Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Niche for Justin Gilbert?

    Believe it or not, the often-criticized Justin Gilbert is making a major contribution to the team....on Special Teams. 

    Gilbert has nailed down the job as first string kickoff returner, averaging 30.2 yards per return. The team felt good enough about his contribution that they were able to cut Shaun Draughn, who was averaging 21.2 yards per return. That clears a roster spot, as the Browns want to carry three tailbacks (Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson and recently-activated Robert Turbin), with Malcolm Johnson as the fullback.  If Gilbert were not successful as a returner, Draughn would have been kept as a fourth tailback in order to have him as a kickoff returner. 

Justin Gilbert was a disaster as a rookie.  Thank God for Johnny Manziel, so no one really noticed Gilbert's failures. This year he has been used as a backup in the defensive backfield while excelling in kick returning as well as coverage teams.  

   The surprising thing has been Gilbert's emergence as a legit threat on kickoff coverage.  Gilbert has 4 solo tackles on special teams, second to Special Teams stud Johnson Bademosi, who has 6.  Unlike Bademosi, however, GiIbert has 4.3 speed, which means opposing returners are not having much time with Gilbert homing in on them.   

     In 2014 Gilbert was a terrible disappointment, gaining a reputation for immaturity and hostility, while not being able to master the skill of playing cornerbak in the NFL.  He was drafted 10th overall, with the intention of being a cover corner in the Joe Haden class.   Well, that didn't happen, and frankly Gilbert is still not very effective in the defensive backfield.   

     So far Gilbert has only seen 1.9% of the snaps at DB.   So Gilbert may still be a disappointment at the level, particularly in view of his large salary and the fact that the Browns invested a very high draft pick for him.  But if he continues to play at a high level on special teams, he can at least be a valued member of the team even if he causes them to burn a little more of Jimmy Haslam's cash than they might otherwise.  


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Travis Benjamin Has More Yards Than the Combined Total of All Other Browns WR

Travis Benjamin is undoubtedly the most improved Brown, and probably the team MVP in the early going. 

      Can it be that Travis Benjamin has more receiving yards (328) than the combined totals of all other Browns wideouts including Brian Hartline (123), Andrew Hawkins (112), Taylor Gabriel (67), Marlon Moore (15) and Dwayne Bowe (0)?   Unbelievably, Benjamin trumps the field,  328 to 317.   

Benjamin has put his career back on track after being injured in 2013 (knee surgery) and a poor 2014 campaign in which he didn't catch many balls as a wideout, and misjudged a number of punts.  Many observers (okay, including me, I admit) were expecting that the Browns would cut Benjamin in order to keep Terrelle Pryor as a recycled wide receiver after flopping as a quarterback.  Fortunately that did not happen.

Benjamin has been incredibly valuable as the other wide receivers have all but disappeared.   Dwayne Bowe suffered a pulled hamstring and no one has seen him run full speed in a game yet.   Last year's star rookie Taylor Gabriel has been very quiet, as well as our star free agent Andrew Hawkins.

It's equally surprising how the combined producion of Bowe, Gabriel and Hawkins has dropped off, while Benjamin has picked up most of the slack.  

          2014 (16 game avg)    2015 (4 game avg)

Hawkins           51.5                            28.0
Gabriel       39.4                 16.8
Bowe (KC)     47.1                   0.0
Benjamin       19.6                   82.0

The Browns are also getting decent production from tight end Gary Barnidge, and rookie running back Duke Johnson seems to want to make a few catches as well.  Last year for whatever reason the Browns were very reluctant to throw the ball to running backs Isaiah Crowell, Ben Tate (since cut) or Terrance West (since traded).

The twin mystery is how did Benjamin improve so much, and why have Hawkins, Bowe and Gabriel slid off the face of the earth?  

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

John DeFilippo Should be the Interim Coach of the Browns

Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo Should be the Next Coach of the Browns.  

