nine times for 43 yards. White shows quickness and ripped off several good runs. White also did an excellent job on blitz pickups.

 

Then there was William Green. He continued to struggle in the running game, with just one good run to the outside for 14 yards. But his other seven carries gained just 12 yards and included a fumble. Green caught his first pass and fumbled while fighting for extra yards. Then there was the critical third down where Green not knowing whether he was to be in the game and where to line up forced Tim Couch to use a timeout. When the game was on the line, Green was on the bench, and unfortunately, that's the way it needs to be for now. The kid has talent, and he will progress, but he is not ready for prime time just yet.

 

I'm repeating myself, but I think Green needs to be on the bench for the most part next week. The game against the Steelers is too important. Green can maybe get some carries to spell White, but the next week against the Ravens might be a better chance for Green to get an extended look.

 

Wide Receivers

 

Maybe I'm being overly positive, but this has to be the single finest game by Cleveland receivers I can remember. I can't think of too many games in the heyday of Slaughter, Langhorne, and Brennan that went like this. Overall, Cleveland wide receivers caught 22 passes for 253 yards and 3 touchdowns. Once again, it is encouraging to see the receivers make plays when they aren't really open, something Kevin Johnson and Andre Davis both did. Johnson made some tough catches in traffic, adding another nine receptions for 90 yards. With 21 catches so far, KJ is on a pace to catch 112 for the year. Davis was not open on either touchdown, both on the same pattern. In both cases he had to reach high for the ball and come down in bounds. His 31-yard reception set up the winning field goal in overtime. Davis had five catches overall for 99 yards and showed some fine ability to run after the catch. Quincy Morgan made most of his contributions at the end of the game and ended up with five more catches for 40 yards. Dennis Northcutt added 3 catches for 24 yards, including the eight-yard touchdown that forced overtime. Northcutt made a nice spin move to get into the end zone, which was critical because the Browns had no timeouts.

 

Tight Ends

 

Aaron Shea returned to action, and though he did not make a huge impact on the game, Shea is a nice receiving threat from the backfield. His one catch was one where he dived for the down marker. I felt that the Browns lost a little something blocking-wise, though, with Shea over Bowers. Mark Campbell continued his solid play, contributing two short receptions. It was nice to see Steve Heiden get involved in the passing game, picking up 11 yards on a third-and-one play.

 

Offensive Line

 

One encouraging sign was that there were not the motion penalties of a week ago. But still, the running game continued to struggle and the pass blocking was the poorest of the year so far. A lot of that falls to backup right tackle Roger Chanoine. Now, you might think I'm going to rip the guy, but I'm not. He really had problems with Kevin Carter of the Titans, but the guy is a backup who was playing hurt, and the Titans knew it. I'd say Chanoine showed a lot of toughness, and though a lot of the problems with pass protection were here, it was understandable. Paul Zukauskas also had a few problems along the way, too, but overall he did pretty well and he is gaining valuable game experience. However, I though Shaun O'Hara and Barry Stokes in particular did well in this game. The best thing for the line will be for Ryan Tucker to return and for Chanoine to get time to rest his knee. While O'Hara is a fine center, getting Wohlabaugh back will get more experience on the line, something that would help as the Browns face the 3-4 defense this week.

 

Defensive Line

 

The defensive line in this game started to look like the line we expected to see. Kenard Lang had his best game to date. He sacked McNair and made some great plays in the running game. Lang was really a force on the outside. I thought both Gerard Warren and Orpheus Roye did a good job of collapsing the middle of the Titans's offensive line. Roye made a huge bonehead move diving on a pile late that helped set up a Titan touchdown, and worse, the guy who ended up hurt was Brant Boyer. Then there is Courtney Brown. I only noticed him on plays downfield, perhaps in zone blitz situations, and getting held on passing plays. It is one thing to draw holds or takedowns, but you have to fight through it and make plays. CB did not.

 

Mark Word and Mark Smith both got time in the rotation, but neither showed much or made a tackle.

 

Linebackers

 

Earl Holmes finally had a game that I thought was truly good. He was all over the field and made plays closer to the line. Perhaps he is getting the hang of the system, or perhaps his knee is finally back to health, or maybe a little bit of both. Darren Hambrick made a couple of plays, but again, I'd like to see the guy around the ball more. Dwayne Rudd's biggest play was a non-play, on a long fumble return that was ruled no fumble because the whistle had blown.

 

Where we had linebacker troubles were when the backups got in. Brant Boyer ended up leaving injured, but on one passing play, he left covering Eddie George to go after McNair and the play ended up going to the George to set up a touchdown. Worse, once Boyer left the game, Andra Davis got burned by Simon for a TD. Kevin Bentley shows great enthusiasm, but he is clearly learning, and he made a costly penalty.

