Show hope. Insert dagger. Twist.
There hasn't been a more painful stretch in a span of five days since the Browns returned to the NFL. After having a two-possession lead in two home games late in the game, we came away with two losses. Our record should be 5-4, right in the thick of the wildcard and divison playoff race. Instead, we're 3-6, with our only playoff hopes coming down to going undefeated the rest of the way. That isn't going to happen.
The offense played very well in the debut of Brady Quinn as the team's starting quarterback. Considering the fact that we played a conservative gameplan and scored 30 points, that definitely adds to the excitement he'll provide this team in the future. Right now, the concerns shift back to the defensive side of the ball. They are at the forefront of this week's goats...
Goats of the Game (Unbelievably Bad)
Brandon McDonald: It's beginning to become a little more evident as to why McDonald was a fifth round draft pick last season. That may be a little too harsh of a statement after he played "well" over the first stretch of the season. Over the past two weeks though, he has not faired well against Mark Clayton, Eddie Royal, Brandon Marshall, or anybody else that he has covered. When the potential "makeup" plays came his way, McDonald dropped an interception. Our defense as a whole deserves just as much blame, but McDonald was attacked the most and therefore shoulders the blame.
Kamerion Wimbley: I planned on listing Kellen Winslow here, but because he deserved a game ball and a goat award at the same time, I am cancelling them out (and will discuss him in the general notes section). Wimbley had a sack on Jay Cutler, but never mind that. The play that stands out to me came when he was basically carried several yards by Broncos fullback Peyton Hillis to the sidelines on a running play. That, coupled with the fact that we consistently saw rookie linebacker Wesley Woodyard make sure-tackles against us, just drove me nuts.
Awarding Game Balls (Gold Stars to Put on Their Locker Door)
Joshua Cribbs: After returning to form last week against the Ravens, Cribbs kept his antics up for he second game in a row. He averaged 27 yards per kick return, but you could just tell on each of them that he was a shoe string tackle away from taking the kick another 20-30 yards. Then, on offense, the Browns utilized him more than any other time in history. It was only three times, but it paid off as he carried the ball 3 times for 48 yards.
Quinn has an impressive debut but came away with a loss.
Brady Quinn: His worst drive was probably his last drive. Overall, it was a great game for Quinn. I could sit here and nitpick on a few other throws, but that would really be unfair. This was Quinn's first career start in the NFL, and he played very well. His first touchdown throw to Winslow was threaded perfectly. And, although it was called back due to offensive pass interference, his rollout throw in the fourth quarter to Braylon Edwards shows the extra dimension he adds to the offense. Next time, we'll see if the team allows him to sprinkle in some deep bals.
General Thoughts (Random Tidbits on the Game)
Jamal Fails to Reach 100: For most of the game, I agreed with the play calls of offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, an upgrade over the past few weeks. Jamal Lewis was on pace early on to go over the 100-yard mark for the first time this season with ease. Instead, he didn't even get close. He totaled 60 yards on 19 carries, as he was mostly stuffed at the line of scrimmage after the first quarter. With how porous Denver's defense is, that should not have happened as often as it did.
- Not Working, Use Harrison: This was the problem I had offensively against Denver. Jerome Harrison and Jamal Lewis each got some carries early, and both were very effective. Then, Lewis couldn't find room to run, and it appeared to be because he wasn't quick enough to make a move to the open area. Why not insert Harrison back into the game, make him stretch the defense to the outside again for positive yardage, and then attack inside with Lewis again? Instead, we tried to go inside and outside with Lewis (on pitch plays). It failed.
The Touch: A returning Donte Stallworth had an effective game. In particular, I enjoyed watching his first reception, in which Quinn threw a perfect touch pass over his shoulder, allowing him to pick up yards after the catch. Derek Anderson might have completed that pass too, but it would've been a rocket at his hip. That would've stopped Stallworth's momentum, allowing the defense to come up and stop him just shy of a first down. Those differences can go a long way.
What's the Deal?: Although McDonald was a goat, there was no excuse for constantly allowing him to be in single coverage. The only reason Denver didn't score more early on is because Marshall dropped a few passes in which he was wide open. In the fourth quarter, full-well knowing that Cutler was going to heave the ball over and over again, we left McDonald out on an island on a 93-yard touchdown pass. On the inevitable game-winning touchdown, Marshall easily beat McDonald on the play, with no safety help. On the previous play, Denver ran the same exact play and we had the same exact defense. We were lucky they didn't score the first time, and yet we let them try it again one play later.
Good Winslow: The good Kellen Winslow caught 10 passes for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns, all season highs. I said it earlier this season -- Winslow would not start performing this season until Quinn was under center, because the frustration between him and Anderson just seemed to be too high.
Late in the game, Winslow had three critical miscues.
Bad Winslow: The bad Kellen Winslow showed up three times in the fourth quarter. Each time contributed to the loss, because twice it put our struggling defense back on the field, and the third time it prevented us from moving the chains on our final drive.
- Kind of Embarrassing: I think the approach that Jay Cutler took against our defense was smart -- throw it up and let my guy muscle it our of the air. When he was able to use that philosophy not once, not twice, not three times, not four times...heck, I could keep on counting. When he was able to use that philosophy so many times, it tells you two things:
Reason 1 - Linebacker Coverage: Our linebackers are horrible in pass coverage. How do you allow a hobbled tight end, Tony Scheffler, to find the comfort zone between four defenders? There's such a thing as being aware of where the quarterback is planning on throwing the ball before he throws it. Our linebackers are just standing somewhere for the sake of standing there.
Reason 2 - Not Physical: We weren't physical enough. When Mike Adams had a shot for an interception down at the goal line, he quickly went down because of offensive pass interference. He needs to take charge and make that play happen. With so many jump balls, Denver's receivers should have been telling Cutler, "hey, I don't like all these jump balls...you're hanging me out to dry against an oncoming defense". Instead, not only were the Denver players not getting hit, they were coming away with the football. We had one good hit -- from Willie McGinest -- and that broke a play up.
- Missed Opportunities: What happened to the defense that was able to feed off of the home crowd against the Giants? For every opportunity late in the game against Denver that the defense had, we blew it. I already mentioned McDonald's drop. On a tipped pass by Corey Williams, D'Qwell Jackson also failed to come away with an interception. When the Broncos ran it with their fullback on fourth-and-one, he was driven back by our defensive line getting a push up front. Instead of our linebackers coming from the side to make a clutch tackle, Hillis just shifted to the side and dove forward for a first down.\
- Get Back Soon: This message goes to fullback Lawrence Vickers. All of these flat passes to fullback Charles Ali are too reminscient of when Maurice Carthon would get the ball to Terrelle Smith in the flat. The results are always the same -- no gain with the risk of a fullback getting stripped.
- Brownies: Again, Seth McKinney wasn't great, but he did okay filling in for Eric Steinbach...I do wish we would've taken a more serious crack down field to Braylon Edwards...Steve Heiden came away with a few more Jurevicius-like catches...Phil Dawson is again money from beyond 50 yards, and opposing teams still cannot field his kickoffs.
The Brady Quinn era should not have started with a loss. In post-game press conferences, he played the leader role by taking the blame, but everyone knows that the defense was atrocious. We've got the Buffalo Bills up next after what ends up being a "second bye week", and we'd like to make some changes on the defensive depth chart. But...what can you really change?
Terry Cousin over Brandon McDonald?
Nice depth. Oh, yeah...and real playoff contenders -- the Washington Redskins and the New York Jets -- just signed DeAngelo Hall and Ty Law, respectively.