Good day, Browns fans!
The Browns needed a win, and they got one. But this game had to be the worst 17-point win in the history of the Cleveland Browns. Yes, a victory keeps the season alive, but the Browns did not play a great game. Against a better team, they would have lost. The problems that have plagued the team this season continued. There were a few bright spots, though.
As usual, we'll take a position by position look at what happened.
Tim Couch had to face the home crowd for the first time since Concussion-Gate. Couch made some decent throws at times, but he missed open receivers consistently, and forced the ball. A better defense would have intercepted some of these passes. Couch did make a very nice throw on a touchdown to Quincy Morgan, and he zipped a ball to Northcutt to convert a fourth down. He also threw a fantastic block that took out two defenders on a run by Jamel White. I will freely say again that his protection was not the best. But this was a game for Couch to get a chip on his shoulder and put down the critics. He didn't really do it.
Couch has underthrown a lot of balls this season. In this game, he consistently threw too high or too long. It was as if he is trying to compensate. Articles on this site have questioned the health of Couch's arm, and I have to agree. In the preseason, Couch was accurate and made good decisions. It is as if all of the work before his injury has gone down the drain. That is, unless he is still hurt.
William Green started again, and he ran with the most authority I have seen so far. I like the fact that he took on some defenders. He had some tough runs near the goal line, then walked into the end zone behind some nice blocks to score his first touchdown. But at the end of the day, you look at 12 carries for 24 yards and it's hard to get real excited. Maybe the most telling fact is that Green got one play in the second half, to spell Jamel White after a long run.
Jamel White saw most of his playing time in the second half. This week he had 12 carries for 65 yards. It would be easy to compare that to Green's 12 carries and say that White had nearly triple the yards. However, 36 yards came on one play where White went left, found nothing, reversed his field and behind Couch's block, turned it into a great play. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that White was able to make something out of nothing. He scored a rushing touchdown that sealed the game. In addition, White added five more receptions for 34 yards – interestingly, the same number of yards as last week, but on half the number of catches. The Browns need to hit White on the move more. He is not as effective in "dump off" situations where he has to stop, turn, and run.
James Jackson got in the game late and caught a swing pass for two yards. It was his first touch of the season.
The Browns tried to get the ball to Kevin Johnson early, but his four catches were all short and only totaled 22 yards. The Texans doubled Johnson all day. That left Quincy Morgan to re-emerge with his best day since the opener. Morgan had seven catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. On the TD, there was some question about Morgan's feet being in. The play was not reviewed, but both feet were in. On the other hand, Morgan himself didn't seem to be sure. He should have dragged his feet better. While Morgan made some nice plays, it was not a spectacular game like the opener. But catching the ball when it comes your way is a good step for Morgan.
The Browns did not go four-wide much until the second half. Andre Davis got only one catch for three yards, though they did try to throw to him at least once more. Dennis Northcutt was not on the field enough. He had three catches for six yards, but the key catch was a seven-yard catch to convert a fourth down. Both of the others were that little wide receiver screen play they've used this year. Both of these were blown up by the Texans.
Aaron Shea had a beautiful 21-yard catch early in the game wiped out by a bogus chop block call on William Green. The replay showed that the block was not low, and the rusher was not engaged with another blocker, either. Other than that, the tight ends did not catch a pass. The Browns did a good job of picking up blitzes, and the tight ends were a part of it. Every time the Browns went with the empty backfield look, the Texans sent linebackers. The best blocks were on Green's touchdown. All of Shea, Mark Campbell, and Steve Heiden had good blocks on the outside of that play that allowed Green to walk into the end zone. That's not to say these guys were perfect. In fact, I think it's time to junk the H-Back thing until we get players that can do the job. The Browns would be better served to go three-wide with either two backs or a conventional tight end.
