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