Good day, Browns fans!
This article concludes the postseason review of the 2003 Cleveland Browns.
This is part 3, looking at the special teams.
Parts 1 and 2 covered the offense and
Part 4 will examine coaching and the front office.
The special teams were a key factor in the success of the 2002 Browns. Two
successful onside kicks, three kick returns for touchdowns, clutch field goals,
and solid punting all were key factors in winning games. In 2003, other than a
successful fake field goal and great punting, the Browns did not get a lot of
difference-making plays on special teams. This was a factor that hurt the
offense by consistently placing it in bad field position.
Let’s examine each of the special teams units.
Chris Gardocki finished his fifth year with the Browns. In 2002, he was
solid, but it was probably his weakest season with the team. He bounced back to
have a strong 2003, placing a lot of balls inside the 20. Gardocki continued his
string of nearly 1000 punts without a block in his career.
With Gardocki’s contract up and the fact that he made $1 million in 2003, it
is looking as if Gardocki will not be back. The Browns say they are talking to
his agent, but while Gardocki wants to play another four or five years, Butch Davis says he could play another two. Then there is the fact that the Browns
signed punter David Frost to the active roster late in 2003 to stash him for the
future. The Browns have had their eye on Frost for a while. He is said to have a
strong leg and also does kickoffs. Is this a negotiating ploy or do the Browns
think Frost can be the man in 2004? It isn’t clear right now.
Phil Dawson had a pretty decent year with his field goals. With so few
scoring opportunities, every missed kick was magnified. Still, Dawson made
enough kicks to raise his field goal percentage to the highest for a Brown. I
have long complained about how short Dawson’s kickoffs are, and in 2003, this
might have been his worst season in this department. It is really hurting to
have opponents starting at their own 30 consistently. Dawson made a tackle or
two as well.
After Phil Dawson broke his arm in the St. Louis game, the Browns signed
Brett Conway. He had real game experience as opposed to Jay Taylor who the
Browns had in the last two preseasons. Conway missed two field goals in limited
attempts, one of which might have made a big difference in the Denver game. One
nice thing about Conway was that he did have some booming kickoffs.
The Browns got two punt returns for touchdowns from Dennis Northcutt in 2002,
and several more that were long returns that put the team on a short field. This
season, Northcutt had a return for a touchdown that was wiped out by a holding
penalty. Several other long or average returns were killed by penalties, and
with the Browns’ struggles on offense, moving the ball back 10, 20, or even 30
yards really hurt the team. This was a consistent problem on both punts and
The Browns tried a number of players on kickoff returns. Andre Davis didn’t
have the same zip as a year ago. Return after return, it seemed like all he did
was look for where the most guys were and run there and fall down. After a
while, the Browns tried some other players. Quincy Morgan had once decent
return. For several weeks at the end of the season, Lee Suggs took over this job
and did very nicely. Andre King is a stop gap on kickoff returns at best.
Surprisingly, the Browns did not use Jamel White here despite the fact that he
was little used on offense for most of the year. Kickoff returns yielded very
little production overall.
Too many kicks, whether kickoffs or punts, had good returns. While the Browns
did not allow some very talented return men like Dante Hall to burn them, too
many average players were able to get above average returns against the Browns.
Perhaps the best thing that can be said is that some of the gunners like Michael Lehan and Leigh Bodden did a nice job downing kicks inside the 20. Also, kudos
to Brant Boyer who always seems to come up with a good special teams play.
The fake field goal run by Phil Dawson against Oakland was the key play of
the game. The Browns got a touchdown on the next play to secure a 13-7 win.
The Browns tried two fake punts. The first was run at New England. The Browns
were around their own 35 and direct snapped the ball to Brant Boyer who bulled
forward for the first down. The Browns ended up punting a few plays later
anyway. The other play was at Denver. The Browns were once again around their
own 35. They tried having Boyer throw a shovel pass to Michael Jameson. Boyer’s
pass was low and the play failed. Butch Davis said that had the pass been
successful that the play would have gained “40 or 50 yards”. I watched that play
several times and I am not convinced Jameson would have gotten the yard or two
for the first down.
The Browns never found themselves in position to try an onside kick after
executing two successfully in 2002.
The Season is Short. Bark Hard!