Browns-Lions: Joe's Game Review

Joe Brownlee brings his usual detailed and objective look at a much happier Fake Game #2.

Now, that was better.

After laying an egg in the opener, the Browns turned in a much better effort in defeating the Lions. Just as the Browns had problems in all three phases against the Packers, they did good things in all three phases in this game. But lest we become too excited about this game, there were some issues that still raise concerns for me.

Let's dig in.

Offense

Derek Anderson turned in a very 2007-like performance.  He hit several intermediate-range throws. But he also struggled at times. In some cases Anderson had help from his receivers with some off-target throws, other times flat out missed his target. He missed a wide-open Edwards down the sideline, Robert Royal in the end zone, and a high, hard throw to James Davis ended up in a deflected interception. Still, Anderson played with attitude and confidence, something we did not see much in 2008.

I'd have to give Brady Quinn an incomplete for his time in the game. He did some good things, but both series ended in penalties that wiped out third down conversions. The Lions brought some pressure on Quinn and he took some hits. It was hard to get much of a read in just a few plays.

Brett Ratliff has been less than impressive in both games. Granted, the Browns ran very conservative plays in the second half, but Ratliff doesn't look ready for prime time, and this is against bottom-of-the-roster competition. Richard Bartel mostly handed off but had a very nice fake and run on a bootleg.

Jamal Lewis just looks slow to me. He had a couple of nice runs, but he is so slow to the hole it is painful. I had suggested a power rushing role for him like Jerome Bettis played at the end of his career, but I'm not sure Lewis could do even that. James Davis had the 81-yard run, but other than that, it was hard for him to find running room. It looks to me like Davis is better in space and has some nifty moves. Despite the deflection, I think he has shown good hands. Noah Herron did OK, but, overall, he has not impressed me.

Lawrence Vickers had a fantastic block on the Lewis touchdown run. They have not really used Vickers in the passing game, but he is a great blocker. Charles Ali has not made an impression so far.

None of the wide receivers hogged the ball, but everyone made a play here or there. The first play to Mohamed Massaquoi was very nice. Braylon Edwards had a nice catch to start a drive as well. Mike Furrey looks very solid in the possession role, and he had a very nice run on a screen play. Josh Cribbs is starting to look the part as a receiver. Brian Robiskie had a nice catch, though it did not count due to a penalty. Paul Raymond ran two end-around plays, one that was successful, the other was not.

It was great to see Steve Heiden back in game action and he had a big catch in his return. All of the other tight ends were relatively quiet. Royal was shifting around a lot, including into an H-back position at times. Martin Rucker has been invisible. Aaron Walker didn't add anything to his performance in the Packer game.

The starting offensive line included Alex Mack and the line played much better than last week. I really liked what Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach did. John St. Clair had two drive-killing penalties. The backup line was, well, awful. Poor Ryan Tucker played with these guys and looked like the only one of them who could block anyone. George Foster was terrible, and thus, he is once again unemployed. Kurt Quarterman was also pretty bad. One has to think that Isaac Sowells is also near the end of the line.

Bottom line: the offense got in the end zone, which is an improvement over every down played since late November of last year, but a lot of opportunities were still left on the field.

Defense

While the defense was improved as well, you can tell that it is a work in progress.

While the defensive line didn't have a spectacular game, you saw linebackers making plays. This means they were doing their job in the 3-4 defense. I thought they did pretty well holding the point of attack. It's looking like Kenyon Coleman is an excellent pickup. Robaire Smith returning to his pre-injury level of play would also be a huge boost to this defense. C. J. Mosley is also making plays when he is in the game. Some of the young guys like Santonio Thomas and Louis Leonard are in a battle for a spot. I did not think Leonard helped himself in this game.

I thought the outside linebackers, and in particular Kamerion Wimbley and Alex Hall did a very nice job on outside containment. It was encouraging to see the Browns stop the run when the starters were in the game, but there were still too many plays where backs were slipping through the defense when there was a lot of traffic inside. David Veikune plays with a high motor but I thought he was overrunning and getting taken out of plays too often. After a strong showing last week, Marcus Benard was quiet in this game.

I thought the secondary had a very solid game. Eric Wright had an interception, though it was marred by the celebration penalty. Brandon McDonald defended one pass, but is interesting how little teams have thrown at him. Rod Hood was OK. Corey Ivy was active in the game. I thought Hank Poteat had a solid game as well, but I'm not sold on him. Coye Francies continues to impress. The safety position is becoming a concern, especially if Brodney Pool is out for any period of time. Mike Adams stepped in and did well. I'm not sure Abe Elam is ready to start despite the staff's feelings about him. I'm also not sold on Hazma Abdullah. I like Bret Lockett, though, and think there is some interesting potential there.

The approach that Rob Ryan is taking, showing numerous different looks, is very encouraging compared to the bland and predictable defense we've seen the last four years. Whether we have the personnel to do it effectively is a question, but remember that veterans Shaun Rogers and David Bowens did not play.

Special Teams

Wow.  Josh Cribbs looks like he is ready to go. Cribbs may or may not have gone all the way if Abe Elam had not been holding on the opening kickoff, but it would have been nice to find out. Gerard Lawson also looked solid on punt return duty. I liked that the Browns gave several players chances in the return game. Phil Dawson and Dave Zastudil both had good games, especially Zastudil. The Browns showed some great coverage and special teams tackles, especially Kaluka Maiava and Blake Costanzo. I like what we've seen from special teams coach Brad Seely so far.

Coaching

I already commented on each of the coordinators above. If this is Mangini ball, then sign me up. One thing I really have liked seeing over the two games so far is how engaged all of the coaches are, even the position coaches, throughout the game. Under Romeo Crennel, you didn't always see that, perhaps because the staff reflected the style of their leader. I see a lot of teaching and correction throughout the game. For example, Mangini yelling something at Veikune when he was out of position on a play.

Analysis

This was the performance I expected to see last week. A lot of mistakes were made, but there was effort and progress. The offense moved the ball in the first half, but it still looks out of sync. There were too many mistakes that were very costly, and too many chances were wasted. The defense makes some plays, but it usually has to blitz to create pressure. Opposing receivers were wide open too many times. There was some improvement in the running game, but it was not consistent.

While the Browns have worked to add depth, the drop-off from the starters to the backups is wide right now, probably in part due to a lot of youth. But in some cases, you can see that even the starter may not be ready for prime time. I have some real concerns at running back, right tackle, and safety in particular. The depth on the offensive line is questionable, especially if Fred Weary is out for an extended period.

I know it's been said numerous times already, but I do think we have to temper the encouragement we got from this game because of the opponent. While the Lions may be improved, they started a rookie quarterback without their top three receivers. When Daunte Culpepper entered the game, it was a different story. Had he started, things may not have snowballed as much early in the game. Still, the Browns needed some positive vibes and they got them.

Next Up

The true dress rehearsal game against the Titans.

The season is short. Bark hard!


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