Sunday, September 24, 2017

Post Mortem: Browns lose to Colts, 31-28

The Browns were gruesomely ugly today, dropping a game to the Indianapolis Colts, a team which has been decimated by injury.   If I recall correctly from the pregame, the Colts had five first round draft picks who were out with an injury, including team superstar Andrew Luck.  Against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the Browns could rationalize that Pittsburgh and Baltimore are good teams, but the Colts are simply not very good.  And they took the Browns behind the woodshed.  

Backup Jacoby Brissett kicked major butt against the Browns, throwing for 259 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for two others.   

The Briowns have no wide receivers.  Kenny Britt managed to catch 3 balls out of 10 targets for 54 yards.  Next best was Rashard Higgins, with two balls out of 6 targets, and a total of 10 yards.  No other wide receiver had more than a single catch.  Ouch.  

On the positive side, slot receiver and running back Duke Johnson caught 6 passes for 81 yards, and scored a rushing touchdown.  Duke is having a good year.  Another plus is that overall the Browns averaged 5.3 yards on the ground, with 111 yards overall.  Plus Kizer was sacked only one time.  And the Browns did mount a comeback, starting when the game looked all but hopeless.  

I don't care that DeShone Kizer had a tough time with 3 INTs and a fumble. He's just a kid, and for whatever reason the Browns decided he had to learn on the job rather than serving an apprenticeship on the bench for a year.  He's a talented kid, but very raw, so what do we expect?  

Meantime, our defense was torched by second year man Jacoby Brissett, who came over from the Patriots at the last minute when it was clear that Andrew Luck would not be able to start the season.  Despite his not yet knowing the Colt's offense, and having several other players out, Brissett torched the Browns' secondary. 

It seems clear enough that the Browns are going to lose a lot of games, possibly with an eye on the quarterback-rich 2018 NFL draft.   Buffalo, Jacksonville and the Jets all won today, leaving the Browns tied with Cincinnati, the Chargers, Giants and 49ers in the Sam Darnold sweepstakes.  One way to cement a case for this would be to trade Joe Thomas to a playoff team. I expect this to happen sometime between now and October 31, the trade deadline. The ultimate plan is to

The next key matchup will be versus the hapless Cincinnati Bengals, who are also 0-3.  It will be tough to not beat the Bengals, but the Browns never seem to amaze us.  

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Browns Pecked to Pieces by Baltimore, 24-10

Ugh.  Losing to the Baltimore Ravens is one of the worst things that the Cleveland Browns can do. Art Modell is long gone, but truthfully I still harbor resentment for the way that our team was stolen from us.  I'm not going to feel better until we can beat these guys, but today's game showed we are far from that point.   DeShone Kizer threw three INTS and coughed up the ball on a costly fumble, and Kevin Hogan contributed another pick.  

Kizer was also sacked three times, and the rookie tendency to hold onto the ball too long didn't help.  All in all, the offensive line was bad, but not as bad as last week's game. 

Some good news:  Hollywood Higgins finally started to live up to his name after being cut, then signed to the Practice Squad and then coming up to the big team on Saturday. Higgins led the Browns seven catches for 95 yards today. That's more than he had caught in his entire career up to this point!  Last year he had 6 grabs total, for only 77 yards. 

On the other hand, Baltimore held our name brand receivers in check, as Cory Coleman and Kenny Britt combined for 2 catches, 9 yards out of 9 attempted catches.  That is beyond bad.  

If you're going to play a 21 year old rookie, and he plays like a 21 year old rookie, it's to be expected.  No complaints.

The Browns defense had a good game, holding Joe Flacco to 217 yards on 25 of 34.  In today's NFL, if you can hold the other guy to 217 yards you have a chance to win some games.  Chris Kirksey had a nice sack, Jamie Collins came through after a slow slart last week, and Joe Schobert continues to impress at Mike Linebacker.  Jamar Taylor Jason MCourtney,  had good games at db.  However the Ravens' tight ends had good games against Derrick Kindred and Jabrill Peppers.  

