EDITORS NOTE: Joe's commentary was written several hours before the Browns announced their roster cuts yesterday.
Good day, Browns fans!
Exactly eight months to the day after defeating the Falcons to make the 2002
playoffs, the Birds returned to town. After a lackluster preseason, the Browns
looked much better in all three phases of the game. The offense moved the ball
quickly and easily, the defense looked as if it could actually stop an opponent,
and the special teams had an excellent night. All that being said, the mood is
anything but jubilant as left tackle Ross Verba was lost for the season.
With final cut downs here, let’s examine what happened position by
Kelly Holcomb had a much better game than the pedestrian effort he turned in
against the Lions. Holcomb did a good job on some play action fakes, and he got
rid of the ball quickly, which was a necessity at times. As usual, Holcomb was
aggressive and accurate on deep throws. Lost in the excitement of a flea-flicker
on the first offensive play, Holcomb did a nice job pulling down a high pitch
back from Green. Holcomb also made a very nice play throwing to Heiden down the
middle under heavy pressure. When you complete four passes, but they go for 126
yards, you can’t really complain about that kind of success.
More exciting that that, after a performance against the Lions that looked
like he wanted to be anywhere but playing football, Tim Couch seized his chance
and made the most of it. On his first possession, Couch was saddled by bad field
position, and then a first down run play lost yards. This doomed this possession
to a three-and-out. But after that, Couch got a chance. Pinned deep by a penalty
on a kick return, the Browns started around their own 10. Couch made a nice deep
throw to Andre Davis to dig out of the hole. Couch threw the ball with zip and
accuracy and made three deep throws, not the least of which was an audible to
Dennis Northcutt lined up on a rookie. Couch turned a third-and-forever play
into a 56-yard touchdown. Couch finished 7 of 8 for 144 yards. This might have
been his finest performance as a Brown. The only negative on the night was a
lost fumble when Couch held on to the ball too long and was crushed. Perhaps now
that the pressure is off, Couch can blossom into the player everyone hoped he
Against Tennessee, Josh Booty looked sharp. He was injured against Green Bay
and struggled against the Lions. Let’s just say Booty has performed better than
in this game. The best thing Booty did was to hook up with C.J. Jones four
times. Booty was careless with the ball and not especially accurate. It is
always tough to judge when the player is playing with the backups, but the final
fourth down play at the end of the game was a bonehead play. Booty was trapped
near the sideline and tried to fling the ball away, weakly tossing it into a
crowd of Falcons. Butch Davis looked less than pleased and used it as a
“teachable moment”. A loud one. Booty ended competing 6 of 13 passes for 63
On paper, William Green’s ten attempts for 20 yards doesn’t look very good.
But consider that three attempts came from inside the three-yard line, and that
Green’s best run of the night was wiped out by a penalty. Green had a nice
six-yard run up the middle on a first and goal situation. Green looks ready to
start the season.
Once again, James Jackson’s numbers do not do his performance justice. He
ended the night with ten carries for 28 yards. Jackson has shown some nice burst
at times. He showed he still has a place on this team. Jamel White continues to
recover from various injuries. He has had a rough preseason. He caught two
passes, on for six yards and a busted screen pass that lost four. White looks
Kevin MacLeod may make the roster. He had a few nice blocks and did some good
work on special teams. He caught one pass for three yards. The Browns would like
to see the fullback be a credible threat as a receiver, and MacLeod drops far
too many balls. He had a sad drop in this game. Billy Blanchard also had bad
stats with 11 rushes for 18 yards, be he did have a very nice eight-yard run and
he might have some potential. Perhaps Blanchard could end up on the practice
Each of the Four Deuces had at least one catch, with Dennis Northcutt getting
two. Each of these guys had a reception of at least 32 yards. Not a bad evening
at all. Kevin Johnson hauled in the flea flicker but didn’t have enough to make
it to the end zone. Still, I’ll gladly take a 68-yard gain. The Browns did not
get a touchdown on that possession, and KJ’s false start on third-and-goal did
not help matters. Northcutt had the 57-yard TD catch, and another critical
third-down catch for a total of 62 yards. Quincy Morgan caught a 34-yard pass on
what looked like a blown coverage. He also took a reverse a long way but gained
just two yards. Andre Davis hauled in a 32-yard pass from Couch. He looked as if
he was just step from breaking it over double coverage.
Among the reserves, Andre King had one good catch for 31 yards in a
two-minute situation. King may breathe a sigh of relief because of the injury to
Frisman Jackson after a rough preseason. But the star among the reserves was
once again C.J. Jones. Jones led all receivers with four catches for 64 yards.
He also had an end around play that lost four yards. With his special teams play
and receiving ability, it is hard to believe that Jones will not make the team.
I did not even see Marc Soumah in the game.
