Ignoring the Ravens game in which Anderson skewed the number of points our defense allowed, these are the point totals we've given up as of late: 10 points (Pittsburgh), 12 points (Cincinnati), 14 points (New York Giants), 14 points (Washington), and 17 points (Jacksonville).
Three of those opponents are currently ranked in the top four of most peoples' power rankings. In other words, nearly half-way through the season, it should be official: the defense has exceeded expectations this season. We've exceeded expectations without productivity from Corey Williams or our linebackers. We've exceeded expectations without Robaire Smith and Shaun Smith being available.
Most importantly, we've exceeded expectations because of one player -- Shaun Rogers. He'll most certainly kick off the game balls this week after the type of game he had...
Awarding Game Balls (It Means They Did Good!)
Shaun Rogers: I tried to give him two game balls, but he just went up and denied the second one (cue laughter). Rogers has been a one-man wrecking crew all season on the defensive line, but his effort against the Jaguars was his most impressive thus far. He led the team with 9 tackles, recorded one sack, and blocked a field goal early in the fourth quarter. It seemed like six-on-one in trying to block Rogers, and Rogers won the battle.
- Steve Heiden: Earlier this season, Anderson missed a wide open Heiden on a fourth-and-one playaction pass. Facing the same scenario against the Jaguars, the Browns ran practically the same play (although Heiden did not try to sell being a blocker this time). Heiden's spark in victories over the Giants and the Jaguars cannot be overlooked by the coaching staff.
Goats of the Game (Failed Efforts in Victory)
Terry Cousin: Yep, that's all we needed -- the Jaguars throw a heave to the end zone towards the end of the game, and Cousin is mugging the receiver so the ball can end up on the one-yard line. Because there were so many people in the area though, I'm assuming the referees would've had a difficult time sorting throw exactly who was doing what -- they are more concerned in that situation with whether or not someone is out of bounds or comes down with the football.
D'Qwell Jackson: Granted, Jackson plays better than most of our linebackers, but now that that's the case, it's time for him to show the potential of being an elite linebacker. He is reading plays fairly well and is in position to make a great play, but what happens? He misses the tackle. With a mobile quarterback like David Garrard, you can't afford to have that happen. I know others were responsible for Garrard getting free too, but this is more of an "expectations" case.
General Thoughts (Random Tidbits on the Game)
Fire From Crennel: Romeo Crennel showed some fire this week. When the Jaguars were penalized 15 yards with about 25 seconds left in the game, Crennel was fuming as to why the team was, in essence, granted a timeout instead of the 10-second runoff rule being applied. Also, fans reported seeing Crennel utter the "F" word after the Browns failed to get a first down following a fumble recovery in the fourth quarter. Granted, cursing isn't an incentive to praise a coach necessarily, but at least he's morphing out of statue phase.
- Which Anderson?: On the Derek Anderson barometer, which type of player did we see on Sunday? We saw a great road Derek Anderson. He completed a higher percentage of passes early on than he usually does, including several big plays down the field. I'd guess that Anderson has now earned himself two more week's of playing time, considering we play two games in five days.
Run Defense: When judging a run defense, I like to zone in on what the running backs did, and not the quarterbacks (to me, that is a different area to judge). The Browns absolutely stuffed the Jaguars' duo of Maurice-Jones Drew and Fred Taylor. The pair averaged just 2.65 yards-per-carry on 20 touches. The most impressive stat is this one though: the longest single carry that either running back had was 5 yards. Maybe I'm just forgetting some games, but I don't ever remember that happening since returning to the league.
Worth a Heart Clutch: If you weren't clutching your heart when Matt Jones was open and tipped the ball twice before not being able to haul it in, then I want to know what sleeping pills you were on. The Browns had a very similar tip-ball situation last year while on the offensive side. Thankfully Jones didn't catch the game-winner right then and there, but it is still inexcusable to allow the Jaguars' best receiver, who has a height advantage on our corners, to roll open to the corner of the end zone.
Third Down Percentage: Heading into the game, I projected that the Browns would lose because of our inability to stop the Jaguars on third down. Well, the Jaguars completed 11/20 third downs (though it was a higher percentage earlier on), forcing our defense to stay on the field longer. In a way though, that adds to the credit our defense deserves, for their persistence of holding off the Jaguars and not being fatigued by the game's end.
Lacking Harrison: One thing really lacked offensively, and that was not including Jerome Harrison in on the gameplan. Sure, I'm glad that we were able to run with Jamal Lewis while having a lead early on for once, and I'm sure the coaches felt that way too. Still, they can't let that get in the way of a guy who has been a running-back equivalent to Steve Heiden in terms of spark.
- There You Go, Steptoe: We don't need a big-play third receiver for our offense to succeed, but it'd certainly be nice to have one. Syndric Steptoe's 53-yard catch-and-run down to the one-yard line had me more excited than at any other point in the game. It came on a third-down play when the game was tied and the passing game had lost its early buzz. It's a shame he couldn't get in for a score, but it was a heck of an effort nonetheless.
Then, the Bad: After you have just demoralized the opposing team's defense with a 53-yard catch down to the goal line, you can punch it in, right? Nope. In the past two weeks, we are now 1/12 in situations where we are practically at the one-yard line. Anderson's worse pass of the game came on the first play following the big catch -- with the Jaguars' DB playing up to the line, Anderson fired a WR screen to Braylon Edwards. With a little bit of a better read, the DB takes that back for a pick six. In the end, the Jaguars had twelve men on the field and the play was nullified. Maybe Anderson recognized that, but I can't imagine he did.
Northcutt Drop-Free: It was interesting to watch Dennis Northcutt face us, as I stated before the game. It seemed as if he excited a little too much on his first catch of the game (which he almost dropped), but after that he went on to have a fair game, posting 5 catches for 49 yards.
- Offensive Line: We dominated the Jaguars' defensive line. They sacked Anderson once, but he was not pressured very often, allowing him to make the type of throw he did to Braylon Edwards deep down the field in the first half. Joe Thomas was actually beat once, causing a near-disastrous fumble, but Thomas quickly fell on top of the ball. Still, here's hoping to Ryan Tucker returning next week to make the line even better again.
- No, No, No!: No...you're...you're wrong Randy Cross! His comment about the Browns having a solid linebacking unit for the future had me laughing. If our linebacking corp is solid, then the rest of the league must be horrible (which, they are not).
- Bell's Rookie Impact: This really shouldn't be this far down the list because it was such a significant play towards the outcome of the game. Beau Bell stripped the Jaguars on their kickoff return right after we had taken the lead. Our offense couldn't put the game away, but it allowed us to put another field goal on the board, forcing Jacksonville to need a touchdown to win.
Dawson 3-of-3: On the road, three successful kicks? That's what we depend on from Dawson. He didn't hit a "true" game-winner or anything, but he added nine points to the scoreboard, including a 42-yarder late.
Brownies: The Steelers lost to the Giants shortly after the Browns game ended, closing the gap between us and them...the Andra Davis watch continues, as he posted just two tackles...Joshua Cribbs is still lacking a little on returns, but he had a 38-yarder and continued to be a monster in return coverage.
At 3-4 with a division game this week against the Baltimore Ravens, the Browns are back on the right track. The margin for error is still very slim though, and with two games in a span of five days coming up, it'll be critical that Derek Anderson is on the top of his game. That's taking a leap of faith, but Crennel isn't going to make a change during that stretch. We'll either be 5-4, 4-5, or 3-6 when it's all said and done. Anderson can survive the first two records, but not the third.