Saturday, November 8, 2014

REALITY CHECK--ARE THE BROWNS THERE YET?

     After an amazing performance in which the Browns dominated the Bengals 24-3, are the Browns legit playoff contenders?

    Sure, but so are 20 or so other teams in the NFL. The Browns need to focus on the Houston Texans.  


    One of the spins on the game is that it was a fantastic performance by Brian Hoyer.  In fact, it was fantastic, but the best part was that he had zero turnovers.  It was not an aerial blitzkreig, and after the game I was surprised to find out that he had "only" 196 yards on 15 of 23.   People talk about game management as if it's a bad thing, but you don't want to have somebody slinging the ball all over the ballfield in that situation.  Hand the ball off!  The Browns had an astonishing 52 carries in that game, the result of getting an early lead and being faced with an inept Bengals offense that kept giving the Browns great field position.  The Browns were without Pro Bowlers Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon, as well as their next best receiver in Anthony Hawkins.  On that basis, zero INTs and 23 passes looks great. 




photo credit:  nydailynews.com
Brian Hoyer was ruthlessly efficient if not exactly the Mad Bomber.  


Another theme was that this game marked the return of the Browns' running game, but I think it was more the case that the situation called for running the ball.  Overall, they averaged just 3.4 yards per carry which is nothing to write home about.  They still miss Alex Mack.  On the positive side, backup Nick McDonald improved greatly from his first game to his second.  So they are not back to where they were earlier this seaon, but they seem headed in the right direction.

With three good running backs, the Browns were able to run 52 times for 170 yards. That's a 3.4 yard average, which is good but not great.  


Game balls should be awarded to the entire Browns defense.  They made the Bengals look silly.  Who ever heard of an NFL quarterback going 10 for 33?  Maybe in the 1920s, but surely not today, right?  Well Andy Dalton did it.  The Bengals seemed determined not exploit their advantage in the run game, with big mouth Stephen Hill averaging 4.6 yards but on only 12 carries. The Browns did not stop the run very well, but the Bengals managed to pass 39 times verus 22 team running plays.  How could that happen when the Browns were last in the league in run defense, but highly talented in the defensive secondary?    The Browns' Joe Haden crushed A. J. Green, and fellow Pro Bowler Donte Whitner did a great job on Jermaine Gresham.   Buster Skrine had a career game with two interceptions. K'Waun Williams and Jim Leonhard also played very well.  

The main downer was that rookie Justin Gilbert left early with an injury.  Gilbert had been   improving week to week.

Desmond Bryant got to Dalton a few times, aided and abetted by Paul Kruger from his outside linebacker post.  The Browns are finally applying pressure to the opposing quarterback.  

Dalton responded with a pathetic 10 for 33 effort.  As bad as it was, it is inexplicable why they decided to pass twice as much as they ran the ball.  I can only imagine that Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson was hoping to impress a national TV audience with a high otane passing offense.   To put it bluntly, I think the Browns were helped by a foolish game plan from the Bengals coaching staff.  

To me it looks like the Browns are improving on Defense and should be able to win a few more games.  But I still think that the offense is struggling as they make adjustments.  In a few weeks, they will get Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon back, and the Browns may suddenly find themselves playing well on both sides of the ball. 



Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Browns Struggles on Offense Will Continue

   During the first five games of the season, the Browns had fantastic play from their offensive line.  Pro Bowlers Joe Thomas and Kevin Mack were joined by stud rookie card Joel Bitonio, and John Greco came back from an injury riddled 2013 season.  Mitchell Schwartz also has played well.  I suspect that he was playing with some injuries last year and had a few bad games but for whatever reason he has played at a high level in 2014. 

    In addition, all three running backs were up over 4.0 yards per carry, and the receivers were doing well also.  QB Brian Hoyer was getting time to throw and the result was an overall high performing offense.  Browns fans were demanding a Peyton Manning type contract for Hoyer, and dreaming up trades for rookie backup Johnny Manziel.  

   My theory is that it really matters how good your fifth best lineman is, especially for pass coverage, because the defense is going to target the guy that they think is the weakest. Up to now, the Browns really didn't have a weakness at OL.  

   The loss of Alex Mack has thrown a glitch into the entire offense however.  Now John Greco is trying to learn a new position at center, while journeyman Paul McQuistan is trying to replace Greco at right guard.   McQuistan is giving his 100%, but the fact is that he got pasted by a good Jacksonville front last week, and he struggled in the preseason as well.   The result is a huge difference in both run blocking as well as quarterback protection.  

   Suddenly the running game has lost its effectiveness, and Hoyer is being pressured and no longer has time to throw.  Suddenly, Hoyer looks human instead of like Superman.   
     The Browns are scrambling to find a solution for the O-Line, and perhaps they will find a new center soon that will allow Greco to return to right guard.

     In any case, I believe that the Browns are in trouble.  Hoyer is a great quarterback when he is surrounded by talent, but without excellent pass protection, he is going to be much less effective.  I predict that there will be a few more sacks and more interceptions now that Mack is out for the year.   No doubt the fans will say that Hoyer is regressing, but that isn't really what is happening if you ask me. He just isn't as good without five Pro Bowl calibre linemen.  

      So is replacing Hoyer with Manziel going to fix the Browns problems? Maybe to some extent. Manziel might be better than Hoyer at coping with the pass rush and getting the ball downfield.  That might partially compensate for his lack of NFL experience.
Will the Browns' Problems be Solved by Johnny Manziel? Not really, but I think they should make the move soon anyway.  

Desmond Bryant leads all other Browns defensive linemen in sacks, with a total of one.  Every other lineman on the active roster has zero. 

  But the real problem with the Browns is not the offense at all.  The banged up Browns' defensive line is currently number 32 out of 32 teams versus the run.  Not very impressive. Plus they have not rushed their opponents' passers either.  So far only Desmond Bryant and Armonty Bryant have a sack (one each), and now Armonty is gone for the year.  So the Browns current DL personnel account for only one sack the entire year.  That is shocking.

     It would not surprise me if the Browns continue to struggle on Sunday against the currently winless Oakland Raiders.  If so, don't be astonished if Manziel gets some playing time in the second half.  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Browns Get Beat Up by St Louis, 33-14

      The Browns disappointed the home crowd, losing to the Rams 33 to 14.  They were totally outclassed by the up-and-coming Rams on both sides of the ball. The Rams defense pushed the Browns around on the line of scrimmage and did whatever they pleased on offense.  

     Brian Hoyer had a touchdown, an interception and a fumble.   He was not very good, but significantly improved over his antichrist-like performances of the first two exhibition games.  Johnny Manziel likewise was much better in this game than the previous two,  rushing for another score.  



http://scout.imgix.net/137/1371813.jpg?w=600&h=360&mode=crop&scale=both
Brian Hoyer was much better than in the first two games, but still underachieved.  


     The running game was pathetically weak, gaining a grand total of 32 yards for the game. That is awful.   Nobody looked good, and the offensive line forgot how to block.  In particular I was disappointed  by hotshot rookie Terrance West.  Instead of the one-cut style that the Shanahan offense is famous for, West likes to tiptoe up to the line, and then start shifting left and right, almost like he is waiting for someone to tackle him. That style doesn't seem to work.  Can Shanahan get him fixed in time for the September 7 opener?    Likewise Tate was terrible, as the entire team averaged 2.1 yards per carry.  Can we have Willis McGahee back?  He at least rushed for 2.7 yards per carry last year.   The presence of a fullback plus blocking tight end Jim Dray was supposed to help the running game, but it was not evidenced today.   If there is a positive note, it would be the play of rookie Joel Bitonio, who continues to be rock solid at left guard.  Hint:  let's run left this year.  


    The Browns defense was equally terrible, being unable to stop the Rams on third down, and giving up nearly 500 yards of total offense, even though star QB Sam Bradford had to leave with a knee injury early on.  

   Although the Browns were terrible on both sides of the ball, the Rams are one of the top teams in the league, and they may make a lot of teams look terrible.  The Rams did not draft Robert Griffin III in 2012, and instead traded for several draft picks, who are now on the team (hello lineman Greg Robinson, 2nd overall pick this year).  Also, a partial explanation for the Browns' miserable performance was a rash of injuries in the secondary.  The Browns were without cornerbacks Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, Marcus Trufant and Pierre Desir. That's four of their five top cornerbacks.  Leon McFadden, probably the sixth best qb on the team, was torched pretty well by St Louis. I'm not sure if he will make the final team.  If the Browns have fewer than four guys out of the lineup, the secondary may be a LOT better.


   Christian Kirksey had a good game at inside linebacker, and made a fantastic pick.  He does not look like a rookie.  Pass coverage was a problem area for the Browns linebacker corps last year, and Kirksey goes a long way to fixing that problem.  I think he will start and be an impact player.  

    I noted that Ray Agnew started at fullback. The running game did not exactly hum when he was in, but on the other hand MarQueis Gray contributed a costly and unnecessary holding penalty.  Gray has made some big plays so far, but also some bad plays.  But what the Browns really need is a guy who can block for the halfback.  

    In short, this was a terrible game, and the Browns looked uninspired on both sides of the ball.  They still have time to turn it around, but they need to get it together soon.  

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Is the MLB Blocking the Plate Rule Change Necessary?



    This year baseball has instituted a rule change basically requiring the catcher to provide a lane for baserunners attempting to score.  It's no longer legal to block the plate without the ball.  Specifically, new rule 7.13 states:  
Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher, without possession of the ball, blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe.

 
  Now of course many people question the new rule and are demanding that the rule be rescinded.  However, the Village Elliot asks a different question:  When was it ever legal to block the plate at all?  I think this has always been illegal, but MLB has chosen to ignore it.  Spefically, Rule 2.00 covers obstruction:


OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.

So, for example if there is a play at second base you can not block the runner and then catch the ball and tag him out.  Why then was it legal to block home plate, then get the ball and tag the runner out?  

This should be simply called obstruction, and the runner is safe and the other runners are allowed to move up.   

Baseball, however, has chosen to convince itself that blocking the plate has been (up until 2014) a legal play.  

"The act of fielding the ball"  suggests that if the throw is off line, the catcher might be entitled to venture in front of the baserunner in order to catch it.  But definitely the catcher should not be permitted to camp up the third base line and let the runner smash into him before catching the ball.  That is completely bogus and is the result of umpires and players conspiring to read the rules differently than they are actually written.  

Rule 7.13, to my thinking, simply adds details about the home plate situation.  But blocking the plate is already illegal per Rule 2.00.  

Blocking the plate is dangerous and can get somebody killed or maimed.  MLB is right to try to make the game safer, or in my opinion, was incorrect to not enforce the existing rules.  


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Takeaways from Lions 13 Browns 12

     Some random impressions from the Cleveland Browns first exhibition game:

      Some guys that I thought played well were LG Joel Bitonio, who seemed very tough for Detroit defensive linemen to move, ILB Craig Robertson, who defended the screen very well, Marcus Trufant who got into some man-to-man coverage in place of Joe Haden, Barkevious Mingo, who put on a decent pash rush showing that he might be a viable starter, WR Charles Johnson who had a nice catch and showed no lingering effects from knee surgery,  and Brandon Tate who had several strong runs.  Rookie Tyler Gabriel caught three balls for 32 yards, which might not sound like much, but he was actually the leading wide receiver for the Browns.  Overall Browns wideouts were dismal.  

It was great to see the Browns rediscover halfback over right tackle, thanks to Ben Tate. The Browns were not able to do that last year with Willis McGahee as the feature back. Now, however, they have Tate as well as Terrance West, Chris Ogbonnaya, Isaiah Crowell and Dion Lewis.  Somewhere, somehow you have to think they are going to run the ball this season, and run it a lot.  

It will be interesting to say how Marqueis Gray plays out at fullback.  Last year he played quarterback in the Wildcat for the Browns, but that position has been eliminated.  With Ken Dray joining Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge in the tight end corps, it makes sense to try Gray exclusively at fullback.  He was actually the leading receiver for the Browns yesterday with two catches for 51 yards, but also had a dropped pass. If he can prove he can catch the ball, he might find a home at fullback.  If not, free agent Ray Agnew might take his place, or else they might use undersized Chris Ogbonnaya in that role again.  

http://www.dawgsbynature.com/2014/8/10/5988321/browns-vs-lions-analyzing-the-snap-counts-offense
Charles Johnson gives a faint glimmer of hope at Wide Receiver. 

http://imgick.cleveland.com/home/cleve-media/pgmain/img/plain-dealer/photo/2014/08/09/-107a6be936a51e68.jpg 
Ben Tate looks like he will be a force in a run-first offense in 2014.  

Brian Hoyer did not look good, overthrowing a few passes and rushing some of his throws.  I can already hear ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski complaining about Hoyer's mechanics and explaining what happens when you throw off the wrong foot.  Well 6 for 14 is what happens.  He is lucky not to have thrown a few picks.  

Of course, Hoyer had help from his teammates, with drops by Marqueis Gray, WR Willie Snead who waved at a few balls, and WR Miles Austin.  The passing game just doesn't look good right now. 

Exhibition football is made for quarterbacks to succeed.  Defenses don't gameplan much and play a lot of man-to-man without much stunting up front.  Hence fans should not get too excited if their quarterback put up great numbers...but on the other hand if the qb flops in exhibition season, it is not going to get any easier when the regular season starts.  For that reason, I thought that Hoyer took a step back, and Johnny Manziel would be the odds on favorite to start if Hoyer struggles again next week.  In other words, Johnny isn't really winning the comparison at this point; but Brian may be losing it.  

http://www.dawgsbynature.com/2014/8/10/5988321/browns-vs-lions-analyzing-the-snap-counts-offense
Johnny Manziel was good, not spectacular. But that was better than Brian Hoyer.  

The Browns did not play RB Isaiah Crowell or qb Connor Shaw yesterday.  It may be that the Browns don't want to let the other scouts see these guys, hoping that they can sign them to their practice squad.  On the other hand, with Tyler Thigpen turning in a lackluster performance, Shaw might be viable now as the third string guy.   

Dion Lewis may be in trouble as he put the ball on the ground.  He looked great in exhibitions in 2013 before injuring his knee. He can run and return kicks, but whether or not he can catch the ball and block remains to be seen.   For that reason Crowell might have a shot at the 53 man roster, especially if the Browns feel that they have other options for returning kicks behind Travis Benjamin.

Edwin Baker was perhaps more impressive than Lewis, getting some tough yards in limited duty.  He performed well in some late season starts last year.  I think he is a better running back than Lewis, but Lewis might be a good role player and is a good kick returner. It's tough to guess which guy has the edge, although the fumble by Lewis does not help him.  



Monday, June 16, 2014

Salary Cap 101 Carryover Salary Cap in the NFL

This year the NFL is allow teams a "carryover" salary cap in which unspent 2013 salary money can be spent in 2014.  Last year Joe Banner of the Cleveland Browns underspent the salary cap by $24 million dollars which gets added to the Browns 2014 figure.  So all the NFL teams are allotted $133 Million dollars this year, but the Browns can actually spend an additional $24 million, or up to $157 million, if they want to.  In other words, the rules are set up to allow the Browns to overspend in 2014 because they underspent in t 2013.   

However, the Carryover money is sort of like a savings account.  Once you spend it, it's gone.  If they were to spend $157 million this year, they would be obliged to cut back to $133 million next year.   I think they are going to wait until they feel that they are legit Super Bowl contenders.

     It might also be mentioned that if players and their agents knew that the Browns were going to underspend in 2013, probably free agents would have been less inclined to sign with them. They got away with it once, but in my view it was the right thing to do to let Banner go, otherwise what free agent would ever trust the Browns again?

Would the Browns be able to sign a Free Agent like Paul Kruger, if he had known in advance that they planned to tank the season to the tune of some $24 Million?

As it is, right now (June 2014) they are about at $133 million, which is their annual salary cap "allowance."  They could try to sign a player or two if there are some guys who are cut by other teams with cap problems.  The Browns could carry an expensive player if they want.  They could also create some additional room by trading Ahtyba Rubin, who is a very good player, but who also has a very big salary, with most of it not being guaranteed.

     The Browns have fared very well this year because their GM, Ray Farmer, has understood the rules better than his rivals.  For example, by giving Andrew Hawkins a front loaded deal as a restricted free agent, the Bengals could not match it because they did not have the 2014 salary cap room.  

Browns GM Ray Farmer has been brilliant this off-season, by manipulating the salary cap rules in favor of the Browns.  

    Similarly, Farmer was able to get a multiyear deal done for Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, by manipulating the Franchise Tag (or Transition Tag) rules.  At the beginning of the off-season, the sportswriters were saying there was no way that the Browns could sign Mack to a multiyear deal.  

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Salary Cap Math 101: Salary Cap Effect on Trades

       This article discusses the basics of the NFL salary cap, as an aid to the armchair analyst in the Hot Stove League.   I'm just a fan and don't necessarily know that much, but I do know that the salary cap affects the moves that each team can realistically make.  
     Even professional sportswriters sometimes make the mistake of believing rumors that absolutely violate common sense.  
     Here's what you need to know:
   
     1.  Every team in the NFL has a limit to how much salary they can spend in a given year.  It should be obvious that good players are usually paid more money than less talented players, so if your team is spending a lot of money on player salaries, that is usually a good thing

    2.  There is a huge difference between salary  and bonus (guaranteed) money.  For example, if a player has a five year contract for $50 million dollars with 20 million guaranteed, then the annual charge is $10 million dollars for each year ($6 M salary and $4M guaranteed bonus).   However, suppose the team decides to trade the guy after year 1.   In this case the team clears $6 M of salary in year 2, but ALL of the remaining bonus gets charged to the cap or $16 M). It's not a fine that the owner can just write a check for.  The team has to actually CUT $16 worth of payroll in Year 2 which is a disaster for that year.  See below: 
  
Case i:  Player plays out his contract as planned.
Year 1  Year 2   Year 3  Year 4  Year 5
$10 M   $ 10 M    $10 M $10 M   $10 M

Case ii:  Player is traded after year 1.  
Year 1  Year 2   Year 3  Year 4  Year 5
$10 M   $ 16 M     $0 M    $0 M      $0 M



Year 3 and out are ok because the obligation to pay the guy is over, but basically in Year 2 the team is going to have to cut some really good players to cover the trade.  In this example they have to clear 16 million dollars in salary spending just to get rid of the guy.   



So in other words if a guy has bonus money in his contract, the team that trades him is going to get a big salary cap penalty for the year in which  the trade is made.   Got it? 

