Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Browns Table: Capital Punishment

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.

As always thanks to Browns fans Dustin Haley, Eric Lawhead and Michael Taylor for their contributions this week.

The Browns followed up their Monday night beatdown of the defending champs by laying a giant egg in the Nation’s Capital. The guys examine play-calling, quarterback play, coaching, the defensive performance and look ahead to Week 8 versus the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Alright gentlemen, let’s talk Browns football…

The Browns lost a nail-biter to the Washington Redskins, 14-11. The offense didn't seem to get into any sort of rhythm until the 4th Quarter. What did you think offensive play-calling and game plan?

Dustin Haley:
I didn't notice anything particularly wrong with the offensive strategy. I felt Chud called a pretty consistent game based on our strengths; he stuck to what usually is his winning formula, if you will.

I felt he called all our running plays at good times, as we never took any negative yardage in the run game. The receiver’s had been getting open and getting into positions to make plays, unfortunately they were looked over. We didn't see as much of Josh Cribbs and Jerome Harrison as we might have wanted to see, but the over use of them will also lower their effectiveness.

All in all the strategy used gave us the most probable chance to win.

Eric Lawhead:
No matter the play calling, when you have a quarterback who goes 14-37, nothing can help. I'm not saying Romeo's standard lackluster game plan doesn't hold some of the blame but come on. 236 total yards in a game against a much smaller, less physical defense than the team you just dropped 35 on the week prior.

Jeff Smirnoff:
I thought it was awful. No creativity, no chances taken and no shots downfield like versus the Giants. The Redskins are a good, not great, team. They had injuries in their secondary. They had not generated an inordinate amount of pressure on QBs all year. So we come out with a ton of short passes with a quarterback who struggles with accuracy and take ZERO changes downfield all game. The red zone calls were the worst. First and Goal on the 1 on two separate occasions and one time we don't score and the other time it takes us three times and we burn precious time. There was no focus or approach to the Browns' offensive game plan. What were they trying to establish or exploit against the Redskins defense? There is no answer to that question.

Michael Taylor:
I actually wasn't that upset by the offensive game plan. This was a tough defense to go up against, and if the Browns would have been able to execute, they had this game won. But they just couldn't do it. Maybe it was the short week, maybe it was an emotional letdown.

Bad Derek Anderson showed up on the road, again. He looked great on Monday night but when you go 3-14 for 17 yards in the first half, and look bad in the third quarter, shouldn't you be pulled? Do you think DA should have been pulled and do you think there are any reasons why this regime seems to resist putting Brady Quinn into the game?

Dustin Haley:
I feel the inconsistent play by Derek Anderson is having the largest negative effect on the offense as a whole. He made some really bad throws, and I mean REALLY BAD. I understand that bad throws are going to happen, but with DA, it’s happening a lot and it’s affecting everyone.

The Browns feel they have a team they should win with; inserting Quinn doesn’t guarantee anything and may do more bad than good. Assigning a new starting QB is a process that has many elements. Main thing is, you don’t want any unnecessary pressure or hype on the young player. Ideally you want him to be comfortable and attempt to ease him in. Doing so in the first half of a bad season adds unnecessary pressure and is disruptive to offensive timing and consistency; therefore it is unlikely that a new QB is going to save a season. (I know, our offense is already disrupted, but it could get worse.)

Keeping DA as the starter has nothing to do with his market value, or the perceived notions that Anderson is Crennel’s “guy” he won’t come off of, and everything to do with timing. The Brady Quinn era is quickly approaching, but it’s not going to happen this year as long as there is still a chance to save the season with DA.

Eric Lawhead:
This is Anderson's team. DA showed last week why we paid that man his money. Sure this year he has been bad more than good, but it's not "Brady Time" just yet. With the schedule they have this season, it's Anderson's to lose. Putting Brady in this year or this early will only inhibit him from progressing as a passer and a great quarterback. He will get his shot, probably this season, but let Anderson take the lumps now and wait until we're completely out of it to let Quinn take the reigns. For now, let him drink his Myoplex, and eat Subway with Jared.

Jeff Smirnoff:
He absolutely should have been pulled. It's not just the numbers the team looked lifeless and completely off. Sometimes you need a change-up to kick start things. The Redskins were struggling too and maybe a change earlier by the Browns would have gotten them going sooner. There weren't a ton of penalties, there wasn't a ton of pressure in Anderson's face and he just looked out of sync. Just like it the Cincinnati game, if you aren’t going to go to your back-up QB then, when are you?

