Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Browns Defense is Not All That

      Gee it's Christmas, and I have a lot to be grateful for...but instead I am going to complain a little about our favorite team.  Most of my friends and even the national media seem to agree that the 2013 Browns defense is way improved over the boring 2012 Shurmur-Jauron version.  But if you look at the numbers, we have given up way more points this year than last year (386 with one game to go, versus 368 surrendered last year), and are actually scoring a little bit more.   

   This season, I have complained loud and long about the Browns shutting down their rebuilding program after the scandal at Pilot Flying J hit (the company owned by Jimmy Haslam III), so that the Browns led the NFL in dollars under the salary cap, currently at about $24 million.  You can get 10 NFL starters for that kind of money.  But let's talk about  some of the specifics.  

     Our defense can stop the run and sack the quarterback, but if we don't get him we are pretty much getting torched through the air.  The Browns added some quality players (notably Kruger, Bryant, and Mingo), but we got rid of a lot of middle-tier situational players.  That has hurt a lot.  
     Early on, the Browns had an interesting concept.  They had 3 guys on the line in Bryant, Ruben and Taylor who had actually played nose tackle.  Then they took two pass rushing defensive ends and turned them into outside linebackers in Sheards and Mingo.  Likewise, Paul Kruger was originally a defensive end who was switched to linebacker by the Ravens.  So  for a while they were about the biggest, scariest pass rushers in the NFL.  But after a while the rest of the league figured out what to do about it.  Namely, the LBs are not that good in pass coverage, and they are thin in the defensive backfield if the other team uses a 3 or 4 or even 5 wide receiver set.   Now the Browns look slow and plodding as opposing quarterbacks slice them up almost at will.  

Paul Kruger has been a very fine football player for the Browns this year, generating sacks and playing well against the run as well.  

Barkevious Mingo has been an athletic and sometimes spectacular player at linebacker.   


Desmond Bryant was a force for the Browns on the line, until a heart problem put him on IR.  We hope and pray that surgery will prolong his life, as our first concern.  But if the surgery is fully successful,  we will see him back on the field in 2014.    

The Browns players seem to love playing for Defensive Coordination Ray Horton.  But although they have improved in some areas, so far the defense has not responded overall.  

    Buster Skrine gets my vote as the most improved Brown in 2013.  In the past, opposing offenses would rarely throw at Joe Haden, so instead 90% of the passes were to Buster's man. That made him look worse than he actually was. But this year, Skrine has 19 passes defended and an interception alongside Haden, with 20 PDs and 4 INTs.   

Buster Skrine has become a reliable number two corner alongside Joe Haden.   

     Behind Skrine, things get murky.  The Browns second highest draft pack was Leon McFadden in the third round.  But so far the youngster has struggled.  He has not been credited with a single pass defended and only 14 total tackles. 
    What the Browns don't do well is play the pass, especially with linebackers in pass coverage.   Worse, if opponents play extra wide receivers, the Browns are not able to substitute extra defensive backs effectively.  

   So what have we got here?   The Browns added some quality players and subtracted some middle-range players from defense, while reverting to the 3-4 defensive alignment.   But they are giving up more points than the "boring" Shurmur-Jauron defense.  To sum up, the Browns have talent but not depth, especially in the defensive backfield. They could also use some situational linebackers that are better at pass coverage and pursuit even if they are not great pass rushers.   In some ways they are markedly improved, but as a unit the Defense is perhaps a little worse than it was in 2012.  Sorry to say so, but that is the truth.  

Friday, December 20, 2013

NFL: Here is How to Reduce the Number of Tie Games

  The NFL hates tie games.  More precisely, the TV networks hate it, because they need predictability in order to schedule programming, and overtime messes with that.  But everyone hates tie games, so that obliges the NFL to play several overtime games per year.  

   My suggestion is that most of these ties in regulation can be prevented by a simple rule change:  

Don't allow teams to kick the ball to create a tie in the fourth quarter.  If a team is behind by three points, don't allow the other team to kick a field goal.  Make them go for the touchdown.  It's much more exciting anyways to see the quarterback throw a Hail Mary pass into the end zone rather than watch a field goal kicker boot the ball. 

At the end of the game, wouldn't you rather see this, instead of an attempted field goal?  

Similarly, if a team is behind by seven points and they score a fourth down touchdown, don't allow them to kick an extra point to send the game into overtime.  Make them try to score the two point conversion for the win right there.  This is almost a same chance of success anyway.  The stats show that the chances of making a two point play are about 45%.  If you go to overtime, it's 50-50 whether your team will win.  

In the 4th Quarter, teams should have to go for the win, not the tie.   Go for two!

    It would still be possible to have a tie game, but the likelihood will decrease significantly.  For example, you could still have a tie game if the score is initially tied prior to the fourth quarter, and stays tied throughout the fourth quarter.  Or, suppose some team is down by two points and they score a safety.  Or if a team is down by 8 points, they could get a touchdown and a 2 point conversion to tie. 

   If you want to be really fanatical about it, you could impose the rule earlier, so that even in the first half you would have to go for it on fourth down rather than kick a field goal to tie it.

    The extra point is the most boring play in football, anyway.  Why not give teams a reason to go for two more often?  Stop having so many tie games in regulation, and everyone will be happy.   

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Big 10 Championship Could Go Overtime--Buckeyes vs Spartans

I'm very excited to be attending the Big 10 Championship Game tonight between the Michigan State University Spartans and The Ohio State University Buckeyes.   I think this game could go either way.

Ohio State is ripe for an upset.  The fans are utterly complacent, figuring that it is an automatic win and that the entire issue is whether OSU will have enough momentum in the polls to beat Auburn and SEC (Sacred Ego Conference).  The answer:  YES OSU WILL GET THE INVITE TO THE CHAMPIOSHIP BUT ONLY IF WE WIN THE **** GAME!

In this situation, the favored team just wants to get to the next game, which would be for the National Championship.  On the other hand, for the underdog THIS game will be the highlight of the season, win or lose.  The psychology of the situation favors the Spartans.  

Michigan Sate is just as good as Ohio State.  They have a the top defense in the nation statistically, and they stop the run, which is Ohio State's specialty.  Michigan State lost a close game to Notre Dame, or otherwise they would be undefeated like OSU.  Moreover, OSU eked out a 42-41 win over over the Michigan Wolverines.  Michigan State, on the other hand, destroyed the  Wolverines this year, 29-6.  

Michigan State's defense does not generate huge stats.  They get their share of sacks and interceptions, but mainly the opponents don't move the ball against them and they don't score very often.  They are  led by the likes of All-Everything shutdown cornerback Darqueze Dennard,  all-Big 10 Defensive  End Shilique Calhoun and all-Big 10 middle linebacker Max Bullough.  But there are no weaknesses on their defense.

Darqueze Dennard is a shutdown cornerback.

Number 89, Shilique Calhoun bringing down the Wolverines Devin Gardner. 

Middle Linebacker Max Bullough was also All-Big 10 and wishes to show some Spartan Pride come Saturday night.  

Safety Kurtis Drummond hauls in one of his four interceptionsr.

OSU, on the other hand, was vulnerable to the outside run against Michigan, and was not able to contain Michigan's receivers.  That will have to be fixed to survive Michigan State.  Running back Jeremy Langford is not a power runner, but likes the outside, which is not good for OSU.  The Spartans' passing game does not pile up huge statistics either, but Connor Cook threw only four interceptions for the entire year.  

I have to think that Michigan State is at least a point better than Michigan.  I rate this game as even.  It could go overtime.   

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Mock 2014 NFL Draft

    One thing I'm sure about is that the Cleveland Browns will draft a quarterback.  Bad teams, and greedy owners are always fascinated by quarterbacks, especially those with unusual physical gifts.  The Browns are expected to lose Alex Mack to free agency, and currently Joe Thomas is the only other Brown who can block.   
         Next year they will need four new offensive linemen to protect the quarterback.  But if they don't get them, they will draft a kid quarterback anyway, and probably they will trade up if they have to in order to get one.  There won't be any money to upgrade the line and the rest of the team until the Pilot Flying J scandal is resolved and the Haslam family fortune is restored.  So whoever the Browns put back there will certainly be annihilated like Brian Hoyer (ACL), Jason Campbell (concussion), and Brandon Weeden (thumb, concussion). The Browns lead the league in hits on their quarterback by a a wide margin, and are number two in sacks allowed.

     Right now the Browns occupy the 7th position in the NFL draft, and there are some quarterback-cuckoo teams ahead of them including Jacksonville, Minnesota and Tampa Bay.  But Atlanta has a quarterback, and would be willing to trade their pick to Cleveland in exchange for about three first round picks (the ransom paid by the Redskins for  Robert Griffin III, who was pretty good for the second half of the season last year, before getting his knee torn up).  

1.  Jacksonville Jaguars will take QB Teddy Bridgewater.  Like the Browns, Jacksonville has an awful team and will certainly destroy Bridgewater.  But they will be happy to draft him for now.

2.  The Minnesota Vikings will take Fresno State QB Derek Carr, replacing Christian Ponder, who has achieved Antichrist status in Minnesota.  But the Vikings have some talent, so perhaps they may win a few games and drop down in the draft.