It was interesting that Aaron Shea did not play. The Browns say it was to
protect him from injury, but the offense looks better without him. Steve Heiden
and Darnell Sanders were the first two tight ends. Heiden caught a key 19-yard
pass and Sanders had three short catches for 18 yards. Both looked inconsistent
blocking. At times, both did well. Other times, they were completely
ineffective. Chad Mustard had one pass thrown at him, which he did not catch. He
had his problems blocking as well. I can’t see Mustard sticking with the team.
The Browns have been signing and releasing tight ends all week. You have to
wonder if either they are looking for the ever-elusive H-Back, or if one of the
guys on the roster is in trouble. Aaron Shea can do some things, but I’d far
rather see one of the other tight ends on the field for blocking or one of the
wide receivers. Shea’s best option is as a receiver, but they rarely use him
except for dump passes. Darnell Sanders has been mired at the bottom of the
depth chart. Butch Davis prizes consistency, and Sanders has not been
consistent. Mustard won’t stick.
Where do you even start here? Losing Verba hurts, but he did not have a great
game. Watching the tape, Verba losing his man led to pressure on Holcomb. He was
shaking his arm after the play in question and I suspect that might have been
when he got hurt, not when he fell as some reports have claimed. Jeff Faine is
what you expect from a rookie at this stage. He is learning. There are plays
where he totally controlled his man, as in the Green touchdown run. But he blew
an assignment on the play where Holcomb was sacked. The defender went untouched
to the quarterback, but Faine was looking for someone to block. I think Faine is
struggling more with the mental aspects of the game right now, but he is doing
well physically. He is right on schedule. I was pleasantly surprised by Shaun
O’Hara, who had by far his best game of the preseason. He did nice work on both
run and pass plays. Barry Stokes also did well. The few plays where he moved to
tackle, I thought he did nice work. Ryan Tucker has been solid all preseason,
with just one offsides call. This was an area he struggle with last year.
The backup line is another matter. There is so little experience here, and
pretty much every man was inconsistent. On running plays, these guys often ended
up three yards behind the line of scrimmage. Paul Zukauskas got an early start
on his evening when he came in after Verba went down. The Browns tried counter
plays with Zukauskas pulling. Let’s just say he won’t strike fear into the heart
of any opponent. He might be the best of the backups. Melvin Fowler really looks
lost. I hate to say it, but this guy just looks like a bust at this point. He
can’t seem to hold a block to save his life. Qasim Mitchell looks great one play
and terrible the next. There is potential here that is worth continuing to
explore. The tackles did not show me much, either. I’d really like to see
Joaquin Gonzalez make it in the NFL. Chad Beasley is a project.
This was the best effort of the preseason. That being said, one has to wonder
if playing against a Falcon offensive line that is not used to having to block
so long made a big difference. If you’ve read these reviews throughout the
preseason, there won’t be any big surprises. Orpheus Roye continues to show
effort and hustle. The Lions double-teamed him, which is the right move at
present. Gerard Warren showed up in Detroit and again in this game, but he still
has plays where he just looks like he gives up. Watch him. The guy rarely gets
off a block. Kenard Lang had perhaps his poorest game of the preseason. He was
almost completely ineffective. He looked at times like he was trying to run away
from the play.
After watching the tape of the game, the guy that impressed me was Courtney
Brown. I agree with something Bob Trumpy said on the television broadcast. You
can tell that Brown isn’t 100% on that knee and that he is learning to trust it.
That being said, Brown had some excellent moments. On one play, he shrugged off
a double team using his unbelievable arm span, made it to the quarterback and
forced a bad throw. On another play, Brown missed a potential sack, but he blew
up the play for a minimal gain. This is purely a gut feeling on my part, but
Brown just looked like he was playing with more fire than I have seen at times.
With the Falcons playing their starters the entire first half, all of Brown’s
time came against the first team. Brown played both sides, but seemed far more
effective from the left side. That might have to do more with facing veteran Bob
Whitfield on the right side.
You want a telling stat? If you can go by nfl.com for the official tackle
numbers, among the starters, only Roye and Brown appear on the stat sheet,
accounting for three tackles and one assist between them.
The backup defensive line did some good things. It is interesting that Mark
Word finally got a good play on the quarterback with the backups. Still, Word
was largely invisible. Tyrone Rogers and Felipe Claybrooks continue to fight for
a backup end spot. Going from this preseason alone, Claybrooks gets the nod, but
Rogers has made plays for the Browns over the last four years. This is a tough
call. At tackle, Alvin McKinley continues to play well. Antonio Garay got
playing time with the second unit over Cedric Scott. This is another close call,
but I’d give Garay a slight edge. I also like Thomas Pittman. He moves very well
for a big man. Unfortunately, I don’t see him making the team. Perhaps he can go
to the practice squad, though I am not sure of his eligibility.
