Joe Brownlee's Game Review

Joe takes a look at the Browns disappointing loss in Pittsburgh in this week's game review. Analyzing the game unit by unit, Joe gets past the strange ending to the game to talk about how the individual units are performing.

Good day, Browns fans!

After an exhilarating victory the previous week, the Browns played a tough game against a good team in a hostile environment. Despite chances to take control of the game, the Browns did not do so, and so they suffered a tough loss. However, the Browns remain in sole possession of first place and there were some encouraging signs as this young team continues to learn how to win, all too often the hard way.

Without further comment, let's look position by position at what happened.

Quarterback

I find it hard to gauge the performance of Tim Couch in this game. Couch made some good plays and some good throws, but once again, he threw a very poor pass that was intercepted and led to a field goal. His second interception came on a "Hail Mary" pass at the end of the first half, so I discount that one. Couch's numbers otherwise were OK. The thing that stands out to me is that in the previous three games, Couch would throw the ball into situations where the receiver had to make a play. When he did that in this game, the receivers generally did not make a play.

The most interesting aspect of Couch's play in this game was the fact that he didn't get a chance. In Tennessee, the Browns had no choice but to put the ball in Tim's hands and see if he could bring them back. He did it. In this game, particularly in overtime, the Browns did not give Couch the chance to make a play. Butch Davis said that the play call on the first play in overtime was a deep pass. That wasn't open, so Couch dumped it off to Aaron Shea for a modest gain. But the Browns chose to run on 2nd and 3rd downs. Couch did not get a chance to make a play to win the game.

Running Backs

Jamel White started the game, and in my opinion, solidified his hold on the starting job. In fact, White was the only player who consistently made plays throughout the game. White rushed for 105 yards on just 16 carries, including a beautiful 54-yard run, and scored the only touchdown on a four-yard run up the middle. White also caught three passes for 14 yards, though his best reception of the day, a 26-yard gain on a screen pass was wiped out by a penalty away from the play. White showed both toughness and quickness. I also noticed some excellent blocking work by White.

William Green was used in this game in a way that better fits where he is right now as a player. He came in from time to time to spell White. Though he only gained 17 yards on 6 carries, Green had a couple of positive plays. He might have had a touchdown on a swing pass, but he did not manage to catch it, and in another situation, he took his eye of the ball to peek at an oncoming defender. These are learning experiences that will help Green improve. Hopefully, the Browns can get a lead in a game at some point where they can allow Green to get some work.

Wide Receivers

In large part, the Browns either won or were in the previous three games because of the play of the wide receivers. In this game, this group in general did not get open and did not make plays. I think this was one of the major contributors to this loss. Kevin Johnson managed just three catches, and it looked like the Steelers focused on taking him away. On one play that might have gone for a touchdown, Johnson got mugged but there was no call. He did some nice blocking on other plays. Quincy Morgan looked like the Quincy Morgan we saw in 2001. The Browns threw to him several times, including one that glanced off his hands in the end zone. Morgan ended up shut out. Andre Davis had perhaps the best catch of the day on a long pass that set up the Browns' first field goal, but he ended up with just two catches. Dennis Northcutt was the leading receiver with four catches, and he did some nice things when he got the ball. I will say that the receivers in general were being tightly covered by the Steelers, but with the talent in this group, once of them should be able to get open.

Tight Ends

Aaron Shea and Mark Campbell both had a couple of catches and acted as safety valves for the passing game. Considering the number of times the Browns sent the tight ends into the pattern, it is surprising they weren't able to catch more. Mark Campbell in particular made some nice blocks. But given the heat on Tim Couch throughout the game, you have to question the overall blocking here.

Offensive Line

The Steelers brought heat, and often the offensive line was not able to stop it. Even if Couch tried to step up, he often could not because the Steelers had collapsed the pocket. On top of that, you had too many penalties. The Browns had only seven, an improvement over recent games, but most of them were by the line and they severely damaged the Browns' chances to win. Ryan Tucker jumped twice, both in critical situations. But the absolute killer was a hands to the face penalty on Ross Verba on the final possession of regulation that wiped out White's 26-yard gain. Instead, the Browns ended up in a first-and-20 situation, which degenerated from there. Take away Verba's penalty, and the Browns are in long field-goal range with a first down. Butch Davis referred to that as a "mysterious call". The TV replays did not show anything definitive so it is hard to say. I will give kudos to Barry Stokes for some fine work, especially on running plays. Paul Zukauskas continues to improve, but he isn't starter material yet.

Defensive Line

This was the best game by the defensive line so far this season. The line did a great job on Jerome Bettis, who wound up with just 24 yards on 14 carries. They had a little more trouble with the other backs, but overall still did well. Let's start with a great game by Orpheus Roye. He and fellow tackle Gerard Warren were getting an excellent push off the ball against a pretty good offensive line. Roye really made some good tackles, and he and Warren combined for 13 in the game. Courtney Brown heard all the criticism of the past week and responded with his best game of the season. Brown did a great job against the run, and he sniffed out an intended option pass by Antwaan Randle El. Kenard Lang also made positive plays. This group also did a good job shadowing Kordell Stewart. Anytime he wanted to roll out, a Browns lineman was right there. I want to single out Alvin McKinley who I thought had a fine game from among the backups.

Ultimately though, the Browns inability to generate a decent pass rush really hurt them down the stretch. The inability in particular to get heat on Tommy Maddox, even with blitzes, allowed the Steelers to both tie and win the game.

