Joe's Game Review: Browns 14, Ratbirds 13

Joe takes a look at the Browns victory of the repugnant Ratbirds. As someone who was at the nexus of the Browns revolt against the move back in 1995, Joe clearly enjoyed this Browns win, as did we all. Enjoy Joe's recap...

Browns 14, Barneys 13: Game Review

December 22, 2002 at the Purple Pit, Baltimourge, MD

 

Good day, Browns fans!

 

This team just keeps giving us palpitations, but it's been an interesting season. This was like so many games this season: the Browns get off to a fast start, they let the opponent get back in the game and take the lead, barely hang in the game, then come back with a vengeance at the end. While the Browns are now 2-2 in December, they have yet to play a complete game this month, and this game is no exception. While some players stepped up and made big plays, it is becoming obvious that there are players that need to be looking elsewhere for employment in 2003 -- and there could be some coaches joining them.

 

There is a lot to cover, so let's dive in.

 

Quarterback

 

Tim Couch played a pretty good game against the Colts, and did pretty well here, too. Couch looked very cool early on, but after some offensive breakdowns buried him in long yardage situations, Couch took a little bit of a beating. I was disappointed to see Couch pressing again when things were looking tough late in the third and early in the fourth quarter. But when the game was on the line, Couch made some good plays. This was one of the first games where Couch was able to step up to avoid the rush on several occasions and deliver some truly big-time throws. The interception was a very bad throw with plenty of time to survey the field, and a couple of other bad throws he got away with. But Couch made some good decisions, including going to Campbell when Steve Heiden was the primary read on the final scoring play.

 

The running game had a major effect for Couch. When the Browns could run credible play action, Couch had tons of time to throw. But the Browns were far too predictable, running almost exclusively on first down until late in the game. This hurt the Browns because the Bruises stacked the line and it left the Browns in second and long situations. It put Couch in a bind and he got pummeled. Other factors also contributed to these problems, such as stupid mental mistakes and blocking breakdowns that made for nearly impossible situations. Couch had more success late in the game when the Browns passed on first down.

 

Finally, I'm not thrilled with seeing Couch get into it with the fans as he supposedly did in Jacksonville. However, with these particular fans and their notorious owner, I'll make an exception.

 

Running Backs

 

William Green had enough success that he was a credible running threat, and it helped. Green actually did a good job of making something from nothing at times. While 56 yards on 20 carries is less than what we have come to expect from Green, in watching the game, Green did better than that. Once again, running on nearly every first down did not put Green in a position to succeed. Then there was his injury, a blow to a, well, particularly sensitive area. There were times Green looked tentative, but those were times when there was no hole whatsoever. He did a good job in this game getting to and around the corner. He caught two short dump passes for two yards, one as an outlet when Couch was in trouble and another on a swing pass that lost a yard.

 

Boy, it is great having Jamel White back in the game. He had just four carries for 11 yards including a three-yard touchdown, and when he ran, he was generally effective. But White's biggest contribution was as a receiver. White caught four passes for 63 yards. Two of those were huge. White made a big run on a screen pass. But the play of the game was a short pass to White where he used his quickness to turn it into a 28-yard gain. White outran a horde of Prune defenders on the outside.

 

Maybe the numbers weren't fantastic, but I felt the Browns got effective production from the running backs in this game.

 

Wide Receivers


For the first time this month, the Browns showed an effective passing game and got consistent good plays from the receivers. Let's start with Kevin Johnson. KJ had two big catches on the opening, and he also had a huge catch to get the Browns to the one-yard line at the end of the game. KJ ended up with five catches for 44 yards. Quincy Morgan was ignored on the final drive against the Colts, but here, he made a critical 17-yard catch of a high pass on the closing drive. He ended up with three catches for 50 yards, including a conversion of a fourth down on the opening drive. Perhaps Morgan's best play was his block on the pass to White on the final drive. Andre Davis emerged from the funk he has been in, presumably due to nagging injuries, to haul in three passes for 21 yards. Two of those converted third downs. Andre King caught two passes early on the final drive for a total of 20 yards. He also had a nice block on White's catch and run.

