Game Review: Browns 24, Jets 21

Joe's back with an in-depth look at the Browns win over the Jets. Joe looks at each unit and give you his impressions, per usual. This week, however, Joe also gives the thoughts on Al Lerner from his perspective as an activist Browns fan back in 1995.

Good day, Browns fans!

 

Another game, another cardiac finish. The only difference is that while in most every other game, I saw things that were worrisome, in this game, I see some positive signs that the Browns might yet have some success in 2002. It remains to be seen if the Browns can build on this win to salvage the season.

 

Let's take a closer look at what transpired.

 

Quarterback

 

I complained last week that Tim Couch needed to step up his play to silence his critics and that he didn't do that. In this game, Couch made a lot of good things happen. Even though the protection wasn't there, Couch was able to improvise at times, keep the play alive, and make something happen. Sure, there were problems. Couch held the ball too long a couple of times, threw a couple of very dangerous passes that might have caused problems against a better opponent, and he got locked onto KJ again at times. But still, for Couch to throw 49 times with no running game and not be intercepted was pretty impressive. Couch took what the defense gave him, which was often a good dose of the tight ends over the middle and he also found mismatches like Northcutt covered by a linebacker. Couch managed to step up to avoid the rush at times and to scramble around when needed.

 

Can Couch play like this against the Steelers next week? That will be a much more meaningful test.

 

Running Backs

 

OK, some of us have lobbied repeatedly to scrap the William Green experiment and go with Jamel White. While White did catch six more passes for 42 yards, his rushing numbers were terrible. White had 14 carries for just 25 yards. White made something out of nothing a few times, but he was also thrown for losses all too often. In the passing game, most of the receptions by White were dump off passes that did not allow the Browns to hit him on the run. White caught one ball on a third down that would have gone for a good gain, a rarity for him. But like many who defend Green point out, putting White in obvious running situations hampers him just as it did Green.

 

William Green was relegated to change-of-pace status and had three carries for eight yards. One went for a nice five-yard gain to the outside. James Jackson got in a couple of times and caught one swing pass for three yards.

 

Wide Receivers


The Browns did a good job of getting the ball to the wide receivers in general, but there were some serious problems with catching the ball, especially from the butter-fingered Quincy Morgan. Morgan had some tough catches early, but ended up with just four catches for 40 yards. The ball seemed to be bouncing off Morgan all too often. Kevin Johnson made some tough catches and managed to get open deep at times. He finished with five catches for 73 yards to lead the wideouts. Johnson was thrown to more times than that, but once again Couch was forcing the ball to KJ at times.

 

Andre Davis had three catches for 29 yards, including a nice sliding TD catch in the back of the end zone. A very nice catch late in the game put the Browns at the six yard line, but a penalty wiped that out. Once again, Dennis Northcutt did not see nearly enough time on the field, but when he did, it was good. His four catch, 76-yard day included a nice 43 yard catch and run on a third down and a solid pickup to the outside on a wide receiver screen. Perhaps his best catch of the days doesn't even show up on the stat sheet – a leaping catch of a prayer of a throw on a two-point conversion. Northcutt outleaped two Jet defenders to come up with the ball and the two points.

 

Tight Ends

 

The Jets tried to take away the receivers (does holding them to 16 catches count?), but that left the tight ends open underneath all day. Aaron Shea caught three passes, most short dump passes for a modest ten yards. Mark Campbell fared better, catching seven balls for 34 yards including a touchdown. Steve Heiden played, but his most notable play was a penalty. Blocking-wise, it seemed like the tight ends did not do well at all on the running plays, but it often looked like the poor tight end had been left alone and thrown to the wolves by the o-line.

 

Offensive Line

 

Same old, same old. Decent pass blocking, no run blocking. In fact, you have to wonder how they can manage to keep Couch from getting killed without even a hint of a running game. Granted, Couch went down twice and he got pressure a lot more times. But there were no holes all day against one of the worst teams in the NFL against the run. Mistakes also hurt, though I singled out Ryan Tucker last week, but no calls on Tucker this week. Ross Verba got called for hands to the face on a play that would have given the Browns a first down at the Jets' six late in the game. I watched that play and I could not see it. Barry Stokes also had a flag.

 

Defensive Line

 

Let me start with Orpheus Roye. He may be the only man on the line that showed up to play four quarters. Kenard had a solid, if unspectacular, game. Gerard Warren had a quiet game except for one big play, but it was huge. His sack forced a fumble/interception by Chad Pennington that was recovered/caught by Courtney Brown. Brown also had a quiet game, but made up for it with a (literally) heads up play, and with some work on special teams.

 

I didn't think any of the backups really played with distinction, but I have to give props to Alvin McKinley for more solid work in the middle. Mark Word and Tyrone Rogers did play, but neither got much pressure..

 

Linebackers

 

At halftime I was fuming. These guys had been juked out of their shoes, had run themselves out of plays, and generally if any Jet made it past the front four, nobody was home until deep into the secondary. It was another mail-it-in half of football from an underachieving group. Then something happened. After halftime, some guys showed up that had a resemblance to the Browns' starting linebackers. Dwayne Rudd, Earl Holmes, and yes, even Darren Hambrick made plays. Holmes might have been the best. I particularly liked his hard hit on the tight end to drop the ball. These guys swarmed to run and strung out plays to the outside in the second half. Kevin Bentley and Brant Boyer also got in on the act, though Bentley might well have cost us dearly with a dumb illegal contact penalty away from the play, wiping out a Lewis Sanders interception that would have sealed the game.

