For the second year in a row, the Cleveland Browns did not fair off too well in their season opener (which also happens to be at home). All offseason, we wanted the schedule makers to give us the same respect that other contenders in the league were being given. For the first game, we laid a big egg. Not that it provides a significant amount of comfort, but all things considered, we may have lost to the best team in the National Football League.
The Patriots are without Tom Brady the rest of the year. The other AFC favorites -- Indianapolis and San Diego -- each suffered home losses to teams expected to finish no better than .500. Disregarding Pittsburgh's dominant performance over the Houston Texans, the Cowboys looked great on all sides of the ball -- they were in near midseason form.
The bottom line? Getting beat was ok. Getting beat with dropped passes, no pass rush, and awkward coaching decisions was not ok. As I've done in the past, to go along with a loss, it's time to look at the goats of the game...
Goats of the Game (Better Redeem Next Week)
- Braylon Edwards: I was wrong in assuming that several weeks off due to a cut on his foot would not deter him from having a big game. His quickness and route-running looked fine, but the simple fundamentals of catching the ball in traffic posed a significant problem, as many people credited him with having four drops. The games we won last year, Edwards made spectacular catches on good throws from Derek Anderson. Had Edwards caught those passes early on, maybe our offense would've stayed in a groove and participated in the shootout we thought we would've seen.
- Kamerion Wimbley: I know that D'Qwell Jackson had a horrible game too, but I think it's more appropriate to mention Wimbley here. He demonstrated more than ever that he only has one move. His strategy seems to be "let me see how large of a circle I can make around the left tackle as Tony Romo steps up in the pocket. If Wimbley had an inside move, he would've used it. He didn't develop it over the offseason, and now we're going to have to deal with it all season long. You almost feel like starting Alex Hall over there in front of him.
Awarding Game Balls (Tough in Defeat)
- Shaun Rogers: The big man delivered with what we expected him to bring to the table. All things considered, after the first game, I'm extremely pleased that we got this guy for just a third-round pick and Leigh Bodden. He did wear down at the end of the game though, and that can be attributed to fantastic execution by the Cowboys' offense, keeping their unit on the field 15 minutes longer than the Browns. Rogers is solid, but he's not as good as Albert Haynesworth where he can go strong four quarters without a break.
- Kellen Winsow: Why we didn't go his direction more in the second half is beyond me, but Winslow caught the ball well, being our only receiver to go over 2 catches and 20 yards receiving. I'm still a little puzzled by the lack of emotion he has appeared to show throughout the preseason and in Week 1. Maybe it's just me, but he seems a little too subdued (except for the bow he took on his touchdown reception).
General Thoughts (Random Tidbits on the Game)
- We Miss Cribbs: Besides Edwards' drops, the absence of Joshua Cribbs was the biggest key of the game (even more so than the defensive shortcomings). When you see Syndric Steptoe and Gerard Lawson getting tackled around the 25-yard line for less-than-stellar returns, you can literally imagine on the field Cribbs taking it an extra 20-25 yards each time. The Cowboys did not have tremendous kick return coverage -- Steptoe and Lawson were just not very elite. Better field position again would've contributed to the offense, and the defense for when we did punt.
- The Field Goal: Sweet, three extra fantasy points for Phil Dawson, right? Wrong. I never care how later it is in a game -- the opportunity to rally still exists. With 10:43 left in the fourth quarter, down by three possessions, you only kick a field goal if it'll make it a two-possession game. Instead, Crennel went for the field goal, which in that scenario was virtually the same thing as turning the ball over on downs or punting it away. Bad decision by Crennel, and the fans let him hear it by booing louder than I've heard fans boo on the television set in a long time.
- Anderson Wasn't Bad: Statistically, completing only 45% of his passes did not look good. In terms of being prepared and how he played, I don't understand why so many people (on the OBR and from public speaking) are considering him such a major goat. The velocity on his balls was great, needling throws when appropriate. He had four drops from his top receiver, three of which should've definitely been caught. On top of that, he was basically working with two practice squad receivers with Donte Stallworth injured. The Cowboys' defense only had to blanket two receivers, because the Syndric Steptoe and Steve Sanders just weren't getting too open. When the coverage was too tight, Anderson did the right thing by running and picking up some yards with his feet.