I honestly think that the Browns think if they pull DA during a game for Brady Quinn that there is no going back to DA ever. I disagree, Quinn is an unproven commodity. You paid a high price for him but he is still the back-up. Back-up QBs are paid to be ready to play; you can make the move during a game and go back to DA if you see fit or if Quinn struggles. It isn’t an ultimatum on Anderson's career.

Michael Taylor:
I am ready to pull what little hair I have on my head out. I am usually the last one to start clamoring for the backup Quarterback, but it was obvious Sunday that DA just didn't have it. Even last week I was upset early in the game when he was still throwing behind receivers, and that was his supposed breakout week. One more week coach Crennel. We lose that one and there is no reason why the Browns should not start the Quinn era and get rid of this cloud of doubt that hangs over the organization. There needs to be a direction set now.

They didn't have a lot of procedural penalties this time but the Browns came out flat and lifeless. This team continues to fail to have any consistency. What does this coaching staff need to do to change this?

Dustin Haley:
Consistency can be preached, but is it really a coachable area of the game? Consistency and concentration go hand in hand. Other than the handful of concentration drills that exist for players, I suppose the only thing that a coach can do is remain consistent in the manner in which they coach, teach, and practice. That’s a tough area to improve, especially mid season.

Eric Lawhead:
Well for starters get the lifeless blob off the sidelines. Someone should get the poison out for Romeo, because it's time to end it. Romeo is done at the end of this season. The Brown's are not going to make the playoffs. He has done nothing to progress a young star in the making in Anderson. He will leave, they need to hire a young fireball and start a new mindset in Cleveland. The team will not get up against a Redskins team on Sunday afternoon. They may get up for their two remaining Monday games, but consider this team as pumped as their blob of a coach.

Jeff Smirnoff:
I don't know. If that is a cop out so be it. Ultimately, it is Romeo Crennel's job to have this team ready to play every week, which he has failed to do. It is Rob Chudzinski's job to ensure that he has a game plan in place that gets the team off to a fast start and he has not done that on a consistent basis. I have been impressed with what Mel Tucker has done on defense with injuries on the line, a poor linebacking corps and only two decent cornerbacks.

Bottom line, it's been almost four years and this continues to plague the Browns. If they haven't figured it out yet, I don't know if they will.

Michael Taylor:
Hell, maybe we should have more procedure penalties, at least then the lineman were eager to get after it and make some blocks. Seriously though, I don't know. These guys are professional players who should know how to give their all each week. I have no way to explain Braylon dropping balls, or DA's inaccurate arm, or the O-line's inconsistent play, other than it is a lack of focus. How to change that with this coaching regime? It has yet to happen and likely won't.

The defense held the Redskins to 14 points and once again came up with a crucial turnover but they did get gashed for almost 200 yards rushing. What do they Browns need to do to stop the run on regular basis?

Dustin Haley:
I wouldn’t expect the run defense to improve much, this year. Mel Tucker has a sort of give-take defense; we will give you some running room in order to shorten your passing game. This is obvious by how little the linebackers press the line of scrimmage and attack the run (i.e. filling run gaps, run blitzes). Instead the defense is allowing the play to develop in front of them and then react to the play. It is a good strategy to have to keep the “big play” from happening.

In my opinion, our opponents rushing attacks have looked good in the box score, but have been anything but impressive. As long as we remain at the top of the league in the points against statistic, I don’t see any reason to drastically change our defensive strategy against the run.

Eric Lawhead:
Draft better. So they've taken the draft picks to get good on offense, and we've all seen what they can do when they're at their best. They never really took a look at good defensive linemen or linebackers. You can't just think that getting guys other teams don't want is going to work. Football is not a game where taking another team's trash will make your treasure. Take this next draft and draft defense, defense, defense. It's really the only way you're going to get better. There isn't the cap room so much anymore to buy talent, so Savage has to make some.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Get better linebackers. Our linebackers are horrible. The defensive line is fighting and playing hard despite the loss of Robaire Smith and Shaun Smith being out a few games. Shaun Rogers has been a beast at nose tackle. This leaves the linebackers to make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage, which they can not. D'Qwell Jackson is quick and plays hard but is too small. Andra Davis is smart but is too slow. Leon Williams seems to be a specialty player. Willie McGinest is D-O-N-E, done. Kamerion Wimbley has not evolved. Alex Hall has a lot of potential but is raw. Injuries have nullified Beau Bell's season. Until the Browns have the playmaking linebackers that the Steelers, Ravens and Patriots have they will continue to struggle.

