Friday, August 26, 2011

An offensive do-over

If Thursday night’s exhibition game loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was the dress rehearsal for the regular season, Browns coach Pat Shurmur should demand a do-over for his offense and special teams.

He can excuse the defense because the guys on that side of the ball played very well even though the 24-14 final might not indicate that. Dick Jauron’s troops, especially the starters, played well enough to win.

It was Shurmur’s offense that flunked the dress rehearsal test. Perhaps that’s because the Eagles’ very active defense thoroughly disrupted the timing of his west coast offense to the point where quarterback Colt McCoy looked confused and tentative for the first time this preseason.

The special teams gift-wrapped the first Philadelphia touchdown when Jordan Norwood and Sheldon Brown got their signals crossed while fielding a punt and Norwood was credited with a muff. Throw in a blocked Phil Dawson field-goal attempt and cries of “Bring Back Brad Seely” could be heard. The old special teams coach is missed.

Once again, Cleveland receivers had a tough time getting open and offering themselves as targets for McCoy’s passes. And he threw downfield only twice, just missing connections with Evan Moore down the right sideline and hooking up with Brian Robiskie only to see an offensive pass interference flag wipe it out.

If the west coast is going to be successful with the current personnel, the wideouts must get separation and make themselves available quickly for their quarterback. Because the Eagles run a similar defense, they know how to defend it and disrupt it.

McCoy was the antithesis of the quarterback we saw in the first two exhibitions. The normally cock-sure Texan displayed happy feet at times as the Eagles, using no more pressure than the front four, clogged his passing lanes.

The defense, meanwhile, played extremely well against Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, dropping him at least four times and forcing him to throw before he wanted on at least seven occasions. If Jauron can dial up that kind of pressure during the regular season, that’s one less area Shurmur needs to worry about.

Whether that pressure was a reflection of how good the Browns’ front seven is or how bad the Eagles' offensive line is is strictly in the eye of the beholder. Even though it was an exhibition, I haven’t seen Vick harassed that much in a long time.

The offense looked stodgy and was reminiscent of the last two seasons when Brian Daboll authored the playbook. The quick-strike, horizontal passing game looked nothing like it did in the exhibitions against Green Bay and Detroit. Perhaps Shurmur doesn’t want to show too much before the start of the regular season.

Still to be addressed are the stupid penalties the team took – not including those assessed to Robiskie and D’Qwell Jackson, which will be dealt with later – and the lack of speed and quickness.

False start penalties are inexcusable. Illegal formation penalties are inexcusable. Neutral-zone infractions are inexcusable. They are all fixable. It’s nothing more than a matter of discipline. They must be taken care before the games count.

As hard as Shurmur and General Manager Tom Heckert Jr. have tried, this team still lacks speed and quickness. The Eagles possess both qualities. That much was evident Thursday night.

The officiating in the game was uneven, extending the notion that officials need exhibition games as much as the players to get ready for the regular-season. That was no more evident than two calls against the Browns.

I normally fall on the side of the officials, but the offensive pass interference call against Robiskie in the first half and the roughing-the-passer call against Jackson caught my attention.

Sure Robiskie pushed off slightly as he and the Eagles defender jockeyed for position on the long McCoy pass. But it was no different than what Michael Irvin got away with in Dallas all those years. Both men pushed off. So no call should have been made.

And referee Terry McAulay’s roughing call on Jackson in the second quarter was bogus at best, embarrassing at worst. Now I know the National Football League is trying to protect quarterbacks, but Jackson delivered a by-the-book clean hit on Vick. He led with his right shoulder and his helmet came nowhere near Vick’s face or head.

If McAulay had a chance to see that play on tape after the game, he no doubt would admit he made a bad call. The first clue should have been that Vick’s head never snapped back from the force of the hit.

The flag nullified a Mike Adams interception that would have enabled McCoy to start a drive in Philadelphia territory. Vick then led the Eagles to a touchdown that stretched their lead to 17-0.

Quick thoughts . . .

How did the Browns pass on Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews in last April’s college football draft? The kid’s got the DNA to play in the NFL and showed it with a strong performance as the Eagles’ middle backer. It looks as though he’s going to start the season in the middle. By the way, the Browns drafted tight end Jordan Cameron ahead of Matthews even though they were strong at that position. . . . The Browns need to cut down on the self-inflicted wounds if they want to play competitive football. Dumb football translates into losing football. . . . Nice to see the Browns use wide receiver Chris Matthews in their goal-line package. The 6-5 rookie makes a nice target down there. . . . It’ll be interesting to see how many of the wounded who missed the Eagles game will play in the exhibition finale in Chicago. Even more interesting is how many will be fit enough to play as injuries have taken a nasty toll thus far.

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