 

Defensive Backs

 

Injuries have taken their toll, but the secondary played hard. Anthony Henry had another good game, but you never like to see a corner leading the team in tackles. Henry had nine. Lewis Sanders missed a tackle and was burned for a touchdown when the rest of the defensive backfield got sucked in by play action. Earl Little gave it his all again today, and he and Devin Bush teamed up on a play that stripped Wayne Chrebet of the ball that killed a Jet drive that might have put the game out of reach. In the second half, the secondary was not tested as much with the front seven stepping things up, and it helped a lot.

 

Special Teams

 

After some horrible kick coverage that resulted in a punt return for a touchdown, things looked up. Give Phil Dawson credit for making three field goals off a horrible field. His kickoffs were generally short, though. Dennis Northcutt had one decent punt return. But the key play of special teams was the block of a tying 47-yard field goal attempt by Courtney Brown. This was the third field goal block of the season, and finally one paid off. Ryan Keuhl was called for being offside on a punt. This is particularly bad since he is the center. The Browns managed to draw some penalties on kick coverage, especially in the second half. The Jets had a case where they placed a man deep to touch a punt down, and though he was in position, he somehow let the ball get into the send zone.

 

Coaching

 

I like the fact that this team does not quit. I like it that they can overcome adversity. I don't like it that the biggest adversity to overcome seems to be our head coach.

 

Once again, the Browns have to get behind before they do what they do best – pass. In fairness, though, the Browns got down so fast and so early, the Browns couldn't afford to try their "power running game" attack again.

 

Of more concern is why it took a half of football for the defense to show up. The offense struggled some early, but overall the Browns were able to move the ball. They just could not convert that into points. Poor field position did not help. But the defense and special teams were horrendous. The defense looked like they didn't even show up, with receivers running wild, run plays ripping off eight and ten yards a pop, and kick returners getting into lanes with no defenders at all. If this team would come out and play four quarters the way it is capable of playing, they could have success. This goes back to coaching, as I've been saying all along, but this was an unusual week emotionally for the team.

 

Butch Davis has to face facts, and for whatever reason, it did seem like the coaching staff took steps in the right direction. We'll have to see.

 

Commentary

 

When the original Browns moved, a close friend of Art Modell helped him make the deal. This friend was to have been the owner of the Baltimore franchise had they won an expansion team in 1995. It was on his private plane that the deal was signed, and he sat on the platform that fateful November day in 1995. The man's name was Alfred Lerner. That dark Monday, I cried. Many of us did.

 

But it took only a matter of days for my emotions to turn to anger. I decided I was not going to simply accept this injustice without a fight. Like many of you reading this, I became embroiled in an online battle to save the Browns for Cleveland. I sent many an e-mail, many a fax. I appeared on local television twice. I wrote letters and made phone calls. Some of those were to MBNA, a company owned by Al Lerner. At that time, Lerner was the enemy. Some fans discovered that when they got credit card applications, if you attached a brick to the return envelope, MBNA was charged for the postage. I never tried that myself, but I did use the return envelopes to send letters to express my displeasure with Lerner's role in The Move. Some of us routinely got into "discussions" with MBNA telemarketers. They soon realized if the subject of the Cleveland Browns was raised, it was best to cut the conversation short.

 

But as 1995 turned into 1998, Al Lerner became one of the bidders for the Browns franchise. I heard Mr. Lerner speak about his involvement with The Move, and I came to feel that here was a man who showed loyalty to a friend. I suspect that not all the facts Mr. Lerner got about Art Modell's circumstances were, well, accurate, as evidenced by their parting of ways. I heard Mr. Lerner talk of realizing he had made a mistake sitting on that platform in Baltimore, and I believed him. As someone who has been known to make a mistake or two, I understood. I believe Mr. Lerner felt he had to bring the Browns back to Cleveland to right a wrong. All any of us can do once we have done wrong, is to make it right in the best way that we can.

 

In the years since, I have come to see Al Lerner as the man we have heard about this week. A caller to a Cleveland radio show told of how he had lost money he had saved that would allow him to play in a golf tournament, and how Mr. Lerner happened to be there, asked if he could help, then bought what he needed and replaced the money he had lost. We heard about the many worthy causes he supported. And we heard how he treated everyone with respect, regardless of their station in life. How he made money not to hoard, but to give away to those in need. A wise and witty man, he offered a steady hand at the top and was someone respected by many. His influence on the Browns organization will be felt for years to come. I am deeply saddened by his loss, and by the fact that he will not see the Browns win the Super Bowl.

 

Rest in peace, Al Lerner, and thanks.

 

The Competition

 

The Steelers and Barneys had a slugfest – literally – with the Steelers prevailing. The Bengals blew an early lead, only to come back and lose on a fourth down play when Corey Dillon was tripped by his own lineman.

 

Next Up

 

The Browns have a chance to get back into the thick of the AFC North race as they host the Steelers.

 

The season is short. Bark hard!

 


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