Rainfest Causes Fumbles, but Browns Show Ability to Overcome Adversity in 19-17 Loss to Rams

CLEVELAND - AUGUST 21: St. Louis Rams #39 Steven Jackson runs by #43 T.J. Ward of the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on August 21 2010 in Cleveland Ohio. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS RAMS (1-1) GAME #2 CLEVELAND BROWNS (1-1)
VS.
19 17

 
I always find it a little funny when people try to debate the final score of a preseason game with statements like, "if the Browns would have kicked a field goal here..." or "if we would've left McCoy in for that last drive..."

In an ideal world, in a regular season match up between the Rams and the Browns, I would like to believe that the Browns have the major advantage, as stated in my pre-game writeup Saturday morning. The Rams did a nice job putting together their first drive of the game, but overall what I took away from this game was that this team can overcome adversity. Granted, it's not like there was really too much on the line for the first stringers in a preseason rain-fest against the Rams, but you take what you can get in the preseason.

PRESEASON GAME 2 - RAMS VS. BROWNS (GENERAL THOUGHTS)

  1. Slick Ball for Harrison: I'm honestly not too concerned with the fact that Jerome Harrison fumbled the ball on his first two carries. It tells me that he wasn't prepared for weather, but we also saw the ball slip around a few other times early in the game given the mishandled snaps by Jake Delhomme and Sam Bradford. Harrison also did a good job running the football in December last season. This wake up call gives Eric Mangini a golden opportunity to address and correct the problems before the start of the season:

    "We can't put the ball on the ground," Mangini said. "It starts there. We haven't had much rain through camp. That's no excuse. They had to deal with it just like we had to deal with it. We're gonna turn the sprinklers on [at practice] or dunk the balls in water. It shouldn't be like that."

     
  2. Rams' First Drive a Success: The issue with our defense through two games is evident: teams feel comfortable with what they are doing against us right off the bat, and the Rams did so via the route of throwing to their tight ends and fullbacks.
     
    A.J. Feeley completed passes to TE Daniel Fells, TE Billy Bajema, FB Mike Karney, and WR Danny Amendola en route to going 5-of-6 for 45 yards and a touchdown. You earn a brownie point for each player on that list that you could've named (besides the well-traveled Karney) prior to the game. Steven Jackson started off with two good carries (11 yards, 5 yards), but was held to four yards on his other two carries. On the two first-down passes to Bajema on the drive, LB Chris Gocong was in coverage.
     
  3. McDonald on the Tackle: I'm not trying to excuse the failed tackle by CB Brandon McDonald on the Rams' opening-drive touchdown, but you also have to consider that Feeley had way too much time to throw in the pocket. On a day when the offensive players had an advantage running routes like the tight end did on that play, a one-on-one matchup over the middle is a pretty easy completion. I'd rather not have McDonald covering the tight ends, or anyone for that matter, over the middle.
     

  4. QB Colt McCoy was banged around by the Rams' defense thanks to the lack of depth on the Browns' offensive line.
     
  5. The Forgotten Penalty: After Saturday's game, I thought back to our first series of the game and tried to recall how we were stuck in a long third down situation on our first drive. Looking at the box score after the game, it clicked: Billy Yates had a false start. Penalties do happen, but it basically negated the six yards we had gained on first- and second-down. On third down, Delhomme's completion was shy of the market by a couple of yards, resulting in a punt.
     
  6. The Right Side Situation: Yates was also responsible for Jake Delhomme taking his only sack of the preseason. It sort of makes you take for granted having the combination of Floyd Womack and John St. Clair starting, who I think look better in comparison. I'm not necessarily ragging on Yates so much as I am sending my "hope to see you soon" card to rookie Shawn Lauvao and veteran Tony Pashos.
     
  7. Any Free Agent Linemen? I think we're going to see just how much we miss Rex Hadnot and Hank Fraley this season, two players who could be counted on as decent backup centers or guards last season. Looking up and down the roster, we don't seem to have any legitimate backups for the entire left side of the line, including center.
     
