Friday, October 17, 2008

The Borwns Table: Monday Night Magnificence

Welcome to The Browns Table, a season-long look at the 2008 season for the Cleveland Browns from the point of view of the Browns fans here on Bleacher Report.

This discussion is not just meant for the contributing Browns fans. Please feel free to comment on any of the questions or any of our answers below.

We welcome any comments and an open discussion about the Browns below. If you would like a seat at the table leave me a note on my profile and we will try and get you in the rotation.

Muchas gracias to Browns fans Samantha Bunten, Dustin Haley, Scott Miles, and Michael Taylor for their contributions this week.

The real Cleveland Browns, we hope, finally showed up on Monday Night Football and smacked the defending World Champion New York Giants, 35-14, on national TV. The table looks back at the game, ahead to the showdown with the Washington Redskins, and at the throwback uniforms the Browns wore.

Without further ado, let’s talk Browns football…

Well the Browns stunned the football world and got a little bit of revenge on the Giants in the process. I don't think anyone thought it would play out as a 35-14 Browns win. What impressed you most about the Browns performance?

Samantha Bunten

What ultimately struck me as the most impressive part of the performance was the way the Browns' defense controlled New York's formidable offense. The Browns entered this week ranked last in the NFL in defense. Monday night, the previously hapless Cleveland D yielded no points in the second half and forced three interceptions.

Obviously giving up 373 yards wasn't exactly ideal, but it only resulted in two scoring plays. For the first time all season, they played what I would call offensive defense, meaning the D used a proactive approach to generate opportunities for itself instead of just reacting to the opponent's offense.

For example, two of the three interceptions by the Browns' defense were the result of Cleveland players proactively making a turnover happen rather than simply reacting to an error by the opposing QB. It's easy to pick off a bad pass; Pool and McDonald picked off good passes. It wasn't bad offense. It was good defense.

The pick by Eric Wright was the one interception that was the product of a mistake by Manning. Not that I want to discredit Wright, considering he returned it 94 yards for a TD.

Dustin Haley

There were so many great aspects to the game that it's hard to pick out a single aspect of the Browns play that stood out above the others. Overall, it was the team coming together and playing as a unit that was the most impressive.

Offensively, it was great to see the OL perform so well, especially against the Giants' defense. Their improved play led to DA being more comfortable in the pocket, and in turn, allowed Jamal Lewis to do his thing.

The return of Donte Stallworth gave the defense another established receiver to worry about. Steve Heiden was outstanding; he has always been solid, but it's good he can get it done when called upon. I love the "Flash" Package, Rob Chudzinski, keep calling that formation.

Defensively, we came up with big plays at key moments of the game. The secondary is proving that they had been underrated coming into the season. They have the D-line to thank for that. Wimbley even managed to be effective, probably due to the emergence of Alex Hall as a pass rusher.

All in all, the game should give us Browns fans hope, but it's still a long season and that level of play needs to be kept up.

Scott Miles

How about this: The fact that we out-scored New York 18-0 in the second half. Not only did our defense shut them out, but it also generated points, with Eric Wright's interception return for a touchdown and Brandon McDonald's interception on the first play of the half to set up a field goal.

Here's another great stat: Zero sacks. ZERO. Zip, zilch, nada, nothing. It really goes to show what a quarterback can do when he has time to throw the football. That was one of the biggest reasons Derek Anderson had struggled thus far—the offensive line, to put it simply, didn't play well. But not only did Anderson have time to throw for 310 yards, the Browns also rushed for 144 yards against the NFL's third-rated defense.

So what impressed me the most? A complete team effort by a franchise that isn't used to getting one. I'm still feeling giddy.

Jeff Smirnoff

That they held their own, physically, and dominated, at times, the Giants. For the first three-and-three-fourths games, the team seemed to not "punch back" when things didn't go their way, but in the fourth quarter of the Bengals' game, and all night Monday, the Browns did punch back.

Whether it was all the stupid procedural penalties, both times the Giants scored to cut the lead or just a sequence of plays; the Browns always answered and looked cool and calm in doing so.

Michael Taylor

Energy....This was not the same team that I saw play the first four weeks of the season. There was desire and a full-on dedication to proving themselves again. I was thoroughly impressed. I admit that I get very pessimistic at times, and no matter what my beliefs may be for the rest of the season, wasn't this one fun?

Also, watching early in the game, when the Browns were shooting themselves in the foot, costing themselves points, I was on Anderson for again being erratic with his passes, as he threw behind numerous receivers, but he showed me something. He stepped it up when needed.

The gameplan obviously was working from the opening snap, and when Anderson settled in with that big pass to Edwards, it was like a big burden off of his back and the Browns took control of the game.

The offense finally showed up in full force in 2008. What do you think the key is for them to have continued success the rest of the campaign?

Samantha Bunten

At the start of season the Browns offense sure looked good on paper, even with all the QB issues. Unfortunately, good on paper has proven to be an astoundingly poor predictor of sports success.

Ask the Detroit Tigers.

The Browns appeared to be headed the same way until Monday night, when the offense finally showed up and looked as good on the field as it did on paper. Well, maybe not quite that good. But the Browns played smart football Monday and made few mistakes, proving they aren't the disaster they looked like the first five weeks of the season.

This rescued them from being the potential laughing stock of the league, and it may even have been enough to beat a surprisingly inept Giants squad Monday night.

But the Browns didn't just beat New York, they dominated them, and the reason they dominated them is also what I believe to be the key to their success going forward: coming up huge in critical and high pressure situations.

Until this week, the Browns have collapsed under pressure any time things got intense. The bigger the moment, the worse they were. Monday it was the opposite. Anderson and company converted 9/13 times on third down. Heiden and Dinkins stepped up their play to compensate for the sidelined Winslow. The Browns had multiple plays result in 30+ yards from scrimmage.

Before Monday, they didn't have a 30+ yard play from the line all year. If the Browns continue to execute big plays in big situations like these, they will be able to make up for other shortcomings.

Dustin Haley

OL play, consistency, and playcalling. All three will go hand in hand. As I stated, improved OL play allows our backs and QB make plays. Allowing the two to get into a rhythm leads to being able to consistently move the ball. Doing so, then allows us to open up the playbook and run some of our more exotic plays.

Scott Miles

Start clicking early. We scored 17 points in the first half Monday night after only scoring 20 points in the first halves of games one through four. Braylon Edwards set the tone early by breaking free on that slant and turning it into a huge play. That seemed to give the team a much-needed jolt to get it going early, and to follow it up with the 70-yard bomb...You need your stars to make plays, and Anderson and Edwards did that in the first half.

Then you look at what we did running the ball. How about 30 rushing attempts and 29 pass attempts? Terry Pluto of the PD pointed that out in his column after the game. That kind of balance had been non-existent for awhile. And it was a good balance, too, as we rushed for 4.8 yards per carry, which is a great total.

Jeff Smirnoff

First, keep being physical up front on the offensive line and continuing to run the ball effectively to set up the big play via the pass. Ryan Tucker is very underrated. With Rex Hadnot on the right side they become the tough-minded ying to Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach's finesse yang (with Fat Hank Fraley tying them together). He makes the offensive line versatile and allows the playbook to open up because of it.

No offense to Kevin Shaffer, but there is a reason I call him "The Human Parking Cone." The Tuckster is better than The HPC.

Second, use ALL of their weapons. Maybe Donte Stallworth being on the field opened it up a little for Braylon Edwards and maybe he didn't, but he did play a role. Rob Chudzinski seemed to find the perfect balance of run versus pass and mixed in just the right amount of Josh Cribbs and Jerome Harrison. They don't need an excessive amount of gimmick plays, but they do need to utilize everybody to keep the defense off balance.

Michael Taylor

Maintain the blocking up front. Anderson had time to throw the ball, and Lewis had some massive holes on the left side of the line to bull rush through. I do not believe it was only because of getting Ryan Tucker back, but the line had been a disappointment this season.

This game may be the re-emergence of the line we witnessed a season ago, which if you ask me, was the biggest reason for the offensive explosion a year ago. This must be maintained for any run of success.

The Browns defense gave up 373 yards on the night and over seven yards per rushing attempt. Yet they were able to buckle down and make plays when they needed to, even with key players missing. What area of the defense has surprised you the most and which area still needs to step it up?

Samantha Bunten

Again I feel the need to give credit to the secondary for pleasantly surprising me by playing proactive, stellar defense. This is particularly satisfying given that before the season I had serious concerns that we had a weakness at CB so potentially severe that it alone could have caused our demise.

Obviously stopping the run is the biggest thing our defense needs to work on, evident even in Monday's big win. The edge pass rush wasn't an issue in this game, but it is a problem.