3.  The Atlanta Falcons still believe in Matt Ryan, and so they will deal their pick to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for the Browns two Number Ones this year, and another one in 2015.  The Browns will take Johnny Manziel and ruin him.  

4.  Tampa Bay will be willing to wait while LSU QB Zack Mettenberger recovers from an ACL indury.

5.  The Houston Texans are weary of Matt Schaub and may want to go with a quarterback  but if the Browns trade up,  OT Jake Matthews from Texas A&M will pacify them.  
6.  The St Louis Rams will take South Caroline DE Jadeveon Clowney based on his upside potential, overlooking his off the field issues.

7.  The Atlanta Falcons, using the Browns pick, select OSU LB Ryan Shazier to stabilize their defense. 

8.  The Tennesee Titans draft UCLA Linebacker Anthony Barr.

9.  Oakland Raiders draft Clemson WR Sammy Watkins.

10. New York Giants  Texas A&M WR Mike Evans. Somebody has to catch the ball on that team. 

11.  St Louis Rams take  U Buffalo LB Khalil Mack.  

12.  Baltimore Ravens take Michigan T Taylor Lewan to block for Joe Flacco.  

13  Buffalo Bills select Alabama LB C J Mosely to anchor their defense.

14.  Pittsburgh Steelers select Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio

15. Atlanta, using Cleveland's pick, takes Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro to replace Tony Gonzalez.

16.  New York Jets go for Notre Dame NT Louis Nix.  Do they need a NT?  Not really but they love to draft linemen.  

17.  San Diego Chargers draft Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.  They need help on defense.

18.  Green Bay Packers take Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio to protect Aaron Rodgers.

19. Chicago Bears draft Alabama S Haha Clinton-Dix S.  Haha will stop opponents from laughing at their secondary.

20.  Arizona Cardinals select Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard.

21.  Philadelphia Eagles go for Notre Dame DE  Stephon Tuitt

22.  Detroit Lions take Ohio State CB Bradley Roby.

23. Miami Dolphins: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson who is probably better than Johnny Football anyway.  

24. Dallas Cowboys:  Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina

25. Cincinnati Bengals: Clemson DE Vic Beasley.

26. San Francisco 49ers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU

27. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC

28. New England Patriots: Cameron Erving  FSU OT 

29. Carolina Panthers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt, a target for Cam Newton.

30. New Orleans Saints:  Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota, another pass rusher for Rob Ryan's defense. 

31. Denver Broncos:  Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State

32. Seattle Seahawks:  Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee

Saturday, November 30, 2013

OHIO STATE 42, MICHIGAN 41; Hoke Did the Right Thing, Saban not so Much

     This was one of the most exciting OSU/Michigan games I can ever remember.  Congratulations to Ohio Sate for an unbelievable game over a truly excellent Michigan team, 42-41.   Carlos Hyde was great...so was Devin Gardner.  Hyde and Braxton Miller ran for an astounding 379 yards on the ground.  

Carlos Hyde was monstrously good gaining 226 yards on the ground and averaging 8.4 yards per carry.

   Michigan also dead some heavy damage on the ground.  They didn't test the middle much, fearing the big OSU line and outstanding middle linebacker Ryan Shazier, so basically they ran wide, and had some success with Freshmen De'Veon Smith, and Derrick Green, along with Senior Fitzgerald Toussaint.  But Devin Gardner was the star compiling an amazing 451 yards through the air--and it could have been even more were it not for some big dropped passes.  

   The Buckeyes came up big, in the end, with Tyvis Powell reading the route and coming up with an interception during the Wolverine's attempted two point conversion attempt for the win.  

Tyvis Powell came up big, and came down with the ball in the biggest play of the entire season.

    Afterwards, the sportscasters and sportswriters and jumping all over Michigan Coach Brady Hoke for calling for the two point conversion rather than a one point conversion which would have taken the game into overtime.  I was listening to Fox Sports Radio after the game, and they were merciless.  

     However, in this observer's humble judgment, Hoke's decision was obviously correct.  He had to either entrust his offense to make two yards, or he could depend on his defense in overtime to stop Carlos Hyde (averaging 8.4 yards per carry and getting stronger and stronger during the game).  That doesn't make sense, frankly.   When the defense gives up that much real estate, they clearly are getting their butts kicked and they deserve to lose.     

   Plus, in overtime the Hoker would have to depend on an untested backup  field goal kicker, Matt Wile, with only 3 field goals in his college career, versus Ohio State's senior kicker Drew Basil, who was 8 for 9.   Likewise that matchup enormously favored Ohio State.   The Fox Sports crew seemed not to realize this for at least half an hour, and then sheepishly mentioned that the Wolverines were using an inexperienced backup kicker, but did not mention the importance of a kicker in overtime, only the extra point during regulation.   

