Ah, the Denver Broncos.
Many a moon has waxed and waned since we lost our third AFC Championship game to them in the January of 1990. The evil bane of our existence that they had playing QB for them is long gone. Their uniforms have changed, adopting some sort of blue and orange skunk pattern. Even their old shack has been razed and turned into a parking lot.
However, the disgust that many a Browns fan feels for the football denizens of Denver, Colorado, has dissipated only slightly. I count myself amongst this number. I sneer at the Bronco fans and sneak into their houses at night, blasting Billy Ocean and Kenny G as they try to sleep, stealing the cold cuts and beer from their refrigerators, dipping their toothbrushes in Dave's Insanity Sauce.
Or something like that.
I expect the run game to look worse due to the potent Denver running attack. (It did.)
I expect Denver to blitz the bejeezus out of Cleveland, leading to several crucial errors by both Frye and Anderson. (Shockingly, this did not happen, and they both looked pretty good.)
I expect Brady Quinn to come back down to earth with a decent-but-flawed effort. (Nope - he continues to impress.)
I expect the Browns to lose, for media outlets to start calling for Romeo's head, and for Browns fans everywhere to start sampling various poisons for effectiveness. (Actually, the Browns outplayed the Broncos and won. In other news, an elderly woman was attacked by a swarm of winged pigs.)
Finally, I got to watch a game live. Watching Browns games live leads to a completely different process as far as this article is concerned, because it ensures the taping and reviewing of the sporting contest. The reason? Because, during a live game, I must drink copious amounts of barley flavored beverages and pace about the room nervously, yelling at the TV and sometimes the cat. I'd like to imagine that most of you watch the games in a similar way, but I've been told that I might be wrong about that.
Anyway, pacing and yelling, and having the inability to rewind live TV (no DVR for yours truly), does not lend itself to coherent in-game notes. The only thought that I managed to record during the contest itself was something about Phil Dawson's accuracy, ancestry, and personal hygiene.
Being in the thin air of Denver, I didn't expect an impressive showing by the Kick Return team, as they would have little chance to show their wares.
The Browns got the ball first and began at their own 20. Charlie Frye's first throw was to Joe Jurevicius - his first catch of the preseason. Outside of Braylon Edwards, our WR have looked weaker than a 3 year old girl, so it was good to see him get involved.
Three plays later, Charlie Frye scrambled 13 yards on 3rd and 5. Now, I don't want to say that wasn't a nice play, but he was .1 seconds from taking a vicious blindside sack, and his pulling the ball down and sprinting for the 1st down was dumb luck. It showed his best asset - his mobility - but unlike others, I don't see this play, no matter the result, as a positive. Rather it emphasizes Charlie's inability to get rid of the ball quickly in blitz situations.
However, on 3rd and 8 from the Denver 49, Charlie had a nice pass to Steve Heiden for 14 yards. The play was successful because of the protection from the O-Line. So strange to say that.
The next play was an end around to Josh Cribbs. I'd hate to see us over-use this play. It would be a small wonder if future defenses see that Cribbs is in the game, and just start yelling "Reverse!"
The next play on 2nd and 5 from the Broncos 30 was a fade to Braylon. This was not a perfect throw by any stretch, because if it were thrown perfectly, it was a TD. However, it still demanded a lot of touch and timing, and it's great to see Edwards making those kind of catches this year.
So there they were, Browns, 1st and Goal on the 6 yard line. What would happen next? False Start? Illegal Substitution? Fumble? Spontaneous Combustion?
Nope - a great sweeping run by Jamal Lewis brought the ball down to the 1. On the next play, it was Lewis again - bam, bam, TD! Browns 7, Broncos 0.
In Denver, even Phil Dawson has the leg to send the kickoff into the end zone. Glory be!
The Broncos took over, and the Browns got Denver into 3rd and long following a nice defensive play by Antwan Peek (guess his pass defense is starting to round into shape). In the past, when Cleveland had its opponent in a 3rd and long situation, it almost certainly meant Long Gain For First Down. But this is a new Browns defense!
Oh wait... no. 3rd and 12. Jay Cutler dropped back, had enough time to read War and Peace, and completed to Javon Walker for 37 yards. Urg.
After that, the Browns displayed some good D, (D'Qwell Jackson was playing well - it was the first time all preseason that I remember seeing him pivotal on defensive stops), and suddenly it was 3rd and long again. This time, the Browns did get some pressure, and, hail hail, Sean Jones got the INT. Oh wait... no. Unfortunately, he was also called for Holding. Bernie Kosar complained about the call from the broadcast booth, but the camera angle on the play did not afford us a look at the supposed infraction, so, in the end, it was yet another 3rd and long converted.
And then we gave up a long run to the great Selvin Young. Yes, the Broncos top 2 running backs, Travis Henry and Mike Bell, were hurt, so that meant we were doomed to be carved up by future waiters and UPS Delivery men.
If 3rd and long was unstoppable, then 3rd and short must be what we needed, and the D made the stop. But that meant 4th and short from the Browns 30, and a big running gash up the gut for the 1st down.
And then followed another one, an easy gain of 5. Flashbacks to the Dark Years reverberated in my brain. Stop the Run! I pleaded internally. Stop... The... Run...
Soon, it was 3rd and short again, Cutler made the right read, threw right to Javon Walker, who did his Travis "Steely McHands" Wilson imitation and swatted down the easy 1st down. The Broncos let the Browns D off the hook, and settled for the FG. Browns 7, Broncos 3.
There was some discussion about Kellen Winslow, who did not start, and it wasn't due to injury or discipline, and no one could figure out why. Hiko's Romeo Crennel Translation: I don't want to wear Winslow out, and I want to see what he looks like with Brady Quinn, so I'm holding him back for a little while.
Kickoff touchback. A theme.
On 1st down, the Browns ran a play action, and Frye slinged a deep ball to Edwards that was both accurate and well thrown - the ball landed 50 yards from where he threw it, and was only off by a few inches. It was the most impressive throw Frye has made the entire preseason - until then, I wasn't sure he knew there were bombs in the playbook.
The Browns managed 2 more 1st downs, then, on 1st and 10 from the Cleveland 46, Jason Wright ran the ball for no gain, and Kevin Shaffer got his bell rung. Ryan Tucker came in for him, which is interesting, since he won't be an option the first 4 games of the Regular Season, and it seems that Romeo would want to see how the O-Line would perform if Shaffer were hurt in a real game and his real backup were to come in.
Perhaps he was just trying to see if perhaps the line play was superior with Tucker as opposed to Shaffer, anticipating Ryan's return to the starting lineup come Game #5.
End of 1st: Browns 7, Broncos 3.
On first play of the 2nd quarter, Jamal Lewis ripped off a nice 10 yard run. I am quite pleased with his runs so far this year... well, except the next one.
On 3rd and 1 at the Denver 45, it looked like there was a hole right up the middle - probably enough to get the necessary yardage if the RB banged in there. But Jamal decided to bounce it outside, and that had no shot. It was the first time I'd seen Lewis run tentatively, if you could call it that.
The Browns were going to go for it on 4th and 2, but Winslow, who was finally in the game, spasmodically jerked during the snap count, and bam! False Start. Now, they had to punt.
The Broncos took over from their own 20. On 2nd down, Cutler hit a wide wide wide open Brandon Stokely for 26 yards. I was not enjoying how open those Denver WR's had been. The Browns were also getting little to no pressure on the QB - even on blitzes.
Cutler threw several more passes, rarely hassled at all by the D, until 3rd and 5 from the Cleveland 35, when Wimbley and Orien Harris combined to scare the feces out of Cutler, who panicked and dumped down to Young, who got planted by D'Qwell for a 5 yard loss.