We also have to be pressuring the QB much more than we have been. To be fair, I won't judge too harshly on the pressure issue with regard to Monday's game, as the Giants have an outstanding O-line, maybe the best in the league. They only completely failed Manning once, though Shaun Rogers certainly made that one hit count.

Most O-lines are not as impenetrable as New York's though, so the Browns have no excuse going forward not to start successfully executing aggressive blitzes. Cleveland is an abysmal 28th in the league in sacks, but that's just one piece of the greater issue at hand: They have been giving QBs entirely too much time to get rid of the ball on a fairly consistent basis.

Dustin Haley

The secondary. Brodney Pool is playing well coming off of his concussion, and I don't suspect he's going to decline his ability any time soon. Mike Adams has been solid in his fill in role. B-Mac and Eazy...I love the fact that they gamble.

At times it seems like they don't know what they are doing, but they always manage to impress me somehow every game. They are developing into two very solid corners.

The linebackers. D'Qwell has made a lot of tackles, but I would like to see more of them wind up behind the line of scrimmage. Andra Davis hasn't really made any noise and I suspect that is why Leon Williams has been seeing more snaps.

Alex Hall is going to get a pass because of the fact he's played so well from so little time with the organization. He's done well so far and is looking like a nice complement to Wimbley and replacement for McGinest.

Scott Miles

How about the play of our secondary? And it's not just the interceptions by Wright, McDonald, and Brodney Pool. It's Mike Adams and Nick Sorensen stepping up and making some plays—yes, Adams got trucked by Brandon Jacobs on the TD run, but overall both were solid in stepping up and supporting the run.

And they held Eli Manning to less than 200 yards passing after he hadn't thrown for less than 260 yards in each of the last three games.

Flat out, the much-maligned secondary made plays when it needed to make them, and the defensive backs were a critical part to us coming away with the victory.

Jeff Smirnoff

The defensive line. Shaun Rogers has been a beast, which is expected, but with Robaire Smith out for the year and Shaun Smith out for a few weeks, Corey Williams is starting to round into form and Louis Leonard has been a pleasant surprise. Yes, they still can not stop the run (I blame the LBs more for that) but they are creating pressure and wrecking some havoc in the backfield from time to time.

Michael Taylor

I don't call it a surprise, but I certainly see a developing stud at corner in Eric Wright. He leads the team in interceptions, is fourth in tackles as a corner, and is really covering some of the better receivers in the league quite well.

On the flip side, the Browns linebacking core still is depressing to me. As impressive as the secondary has been without the support of a consistent pass rush, the linebackers have failed to hold up their side of the coin.

The Browns are giving up 4.7 yards per rush. 4.7! You cannot remain competitive in the long term giving up that amount of yardage on the ground. Shaun Rogers has been a beast on the line, and if you ask me, the linebackers need to step it up for this 3-4 defense to work.

There is no rest for the weary. The Browns head to my neck of the woods, Washington DC, to face off against the 4-2 Redskins, a team similar to the Giants. The 'Skins are fired up after losing to the winless Rams. What do the Browns have to do to sustain momentum and come out on top in the nation's capital?

Samantha Bunten

Psychologically, the confidence boost from Monday's win will be huge. The Browns proved to themselves and their fans that they can soundly defeat a good team, and thus they won't be intimidated by having to face another one. Washington on the other hand, should be very nervous.

I have a feeling their scouting reports on the Browns look very different than they did a week ago. I'm not saying the Redskins suddenly have to deal with the best team in the league when they had been thinking they would be facing the worst, but even subtle adjustments are tough, and the Browns have made more than a subtle improvement.

On the field, Cleveland's defense has to overcome the aforementioned weakness in ability to stop the run in order to beat Washington. The 'Skins' ground game is excellent all-around, and even defenses good at stuffing the run can't stop Clinton Portis. The Browns' offense needs to take advantage of mismatches between our receivers and Washington's weak CBs.

Cleveland's offense should be able to exploit Washington's shaky secondary, with the lone exception of rookie SS Chris Horton, who has three interceptions already. Finally, the Browns face the disadvantage of coming off a short-rest week. Cleveland will need to be particularly efficient in executing plays to keep players from getting too worn down to be effective late in the game.

Dustin Haley

We're going to have to play a lot like we did on Monday. This 'Skins team is no joke, as they are in the top of the league statistically, offensively and defensively. Jason Campbell has improved his play. Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts are both threats on the ground. London Fletcher is always solid and comes to play. Lastly, rookie Chris Horton has been surprising in the secondary.

