Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Browns Turn Tables, Pound on Giants, 35-14

Instead off trotting out some horrible, brown pants the Cleveland Browns instead put their 1957-1959 throwback uniforms on display for Monday Night Football. The look, and the result of the game, was much better than that of their pre-season meeting with the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.

In the pre-season the Browns saw themselves behind, 30-3, after only 16 minutes of play and their season looked to be permanently derailed. But after a dramatic 4th quarter in Cincinnati, a bye week and an additional week of preparation the Browns turned back the clock to early 2007 when their offense was firing on all cylinders and the Giants looked lost and turnover prone. The end result was a 35-24 beatdown of the previously unbeaten Giants at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Derek Anderson and Braylon Edwards revered back to their 2007 Pro Bowl form with Anderson producing a gaudy 18 for 29 night, 310 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Edwards caught five of those passes for a career high 154 yards including an 11 yard touchdown grab. The two even hooked up on a two point conversion to give the Browns their final 21 point margin of victory.

Anderson looked crisp and, dare I say, accurate all night as he connected with eight different receivers on the evening. This included an incredible 9 for 13 on third downs, including a dart to Syndric Steptoe for 20 yards. This preceded a 22 yard touchdown pass to tight end Darnell Dinkins, his first catch of the season.

With starter Kellen Winslow out, Dinkins took advantage of his opportunity as did Steve Heiden. Heiden often a forgotten man due to Winslow’s brilliance also pulled in five balls like Edwards, only for 59 yards, but many on third down. Many forget that when Winslow missed almost two full years in 2004 and 2005 Heiden caught 71 passes and is a great asset in the run blocking scheme.

Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski also reverted to his 2007 form, showing some creativity and tricks in his play calling. Josh Cribbs lined up twice in the shotgun as quarterback and ran two option plays. Jason Wright only touched the ball twice, but both on third down, and produced first downs on a draw and a screen pass. Jerome Harrison added a 33 yard run on a true reverse and a big 18 yard grab on a wheel route. Heck, even Donte Stallworth suited up, played, caught two passes and didn’t get hurt.

All this kept the stout Giants defense off balance and let Jamal Lewis do what Jamal Lewis does best, pound the football. The 88 yards on 21 carries may not look glamorous but they were all physical bruising runs that wore down the New York defense, kept the Browns in manageable third down situations and did not let the Giants pin their ears back and blitz Anderson to death. Ryan Tucker proved to be an upgrade for injured Kevin Shaffer at right tackle and Heiden and Dinkins provided the physical, edge blocking that Winslow does not.

In the end, the Browns ran it 30 times and passed in 29, an almost perfect balance on an almost perfect night. They held the ball for 32:25 and overcame 10 penalties, eight of them for false starts or procedural fouls. Coming into the league dead last in yardage and points per game they put up 454 and 35 on the Giants. But it was two zeros that summed it up best. Zero punts and zero sacks allowed.

On defense, the stat lines may not have been pretty but in the end the Brwosn made the plays when they needed to. Derrick Ward ran the ball only ten times, but for 101 yards, and Brandon Jacobs added 67 on 14 carries and a touchdown but they had to work for every yard. Steve Smith seemed to be open all night torching the defense for nine catches for 94 yards but the longest play the Brwons defense allowed was a 25 yard pass to Plaxico Burress.

But the Browns were able to pressure and harass Eli Manning all game and clamped down on him when they needed to most. The Browns only notched one sack, by rookie Alex Hall, but hit Manning all game long. He came into the game with only one interception in the Giants first four contests of the season but he didn’t leave Cleveland that way.

Brodney Pool picked Manning on the Giants’ opening series of the game on a post route to prevent a score. Brandon McDonald picked him off on the opening play of the second half and returned it into Giants’ territory that set up a Phil Dawson field goal. But it wasn’t until Eric Wright stepped in front of Armani Toomer, with the Giants’ driving to cut the lead to six, and returned the pass 94 yards for a touchdown and a 21 point advantage to for the Browns that the game was officially over despite the time left on the clock.

The Giants still accumulated 373 yards and were able to move the football, sometimes at will, against the Browns but when the Browns needed the big play, whether the timely sack or the three picks, they made it and the Giants did not. This was without Antwaan Peek or Robaire Smith who are on IR for the season or the inactive Shaun Smith and Sean Jones. It may not have been pretty but in the end, their replacements stepped up just enough, and at the right times, to get the job done.

The previously unbeaten Giants fall to 4-1 while the Browns improve to 2-3. It’s off to Washington, DC for the Brown and Orange to face the 4-2 Redskins who just lost to the previously winless St. Louis Rams. The Redskins present another big, similar challenge for the Browns just as the Giants did. They sport a physical running game with Clinton Portis, a mistake-free quarterback in Jason Campbell and an aggressive defense.

So two months later the Browns finally turned the tables on the New York Giants after the Giants send them into a free fall. No awful, brown pants, no Monday night debacle and a glimpse of what the Browns were in 2007; a talented football team with the chance to knock off any team at any given time. Time will tell if they can consistently do that on a weekly basis, but for now, as the old Klingon proverb says, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” 35-14 over the undefeated, defending Super Bowl Champs is downright frigid.

No comments: