Browns 23, Jags 17: Browns Steady As Jaguars Run Out of Time

The CoopCorrespondent IOctober 26, 2008

On Sunday, in Jacksonville, the Cleveland Browns built a 10-point halftime lead and hung on for dear life as they defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars, 23-17, improving to 3-4 on the season.


The sometimes on, usually-off, Browns were on once again—at least for a half—and made just enough plays to turn back the Jags when Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard’s potentially game-tying pass to the end zone sailed incomplete as time expired.


The Browns were extremely fortunate to not be burned by their inability to convert prime scoring opportunities into touchdowns.


Thank God for Phil Dawson.


Near the end of the first half, with a 14-7 lead, Derek Anderson connected with—brace yourself—Braylon Edwards on a 43-yard bomb to the Jacksonville 20-yard line. After three plays, which amassed all of one yard, the Browns settled for a Dawson kick.


Later, midway through the fourth quarter, DA found Syndric Steptoe for a nifty 53-yard catch-and-run, taking the ball all the way to the Jacksonville one-yard line. After Jamal Lewis was stuffed on first down, the Browns elected to pass on the next two downs and once again relied on the sure foot of Dawson to put points on the board, giving the Browns a 20-17 advantage.


The Browns’ special teams came up huge on the ensuing kickoff as they recovered a fumble by Jags’ return man Brian Witherspoon. But once again, the Browns went back to the familiar routine of run on first down, pass on second and third down, kick the field goal on fourth down.


These three separate sequences scream very loudly about the Browns’ lack of a much-needed killer instinct. Where I typically put most of the blame on the team’s failure to execute—and that’s definitely part of it—I take particular exception this week with Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s playcalling in these situations.


In the drives that resulted in Dawson’s first and last field goals, the Browns became overly-conservative once they found themselves in scoring position. First of all, the run-pass-pass combination is totally predictable. It enables the defense to regroup and re-energize themselves. 


Secondly, this playcalling puts the Browns in situations that ultimately leave them no choice but to kick the field goal. In both cases, the Browns were faced with third-and-long situations, made even more difficult against a strong and tough defense such as Jacksonville’s. 


What is even harder to comprehend is the Browns employing this philosophy on first-and-goal at the Jacksonville one-yard line. They have two big, strong veteran running backs in Lewis and Lawrence Vickers, a powerful offensive line, and three downs to pound it home.


There is absolutely no reason to put the ball in Derek Anderson’s hands when the Browns have such a solid running game. This point is only strengthened by D.A.’s accuracy problems on the short passes in traffic. In that situation, the offensive line and running backs need to be challenged to get the job done; nine times out of 10, they will. 


Of course, this nitpicking of the playcalling is always easier when the team wins. But it’s also because the Browns’ performance was devoid of so many of the problems with focus, game-management, and execution that have derailed their season thus far.


Do you realize that the Browns played their third consecutive game without a turnover?  The Browns also committed just one penalty on the day and Stone-Hands Edwards actually had more receptions than dropped passes. Romeo Crennel’s management of the clock near the end of the first half, though it did not result in points, was adequate.


Crennel has been sharply criticized this season for the team’s turnovers, penalties, his (mis-)use of the clock, and fourth down go-vs.-kick elections. Additionally, he displayed a lot of emotion on the sidelines, made a bold decision to go for it on fourth down (which ultimately led to a touchdown), and had his team ready to play against a tough team on the road. 


So, Romeo-Must-Go’ers, I ask you: If the Browns play a game without all of these negative elements and some of the positive ones, shouldn’t he get a lot of credit? All I’m saying is, let’s be fair about it: Romeo deserves to be well-acknowledged for his role in the Browns’ win.


Derek Anderson bought himself one more week as the Browns’ starting QB with a solid, though not spectacular, performance. He looked much more calm and confident this week, although his decisions to throw when it looked like he could run were a bit troubling. Still, D.A. was steady, and so the only hope is that he will build off this performance in terms of consistency.


Though there might be a fork in the vicinity, the Browns are far from done. They’ve won three of four and are now just two games behind a host of teams at 5-2, with nine games to play. Even better, the Browns return to the shores of Lake Erie on Sunday for a battle with the 4-3 Baltimore Ravens.


The Browns will be out for revenge after suffering a loss at the hands of the Ravens five weeks ago. They’ve won three of four and can truly begin to make some noise with a victory over Baltimore. With nothing but tight games in their future, they need to develop the killer instinct that all successful teams possess. With that, the Browns will be confident and focused as they look to capitalize on a fantastic opportunity to make their move up the AFC ladder.