|CLEVELAND BROWNS (2-5)
||GAME #7||NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (4-3)|
For weeks, we knew that the Cleveland Browns looked like a better football team than last year. At the start of the season, even the media gave some respect to Cleveland after they had been leading in the fourth quarter of losses to the Buccaneers, Chiefs, and Ravens. After not being able to win those close games though, and after what "seemed" like a blowout loss to Pittsburgh last week and a rough schedule up ahead, Cleveland was well on its way to being portrayed as the bottom of the barrel again. One thing prevented that from happening: a dominant road win over the defending Super Bowl Champions.
Saints fans probably don't think Cleveland dominated them, but they did. Defensively, the Browns took away everything the Saints were good at and made Drew Brees look terrible. Offensively, the Browns didn't turn the ball over and were able to drain out the clock late. On special teams, two huge plays negated the low yardage Cleveland had offensively, setting up scores.
Now, instead of being at the bottom of the barrel, Cleveland is back to being a threat, so much that a team like the New England Patriots can't bank on an automatic victory over us in two weeks. Neither can the Jets, or anyone else for that matter. With the bye week coming up to get healthy, this team has the tools to frustrate opponents and still make a last-ditch run at a postseason spot.
Let's get to the review of the game, starting with the the game ball...
WEEK 7 - CLEVELAND BROWNS VS. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (COMPLETE GAME REVIEW)
Awarding the Game Ball:
- LB David Bowens: There were a few worthy candidates for this spot, but you guys made it clear in Monday's poll that the veteran backup linebacker deserved it. Bowens had two interception returns for touchdowns, both of which came at times when many of us as Browns fans usually come to expect the opposing team to score a touchdown. Our mentality was probably similar to the following:
"Up by an impressive 13-3 margin, surely Drew Brees will get his act together in the two minute drill and get the Saints back in the game?"
Nope. Bowens TD.
"Up by a solid 23-10 margin, surely Drew Brees will stage a fourth quarter comeback after throwing a recent touchdown?"
Nope. Bowens TD.
Both plays were, "Did that just happen?" moments, and Bowens made them more memorable with his theatrics as he entered the end zone both times.
Goats of the Game:
- While everything wasn't perfect against the Saints, the Browns played well enough to skip the "goats" section altogether this week.
QB Dilemma: As we head into the bye week, we'll still milk the win over the Saints for all its worth. But, the bye week also brings up one of the biggest decisions Eric Mangini will have to face this season: who to start at quarterback. I expect all three quarterbacks to be healthy when the Browns take on the Patriots, and the Devil's advocate could make a good argument for each of the quarterbacks to get the start. I'll give my take on the Q-B situation over the next two weeks.
Evaluation of McCoy: Stat-wise, it wasn't a flashy game for Colt McCoy. If you didn't watch the game, you'd probably think we won using the same strategy as last year (i.e. eliminate the quarterback from the offense). While I was disappointed Cleveland didn't connect on more third down conversions, McCoy never came close to making an idiotic decision.
He protected the football, something a team like the Minnesota Vikings aren't getting with a veteran like Brett Favre right now. When called upon to throw an important deep ball in the first quarter to Joshua Cribbs, the throw was right there and led to a pass interference call. Peyton Hillis got credit for the touchdown, but you might as well give it to McCoy on the throw. Seneca Wallace had a tendency to throw those passes out of bounds. McCoy had a lot of room for improvement, but I continue to like the confidence, poise, and overall decision making.
Vickers' Drops: When the Browns drafted Lawrence Vickers, I recall him being praised for having good hands for a fullback. He had trouble with two passes in the flat from McCoy though. The first one was bobbled and hauled in for a short gain. If he doesn't bobble that, his toughness and burst after the catch might have netted a touchdown. On the second one, it was a good play call backed up in our own end zone and Vickers just dropped it. He had green in front of him and probably could've had a 20+ yard gain. Keep those plays in mind if you're over-analyzing McCoy's stats too.
Mixing it Up Defensively: It's easier to say this after the fact, but the defensive calls against the Saints were exactly what I had been hoping to see all season. We used the versatility of our linebackers and defensive linemen to pass rush or drop back without showing it on any given play. The safeties came up at times, but overall the coverage stayed back and forced Brees to stay away from the big play. I thought everything really came together when you saw Brees throw the sideline pass on third down that T.J. Ward jumped and nearly intercepted. That play epitomized just how much we were fooling Brees.
Bell Makes Me Nervous: After two games, when Mike Bell carries the football, I feel nervous. For whatever reason, he decided it was time to do blind "spin" moves behind the line of scrimmage while standing tall. It looked as if he was just begging for someone's helmet to be planted on the football as he spun. He's only lost three fumbles in his career, but right now I can see why Eagles fans didn't care that he was dealt. He had seven carries for zero yards with the Browns.
