Game Review: Browns 21, Jaguars 20

Joe Brownlee looks at the Browns stunning win against the Jaguars. Joe offers his perspective on each unit, and suggests that the win masks some problems that that Browns will need to address quickly if they are to make a run at the playoffs. Fair, objective, balanced... what we've come to expect from Joe each week.

Good day, Browns fans!


Once upon a time, there was a team from the shores of Lake Erie who had a passing game. Where did it go? It looks like it was stolen by the evil bye week. Maybe that was just a fairy tale? The Browns squeaked out a win in a bizarre game where they convincingly outgained the opponent, but found every way in the book to try to blow the game, dug themselves in a hole, then pulled it out with no time left. It was exciting and all, but this is not the way for the Browns to get into the playoffs, and beyond that, there were some ominous signs that are masked by the way they won the game.


Yes, good things happened in this game. We'll discuss those. But don't let the final score blind you to some of the things that took place. As is customary, let's look at the team position by position.




So much of the talk since the game has been two camps establishing themselves: the so-called Couch Apologists and the Couch Bashers. I don't want to put myself in either camp, but Couch has had his problems, even in the New Orleans game. If you look at this performance in this game, I have to say that it wasn't just a bad first half. Couch had a poor game overall. Before you "Apologists" get upset, hang with me for a moment.


Let's start with the obvious problem of the interceptions. This time there are no excuses, both of these were bad plays by Couch. The first was just a bad throw. Quincy Morgan was left to watch helplessly as the ball sailed well over his head. The second was worse, a bad decision, throwing into coverage. Couch is often throwing to someone who is covered when another receiver is open. It has become a consistent pattern.


Then there are the missed throws like the one that would have given an open Mark Campbell a touchdown on the first series. Instead, it turned into a missed field goal. How about Morgan's first touchdown? The defender fell and Morgan was wide open. Watch the play – Couch underthrew the ball and Morgan had to wait for it. Otherwise, the defender even with an angle doesn't get in the picture.


Probably the worst is the gaffe few are talking about. Couch was stupid enough to rip off his helmet after the game-winning touchdown. Yes, he was understandably excited, and I've seen interpretations that say the penalty would have been enforced on the kickoff on such a play, one that would never happen. But after watching Dwayne Rudd do it earlier, was that not a totally bonehead thing to do?


Let's not miss the good things Couch did. He did step up and make a couple of very nice throws. He scrambled, something we don't see him do much anymore. He is really looking good when he is blocking. But folks, the fact is, Couch is making the same mistakes over and over and over again. He forces the ball and creates turnovers. It cost the Carolina game. The Browns don't have anymore games to give. The Browns will only go as far as Couch can take them. It is time for the excuses to end and for Couch to earn his money.


Running Backs


This makes four games in a row of the new look William Green, and this performance, 26 carries for 119 yards (a career high) and three more catches for 25 yards made a huge impact on this game. Yes, he didn't read his blocks right at times, and he was a little indecisive a couple of times, but Green is making a lot out of nothing, and if gets a hole, watch out. Green helped the Browns to consistently get into second and short plays. Jamel White was playing the Dennis Northcutt role and had four carries for 22 yards (including the Northcutt Draw play) and four receptions for 25 yards. Best of all, the Browns effectively used both backs in a split back formation very effectively. I'd like to see more of that. The running game is really starting to draw the attention of the defense now.


James Jackson played little, but he had one excellent carry for 11 yards.


Wide Receivers

After being shut out last week, Quincy Morgan returned with a vengeance. Of his three catches for 118 yards, it's hard to imagine two bigger plays. With the Browns trailing 14-7, the defender attempted to chuck Morgan going down the sideline. Instead, Morgan shoved him to the ground and was wide open for a 61-yard touchdown. But of course, the more memorable play was fighting off a defender on the last play of the game for the winning touchdown catch. Was it really a catch? Let's not go there.


Kevin Johnson was not much of a factor, but he did have a big catch on a crossing pattern with the Browns coming from deep in their own end. He finished with two catches for 29 yards. Only problem was, he looked pathetic blocking. Andre Davis is fighting through nagging injuries and managed three catches for 20 yards and ran a reverse for nine yards. Both Andre King and Frisman Jackson played, but neither had a ball thrown their way.


Tight Ends


How about Steve Heiden catching a game-high five passes? They only went for 21 yards, but they seemed to come when the Browns needed a first down. The Browns are starting to look better a tight end with the combination of Heiden and Mark Campbell, mixing in Darnell Sanders from time to time. Heiden and Campbell even had decent games in a blocking capacity. Campbell ended up with just one catch, but it was a big one for 26 yards on the first touchdown drive. Maybe the biggest one was the one Couch did not get to him.


Offensive Line


Shaun O'Hara wins the "I Can't Remember The Snap Count" award this week with two false starts, taking the trophy from Ryan Tucker. I've reached the point that continuity or no, he'd have been riding pine if it were me coaching after doing it twice. Overall, things have really reversed themselves. The line struggles on pass plays, but has been doing better with the run. Once again, linemen are pulling out well and making blocks downfield. If the line could just get back its pass blocking to where it was before the bye, the Browns would be in good shape.


Defensive Line


Problems? Yes, there were. Giving up 145 yards to Fred Taylor is sad, even if 44 of them came on a play where Orpheus Roye was flat out tackled. Gerard Warren continues to do nothing. He is just worthless. Yet, the Browns actually managed some pressure on the quarterback. Blitzes helped, but Mark Word and Tyrone Rogers (six tackles and a sack) along with Roye harassed Mark Brunell all day. It is an interesting coincidence that Courtney Brown has missed two games and in both games, the Browns got some pressure up front. Granted, one was against the Bengals, and I'll admit that the Jaguars aren't as good as they once were on their o-line. Kenard Lang had a decent game was well. Alvin McKinley has had a good year, but his bonehead personal foul at the end of the game really put the defense up against it.


Maybe it's time to start Word and McKinley and see what happens. I have a feeling the Browns might have had more success against the run with Brown in the game, but they didn't miss him on passing downs in my opinion.




Earl Holmes gave a great effort and racked up 11 tackles. That's not to say he didn't miss a play or two. On Taylor's touchdown run, Holmes was pulled out the middle by a tight end going out to the wing. I don't know if it was a blown coverage, but it left the middle wide open. Taylor really torched the Browns on cutback runs late in the game. This is because we might as well not even have any outside linebackers for all the plays they contribute. Darren Hambrick was credited with five tackles, but most of those were in a swarm. Dwayne Rudd was used in a Jamir Miller-like role for the second time this season, and this time it met with some success. Rudd ended up with five tackles and a sack, and he pressured the quarterback a few times and contained him to allow someone else to wrap him up. This was Rudd's best game of the year. Brant Boyer played but had just one tackle. I thought I saw Kevin Bentley in the game a couple of times, but I might have read a number wrong.


Defensive Backs


How big was the secondary in this game? The Jags managed just 73 yards passing and held Jimmy Smith and Bobby Shaw to a combined three receptions. Anthony Henry was a little shaky, but Corey Fuller had some good plays. Lewis Sanders had a sack on a corner blitz. Robert Griffith had seven tackles, and did not get a call for holding on Kyle Brady's touchdown, but he still missed some plays. You can't always got for the hard hit; sometimes you have to wrap a guy up. Earl Little was quiet.


Special Teams


Last week, the special teams had their problems. In this game, they were a disaster. Let's start with Phil Dawson. A missed field goal, a blocked field goal, and a kickoff out of bounds is not exactly a great day. Then you had Chris Gardocki. It is rare for him to shank a punt, but to shank two in a row late in a tight game is not exactly his usual game. Andre Davis struggle on punt returns, gaining eight yards on three chances. He had a kickoff return for a touchdown wiped out by a penalty on Lenoy Jones, and Chris Akins was called twice for blocks in the back. Special teams contributed to the Browns having miserable field position much of the game. The Jaguars were able to pin the Browns inside the five-yard line three times, and even though the Browns generally worked the ball out (one drive went 96 yards for a touchdown), you can't always overcome such long fields.


About the only thing that went the way of the Browns was the stupid squib kick that set up the final pass.




There were some good play calls in this game. Once again, I liked seeing White and Green in at the same time. The Browns mixed in a reverse, and the Northcutt draw. Often, the running game was picking up seven, eight, or nine yards on first down. My only beef here is that the Browns ended up struggling on second and short. Jacksonville stacked the line and the Browns could not run in that situation. The o-line is doing better against a vanilla first down defense, but against an eight or nine man front, the Browns can't do a thing. I think Bruce Arians could have adjusted better in that situation.


The Browns blitzed and it made a huge difference in the game. Now that the secondary is getting healthy, the Browns can send some of the defensive backs. The Browns also sent Rudd and Boyer with some success. They need to continue this in the right spots in the remaining games.


After a couple of games where the penalty bug did no bite, the Browns had 10 again. That has to be kept under control, especially the stupid mental mistakes. This team has no margin for error.


It's hard to assess this game. The Browns offense moved the ball throughout the game, despite Couch's mistakes. They outgained the Jaguars 417-211. The defense gave up 157 yards rushing, but held them to just 54 net yards passing. The Browns left either 13 or 17 points on the field, depending on whether you count Dawson's missed field goal or the touchdown pass that Couch missed just before that. The Browns made numerous mistakes and still managed to win, which I suppose should be encouraging. I didn't come out of this game feeling encouraged; I came out feeling lucky.


Wasn't it great seeing Wali Rainer on the other side making tackles nine yards downfield? I appreciated Rainer's effort and passion in his tenure with the Browns, but he looked overmatched here.


If it would have been me, this is the first game where I would have made a quarterback change at halftime.




Many folks are back crunching playoff scenarios. I surprised to see that the Browns, though one game behind the wild card contenders who are 8-5, they have the best tiebreakers of all the 7-6 teams right now. The Browns got some help from Houston and Tennessee to get them back in the race. If the Browns win out, they can still get in. They'd be looking good at 8-4 in the AFC. But the Browns haven't played a good game in two weeks and that won't cut it against the Colts who come into Cleveland fresh off a loss that may well cost them the AFC South. I imagine they'll be motivated. Tim Couch has to get his act together.


I am not going to get into all the playoff scenarios unless the Browns can win Sunday. If they do not, it will be time to start thinking about 2003.


The Competition


The rest of the AFC North lost. The Steelers were shocked by Houston 24-6 in a game where Houston had just 47 yards of offense, the fewest ever for an NFL team that won a game. They had just three completed passes. Five Steeler turnovers provided the bulk of the scoring, including two Maddox interceptions and a fumble that were returned for touchdowns. The Raisins lost to the Saints at home 37-25. The Bengals found about every way you could to lose, including two punt returns for touchdowns, and two Corey Dillon carries that turned into a touchdown and a safety as the Bengals lost at Carolina 52-31. It was the most points allowed in Bengal history. A 1-15 season is in sight.


Next Up


The Browns start the playoffs early against the Colts. Lose and it is over. Win and maybe there is a chance.


The season is short. Bark hard!

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