Friday, November 21

Heroes & Zeroes: Week 10

It was a frustrating game. Yes it was close, and yes, it was entertaining, but between the Bills' turnovers and the Browns' phantom defense, neither team deserved to win this game. But there are good things to take away from this win. Brady Quinn won his first road start. Jerome Harrison is a game breaker. Shaun Rogers might be God. Although there are definitely holes, the Browns have some talent. Now, fire Romeo Crennel, and find us a head coach.

This Week's Heroes

Five Gold Stars: Jerome Harrison

Jerome Harrison had four touches on Monday night. Those four touches resulted in 101 total yards, including a 72-yard run that should have sealed the victory for the Browns. Chud and Romeo can harp on blocking and Harrison's size all they want, but I'm not buying it. A guy who makes this kind of impact has to see the field. Harrison is averaging over 10 yards per carry, for God's sake!

Jamal Lewis still has a place on this team, but he's no longer the stud that he was several years ago in Baltimore. Lewis has lost a step, and his inability to consistently turn the corner greatly hinders Rob Chudzinski's creativity, which is one of the offense's greatest assets. While he was plowing for extra yards early in the season, Lewis is now going down far too easily. It's freaky how frequently you can say "Jamal up the middle for two" before a play begins, and be totally accurate. Like I said, Lewis still has a role, but it's not as a featured back; it's closer to being the Jerome Bettis to Harrison's Willie Parker.

If Harrison were the featured back, he would probably lose some of his effectiveness because he would wear down (the size issue). I don't think anyone is talking about giving Harrison 25-30 carries per game, but 10-15 touches would be very appropriate. With the playoffs out of the picture, the rest of this season is about evaluation, and the Browns need to spend a good deal of time evaluating Harrison to decide whether or not they should draft/sign a running back this off-season. If the Crennel regime can't recognize that Harrison needs to see more of the field, well, then they deserve to head for the unemployment lines.

Four Gold Stars: Shaun Rogers
It was another game in which the defense let the offense down, but as usual, one defender who did not disappoint was Shaun Rogers. As he has done all year, Shaun Rogers played like a bear wearing a man costume. Rogers shoved around Buffalo's linemen and commanded considerable attention in the form of double and even triple teams.

Particularly impressive was the first play of the game, when Rogers was triple-teamed by the Bills, and still managed to bat a Trent Edwards pass into the air, resulting in a Kamerion Wimbley interception. With the defense finding new ways to disappoint on a weekly basis, Rogers remains a consistent bright spot, and it's a shame that the Browns are essentially wasting a great year from Rogers due to their mediocre performance in the standings. I can't remember the last time I said "we're seeing something special" referencing the Browns, but when we watch Rogers we really are witnessing greatness. That's little consolation when contrasted against a season that has been an immense disappointment.

Three Gold Stars: Brady Quinn
Brady Quinn's stat line won't turn any heads, but he performed admirably in his first road start. Ralph Wilson Stadium is a tough place to play, and Bills fans were excited for a Monday nighter. The crowd noise never seemed to bother Quinn, who looked cool as a cucumber. Quinn was able to put the Browns in a position to win late, and the offense is averaging nearly 30 points per game with Quinn at the helm. For the second consecutive game, Quinn managed to play turnover-free football (although he got a break or two with dropped interceptions), a tall order for a second year QB with minimal NFL experience.

Quinn faced heavy pressure from a Buffalo defense that was determined to rattle the young quarterback, and the Bills were in Quinn's face all day with a barrage of overload blitzes. But like the Denver game, Quinn stood tall in the pocket and showed some terrific footwork to elude the Bills and avoid taking a number of sacks. For all the pressure they brought, the Bills only sacked Quinn once, and that absence of sacks was largely due to some nifty footwork on Brady's part.

It wasn't all smooth sailing; Quinn only completed 14 of 36 passes and was erratic at times. Quinn threw down field more than in his first start, which caused more mix ups and miscommunication. Those problems will be straightened out with time. As usual, Braylon Edwards provided his handful of obligatory drops.

Two starts in, it's tough not to like what we've seen from Brady Quinn. Where his ceiling lies still remains to be seen, but it looks more and more like Quinn can at least be a solid signal caller who can put the Browns in a position to win most games. Given the sparsity of competent quarterbacks in the league, that's good news for the Browns.

