BraylonBrowns Come Back, Then Hang On

I’ll admit, I was out of town this weekend for a family reunion, and I wasn’t able to catch all that much of the Browns game this week. I watched the first quarter with my dad, and then we had to head over to my granparents’ house, and wasn’t able to resume watching until midway into the 3rd quarter. None the less, here are my general thoughts and feedback.

First things first, it was a solid win for this franchise. As I said in my preview, this was the kind of game the Browns traditionally would lose. We were on the road, we fell behind 14-0, our defense was showing no signs of being able to slow down, let alone stop, the Rams offense, and the offense looked tired and lethargic (which was totally unacceptable given the bye week). We overcame every single one of those challenges and setbacks. We didn’t let the environment on the road get us down, we didn’t panic at the deficit, our defense found ways to get some timely stops, and our offense woke up in a big way. All of these factors led to a decent, if not unspectacular, 27-20 victory to move to 4-3 on the season.

Things aren’t all roses for this team, though. The Rams game showed some major flaws in this team…flaws that need to be addressed if we want to start talking seriously about the possibility of this being a playoff team. First off, the defense needs a complete overhaul. I’ve always appreciated Todd Grantham’s enthusiasm, and last year he was considered one of the better assistants in all of the NFL, so I’m not ready to call for his job. That doesn’t mean he should be secure in his position, though. There’s no doubt what the weakness of this team has been so far, and everyone keeps waiting patiently for some improvement to be shown. I really felt confident going into this game, coming off the extra week to prepare, that we would really have a solid defensive gameplan to slow down an offense that has been struggling greatly as of late. Well, that certainly didn’t happen as St. Louis came out and torched our defense for consecutive TD drives of 74 yards and 71 yards, giving St. Louis a quick 14-0 lead with 5:16 remaining in the 1st quarter. On their third possesion, the Rams drove right down the field all the way to the Browns’ 33 yard line before Cleveland stuffed them on a 4th and 1. That stop, combined with the injury to Steven Jackson, seemed to get the defense going, as St. Louis never managed to put together a drive of longer than 53 yards. So while the defense did come up big, especially on two 4th and 1 stops (including one that should have ended the game), there were also problems. Once again, our linebackers failed to show any ability to get to the running back, our defensive line failed to generate much pressure at all, and Leigh Bodden was getting burnt all over the field. Wimbley continued to be surprisingly non-existent in the box score. I really struggle to name guys who are playing great on defense. I suppose maybe Sean Jones, and Eric Wright continues to show improvement, although he still makes the occasional mental mistake. The defense needs a lot of work and I would look for that work to start on the defensive line. Looking ahead, the 2008 unrestricted free agents include Jared Allen, Justin Smith, Terrell Suggs, Albert Haynsworth, and Mike Rucker. It’s hard to fathom Kansas City and Baltimore letting Allen and Suggs, respectively, get away from their teams. I wouldn’t even be surprised to see the franchise tag possibly used. But if not, a guy like Jared Allen, who will only be 25, could be a significant upgrade on the D-Line. I think another solid CB could be useful as well. As for what the team can do this year to improve, well, that’s a little trickier. They always say that by week 5 you are what you are. If that’s the case, we’re a mediocre team with a great offense and a pitiful defense. I would like to see the linebacks still be more agressive, get some push, and stop waiting for the running backs to come to them. I think some more delayed blitzes could be effective as well. Our linebackers are quick and athletic, and a little deception in our blitzing schemes could go a long way. I’m getting a little tired of sitting at and home being able to read exactly where the bltiz is going to be coming from, and being right 7 out of 10 times. If I can read it that easily, I can’t imagine how easy it must be for NFL players and coaches.

The defense wasn’t the only thing that slightly alarmed me. I was extremely discouraged at how long it took the offense to wake up. I was also discouraged by a couple plays involving Braylon Edwards. You know what I’m talking about here. First, the helmet removal was a traumatizing punch to the gut for those of us who remember Mr. Rudd, and second, the dropped pass on 3rd down. Regarding the helmet removal, I don’t have much to add. It was ridiculous and unacceptable, and a sign that as exciting as it has been to watch Braylon develop before our eyes this season, his maturity still has a bit to go. For his part, Braylon apologized for it and accepted responsibility, saying:

“I assumed the quarter was over. That’s not the kind of player I am. That’s not what Romeo Crennel teaches. That’ll never happen again.”