It was not pretty again. Let me start by singling out Ryan Tucker for his bonehead mental mistakes. The guy needs a tutor or something to help remember the snap count. He's jumped offside at least once in every game since he came back. Then, he could see the officials were calling the Texans for their tackles cheating back off the line. Tucker gets called for the same thing on a third and seven play. Besides the fact that it telegraphs the play, it put the Browns in a third and 12 instead. Then, there is the fact that Tucker was losing his man at times. But he had company. So did O'Hara.
The line looked the best it has in weeks in pass protection, but that isn't saying much, because it was pretty poor. And the line got no push at all in the running game. Wake up, Butch, these guys can't play the power running game.
I hate to say it, but I have to point out that the Browns played four different defensive ends in the game against the bad o-line of the Texans. Three of those four had two sacks each. The other was shut out. Who was it? Courtney Brown, of course. Brown had five tackles, and he made a couple of very nice tackles on running plays. The Browns even tried using him inside some. But before Brown left with what looked like some kind of shoulder problem, he did not prove much of a factor in the passing game. Kenard Lang had a better game and came free to chase David Carr several times. It was great to see Tyrone Rogers back on the field, and he had a good game. Mark Word was the beneficiary of the Texans' need to throw once they fell behind, but he made the most of it. Brown just was not a disruptive force, while the other guys were.
While I'm picking on high picks, Gerard Warren didn't exactly light it up, either. Meanwhile, Orpheus Roye had a solid game, batting down a pass with a volleyball move and chasing Carr. Alvin McKinley continues to make plays as a backup. Maybe he should get more time. I don't even know if Mark Smith got in the game. He has been a non-factor for weeks and was released on Monday to clear a roster spot.
A reporter asked Butch Davis about using Courtney Brown as more of a stand-up pass rusher like Jamir Miller was used last season. I had this thought myself. Davis said he didn't see using Brown that way, but given the very poor play of the linebackers, maybe they ought to give it a try. Get Brown, Lang, Rogers, and Word on the field at the same time by moving Lang inside and using Brown as a pseudo-linebacker. He covers well enough. What he is doing now isn't working all that well.
It's disappointing to see the starting linebackers have so little effect on the game. While the d-line did a good job on conventional running plays, the Texans killed the back seven with draws. Whenever they tried a draw, there was no one home. Another telltale sign is the fact that the tight end Miller led all Houston receivers with six catches for 78 yards. Earl Holmes and Darren Hambrick were non-factors in the game. Did Hambrick even play? Dwayne Rudd was used a couple of times in a Jamir Miller-like role. He did not seem very effective.
Brant Boyer played a lot to try to help compensate for the injuries in the secondary. While Boyer is not fast and won't make anyone forget LT, and he let the tight end get loose more than once, at least the guy plays hard and is around the ball. Boyer had a sack and he gave it his all. Kevin Bentley is also making more of an impact than the starters and saw his most playing time this year. It is time to hand one of the starting spots over to Bentley. Andra Davis also played quite a bit. His biggest play was one that got away. He nearly intercepted a high throw, but instead it bounced to a Texan. Ben Taylor injured a hamstring in the game.
It's getting ugly back there. Corey Fuller playing injured the last couple of games made a huge difference. But when Fuller pulled up lame on a play in the first half, it left the Browns with just seven backs even active for the game. Luckily, Fuller pulling up left Corey Bradford wide open, but Carr missed him. Anthony Henry started and though he got picked on a couple of times, he had his quietest game of the year. That's probably good, because it means they aren't throwing his way, probably because his man is covered. Lewis Sanders did a pretty good job as well.
Earl Little struggled some, but even though he wasn't 100%, he gave it his all. He was left too often to cover a receiver one-on-one. He gave up a touchdown, but he stayed with his man fairly well on that play. He also chased Carr out of bounds for a sack and sniffed out some running plays to the outside. Devin Bush continues to play hurt, and it shows. He is not making many plays. But one time, I thought sure he would limp off the field, he stayed in and toughed it out somehow. Michael Jameson saw more action this week. While he struggled in the preseason, he is showing more of the form he showed in the 2001 preseason before he broke a leg. He made some good plays and got in on the sack parade. The Browns really need Jameson to step up.
