This is probably the best game the Browns have played in the Crennel/Savage era. I thought the Browns could win this game, but not like they did. A lot of things went well. On the other hand, the Browns were on the short end of nearly every statistical category, so it's not like there weren't problems. Let's look at what happened.
At the risk of being a broken record, the success the Browns have had so far this year starts with the offensive line. While the line didn't open gaping holes for the running game, it kept the quarterback clean against one of the most vaunted defenses in the NFL. Really Derek Anderson had little pressure on him throughout the game. The line is allowing Anderson to take his time, and remembering that Anderson is inexperienced, it is paying dividends. Anderson had two bad throws. One was intercepted when he stared down a receiver and forced the ball into coverage. The other was an even worse throw, that, if it had been caught, would have gone for six points. But Anderson did enough to win, and that's what matters.
The running numbers were modest for Jamal Lewis, but the Browns finally used Jason Wright on a couple of quick hitters as a change of pace and he managed 27 yards on his two carries. The Browns also handed the ball to Lawrence Vickers once on short yardage for a six-yard gain, but he also dropped yet another wing pass when the Browns were trying to run the clock. The Browns weren't really able to run the ball a much as they'd have liked when they were trying to run out the clock, but with a big lead, it did not matter.
The Browns still ran a bit too much on the early downs for my taste, especially when they had a lot of success with the pass. But that is a minor thing. Fact is, the Browns mixed things up pretty nicely.
Once again the Browns had 24 points at halftime. By scoring early, it demoralized an overconfident defense. The Ravens had not given up a first possession touchdown in 15 games. Bang, streak over. Then the Browns hit them with a deep ball and Chris McAllister guesses wrong. 14-0 lead and at that point, the game was pretty much over. When you don't even punt until the fourth quarter, that's huge, especially for a team that not that long ago celebrated if they even got a first down.
After blasting the defense last week, I have to credit them this week. Not that they played great, because they didn't. They were, however, able to come up with big stops when they needed them. Given what we saw in the first three games, that is a lot of progress.
The defensive line was not great, but it was improved. Robaire Smith made plays. Shaun Smith got more playing time and held his own. Even Ethan Kelley was getting a push up the middle at times. I thought Simon Fraser did some good things. I was left wondering if the fact that Orpheus Roye did not play was actually a help for the defense. Perhaps it is because he isn't healthy.
The linebackers had issues, but at least they made some plays. The Browns played the 2-4-5 look again at times, and when they did, the outside linebackers weren't free to make plays. Clearly the Browns were trying to keep some outside containment on the running game, something they were not always successful doing. But when they Browns turned Kamerion Wimbley loose to rush at the end of the game, he was a disruptive force. I think Willie McGinest maybe did not physically make lots of plays, but his presence seemed to bring some leadership the defense needs. The inside linebackers did not make tons of plays, but they were better than the previous two weeks. It was nice to see Leon Williams make a good play. Andra Davis also did some decent things.
While the Browns allowed far too many receivers to run free, the secondary still did some solid things. Leigh Bodden and Daven Holly both had good coverage at times. Eric Wright looked a bit better, and you expect some rookie growing pains there. After getting widely criticized, Brodney Pool made some good plays, especially breaking up a pass in the end zone. On the other hand, missing a gimmie sack of Steve McNair is tough to forgive.
Probably the biggest problem this week was awful tackling. There were way too many arm tackles and body checks. Letting McGahee reverse his field and gain over 20 yards when he should have been wrapped up for a loss was bad, but it was a symptom of the kinds of things that happened all day long.
While this defense has a long way to go, clearly some of the things the
Browns did with rotating players and scheming helped. The biggest thing was
seeing the defense get off the field on third down from time to time.
Special teams were a huge part of this win. Josh Cribbs once again started the Browns out with a great kick return. Phil Dawson is still a concern. He missed a field goal, but was bailed out by the Ravens being offside. Scott Player did a nice job punting. It's nice to have a solid player holding down the fort while Dave Zastudil recovers. The coverage teams came up with a big turnover covering a kickoff. Meanwhile, the normally reliable Matt Stover missed two very makeable field goals.
While I'm still not a Romeo Crennel fan, props to him. For a change, the Browns came out ready to play from the opening kickoff. The offense was aggressive early, then managed the game after they got out to a 24-6 lead. The defense tried different looks and did enough to win. I hope Crennel can build on this and continue to turn things around. Perhaps he can right the ship after all. But there is still a long way to go.
The Browns are a botched kick away from being 3-1 and having national pundits talk about them being the "surprise team" of the first quarter of the season. You can see some of the talent coming together. The defense is still a liability, but if the offense continues to click, it takes the pressure off of them. Next week, the Browns face one of the top teams in the NFL. This is a huge test to see if the Browns can hold their own against them.
The Browns travel to New England to play the Patriots in what appears to be a David vs. Goliath match up.
The season is short, bark hard!