With the recent disappointing performance by the Browns against the Carolina Panthers, many questions again reappeared amongst the fans, and the media.
Questions arose surrounding the play of quarterback Tim Couch. None that hadn't been brought to light previously, but as long as the team was winning, all was quiet. Coming off what could be termed his worst performance in a Browns uniform, criticism of Couch has been widespread since the Carolina game and rightfully so.
Couch did not play well when he had the opportunity to step up and lead the team in such an important game. Throughout his tenure in Cleveland, Couch has had a desire to open up the offense more, especially since the team has not had a rushing attack in his three-plus seasons in Cleveland.
With the running game working, the Browns have shown a big play ability. During this time, Couch has managed the game well and hadn't placed the team in a critical situations with mistakes. The team was playing the game as head coach Butch Davis wanted.
That was until Sunday. The Browns ran the ball effectively during the first-half of the game against the Panthers and appeared to be in control, although they were down 7-3 at the half. Coming out of the locker room for the second-half, the Panthers adjusted to the Browns offensive scheme and were geared to stop the run.
Dropping the safeties deeper into coverage and walking the linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage, Carolina effectively took the running game away from the Browns. They challenged the Browns to throw the football, believing they could generate enough pressure on Couch to mask the areas on the field they left exposed to stop the run.
Due to being placed in second-and-long and third-and-long situations, the Browns abandoned the run, but the light did not come on for Couch and the Browns offense.
The middle of the field was open all day. It was a constant for the Browns... it was there for the taking.
The offensive line did not play its best game against the Panthers in pass protection, but there was time and opportunities to throw the football. The throwing lanes were there, the check-offs and hot reads were there,but the execution and consistency were not.
The offensive line did not protect Couch as well as in the weeks before, but the opportunities were still evident. It has become a common sight to see Couch struggle when pressured, as most quarterbacks do. He was pressured by the Panthers defense, but not with the consistency that should stop him from making the plays the team needed to make.
Lets not use the weather as an excuse. Sure, the winds were blowing, a nasty swirling wind at that, but that isn't an excuse to not throw the football. Especially when the intermediate routes were for the taking against a Panthers defense that went to a modified version of the '46' defense that was schemed to stop the run while applying pressure on the quarterback.
This Browns team has been four years in the making. It is time that they stand up and get the job done - and that starts with their quarterback.
Questions about Couch's ability will surface until the next time he plays well. That could come this week, it could be next week. But until he performs well consistently, Couch will have to battle the naysayers.
The supporting cast of players is improved. Couch must become more consistent to quarterback this team into the playoffs. I do not believe is that Couch is the type of quarterback that can carry this team.
Oh Dennis, why now? As Butch Davis spoke about the sprained knee suffered by Dennis Northcutt, arguably the Browns offensive MVP, he left us all with the customary doubt. Davis stated that Northcutt will be listed as week-to-week with the injury, which means he might play against Indianapolis on December 15th or we may not see him again until training camp next July.
Lets just say that the sprained MCL that Northcutt has suffered is worse than as the one suffered by offensive tackle Ryan Tucker earlier in the season and he is not expected to play again this season, from what we've been told.
Why No Blitzing? Blitzing and applying pressure to quarterbacks was just one of the reasons they were as defensively successful as they were in 2001. Why have the Browns stopped attacking the line of scrimmage?
We are hearing that the coaching staff does not believe that the linebackers on the roster (presently able to play) have the ability to create havoc in the backfield on a consistent basis, such as Jamir Miller did in 2001. The Browns are not comfortable in selling out (bringing defensive backs) consistently, which might provide the opposition an opportunity for the big play.
Free Agents, where are they? One of the goals of the Browns prior to the 2002 season was to sign free agent players who would complement the roster. Scouring the roster and the free agent acquisitions, it would appear the Browns haven't reaped vast rewards from their efforts.
From what we've been told by those close to the team, the additions contribution has been as follows:
On Earl Holmes, "Earl Holmes has been mediocre at best. He is an upgrade from the middle linebacking position from a year ago, but he isn't the answer."
On Kenard Lang, "Easily the best free agent acquisition in the off-season. He plays hard, is versatile, and knows how to play the game. What he provides doesn't always show up on the stat sheet... he is a leader."
On Robert Griffith, "The jury is still out on Griffith due to his injury, but he hasn't been the factor that was envisioned when he was signed. Still, he is better than anyone else on the roster."
On Ryan Tucker, "Ryan has brought some consistency to the right tackle position. That itself is an improvement, but he is an average lineman. For this team in its present state, that is an improvement. He has provided the team with a reliable presence on the corner."
On Barry Stokes, "Stokes is tough and hard-nosed. His play has improved as the weeks have passed and may now be benefiting from the offensive line as a whole playing together for a lengthy period of time."