Stillers 15, Browns, 12 (OT) ���.Nov. 11th, 2001 ����Game #8
Stillers-Browns Postgame Analysis and Grades
One of the NFL's greatest rivalries took another interesting twist with a nailbiting 15-12 overtime thriller that will join the long list of nip-and-tuck games between these 2 bitter rivals. As they did last week versus Balt, the Stillers dominated the Browns in ever statistical category, only to commit one grossly hideous mistake after another in literally eliminating 3 TDs, plus the usual assortment of turtling that enabled FG attempts instead of TD attempts. (Note: Because I had some extra time today, I scrubbed the tape after the game instead of waiting until Monday�)
1. Bettis is nailed in the EZ for a safety, giving the Browns an early 2-0 lead.
2. Late in 1Q, Burress drops a 22-yard TD pass in the EZ.
3. Late in 3Q, AZ takes a throwback screen and appears to be headed for a TD, but stumbles around the 8 and is tackled from behind at the 2.
4. On the very next play, Stewart has an easy TD, but casually saunters as he nears the GL, and then has the ball poked loose and out of the end zone, causing a touchback and giving Clev. the ball at their 20.
5. With 1:40 left in a tie game, Kris Bown's 45-yard FG is just wide left.
6. On a 1st & 10 from the Pgh. 41, rookie Casey Hampton sacks Couch late in regulation.
7. On the first play from scrimmage in OT, Bettis rumbles behind a Kreider kickout block for 27 yards, setting up the drive that resulted in the winning FG.
QB: Stewart had another solid start, at times showing some accuracy and crispness. He hung tough in the pocket on several occasions in the face of heavy pressure, and got off good, on-target throws. He also turned on the jets for the 40-yard run, and also had a couple other gutty, good runs. And Stew was victimized by an assortment of drops, including Plex, Troy, Breuner, and Ward. Naturally, this was far from a flawless performance by Stew. The lob to Plex from the Clev. 6-yard line was a pitiful toss, with no arc and far too much length. Had the end zone been 13 yards deep, this might have been an adequate pass. The 2nd bomb to Plex was a shade underthrown, primarily because Stewart hesitated -- as is his custom -- and held onto the ball a split-second too long. There was the fortuitous completion on a poorly thrown ball to Breuner that luckily found its way to Ward. The 4-yard sack in the 4Q was a foolhardy play in which Stewart was well beyond the plane of the tackle -- he was within a couple feet of the sideline -- yet stubbornly held onto the ball. All he had to do was flick the ball forward 2 feet, or into the bleachers or at the water cooler, and the play is an inc. pass. Even the long pass to Troy that was dropped, was actually another underthrown deep ball that very well could have been INT'd by Clev. (see photos, below).
And in what was the play of the game, Stewart fumbled the ball thru the side of the end zone, taking a sure TD away and giving Clev. the ball at the 20. This play was piss-poor for 2 reasons: a.) Stewart got cool and casual at around the 4-yard line, thinking that he had an easy TD. He then very visibly begins to saunter. b.) Once he was unquestionably carrying the ball with no intent to throw, and running to his left, Stewart should have switched hands on the ball. Instead, like a 21-year old numb-nutted rookie, he carried the ball toward the left-pylon in his right hand, which allowed Clev. DE Tyrone Rogers to poke the ball out and cause the fumble. As much as Stewart carried the ball at Univ. of Colorado and then in his last 6-plus seasons in the NFL, he should know better. In fact, today Stewart handled the ball with such disdain that you'd have sworn he was carrying a dirty diaper -- not a football -- as no less then 4 times Stewart either fumbled (twice) or had the ball pop loose (twice) a nanosecond after he hit the ground. The sloppy ball handling and dum-dum mistakes take away from an otherwise solid day by Stew. B-.
RB: Bettis pounded the ball against the Browns, rushing for 163 yards and a gaudy 5.3 average. With a combination of twists, lunges, busting tackles, and stiffarms, Bettis gave good 2nd effort and picked up a lot of yards after the initial hit. Bettis carried the ball 7 of the 8 plays in OT, and put the Stillers in chip-shot FG range with his work. Bus also caught the obligatory screen pass and was easily dumped for no gain. Amoz had a couple good carries, including a 20-yard scamper. He also took the throwback screen, and 10 yards downfield stopped on a dime, and shifted to daylight. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but this was a play that Amoz should have taken to the house. Instead, he stumbled around the 8 and was dragged down at the 2. Fu ran a futile 3rd down play from the Clev. 8 and was dragged down for a 1-yard loss. A.
FB: Jon Witman continued the stench-laden play that he showed last week, continually stumbling around as upright as a giraffe and getting little push or smash at the point of impact. The play that enraged me was the 3rd and 1 plunge late in the 1Q. Witman was literally crumpled onto his ass at the point of attack, and the resulting traffic bogged down Bettis and prevented the first down. See photos, below. Unfortunately, the photos do not do this particular play justice, because they do not show the full effect of Jon getting crumpled (see 3rd photo, in which Jon is actually getting blasted backwards) onto his ass. Make no mistake, though�the ever-upright, no-leverage Witman clogged this play up and prevented the first down.
Maybe if this were the only play that Wiman flailed or got crumpled on, I could live with it. But there were a host of other plays where Witman tip-toed around like a ballerina and did nothing to make a hit at the point of attack. One such play was this toss-aside by OLB Jamir Miller, who met Witman and literally tossed him aside (see in particular the 3rd pic below) like yesterday's trash, and then made the stop of AZ for a 2-yard loss.
It wasn't until the coaching staff, either in a rare fit of brilliance or probably due to Witman's nagging back problems or some other malady, that Dan Kreider was finally inserted into the game at FB in the 2nd half. And Kreider delivered with impact at the point of attack, along with relentless blocking that saw him bulling defenders a continuous 4 and 5 yards back from the point of attack. Twice in OT, Kreider delivered superb kickout blocks to spring Bettis for key gains -- one a 27-yarder and the other an 8-yarder on 3d & 1. Witman, D+. Kreider, A.
WR: Another day of the drops from this crew. Burress dropped a sure TD in the EZ, when he once again allowed the ball to hit his mask/chest pad. Plex also looked gimpy on the first bomb in the 1Q, when he slowed up at the last second and then had to reach awkwardly over his outside shoulder. Frankly, when watching the tape, it appears to me that Plex actually looked surprised on the dropped TD pass, as though he didn't expect the ball to hit him at that exact moment in time and in that spot near his chin. No kidding -- seeing Burress struggle to adjust to balls gives me reason to wonder about the guy's vision, similar to DeWayne Washington's struggles back in 1998. Ward had a pretty gutty game, snaring 8 passes, albeit nearly all of which were for puny yardage. Ward also threw some nice blocks, including the crushing one on SS Earl Little that knocked Little out of the game. The 15-yard flag thrown on Ward was a cheezy, "even up" call that you'd see in hockey, not the NFL. Ward did have 1 drop, on a play in which he initially had the ball and then dropped it after a little poke from McCutcheon. Troy Edwards dropped his only chance, and while the DB did whiff on the INT attempt, at some point in time a pro WR has got to make a tough play and bring the ball in. Only Bobble Shaw, who has had some drops in prior weeks, escaped the case of the drops, although he only had 1 catchable ball thrown his way. The 1994 and 1995 teams had some early struggles with the drops before getting rid of the butter and grease; it's high time this crew does the same, or a repeat of the 1993 playoffs is all but assured. C-.
TE: If only I had a nickel for every time I've heard the shopworn claims of, "If only Breuner were thrown the ball, he'd get lots of catches", and, "Mark Breuner has really good hands, and you'd see it if he were thrown the ball." Yes indeed, Mark Breuner was thrown a good pass on a seam route in the 3Q, and using the skillets he has on the end of his arms, calmly dropped the ball. Breuner did snare the obligatory 2-yard out and turned it into a total gain of 3 yards. His blocking was pretty solid in helping out the ground game. B-.
OL: They did have the luxury of facing a defense missing 2 key starters in their front 7, but the OL did the job in the trenches, punishing the Browns defense and paving the way for 247 yards of rushing. They also gave Stew good protection, and the only sack came on a play that seemed to be a botched/blown up shovel pass followed by the foolish refusal of Stewart to throw the ball away. Jeff Hartings had some struggles today, allowing pressure on Stew on one play and failing to seal off his man on wide run to the left in the 2Q. Hartings -- for no real good reason that I could see -- also fell on top of Ward on AZ's long catch-and-run, slightly injuring Ward in the process. The El' Stinko play of the game for this OL goes to Marvel Smith, who imitated a statue on the safety and didn't move until the play was a full one-second old. As you can clearly see in the photos below, Tylski has blown out of his stance, as has Faneca and Gandy. (Tuman and Breuner are not moving, so perhaps it was loud down there near the Dawg Pound.) But Smith isn't even moving an inch, while his fellow linemen, as well as O. Roye of Cleve, are. Smith allows Roye to cut right in front of him, and blow up the play and cause the safety.
In all, though, this was good blocking from this unit, and they dominated the LOS in OT. Also, in a very hostile environment they committed no false starts or holds. The safety prevents me from issuing an 'A'. A-.
DL: This was decent work from the DL. Aaron Smith charged in and was the first to hit Couch on the sack he shared with Joey Porter. Hampton had a huge sack of Couch late in regulation, which really thwarted Cleveland after they'd gotten a first down on the Pgh. 41. Bailey wasn't credited with any tackles, but was very active all game long. I'm not sure if Kimo was hobbled with injury, but he seemed to see a bit less playing time today, in lieu of Bailey. In all, they did a sound job of clogging the Clev. ground game, and at times put some harassment on the QB. B+.
LB: This crew was the wrecking crew that really dominated this game for the Stillers. ILB Earl Holmes had another active game, racking up 7 solos and stuffing Jackson on a few runs. The flag on Holmes was yet another cheezy flag in which Holmes led with his forearm -- not his head -- and blasted the piss out of a receiver over the middle, a nanosecond after the WR clumsily dropped a perfectly thrown pass. I want our LBs to knock the tar out of receivers on plays like this, and after scrubbing the tape I have absolutely no problem with this kind of hit. This team won't make the playoffs, or go far, on the strength of its offense, so it's up to the defense to make this kind of bone-jarring hit. Holmes also had a sterling sack, in which he was blatantly held by RG J. McKinney so badly that McKinney was holding up his hands in the "it's not me, ref" pose of a guilty lineman, but The Earl of Hit relentlessly fought through for the sack. KenBell had another big game, applying pressure on Couch and twice forcing hurried throwaways with his fearless style of blitzing. Bell also had an outstanding sack, in which he literally steamrolled Clev. RB James Jackson onto the ground and then sacked Couch. I'm becoming more convinced that Bell would, just for fun, run full speed into a wall of granite, just to see how much 'smash' he could put into the wall. Porter allowed the long pass to White down the s-line, but this was perfect pass coverage on a pass that, if thrown anywhere else, is batted away by Porter or is too long or OOB. Porter also garnered a half-sack, which unbelievably, but not suprsingly, was credited to Jason Gildon in yet another travesty of NFL record-keeping. As anyone can plainly see in the two photos below, Smith and Porter are sacking Couch, while Gildon is standing nearby, yet Gildon was credited for the half sack instead of Porter.
Porter made a good stop of Couch on a short scramble, in which he rushed from the LOLB spot and came back "under" to not only snare Couch from behind, but also forced a fumble that Couch luckily recovered. Gildon, after a quiet, mouse-like first half, came on and had a solid 2nd half. In a rare fit of tenacity and intensity, Gildon beat all-star RT Roger Chanoine for 2 earned sacks, along with a Dong Sack in which he was totally untouched. Jason also had a batted pass at the LOS, and deflected a pass while back in zone coverage. Of course, Cleveland took full advantage of Jason's soft run defense in the first half, getting good running yardage up through the huge fissure created by the Wide Loop Rush, as well as a couple wide sweeps where Jason was sealed in as tightly as a Ziplock bag. (Stay tuned for the Gildong Report, as there are a host of photos and analysis to go over.) A.
DB: The secondary did a pretty sound, all around job, although their task was made pretty easy by a Browns offense that did little more than throw the slant pattern on at least 17 of the 33 attempted passes. To their credit, the DBs -- Chad (10 solos) in particular -- came up and made good, sure-handed tackles on these shorty completions, which limited RAC yardage to the bare minimum. In fact, I dare anyone to find a secondary in today's NFL that is as good on run-support, as well as all-around tackling, as this one has been in '01. Chad Scott did a good job of adjusting to the plethora of slants, and in the 2nd half, began jumping on many of them and almost had a couple INTs. In fact, on the one Gildon batted-pass, Chad had astutely read the play like The Bible and was in a position to not only make the INT, but also return it to the house. Townsend chipped in well and had a key pass defensed late in regulation. The one bugaboo that has bitten us time and time again reared its ugly head, as the unheralded OJ Santiago was open on a deep crosser in the 1Q and dropped it, but came back 4 plays later and caught a 12-yard TD pass. Flowers actually stumbled on this play, which allowed Santiago to be open. Lee did a good job in run support, coming up and making some crisp hits on RBs near the LOS. Logan got hurt and didn't play in the 2nd half. A-.
