Good day, Browns fans!
A dismal showing by the Browns, coupled with a bizarre turn of events that led to a near comeback, made this one of the strangest games yet for a team that is becoming known for weird occurrences. The Browns have reached a crossroads as a team and as an organization. This is a hard game to analyze, and there will be a fair amount of commentary in what follows. The fate of the season hangs on the decisions that are going to be made this week. Keep in mind that the issues raised by this game speak to the larger picture of where the Browns will end up this year and beyond.
If you dare, join me as we look position by position at what happened.
Let's just dive right in to the heart of the issue. First, Tim Couch made some bad throws and bad decisions, but he was not so bad as to draw the ire of the fans that I perceived. Couch also made some good throws. In particular, the pass that Quincy Morgan eventually fumbled, the touchdown throw to Campbell, the long bomb to Northcutt, and a strike to Aaron Shea to set up the first touchdown were all good plays. Couch also had a nice run to avoid a safety, and his injury was a result of him being heads up in recovering from a bad snap. No question, Couch threw a flat out bad pass on the interception intended for William Green, especially when he had all day to throw. Perhaps he forced the ball a bit on the quick slant that was tipped and intercepted. But overall, Couch got no help from the running game, terrible protection from the offensive line, poor ball handling by the receivers, and he still managed to throw for over 200 yards in three quarters with a decent completion percentage. While Butch Davis made an excuse for Couch on yet another deep underthrow, I'd say that is my biggest concern with Couch. That along with some very poor decision making, once again a result of trying to do too much.
I suppose the crux of this game is to compare Holcomb's performance to that of Couch. I think it is very difficult to make any comparison. When Ray Lewis left the game at the same time Couch was injured, the Bruises lost their signal caller on defense. They also went into more of a prevent defense mode, rushing only three and covering with eight. Even with that, Holcomb made some even poorer throws than Couch. Now, don't misunderstand, I tremendously respect what Holcomb did coming in cold and taking over on a second and 24 play from your own two-yard line. But Holcomb threw two interceptions in one quarter of play, and hit two other defenders in situations where they should have intercepted the ball, and had another two that were tipped and might have been intercepted. At the end of the game, he had an open receiver (KJ) and flat out missed him. Given the situation, it probably would have been nuts to throw it to a man not in the end zone. But with Holcomb's injury, it was a tough, gritty performance under desperate circumstances, and Holcomb did get two touchdowns and make some good throws, too. For fans to clamor for Holcomb over Couch, though, seems crazy to me. Both did good things and both did bad things.
Couch is good in the two-minute drill. I wonder what might have happened had he been able to play the rest of the game? We'll never know, but I think he could have done at least as well.
There is really not much to say here. William Green started the game, and outside of taking out Ray Lewis on the first offensive play, he was terrible. He had four rushes for two yards, including a carry for minus one on third and one. In my opinion, that play was the turning point in the game. The Browns were moving the ball on offense and it killed the drive. Green also went out for a streak pass similar to the one Jamel White caught for a TD in Minnesota. Green went out of bounds, so he would not have been able to catch the ball. The underthrow was intercepted anyway.
As usual Jamel White was used when it was too little, too late. All he did was run seven times for 34 yards and catch four passes for 36. White took some hard hits, too. See below for commentary on the running back issue.
This was the second consecutive tough game for the receivers. Either they did not make the catch, or when they did, something bad happened, at least early. For example, Quincy Morgan had a good catch and run, the fumbled. I suppose it is hard to fault the guy for fighting for extra yards, and Cleveland receivers have done very in running after the catch. It just looks as if Morgan has reverted back to his 2001 form since the Tennessee game. Morgan did make a key catch on one of the late drives and ended up with five catches for 68 yards, which is not bad on paper. Morgan also ran for a two point conversion and was stuffed on an end around. He also pushed off on another two-point conversion attempt. Kevin Johnson got a lot of attention from the defense, and though he made some key catches, he had just four receptions for 36 yards. Interestingly, the exact same numbers as Jamel White.
Now let's talk a little about the number three and four receivers. Dennis Northcutt has come up big so far this season, but not like this game. This was absolutely his finest game as a pro. Northcutt had eight receptions for 165 yards (tops in the NFL for the weekend), including two touchdowns and two catches of 35 yards or more. Northcutt made some great moves after the catch, and he showed good hands picking one TD off a deflection and still managing to get both feet in bounds. Northcutt also ran for seven yards on an end around play, not to mention his contributions on special teams. Andre Davis also had a fine game. When the Browns need a tough catch, Davis is the guy to make it. One of his five receptions was a great sideline catch that allowed the Browns to have a shot at the end zone from the 18 with :14 left in the game. He was down after one play, but came back in and did a great job.