Two Gold Stars: Brandon McDonald
Brandon McDonald was "benched" due to his lousy game against the Broncos, and his "benching" lasted approximately one play. I doubt it was a response to being taken out of the starting lineup, but McDonald played a good game against Buffalo. Trent Edwards didn't complete many passes to his wide receivers, but that's as much due to Edwards getting gun shy than good coverage by the Browns.

McDonald's on this list because he helped force two of the four Buffalo turnovers, starting with a first quarter interception that left the Browns with a short field. In the third quarter the Bills were driving into Browns territory when McDonald tackled Fred Jackson and knocked the ball loose. Defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin recovered, and a crucial Buffalo drive was stalled.

McDonald's biggest strength -- a desire to make the big play -- is often his undoing. But he's still in his second year, and with experience he will learn when to get aggressive and try for a turnover, and when to play things more conservatively.

One Gold Star: Joshua Cribbs
Josh Cribbs didn't have his usual impact on the game, but the offense's "Flash" package did make an appearance. Cribbs scored the Browns' first touchdown on a two-yard run in the second quarter. Lining up at receiver, Cribbs went in motion from right to left, Hank Fraley snapped the ball to Brady Quinn, and Quinn quickly handed the ball to Cribbs, who easily scored. The Browns need to use Josh Cribbs more on offense. Any time they can find a way to get Cribbs the ball in space, good things tend to happen.

This Week's Zeroes

Five Demerits: Linebackers
Romeo Crennel chastised the defense for its poor tackling, and rightfully so. There was some big talk from Andra Davis, among others, about the linebackers having to "put up or shut up" this year. It's fair to say they've been reduced to a whisper.

The defensive line is pretty good when they're all healthy. Unfortunately, Shaun Rogers, Robaire Smith, Shaun Smith, and Corey Williams have all had their fair share of injury problems, and as a result, more pressure has been placed on the Browns' already suspect linebacking corps. The linebackers have caved.

Earlier this season, the linebackers were still slow, but at least their tackling was sound. The lack of speed could be excused. After all, we knew this group lacked the ideal skills for the 3-4 from the start. But if they're going to start tackling with closed fists, well, these last six games are going to get pretty ugly.

Four Demerits: Romeo Crennel
Let's face it: the Browns should have pounded the Bills. Three interceptions in the first quarter, and just six points to show for it. That's pathetic. The defense couldn't stop a mediocre Buffalo running game. The Browns won the turnover battle 4-0, and still needed Rian Lindell to miss a field goal to ensure a victory. This team is sloppy, and Crennel's fingerprints are all over it.

When's the last time you thought to yourself "wow, the Browns had a great game plan this week"? Has anyone ever thought that? Heck, have you ever been able to identify a game plan, regardless of its effectiveness? At some point, you've got to blame the guy steering the ship.

This team has no passion, no accountability, and no direction with Crennel as captain. Have you ever seen Crennel do any coaching on the sidelines? Screw coaching, I'd settle for seeing him speak a word or two. He generally just stands there stonefaced. There's no reason to even have Romeo out there on game day. Fire Romeo Crennel yesterday.

Three Demerits: Ralph Wilson Stadium
I looked into heading to Buffalo for this game, but it didn't work out. It's probably just as well. Ralph Wilson Stadium is an awful place to watch football, and I feel bad for Bills fans, who actually pay money to enter that dump.

I've only been there once for a pre-season game, and it wasn't a cool experience, even though the Browns won. Let me build a case for you -- here's why Ralph Wilson Stadium sucks:

1) It's in the middle of nowhere. No, I'm serious. It's a rural/suburban area with a two-lane road leading in and out. People sell parking in their back yards. Oh, so the game is over and you want to go home? Enjoy an hour-plus wait of backwoods gridlock!

2) It's freaking old. Walking through the halls of The Ralph felt like walking through the Erie Civic Center, where I frequent Erie Otters minor league hockey games. If you haven't been to Erie, trust me, this isn't a favorable comparison.

3) The design sucks. The age contributes here, but The Ralph is a boring design. A stadium doesn't have to be the Tower of Pisa, but c'mon, try to make it cool. Plus half of the stadium is dug into the ground, so it looks like a high school stadium when you walk up to it. Not cool.

