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Browns' Offense Sputters at the Wrong Time, Allowing Buccaneers to Sneak to 17-14 Victory

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The first game of the season doesn't have to be the end of all hope. Many other teams had a disappointing Week 1, including the likes of the Indianapolis Colts, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets, San Diego Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Minnesota Vikings, and the Dallas Cowboys.

Sure, all of those teams are better than the Browns to begin with, and the closest comparison to our loss was the Chargers falling to the Chiefs, but the Week 1 losses for these teams put them all in the same boat: you just had a reality check; how are you going to adapt to it come Week 2? Personally, it's immaterial that the Browns lost to the Buccaneers, because if the team can learn from their mistakes this week, there's no reason we can't come away with a victory against Kansas City.

With that said, let's get to the review of the game. Since it's the regular season, we kick off with the goats and the game balls...


Goats of the Game:

  • Jake Delhomme: I was hoping that I wouldn't have to place the Browns' new quarterback in this slot right off the bat, but he forced my hand with his ill-advised pass to close out the first half. On a scale of "Derek Anderson/Brady Quinn from last year to 10," Delhomme wasn't even close to having an overall performance as bad as Anderson and Quinn.
    His interception was a game-changer though, because the Browns had all of the momentum, and even if we had tried and missed a field goal to end the half, with the way our defense was playing, I think we would've come away with a victory.
  • Peyton Hillis: For as many positive plays as Hillis made, when you put the ball on the ground twice, you can't avoid this section. He officially only turned the ball over once, but it came at a time when the Browns were just about to stop the Buccaneers' momentum before it could gain any more traction.

Awarding Game Balls:

  • Entire Defense: I rarely give out game balls to an entire unit, but for as much criticism as I had for the defense in the preseason, they more than delivered in the opener against Tampa Bay. There was a consistent pass rush, the coverage from our rookie players was solid, there weren't any tackling issues, the Buccaneers' running game was stuffed, and two turnovers were forced. The defense kept the Browns in the game, even at the very end when Tampa Bay consistently started with great field position.

General Thoughts:

  1. Case of Mistaken Identity: The Browns had an identity against the Buccaneers. Unfortunately, that identity involved quarterback Jake Delhomme being put in a position where he had to throw the ball 37 times, compared to just 18 runs from our pure running backs. That lopsided average would lead you to believe that the Browns were down by multiple possessions early on and tried to throw the ball to get back in the game. In reality, we held the lead until 6:45 were left in the fourth quarter, and even then, we were only losing by a field goal.
  2. Easing Up on Delhomme:The reason I am being so lenient on Delhomme is because we put him in a position that...
    a. doesn't suit the strength of our team; and
    b. goes against what he's capable of doing at this point in his career.
    For that matter, I don't know if Delhomme was ever suited to throw the ball 37 times when his team wasn't behind. Delhomme is certainly to blame for his interception to Ronde Barber, but he isn't to blame for the ridiculous disparity in the play-calling. If we utilize Delhomme how he should be used, then my positive impression of him from the preseason has not changed in the least.
  3. Then, Who is to Blame?:This is a tough one, and I believe someone touched on it in the post-game thread here on Dawgs By Nature. Do we blame offensive coordinator Brian Dabollfor the disparity? That's easy to do, but consider that he was the playcaller when the Browns went on the four-game win streak to close out last season.
    When Mike Holmgren came aboard, he was impressed by how the Browns could win with such a remarkable disparity in favor of the run, but he noted that it's something that typically doesn't work in the league. Holmgren brought in Gil Haskell to sort of guide/mentor Daboll and have some influence on the offensive gameplan this year. Who gets the blame? While I think the Browns should pass quite a bit more than they did during that four-game stretch, the complete deviation from the ground game is overwhelmingly perplexing.
  4. The Run Plays Themselves: Not only was I disappointed in the disparity, some of the run formations themselves were confusing. I like Peyton Hillis, but I don't like taking Lawrence Vickers out of the game in favor of him. Also, Harrison was running the ball straight up the middle, sometimes without a fullback in front of him. Vickers was a huge part of last year's success, and we screwed ourselves in two ways: (1) not running the ball enough; (2) not even having him in every down when we did run the ball.
    In addition, Harrison needs to be the first guy to see carries. I'm fine with putting Hillis in on third downs, as a tight end, or as a back to give Harrison a breather, but we literally didn't even allow Harrison to break a sweat until late in the second quarter. You can't have one of your top playmakers entirely off the field for the majority of the game. Again, it's just all too perplexing and fits more with there being problems in the gameplan than it does problems with the talent on the team. I mean, come on -- we were facing one of the worst run defenses in the league from last season.
  5. Three Sacks, Led by Benard: The Browns had three sacks against Josh Freeman, coming with more creative blitzes and also having a much better bull rush from certain players. Second-year mean Marcus Benard showed why he's on the team though, as he recorded 1.5 sacks. The other players notching sacks were Jason Trusnik (1) and Scott Fujita (0.5). I liked the bull rush I saw from Matt Roth too, something that was absent in the preseason.
  6. Taming Winslow:Color me surprised that the Browns only allowed 4 catches for 32 yards to tight end Kellen Winslow. The Browns seemed to have a combination of T.J. Ward and Mike Adams covering him often, and while Adams was victimized once in the game, he assisted in a key breakup later on and had three passes defended during the game. Adams also had the team's lone interception, which was caused by the Browns getting pressure in Freeman's face.
  7. Massaquoi Touchdown: I was thrilled to see Mohamed Massaquoi's touchdown in the first quarter, but it also reminded me of the unusual touchdown that was caught by (I believe) Quincy Morgan when we won our opener against the Ravens a few years ago. There was a clear mistake in coverage, but the net result was a big score for the Browns. Safety Tenard Jackson took a poor route to the ball, but Delhomme still had enough touch on it so that Massaquoi at the very least had a chance to get his hands on the ball in the air.
  8. Stuckey Contributes: One game into the season, Chansi Stuckey has four catches. I like that we targeted him on third downs, however I hate what he did at the end of the game by trying to get more yardage by cutting back to the middle of the field rather than stepping out of bounds. Granted, a Hail Mary is not a high percentage play, but pass interference calls do happen...
  9. Tight End Distribution: I think the tight ends really suffered from the lack of a running game being used. Ben Watson had three catches, but I honestly don't remember any of them. Evan Moore had three catches and did a heck of a job getting yardage after the catch, but he was only utilized on one drive before disappearing. This goes along with that question of whether Daboll and company have too many weapons for their own good.
  10. Joshua Cribbs' Ineffectiveness: I think nothing was more surprising in the game than the ineffectiveness of Joshua Cribbs in the return game. On three kickoff returns, his longest one was 18 yards. The Buccaneers kicked it deep to him, but Cribbs was always taken down by the first pursuer. Punt returns weren't much better, and he even had a fumble that more times than not would result in a turnover, but somehow Blake Costanzo stepped through a portal and ended up at the bottom of the pile with the football.
  11. Debut of the Cyclone: We saw a little bit of the Cyclone in the first half, and I really don't have a problem with how it was utilized except for one thing: without having run the ball with Harrison, it didn't work as well for my liking. I loved seeing Cribbs throw the ball for a completion to Seneca Wallace.
  12. Quick Hitters on That Drive: Continuing from the thought above, we had about three quick hitter passes at the line of scrimmage alone that went for positive yardage. Great news, right? The Browns then faced a 2nd-and-4 at the Tampa Bay 40. That's a perfect time to run the football and move the chains, right? Nope -- Delhomme attempted passes on the next two plays, and they fell incomplete. The Browns punted, and of course Reggie Hodges' boot went into the end zone, preventing us from backing them up into danger zone.
  13. Defensive Backs Performs Well: I liked what I saw from our defensive backs (I already mentioned Adams earlier). Joe Haden gave up the game-winning touchdown to Michael Spurlock, but it was just a perfect throw and the best play by the Buccaneers offense all game. That stuff happens; but unless you're facing the Ravens, you don't expect it to cost you the game. Sheldon Brown had nice recovery speed on a deep breakup.
    He also almost picked the first Buccaneers touchdown, but the ball happened to bounce in the air and into the arms of Mike Williams. When you think about it, all of the unfortunate bounces were going the Buccaneers way. That's a reason for some of my optimism next week. Finally, I kept seeing someone on our defense make great tackles, and I would think, "man, who is that guy?" When he'd get up from the tackle, I'd see No. 43, T.J. Ward.
  14. Dawson's Miss, Weather: Man, that was a nasty wind swirl that took Phil Dawson's kick wide right from 62 yards. I am amazed by how his leg strength has gotten so much better it seems. Also, it just had to rain, didn't it? That's no excuse for any football team to fail to execute, but it's another case of an Achilles heel from the preseason showing up just at the Browns lost their momentum.
  15. Special Teams Tackles: Leading the way with special teams tackles was Ray Ventrone with two. T.J. Ward, Phil Dawson, and Abram Elam each had a tackle. Hopefully Dawson doesn't have to register too many more tackles in the future.
  16. Fumble at the End: A debatable play came at the end of the game, when T.J. Ward came in and forced a fumble. The Buccaneers were in a heavy formation, meaning that maybe only Josh Freeman or Cadillac Williams could've caught Eric Barton if he had gotten up and sprinted. Instead, Barton, who was blanketed by Jason Trusnik, stayed down for a few seconds before being touched. On one hand, I like the decision to protect the football. On the other hand, it's killing me to wonder if we would've won the game had Barton taken the chance to scoop the ball up and start running.
  17. Brownies: I wasn't thrilled with the CBS announcers, but overall I wasn't annoyed...Brian Robiskie needs to be more of a factor in the passing game if he is to be considered a threat...right after the Browns lost, fans were punched in the stomach by seeing Rashard Mendenhall score a touchdown in was a surprise to see David Bowens inactive instead of Eric Barton.

In terms of the gameplan, things definitely need to change next week against the Chiefs. Although they are coming off of a huge victory against the Chargers, the team is still quite similar to the one Jerome Harrison ran all over at the end of last season. The Browns have a chance at redemption by showing they can literally do what they did last year but with some competent quarterback play. If they fail this week, then it might be more appropriate to consider questioning the future direction of this team.