|ATLANTA FALCONS (4-1)
||GAME #5||CLEVELAND BROWNS (1-4)|
The Browns failed to win their second consecutive home game of the season as they fell to a pretty good Atlanta Falcons team by a final score of 20-10. You can chalk up a fifth straight game in which the Browns have been competitive or in position to win in the fourth quarter, but the fact is that this team is only 1-4 right now. We don't have it as bad as some teams do, which is something to be optimistic about.
Let's get to the review of the game. With the team back on the losing side, we'll begin with the goat first, and the game ball second...
WEEK 5 - ATLANTA FALCONS VS. CLEVELAND BROWNS (COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
Goats of the Game:
Joe Thomas: For as often as the Browns' elite left tackle deserves a game ball week in and week out but doesn't receive one, it's too bad that I have to highlight the time that he is a goat. It's not even worth mustering up any of our lovable "Joe Thomas / Pancake" type of jokes to make light of Thomas' performance. The fact is, he was beaten by Falcons defensive end John Abraham consistently.
Thomas gave up two sacks and another quarterback hit to Abraham, which qualifies this as Thomas' worst game as a pro by far. After the game, I'm sure Thomas was upset with the way he played, not only because he gave up a couple of sacks, but because of the impact those sacks had on the game.
The first sack, which happened right before halftime, resulted in Seneca Wallace's high ankle sprain. That led to a chain reaction of events -- Delhomme having to come in when he wasn't healthy, Delhomme re-injuring his ankle, and now the team forced to start Colt McCoy and sign Brett Ratliff against the Steelers this week. You hate to pin all of that on Thomas, but if Abraham hadn't gotten to Wallace, this review and our preparations for this week's game would probably be a lot different.
Abarham's other big plays on Thomas came on a sack in the first quarter, and then on a quarterback hit he got on Delhomme after the Browns were already down 20-10 in the fourth, resulting in an interception. Thomas' bad day isn't meant to take anything away from Abraham though, who definitely deserves a game ball for the Atlanta Falcons for the way he handled an all-Pro left tackle.
Awarding the Game Ball:
Scott Fujita: I already highlighted why I gave Fujita a game ball in this week's Gameball post, so here is the cliff notes version: for the second week in a row, he stripped a quarterback of the football to give the Browns excellent field position. I remember Ryan Kelsey citing in the offseason how D'Qwell Jackson could never make those types of plays. So far, Fujita has two sack+fumbles the past two weeks, as well as a blocked field goal.
Falling on the Fumble vs. Returning the Fumble: I figured I'd lead off this week's top point with something that seems to be a trend for our defense. While we aren't forcing many interceptions, we're coming up with key fumble recoveries while the game is close (i.e. within three points). So far, I remember four specific instances where our defensive players have fallen on top of a fumble to secure the football rather than trying to return it.
In Week 1, it was Eric Barton who did it against Tampa Bay. The past two weeks, it has been Kenyon Coleman doing it an unfathomable three times (talk about being in the right place at the right time!). It's hard to argue about Coleman's decision, because when he has recovered the football, it has set up a short field for our offense, and we probably would've been pissed at him if he tried to scoop up the football and run, only to muff it and allow the opposition to recover.
But then, I take a look at other games around the league where opposing teams are able to scoop up the football in a similar situation and take off. Case in point -- Kerry Rhodes did it against the Saints, and it resulted in a touchdown. Granted, that is a safety (Rhodes) doing it versus a lineman (Coleman), but with our quarterback situation the way it is now, I think our defense has to take the risk of scooping+running to put some points on the board. With the short distance he had to go, Coleman is a big man who could've possibly rumbled in for a score -- or if he gets tackled trying to pick the ball up, maybe someone like Eric Wright shoots in for the recovery and takes it the distance?
This might seem like nitpicking at its finest, but our team should take advantage of getting points any way they possibly can.
Wallace Before the Injury: It's a real shame that Seneca Wallace had to leave with an ankle injury, because he was having a fantastic first half. His throw to Mohamed Massaquoi that just missed a touchdown was a thing of beauty, and so was his quick read on a version of the wheel route pass to Peyton Hillis for a touchdown.