After the Denver punt, Derek Anderson came into the game. I thought it was unfortunate, because I would've liked to have seen Charlie in for one more series. Then again, we had to get Anderson out of the way before we could get to see Brady Quinn - and I definitely wanted to see Quinn get some reps against the Broncos 1's - so I guess it was a necessary evil.
Anderson's first 2 passes were judicious check downs to Jamal Lewis, who proved once again that he's going to kick ass this year, as they went for 14 and 16 yards respectively.
Derek had a great blitz read on 2nd and 3 from the Denver 43, tossing a quick pass to Steve Heiden for 9.
Lewis then ran for 3, and the Browns O Line looked like it was starting to wear Denver down already. This is GOOD NEWS. If this can actually happen in the real season, then the Browns may actually win more than 4 games this year.
So Cleveland moved the ball rapidly down to the Denver 15. Ah, but if the Browns are in the red zone, and DA is the QB, then we know what's coming: False Start.
He made up for it on 3rd down, with a nice toss - and even better catch by Winslow - for the 1st down at the 7. The catch was so good that Denver couldn't comprehend its majesty, and they challenged the call just so they could watch it a couple more times.
1st and Goal: Be afraid. Be very afraid. A rush up the gut for 0. Then a nice run by Lewis to the 3.
On 3rd and Goal from the 3, Anderson dropped back to pass. Indecision, indecision, uhh... oh shazam! I'm sacked. How did that happen?
A very nice drive that unfortunately ended in a whimper. Field Goal. Browns 10, Broncos 3.
The following kickoff was yet again unreturnable, and Phil Dawson must have felt like he was taking Ryan Tucker's "vitamins".
Denver's ball on their 20 with 1:55 left in the half. Uh oh. Here came Cleveland's 2 minute D. Last week, it got slapped around by Detroit. Actually, Kansas City slapped it around pretty good at the end of that game too. Can it improve tonight?
On 3 plays in a row, Cutler had lots of time and wide open receivers. It was becoming a theme.
On 1st and 10 from the Cleveland 38, Cutler scrambled, and Shaun Smith made a very nice play, catching him from behind and holding him to a 6 yard gain on what could have been much more. But, much to my chagrin, Smith got nailed with perhaps the weakest, the most pathetic, the most senseless Unnecessary Roughness penalty in the history of the Universe. He tackled Cutler, then, using Cutler's legs, turned him back over. That wouldn't hurt my 4 year old daughter. That wouldn't hurt a wounded butterfly with a heart problem.
The call was so bad that Romeo had a nice laugh with Smith on the sidelines about it. If you could read Romeo's lips, he said something about the ref's mother, then something about his future health. They both laughed at the thought of the flag-thrower's inevitable expiration.
Regardless, it was still 15 extra yards.
Denver made two easy runs up the middle down to the 2. With 37 seconds left, Cutler bootlegged and threw it to Kyle Johnson, who was so wide open that he could have taken a nap, hit snooze on his alarm twice, and still caught the ball.
Coach Grantham, come here. I need to talk to you. I love what you're doing, but we really need to discuss the 2 minute defense. Kindly remind your Defense that halftime doesn't begin until the clock reads 0:00. The 2 minute warning is not the signal for a nice relaxing cool-down interlude prior to the end of the period. Thank you.
After the kickoff (which was, astonishingly, returned), Anderson came back in with only 28 seconds left. Normally, the Browns would take a knee, but this is the preseason, so why not try and see what DA can do? Well, he got sacked, but it drew a personal foul, then he got sacked again, then made a nice throw, then inexplicably threw an incomplete 20 yard out instead of a Hail Mary as the clock ran out.
A Brain Scientist he ain't.
Halftime: Browns 10, Broncos 10.
The kickoff was returned for 33 yards by Akron alum Domenik Hixon, who looked pretty good in this game. If he doesn't make the Denver squad for some reason, then I propose we pick him up right away. Not only does he do that thing that few Browns WR's like to do - namely, catching the ball - but he also has a long and fruitful relationship with our inevitable starting QB, Charlie Frye.
