The game was expected to be a shootout between two high-powered offensive teams, but it was the Cleveland defense that made the difference. Houston quarterback Matt Schaub was intercepted twice and had numerous other passes broken up, as an aggressive Cleveland defense made the contest a physical affair with the Texans.
Due to the injury to starter Eric Wright, rookie defensive back Brandon McDonald lined up against All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson for a good portion of the afternoon. He took advantage of the opportunity. McDonald intercepted one Schaub pass and defended a couple other attempts, effectively negating the star of the Houston passing game.
The much-maligned Cleveland defense played with a sense of urgency. Often beaten in soft coverage, the Browns defense yesterday relied on tactics used by the New York Giants and New England Patriots when current Cleveland head coach Romeo Crennel was an assistant. Namely, the Browns objectives were to put a helmet on every receiver crossing into the zone and play physical football.
This approach turned this effort against the Texans is the highlight of the 2007 season for the Cleveland defense.
Behind a balanced offensive attack, the Cleveland offense played well in spurts. Running back Jamal Lewis rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown, as the Browns offensive line was in command throughout the afternoon. Quarterback Derek Anderson threw for two touchdowns in the first half, while tight-end Kellen Winslow hauled in 10 receptions with a touchdown.
Some notes and quick analysis (much more coming throughout the week):
- Rookie left tackle Joe Thomas gave up his first recordable sack of the season to Mario Williams. Thomas missed the blocking assignment and Williams had a clear path to the quarterback. Sandwiched around the sack, Thomas completely negated the first selection in the 2006 NFL draft.
- Quarterback Derek Anderson again was mostly conservative in taking what the defense gave him. Anderson rarely attacked down-field, as the Browns moved the football with the short-to-intermediate passing game and strong rushing performance by Jamal Lewis. What makes this effort more impressive was the strong play of the offensive line. The addition of Ryan Tucker at right guard has improved the overall run-blocking of the team, while not causing any uneasiness in pass protection.
- Many may be wondering why the Cleveland offense took on a questionable look early in the game. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski knows he needs to get the running game established to soften the opposing defense, but the true tale is rarely spoken. Lewis is a much better runner when his carries approach the 20-to-22 carry mark, as his physical style wears on a defender and also helps keep the Cleveland offense on the field, keeping the team's questionable defense resting on the sidelines. Also, this team seeks an identity where the opposing defense must respect the entire offensive scheme, and not only the explosive passing game - which has been stymied of late.
- Throughout the contest, the Houston defensive backs played to keep everything in front of them, often rolling coverage over on Braylon Edwards, while adding safety support to assist a linebacker on Kellen Winslow. When the Houston defense rolled a safety out early, Anderson would spot Winslow in the intermediate passing game.
- Fullback Lawrence Vickers may be the most underappreciated player on the roster, outside of the Browns training facility. Vickers was instrumental on no less than nine Jamal Lewis positive yardage carries during the game. Often firing out and getting a helmet on a linebacker, Vickers is opening holes and quickly becoming an unsung hero for this Cleveland offense, as the running game slowly works its way to becoming significant.
- Despite putting inconsistent pressure on the quarterback, the Cleveland defensive line appeared to have the upper hand along the line of scrimmage. Shaun Smith did a solid job of holding up two offensive linemen, giving the inside linebackers the opportunity to make plays without being bodied-up by an offensive guard.
- In what is quickly becoming a new look for the Cleveland defense, the linemen are attacking the line of scrimmage, rather than holding up the offensive linemen and waiting for linebacker support. The attacking style has created opportunities for the defensive linemen to apply pressure to the quarterback and opened lanes for the inside linebackers to step in and make plays. As this evolution of play continues, look for the defense to attack the opening with stunting linemen or backer, or possibly a safety.