The Browns seemed to forget about the tight ends until the fourth quarter. Mark Campbell had two short catches, one for a touchdown, and Aaron Shea had one that went close to the goal line. Campbell ended up limping by the end of the game. But the Browns had tremendous problems blocking, and the seemed fairly confused by the 3-4. Some of the blame lies here.
The offensive line has had its problems, but not like this. The Barneys are not exactly the 1985 Bears, but the line couldn't block a lick against them. Let's start with Ryan Tucker. Back-to-back penalties really hurt the Browns on one drive, a hold and a false start. Tucker was offside twice last week. Can't this guy count? Ross Verba had maybe his worst game as a Brown, and ended up leaving injured. Nicked up Roger Chanoine replaced him and did a decent job. Dave Wohlabaugh had his problems in his first game back. Playing with a club-like wrap on his broken hand, Wohlabaugh had a bad shotgun snap that led to Couch's concussion. But Wohabaugh struggled otherwise. O'Hara did OK. He had a holding call, but that was one that prevented Holcomb from getting nailed with no timeouts, so it was a good thing. Of the starters, I thought the only one who played well was Barry Stokes. If this group doesn't step it up, it will be a long season.
There was little pressure on the untested Chris Redman and the Browns paid for it. Orpheus Roye had a monster game. The guy was everywhere. He had to be, because other than a couple of plays by Kenard Lang, the Gerard Warren and Courtney Brown were invisible. Brown in particular was just plain ineffectibe. Yes, he had seven tackles, but Brown was almost always behind or out of the play. Contrast that with Roye who slammed a leaping Jamal Lewis in the fourth quarter near the sideline. Roye has had a history of pursuing well to the outside. Among the backups, Word and Smith played. Did you notice? The only backup that I thought contributed was Alvin McKinley, and even that was modest.
In this whole game, with Jamal Lewis running wild and being left to be tackled by defensive backs, our starting linebackers managed a grand total of 11 tackles. Earl Holmes made a few plays, but Dwayne Rudd has done next to nothing since the helmet incident. How he managed to get credit for five tackles is beyond me. Darren Hambrick is a total bust. One measly tackle. It's time for Hambrick to sit. The guy is just ineffective. I'd rather see Kevin Bentley in the game. In limited duty, he had four tackles. I know Hambrick plays the opposite side. So what? How much worse can he be?
The Browns really missed Corey Fuller. Not just in the passing game, but moreso in maintaining the outside contain in the running game. Daylon McCutcheon, bad eye and all, did pretty well, though he did get beat for one good play. Anthony Henry had his best game of the season as more of an outside man. However, Henry really got beat up in the running game. The Prunes' receivers managed to ride Henry like a horse on running plays. The only time Henry managed to get off a block was when Kalvin Pearson hit him and knocked him off the block on his way to the tackle. Henry gave up some plays, but he was better.
Robert Griffith was the only defender other than Roye I could point to who played with consistent intensity. He had just four tackles, but Griffith made some hard hits and looked a lot more comfortable and disciplined. Devin Bush played hurt and had his problems. Earl Little played, and when he did, he did a good job. If healthy, Little needs to be on the field.
Another solid performance by the special teams, except the punt coverage was the worst of the year. But other than that, Northcutt had a couple of nice returns, especially one ball he fielded on the run. The Browns pooch punted out of a field goal formation, but the ball stuck at the 15 and didn't roll like they'd have hoped. Phil Dawson made an excellent onside kick that he himself recovered, giving the Browns an improbable chance to win. Andra Davis had an excellent special teams tackle. Gardocki had some good punts, especially with the Browns mired in miserable field position much of the first half.
In a word, terrible. Awful. Stinkeroo. Butch Davis, Bruce Arians, and Foge Fazio get an F- for this klunker of a game. I certainly expect a lot more out of these guys than this. For the team to come out completely unprepared to play on a national TV game, is just inexcusable. This whole Tim Couch fiasco is the result of arrogant refusal to accept what is happening on the part of Butch Davis. When you consistently refuse to put your best players on the field, you set up players like Couch to fail. If the William Green situation had not been mishandled from the preseason, perhaps Green would have had some success in limited opportunities. Instead, the kid is a head case already. Hearing Couch talk after the game showed that his state of mind is not good. This is not the fault of the players.