1st and 10 Denver. Plenty of time, but good coverage, and - a sack! Cutler couldn't find anyone open, was finally forced to scramble, and then slid down to prevent Wimbley from decapitating him.
2nd down - and viola! - some good Run D as well! Astounding!
3rd down and 11 - and Hallelujah! - Wimbley finally gets some pressure, throws Cutler off his rhythm, who essentially throws it away.
A 3 and out! That featured a sack, a pressure, and good Run D! You know, stuff that's been about as common as Peace in the Middle East during this game so far. That's what I want to see.
Following the Denver punt, Anderson was back in, since he didn't have a real 2nd drive, and the Browns promptly got a False Start.
The Browns executed a couple of run plays, and, on 3rd and long, Anderson held the ball a little too long and missed a wide open Braylon Edwards. All preseason, DA's play has inspired yawns.
Punt. Broncos got the ball almost at midfield.
The Broncos ran twice, the second of which really should've been stopped for a loss, and they ended up with 3rd and 2. The Defense stiffened - again! - deflecting a Cutler pass that probably would've been broken up anyway, and we had our second 3 and out in a row. Grantham must've really lit ‘em up during Halftime.
Syndric Steptoe fair caught the Denver punt at the 15 yard line, and the only reason I mention it is that he was surrounded by Broncos as he caught it, just waiting for him to drop it, and he made a sure grab. I have to think that Steptoe is winning the Punt Returner battle simply because he consistently fields the ball cleanly. Yes, sad, I know.
In came Brady Quinn. He didn't quite get the same reaction as last week for some reason.
After moving the Browns to a 1st down, Quinn checked down to Wright for a 17 yard gain. Remember my theory that Winslow was held out of the 1st Quarter so he could play with Quinn? Well, he was in there with Quinn, blocking like, well, like he was really bored and couldn't be bothered, giving his guy a little push, then casually walking down the field while the play was still going on about 7 yards away from him. Good effort, Kellen. Here's a box of rotten apricots for your troubles.
After a loss of 3, Winslow made up for his "blocking" by catching a gorgeous pass down the middle from Quinn for 25 yards. That was the first of the 2 Quinn throws Saturday night that most likely could never have been made by Anderson Frye.
Two plays later, on 3rd and 3 from the Denver 29, came the second. The throw was 35 yards (more if you extrapolate for field width) on a line to the corner of the end zone, right on the money for Joe Jurevicius. When I first saw the play, I felt that Jurevicius must have been in a collegiate mood, deciding that getting one foot in bounds should be enough. But, upon watching this play in super slow motion about 13 times, it appears my initial reaction was wrong: Jurevicius did catch it. When he gained possession, the tip of his right foot was touching the ground. His left foot then clearly came down in bounds. I'm not sure what the ref was looking at, but this clearly was a play that should have been challenged, so I blame Romeo Crennel for the incomplete call.
In my mind, that was a TD throw.
On came Phil Dawson for the FG attempt, and he hooked it into a water hazard. It was an ugly effort, unbecoming for even a middle school kicker. Guess what, Phil? You're this week's Nicole Richie AwardTM winner.
Now I know why Phil Savage didn't give up the 5th round pick this offseason required to procure Trent Green from Kansas City - he knew he'd need that pick to replace Dawson next year. Phil's kickoffs have always been short, but he made up for that with consistent accuracy within the 50. Now we're gonna have to start prayer chains every time Phil comes on for an Extra Point.
The Broncos took over at their own 37, and Chaun Thompson promptly made a hell of a play by sacking Patrick Ramsey for a 7 yard loss. Of course, this was for naught, as future Hall of Famer Selvin Young ran the ball for 16 yards on the next play, featuring Mike Adams making the cardinal mistake for a Safety by taking a terrible angle at the RB and totally whiffing, adding another 10 yards to the gain.
Apparently, the only thing stopping the Denver running game versus the Browns' backup Defense at this point was themselves, as they mixed in potent running gains with 2 False Starts and an Offensive Pass Interference. So, on 3rd and 19, Thompson put some nice pressure on Ramsey, and while the Denver QB was distracted by that, David McMillan nailed him from behind, causing a fumble that was recovered by Chase Pittman at the Denver 37.