The biggest problems in the secondary are harder to pin on one guy. With all the injuries, there is a lot of confusion in the secondary. Receivers were uncovered. The Texans took advantage of it with an option pass by Gaffney that went for a touchdown. These problems will likely continue if Fuller cannot play. Butch Davis indicated the Browns would bring in another defensive back this week. There is also the possibility of promoting Kalvin Pearson from the practice squad, but he struggled earlier this season.
The special teams are getting a lot of recognition for this game. A lot of it is deserved. Andre Davis got the first kickoff return for a touchdown by the Browns since Randy Baldwin did it to the Bengals in 1994. It was set up by some great blocks by Barry Stokes and Mark Campbell. You also have two great strips of overrated return man Jermaine Lewis that both led to points. You also have to credit two squib kicks by Phil Dawson, one that was almost recovered by the Browns at the Houston 25. The Texans seemed very confused by that.
On the other hand, the coverage teams had success at times, but allowed a couple of long returns. Then, the normally reliable Chris Gardocki hit his kicking foot on the ground and got off a weak punt. The Browns got a lucky roll and it still ended up going 34 yards. Dennis Northcutt did not have much of a day on punt returns, and was forced into a lot of fair catches. Perhaps the best one was a bad play that turned good when Lewis Sanders ran into Northcutt attempting to make a fair catch at the 12 yard line. The ball rolled toward the sideline, and with several Texans in pursuit, the ball rolled into the end zone before they could down it.
Criticism aside, the Browns won this game with special teams. Without the two big fumble recoveries and the kick return, the Browns lose this game, and perhaps even without just one of them, the result might have been quite different.
I am left wondering what Butch Davis is thinking at this point. The Browns came out with yet another conservative game plan. The Browns were lucky to go in at halftime tied at seven, with just 63 yards of offense. I liked the fact that for really the first time since early in the season, the Browns blitzed some, and it was successful. But other than that, without a miss of a makeable field goal and a Lewis fumble, the Browns might well have been down 10-0 at the half. Davis admitted that they changed things to a more wide-open approach in the second half, starting with nine straight passes. At the end of 13 plays with I believe 10 passes, the Browns were ahead 24-17, including the Davis return in the middle of that. Perhaps, just perhaps, this signals that the coaching staff is finally willing to concede the obvious and go to more of a passing attack. The Browns even tried a flea flicker, though the receiver was well covered.
In the second half, the Browns abandoned the blitz. I thought it was bizarre that with the secondary decimated, the Browns went to a four-man rush, and on one critical third down, they went to a three-man rush. The Texans easily picked up the first down. You would think that with coverage being a problem, the Browns would gamble a little more with the pass rush. That's why I still think the Browns need to consider some kind of 5-2-4 or 5-1-5 scheme on passing downs until we get some healthy guys in the secondary. Not to mention that the lack of production from the linebackers is reaching epic proportions.
Davis also backed off his remarks about being an expansion team in his press conference on Monday, which I think was a smart thing. Don't make excuses, make adjustments.
I can only hope that the Browns now are simply going to be forced to make adjustments because of injuries and because the season is slipping away. But Davis talked of how the running in the first half set up play action in the second. It really didn't, though. What opposing team is going to take the running game seriously right now? Is he really ready to try to salvage the season by dropping the power running game and using the pass to set up the run? I have my doubts about that. And there is little to do on the offensive line now but take your lumps. Maybe Ryan Tucker is still not healthy. It's hard to say what the situation is, but he is a big part of the problem now.
The Browns got a win, but other than the Bengals and maybe a couple of other teams, it is hard to imagine this effort beating most anyone else. A game like this won't get it done in New York this week.
The Bengals had their best week of the season – a bye. The Ravens' defense carried them to a 17-10 win over Jacksonville. The Steelers looked like the Steelers of last season, routing the overrated Colts 28-10 on Monday night.
The Browns face another must-win game in New York against the struggling Jets. If the Jets are able to run, the Browns are in big trouble.
The season is short. Bark hard!