Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Browns Table: A Buffalo Bailout

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 Samantha Bunten, The Coop, and the Dawgfather for their contributions this week.

The ladies and gents talk about Brady Quinn’s first NFL win, Braylon Scissor-hands, why they can tackle better than the Browns D and wax poetic about some Browns of years past…

…but for now let’s talk Browns football…

The Browns squeaked out a 29-27 win over the Bills on MNF notching Brady Quinn his first career victory. His numbers weren't good but what did you think of his performance?

Samantha Bunten:
I think he did fine. It would have been fantastic if Quinn had surprised us all with a breakout performance, but realistically speaking all he had to be was better than Derek Anderson, and for the most part, he was. After just two starts, I don't think we can make any accurate judgments on how Quinn will fare in the long run. For now, I would like to see him work on red-zone efficiency and spreading the ball around more.

The Coop:
I could not care less about statistics. Call me crazy, but I would dare to say that he played even better against Buffalo than he did against Denver. First of all, and most importantly, he got the win. He did what it took to manage the game efficiently and effectively. He did not turn the ball over, and he would have looked even better if the Browns’ so-called “star” receiver did not have stone hands. The Bills took away his favorite target in the Denver game (Kellen Winslow) and instead of trying to force the ball to him he distributed it around to his other receivers. He stood tall in the pocket, took some brutal hits, and showed poise, leadership, and confidence.

And he did all this against a much, much better defense in Buffalo, on the road, in less-than-ideal weather conditions. I’m starting to buy into the hype.

Very effective and very poised and cool. He didn't make any ill-advised throws or try to force anything. Overall another quality start.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Eff the numbers, he just looks like he belongs. For the second week in a row everything was organized and crisp. He made no mistakes and avoided the turnover, although he did come close a few times. He made the plays when he needs to make them. When the Bills scored he led the Browns down the field and answered. When he got the ball at the end of the game I had full confidence that he would lead them down for the go ahead score.

Quinn’s development this year should not be measured by statistics or by wins and losses (although the former would be nice). How his game continues to evolve, how he reacts and performs in every situation and how he adapts to the game are what is important. The Browns need to establish that he is their quarterback that will lead this team for the next decade. They have many more holes they need to fill and removing quarterback from that list is imperitive.

Braylon Edwards, and his hands, decided to make an appearance to the benefit of the team. What do you feel has contributed the most to his disappointing 2008?

Samantha Bunten:
Edwards just doesn't have his head or his heart in the game. He has lapses in concentration at critical moments, often appears to be afraid to take hits, and just can't deliver under pressure. His numbers are terrible against opponents in the division and he's averaging over 20 YPG less this year (57.6) than he was last year (80.6).

The most disturbing thing of all is that his numbers are very, very similar in games the Browns win to his numbers in games the Browns lose, indicating that his presence on the field really doesn't matter all that much.

The Coop:
Not enough Five Hour Energy. But seriously, I think it’s inconsistency as a result of lack of focus, intensity, and passion. You don’t often think of needing intensity to catch a football, but in the NFL, you need to be intense just lacing up your shoes.

I think his mind wanders as he starts to think about what his ESPN highlight will look like after he makes the catch. But he forgets that the most important part of the highlight is the physical act of making the catch.

The sad thing is, I seriously doubt whether he even cares enough to get better. When I see dropped passes out of him every single week, I have to wonder if he’s working hard enough in practice, staying after practice, and doing whatever it takes to get the job done when it counts for real.

Additionally, I’m sure he’s always been able to get by on raw ability, and he thinks things will come to him as easily in the NFL as it did through high school and college. It doesn't quite work that way.

Dropping key passes that could have helped the Browns win some games that they lost.

Jeff Smirnoff:
I think he came in a little full of himself in training camp and once he got hurt he lost his rhythm and timing. Somewhere along the way I also think he lost a little focus because 2007 was so easy and effortless. He has struggled to get it back and I think it is I his head. He looks a little lost at times, not just with the drops, but even on some catches he has to “double catch”. I still have faith he can be a money receiver, but he needs to get refocused and rededicated in the off-season and realize he has to continually work to stay at the top. He has the talent to do it, does he have the mind and discipline to do it?

The defense was once again plagued by poor tackling but did generate four turnovers. What does this unit have to do to play better on a consistent basis?

Samantha Bunten:
The defense shows flashes of greatness, but it never lasts more than a week. And despite generating 4 turnovers on Monday, they had a pretty poor showing overall. We've talked about stopping the run ad nausea all season. So far, no improvement has been made consistently. They also need to focus on consistently pressuring the quarterback and stopping short-yardage gains.