Let's consider a real example.  This year this was a rumor that the Cowboys were trying to trade Tony Romo in order to move up in the NFL draft.  Could that be true?  What you do is look up Romo's salary cap situation from a site like overthecap.com, and you find the following line  ( http://overthecap.com/cap.php?Name=Tony%20Romo&Position=QB&Team=Cowboys  ):

YearBase
Salary
Prorated
Bonus
Roster
Bonus
Workout
Bonus
Other
Bonus
Cap
Number
Dead
Money
Cap
Savings








2014$1,000,000$10,773,000$0$0$0$11,773,000$49,181,000($29,908,000)
2015$17,000,000$10,773,000$0$0$0$27,773,000$37,408,000($9,635,000)
2016$8,500,000$9,135,000$0$0$0$17,635,000$19,135,000($1,500,000)
2017$14,000,000$7,500,000$0$0$0$21,500,000$10,000,000$11,500,000
2018$19,500,000$2,500,000$0$0$0$22,000,000$2,500,000$19,500,000
2019$20,500,000$0$0$0$0$20,500,000$0$20,500,000

Rom was paid a preposterous bonus, meaning that if the Cowboys were to cut or trade him this year, it would lower their salary cap in 2014 by an incredible $29,908,000.  That's how even amateurs like me knew that the Cowboys simply could not trade Romo no matter how much they might want to. They simply can not absorb the salary cap hit that they would take.  Hence any trade rumor involving Romo is 99% likely to be false unless Tony decided to restructure his contract to facilitate the move. Even then, it is nearly impossible in 2014 given the magnitude of the money involved.   Romo would basically have to give back 20 or 30 million dollars to get traded.  That's not very likely.  


Jerry Jones is one of the dumbest GM's in history, and loves to give guaranteed money away, which is great for guys like Tony Romo.  But you should disbelieve any rumor that Romo is going to be traded because that is almost impossible due to the salary cap.  

If you look at the Salary Cap, it is easy to see that the Cowboys are the worst managed team in the NFL.  Hopefully, Browns' owner Jimmy Haslam 3 will see how Jones has screwed up his team and avoid the same temptation.   

In any case,  for a trade to go forward, the principals have to have a relatively small amount of money tied up in signing bonuses (i.e., guaranteed money).  Either that or the trading team would have to be way under the cap.  For example, the Browns or Raiders could trade away a major player if they chose to because they can absorb the current year salary cap penalty.  At the same time they are able to pay large (non-guaranteed) salaries in 2014 because of their low payrolls compared to the cap limit. 

One guy that might be available from the Browns is Ahtyba Rubin, even though he is a very good player who can play end or tackle in either a 3-4 or 4-3 alignment.   The Browns could save $6.6 million dollars versus the cap if they could trade him (versus his total salary plus bonus of 8.2 M this year).  Or, because they have the cap room, they might just keep him or try to renegotiate him down.
 

Ahtyba Rubin has a big salary cap number, and might be used in trade even though he is a very good player.  





Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Joe Nuxhall's Debut with the Reds, 70 Years Ago Today.



Today June 10 2014 marks 70 years since Joe Nuxhall made his debut with the Cincinnati Reds as a 14 year old schoolboy.  Back in 1944, talent was a little thin, owing to the fact that everyone was fighting Hitler and Tojo.  So the Reds decided to try out a guy who was too young to go to the Army.  Joe came from Hamilton High, where my Dad and many other friends and family members also attended.  Joe was a big strong farm kid, and threw very hard. What the heck, lefthanders don't grow on trees!

Joe got into a game when the Reds were being slaughtered 13-0.  He only lasted 2/3 of an inning giving up two hits and five walks. After that they sent Joe down to the minors and the following year he returned to high school. 

After completing High School, he persevered in the minor leagues for a few and made it back to the bigs in 1952.  He played ball for 16 years at the Major League level, and then he was the Red's announcer for many years.  I remember he was also the batting practice pitcher for the Big Red Machine, and could throw for hours every day.

One time I used Joe as a sermon illustration to tell the story of David and Goliath.  My point was that a farm kid with a good arm is not to be trifled with, and thus the Biblical account is not so ridiculous.  I figured that David knew what he was doing, selecting aerodynamically smooth stones from a brook rather than rough stones from the ground.  He could probably sling those stones at 120 miles per hour or so, enough to fracture a person's skull. David was probably aiming for his nose and missed by four inches, hitting him in the forehead.   Goliath had no chance! 

Joe Nuxhall and Marty Brennaman.  

I used to like it when The Old Lefthander would interview a new player being brought up to the big leagues for the first time.  It was kind of like a Dad interviewing his son.  Joe would give fatherly advice, in the form of an interview question.  Like,

"Do you have to just relax and let your natural abilities take over?"

"Do you need to trust in your catcher and let him call the game for you?"

"Are you going to enjoy every minute of your Big League career?"


I always thought they should have put Joe's statue in front of the stadium.  He was not the best player in Red's history, but I believe he was the most loved.  