Chaun Thompson and David McMillan have secured their place on the team this preseason. I have no worries for the LB depth. DL and DB depth... that's another story. The backup Safeties and Cornerbacks get toasted more often than rye bread.
In came Quinn again, and he drilled a nice out to Harrison for 10. Harrison then had a nice run for 7, which was followed by a throw to Cribbs, which he rapidly turned into a 20 yard TD. Browns 17, Broncos 10.
Brady Quinn - 4 possessions, 4 TD passes (remember, I count the Jurevicius TD, because, well, it was). The legend has begun.
As much of an un-fan that I was of Quinn coming out of Notre Dame, I must admit that I very impressed with him. His arm strength is better than I remember from his Notre Dame days, and his decision making is very crisp for a rookie QB. Maybe, as many people have argued, it was just that his surrounding cast at Notre Dame sucked that held him back. Perhaps it was only the fact that - in the big games - he was playing on the short end of the talent stick against the top collegiate teams. It could be that Irish wouldn't have even been a Top 20 team if not for Brady Quinn, and now that he's playing in the NFL, where, top to bottom, the talent level is much more equal, he'll be able to truly excel.
God, I hope so.
Denver got the ball back, the Browns D gave up some more unseemly chunks of running yardage, and the quarter came to a close.
End of 3rd: Browns 17, Broncos 10.
The Broncos started the quarter with a 1st and 10 on their own 32. The Browns made a few nice plays, and forced them to punt.
Quinn came in again, and passed to Steely McHands on 1st down. This, of course, means it was dropped. I know that we spent (wasted) a 3rd round pick on Steely a year ago, but I can't really see any other reason why this guy makes the final roster. He's a liability on the field. You don't even have to guard him. He guards himself with his metallic mitts.
Harrison picked up 3 yards on 2nd down, then Brady had a miscommunication with Steely, throwing an out while McHands ran a post. And, there you have it: Brady Quinn has been stopped. That's it. The end of the legend. The career has peaked, and now will begin to unravel before our disbelieving eyes. Sigh.
On the ensuing possession, Cleveland's D almost got the 3 and out, but Thompson showed why he's not a starter by missing the tackle for a loss, allowing Young to get the required yardage. Certainly, Chaun, it was no cake tackle - but that's why you get paid a few dollars more than me.
So with that second life, and aided by some more alleged "tackling" by the Browns secondary, the Broncos drove to the Cleveland 40. That's where the D decided to get their collective heads out of their collective buttocks and stoned ‘em.
Quinn and the Browns took over at their 20, and Harrison had two runs in a row where he did very well to net the 3 yards he got on each. On 3rd and 4, Quinn threw to Jerome on a go route, but Brady pushed it just a hair too far, and it clanked off of Harrison's fingertips. Yep. I told you. It's sad to see the end of an era come so soon.
The following Denver drive should've ended promptly, but Kenny Wright couldn't hold the INT, so the Broncos matriculated the ball right on down the field as punishment. The Browns D stopped them in the red zone, but Shanahan went for one of those 4th and 5's That They Never Would Go For During The Regular Season from the Browns 14, and they converted.
The Browns were so disheartened by this development that they allowed an easy 9 yard TD run to Young.
Seeing as it's the preseason, and no one, I mean NO ONE, wanted OT, the Broncos went for 2. They ran it up the gut, but McMillan slashed in from the side, disrupting the play, and Thompson finished it off, stopping the RB short of the goal line. If Wimbley and Peek are the Wonder Twins, then McMillan and Thompson are the Diet Wonder Twins. Browns 17, Broncos 16.
I was almost a little disappointed to see the stop, however, since it meant that Quinn would not need to come in and lead a game winning scoring drive, and it meant that Dawson wouldn't need to come on and drill a pressure Field Goal, thus shedding the hippo on his back. Ah well. It was still good to see the backup D actually stopping the run for shits ‘n giggles.