When the issue of playing players who are performing over those who aren't come up, Butch Davis trots out the line "Player X was in on 80% of the snaps". Well, so what? So Jamel White is in on a lot of plays. It is stupid to let a player with his talent get only 11 touches in the game. So he wasn't a #1 draft choice. So he wasn't picked by Butch Davis. If he is the best player, let him play. It comes down to this – when White is in the game, good things happen. When Green is in the game, bad things happen. James Jackson would be worlds better than Green right now. Likewise, what do Andre Davis and Dennis Northcutt have to do to beat out Quincy Morgan? So Morgan is tall and fast. He is not making plays, but the other guys are. Let Morgan move down to #4 for a while and maybe he'll be motivated to improve. Also needing to hit the bench are Darren Hambrick and Devin Bush, though it is not clear if the Browns have anyone better and healthy enough to play.
OK, how about the play calling? Why is it we dork around with running plays that don't work until it is too late? Where was the no huddle? It sure worked late in the game. We start with two end around plays early with modest success on one. Why? We never went back to it. Then, the screen pass, which has been successful all year, we ran one time with success and never used again. I don't think that the coaching staff is trying to handcuff Tim Couch, but they are not allowing Couch to succeed until it is too late. It almost appears they don't trust him to do too much. That doesn't match up with what Butch Davis is saying, but I'm learning that what he says and reality don't always match up.
It's hard to know what to say about the offensive line. It was just flat out bad in this game. I'm not sure we have the players to improve the situation much.
Let's not ignore the defense. Terrible, awful tackling allowed Jamal Lewis to kill the Browns. On many plays, it wasn't until the third or fourth guy touched him that they even slowed him down. The Bruises have two weapons on offense: Lewis and Todd Heap. The Browns didn't stop either one of them. It looked as if Heap being in the game plan was a total shock to the Browns who left him uncovered a lot of the time. This is a team with poor receivers, a non-mobile quarterback, and a suspect offensive line, and the Browns made them look like the 1989 49ers. Given that, Fazio and Davis were unable to devise a game plan that could account for their two decent offensive players? Davis often starts sentences with, "In my 30-plus years of coaching…" I have a suggestion, put some of that experience to work.
Is Jamir Miller the only player on this team that can blitz? With our corners playing so well, it would seem to me that we could send a few people. Our linebackers aren't doing much against the run or pass, so maybe they could actually hit a quarterback. Especially since the defensive line never seems to do so.
And, finally, fans, anyone who cheers one of our own players being injured is not worthy of being a Browns fan. I remember a game in 1993 when Dan Marino was injured in a game in Cleveland and how embarrassing it was to hear our so-called fans applauding it. But to do it to one of our own players is despicable. By the way, Couch spoke of early boos in this game, and I'd be willing to bet those were not directed at Couch, but more at William Green being in the game.
I spoke earlier of being at a crossroads. The Browns were a team with high hopes that managed to lose two winnable games in its first four. Now this. The fans have begun to turn on the team and the starting quarterback admits he was rattled by the bad reaction of his own fans. Your "starting" running back has no confidence, and it may be too late for him to have much success this season. You sit at 2-3 after allowing two division rivals off to poor starts to get back into the race heading into a game against a 4-1 team with one of the best offenses in the NFL. Your backup quarterback is out 2-3 weeks with a hairline fracture in his leg, your center is playing with a broken hand, your sixth offensive lineman has been forced to play hurt much of the season, and the defense you counted on to keep you in games has been a disappointment.
So, now what?
Either you look at the situation objectively, or you continue to doggedly ignore the obvious. When Bill Belichick was coach of the Browns, he insisted on sending Eric Metcalf up the middle. In the fourth season of doing so, Metcalf finally broke a 44-yard run. Belichick's response was, "I told you so." Never mind the previous 99 times it did not work and left the Browns in second-and-11 situations. I view the way Davis is handling William Green, and how he has handled other players like Morgan and James Jackson in similar fashion. It is time to make some personnel changes, but it is time even more so to make game plan changes. Even we uneducated fans without 30 years of coaching experience can see what is working and what isn't. The coaching staff is the problem and needs to really look hard in the mirror this week. The Browns may not have the best players in the NFL, but when you put them in situations like Davis and company have, of course they can't perform.
If changes are not made, the 2002 Browns are in for a long season. This game already was very damaging to the Browns' playoff hopes, particularly with a game at 4-1 Tampa looming. The Browns are likely looking at 2-4 and they could be out of the running by the bye week if things continue status quo. Will things change? Will this dud of a game be the impetus to turn the team around? We'll just have to see about that. The only good news is that the rest of the division is just as bad.
The Steelers lose to the Saints, and the Bengals show signs of life, but they are still the Bengals and lose to the Colts.
The Browns head to Tampa to face the Buccaneers. Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice, and Derrick Brooks are licking their chops for this one.
The season is short. Bark hard!