The Coop:
You said it already - tackle! I mean, watching the tackling display in the last three weeks is truly embarrasing. In addition to that, I think they need to work schemes that pressure the passer more consistently and effectively. They're not going to have the luxury of facing Trent Edwards every week. They've got to harrass the QB all day long.

You can't argue with their ability to get turnovers and, for the most part, they stayed away from the big play against Buffalo. These things must continue too.

Besides tackling, they lack fundamentals, they are often out of space, get blown off the ball by the opposing offensive line clearly need to wrap up better in the open field.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Get healthy and better talent. Robaire Smith has been on IR for most of the year. Sean Jones, Shaun Smith and Corey Williams are playing hurt. I have already gone on record lamenting the poor play of our linebacking core. The secondary is young and thin. Getting healthy in the front line will help but until the talent is upgraded in the back seven they will continue to struggle, bad tackling or not.

The Browns are now 4-6. They face a potent Houston Texans offense but Houston's defense is just as porous as the Browns'. What do you see in your crystal ball?

Samantha Bunten:
The Browns horrendous run defense will have trouble stopping Houston's offense, and should be particularly concerned about Texans' rookie Steve Slaton, who had a breakout game last week vs. the Colts. On the other side of the ball, our offense should be able to exploit Houston's weak, 17th ranked secondary.

The Browns have won 3 of 5 vs the Texans, so there is no glaring advantage there. However, Jamal Lewis absolutely owns Houston. In the last Browns-Texans meeting in 2007, Lewis had 29 carries for 134 yards, and if history is any indication, he'll come up big this Sunday as well.

The Coop:
Remember all the offense in the first Browns-Bengals game last year? You ain't seen nothin yet. If the weather is not a factor, it will be a track meet.

For Houston, Steve Slaton is probably going to break the all-time record for most yards in a single game. Brandon McDonald should also hope that Andre Johnson slips in the shower and breaks a leg, because if he thought Brandon Marshall was a beast, Andre Johnson will make Marshall look like Dennis Northcutt.

For the Browns, Jamal and Jerome should be able to run all day. The O-Line will have to keep BQ upright. Mario Williams can bring it, and I'm really excited to see the matchup between him and Joe Thomas. But if BQ has the time, he will find the open man.

Every possession is going to be critical because the team who wins the time of possession and has the ball last is going to win.

I see a 38-35 Browns shootout. I look for Andre Johnson to have a MONSTER game against our secondary and Steve Slaton to go buck-wild.

Jeff Smirnoff:
With their porous defense the Browns are going to have to put up around 30 points on a consistent basis to win games. Steve Slaton is just the type of back that gashes the Browns and Andre Johnson dwarfs anyone in our secondary. Sage Rosenfels is a sin-wave type of quarterback and if he is on, the Browns are in trouble. If not, it may be a replay of the Buffalo game. The Texans defense is not that good either so this has all the makings for a shoot-out.

Philosophical Question Du Jour: Phil Dawson hit 5 field goals including the game winning 56 yarder. He is the last remaining Brown from 1999. Who is the best Browns player since their reincarnation?

Samantha Bunten:
Over the years, many players have at times looked as though they might earn this distinction (Northcutt, William Green, Winslow, Lewis), but they all seemed to have the same problem our team has collectively this season: they just couldn't seem to show up for more than two weeks in a row. So far, I don't think anyone has earned the right to be called The Best. Here's hoping someone steps up soon.

The Coop:
You nailed it. It's Phil Dawson. In an organization full of inconsistency and drama from Day 1, he has been steady as a rock. The guy has made HUGE kicks time after time, and always shows up and does his job. He's reliable, and as a captain, I believe he is a leader who provides a great veteran presence.

I feel funny about naming a kicker, but it is what it is. With the minimal success that the Browns have had since '99 and the big ups and downs, it's probably more of an indictment of the organization than an endorsement of the player.

I'd love to say it's Kellen Winslow, but he's hardly been on the field in his time with the Browns and has disappeared at times. Joe Thomas? Second-year man, and too early to tell.

No doubt that the Browns have some other players who are close. I love Brodney Pool and Jamal Lewis. But they haven't done it for the Browns long enough or consistently enough to be considered.

Jamir Miller, at least he could tackle.

Jeff Smirnoff:
It’s Phil Dawson without question. He has been more than consistent (4th most accurate kicker in NFL history). He is one of the few clutch performers the Browns have had even going back to the win over the Appalachian Inbred in 1999. He has a flair for the dramatic a la the Gooseneck Field Goal and the Snow Game kicks. He has gotten better with each passing year and would be a Pro Bowl player by now if he had been playing for a team that regularly wins.

