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.
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.  


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.
Charles Johnson gives a faint glimmer of hope at Wide Receiver. 
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.
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.