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Browns - Bucs Game Review

Joe Brownlee offers Browns fans his insights into Sunday's debacle at Tampa Bay. Joe takes a look at the team's weak performance and offers his assessment about what statements afterward tell us about the state of the franchise.<BR><BR>Talk back to Joe in the <A HREF="">Fan Commentary Forum!</A>

Good day, Browns fans!


Just when you thought it could not get worse, it did. I thought this was a flashback to the 2000 season. The Browns had a solid performance on defense undermined by an ineffective offense and mixed work on special teams. There really isn't that much to say about what happened on the field. Most of that is and was obvious. The real problem in this game was on the sidelines and in meeting rooms in Berea leading up to the game. More on that below.


Though painful, let's look at what happened.




Tim Couch needed to step up to silence his critics. I was hoping to see some spark there. I didn't. I felt that overall, Couch threw the ball fairly well. The one interception was a tip on a timing throw, but still, we've now seen that particular play intercepted when thrown by both Couch and Holcomb. Maybe that's a play to avoid. At the risk of being labeled a "Couch apologist", he had no chance in this game. Typically, the Browns ran the "Palmer Cha Cha" offense, run one, run two, pass three, punt. Couch was almost always in a third and long because of ineffective running or mental mistakes. Against this defense and with the other problems the Browns had, Couch was done before he even got the chance. In fact, if you go back and look, you'll find that the Browns at least made a play when they passed on first down, especially down the middle.


I, like many of you, have moved from being firmly in the Couch camp to being skeptical (see previous reviews back to the preseason), but I didn't see anything that makes me fault Couch for this game. On the other hand, he did not take the game over and perform like a truly great quarterback would, either. It's hard to do that when your coaches don't put you in a position to even try.


Running Backs


I'll say this much: this was the best game William Green has had all season. He had a couple of good runs, including one where he completely reversed his field. He looked less tentative. He didn't fumble. But all that being said, it was hardly a stellar performance, and if anything, Butch Davis played him more than in past weeks. In other words, "best game" is a relative term.


Jamel White was the offense in this game. He had 10 receptions, but they were only for a paltry 34 yards. The Browns threw short and were hoping for run after the catch. The Bucs were ready for it and swarmed White. White had another decent day running the ball with nine carries for 38 yards against a tough defense. But even though he was the most effective player for the Browns, and he did get 19 touches (not to mention a nice run that was called back), it really was not all that effective in the overall game. White left with an injury at the end, but it looked like he had the wind knocked out of him.


James Jackson saw his first action on offense this season late in the game, but he did not touch the ball.


Wide Receivers

I've heard a lot of talk about the frustration of this group in this game. Between Kevin Johnson and Quincy Morgan, they caught just four passes for a total of 27 yards. Not a great performance. But though KJ is upset he didn't get the ball more, Couch threw to him quite a bit. Johnson was usually double covered, and even when he was not, a defensive back always seemed to be there to tip the ball away. In fact, on a throw to KJ at the goal line, a badly forced pass, Andre Davis was three yards behind his man along the sideline, so I'd say the Browns tried to get it to KJ. Once again, Dennis Northcutt was the only consistent threat, and he was on the field for something like two plays in the first half. Even though Northcutt did well on some tough catches in traffic, all anyone could talk about afterward was the one that got away – a deep sideline pass where Northcutt had beaten double coverage that was just overthrown by inches. Northcutt says he should have caught it, but it would have been a pretty amazing catch. The Browns also tried to get the ball to Andre Davis but he was usually smothered.


While Butch Davis talked a lot about dropped passes in this game, I don't see that as much as I see the receivers either not getting open, throws forced to them, or not even trying to use them. More on that later.


Tight Ends


All four players were used in this game. Steve Heiden made a garbage-time catch. Aaron Shea had a pass thrown behind him that would have extended a drive. Still, he probably should have caught it. Mark Campbell had a deep throw that he did not catch after getting slammed. Other than that, the tight ends were pretty much not a part of the offense. The Browns game plan called for using multiple tight ends to help the protection. That failed miserably, as the blocking was the worst of the season. It also served to keep more talented players off the field.


Offensive Line


I went back and did some tape study this week. I'd say the only player that did a decent job in this game was Ross Verba. He looked like a guy trying frantically to keep things together when they were falling apart. The three interior players were terrible. They got no push on running plays, and there were bad on pass protection. What a baptism of fire for Melvin Fowler at center. Particularly bad this week was Barry Stokes. Ryan Tucker makes too many mental mistakes, and he just doesn't look like the same run blocker as before the knee injury. Perhaps he is not 100%.


You can trace most every problem on offense to horrible offensive line and tight end play. Yes, Tampa has a great defense. But they aren't as good as our guys made them look.


Defensive Line


Much was made of the Roman Oben-Courtney Brown matchup this week. At best, it was a draw. Brown rarely made Oben look bad. Even Oben's postgame comments expressed puzzlement as to why Brown isn't more of a force. Seeing Brown manhandled by Sapp might be the lowest point of Brown's career. Brown did make some plays in the game, but you still have to consider this a disappointment. I'd say Kenard Lang was the only starting lineman who truly had a good game. The Browns shuffled some players around, but in the middle, the only player I thought did well was Alvin McKinley. The backup had two batted balls. Gerard Warren and Orpheus Roye did OK early in the game, but by the end, they were worn down and looked bad. Mark Word actually made a play or two. Mark Smith looked terrible.


