CLEVELAND — For everyone involved — except for maybe Phil Dawson — first and goals by the Browns offense in recent seasons has, more often than not, led to field goals instead of touchdowns.
The Brown team, led by Jake Delhomme, faced a similar situation late in the Family Day scrimmage Saturday at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Brown team, who nursed a 7-3 lead midway through the fourth quarter, faced a first and goal from the 2-yard-line.
On first down, the Brown team handed to James Davis off tackle for no gain. A flag was thrown for holding and Dawson intensified his warm up.
Two plays later, the Browns faced a third and goal from the White team’s 5-yard-line. In season’s past a field goal was an almost certainty. Delhomme dropped back and found tight end Ben Watson in the corner of the end zone.
It was a touchdown for the Brown team, as they extended their lead to 11 points en route to the 14-6 win.
Is that a positive sign of things to come?
“It helps anytime you have good players,” Delhomme said. “For the most part the coverage is very good in this league and you have to have receivers and tight ends make great plays. It’s encouraging to play with those guys. We’re still learning each other. Ben is so fast off the ball sometimes that we still need to tweak how we read things.”
Yet nothing comes easy for the Browns. The White team challenged the play.
“The tight end coach on the (White team) just wanted to mess with me,” said Watson, laughing. “I knew I was in. We work on trying to get those feet inbounds. I ran a corner route and Jake made a good throw. He saw me open and I made the catch.”
Watson came to Cleveland as a free agent after spending the last six seasons in New England. His 6-foot-3, 255 pound frame coupled with his athleticism has made Watson an offensive target especially in the red zone. In 71 career games, Watson has 20 touchdowns.
“As a team we got a lot of new people,” Watson said. “That’s what training camp, practice and mini camps are for. I think we’ve made great strides and not just Jake and me, but everybody working together as a unit.”
Watson, along with Evan Moore, comprises the section of the Browns tight end unit that has shown their ability to be effective in the passing game. According to Delhomme, the Browns’ tight end talent goes beyond Watson and Moore.
“We have good tight ends in my opinion,” Delhomme said. “Ben can run and he’s athletic that that was evident on his touchdown catch. Robert Royal is the consummate pro and he’s very intelligent blocker and solid in the passing game. Ben and Evan are difference makers. They both can run and are athletic.”
Red zone futility is something the Browns have struggled with in recent seasons. If Saturday’s third-and-goal play is any indication, the tight end group may help alleviate some of the frustration felt by coaches, players and fans. Well, everyone except Phil Dawson.
“We still have a ways to go to feel good about what we’re doing,” Delhomme said. “Now it’s time to get a little tweak in here or there. I’m still learning these guys.”