Let's see...we have a senior kicker and four year starter, while Michigan was forced to play its backup kicker.  Who would have had the advantage in overtime?

   Not to mention the fact that Michigan's stud quarterback Devin Gardner was hopping around on one leg by the end of the game, while Braxton Miller was just as dangerous as Hyde.   Plus Braxton can throw.   

Devin Gardner was great on Saturday, and courageously played through an injury.  

   The complaining by second guessers makes it sounds like the Buckeyes win was a fluke.  Just kick the extra point, and Michigan was sure to be able to stop Hyde and Miller....their backup field goal kicker would be certain to outkick the Buckeye's experienced senior kicker....and Gardner's injuries were just about ready to heal at any minute.  OH COME ON!

   No, quit saying that the Coach blew this for Michigan.  He did the only logical thing, try to score two points with just one more play, and OSU just had the answer this day.  It was an unbelievable game, and Michigan was great, but Ohio State was just a bit better.  

   I'm going to go to the championship game next week, and I can't wait.  Michigan State will not be a piece of cake, particularly since it would be the highlight of their season to beat OSU, but not the other way around.  
And Coach Meyer, about that defense...

"I really, really want you to beat Michigan State next...."

   Also I can't help but weigh in on another coach's decision,  this one by Alabama's Nick Saban.  After blowing four field goals with a redshirt freshman, do you try a 57 yarder to end the game?  Or do you worry about the threat of a runback?  I'm not aware of anyone predicting it before it happened, but in retrospect, those 300 pound offensive linemen were not going to catch one of the speediest guys on Auburn's team in Chris Davis, a 4.4 guy.  What's hilarious is there is no one from Alabama in the picture during the runback, only five Auburn players and the entire sideline running to the end zone.  And just like that, Auburn 34, Alabama 28.  Thanks, Coach Saban.    


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cleveland Browns Start Brandon Weeden vs Jaguars

Brandon Weeden has regained his job as starting quarterback as Jason Campbell is still recovering from a concussion.   

    This week the Browns face the Jacksonville Jaguars.  The Jags looked like they were going to have a deathlock on the first pick in the NFL draft, but after winning two out of three games, this is no longer clear.  Right now in the AFC, Houston and Jacksonville are tied for the worst record, but if Jacksonville beats Cleveland, then they would own a tie breaker versus the Browns.  One more Jacksonville victory and the Browns could have the second worst record in the AFC and could get a top five position in the next draft.  

    The Browns are very, very bad on offense this year.  One item that really stands out is that the offensive line is just getting pushed around.  Given the recent buzz about bullying in the NFL, the Browns can justifiably claim that their line has been bullied by every team they have played so far.  

   The Browns lead the NFL in hits on their quarterback, with 93. Amazingly, they are 11 hits higher than the second place team.  The Browns are also #2 in the NFL in sacks allowed, with 39.  And the Browns quarterback has been knocked out of the game four times this year, with Bryan Hoyer out for the season.  

This year, the Browns are incapable of protecting the quarterback, with the starter being knocked out of the game four times.  Browns fans should not assume this can be fixed by drafting a high priced rookie quarterback next year.  

As for the running game, the Browns are even worse.  Veteran halfback Willis McGahee is averaging 2.6 yards per carry for 287 yards, an absurdly low average.  Worse, the Browns cut a rookie named Bobby Rainey, who was immediately picked up by the Tampa Bay Bucs.   After only four games, Rainey has already gained 243 yards for an average of 4.3 yards per carry.   It's pretty bad if a player's production goes up immediately after leaving the Browns.  The Browns O-Line is just struggling despite having Joe Thomas to anchor the line from the left tackle position and Alex Mack, the former first round draft pick, at center.   Both guard positions and right tackle have struggled this year.   The Browns also have only one bona fide threat at wideout in Josh Gordon, who so far has not been caught doing any dope.  

   Likewise, the Browns do not have a true fullback, nor is there a blocking tight end to spell Jordan Cameron or to run a two-tight-end formation.  
   Many Browns fans have made Weeden the scapegoat, but the Village Elliot disagrees.   With such weak players on the O-line, wide receiver, halfback and fullback, it's very hard to succeed in the NFL.  Or Pop Warner, for that matter.

    All three Browns quarterbacks have NFL arms and are generally good quarterbacks, with Hoyer looking the best in limited action.  

    If the Browns go all out to trade up for a top rookie quarterback in the draft, as many expect, that kid may be crushed just like the current quarterbacks.  You can not expect the quarterback to survive the season with the worst protection in the NFL.   If they get 8 games out of their starter, that will be  pretty good.  And no, he is not going to put up numbers while running for his life.  