Friday, May 23, 2014

The Chuck and Duck Offense

  Definitely, most football fans prefer the Chuck and Duck offense.   That term was originally used by Coach Buddy Ryan to describe the "Run and Shoot" offense in which you have four or even five receivers.  In other words, the Chuck and Duck team loads up on quarterbacks and wide receivers, often neglecting everything else.  The only problem is that football is a team game, so when you do that you almost never win. 


Does the Chuck and Duck offense work?  Um, no.  


    Nevertheless, greedy owners, as well as many fans, are attracted to strong armed quarterbacks, especially if they can scramble. They also want to load up on speedy wide receivers and throw the bomb as often as possible.   But if your team can't protect the quarterback, he eventually gets killed. 

     Because of the team aspect, quarterbacks usually don't perform well if the team sucks.   That should have been obvious when the Browns signed Jeff Garcia, who played great for San Francisco, but not so good for Cleveland. Then Garcia went on to star again for Philadelphia and Tampa Bay and even made the Pro Bowl.  

Was quarterback Jeff Garcia to blame for the Browns 4-12 showing in 2004 ?   If so, how did he make the Pro Bowl three times before coming to Cleveland, and once more after he left? 


     Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder come to mind as stupid owners that love to spend money on quarterbacks and wide receivers, and not so much on other positions.   Jones has saddled his team with Tony Romo, who at age 34 has such a huge contract that he is virtually untradable.  Like it or not, the Cowboys are stuck with him.  They also have bad boy wide receiver Dez Bryant, while their defense was one of the worst in NFL history in 2013.   

Would you want either of these guys calling the football shots for your team?  I predict these guys will be dwelling in the basement of the NFC East for years to come, despite incredible fan bases and years of accumulated football smarts in their organizations.  


    Snyder, of course, sabotaged his team by trading three first round draft picks and one second round pick for Robert Griffin III, who has had some injuries and clashes with the coaching staff.  I predict that both of those teams will continue their downward slides in 2014.   Let's hope that the Browns don't follow this model.  


    In the AFC North, you have to be able to play in cold weather.  If a team plays in a dome, or in the south, it might make more sense to try to acquire wide receivers with great speed.  But when it's cold and windy, you want big physical guys that are able to adjust to the ball and outfight the defenders. Better yet, draft linemen and defenders rather than trying to build an explosive passing game.  

    With the big front seven that the Browns have, and now with the talent they have in the defensive backfield,  I don't think that other teams will be able to move the ball very effectively against them.  
     The Browns have been a Chuck and Duck team for a long time, blowing draft choices and free agent dollars on quarterbacks like Jake Delhomme, Colt McCoy, Brandon Weeden, Brady Quinn and others.   
     Remember the 2009 season?  They tried to use the four wide receiver formation with such stud receivers as Mohammad Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, Mike Furrey and Chansi Stuckey.  Brady Quinn was the fireball quarterback for that operation, which turned out to be a complete disaster.  The solution?  Fire the quarterback, of course.  Hello, Jake Delhomme.  And on and on...

    So, what's new?  Again the Browns have a new quarterback in Johnny Manziel, but I think Ray Farmer is building a much better team overall. Wide receiver is probably the weakest part of the team, but they will be able to move the ball on the ground and they are four deep at tight end. They have drafted Joel Bittonio, who may wind up a guard, and added  Ken Dray as a second blocking tight end.    They also added a running back in Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell.  They also added Andrew Hawkins as a slot receiver and wideout, as well as veterans Nate Burleson and Miles Austin.  

     Moreover, the defense is now stacked.  They have three guys (Rubin, Bryant and Taylor) who are quick enough to play defensive end but big enough to play nose tackle.  They have added  guys in ILB Karlos Dansby and SS Donte Whitner who are much more effective in pass coverage than their predecessors.  With Justin Gilbert and Pierre Desir joining Pro Bowler and new millionaire Joe Haden, the Browns will be able to play man-to-man coverage and turn the Front 7 loose to do their thing.  If there is a weakness in this defense, I don't know what it is.  
  
     Others may complain about the lack of wide receiving talent, which is true.   But  I'll go with the Browns defense over any Chuck and Duck offense, thank you very much.   


    

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Village Elliot's Predictions for the 2014 NFL Draft-Cleveland Browns

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POST SCRIPT:  I got everything wrong.  I was sort of right that they did not trade up for Manziel, and did not draft him at four.  I was also right that the qbs would go  a little later, for the most part. But I am surprised that the Browns had Manziel ranked so highly.

My upset prediction that Khalil Mack would be the top pick also whiffed.  

Watkins did not slide, and in fact Buffalo traded up for him, giving the Browns a fantastic deal. 

Jake Matthews was apparently not the obvious pick at #4.

The Browns did trade up from #26, although not for Derek Carr but instead Johnny Manziel.  