 

Defensive Backs

 

Other than in the running game, how many plays did Fuller and McCutcheon make? OK, Fuller got caught out of position on the last Titans TD. He had tight coverage, he was just on the wrong side. But overall, these two shut down the outside and deep passing game of the Titans. Even Steve McNair said so. The only plays to wide receivers were really made over Anthony Henry, who had another tough game. He made a great effort on an interception but just couldn't come down with the ball, but he continues to get burned.

 

This game had the best safety play of the season so far, but that isn't saying much. Robert Griffith has his best game so far, but I still think he needs to play more and talk less. Devin Bush made one nice play, but I hope Earl Little gets healthy soon.

 

Special Teams

 

Feast or famine here. Let's start with the Dennis Northcutt. He entered the game as the leading punt returner in the league, and his stats won't suffer from this game. Besides the first kick return for a touchdown for the resurrected Browns, a 74-yarder, he also had a very nice 26-yard return earlier in the game. Of course, you have to balance this with the mishandled punt that gave the Titans a nine-yard field to work with and allowed them to go ahead 28-14 with about 5:00 to go. Northcutt should never have even fielded that punt in the first place. But, what a way to erase the goat horns by zipping down the sideline and fielding an onside kick.

 

How about the kicking game? The only miscue here was Phil Dawson missing a 53-yard field goal. In a way, it was a shame to see his streak of 21 consecutive field goals made come to an end. In another way, it is good because he can forget about the streak and focus on the kicks themselves. Dawson had two pressure kicks: the final extra point to seal overtime and the game winner from 33 yards and nailed both. Dawson continues to make the best kickoffs of his career, including a good squib kick. But then, you have to call out the onside kick. Dawson ran one way, then kicked the ball to the other side. It was beautifully executed. Chris Gardocki did OK, but I'd like to see him drop a couple more inside the 20.

 

The coverage teams continue to struggle in the penalty department, and these mental errors are wiping out positive plays. Andra Davis had yet another special teams penalty, along with Kalvin Pearson. I know these guys are rookies, but this kind of stuff has to be eliminated.

 

Coaching

 

Butch Davis made the right call to go with and to stick with Tim Couch. It will payoff as the season unfolds. I thought Davis wasted a timeout on the second of his two coach's challenges. As it turns out, the lack of timeouts did not cost the Browns, but it could have. The Browns were forced to use all of their timeouts by early in the fourth quarter. The onside kick was a brilliant call.

 

The biggest problem the Browns face going forward is what to do with William Green. Once again, I think the Browns need to take it easy with Green and not try to force things to happen. I know the Browns are trying to show confidence in him by calling his number even after mistakes, but I wonder if forcing him in when he is not ready is as damaging to Green as it is to the team overall. I will be watching with great interest this week to see what they do with Green in Pittsburgh.

 

I have to give credit to the defense. First of all, holding Eddie George to 59 yards on 23 carries is pretty impressive. But it is even more so considering the Titans had only 187 yards overall and their longest play went for only 16 yards. The Browns took away the wide receivers and managed to keep Steve McNair from hurting them with scrambling. They held the Titans to just 3 of 13 on third down. It was a total team effort from the defense and the Browns truly dictated the game. If things can continue to come together, this might turn into the unit most of us expected to see.

 

I know the Browns want to establish a running game, but with the Titans often putting eight men in the box, I'd have liked to see more of the spread formation that was so successful early in the game and late in the game. Also, I've seen some analysis that suggests that Jamel White is only getting yards running because he is in on obvious passing downs. I'd respond in this way: the offense overall has more success when White is in the game, and it was clear that the Titans were concerned about White as a threat. Forcing the opponent to commit a linebacker to shadow White opens up the passing game more.

 

This game once again had far too many penalties, although some might say seven was not that many with the flag-happy crew that worked this game. But it was interesting to note that when the game was on the line, the Browns didn't have penalties. It would also be nice if the officials actually knew the rules.

 

The Browns should never have been in a tight game. I am very encouraged to see them overcome four turnovers (!) to win. Take away any two of those turnovers, and the Titans are not even in the game. That is because the Browns played sound offense and defense and made plays on special teams. Down 14 with 5:06 to go and no timeouts, the Browns did not give up, they stepped up. They made plays when it counted. Finally, a strange ending goes their way. I think this win will give the team confidence to keep fighting no matter what.

 

It's no mistake, the Browns have actually scored 90 points in three games. If they continue to average 30 points per game, it will allow the defense to blitz less, stay at home more, and should allow them to continue to improve without the pressure to shutout the opposition.

 

The Competition

 

The Steelers and Bruises both had the early bye to ponder 0-2 records. The Bengals just continue to get worse, laying a huge egg on a national TV game to fall to 0-3. It will be interesting to see if Akili Smith can do anything to stop the bleeding.

 

Next Up

 

The Browns face a huge game in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have had an extra week to prepare, and if they lose, they could have a difficult time overcoming an early 2.5 game deficit. The Browns need to remain focused after a big, emotional win. While the Browns can't fall out of first place, this game is huge in the AFC North race.

 

The season is short. Bark hard!


The OBR Top Stories