For both Braylon’s sake and for our sake, lets all hope that’s true. As for the dropped pass, hey, it happens. As an Ohio State fan, though, it’s hard to forget Braylon dropping a crucial pass in the 2004 game against the Bucks. He makes some amazing catches, but seems to struggle on some easier catches at the end of games. Perhaps it really is mental at this point. Regardless, I’m not worried about it yet. I’m willing to give him some time. He’s still a young player and his overall game is still developing.

Overall, the game was good and despite the worries pointed out here so far, there’s still more reason to be optimistic and excited than there is to worry. Derek Anderson continued his amazing play, throwing another 3 touchdowns with no interceptions. Braylon was huge with 8 catches for 117 yards and 2 TDs. Winslow made some big catches, including his TD reception. Jamal Lewis was ok in his return to action. Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach were absolutely stellar again this game, providing DA with all the time in the world. This team is 4-3 with a huge home game with Seattle this week. A win would be enormous with road games to Pittsburgh and Baltimore afterwards. I still think 10-6 is a stretch and 9-7 is possible with some luck, but I think we’re still looking at 7-9 or 8-8, and to be honest with you, I’m ok with that as long as we continue to make strides in becoming a legit NFL threat.

DAWhat The Annalysts Are Saying…

As always, here is your look at what Scouts, Inc and ESPN’s NFL analysts are saying today about the Browns and their victory this weekend.

First up, Scouts Inc hosted an ESPN.com chat discussing the winning teams from Week 8 (I never grow tired of reading about the Browns in the winner’s chats as opposed to the losers chats). Keith Kidd was the first to take a question, and he talked about this being a good win, but warns about the road ahead,

Jay (NC): Keith, regardless of the Rams record, I think that was a pretty solid win for the Browns, don’t you? That team was desperate and giving everything they had, and their offense was back on track and still good no matter what has transpired this season. Holding them to 20 at their home, I do’nt see how that’s bad, I think our D is improving some. How do you now see the browns seahawk game going this week? I don’t see how they can hold us to under 30 or so, and Matt Hasselback has looked old this year, not to mention they can’t run.

SportsNation Keith Kidd: I agree I thought it was a great win for them, especially being down 14-0 and coming back. But unfortunetly for you Browns fans it will be a tought (sic) road for you guys because of the way the Browns defense is playing. But I think the Browns can beat Seattle at home this week.

Matt Williamson was next to tackle questions about the winners, and he discusses the Braylon Edwards incident,

Hende (OH): As great as Edwards played yesterday, didn’t he almost cost the Browns the game, by getting a unsportmanlike penalty for taking his helmet off and for dropping that 3rd down pass? Will he mature further?

SportsNation Matt Williamson: Good question. Remember him blowing up on the sidelines last year as well? Maturity is certainly a concern. He is an amazing player however. It seems like he is the only person who can stop himself from being great.

He also briefly mentions Derek Anderson’s Pro Bowl prospects,

Don (Pittsburgh): Who gets the 3rd AFC QB Pro Bowl selection behind Brady & Manning?

SportsNation Matt Williamson: Hmm, immediatly I thought of Palmer, but Roethlisberger could certainly be deserving. How about D Anderson? I guess I would vote Ben right now.

Finally, he gives us an answer on what he believes our playoff chances are,

Jason (Columbus, OH): As impressive as the Browns offense has been. Does this team have enough overall talent to make a run at the playoffs?

SportsNation Matt Williamson: In 2008. The D just doesn’t make enough stops for them to get to 10-6.

So that’s what some of the analysts are saying today. Overall, they continue to be generally impressed by our team. I think they tend to feel the same way as I do, though, and that is that we should approach with caution this year, as I still have major questions about the weaknesses of this team, namely the defense. It’s just hard for me to fathom this team making a playoff run no matter how good the offense is, as long as we continue to throw out the NFL’s worst defense.

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