 

Tight Ends

 

Mark Campbell had a tough day, but still made a great play. He caught a pass where he got behind the entire defense, but it was wiped out by a penalty. He got called for a hold, and he caused an illegal motion penalty. He also put the Browns in a hole by throwing the ball at a Bruise who taunted him. But Campbell had some effective blocks, and he ended up wide open on the final touchdown. Steve Heiden caught a dump pass for two yards and was an effective decoy on the final touchdown. Darnell Sanders had some good blocks, but was not the target of a pass. He was in the pattern on the final touchdown.

 

Offensive Line

 

I'm finding it harder and harder to judge this line. At times, they blow the opponent of the ball. But more often, they are the ones getting shoved around. This had to be the worst game of the season for Ross Verba. It wasn't all physical; he let Peter Boulware get good angles and lost his man more than once. He let Couch take a full blindside shot, something a left tackle never wants to see. While Stokes had his struggles, I see this guy as an overachieving gamer who doesn't have big time talent, but gives his all. This line continues to look best pulling and blocking in space, but the power game just isn't their style.

 

In general, the running game only worked when Green or White cut back or made something from nothing. And this was far from the best pass blocking performance of the year. It seems to me what improvement we have seen in the second half of the year is largely due to the continuity of the starters getting uninterrupted playing time together.

 

Defensive Line

 

The line continues to struggle to generate pressure. At times, they get maddeningly close. Just a little pressure up front would open up so many things. The Barneys did a good job of picking up on what the TV announcers noticed. The Browns were so intent on sopping the run inside that the ends were badly overpursuing and taking themselves out of plays. I saw this from Kenard Lang and Tyrone Rogers in particular. Mark Word just is not good against the run under any circumstances. Word did manage to chase Jeff Blake a couple of times. Lang had half a sack.

 

At tackle, Orpheus Roye had a relatively quiet game, splitting a sack with Lang. I suppose we need to be thankful if Gerard Warren shows up enough to even make one meaningful play a game these days. Butch Davis needs to light a fire under his posterior in the off season. Of the tackles, I thought Alvin McKinley might have been best in limited duty. But overall, even though the interior line made few plays, up the middle was not the worst part of the defense in this game.

 

Linebackers

 

Earl Holmes continues his solid play in the second half. OK, he's no Mike Singletary back there, but he made 11 tackles and is making plays. That's more than I can say for the other starters. While both Dwayne Rudd and Darren Hambrick each made at least one notable play, their invisibility leaves the Browns tremendously susceptible to outside runs and cutbacks. In particular, the comments by the Prunes regarding how they wanted to match up against Rudd were pretty telling.

 

Brant Boyer might have had the best game at linebacker. He had a sack and five tackles. Boyer has had a pretty good year and is often overlooked. Kevin Bentley left the game injured and saw little playing time. His injuries have been a real shame because the Browns could use him and it would have accelerated his development.

 

Defensive Backs

 

What a mixed bag. It's great to have Daylon McCutcheon back, even if his arm does look like a club. His seven tackles are all the more amazing considering it is tough to wrap a guy up like that. I thought Corey Fuller had a solid game. He did fall on the turf on the Bruises touchdown play, but overall, his number did not called much because he was covering his man. Fuller was ripped off on the interception that was called interference, as I felt that was a clean play. Anthony Henry had one nice pass breakup and near interception, but he also missed tackles and got burned.

 

At safety, Robert Griffith did have six tackles, but he also missed plays again and blew coverage. Overall, Griffith has had a disappointing year. Earl Little continues to be a gamer and had eight tackles. Michael Jameson had an interception off a deflection to seal the game at the end. I didn't see Devin Bush in the game.