    On the right side, we have a cluster of three veterans and one rookie, all of whom have missed time due to injury or personal issues. If there are any other veteran linemen out there, I think the Browns need to seriously consider signing them to a contract. Colt McCoy and Brett Ratliff can't be evaluated behind a line that has them scambling before they can even drop back. McCoy didn't complete a pass and was sacked twice, while Ratliff threw a pick after being pressured on the final non-knee play of the game.
     
  8. Hodges Struggles in Rain: There wasn't a lot of wind in the stadium according to Bernie Kosar, so I can't imagine the rain would've had a major impact on his punts. On four punts, Hodges had a couple of long-distance ones, but his net ended up being a rather low 34.5 yards. His first punt of the game was only 34 yards, giving the Rams pretty good field position right off the bat.
     
    Maybe the Browns will scout the waiver wire once teams cut their roster to 53, but you can't underestimate the role of being the holder position on the field goals. Perhaps we should start training Wallace to handle that in practice.
     
  9. Cribbs Improves as a Receiver: The primary thing I've liked from Cribbs this preseason is that he seems to be more comfortable with settling down on a route and using his body position to haul in a catch. Before, there were times where I thought he was exposing himself to an oncoming defender too often. He's still not a crisp route runner necessarily, but he can find the ball and haul it in near the end zone, as seen by his 15-yard touchdown grab from Wallace. Another play that might have been forgotten -- Cribbs hauled in the 4th-and-3 pass from Delhomme that allowed our first touchdown drive to continue.
     
  10. Watson Dazzles Again: How great is it to see a tight end who can catch the ball one-handed or with both hands, and make pretty good moves in his routes? Ben Watson helped get the Browns out of their fumbling funk, first with a 9-yard reception to open the touchdown drive and then with the one-handed, 6-yard snag in the back of the end zone a few minutes later. I don't blame the officials for missing that call on the field, but props to Eric Mangini for throwing the challenge flag and the officials correctly overturning it.
     
  11. Finding a Balance With Hillis: Besides FB Lawrence Vickers, the offensive player who made the biggest impact was FB/HB Peyton Hillis. Hillis had 12 carries for 51 yards, as he bowled his way through the Rams' defense for the 4.3 yards per carry average. I think the weather favored Hillis' style over a player like Harrison, but Hillis showed good patience and power in following his blocks and dragging defenders.
     
    I like the thought of Hillis splitting time with Harrison this season, but then that begs the question of how do you get Hillis and Montario Hardesty involved in the gameplan, without throwing a player in there just for the sake of having them in there. I'd be interested in seeing if the Browns have any plays where they give Vickers a breather and have a two-back set that includes Hillis, allowing him to block of squirt out for a route.
     

  12. FB Peyton Hillis ran through tacklers against the Rams Saturday night.
     
  13. Wright Returns in Style: It seemed like a very good debut for cornerback Eric Wright, who missed last week's game against the Packers. On Sam Bradford's first pass of the game (the second drive), Wright almost jumped the sideline route for a pick six but was only able to deflect it away.
     
    On the next play, Wright might have been lined up at the nickelback spot (need to check the tape again) and he almost had another interception. The officials called pass interference, but I still applaud the effort. Later on, there were a few times where Wright shot up and made a tackle on the running back for a short gain toward the right sideline.
     
  14. Less Ward, Less...Everything: It was definitely more of a low-key game for T.J. Ward, but that's not necessarily a bad thing because the Rams didn't move the ball or throw to their wide receivers anywhere near the amount of times Aaron Rodgers did last week. When Ward did have a play come his way in the end zone, I wasn't thrilled that his back was to the ball again. A more experience tight end is going to see that and come back to the ball, drawing the easy pass interference call. Nonetheless, the ball hit Ward in the back and the Rams were forced to kick a field goal. I don't think Ward played the entire game like he did against the Packers either.
     
  15. Stuckey in the Slot: For those of you who have questioned Chansi Stuckey being the Browns' slot receiver, then I'd like to hear your thoughts after Stuckey's 3-catch, 51-yard effort against the Rams. Stuckey's receptions came on crossing patterns that he was then able to turn upfield, and I thought Delhomme did a great job of delivering him the football at the appropriate time. This is precisely how I envison Stuckey being used all year long.
     
