The Browns started the final quarter of their season with a win over the Jets. While the Jets have been playing better of late, the Browns made their struggling defense look like the Steel Curtain. As the Browns look to wrap up their season with a playoff appearance, a game like this provided some ominous undertones. Let's examine the gory details.
The offense got off to yet another slow start. The Browns tried to stay true to the run, even when it wasn't working early. Once again, Derek Anderson was erratic with his shorter passes. On several plays, an off-target throw missed an open receiver. Many of these came on third down. Yet, Anderson also made some big throws, including a fade to Braylon Edwards for a touchdown. Anderson threw yet another terrible interception, but the Browns defense bailed him out. Another pass was too high for Edwards and hit the defender in the numbers, but the potential interception was not made. Another third down conversion here or there and the Browns win this one going away. Plays were there to be had, but Anderson often didn't make them.
The offensive line, Steve Heiden and Lawrence Vickers continue to do a good job. The line kept Anderson clean, and when the Jets attempted blitzes, players like Heiden, Vickers, and Jason Wright were able to pick it up. Despite a poor block on an off tackle run, Kellen Winslow had some effective blocks throughout the game, including on the final touchdown run. I thought tackle Joe Thomas might have had his best game of the season, and that's saying something. The whole line did a solid job. They might not have opened gaping holes, but at crunch time, they got the job done.
Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow were relatively quiet, totaling just seven passes between them. They were thrown to a lot more than that, but as I said above, the passes weren't always catchable. I will long remember the one-handed, on the shoulder catch by Edwards to tie the Browns single-season touchdown record. All three of Edwards catches were big in the game, including a very nice spinning catch on the sideline to convert a fourth down. Winslow had some nice plays, but he also had a rare drop and a costly offensive pass interference call as well. Joe Jurevicius had one catch, but it was, of course, on third down. Joshua Cribbs saw the most action on offense he had seen all season. He had a great catch and a nice run where he went airborne, but he took shots on both of them. Tim Carter had one deep ball thrown his way. He was open but managed not to catch it. What a waste of a roster spot. Steve Heiden and Lawrence Vickers also made plays with the ball.
It's hard to complain when the running game gets over 150 yards. Jamal Lewis ended up with 118, but 59 of those yards came on two big carries. While Lewis was slow to the hole again, he ran powerfully. His clinching touchdown run will be one of the highlight plays of the 2007 season. He also caught the ball nicely, including a touchdown reception. Jason Wright made some key plays on third down. Jerome Harrison saw playing time for the first time in over a month and had a very nice carry on his first play. The change of speed caught the Jets off guard. I guess I'd have liked to see the Browns change things up on them in the first half as well.
Despite the win, I am becoming concerned that it has been some time since the offense was really moving the ball well on a consistent basis. I have to go back to the second half of the Seattle game or the first half of the Ravens game. Some will cite the Houston game, but the Browns left a lot of plays on the field in that game, too. While I'm willing to give the skill players somewhat of a pass because of the weather conditions late in the game, the Jets were able to throw the ball effectively despite the icy rain. On the other hand, the Browns are much better at home and four of the last five games have been away. With two home games remaining, hopefully the offense will wake up and the weather will cooperate.
The defense has definitely improved since the bye week. However, I'm not sure I could say that the defense won a game for the Browns until this one. There is no doubt the defense went soft, at least briefly, after the Browns went up 17-6. In my opinion, this game hung on the goal-line stand in the second quarter. If the Jets get a touchdown there, I have a feeling this game might have unfolded in a different manner.
The Browns missed Orpheus Roye and Ethan Kelley last week. Both played. Kelley was quiet, but Roye had a very nice play on the goal-line stand. Robaire Smith continues to be a disruptive force. Shaun Smith is much better when Roye plays. Whether due to illness or because of his play a week ago, Simon Fraser was under the radar in this game. Overall, I felt the line held the point of attack much better two weeks ago against Houston than they did here.