Spec teams: Another day of ineptitude and near-disaster from the spec teams. Kris' KOs were piss poor the entire day, often squibbing only to 15 or so. The KO to begin the 2nd half was miserably squibbed OOB, which, at least in my book, is an inexcusable boner on par with shooting a free throw over the top of the backboard. A few coverages were sloppy and shoddy. The return game netted some yards at times, but more often than not produced a lot of lateral yardage but little upfield gains. To his credit, Mike Logan covered like a demon on spec teams, and WR L. Jackson had a nice trip-up of the carrier on one Clev. return. Kris hooked the late FG in regulation, but did make all 4 of his other FGs, including the game-winner in OT. Josh boomed a 56-yarder in the 4Q that basically outkicked his coverage, but Hank was clipped and the Browns ended up with mediocre field position at their 22. You don't often see firings occur in mid-season in the NFL, but Jay Hayes has more than earned the right to be dismissed due to the weekly comedy of errors from these special teams. C-.
OC: Mike Mularkey had some bright spots today. The "full house" backfield look of 3 backs clearly had the Browns off-balance, and Bettis took the pitchout and easily ran around end for 19 yards on 3rd & 1. Getting Stewart on the move at times was also good, although it'd be nice, on some of the rollouts, if the primary receiver were further downfield than just 3 yards. I also loved the bomb on first down from the Pgh. 1-yard line, because it's a play that can often take a defense by surprise. But on the very next play, Mularkey got stupid and packed in his entire offense along a 15-foot front, and ran the ever-predictable Bettis run, which had little chance to even get out of the EZ, Smith's boner notwithstanding. As you can see from the photos below, Mularkey's packing of his offense into this bunched-up front allows the Browns to bring everybody except their travelling secretary to the LOS, and then shoot like hell through the gaps.
Don�t think for a moment that the Browns hadn't seen this same idiocy on tape from the Titan game, in which Kreider was nearly dropped for a safety late in that game. I also wasn't pleased with the gutless turtling Mularkey went to in the red zone for the 2nd week in a row. The pass to Burress was, in fact, a rare fit of TD lust. But the Troy pass was really an ad-hoc play by Stewart, not one that Mularkey had called. And check out some of the feeble playcalls that produced FGs instead of attempted TDs:
- After the inc. lob to Burress from the Clev. 6, AZ runs the ball and is dropped for a 2-yard loss. I've no problem with this play, as AZ might have been able to slash for 3 or 4 yards to set up a possible plunge. But on 3rd & goal from the 8, Mularkey -- rather than attempting a pass play INTO the end zone -- calls for a gutless Fu sweep, which had a 1 in 597 chance in scoring a TD from that far from the goal line. Without question, this play wins the Gay Play o' the Day Award, which I was hoping to forever shelve after the firing of Kevin Gaypride. There isn't a single reasonable, coherent explanation why anyone would run this kind of chickenshit play with a cold 3rd string RB, unless they were fully willing to settle for the FG.
- Late in the first half, the personal foul on Clev. gave us the ball at the Clev. 32 with 1:45 remaining. This was the play in which Little hurt his neck, so the game had to be stopped for nearly 10 minutes so that they could cart Little safely to the locker room. Yet despite all that time to go over his options, the best Mularkey could come up with was an Amoz delay handoff for about a yard, followed by an equally clever, yet equally worthless, Amoz 1-yard run up RT. At this point, Ward -- perhaps out of sheer frustration with the feeble playcalls -- got flagged for the weak personal foul.
- This was a real cake-taker. On their first drive of the 3Q, they get a 1st down at the Clev. 22. Instead of doing something constructive and worthwhile, Mularkey calls for the ever-clever 2-yard out to Breuner, which netted a whopping 3 yards. A Bettis run produced 1 yard, and on 3rd and 6, a 6-yard curl to a blanketed, double-covered Ward was inc.
- Even near the end of regulation, with a first down at the Clev. 31 and 2:00 remaining, it was readily apparent that the Stillers were no more interested in taking a stab at or near the end zone than they were in walking the 100-some miles back to Pgh. following the game. 2 runs sandwiched an inc. pass that traveled all of 9 yards downfield.
