Until just after this past Sunday, I had hoped this column would be titled "Going to
That regardless of what happened against the repulsive Stillers, this season was a success in my mind.
Nine wins, a playoff berth, and about 5 years worth of exciting finishes. While there certainly are several areas that the Browns are not as far along as I'd like…this year's squad unquestionably moved forward for the 4th straight season and appear to be on the cusp of being able to bring an end to the misery bestowed upon their devoted fans since 1964.
I moved onward, wondering what to write about. I perused through my archive of past columns I've written for this site.
Two problems that plagued the Browns all season heavily contributed to their demise this past week. Penalties and mismanagement of the three timeouts they are allotted each half. Just three teams (
, Oakland, Minnesota ) posted a poorer penalty yards differential this season, and each one of the Browns nine penalties (Stillers had 4) came at a horrible time Sunday. Included were three crushing delay of game penalties (and another 3 not caught) as well as a horrifying trio of consecutive penalties on Rudd, Sanders, and St. Louis on Pittspuke's final drive. In regards to the time outs…all season the Browns either had no timeouts left when they needed them…or neglected to use them correctly at the end of the 1st half in the scenarios where they actually had them. Making this even more puzzling was Butch's league best ratio of success on challenging calls this season. Griffith
Staying with the Steelers game for a moment, here are a couple interesting stat lines that caught my eye:
: 25 tackles, 8 for loss, 1 sack Bell
- Rudd, Holmes, and Hambrick: 7 tackles, 1 for loss, 0 sacks
- Chris Gardocki: 7 punts, 38.6 avg., just 1 inside the 20
- Gerard Warren: 0 tackles, 0 sacks, 2 assists
- Earl Little: 1 tackle, 0 INT, 0 assists
- Offensive Line: Yielded just 38 yards on 28 rushes, allowed 2 sacks and 7 knockdowns of Holcomb
Kudos to Bruce Arians for an aggressive game plan that preyed on the Steelers weakness in their defensive backfield. It's a shame that Terry Robiskie is certain to leave for an offensive coordinator position somewhere…as the duo may be one of the best tandems of offensive minds we've ever seen work together in this city. Arians got a bad rap at times this year even though we had one of the 10 worst offensive lines in the league…and a tentative William Green for the first 8 weeks.
On the other side of the ball, it will be a miracle if Foge Fazio still is employed by the Browns by the time this column posts. While the personnel deserves plenty of the blame for that brutal 4th quarter matador pass defense against Pittsburgh…the defensive calls and lack of adjustments against the pass in the second half of two of our biggest games of the year against Indy and this past week are reason enough for Foge's head to roll. Who would have thought before the season that a defense featuring Courtney Brown, Gerard Warren, Kenard Lang, Earl Holmes, Dwayne Rudd, Corey Fuller, and Robert Griffith would fail to land us one Pro-bowler?
The Browns need to learn how to finish. With the experience the team now has in close games against top competition…it's strictly a coaching issue going forward. I thought the team may have turned the corner a bit in that respect in holding off the Falcons…but they once again looked scared heading down the stretch this past week, praying they could just hold on. Starting next season, the team has no excuse to not be fully expecting to win each game they play. The innate ability to be able to put teams away with confidence in the 4th quarter is a trait this team will have to acquire before being able to advance any further than they did this year. Look no further than KJ's post-game quote: "To be honest, I thought we were already in
". What a shame. Oakland
It's a shame, but the Browns have a serious dilemma at QB next season…despite the fact they have two very able signal callers. In today's NFL, media and fan fueled QB controversies can rip a team apart as evidenced in
from '99'-'01. Partly due to Holcomb's rousing success this season, there is a huge bastion of Browns fans that would rather boo Couch than cheer the team on regardless of who is at the helm. And can the Browns sit a 60 million dollar investment on the pine? And if so, will Timmy's ego allow it? Seeing that Couch's contract makes him nearly untradable…would the Browns consider dealing Holcomb on draft day for an experienced backup and a 2nd or 3rd rounder? And would the team be able to deal with the fan and media backlash if Holcomb were dealt? All are valid questions heading into what will be a seriously ugly start to the '03 campaign if the Browns decide Couch is still their starter. As asinine as it seems, having 2 quality players at professional sports highest profile position is not necessarily a good thing in today's day and age. Buffalo
Enough is enough with this offensive line. It consists of four guards and a washed up center. O'Hara and Wohlabaugh need to go. Verba needs to be moved back inside to guard, and we MUST acquire a bad ass left tackle, preferably with the 21st overall pick in the draft. We also need an established and hard-nosed guard/center who is a proven run blocker to compete with Stokes and Fowler. This line was OK at times this season, but NEVER was able to put it together…especially run blocking. The games they did run block…our QB got assaulted.
for the immediate future. Cleveland
Talking disappointments…the duo of Dwayne Rudd (62 tackles, 1 sack, 0 INT) and Darren Hambrick (57 tackles, 0 sacks, 1 INT) barely noses out the pathetic Devin Bush/Earl Little duo for my money. The Browns desperately need to acquire a legitimate free safety this off-season. In my opinion, our deficiencies at free safety and tackle were the reason this team could not advance any further. Anthony Henry would make a better safety than corner, but I would not be comfortable starting him next to Griff next season. Maybe in the dime. Gerard Warren: 40 tackles and 2 sacks? Courtney Brown: 42 tackles and 2 sacks? What?!? And the Lewis Sanders Experience needs to end. He came on as a special teams player late in the year…but is just not good enough as a cover corner.
And finally, talking draft, remember these 12 names as they are likely to be repeatedly tied to the Browns and their 21st overall selection as the draft, just over 100 days away, approaches:
), OT Kwame Harris (Stanford), OT Ben Johnson ( Utah ), OT George Foster ( Wisconsin ), OG Eric Steinbach ( Georgia ), TE Jason Witten ( Iowa ) Tennessee
It's been a pleasure conversing with all of you over the course of the last 8 months. I plan on continuing my weekly contributions to this fine site…with a heavy emphasis on the upcoming NFL draft. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Go Titans.