     As bad as they have been, the Jags have been worse.  This may the best opportunity to see whether Weeden can play.  The Jaguars have only 17 sacks this year, while the Browns have allowed 39.  So Weeden may actually be able to stay upright for part of this game.  Let's see how he does on Sunday.  

Tom Brady--the Best in Cold Weather


After the Patriots miracle victory over the Denver Broncos, a few things jump out at me.  First, Tom Brady's perfect spiral may be not so important in a domed stadium, but when the weather is cold and the wind is gusting, it really makes a difference if the quarterback can throw a really tight spiral. Peyton Manning, not so much.  He is one of the greatest of all time, but it's hard to throw the ball into the teeth of a cold Massachusetts wind if it wobbles.  Kudos for the great discussion of this effect by Mike Greenberg et al of ESPN, and especially the analysis provided by Hall of Famer Cris Carter.   

Leave it to ESPN to also provide some great stats, which you can find here:  ESPN: tom-brady-thrives-in-new-england-weather .  To cut to the chase, Brady (qb rating 91.4), Aaron Rodgers (102.6) and Ben Roethlisberger (95.6)---all qbs from cold weather cities--have outstanding records when the weather is below freezing, whereas Manning is 2-6 with a very pedestrian 68.8 quarterback rating.  

Peyton Manning's throws may be harder to catch on a cold and windy field.  

That point was underscored by Coach Belichick's decision to have the wind at their back, rather than receiving the kickoff in overtime.   It did make a critical difference.  

Still, it drives me nuts that teams are so afraid of Peyton Manning's deep ball.  They continually play the defensive backs a few yards behind the line of scrimmage, fearing that they may get torched by the Broncos' wide receivers.  Then they try to catch Peyton with zone blitzes and the like.  I think this is backwards.  Nowadays, Peyton is making his living by making short passes, not the bomb.  I don't think he has such a great arm anymore.  And nobody tricks Manning with a zone blitz.  You might catch a rookie unawares, but Manning is one of the best in the world at coping with the blitz.  I think you cover his receivers with tight coverage at the line of scrimmage.  Instead of trying to fool him with a blitz, teams should use an extra defensive back and challenge  his receivers at the line of scrimmage.  

Which brings me to another point.  What is the Super Bowl going to be like in New York in February?    Players were dropping the football all over the field in the New England vs Denver game, and so the Super Bowl may be error prone as well if the weather is cold in February in New York.  But terrible weather would favor a team like the Patriots and Tom Brady if they get that far.  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Someday a Woman will Play Major League Baseball

     Someday a woman will play Major League Baseball.  I don't mean as a gimmick by some enterprising General Manager to sell tickets.  I mean legitimately, based on ability, and soon, like within the next few years.  
     The most likely path, I believe, may be for a woman to make it as a knuckleball pitcher, which requires a rather unique skill set.  The most important skill is to be able to throw the darn pitch, which requires a very awkward grip, demonstrated below by legendary Hoyt Wilhelm, one of the early practitioners of the art.  

Hoyt Wilhelm had a career that seemed to span centuries, featuring the knuckleball as his main pitch.  

A good knuckleball is thrown such that it either does not rotate at all, or else rotates very slowly. When that happens the ball moves erratically and consequently is very difficult to hit.  

Although almost everyone can throw a knuckleball to a degree (watch high school players warm up, and almost for sure someone will play around with it), it is very hard to control.  Only a few pitchers can throw it consistently for a strike, but those who can do it have an excellent shot at making a living in the Major Leagues.  

Not all knuckleballs are born equal.  Some guys, like R.A Dickey, throw it hard, around 80 mph, which is the speed of a very good high school fastball. 

Others, like Tim Wakefield, throw a very slow pitch, around 65 mph.  Yet, Wakefield also threw other pitches and could change speeds very well.  A hitter looking for a 65 mph can be overmatched by a fastball coming in 10 mph faster than he expects. 

Wakefield's arm speed is within the range of many female athletes.  Put it this way:  if a person can serve a tennis ball at the professional level, that's more than enough arm strength to be a knuckleball pitcher.  

The knuckleball is not easy to throw for strikes, or everyone would do it.  But I don't know why it would be that  men would have a dominant advantage in this arcane art.    

Hence, I suspect that the right woman, armed with a knuckleball, will probably be able to make the Major Leagues.  

At the moment, not many have tried.  One pitcher, Eri Yoshida of Japan has had some success in the independent minor leagues in the US (Maui Na Koa Ikaika, which is Hawaiian for "Strong Warriors").  

Japanese knuckleballer Eri Yoshida had some success playing against the fellers in pro ball.