Another underrated aspect about Wallace is his decision to not force a screen play. The past two weeks, we've tried to run a screen pass to Hillis three times. For whatever reason, each time, the defense has literally been all over the play. Wallace has made the smart decision each time by just tossing the football into the ground and moving on.
The whole time Wallace started the past several weeks, I kept praising him, but I always had the asterisk that Delhomme should play when he was ready. Now, it's only fitting that since Wallace is injured, I change my mind. While I still defend Delhomme to an extent, largely because he was still hobbled, Wallace has shown a type of consistency week in and week out against pretty good defenses that I didn't think he was capable of. For the areas I have pointed out that he lacks in, his consistency and ability to move the chains often was admirable.
Where it All Went Wrong: Delhomme's first "real" drive of the game came in the second half after Fujita's fumble. I was bummed that Wallace had to leave after an impressive start, but I was under the impression that Delhomme's injury was healed enough that he could come in and manage the game well, especially with a short field to work with.
First play, Delhomme hits Robert Royal for seven yards. The next play, Joshua Cribbs fires the ball to Lawrence Vickers for ten yards and a first down. Great! Two plays, and we're already in a 1st-and-goal at the 7. That's when my heart started to sink. On the next play, Jake Delhomme inexplicably threw the football amidst 2-3 defenders to Cribbs over the middle. That's the type of risk/non-necessary play Wallace hasn't tried to make since he started. After a nice run by Hillis, the Browns had 3rd-and-goal at the 2. Hillis always moves forward, so I thought we'd go for it on the ground on both plays...
Delhomme's Center-Exchange Issues: ...on the handoff, Delhomme appeared to pitch the ball straight back to Hillis on what should have been a single back handoff. On replay, Delhomme simply never had the football under control when he came out from under center. Luckily Hillis recovered the ball, but it was a wasted down and the Browns had to settle for a field goal.
Hillis told Delhomme, "you owe me one," but the veteran quarterback wasn't able to repay him. Are the center-exchange issues a problem of Delhomme's, or center Alex Mack's? Considering the problems only come up when Delhomme plays (as opposed to Wallace, or even Quinn and Anderson from last year), I'd say it's a Delhomme problem.
One Last Chance: It's amazing how close the Browns were to winning this game, despite the 20-10 outcome. Remember, Cleveland was down 13-10 and had the ball at midfield in the fourth quarter with just under five minutes to play. For once, I liked the playcalling that Brian Daboll used in the fourth quarter drive -- he mixed in Peyton Hillis runs, Joshua Cribbs lined up in the wildcat a couple of times, and then key third down throws from Delhomme to Chansi Stuckey.
The drive was going good, but on 2nd-and-6 the Browns ran a pitch play to Hillis. There seemd to be a potential big opening, except for Eric Steinbach being driven back too deep by his man, allowing the tackle to be made on Hillis for a loss. The next play was the dagger.
The Final Dagger: On the next play, a 3rd-and-7, the Falcons brought a free blitzer. Delhomme threw in the right area (where a receiver was open near a first down), but Kroy Biermann tipped the ball high in the air, stayed with it, and intercepted it as he fell to the ground. Biermann then got up and ran 31 yards for a touchdown just before Chansi Stuckey could tackle him.
I was upset at Delhomme on the play for not going after Biermann -- did he not think he could reach the ball? I know it would've been tough, and maybe impossible, for Delhomme to catch Biermann, but the defender was on the ground when he made the pick. If Delhomme had gone after him immediately, maybe he gets a hand on him, forcing Atlanta's offense to go on the field. Who knows what would've happened from there.
Hillis' Day: It certainly wasn't a 100-yard day for Peyton Hillis on the ground, as he finished with 10 carries for 28 yards. Considering Delhomme's ankle, it was surprising to see the Browns go pass-happy in the third quarter. There was a stretch where they threw the ball six straight times. One of those throws was a near-touchdown miss to Joshua Cribbs, but I'd still like to see the Browns commit to the running game there. If Hillis was too banged up, then give Jerome Harrison some room to run on the outside. He had 6 carries for 6 yards, but he still has the ability to break the big run.