For those who are purists and will not accept a kicker it is Steve Heiden. Obtained for a 7th round pick, Heiden has been steady, a total team player and people often forget how good he is because of Kellen Winslow. Look at the two years that he filled in for Winslow. Those stats are pretty damn good, especially for a guy who had Jeff Garcia, Luke McNown, Kelly Holcomb, Trent Dilfer and Charlie Frye throwing to him.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dawson, Quinn Help Browns Squeak By Bills, 29-27

In Week 10 the NFL Network subjected the viewing audience to 1,000 replays of “The Drive” and the Denver Broncos obliged by capping a 13 point comeback in a victory over the Browns. In Week 11 ESPN and the Browns turned the tables on the Buffalo Bills in a remake of “Wide Right” that made Scott Norfolk infamous in Western New York. It wasn’t pretty and as sure as heck wasn’t efficient but the Cleveland Browns escaped Buffalo with a 29-27 victory.

Brady Quinn wasn’t as impressive as he was in his starting debut statistic wise but in the end he committed no turnovers and led the Browns on the final scoring drive of the night that generated Phil Dawson’s career long 56 yard field goal for the victory.

It was the polar opposite for Bills’ quarterback Trent Edwards whose three interceptions in the Bills’ first four drives handed the Browns an early lead.

The Browns jumped out to a 13-0 lead via a pair of Dawson field goals and a Josh Cribbs rushing touchdown that capped a 96 yard drive. The lead should have been much larger but the Browns could only manage six points off of Edwards’ three interceptions.

But as it has all year the Browns defense couldn’t hold down the Bills for long as the lead quickly diminished. The Bills’ play-calling handcuffed Edwards due to his rocky start but he took advantage of Marshawn Lynch as a safety valve and Fred Jackson of out the shotgun. Add in the Browns continued bad, and poor effort at, tackling and it was 13-10 by the time the first half ended.

The Browns went three and out to star the third quarter but much-maligned Brandon McDonald forced a Fred Jackson fumble that Ahtyba Rubin recovered at their own 37. Then an odd thing started to occur, Braylon Edwards started catching the football.

The Browns marched into Bills’ territory but stalled once again and had to settle for Dawson’s third field goal of the night and a 16-10 lead. That made for a paltry nine points off of four Buffalo turnovers, two which occurred in Bills’ territory.

The game got interesting after Buffalo answered with a Rian Lindell field goal to make the score 16-13. After another Braylon Edwards reception, underused tailback Jerome Harrison broke a 72 yard touchdown run for a 23-13 Browns advantage. It was short-lived, however, when Bills’ kick returned Leodis McKelvin took the ensuing kick-off back 98 yards for a touchdown and cut the Browns’ lead to 23-20.

Harrison once again drove the Browns down the field with a 15 yard run and a 21 yard reception on a beautiful pass by Quinn. The Browns faced a First and Goal on the Bills’ 9 but had to settled for Dawson’s fourth field goal of the game and a 26-20 lead.

The Bills and Browns traded punts but thanks to Roscoe Parrish’s 34 yard return the Bills’ were set up in Browns territory. Marshawn Lynch continued to gash the Browns’ defense, this time on the ground, as he rumbled just short of the goal line. Trent Edwards snuck in to with 2:25 remaining for a 27-26 Bills’ lead.

Quinn had a second chance at a fourth quarter comeback as he took over on the Browns’ 33. He hit Edwards for 12 big yards to start the drive. He then found Kellen Winslow for 16 to get down to the Bills’ 39. Three straight incomplete passes led to 4th and 10 and yet another field goal decision for Browns Head Coach Romeo Crennel. Send Dawson out for a 56 yard attempt or go for it.

Crennel looked at Dawson and Dawson nodded. He then proceeded to knock his fifth field goal of the game home for a 29-27 Browns lead. There was still 1:39 left on the clock and Trent Edwards still had a shot at redemption.

A squib kick let the Bills start the drive on their own 44. Edwards took advantage right away hitting Robert Royal on a 30 yard pass to the Browns’ 34. After a few runs to make the field goal attempt shorter Lindell lined up for a 47 yard attempt. The snap and hold were good but the kick was pushed just a bit… wide right… Browns victory.

The Browns could exhale despite not putting the Bills away early. The nine points off of four turnovers almost came back to bite them. They were only three of 13 on third down all night. Quinn was a pedestrian 14-36 for 185 yards but in the end he had the poise and calming effect to lead the team down for the go ahead score.

It may not have been pretty but the Browns avoided becoming the first team in NFL history to avoid blowing 13 point leads in three consecutive games. A win is a win, and this team will take it any way they can.