While another 100+ yard performance from an opposing back that is struggling is bad, consider that the vast majority of it came in the fourth quarter after the offense managed just six plays in the third.




Earl Holmes had a passable game. Dwayne Rudd and Darren Hambrick were pretty much invisible again. Each had one decent play. I thought the best play came from Kevin Bentley. He's a rookie and he gets out of position at times, but he is a gamer. Andra Davis played and struggled. Ben Taylor saw his first extensive action of the season. He didn't do much, but hopefully, that will change.


It speaks volumes that three rookies are getting significant playing time over highly regarded veterans and there isn't a noticeable difference in play, except maybe for the better!


Defensive Backs


Corey Fuller played hurt and had a good game. It was very painful to see the best tackler on the team, Daylon McCutcheon, miss a tackle that added 60+ yards to a play. Had McCutcheon made that tackle, the Browns might well have had a more successful day in terms of field position, something that was critical in the game. Until he left injured, I thought McCutcheon did pretty well otherwise. Anthony Henry looked better than some of the early games, but he is still missing plays and letting guys get open.


Thank goodness for Earl Little. Say what you want, the guy is always around the ball. He intercepted one pass that killed a Tampa scoring opportunity, and he nearly had another. Devin Bush is also playing hurt, but he actually had one of his better games. He had surprisingly good pass coverage in a couple of situations. Michael Jameson got some playing time.


Special Teams


Mixed. You had a nice job on another blocked field goal and yet another good punt return by Northcutt. But our kickoff returns were anemic and the kick coverage was pretty bad at times. Phil Dawson boomed a 51-yard field goal. Chris Gardocki had nine punts, and while most were good, one was a shank that led to good field position for the Bucs. Luckily, it led to one of three botched field goal attempts.




You thought that the Barneys game was bad? Wow. While I was very angry during the game with the way the Browns were attempting to play the game, I was shocked and dumbfounded by the postgame remarks and the Monday press conference from Butch Davis. If you do not usually listen to the coach, go to and do so. The Browns' game plan was to "manage the game" and try to "come up with a big play". Let me translate: the Browns went into the game conceding that they could not win it, and played accordingly.


The ramifications of these remarks are overwhelming to me. The Browns made a conscious decision to go away from a four wide receiver look because they felt they would not be able to block Tampa's front four. So instead, they used tight ends, usually two and often three to try to improve the blocking and protection. Then, since the Browns generally had just two or three guys in the pass pattern, KJ was doubled the whole game and it allowed the Bucs to stack the line. Since we have nobody to throw the ball to, we ran on most every first and second down until it was too late. This is the best our coaching staff can come up with?


Think about the defeatist message this sends the team. How about saying, well, they may be better than we are, so we have nothing to lose and we're going to go all out with our passing game and see what happens? My guess is that, though Davis didn't really say this, he was afraid Couch would get sacked and injured.


Most galling to me was the Palmer-esque things Davis was saying. When I hear a man like Butch Davis stoop to excuses, I just don't know what to say. It's the mark of a loser. The stuff Davis was saying sounded like a loser. Stuff like we needed to "manage the game" and we "needed a big play". And then, he trots out the expansion excuse, something Carmen Policy said was a dead issue. Boy, oh, boy. I was very surprised to hear Davis saying these kind of things, because I have more respect for him than this. Davis seems surprised that other teams have adjusted to the things the Browns did well in the first few games. He and his staff don't seem to be able to make such adjustments.


Besides, the Browns got a big play with Northcutt's punt return, started at the 41-yard line, got a first down, then proceeded to move backwards and punt. In other words, they got what they were looking for and did nothing with it. He also blamed too much punt return yardage. While the Bucs did get two long punt returns, what do you expect when you have to punt it nine times in the game?


I can't blame the defense much. They played a good game through three quarters. But the terrible tackling continues. Butch Davis noted that something over 100 yards of Tampa's yardage came after the first contact with a defender. That's just awful.


Davis also noted that what William Green needs now is more playing time. This in the same discussion where he said he was not playing for next year. More playing time for Green right now means more losses for the Browns. I still think that will change eventually, but not now.


The offensive line is a mess. At this point, I don't know what you could do to try to fix it. But both Davis and Chris Palmer before him ignored the line in the draft, and now the team is paying big time.


Davis seemed surprised at some questions about the fan backlash against all this. Again, he went to the book of Palmer to tell the fans the team is getting better. Come on, Butch, we aren't blind! He also seemed surprised by KJ's remarks about getting the ball, and he issued a veiled challenge saying that the receivers need to catch the ball. I'm afraid that if the Browns come home and lose to the expansion Texans next week, things will really get ugly. And Houston came very close to knocking off Buffalo last week.


I hate to make the comparison, but Davis is reminding me more and more of Bill Belichick. He is doggedly sticking to things that aren't working, and denying the obvious while telling us that his many years of experience allows him to see what we poor fans don't see. I see 2-4. Does he?


The Competition


The Steelers routed the hapless Bengals. The Bruises lost on a last second FG to the Colts.


Next Up


The Browns return home for their last stand against the Texans. Lose this one and the season is over.


The season is short. Bark hard!

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