After being ineffective a week ago, the linebackers had a more effective game against the Jets. This was despite the fact that Antwan Peek left the game fairly early on with an injury. Kamerion Wimbley was able to disrupt things with his speed. Willie McGinest is a step slow, but he still manages to blow up plays with his smarts. It's been good having D'Qwell Jackson back. He hustles and hits hard. Despite being called for two penalties, Leon Williams was all over the field, especially in the first half. Even Andra Davis made a couple of plays including assisting on the big goal-line stand. Chaun Thompson was in on a sack.
The secondary has had its problems, but in this game, the Browns blitzed quite a bit. This left the secondary one-on-one on many plays. Ironically, the secondary was better in tight coverage than when they played looser. Brandon McDonald continues his fine play. He had another leaping interception and broke up several passes. Leigh Bodden had some nice tackles. Daven Holly might be most remembered for the play he didn't make. On a third down, the Jets receiver caught the ball a yard short. Holly did his best to drive him out of bounds but the first down was made by inches. Brodney Pool was relatively quiet, but the interception by Sean Jones at the goal line might have been the biggest play of the entire game. Mike Adams saw considerable playing time on defense and made some plays.
While the Browns blitzed a lot, they were not always effective in getting to the quarterback. Sometimes it is because they are just too slow getting there. Sometimes it is taking a bad angle. Sometimes it is an inability to avoid a blocker. We've seen this problem throughout the year. On the other hand, the blitzing paid off as the Browns got four more sacks. That's 16 over the last five games.
A pattern I've lamented continued in this game. When the defense played aggressively, it was very effective. After getting a 17-6 lead, the defense played softer and the Jets killed them. But – I liked the fact that the Browns elected to go back to blitzing and aggressive defense when the soft approach failed. Once Eric Wright returns, the Browns might be able to be even more aggressive.
The Jets largely kicked away from Cribbs, yet he had some solid returns. A couple of punts in particular dropped inside the 20 and made the Browns work on a long field. The kick coverage was hit or miss, but that was to be expected with a great return man on the opposite sideline. Phil Dawson's kickoffs were short, but he nailed a 50-yard field goal. Dave Zastudil wasn't terrible, but he couldn't get a good bounce when his kicks hit near the goal line. Considering the end of the game featured three onside kicks, I guess it's hard to complain that the Browns only got two of them. Even the last one wasn't fielded cleanly, but thank goodness for Joe Jurevicus who was in the game with the hands team. His return of the second kick set the Browns up for the final touchdown. His snag of the third helped seal the game.
After a lot of penalties and a parade of foolish mistakes, the Browns looked much more disciplined. There were only four penalties, and the only one that might be considered foolish was Leon Williams jumping offside on a kickoff at the end. The story was that Romeo Crennel would not tolerate any mistakes this week in practice.
As noted earlier, it seems to me tat the Browns have to deal with the slow starts of the offense. Rob Chudzinski seems so intent on establishing the run early that it is hamstringing the offense. The Browns had much more success when they got off to faster starts earlier this year. If the weather allows, I'd like to see more passing early. Likewise, the defense has similar problems late in the game. Some of these problems are probably due to a lack of depth, especially on the defensive line. Some I think are due to strategic decisions from the sideline. I'm encouraged to see a bit of a change in approach this week.
There were good plays in this game, but it overall, it was ugly. The offense left a lot of plays on the field, and despite playing well for most of the game, the late letdown by the defense might possibly have cost the game. The Browns must try to fix these issues as best as they can during the last three games.
A win on the road in an important game against an opponent with nothing to lose is important, even if it was ugly. With the Chargers knocking off the Titans, it put the Browns back in control of their playoff destiny. The next two weeks will likely decide the outcome of the playoff battle. The Browns must play better than they did the last two weeks.
The Browns return home to face the Bills. With the Bills at 7-6, this becomes a must-win game. If the Browns win, they will pretty much eliminate the Bills from contention. The Browns could also deal a serious blow to the ability of the Titans to catch up. If the Titans and Broncos both lose, the Browns could even clinch with a win. Meanwhile, if the Browns lose, they will effectively be a game behind Buffalo because of the head-to-head tiebreaker. The dream season will be on the line Sunday.
As you continue to win, each game gets bigger. They don't get much bigger than this one!
The season is short. Bark hard!