More Active Backs: Next week, if Hillis is healthy enough to play, I think you have to activate James Davis. Not necessarily to give him carries, but given Hillis' thigh/quad injuries, you don't want to be down to just one extra running back.
Eric Wright Improves: After a two-game struggle, it was great to see Eric Wright back in a groove. He was in a mismatch early when Tony Gonzalez lined up wide on him, but the throw was a bit off and Wright nearly intercepted it. Wright also made a few good tackles, or at least reads on plays to hold up a player and allow other guys to jump in and make the tackle.
The Safeties: I'm having a real difficult time determining if our safety coverage has anything to do with our cornerbacks being "beaten" or "burned" on deep plays. The FOX announcers seemed to think that on Roddy White's long touchdown over Sheldon Brown, that Abram Elam was supposed to stay home and be in the middle of the field there. Instead, Elam came up to help double team Tony Gonzalez.
First Half Troubles for Ryan: Quarterback Matt Ryan especially struggled in the first half, going just 6-of-18 for 75 yards. Our offense played decent, but it would've been nice to build a bigger lead considering Ryan's early struggles, which had a lot to do with a combination of good coverage and a solid pass rush from Marcus Benard, Matt Roth, and company.
Massaquoi's Catch: It was good to see Mohamed Massaquoi involved a bit more in the gameplan; so far, I haven't seen any issues with his hands this year. Unfortunately, he just barely missed getting his second foot in for a first-half touchdown. I don't think the Browns should've challenged because I don't think he had the football in his hands yet when his "first of three" feet were down.
Missing Robiskie: While slot receiver Chansi Stuckey continues to make an impact on third down, Brian Robiskie's return game was pretty uneventful. You almost wouldn't believe he played, but you can see his jersey in the picture at the top of this post trying to chase down Biermann. He finished the game with one catch for five yards.
Blocked Field Goal: How great was it to see another blocked field goal, this time from rookie safety T.J. Ward? That's two kicks taken off the board in the past two weeks. While Shaun Rogers isn't registering the blocks, he's probably drawing enough attention to let other guys get free.
Special Teams Tackles: The Browns had four special teams tackles against Atlanta. The leader was Nick Sorensen with two, followed by Joe Haden and T.J. Ward having one each. Haden also made an acrobatic play to allow a Reggie Hodges punt to be downed at the one yard line. The Browns forced a three and out thanks to a nice tackle on third down by Eric Wright, but a Delhomme sack and delay of game killed the Browns' short field.
Turner Rips Browns: I can't defend the Browns run defense after this week's game, as they gave up 140 yards on 19 carries to Michael Turner. With that said, consider this:
-55 yards on 1 run - This came at the end of the first half, but the Browns blocked the field goal, so no damage was done.
-37 yards on 3 runs - This came with under two minutes to play in the game, and the Browns down 20-10 and at times just trying to strip the football rather than "stuffing" the run.
That represented 4 carries for 92 yards that netted no real points. The rest of the game, Turner had 15 carries for 48 yards, a 3.2 YPC. Turner still deserves credit for his runs no doubt, but it didn't necessarily hurt the Browns in this game.
More Wildcat Used: If I recall correctly, a bit more of the Wildcat was used (four times in total) with Joshua Cribbs. That included 2 runs for 11 yards, 1 pass for 10 yards, and 1 handoff to Hillis. We're going to need to use it three times as often this week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but I probably say that type of thing every week, don't I? Cribbs had a nice 34-yard kick return in the game too to set up good field position.
- Brownies: Looking at the stat sheet, I almost forgot that Peyton Hillis did have a fumble early on, but the defense forced a quick punt...it was nice to see the Browns bring a lot less all-out blitzes, and instead focus on generating pressure from the front four or five...Shaun Rogers played apparently, but how much is the question again because he didn't register a single statistic...while I expected Delhomme to play this past Sunday based on the media reports saying he was healthier, it seemed like Colt McCoy should have still been the No. 2 quarterback.
We've already started talking about it, but next up the Browns will do battle with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bring out the trash-talking, because despite the Browns' shortcomings at quarterback, we are going to give Ben Roethlisberger hell in his return week there's no chance that we're leaving Pittsburgh without a victory.