Denver elected to boot it away instead of trying for the onside kick, and the Browns began the drive at their 20. The Broncos were without Time Outs, so Cleveland just slammed Chris Barclay into the Denver D 3 times, milked the clock down to 1:10 left, and punted the ball away.
The Broncos took over at their own 37, but threw a couple of short passes that were stopped in bounds, the clock ran out, and we end with...
Final: Browns 17, Broncos 16.
~Brady and Joe Thomas got their heads shaved as part of a rookie initiation ritual. Gotta love hazing. A little ridicule and humiliation never hurt anyone. Well, not physically, at least. Personally, I think that Quinn looks a lot better with the buzz cut. He looks like a dude now. Or Sinead O'Connor on steriods.
~I'm not doing the grading tonight because this race is over. Coming into this game, Charlie did not necessarily deserve his start, but he clearly outplayed Derek again in this game, and the "Quarterback Competition" is over.
The media will annoy Romeo for a couple more weeks, pressing for Quinn, pressing for answers, but I think that the decision has already been made, and the writing's on the wall for DA. They put him out there to give him the chance to drum up some trade value - if any.
Charlie Frye will start Sept. 9 against Pittsburgh. Brady Quinn will be the backup. Ken Dorsey will be the 3rd QB.
Unless the Browns are doing well, Charlie will start until the Bye Week. Then the Brady Quinn Era will commence. If the Browns are doing well, then Charlie keeps going until he breaks.
~The Defense was very disappointing in this game. They gave up a lot of mid range pass plays. There were far too many plays in which the line provided no pressure, giving the QB ample time to wait for his WR to break through the coverage, and then hit them wide open.
This could be a lingering problem. Ted Washington is known as a run stopper, not a pass rusher. Robaire Smith... well, I'm not certain he's actually been in the games. Shaun Smith is providing some push, but this team really needs Orpheus Roye back. Unfortunately, we don't know if that will occur before the Pittsburgh game, so Wimbley/Peek will have to step up their performance (over this game, at least), and maybe Grantham will have to get a little more creative in his play calling - perhaps some delayed blitzes, or some Safety blitzes. Certainly, that could give up the big Offensive play, but it also could render a big Defensive play, and I hate the slow death.
The Run D also needs to go into Time Out for 20 minutes. Denver had 157 yards rushing on 31 attempts, which comes to a 5.1 yard per carry average. Which is the epitome of suck. Yes, Denver is one of the best rushing teams in the league. So? Excuses, excuses. Tackling drills for everyone.
~As far as I'm concerned, Steptoe is the Punt Returner. No one has really "won" the job, but I think he's the safest choice. Seeing as he's a WR, he'll be one of the 6. The others? Well, certainly there's Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius. And Josh Cribbs because of his special teams importance (and his ability to run the end around). That's 4. You probably should include Tim Carter, who finally played on Saturday (though you could've fooled me). That leaves one of Travis Wilson, Steve Sanders, Efram Hill, Maurice Mann, Mike Mason, and Kendrick Mosely. My money would be on Steve Sanders. He's got nice size, and has showed good hands.
Of course, as I mentioned earlier, the team might give Steely McHands an extra chance due to his draft status. He's the 6th WR, so it probably doesn't matter anyway. I'm just sick of getting blinded by the glare off his metal gloves.
~In the battle for 3rd RB, chalk this one up to Jerome Harrison.
~A lot of people have complained about Bernie Kosar's announcing, but I think the guy is fantastic in the booth. Where else would you get - in reference to Quinn coming into the game - "All the whining I've been doing, like a wife, has finally come to fruition." Gotta love mid-divorce smack.
Although, about Brady Quinn's buzz, he did say "Don't sign me up for his barber." Bernie... have you looked at your hair? It looks like something with malaria died on your head. You should be happy to have Jim Donovan hold you down whilst the cameramen shave your noggin.