Michael Taylor:
Get better players. Shaun Rogers can only do so much, and I am sick of watching Kamerion Wimbley running behind a play and piling on a tackle at the end of the play. I swear every time I look up Wimbley is chasing a ball carrier and jumps on the pile after the fact. I know that the Browns have invested a lot in him, but the time is passing to call him a big bust.

The Browns face another tough road test, heading to Jacksonville to face of the Jaguars. The Jags are coming off their bye and feature a monster running attack and tenacious defense. What do you expect from the Browns and Jaguars in Week 8?

Dustin Haley:
It’s going to be a hard fought game for both teams. The Jags will find success on the ground with Taylor and Jones-Drew rushing and Garrard creating plays on the run. Mel Tucker is going to have to dial up some nice blitzes to attack Garrard were he’s most comfortable, scrambling. If we don’t let Garrard get comfortable, we will be able to control this offense.

If the Browns offense doesn’t get going early, it will be a long day against the balanced defense of the Jaguars. I suspect the Browns offensive woes will continue, Jags win 21-17.

Eric Lawhead:
I would like to think that the offense just got a wake up call. They know they can beat a good defense, because they did it in the Monday Night game against the Giants. They just need to open up the playbook a little bit and let Anderson throw more down field. It will open up the running game for the guy who could win us the game in Lewis. They need a real nice 120 rushing game from him if they want to have any chance of winning. Their defense will give up some yards. They have one of the best dual back, backfields in the NFL in Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor (if he is alright after leaving last weeks game against Denver with a head injury). They need to contain the pass and just slow down the run. It's one of those times where you won't just be able to stop it, just slow it down. My heart says Browns 24-21 my brain says Jags 24-10. I would like to believe my heart.

Jeff Smirnoff:
This does not look good on paper. Jacksonville is coming off a bye and will be healthy. Jack Del Rio will commit, and stay committed to, the run so we will get a steady dose of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Their tall receivers may present a little bit of our problem for our corners. The game is on the road versus a physical, aggressive defense and that does not bode well for Derek Anderson. The Browns will have to play an efficient, disciplined game to stay in the game and have a chance to win. That is a daunting task for them.

Michael Taylor:
Same old story Jeff, same old story. The Browns never match up well against teams like this, just look at our "rivalry" against Pittsburgh. It will be a long day of Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor. Their defense is actually ranked down a bit this year, allowing 340 yards per game, but we should know better. The Jags will control the clock and the game.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bipolar Browns Wake Up Too Late, Fall to Redskins 14-11

Just when you thought they were over the hump, they rolled back down the hill. In the arduous fashion that they only can, the Cleveland Browns fell to the Washington Redskins 14-11 as Phil Dawson’s 54 yard field goal attempt sailed wide right at FedEx Field in Landover, MD. The Browns wasted the effort of their over performing defense by a putrid showing, minus the final two drives, by their much maligned offense.

The less said about the first half, the better. Both teams struggled to get anything going as they ended the half deadlocked, emphasis on dead, at zero. The Browns had six possessions in the first half and Dave Zastudil punted six times. This following a game on Monday night when his services were not needed.

Derek Anderson looked horrible, to put it kindly, and you have to wonder if he hadn’t had a stellar performance on Monday if we wouldn’t have seen Brady Quinn. How does one define horrible? How does 3 of 14 for 17 yards, including 1 of 8 for 6 yards in the first quarter, work? Or leading the offense to just 59 total yards, four first downs and an awful 2 for 8 on third down? Factor in that three of the six drives were three and out and horrible may be an understatement.

The Redskins didn’t fair much better as they also punted on their first five possession of the first half. But they at least generated some semblance of an offense. They were able to move the ball for 154 yards and eight first downs, more than doubling the Browns’ efforts. Clinton Portis ran wild for five yards a carry with 75 yards on 15 carries.

The Redskins drove to the Browns 19 with five seconds left in the half, but Shaun Suisham pushed a 36 yard field goal attempt short and right as it bounced off the right upright, no good. It was a fitting end to an embarrassing, offensive first half for both teams.

The second half did not start much better as both teams traded punts to start the half but the Redskins capitalized on their next drive by riding the legs of Portis, the NFL’s leading rusher. Portis had runs of 7 and 4 yards sandwiched around a 35 yard pass from Campbell to Santana Moss and 13 yard pass to Antwaan Randle El. Portis then hammered it in from 3 yards out for a 7-0 Washington lead.