  16. Remove it from the Playbook: Regarding Cribbs, when he catches the ball his best asset is seeing the field and then dodging oncoming defenders while already running vertical. Firing a pass out to him right at the line of scrimmage and then asking him to get started is not a play that I'm a big fan of unless you've got a guy like Steve Smith out there.
     
  17. Negative Special Teams: Besides the Cribbs fumble on special teams and Hodges' low YPC average, the other negative on special teams involved Syndric Steptoe. I haven't trashed his punt return abilities in the past, but for as much room as he had against the Rams he was too indecisive and prevented the offense from having a little bit better field position on their drives. He also coughed it up once on a punt return. If the Browns were ever able to receive a failing grade on special teams, ths would be the game.
     
  18. Special Teams Tacklers: The leading special teams tacklers this week were Ray Ventrone and Blake Costanzo, each of whom had two tackles. Costanzo also forced a fumble on a return, but the Rams fell on top of the ball.
     
  19. Lack of QB Hits: The only hits on the quarterback were delivered by Chris Gocong and Matt Roth. On Gocong's hit, Feeley still connected with a receiver for a pickup of seven yards. On Roth's hit, Bradford had a three-yard completion. I hate using the excuse of "the Browns aren't getting pressure because they are not showing everything," because sometimes you still need to show that you don't rely solely on a scheme to get pressure. Maybe that will improve when Shaun Rogers comes back, but we're still waiting to hear about his punishment.
     

  20. QB Jake Delhomme was in command of the offense again after the team overcame their early fumbles.
     
  21. Delhomme's Adversity: What was Delhomme most concerned with last season? Making a mistake. After fumbling the football on his second series due to a bad exchange between him and Alex Mack, Delhomme later rebounded to continue throwing the ball with accuracy and touch. He might have had an easier throw to Cribbs on his touchdown pass to Watson, but he's not forcing the ball to a receiver between coverage. Delhomme finished the game 12-of-16 for 126 yards and 1 touchdown.
     
  22. Pass to Robiskie: I liked how Delhomme found Brian Robiskie in the left corner of the end zone during the second quarter, with the ball just missing the second-year receiver. I'm leaning toward blaming Robiskie for not giving a better effort at hauling that football in, but I'm not going to make a huge issue of it considering the weather -- it almost looked as if it took him awhile to see the ball after he came out of his break.
     
  23. Passing Grade for Wallace: What I said about Wallace last week applies to this week too: he is doing very well in this offense, but not as well as Delhomme. Although I hate the effort given by Carlton Mitchell on the pass that was intercepted, Wallace didn't make the best throw on that play. He did make a nice throw to Cribbs on the touchdown though, and showed his mobility by running for 16 yards on 3rd-and-15.
     
  24. McCoy and Ratliff: It's difficult to evaluate these two players due to the horrendous play of the offensive line. With that said, when pressure comes, McCoy can't just tuck the ball and try to run every time. It almost seems like he might be developing a habit of taking off even if the protection might hold for another second. Ratliff made a couple of nice throws before being picked off, but thanks to Carlton Mitchell, it didn't show in the statistics.
     
  25. Fifth Receiver Evaluation: With how much the Browns seem set on using Ben Watson, Evan Moore, and Peyton Hillis as receivers, I'm beginning to hope the team doesn't carry a fifth receiver. I see it being more advantageous to carry either an Alex Smith at tight end or a Chris Jennings at running back.
     
  26. Stuffing the Run: The Browns held the Rams' running backs to just 2.24 yards per carry, as we pretty much dominated them after Steven Jackson left the game. The Rams really didn't gain a lot of yardage throughout the course of the game -- they only had 172 yards of total offense.
     
  27. Brownies: The Browns were 5-of-13 on third down conversions...Phil Dawson was still good on a 38-yard field goal in the rain...Joe Haden dropped a kickoff but ended up returning it for decent yardage...newcomer WR Taurus Johnson did not play...veteran Bobby Engram did play but was not targeted once...TE Evan Moore didn't really see a pass come his way until the second half, when he was good for 12 yards and a first down...the Browns had a good screen pass to RB Jerome Harrison...the pass interference call on Joe Haden was bogus.

Next up, the Browns will battle the Detroit Lions in the Great Lake Classic. The big news this week though will be the fact that Montario Hardesty is set to return and could see action in that game.

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