As noted above, the defensive line is making far too few tackles. The backups
accounted for just six tackles and no assists in nearly three quarters of play.
Andra Davis looked great once again. He had a fantastic tackle, though he
missed the tackle on a play where he was in the hole. Ben Taylor had an active
game and was in on five tackles in limited duty. It looked to me like Taylor was
in better position to make plays. Barry Gardner started for Kevin Bentley and
was never around a play. Of course, that is pretty much the same as Bentley had
done this preseason. It was good to get Brant Boyer back. He is one of those
guys it is easy to overlook, but when he was in the game, he made things happen.
He had two tackles in very limited duty.
The backups were awful. They were out of position. They missed tackles. For
example, Howard Clark had a good might on special teams, but on defense, he was
terrible. He missed several tackles. Funny thing is, he led the stat sheet with
six tackles, but I believe two of those were on special teams. Clark is
undersized. I like his hustle and effort, and he might develop into a reasonable
player given time. Mason Unck also gives a lot of effort, but he missed plays,
too. Chaun Thompson got to play with the second unit and was decked by Alge
Crumpler. It knocked Thompson cold, but he did come back into the game. The
cocky Thomspon really blew it for this season by holding out. If he wasn’t a
second round pick, I’d say he would not even make the roster. Some of the other
guys have shown more. Sherrod Coates made one very nice tackle. Jeremy Loyd
might have had his best game of the preseason, but it is probably too little,
too late for him.
If you assume that Davis, Bentley, Taylor, Gardner, and Boyer all make the
team, that leaves one or perhaps two spots for everyone else. Butch Davis has
made some surprising cuts in the past, such as Tre Johnson and Ricky Dudley a
year ago. I would not be surprised to see either Bentley or Gardner gone. I’d be
very surprised if they released Thompson. If they keep him, that almost means
there is no room for anyone else. Clark may have an edge over the other guys
because of his special teams play. I personally like Unck. At least one of the
backup players will make the practice squad.
I was amazed at how much difference seemed to be made by the return of Robert
Griffith. They say he calls the defensive signals, and if true, it makes sense
that a veteran presence could be huge there. But either way, the defense looked
a lot more comfortable and seemed to have a better idea what was going on.
Griffith made some hard hits, but his “body check” tackling doesn’t always work.
Wrap a guy up more, even if you do have a bad hand. Anthony Henry made a very
nice pass breakup, and he had a nice attempt on a low pass that Finneran somehow
managed to catch. Henry looked a lot more aggressive. I did not see much from
Daylon McCutcheon or Earl Little in limited playing time.
Beyond the starters, it’s hard to know what to make of things. Both Michael
Lehan and Lewis Sanders were out for the game. They figure to be among the top
four corners. That gave Leigh Bodden a lot of playing time. Everyone will
remember him being burned by Peerless Price for the only Falcon touchdown, but
that is an unbelievable mismatch, similar to the touchdown caught by Northcutt.
Otherwise, Bodden did fairly well. He is learning. Kalvin Pearson started the
preseason well, but he had his problems against both the Lions and Falcons. This
is much like last season when he had a good preseason, made the roster, then was
terrible and demoted to the practice squad. Chris Crocker saw a lot of playing
time. He needs to look up once and awhile and he might come up with an
interception. The Browns had numerous chances to intercept passes and did not
get even one. Michael Jameson is still leaning, but he has had some good plays
this preseason. Ricky Sharpe has not impressed me.
There will be some tough decisions here. Assuming Henry, McCutcheon, Sanders,
and Lehan stick at corner, and Griffith, Little, Jameson, and Crocker at safety,
that leaves probably one spot left or maybe two. I’d say the final spot comes
down to Pearson and Bodden. Between the two, since Pearson was a star in NFL
Europe, the Browns have a better chance of sneaking Bodden onto the practice
squad. Sharpe has no chance.
Jay Taylor had a nice field goal, but he will be sitting by the phone come
Sunday. If the Browns get an injury to either kicker, Taylor will get a call.
Alvin McKinley blocked an extra point. This guy is quite a threat. The return
game was quiet, but the coverage units did well. In particular, Dennis Northcutt
knocked a ball back in from the end zone on a punt.
Kudos to Bruce Arians for some good and aggressive play calling. You don’t
usually see that in the preseason.
I’m really glad I don’t have to make the roster moves the Browns are going to
have to make this weekend.
I hope the Browns can find a decent veteran tackle or guard on the waiver
wire. For example, Corbin Lacina was recently released by the Patriots. Maybe he
is out of gas, but he might be a better option than anyone we already have on
the roster. I’m sure the front office will watch that closely.
The Browns start the season against the Colts. Both the defense and the
offensive line will have their hands full.
The season is short. Bark hard!