The Cowboys had some restraint to not take Manziel at #16.  I know that hurt.

whiff! whiff!  whiff!  whiff! whiff!

The Village Elliot whiffed on just about all predictions.  I did get it right that two other Texa A&M guys were selected ahead of Manziel, and I was also right that the qbs were taken mid to late first round.   before However, the draft party at Roosters was really, really fun.  I hope we can do that again. 

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   This is really impossible, trying to predict the unpredictable NFL draft, but here goes.  It should be good for a laugh, at least...
1.  The Browns are not drafting Johnny Manziel.  This was decided when Joe Banner was fired by the Browns.  In Banner's mock draft, Manziel was the clear number one overall pick, but Banner was going to make a brave move by bunding three or four first round picks for Houston's first overall pick.  Then the Browns would install a pistol read option offense.  Coach Rob Chudzinksi and OC Norv Turner balked and they were fired.  They bounced the idea off several head coaching candidates and they walked out.  Finally owner Jimmy Haslam figured out that Banner was a crackpot and fired him.   I don't think they are going back to Banner's plan.
Since Banner has been fired, I don't see the Browns going back to the original plan of drafting Johnny Manziel.

2.  Khalil Mack and Jadeveon Clowney will probably go 1-2.  They are the premier defensive picks.  I see Mack going to Houston and Clowney to the St Louis Rams. 

3.  Sammy Watkins will slide a little bit.  Most reporters say that Sammy Watkins is a sure-fire All Pro, but I don't agree.  Early on, they were saying that he was 6'2" and could run a 4.2 or 4.3 40 yard dash.  In reality he measured up at 6'1" and ran a 4.4 at Pro Day, which is very good but not what we were promised.  But for some reason the press continues to rate him with the Top 5 sure-fire Pro Bownl athletes.  My guess is that he slides a few spots, maybe to 9 or 10.   I think Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans will be drafted ahead of Watkins, maybe even by the Browns.   
Sammy Watkins is really good.  But it's a deep class and Mike Evans might be even better. 

4.  I see stud left tackle Greg Robinson going next to the Jaguars, leaving Jake Matthews as the next best guy, also a left tackle.  The Browns will try to trade out, but probably won't get a taker, so I think they go ahead and take Matthews. You have to take a guy if you feel he is going to be an All Pro, even if you don't really need him.  So either Matthews or Joe Thomas will have to switch to the right side, with Mitchell Schwartz moving to guard.   The Browns will run the ball AND pass it in 2014. 


Jake Matthews is the nephew of Clay Matthews and son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews.  Gotta take a guy like that even if you don't really need to fill a left tackle.   


5.  The Browns will try to trade up from Number 26 to take a quarterback. I think they will try to get Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, Blake Bortles or Terry Bridgewater, probably in the teens.  I think Johnny Manziel will also go around that range, maybe at number 16 to Dallas.   Jerry Jones can not pass him up.  The Cowboys had a historically bad defense last year, allowing the third highest yardage total in NFL history.  So what does a guy like Jerry Jones do to fix that defense?  That's right, draft a new quarterback. 


Is Jerry Jones crazy?  Yes.  That's why he is the most likely guy to have Johnny Manziel on his team. 


6.  A lot of teams like Derek Carr, and the Browns might not want to spend the firepower to get him.  The Browns may move up or stay at 26, and I think that Jimmy Garoppolo might be the guy they want.  The Browns may offer Ahtyba Rubin to a team like Oakland or Jacksonville to move up. 


7.  No matter what happens, it will be a lot of fun.  I'll be in Xenia Ohio with the Dice Brothers eating chicken wings and arguing. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Is Jimmy Haslam III (Finally) Bringing Sanity to the Browns?

Jimmy Haslam has some reason to smile now.  

     For the first time in what seems like centuries, almost all the off-season moves for the Cleveland Browns have been good.  The craziness of the past few years has stopped, at least up to the point of the NFL draft, and I can't believe it.   Jimmy Haslam, Ray Farmer and the Browns front office deserve great credit.  

    As an amateur sportswriter, I have been bitterly critical of the Browns management.  I have complained that Jimmy Haslam III is not a resident owner since he is based in Knoxville Tennessee rather than Ohio.  Plus as a Steeler fan, I wasn't sure whether there he would protect Cleveland's interest when the people from LA come calling to try to persuade the Browns or some other NFL team to move.    Then there is the matter of a potential of an indictment involving the Pilot Flying J discount-shaving scandal which may break any time.  But for the moment, smart football moves appear to be prevailing in Cleveland. 