4) One jumbo-tron. (That's right, one.) Lucky for me, I was sitting in an end zone...with the tron right behind me. Unless you're that litle girl from The Exorcist, good luck seeing any highlights.

5) The Bills' "Shout!" song. Okay, every team has their own goofy songs, usually set to popular music, but this one is particularly awful, and it gets played whenever the Bills score a touchdown. Here are the lyrics. It's largely nonsense, and there is no real connection between the "Shout!" song and the Buffalo Bills. Spare me.

6) Subpar insults. If I'm going behind enemy lines with a Browns jersey, I'm fine with taking a little heat. No, actually, I expect it. But if you're going to blast me, do it right. Want some examples of the insults I had tossed my way? "Hey, you took a wrong turn on I-90." Not even remotely clever. "Hey Kosar, you're retired!" Um, your point is what now? "Hey Edwards, you only had like two catches!" It's a pre-season game buddy, the starters are pulled early. Let's go Bills fans, if you're going to bring it, then bring it hard.

Two Demerits: Rob Chudzinski
Chud's doing a pretty good job in the passing game, but the Browns need to re-think the way they're running the ball. First and foremost, get Jerome Harrison the ball, especially early in the game. Jamal Lewis should still be mixed in, but his focus should be short yardage, the goal line, and killing the clock in the second half.

The Browns are simply far more versatile with Jerome Harrison on the field. Harrison has the speed that Lewis now lacks, and he's bulked up enough that he can run between the tackles, too. Sure, blocking is probably still an issue for Harrison, but he's such a step up from Lewis as a runner and a receiver that it's a worthwhile trade off.

One Demerit: Offensive Line
I mentioned earlier that the Bills were bringing a ton of heat Brady Quinn's way. They were. But there was some spotty blocking on the Browns' part, particularly on the right side of that line. I have my doubts about Hank Fraley, and I'm not sure Kevin Shaffer is the long term answer at right tackle, either.

The Browns need to start investing draft picks in their offensive line so they can rebuild it from within, instead of being forced to signed overpriced veterans who will probably become more prone to injury as they age. With the exception of the Isaac Sowells draft pick, it's something Phil Savage hasn't really attempted. Granted, Savage inherited a talentless roster, and had larger fish to fry, but after watching this team last season we can all attest to the difference a good offensive line can make.

Up Next: 11/23, Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns Stadium, 1:00
The Browns are playing sloppy football, but the Texans haven't won a game on the road all year long, and I like the Browns' chances this week. Sagemary Rosenfels is starting at quarterback, and southern teams typically struggle up north in the winter. Let it snow.

Prediction: Browns 34, Texans 20


Andy said...

I asked Hanford Dixon before the game why they don't get Harrison the ball more. He said "I think they might try to get him the ball more this game." Thanks, Top Dawg.

Consider these two quarterbacking performances:

Quarterback A: 14-36 passing, 185 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT, 55.9 passer rating, sacked once, against league's 24th-ranked defense by DVOA.

Quarterback B: 14-37 passing, 125 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 57.9 passer rating, sacked once, one fumble, against league's 11th-ranked defense by DVOA.

Quarterback A (Brady Quinn) got 3 gold stars in a game the Browns won (Buffalo); Quarterback B (Derek Anderson) got 5 demerits in a game the Browns lost (Washington), meaning there should have been generally more blame (demerits) to go around. That is not fair.

I'll admit that stats aren't always perfect, and I'm glad Quinn is in, but I'd like to see you be more objective in QB analysis.

Good call on the LB's - we tackled and pursued very badly this game, and against Denver.

The Buffaloes will be on their way to Toronto soon enough...

With the exception of the Isaac Sowells draft pick, it's something Phil Savage hasn't really attempted.
Don't forget Joe Thomas with their first pick in 2007!

Nick said...

I hear what you're saying about DA/BQ. If that had been DA's second start, I would've cut him more slack too.

Also, I should have been more specific about the drafting linemen thing. Thomas and Steinbach were added to rebuild the line in '07, and now Savage needs to continually reload the line through the draft. I see a distinction between rebuilding and reloading. When you keep reloading, you never have to rebuild. I understand if that sounds like nonsense.