 

Special Teams

 

Kicking was not a great strong suit in this game. Chris Gardocki had another poor punt, though he did pin the Prunes deep. You also have to congratulate Gardocki for going over the 900 punt mark without a block. I guess Phil Dawson was kicking it short on kickoffs on purpose, and for the most part, it worked out well enough, but I just hate seeing the opponent getting the kick around the 20. Until you have a bad snap like last week, you don't appreciate how consistent Ryan Keuhl is as the long snapper. The one against the Colts was the first one I can remember for Keuhl. He had no troubles in this game.

 

I thought the kick coverage did a pretty good job except bonehead penalties. Andre Davis had one good kickoff return, but he continues to be a step slower than earlier in the season. I know he's giving it his best shot on punts, and he had one decent return, but it was the first one since he took over for Dennis Northcutt.

 

Coaching

 

You come out aggressive and march the ball down the field. Then, with an insurmountable 7-0 lead and your starting running back out, you go conservative? I just don't get it. The play calls were so predictable I was calling "run" on most every first down until late in the game. Granted, the Browns did get some first downs out of it and I read that they did not have a single three-and-out. Maybe I'm not being fair, because mistakes and penalties killed a lot of drives. But I think a lack of passing on first down contributed to offensive woes for most of the middle of the game.

 

I have to agree with the TV crew, that Couch is far more effective in the shotgun. This week against the Falcons, I'd consider shotgun and no-huddle through much of the game. It would catch the Falcons off guard and would allow the Browns to compete in what I believe will be a high scoring game. It also gives Couch an extra second or so with shaky pass protection.

 

The defense is maddening. While they only gave up 13 points, the inability to get the Barneys off the field led to bad field position throughout pretty much the entire game. The Browns repeatedly would stop them on first and second down only to give up a play on third to allow the drive to continue. The Browns looked prepared to stop Jamal Lewis, they just didn't do it a lot of times. And giving up plays to the backups is silly. But I just cannot get over the way they allowed Todd Heap to be wide open. This was a repeat of the first game, and it is so predictable. In fact, if it weren't for some poor throws by Blake and Heap missing a couple, it could have been worse. Maybe the secondary and linebackers blew it, but it looked like soft zones let the guy find holes over and over.

 

Now, let me offer a couple of kudos. First, the press box coaches were the ones that saw Jamel White was open on the closing drive and suggested the play that really set up the winning score. Also, I loved the play calling sequence at the goal line, and Tim Couch said they really had learned from the end of the Colts game. It's nice that in a playoff-like atmosphere the Browns will live long enough to put what they have learned to use.

 

Commentary

 

After all that has happened this season, it is hard to fathom the fact that the Browns are still alive at this point. It has been frustrating to see this team have repeated chances to take control of their own destiny and fail to do it. This Sunday is a crucible of the entire season. The Falcons will be a tough test, and one that I will not be surprised to see them fail. But the chance is there. If the Browns win, they need help to get in the playoffs. It is realistic help, though.

 

Regardless, the Browns have taken an important step this season. Consider that since starting 2-4, the Browns have gone 6-3 down the stretch, and they could have easily won all of the games they lost. In fact, the Browns have lost only one game by a double-digit margin. Perhaps the high expectations have caused us to miss what the team has achieved this year. They have put themselves in a position to truly become contenders in 2003.

 

Should the Browns make the playoffs, it will almost certainly be as the #6 seed. This would likely send them to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers.

 

The Competition

 

The Steelers rode a 17-0 first quarter lead to a 17-7 win over the bumbling Buccaneers. The Bengals took advantage of a Saints team that mailed in the game and blew controlling their own playoff destiny. Cincinnati won 20-13 with far inferior statistics. The Bengals need to beat the Bills this week to avoid their worst record ever.

 

Next Up

 

The Browns close the season with a home game against Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons.

 

The season is short. Bark hard!


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