Let's also not forget that the Browns came into this came missing 2 key d-side starters --- DE McKenzie and MLB Rainer -- and the Browns also lost their starting SS in the 2Q. Despite that luxury, the best Mularkey could do in regulation was score a whopping 12 points. Sure, it's not Mularkey's fault that 2 TD passes were dropped. Nor the other 2 or 3 drops or the Stewart fumble. But Mularkey isn't making any progress in facing a "short field" in/near the red zone, in which the real estate simply isn't there to have the same kind of success with plunges, screens, shorty curls, and shorty outs as you have in the middle of the field. That 5-yard curl might be fairly open in the middle of the field, but that same curl on the enemy 15-yard line is often smothered by a defense that cannot back up simply due to the spatial "physics" of the NFL gridiron. Malarkey must get better RZ productivity or losses similar to last week's will be snatched from the jaws of victory. C+.
DC: Tim Lewis should be fairly ashamed of himself with this game. He had enough film of Clev. and personally saw them play us twice last year. And Lewis saw what happened in Jax on opening day of '01, when we played a soft, mamby-pamby defense that got shredded in the 2Q by Jax. Yet Lewis comes out with a softee, ill-prepared defense that was fully identical to the one that allowed the early 14-0 lead in last year's loss at Clev. Furthermore, it's incredulous how Lewis was unable to prepare for the plethora of slants thrown by Couch. It's apparent that Couch doesn�t have the zip to throw the deep out with any great success, so their quick-pass offense is limited a host of slants, and dumpoffs, etc. There's not a reason in the world why Lewis couldn't have mixed in some 2-deep zone, with both CBs jamming the piss out of the WRs at the LOS and thereby disrupting those quick slants that are the main staple of the Clev. offense. Or, given the shorty nature of the Clev. offense and the trustiness of FS Brent Alexander, there's no reason Lewis couldn't have gone to some tight man-to-man coverage in the first quarter, instead of waiting until the third. And it's shameful to see on tape the amount of time Couch was having in the pocket during the 1Q against vanilla 4-man rushes, to include the TD pass in which he had 5 seconds and no vision-disruption at all. Lewis finally extracted head from ass, and let the dogs out (no pun intended) with loads of blitzes that came from all over the field and overwhelmed Couch and the weak, clumsy Cleveland OL. C.
HC: This was exactly the kind of game Marty Jr. loves -- "keep it close and hope to win in the 4th qtr." As the head coach, Cowher approves all game-plans, and when Tim Lewis submitted his to Cowher this past week, Cowher should have done one of two things with it -- jammed it in Lewis' ear, or used it in lieu of toilet paper in the locker-room latrine at the South Side practice facility. As for the offense, the turtling you�re seeing is a key component of Billy Ball, and none other than Field Goal Bill is overall responsible for this egregious feebleness and lack of guts. Bear in mind, too, that Cowher has allowed his special teams to flounder like dung the entire season, and his receiving corps has handled thrown footballs will all the disdain of a live enemy hand grenade. Think back to the miserable playoff losses to KC ('93) and SD ('94) and near-loss to Indy ('95), in which this team allowed opponents to hang around with a FG offense that "kept it close". One loss last week, and one very-near-loss today, in games that should have been blowouts. Not good. One also has to wonder why Cowher didn't challenge the safety ruling on the Bettis run in the 1Q. Sure, you want to use your challenges smartly, but to me, a play that is that close, and gives the opponent 2 points, is well worth the risk of losing a timeout. (Four photos are below, for your perusal�..it does appear that Bettis was able to use his hand to keep himself off the ground, in addition to being on top of the Clev. tackler. The debate would have been whether Bettis got the ball across the GL before being down.) C.
Synopsis: Like last week, I was very, very pleased today with the basic fundamentals of blocking, tackling, and hitting. And our defense continues -- when it is allowed to play at full potential with rabid blitzes -- to dominate. Any win over the hated-Browns is a big win, even if it were a 2-0 win. But unlike the Ravens, the Browns are not yet a playoff contender, and playing fiddle-faddle with the Browns; sloppily handling the football; and going into OT before finally eking out a win, is not the recipe for continued success against the upper-echelon/playoff-bound teams in the NFL. The season is now halfway over, and it's time for this team to cast aside the albatross of French-like cowardice, special teams mishaps, and hideous mental mistakes that have bogged them down despite the 6-2 record. The team can be in the catbird's seat with a home win over Jax next week, but they could just as easily open the door for division rivals if they allow this slop and timid red zone play to continue. (Final note: special thanks to the gang at Barley's Brewhouse, home of the K.C. Steeler fan club �I enjoyed the game with yunz guys! Good seeing Fast Eddy, his sidekick Jason; Janine and Jason; Jeff, Tony, Pat, and the rest of the gang. Also, special thanks to Phil, who despite showing up LATE sat next to me and not only ably helped me in charting game-time, yardage spots, etc, but also had to endure my occasional tirades.) J