The Browns were able to answer, albeit mildly, by pounding their own stud running back Jamal Lewis. After Lewis moved the chains, Anderson finally hit a tangible gain on a pass when he connected with Braylon Edwards for 19. Lewis followed that up with a 22 yard scamper but the drive stalled and the Browns had to settle for a Phil Dawson field goal and a 7-3 deficit.

The Redskins and Browns traded punts once again with Washington ending up on the good side of the field position by starting a drive at the Cleveland 49. The Redskins wasted no time as Portis ran for 4 and 27 yards, respectively, on the first two plays to put the ball on the Browns 18. After a timeout, Campbell hit Moss on a simple out at the expense of Terry Cousin, who was picked on constantly again, and Moss spun away from two tacklers for a touchdown and a 14-3 Redskin lead.

The Browns drove valiantly to the Redskins 1 behind the running of Jerome Harrison and catches by Edwards and Steve Heiden. Anderson hit Lewis on a nifty swing pass that got the Browns to the 1. That when the Browns vanilla play calling came up to bite them. Lewis was stuffed for no gain on first down. On second down, Anderson then hit back-up fullback Charles Ali in the flat, for minus 2 yards. Anderson threw a pass on third down that should have been a Pick 6 for a Washington touchdown, but thankfully it just ricocheted away.

So down, 14-3, with just under six minutes left in the game, Romeo Crennel was faced with his most feared decision: to field goal or not to field goal? A field goal would make it 14-6 and a one score game, but the Browns struggled against the run all day and the Redskins may run out the clock. By going for it, the Browns could cut the lead to 5 or 3 but a failure would still leave the score 14-3.

Crennel chose to roll the dice and on Fourth and Goal at the 3 Anderson pass was batted down and the Browns still by 11. But fate would intervene as on the Redskins first play from scrimmage Eric Wright forced Portis to fumble and Brodney Pool recovered on the Washington 29.

A 20 yard strike to Edwards and an 8 yard pass to Kellen Winslow once again put the Browns on the Washington once again. The Browns went vanilla, again, as Lewis was stuffed, twice, running precious time off of the clock. Anderson then hit Josh Cribbs for a 1 yard touchdown and Edwards for the two-point conversion to make the score 14-11 with 2:44 left.

Crennel then faced another kicking decision on the ensuing kick-off, kick deep or attempt an onside kick. The Browns lined up for an onside kick, but kicked it deep. The Redskins got the ball on their own 36 with 2:47. The Browns made that decision pay off as they stuffed Portis three times for 3, 2 and 2 yards and used their two timeouts and the two minute warning to get the ball back with 1:51 remaining.

Anderson hit Donte Stallworth for 18 yards on a deep out to the Cleveland 47 and stop the clock. Anderson then connected with Winslow for 9 yards and subsequently sneaked the ball for a first down at the Washington 36 with just over a minute remaining. But Anderson’s inaccuracy reared its ugly head once more as he threw 3 consecutive incomplete passes, including missing a wide open Edwards on third down at the Redskins 20, and the Browns were forced to settle for Dawson’s 54 yards field goal attempt.

The Browns’, and Anderson’s, road woes continue as they once again came out flat and lifeless and could never make up for it in the end. Anderson finished 14 of 37 (37.8%) on the afternoon for 136 yards and a touchdown. That is 3.7 yards per attempt and 9.7 yard a completion as the Browns were completely unaggressive with play calling all day due to Anderson’s struggles. Lewis put in another workmanlike day with 80 yards on 19 carries.

The defense played well all afternoon, holding the Redskins to just 14 points and forced a crucial turnover for the second game in a row. But they continue to get gouged by the run, yielding 193 yards on the ground, 175 to Portis, for a 5.4 average. Campbell was a mediocre 14 of 23 for 164 yards but him ability to get into somewhat of a rhythm before Anderson definitely benefited Washington.

So the Browns fall to 2-4 on a day that both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens won to improve to 5-1 and 3-3, respectively. They find themselves playing catch up with not one, but two teams in the AFC North. The gap is actually larger when you consider that the Browns have already lost to both teams once in 2008.

After what looked to be a reawakening versus the New York Giants the Browns came crashing back to Earth, unable to put together some semblance of consistent play in consecutive games. Until they can do so, the Browns will not be serious contenders to anything but the doormat of the AFC North. Thankfully, the 0-7 Cincinnati Bengals have a stranglehold on that distinction, but there are still ten games left to give them a run for their money. If the Browns do not find some sort of cohesion or identity as a football team that’s what they will be playing for in December.