Opening Things Up: Teams have been kicking away from Joshua Cribbs, which made the throw to Eric Wright so brilliant. There probably aren't any other kick returners in the league who could make that throw on the run going backward as far and accurate as he did. It gives future special teams opponents something else to account for, and that could open things up a little bit in the return game moving forward. By the way -- if the kick had been directed the other way, would Cribbs have then thrown the ball to Joe Haden?
Hodges' Fake Punt: This was the type of play that you really can't try more than once in a season. It's all about the element of surprise, and special teams coach Brad Seely obviously did his homework for the play to work as well as it did. Reggie Hodges did a good job avoiding Lance Moore too. On NBC's nighttime pregame show, Tony Dungy noted that when Hodges was in Indianapolis, they had a nice little fake punt playbook for him because of how athletic he was. That was surprising to me, because I never knew he played for Indy. He actually didn't play in the regular season, but he competed with Hunter Smith for a starting role in 2006 and 2007.
The Leading Receiver: Guess who the Browns' leading receiver was on Sunday? Brian Robiskie! Sure, it was only 3 catches for 25 yards, but that's better than being invisible, right? His catches didn't come in garbage time either. On a similar note, I wondered where Evan Moore was. I don't recall him being targeted once.
Carlton Mitchell's Debut: It really wasn't an eventful contest for Carlton Mitchell, who didn't record a catch. I found it a little odd that after having run several successful end arounds to Mitchell in the preseason, the team decided to give the newly signed (and now waived) Yamon Figurs that play. Figurs stumbled, resulting in a loss of four yards and a busted drive.
Getting Rough: Some people have picked on safety Nick Sorensen here before (stares at golanbatrac), but you have to appreciate a guy who is willing to do the dirty work on special teams. On a Joshua Cribbs fumble (replay review would have overturned it if necessary), Sorensen got to the bottom of the pile. With his helmet off and people gouging his eyes and roughing him up, he still emerged from the pile with the football.
Special Teams Tackles: The Browns had six special teams tackle, led by Ray Ventrone with two. Jason Trusnik, Mike Adams, Blake Costanzo, and Titus Brown each had a tackle too.
Big Day for Fujita: If it weren't for Bowens' two big plays, Scott Fujita clearly would have been the star on defense. He led the Browns with 11 tackles, 1 sack for a loss of 10 yards, 2 tackles for a loss, and a red zone interception (the first one that Drew Brees has had in his last 80 red zone tries). He also sniffed out a wide receiver screen quickly, forcing the play to go for negative yardage. Fujita was possessed to do well, but this marks the third time in four games that he's had a big impact.
Ivory Stopped: Before the game, I projected that the Saints would struggle to run the football. I was right, as Christopher Ivory was held to a 3.2 YPC average on 16 carries. His longest run went for just eight yards. For as much of a threat as Brees was, any time New Orleans cued up the run, the Browns' linebackers were rushing to close the hole quickly.
Other Defensive Stars: Although he dropped an easy interception, it was nice to finally see Abram Elam make some plays in coverage -- he had 3 passes defended, while T.J. Ward had 2 passes defended. Marcus Benard had a sack and 3 hits on Brees. Matt Roth had two tackles for a loss.
Challenge on Colston's Fumble: I'm still so confused as to who ended up making the final challenge on this play, and what exactly the benefit of the overturned challenge was. Either way, the Saints went for it on fourth down and converted.
End of the Game: I was watching the game on tape delay, and the very end of the game didn't tape correctly. The plays I missed were the one pass that netted the Saints' final touchdown, the onside kick, and the kneeldowns. The box score says Brees went to Colston on the touchdown -- can anyone help me out and describe that play, along with the onside kick? Was Colston wide open? Did the onside kick so right to Brian Robiskie, or was there a pile to recover the ball?
- Brownies: The Browns ran a lot of pitch plays to Peyton Hillis with success...the direct snap to Hillis would've been a trick play in itself, and then throwing it back across the field to McCoy was even more of a surprise...I assume McCoy didn't go down immediately because he wasn't sure if he had the first down yet...Shaun Rogers had a hit on Brees and so did Ahtyba Rubin...Solomon Wilcots wasn't anything to brag about, but he wasn't as unbearable as he was when we faced the Steelers...Phil Dawson was money on field goals, including a 49-yarder...here's hoping for Gus Johnson, Ian Eagle, or one of the top two CBS crews following our bye week!
We won't start talking about the New England Patriots immediately. We'll try to talk about how the season has gone so far over the next couple of days, and we'll also have an update on the Official DBN Fantasy Football League (which I have not been doing up to par in).