- Equivalence: Please don't tell me that Donte Stallworth is going to end up being nothing more than the offense-equivalent of Antwan Peek (injury-wise). Not having Stallworth did put our receiving position even thinner than our defensive backs position.
- Third-Down Conversions: A lot of our offensive shortcomings came down to a lackluster 33% third-down conversion rate. When Dallas converts 72% of their third downs in comparison, you're doomed.
- Third Downs, Part II: Digging deeper into the lack of offensive conversions on third downs, you see that several of the situations were short-yardage plays. On the first drive, there was a bad quarterback-center exchange between Anderson and Hank Fraley. Right after the second half started, we had two nice runs by Jamal Lewis to set up a 3rd-and-2. The pressure came quick, Anderson heaved one too deep to the outside, and we had to punt.
- Third Downs, Part III: Finally, it's time to rip our defense for the lack of a pass rush generated on third downs. On Dallas' eight conversions, six of them were through the air, mostly because Romo had all day to throw. It didn't matter who we blitzed: it was picked up with ease.
- Defensive Backs Coverage: We didn't stop Terrell Owens. We didn't stop Patrick Crayton. And hell, we didn't even cover Jason Witten (though the linebackers were responsible for him at times). You can't fault the cornerbacks for giving up yardage when there is literally no pressure up front, but on the same note you still need better play. We needed to jam Owens better, but Brandon McDonald's idea of that was the "hands to the face" call. When McDonald jumped a route to Crayton (and just missed) and when Eric Wright recorded the Browns' only turnover of the game, I saw glimpses of what our defensive backs' will be relied upon once the pressure improves.
- Turnover Ratio: Speaking of which, we were actually -1 in the turnover category.
- Running Well: I was pleased with how Jamal Lewis ran the ball. Like last year though, it's unfortunate that when we get down in the game so quickly, we have no other choice but to abandoned the run. Thankfully, there didn't seem to be any lingering effects from his hamstring injury.
- Heiden All Out: When Steve Heiden laid all out to try and make a catch, I couldn't believe me eyes. Just seeing him try that was unusual (but encouraging) to see. You wonder how much a guy like Martin Rucker would've helped in a game like this -- suddenly that draft choice looks a lot better than it originally seemed.
- Penalty Dinkins: I recall a special teams penalty on Darnell Dinkins. Want to know why it doesn't make sense to always say "he had a great camp and earned a roster spot"? Because he never plays in the offensive sets, and on special teams, he has too many penalties called against him.
- Get Well Cribbs: Please be ready for Pittsburgh next week. Oh, did I already have a bullet point about Cribbs? Did I mention how important he is? I did? Good.
- Presence: Did you feel the defensive presence by Corey Williams? Me neither. There is hope for next game, though, just like the offensive line didn't look great in last year's opener.
- Need to Blitz: I'd rather be beat by sending all the blitzers we can send at Tony Romo than have him sit there for an infinity only to find the open receiver with ease. Just because the first few blitzes don't work doesn't mean you go to an even worse strategy.
- Dawson 1-of-1: Seeing your kicker get their first one through the uprights is a good sign, no matter what the score is. At least he did get a kick in before next week's night cap against the Steelers.
- Special Teams Coverage: Though poor on the return game, our kick coverage was very good. I noticed Shantee Orr recording a tackle or two. We survived the coverage units without specialist Kris Griffin available too.
- I'll Stop: I kept bragging that we were 6-0 at home under Derek Anderson last season. If that annoyed you, fear not: I can no longer say it with relevance to this season.
It was not a very fun opener to watch, but there's no way I'm going to get discouraged heading into this Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. A win against the Cowboys would've been great, but this is the critical portion of our schedule: three consecutive division games. If we don't go at least 2-1 during that stretch, we're down and out. With a clean sweep, no one's going to be talking about the Cowboys loss.