Yoshida, despite being only 5'1" is able to throw the knuckleball, reportedly at Wakefieldian velocity. 

Yoshida is particularly interesting because she is inspiring a legion of young admirers and imitators in baseball-mad Japan.  Without really intending to, she has become a sort of role model.  I have to think that others may follow her with even more success.  

To make it to the big leagues, a knuckleballer still has to have a glove and enough speed to cover first base on infield plays.  A slider or curve would be a big help also, even if those pitchers are not Big League calibre by themselves.    I don't see any reason why those talents would be limited to men. If I'm see we might see women pitching for Major League farm teams in the next few years.  

   Maybe someone like 16 year old Chelsea Baker, who throws the knuckleball and, believer it or not, was offered a contract for the Japanese professional league. 

Chelsea Baker was offered a professional contract in Japan when she was just 15 years old.  


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Browns Over the Bengals, Village Elliot Predicts


    Truthfully, I hate it when the Bengals and Browns play.  I grew up in Cleveland, and am old enough to remember when the Bengals were created by Paul Brown in the old AFL.  We thought, hey, great!  Our former coach (fired by Art Modell, who would go down in infamy after moving the team to Baltimore) has started up a second pro team in Ohio!  So we had two teams to root for, and I most of us were not all that enthralled by Art Modell anyway. 
    Regrettably, that situation changed with the merger of the leagues in 1970, with the Browns and Bengals in the same division.  Of course, Paul Brown wanted desperately to beat the Browns, and Modell's team didn't want that to happen, so a rivalry was born.  
   Anyway, I digress.  This weeks matchup, for the first time in a long time may actually favor the Browns.  It's not that the Browns have a great team, but they are healthy and the Bengals are not.  The Bengals have eight guys on the IR list.   
   People have discovered that Jason Campbell can play a little.  Readers of this column know that the Village Elliot has always liked Campbell, and in particular has noted that Campbell led the Oakland Raiders to a winning record.  Yes, the Raiders, who at that time still had their meddling owner, Al Davis, to ruin the rest of the team.  It's hard to fault the quarterback for the way the Raiders or the Redskins (the team Campbell played for most of his career) played.  Campell is considered to be over the hill by many fans, but at 31 he is not much older than Brandon Weeden, who turned 30 last month
Meanwhile, let's take a look at the Bengals.  They have lost 
Pro Bowler DT Geno Atkins, plus starters, S Taylor Mays, CB Leon Hall, and DE Robert Geathers.  Also lost are RB Bernard Scott, and LB Sean Porter.  For Sunday, DT Devon Still is out, G Keven Zeitler is Out,  LB Ray Malaluga is Doubtful, S Chris Crocker is Doubtful.  Let's not even worry about who is questionable.   I count nine key players as out this week.
   The Browns have lost Quentin Groves, a good backup linebacker, and long term are without QB Brian Hoyer, PR Travis Benjamin and backup running back Dion James. They are in much better shape physically than the battered Bengals. 
   The Browns O-Line has been playing much better. For the first several games they were giving up sacks at a phenomenal rate, which is part of the reason why they can not keep their quartbacks healthy.  Weeden has been knocked out of a few games, and Brian Hoyer is out for the year.  But the line has stabilized things a bit  for Campbell.  They still can not run the ball at all, with Willis McGahee struggling to average 3.0 yards per carry, one of the worst averages in the NFL.   But unknown fullback Chris Orbonnaya has 28 catches out of the backfield, and has a 4.6 yard per carry average lifetime.  Sometime they may figure out that he can play, and actually give him the ball.  For now, the Browns prefer Willis McGahee's 2.6 yards per carry as they wait for him to return to his form from back in the leather helmet days.  
    The Bengals big threat on offense is all-everything wide receiver A. J. Green.  On the other hand, the Browns have a very good cover corner in Joe Haden, and they may be able to slow down Green a little bit. 
    At the beginning of the year, I thought that the Bengals were going to be able to play some two-tight end sets with  Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert.  However, when Jermaine Gresham missed a game last week, journeyman Alex Smith (a former Brown) got the start over Eifert.   
    The Bengals are favored by five points, and if they were healthy I would agree with that.  But the fact of the matter is that they are not healthy, and for that reason the Browns should be clear favorites to win this game.  I handicap this game an amazing nine points differently than the official spread:  Cleveland 24, Cincinnati 20.  



Sunday, November 3, 2013

Hell Freezes Over, Browns Beat Ravens


Davone Bess followed a miserable performance with a great one today.

    Oh boy it has been a long time since the Browns have beaten Baltimore.  Kudos to the Coaching Staff, quarterback Jason Campbell, wide receiver Davone Bess and the rest of the team for edging the Ravens in a tough game, 24-18.  Campbell doesn't seem to get much respect from fans, but the guy had a winning record with the Oakland Raiders, which is not easy to do.  