      It's a foregone conclusion that Browns' terrible defense will get Coach Mike Pettine fired, along with his sidekick, Defensive Coordinator Jim O'Neil.  Nobody wants to blow up the coaching staff, but based on the Browns upgrading several positions on defense and currently rated as the 32nd best defense in the NFL out of 32 teams, it's inescapable.  

       So who will the new Coach be?   Usually, the interim Head Coach is someone from the current staff, as there is simply no opportunity to install a new system.   I think Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo is the logical choice.  

     First of all, he's gotten a shabby unit--universally regarded as weak at quarterback and receivers---to perform rather well, or at least not as decrepit as the defense.  Currently, the passing offense is ranked Number 9 in the NFL, believe it or not.  The rushing offense is Ranked Number 25, making us Number 18 overall.  That's not great, but might be good enough to win if the Defense had performed up to expectations.    
      The defense on the other hand is so horrific that we could not consider promoting anyone from the unit to the head job.  
    One of the other important items to be determined this year is whether Johnny Manziel should be the starting quarterback next year.  DeFilippo is definitely the right person to make that determination.  Unlike Pettine, he would not feel obligated to play Josh McCown.  It must be said that McCown has upheld his end of the bargain so far, generating above average quaterback play despite a largely lackluster career.  But because of his age he is not likely to be a viable "quarterback of the future."  If we were in contention that would be one thing, but we are not.
Both McCown and Manziel have flourished under DeFilippo's system.   No one has flourished under O'Neil's defense however. Absolutely no one.  

   DeFilippo is very young, only 37, and largely unknown. Nevertheless he has experience guiding Mark Sanchez in his rookie year with the Jets, when they went to the AFC title game; and he also worked with Derek Carr for the Raiders last year.   Thus he is very well respected as a tutor for quarterbacks.  We have very limited data to go on, but so far the play calling for the untalented offense has been reasonably productive.  Maybe the Browns have something here.   Let's give him a shot and see what he can do.  

After Four Games, Wow the Browns Stink!

The Browns are enduring another painful year, with the defense unexpectedly regressing despite six former Pro Bowlers and significant additions up front.  

    Face it, the Browns are horrible, and they are going to have to fire Mike Pettine as coach.  

    We are ranked number 32 out of 32 on Defense, currently giving up 406 yards per game.    31st out of 32 in rush defense.  Once again we can not stop the run.

     We didn't play any major offenses so far:  the Jets, led by recycled veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick; Tennessee Titans with rookie Marcus Mariota calling signals for only his second game in the NFL (hey, I think he'll be a very good if not great player, but not necessarily in his second game), perrenial losers Oakland Raiders, and not to mention the  San Diego Chargers (with three guys out on offensive line).  Correct me if I'm wrong, but these teams are not offensive juggernauts.  

You have to look at the talent level and see it increase and yet our performance is getting worse!  Six guys who have been to a Pro Bowl, and moreover in the offseason, the team added Danny Shelton, Randy Starks, Nate Orchard, Xavier Cooper, and Tramon Williams and  we also are getting back  a healthy John Hughes and Armonty Bryant. 

By comparison, the 1999 team finished last in the NFL with 378 yards per game given up.  The 2015 team is worse than 1999! How can we accept Pettine as the defensive guru, especially as he has Jim ONeil as DC, his lieutenant in Buffalo?   O'Neil and Pettine have coached together for seven years.  Are you kidding? It's beyond terrible.  

"What?  Elliot Kennel says that our stats are worse now than in 1999?  How can that be?"
It's not injuries that are killing us this year, unless you count Joe Haden's broken finger.  

Nobody wants to blow up the management team and start over, but I don't see how you can stay with a defensively minded coach after providing all that talent and seeing the team get so much worse.  It would be one thing if the offense were messing up, given that the conventional wisdom has been that they don't have that much talent at quarterback and wide receiver.  It seems clear enough that there is something fundamentally wrong with the defensive approach.  The team has gone 1-8 after staring out 7-5 last year.  It's just a terrible peformance from a team that has talent.   There seems to me to be no choice but to dismiss the coaches, at least on the defensive side of the ball, and rebuild yet again.