FALCONS 20, BROWNS 10
WHAT HAPPENED: A superior team came into Cleveland Browns Stadium and showed the Browns what sound, consistent, quality football looks like. Atlanta doesn’t try to fool anybody. They just line up and execute their plays so well that you can’t stop them. Everybody knows Roddy White and Michael Turner are getting the ball, but it doesn’t matter. The Falcons defensive ends got after the Browns’ quarterbacks all day, with Big Scary Monster John Abraham beating Joe Thomas regularly and thoroughly, recording two sacks and a number of pressures. Peyton HIllis got hurt, Seneca Wallace joined Jake Delhomme with a dreaded high ankle sprain, and Delhomme’s already tender ankle got banged up again. The Browns offense could get nothing done with such bad protection and bad quarterback play. As a result, we’re looking at the Colt McCoy Era beginning much earlier than any of us hoped.
…AND THE GAME BALL GOES TO: TJ WARD. I struggled to pick one, but Ward was again solid in run support, blocked himself a field goal, and appears to be making strides, if slowly, toward improving his recognition skills in the pass game. He and Joe Haden continue to look, at least to me, like outstanding draft choices.
GOAT OF THE WEEK: JOE THOMAS. Say it ain’t so, Joe! Look, everybody has a bad day at the office now and then, and if you’re Joe Thomas that day is likely to occur against an all-world pass rusher like John Abraham. But that doesn’t mean we have to ignore it. Big Joe struggled, Seneca Wallace got drilled, and that was that.
THE VIEW FROM DAWG POUND WEST (1-5)
1. We have got to do something, anything, about the lack of back end coverage in the secondary. I’m not sure if Abe Elam was supposed to jump that Tony Gonzalez route and leave Sheldon Brown on an island against one of the three best receivers in the game, but it’s not a good plan if so. I’ll take the first down over the touchdown if I’m the defense every day. Especially after the physical Brown got his bell rung a play or two earlier. Big plays in the pass game are killing them.
2. We’ll just keep saying it: the quarterback position is an issue no matter who’s playing. But to me, Seneca Wallace is better than Jake Delhomme for this team right now, and when he’s healthy, I’d prefer to see him starting. His mobility allows them to control the ball a bit better.
3. Apparently, the Browns cannot run the ball unless Peyton Hillis is in the game. That could be a problem.
4. Rob Ryan appears to be saying the Browns can’t get pressure on the quarterback without accepting an inordinate amount of risk in the secondary. I reject this assumption. Figure it out.
5. 1-4, just like last year. Except it’s not like last year. Not even a little bit. This team is significantly improved, but continues to suffer from bad quarterback play and a dearth of offensive playmakers. I don’t put that on Eric Mangini. Not after a year and five games. They’re more physical, more disciplined, and straight up better. By a lot. Whether that translates to organizational patience with respect to the win-loss record remains to be seen, but I don’t consider Mangini’s seat to be particularly hot at this point. What’s more, based on my online interactions with Browns fans, I appear to be in the majority…and I find that fascinating. We’re a notoriously impatient fan base. Is the Manguin shifting perceptions?
COMING UP NEXT: THE HATED PITTSBURGH STEELERS
Well. This should be fun, eh? Let’s add it up. The Browns are 1-4 and still one of the weaker teams in the NFL. The Steelers are 3-1 and still one of the strongest. The Browns have recently lost their top two (by default) quarterbacks to injury, requiring them to start their third-round draft choice, rookie Colt McCoy. The Steelers are getting back their two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback, the Sausage King of Pittsburgh, replacing the journeyman/youngster combo that got them to 3-1. The Browns are coming off a physical beating from the Atlanta Falcons. The Steelers are coming off a bye, meaning Dick LeBeau, Troy Polamalu, Lamarr Woodley and James Harrison have had two weeks to prepare for a smallish QB making his first NFL start. All in all, this should go pretty smoothly.
THREE THINGS I’D LIKE TO SEE
1. A refusal to get away from the running game, no matter how ineffective, against the Steelers. Look, the Browns beat the Steelers last year without throwing the ball at all. Granted, the Steelers are back to themselves this year, but I think we can all agree the Browns have no hope to begin with if it rests on the shoulders of any of their current quarterbacks.
2. I’d like to see Colt McCoy survive the day. Is a decent, confidence-building performance too much to ask?
3. Someday, an actual rivalry.
PREDICTION: STEELERS 27, BROWNS 13.