Fans were ready to execute Davone Bess after a very bad game last week, but this week he caught two touchdown passes and make a key grab on 4th and one that pretty much sealed the victory. 

Weeden haters can say that every time the Browns start someone else (Hoyer or Campbell), the Browns play better:  4-1 without Weeden, 0-4 with.  I don't think it is all Weeden, but no doubt he is the third best quarterback on the team based on what we have seen this year.  

On the other hand, the Browns running game is atrocious, with star Willis McGahee struggling to get 31 yards in 21 carries today.  

Willis McGahee brought his lunch pail and worked hard for 31 yards today.  

I was also disappointed to see mediocre wideout Greg Little get flagged twice for unsportsmanlike conduct.  He only averages 40 yards per game for his career, so a few good catches is no reason to start taunting the opposition or grabbing their helmets and throwing them around. 

Greg Little gained a lot of yards, but gave up 30 yards with two foolish unsportsmanlike conduct  penalties.  Dude, you don't make enough good plays to be taunting people.  

The Browns were very tough on defense today, nailing Baltimore's Joe Flacco for five sacks plus an interception by Joe Haden from a bad pass from Flacco.  

They held Baltimore to a ridiculous 55 yards rushing, with only 17 from star halfback Ray Rice.  You can win with a defense like that.  

Saturday, October 26, 2013

NFL Musical Chairs at 1 Billion Dollars Per Chair: London or Los Angeles?


     I'm sure you remember the game of "Musical Chairs," in which there are fewer chairs than players. When the music stops, someone is going to be left without a chair.  This same game is being played on a much larger scale with NFL franchises.  The NFL had previously announced that one or two current NFL teams would be welcome to move to the Los Angeles area.  This is a sound business move for the NFL, since the Los Angeles market is the number two TV market in the country and it is currently vacant.  Roger Goodell's instructions to teams wishing to move to Los Angeles are contained here in the following link from our friends at ESPN.com:  goodell-sends-los-angeles-relocation-memo .  The memo indicates that the new stadium in Los Angeles must be suitable for not one but two franchises to occupy.   There must also be some reasonable attempt to stay in the original host city, though this is probably just lip service.  Al Davis and the Raiders proved that it is possible to defy the league wishes as they moved from Oakland to Los Angeles and back again, and that this can stand up in court.  

This week Commissioner Goodell gave a clear signal that the NFL will move into London, England as well as Los Angeles:  los-angeles-vs-london-nfl-wants-both .  In other words two to four current NFL franchises are going to move.  The most frequently mentioned teams are habitually poor teams such as the Jacksonville Jaguars, San Diego Chargers, Buffalo Bills, St Louis Rams and the Oakland Raiders. When that happens, the cities that are abandoned will attempt to obtain franchises to fill the new vacancies, no doubt upping the ante in the process.   

Basically, in the Village Elliot's view, the NFL believes it can blackmail American cities into paying outrageous fees for NFL Franchises, and they are probably right.   Supposing that the Jaguars move to London, say, then the City of Jacksonville will be willing to pay just about any price to replace their team with some other team.  So Jacksonville will try to lure the Rams out of St Louis, perhaps. It is possible that franchises will appreciate in value by about 100% if this kind of bidding war emerges. There could easily be a half dozen franchise shifts in the next five years.  

And it is certainly possible that the Cleveland Browns will be added to the list of candidate franchises to move if Mr. Haslam can wriggle out of his stadium lease.  Die-hard Browns fans are convinced that the lawyers can rescue Haslam despite the fact that the cash register at Pilot Flying J was found to contain tens of millions of dollars that wasn't actually supposed to be there.  However the same fans figure that those same lawyers will be unable to break the stadium lease with the City of Cleveland.  Those two bits of logic elude the Village Elliot entirely.  I think that if Mr Haslam is in fact successfully rescued by his attorneys, that seem legal team will try to break the current lease with the city.  The Browns will try to leave for greener pastures if they can.


This week

Monday, October 21, 2013

Browns Cheapskate Ways Coming Back to Haunt Them

   The Cleveland Browns are the cheapest team in the NFL, judging by the amount of money under the salary cap.  The Browns are $26 million dollars under the salary cap. They most famously unloaded Trent Richardson's salary by trading him to the Indianapolis Colts.  This may be a good move in 2014, but it is just another sign that the Browns have given up on 2013.  

