A good forty-eight hours have passed since the Browns dropped a 16-13 decision to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 100th meeting between these two storied franchises.
It really took me a few solid hours to go over the game tape. Just to be sure, I was flopping between the tapes of the Steelers games against the Patriots and Raiders. The Steelers defense that was on the field against those teams was the same Steelers defense on the field against the Browns this past Sunday. The Steelers defense didn't do anything that they hadn't done against the Patriots and Raiders, but the Browns offense couldn't attack the Steeler's scheme the way those teams had done.
Just to clarify the situation before we get any further, I believe that Tim Couch will eventually 'get it' as an NFL quarterback. Right now, he doesn't, at least on a consistent basis. This situation is festering. I do not believe in the slightest that Tim Couch is healthy. Sure, he may have the ability to throw a football, but that same ability is in question.
On numerous occasions during the Browns game against the Steelers, Couch underthrew a receiver. Very rarely did he attempt to throw the ball downfield and he lost velocity as the game progressed. This is no quarterback controversy, rather, there appears to be lingering issues with Couch's right elbow.
Granted, Couch hasn't had much support throughout his first three seasons in the league. It was pretty amazing that he hasn't been seriously injured. Even more amazing is the fact that he doesn't appear to be gun-shy. Couch is definitely a trooper. He'll stand in the pocket and take the hit, but that doesn't make him a better player and certainly doesn't make him a smarter one.
We've all heard the story. When Couch is healthy, he is the starter. This is Couch's team.
Granted, Couch was named Player of the Week following the Browns come-from-behind victory against the Tennessee Titans. Note, however, that this is the same Titans' team that has given up an average of 32-points per game.
Lets not forget that Tennessee was ahead 28-14 with 5:05 remaining in the game. Sensing they had the victory within their grasp, the Titans went into the prevent defense. It wasn't a surprise that the Browns were able to move the football. Couch is very good in the two-minute drill, better than most realize. It was a great victory for the Browns, but hardly the performance of offensive excellence that many have etched into their minds.
In the Tennessee game, Couch looked good statistically and he was productive in taking what the defense offered. Furthermore, the Titans defensive scheme late in the game played into Couch's strength, the short passing game. Despite the seemingly impressive outing, there are some easily made observations that have been basically ignored. Couch was underthrowing receivers, his velocity was not consistent, and the ball was drifting on him. Numerous passes had the look of a shotput dropping from the skies above. In his first game back from approximately a four-week layoff, some of this would be expected.
Furthermore, lets not forget to mention that the Tennessee secondary has been struggling in coverage and the linebackers are not able to maintain coverage responsibilities for more than a brief moment. This weekend, the Oakland Raiders took advantage of this weakness, rolling up 52 points on the hapless Titan defense.
When Couch, presumably healthy, came into the league, he struggled on the 12-yard speed outs and 18-yard comeback routes. Another observation is that if the defensive backs don't bump the wide receivers and give him the 30-yard fade pattern, Couch's efficiency and probability of getting something downfield completed is extremely low.
Getting right down to the nuts and bolts of the Pittsburgh game, Couch did not get the job done. Again, statistics are misleading, as Couch did complete 16 of 29 pass attempts. Simply put, Couch is a dink-and-dunk type quarterback in his current physical state and the Steelers were waiting for him.
Pittsburgh game-planned well. They played believing that Couch could not beat them over the top of the defense and outside the numbers. The Steelers challenged the Browns to throw the ball downfield and they couldn't. In fact, the Browns barely made an attempt. When the Browns did attempt to go downfield, Couch underthrew Jamel White and Andre Davis, both of whom had gotten behind the Pittsburgh defense.
How about that Hail Mary pass that had about as much hang time as a Chris Gardocki punt? Only if it had the distance.
There is a difference in stretching the field and putting four wide receivers into the contest. For example, Couch has been unable to throw the out pattern to the sideline with velocity. This inability shortens the width of the field and poses a disadvantage to an offense. Not showing the ability to stretch the field vertically just provides a defense with the ammunition to either press at the corners or show an offense no respect, thus lining up multi-players and looks at or near the line of scrimmage. The Steelers congested the field between the numbers, dropping back into coverage between the hash-marks, Couch had very few passing lanes and too many bodies to pass the ball through.
Pittsburgh would line up eight-players in the box, then back off into coverage, taking away the passing lanes in the short passing game. They were successful in moving those players around and the Browns were not able to adjust.
Was it that the Browns weren't able to adjust due to being thrown for a loop by the Steelers defense? Absolutely not. The Browns did not attack the Steelers defense because the Browns couldn't do what they had to do, which was soften the defense by stretching the field. Maybe it was because they couldn't.
Don't blame the offensive line, don't blame the lack of a running game. Look at the gameplan, it says measures about what the Browns thoughts were coming into this game. Again, the Steelers did not reinvent themselves over the bye-week, they just played the right team and the right quarterback at the right time.
I hope I am wrong and Tim Couch is healthy and just had an off-game, otherwise, the Browns could be in trouble.