I want to start this off with a comment about Direct TV: I pay $250 extra a year for the NFL Sunday Ticket, so why should I have to stay up until 3am on a Sunday (Monday morning, actually) to watch the Browns preseason replay on NFL Network? Usually I do not care for preseason football, but Browns fans know what is riding on it this year: QB battle; new defense; first draft class of a new administration; etc., etc. I make the extra $50 payment during the month of August, so I think that the preseason should be included in the deal. There are no regular season games in August, so why do I even have to pay for that month? Enough of my ranting about Direct TV.
So, it was just before midnight last night and I was excited to see how the Browns were going to play after last week's strong performance against the Lions. Remote contol--check. Cup of coffee--check. Recliner not in the upright position--check. I managed to stay away from everything sports related all weekend, in hopes of not seeing the score, highlights or anything that would hinder the preservation of the game being a seemingly "live" contest. Overall, I was pretty happy with the level of play from this team. The defense showed a lot of fight, dispite not having their biggest weapon on the field in Shaun Rogers. The offense struggled to move the ball on the ground, but overall were productive in getting down the field for scoring opportunities. As has been the case all preseason, the special teams unit remains very strong for the Brown and Orange. The progress each week is encouraging, but there is still plenty of fine tuning left.
For starters, the glaring problem in the first half was the defense not being able to get off of the field on third down, which allowed the Titans to eat up the game clock. Coverage in the secondary was good, especially when in man-to-man. The lack of a pass rush or push up the middle on third down hurt the defense, but overall the line played well against the run. Collins and Young were both very accurate with their passes all night, even in tight coverage. The secondary was rarely out of position to make a play on the ball, and they made the tackles to eliminate big plays, while still forcing some turnovers. Shaun Rogers is a big answer to the pass rush and plugging the middle on the run. But, Ahtyba Rubin and Robaire Smith have been playing well and should provide good support for Rogers upon his return. Brodney Poole will add fire to the secondary when he recovers from a suspected concussion.
The offense played well against a pretty good Titans defense. The offensive line for the Browns has played solid, but they are just not getting the job done for the running backs. They have picked up blitzes well, and pass protection for the most part has been good. I would like to see them get nastier up front to open up some run lanes for Jamal Lewis and James Davis. Cribbs showed that he has come a long way toward becoming a better receiver in the NFL. That was his best performance as a wide out that I have seen so far. His routes were clean, and he showed soft hands. If he keeps it up, he could have a shot at leading the league in YAC because of his size and his ability to break tackles. I still want to see more of the rookie receivers for this team. They should see plenty of action against the Bears on Thursday, but I was hoping that one of the two would have at least a touchdown catch by now. Then again, the Browns QBs have only thrown two, which is not that big of a concern right now--as long as that does not carry over to the regular season. As far as the running backs go, Davis has been the best surprise. He has done the most with his opportunities in the absence of Harrison. Jamal has taken some punishment, seeming to get gang tackled almost every play; however, he is usually seeing eight in the box. My number one pet peeve with the offense (other than scoring more field goals than touchdowns) has been the inability of the QBs to audible out of the run play when they see eight men up on the line of scrimmage. They should be able to recognize the man coverage on the outside and check to a pass play. But, they seem to try to adjust the run play to go through a different whole instead of the option to pass.
There really are not many concerns for the special teams unit. They have returned punts/kicks well, covered them well, blocked a field goal, and have visibly outplayed the special teams of their opponents. It is to the point now that we expect Cribbs to take it to the house every return. We expect a huge hit on a minimal return from our coverage team. They are playing at a very high level, and there are many contributors. It is not just the Cribbs Show, where he makes all the tackles and has to take every return. Dawson and Zastudil have also been solid. Of all the units, special teams appears to be ready for the regular season.
The Browns have rebounded well from the opener agaisnt the Packers. They are 2-0 at home, where they have had trouble winning in recent history. The momentum has shifted in their favor, despite not having a true number one QB or their Pro Bowl DT. As the saying goes, "It's oly preseason." Yet, the Browns already look more prepared and polished than last season. There are a lot of doubters out there saying that the Browns will be fighting for the #1 pick in next year's draft, but they should surprise some teams this year. (Let's hope that one of those teams is the Steelers). Looking ahead, the Browns have a short week to prepare for the Bears. It should be a good test for them. I know that they remember what Cutler did last season against the secondary, so they should be looking to answer back.