    Other signs include the failure to retain a quality wide receiver like David Nelson, a 6'5" experienced slot receiver who recently signed with the New England Patriots after being cut by the Browns.  The Village Elliot has repeatedly pointed out that the Browns have been unloading payroll ever since the rebate scandal erupted at Pilot Flying J.  This has recently received national media attention (see Forbes.com http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2013/09/18 Did the Browns Trade Richardson Because of Haslam's Legal Problems? ), though most Cleveland Browns fans still seem to believe that the Browns are just fine except for the quarterback position.

  In any case, the Browns saved themselves upwards of a hal million dollars by cutting Nelson and signing an undrafted rookie free agent to take his place.   Nelson is not an All-Pro, but he did catch four balls for 80 yards for the Jets yesterday. Ditto for blocking tight end Kellen Davis who is playing well for the Seattle Seahawks.  Both Nelson and Davis were signed as free agents earlier this year and then cut after the Pilot Flying J scandal broke.  Then too, Josh Cribbs was shown the door after last season, but after rehabbing an injury he has resurfaced with the New York Jets and looked good returning punts.  Perhaps that is just a coincidence. And perhaps it is a coincidence that the Browns are $26 million dollars under the salary cap, right?
Blocking Tight End Kellen Davis was mysteriously cut after signing as a free agent with the Browns, thus saving Jimmy Haslam some money.  He is doing okay for the Seattle Seahawks.  

Photo credit: http://ww1.hdnux.com/photos/24/31/13/5346028/3/628x471.jpg
Wide receiver David Nelson caught four balls for 80 yards against the New England Patriots yesterday.  He was also signed as a free agent and then cut by the Browns after the Pilot Flying J scandal broke.  Haslam pocketed a half a mil after Nelson left. 

Brandon Jackson is another mid tier backup who was re-signed by the Browns and then cut, saving a few bucks for Mr. Haslam. Jackson is still available, which might be of interest to a team that lost Trent Richardson.  

Photo credit: http://assets.nydailynews.com/polopoly_fs/1.1488042.1381978438!/img/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_635/jinsider17s-1-web.jpg
Josh Cribbs was signed by the Jets and yesterday was used as a wide receiver and took a direct snap on a wildcat play. He had three carries for 14 yards in addition to returning three punts for 44 yards and a kickoff for 17 yards

Understand, none of these guys are going to make All-Pro.  But over the course of the season, players like this can make a difference. But this is small potatoes, frankly. Signing all four probably costs about $2 million bucks.  If you figure an NFL starter is worth 3 million dollars, the Browns could have signed about 8 or 9 starters in 2013, but instead elected to trim salaries as much as possible. 

    Perhaps it is a good strategy for 2014, but for 2013 it is tantamount to giving up on the season.  To see it otherwise is just naive.  Meantime Browns management is said to be salivating over rookie quarterbacks in the 2014 draft.  Will it be Bridgewater?  Or Manziel?   It's hard to know.  But the Browns typically act as though there are no other problems except at the quarterback position.

     Well, Browns fans, there you go.  It looks like the Browns are simply trying to position themselves for the 2014 draft.  They have no running game and refuse to sign any players that might help for 2013.  Might as well shut off the TV until next year.  

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Patriots-Jets Officiating Raises Questions

     This blog is usually about the Cleveland Browns, but their pathetic play against the Packers is not worth writing about this week.  Hence, I am writing about the Patriots-Jets game, which I watched this afternoon. 
Photo Credit: Boston Globe
Um, I guess someone pushed.   Tsk tsk.  
As a fan, I have no qualifications to criticize the officiating, and for the most part I tend to believe that the officiating is pretty good, and that the process of critiquing the officiating is beyond my pay grade.  However, in this game I was struck by the apparent absurdness of the call which decided the game in overtime.  Namely, the Jets kicker was attempting a 56 yard field goal, which is very tough to make.  His attempt was off line.  But wait! 

     An official threw a flag and called a penalty that no one had ever heard of before.  The penalty was for unsportsmanlike conduct, in which a Patriots lineman allegedly pushed a Patriots player, causing him to make contact with a Jets player.  What? 

    This was the game deciding play, and the defending team normally tries to block the field goal attempt.  Nobody was injured or caused any obvious discomfort on the play. All that us fans could see was 11 Patriots trying to block a kick. 

    While watching the game with my friends, I had remarked that several non-calls on pass interference by the Jets were unusually blatant, and that to my amateur eye it looked like the Jets defenders were being permitted unusual lattitude in defending against Patriots' receivers.  The stats look about the same for both games, but nevertheless that was the impression that I received while watching the game. But the ultimate weird call was pushing your own player, which caused the game deciding kick to be moved forward some 15 yards, with an additional first down thrown in for good measure.  

    I know that the NFL always reviews its officials and discusses each game.  I hope that they review this one in particular very closely, and that they can offer an explanation to the fans on what happened.