Linebackers

Earl Holmes played his guts out in this game. This was a homecoming of sorts, and he had lots to prove. In general, Holmes played well. He was credited with eight tackles, but it seemed like he was around the ball a lot more than that. Darren Hambrick showed some signs of life in this one. I loved the way he buried Kordell Stewart on a scramble. Dwayne Rudd was quiet in this game. He had just one solo tackle and three overall. Kevin Bentley and Andra Davis played and contributed in this game. Both looked the best they have so far this season. Things look like they are beginning to click for these guys. You have to credit Davis in particular on his interception on the first play of overtime. It was a one-handed catch that was nothing short of amazing.

Good play from the front seven was a direct reason why the Browns had their best defensive showing of the season in this game.

Defensive Backs

If you think Corey Fuller and Daylon McCutcheon haven't done much this season, you saw what happened when they had to leave the game due to injuries. While they were in the game, once again the Browns just shut down the wide receivers of the Steelers. But fuller injured a hamstring and McCutcheon took a shot from Robert Griffith on a tackle that knocked him out. Lewis Sanders did an admirable job filling in, but it was still a drop off. On the other hand, I call out what I've been saying since the preseason. Anthony Henry is really having problems. He gave up the lone touchdown for the Steelers. So far this season, if a wide receiver has made a big play on the Browns, it's typically been over Henry.

Robert Griffith has an excellent game, though I wish he'd quit beating up our players! His interception in the end zone kept the Steelers from getting a chance to tie the game midway through the fourth quarter. He made some good tackles, some hard hits, and especially with the corners ailing, he was all over the field. I'd also have to say this was the best game of the season for Devin Bush, but he still needs to be replaced. Earl Little saw his first action of the year, though most of that was playing out of position as a coverage man on inside receivers. Little made a couple of good plays. Kalvin Pearson has potential, but he is a rookie and still learning.

Special Teams

Short of Dawson's missed field goal in overtime, this was a brilliant performance by the Cleveland special teams. Nobody seems to know exactly what happened on the kick, except that the footing was soft and the ball supposedly grazed the helmet of one of the Steelers. That may be. But that was a tough kick in a hostile environment. If the game is in Cleveland, Dawson makes that kick.

Let's look elsewhere. Kevin Bentley blocked a punt that led to the touchdown when the Browns went up 13-6. It was as good a play as you will see. The Browns blocked a field goal in overtime, but they could not recover it, so it did not matter much. Still, you won't see linemen getting much higher than the center of the Browns line did in this one.

The Browns had some of their best kickoff returns of the season. Andre Davis had a long one of 32 yards. On a squib kick, Campbell pitched back to Jamel White who did a nice job with it. With Dennis Northcutt leading the league in punt returns, it was a good time to try the reverse play. The Browns ran it to perfection, and Lewis Sanders was able to get 19 yards. Finally, the kick coverage was excellent, holding the dangerous Antwaan Randle El in check all day.

Coaching

In my view, the Browns lost this game for three primary reasons. First, players failed to execute or made mistakes at key times. The Browns suffered numerous breakdowns that made big swings in the progress of the game. I firmly believe that if Verba's hands to the face penalty is taken away, the Browns likely would have won it in regulation. Second, our wide receivers, the strength of our offense, failed to make plays. In particular, Quincy Morgan had a terrible game. It is hard to justify him playing over Andre Davis and Northcutt if he does not produce. However, it's far too early to make that call. The situation just bears watching. Morgan had great games against the Ravens last year; maybe he'll bounce back. But third, and most critical, I agree with the criticism that the Browns played not to lose. I'm not just referring to the overtime possession, but really, from the time the Browns took the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Browns got too conservative. It was far too early to be playing to run out the clock.

In fact, I'd say that in this game, Butch Davis was out-coached. Bill Cowher not only made the quarterback change that swung the game, but by going to the spread offense, he beat the Browns at their own game. Realizing the Browns were struggling with injuries at corner, going to a multiple wide-receiver look forced the Browns to use Earl Little at corner and play the inexperienced Kalvin Pearson. It was a smart move, and it allowed the Steelers to carve up the Browns, especially since their running game was not working. In the meantime, I have yet to hear anyone ask why in the world Gerard Warren was not in the game on the game-tying drive? It appeared that going to the no-huddle caught the Browns by surprise and it prevented Warren from getting back in the game. With the game on the line, our best defensive player was on the sideline. Why? To rest him? At the end of the game? He should never have been out in the first place.

I will credit Butch Davis as the master of the replay review. He actually saved four points by reviewing a called touchdown for the Steelers. The review said no touchdown, and the Steelers fumbled the exchange on the next play and were forced to settle for a field goal.

A game this close is hard to lose, especially in the situation the Browns find themselves in. But, it is early, the Browns are still in first place, and they have a relatively soft upcoming schedule. Before seeing the Steelers again, the Browns will play four games, three against teams that have won only one game so far. I like the Browns' chances in the rematch.

The Competition

The Raisins surprised the Broncos with a win on Monday night, although you might say that the Broncos more lost the game with bad plays including allowing a 108-yard field goal return. You've got to know the rules, guys. The Bengals had their first lead of the season at 7-0 on a defensive score, only to collapse totally and lose 35-7 to Tampa Bay. Every time you think things have reached bottom in Cincinnati, they just get worse. What a mess. With upcoming games against the Colts and Steelers, the Bengals are likely to be 0-6 at their bye week.

Next Up

The Browns return home for a Sunday night game against the hated team from the southeast. Their offense has its problems, but they still have enough playmakers on defense to be dangerous. This game now becomes a must-win for the Browns.

The season is short. Bark hard!


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