     Last year, the $24 million dollar question was why the Browns deliberately tanked the 2013 season.  In addition to underspending the salary cap by $24 million dollars, the Browns traded 2013 draft picks for 2014 picks and traded  running back Trent Richardson for a number one 2014 pick. Make no mistake, we were a few players short in 2014, and that could have made some difference. Tanking the season is not illegal, at least in the sense of diverting money and draft picks to future years, but it is unethical.  The fans expect the team to try to win as many games as possible every year, no matter what.   It gave the franchise another black eye and made it unattractive to prospective free agents.   It got to be so bad that the Browns couldn't hire a Head Coach, as most candidates just walked away from them.   The main question was whether this was Haslam's idea?  Or was it Banner's? 


    Well that question was answered when Haslam fired Banner.  He also fired GM Mike Lombardi, who in my mind was more honest than Banner but had a terrible draft (zero starters from 2013 draftees) and didn't get good results from free agents either.  

Ray Farmer has made some great moves, signing Alex Mack when the critics said it was impossible, prying loose Andrew Hawkins from the Bengals, and bring two Pro Bowlers to Cleveland in Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner.  In my opinion, none of this could ever have happened with Banner and Lombardi calling the shots. 


      Funny thing.  As soon as Banner left, and Ray Farmer took over, he made the smart move of "franchise tagging"  Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, which led to a long term commitment with a good player.   The Browns signed quality free agents like Pro Bowlers Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby; halfback Ben Tate and a true fullback in Chris Pressley. Farmer made mincemeat of the rival Cincinnati Bengals, signing slot receiver Andrew Hawkins to replace drug addicted Lombardi signee Davonne Bess.    The Bengals wanted to match the Browns offer, but Farmer used his 2014 cap advantage to structure a front-loaded deal that the Bengals couldn't match (lesson learned:  read the rules).  And most importantly, that talk about trading away our first round draft picks to move up and take a qb (namely Johnny Manziel) went away. Mind, I won't criticize if Manziel is selected by the Browns, but I would have complained if they had decided to mortgage the future by trading away 3 or 4 first round picks for him or any other quarterback in a year in which most experts say there is no true "franchise quarterback" of Andrew Luck's stature. 



     There's still time to screw this up, but my guess is that Ray Farmer knows what he is doing.   I think they are going to draft good players and resist the fan's clamor to draft a quarterback no matter what. In the meantime, the Browns are going to have a normal payroll this year.   It'll  be interesting on May 8 when the NFL draft finally arrives.  

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Cleveland Browns Tight Ends May Be the Best

     True football junkies care about the tight end position, so this is for you.  Believe it or not, the Browns carried four tight ends last year, and they have five tight ends on the roster right now.  Jordan Cameron was the star, of course, making the Pro Bowl for the first time. Many people consider him to be THE Browns tight end.  



     
Jordan Cameron made the Pro Bowl, based on catching the ball  80 times for  917 yards.




     However, though not very many people noticed, Norv Turner had the Browns in a lot of two tight end formations last year.  Gary Barnidge also played in more than half the snaps (789 for Gary, and 971 for Jordan, if you can believe that). Barnidge is a competent receiver and blocker, but not really a road grader like Kellen Davis (who they got rid of at the end of training camp, and who then picked up a Superbowl ring with Seattle).  


Everything we hear about Gary Barnidge off the field is great.  Here he is giving his cleats to a young fan after the Browns beat Baltimore last year.  He is one of my favorite Browns, but man this is a tough, tough position this year...  


     MarQueis Gray was the third tight end and was also used as the quarterback for the Browns' "wildcat" formation for what it's worth.  He started two games for the Browns last year and participated in 279 snaps while you were not looking.  The Browns seem to be very high on his athleticism, but he is still learning the position. He played quarterback at Minnesota.  He also has been a contributor to the Browns on special teams.  So he may be the most interesting athlete at the position, but how far has he progressed at the tight end position??  Can he overtake Barnidge on the depth chart? 


MarQueis Gray was the third string tight end and also got in some snaps at quarterback in the Wildcat.  


    The Browns also signed Jim Dray, who comes with a reputation for being a very hard-nosed run blocker.  I think he is likely to wind up as the number two tight end behind Cameron, and the Browns are going to be able to run better than last year's team.  

    I'm not sure why they signed Andre Smith last year, although he certainly has the size to be a run blocker.  He was another of Banner and Lombardi's minimum wage guys last year.  Let's just say it will be an uphill battle to make the team this year.  

    Given that they also have a true fullback this year in Chris Pressley, my guess is they are probably going to drop at least one and perhaps two of last year's tight ends.  Barnidge is going to play in the NFL somewhere, but Gray may have to beat him out to make the team.  This year there is actually both quality and depth at this position.  


84 Cameron, Jordan TE 6-5 249 25 4 USC
81 Dray, Jim                TE 6-5 255 27 5 Stanford
82 Barnidge, Gary TE 6-6 250 28  7 Louisville
47 Gray, MarQueis TE 6-4 242 24 2 Minnesota
87 Smith, Andre        TE 6-4 270 25 3 Virginia Tech