Offensively, Jamal is going to have his hands full trying to run against this stout rush defense, ranked third in rush yards against. Regardless, we need him to run like he did against the Giants, powerful and smart.

In my opinion, Smoot and Landry are not exactly top notch corners but are experienced and smart in their play. I'm thinking Braylon is poised for another big day facing these guys.

Defensively, we need to get after Campbell. To date, he has not thrown an interception, and he has faced defenses much more stingy than ours. Mel Tucker is going to have to dial up some pretty nice blitzing schemes to affect this guy. Shutting down the pass will be a key because these two backs are going to get their yards.

Scott Miles

Well, first of all, my roommate is from Bethesda, MD, about 15 minutes outside DC...So needless to say, the tension has been building all week. Although, he is pretty happy we were able to knock off the Giants and keep the 'Skins within fighting distance.

The Browns need to keep the same offensive game plan as they did against New York. Get Anderson in a rhythm by having quick, three-step drops. Get the ball to Braylon early. Take a few shots deep. And keep mixing in guys like Josh Cribbs and Jerome Harrison to keep the defense off-balance.

Defensively, we need to slow Clinton Portis. Jason Campbell has played really well so far, but we need to try to make the Redskins one-dimensional and throwing the football, because Portis is the heart and soul of that offense.

Shaun Rogers has to have a great game again, and I think he will—Casey Rabach, Washington's center, has really been struggling with penalties the last few weeks, and it won't get easier for him having to try to slow Rogers.

Jeff Smirnoff

Same things they did against the Giants. The Redskins are a very similar team. Clinton Portis loves to run between the tackles, Jason Campbell doesn't make mistakes and they have an aggressive defense. The Browns need to control the ball on offense, just like they did Monday, and have a balanced attack.

On defense, they are not going to stop Portis, but they need to keep generating pressure to force Campbell into mistakes. The one difference is that the Redskins do not have the tall receivers the Giants do, but Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El can outrun you to death. If the Browns be aggressive, play their game, and force Washington to play that way, they can beat the 'Skins.

Michael Taylor

Stop Clinton Portis and make Jason Campbell beat you. As I said, the Browns' linebackers must step up and get pressure, not only on the quarterback, but getting to the running backs quicker. Also, just find a way to keep doing what they did offensively. That talent never went away, it just took a little longer than expected to surface.

For the first time this year it was actually a fun week, so that calls for a fun question. The Browns wore a version of their uniforms from 1957-1959. What did you think of them and what, if any, changes and tweaks would you like to see in the Browns unis?

Samantha Bunten

I would not change a single thing about them. The Browns are one of the few teams in professional sports whose uniform and logo (or lack thereof) are completely free from even a trace of the gimmicky trends that have become more and more commonplace in team apparel.

The purpose of a uniform is to distinguish one team from another, not to serve as a marketing ploy to sell tickets to 12-year old girls. I'm sure teams outfitted in unis with glittery detailing, cartoonish logos, and purple jerseys sell more merchandise. To the same people who only follow the team when it makes the playoffs.

The Browns' uni, in all its unmarketable glory, is both an excellent visual representation of the essence of Browns football and an excellent bandwagon fan deterrent.

Dustin Haley

I'm not really a fan of those throw backs. I don't like the single white stripe, nor do I like the numbers on the helmet. It's a nice classic look, but we already have a nice classic look. If I were to tweak anything, I would switch back to the white face masks.

Scott Miles

Any uniform that results in a 35-14 butt-whooping of the defending Super Bowl champs on Monday Night Football, I'm a fan of. Let's wear 'em every week.

Jeff Smirnoff

I like the throwback unis, kind of simple, yet a nice little change of pace, but not permanent. It's weird to see anything on that beautiful helmet, but I'll take numbers over a logo any day.

I am all about the orange pants with the white, away uniforms. I think that is a sweet look that is under appreciated.

Michael Taylor

I was discussing this with my wife, and how I loved them. I understand our history with no logo on the helmet, and am all for keeping it that way, but if there were to be any changes, adding the number on the sides with the white stripe down the middle looked really good.

I also would like a rebirth of the elf logo in some fashion. Certain NFL teams have brought back some of the old style unis and bringing that logo back into the fray in some fashion would be welcomed by me, even if just as the logo for promotion instead of using the helmet.

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.