Isaiah Crowell must be off his feed, with 37 yards in 10 carries, but it was better than last week.  

So, are we going to beat the Indianapolis Colts?  They are certainly capable, but the Colts will be at home.  The Colts have a second year quarterback, but one who is new to the team, whereas we are going to go with the rookie DeShone Kizer.  It's tough to see a Browns win at this point.  

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Game Notes, Browns lose to Pittsburgh 21-18, Sept 10 2017: Ya Done Good, Kid!

The Browns seem to have their quarterback in 21 year old DeShone Kizer.   

     "Ya done good, kid!"  That's my comment to DeShone Kizer, who exceeded my expectations.   An ordinary 20 for 30 for 222 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT is actually very good for a 21 year old quarterback making his first NFL start.  As I have pointed out previously, NO ONE has EVER had a good year playing quarterback in the NFL at age 21.  To be sure, few players have entered the league at such a young age, but nevertheless they have all had bad first years.  Bernie Kosar may have been the best 21 year old quarterback of all time, and even he went only 4-6 in 1985 with a rating of 69.3, subbing for an injured Gary Danielson, who was the much better player at that time (4-2). 
    DeShone made some rookie mistakes, like holding onto the ball too long, and taking a hit he didn't need to take.  But the kid has a rocket arm, he's fast an athletic, and seems to have great football smarts.  Mark me down as a fan, even though I don't think he is going to have a great statistical year until 2018 or 2019.
    Let's talk about the seven sacks.  Once again the Steelers beat up the Browns offensive line, and then stole their lunch money and wouldn't give it back.   They may get Kizer killed.  They didn't do much for the running game either as the running backs rushed 20 times for only 40 yards.  It was so bad I started to miss Cameron Erving.  

    Tight ends Seth DeValve and David Njoku were in the lineup together a few times, and both had good games. Likewise, Corey Coleman looked like a viable number one receiver, with 5 catches for 53 yards and a TD.   Ricardo Louis also showed some potential, getting two catches for 32 yards. Kenny Britt continued to look disinterested, with a spectacular drop at a crucial point in the fourth quarter, and only 1 catch for 13 yards.  On any other team he would be benched, but on the Browns he is the second best receiver on the team.  Part of the problem is that the Steelers somehow came up with a Pro Bowl cornerback who shut down the Browns wide receiver corps.  That would be Joe Haden, of course.    

Ask Seth DeValve whether Joe Haden is through.  

   Duke Johnson played in the slot most of the game.  On this team, that is definitely where he is needed.  

    The defense played well for the most part, giving up 14 points.  The other touchdown came on a special teams breakdown on the first possession.  Joe Schobert impressed me by once again appearing to be much faster on the field than he is on the track.  Joe was timed at a slow 4.76 seconds at the combine, but on the field he looks very fast, and was able to handle LeVeon Bell, who rushed for only 32 yards on 10 carries.  
    The difference  maker was Antonio Brown, with 11 catches for 182 yards.  Brian Boddy Calhoun and Jamar Taylor were unable to cover Brown, plus the defensive line was unable to put enough pressure on Roethlisberger to slow him down.  
    Special teams was a disaster, of course, with a blocked punt that resulted in a score for the Steelers.   This needs to be fixed.  
    All in all, it wasn't a great performance, but I had prepared for much worse.  Now the Browns go on the road to face the Baltimore Ravens, who whipped up on the Bengals today, 20-0.  Yikes.  

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Mike and Mike: End of the Dynamic Duo?

The Dynamic Duo of Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic is breaking up, and the Village Elliot is saddened.  Say it ain't so!  

     Mike and Mike are breaking up.  The long running sports duo will do its last show on November 17.  I predict things will never be the same for either guy.   
     It seems to me that they have been the perfect team. Mike Golic is the gregarious and multi-talented former lineman mainly remembered for his work with the Philadelphia Eagles and Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  
     Mike Greenberg is the consummate fan with no known athletic skills,  but who is nevertheless an incredibly talented "straight man," and "good guy," who may have the most precise rapid fire verbal delivery in the world.  
     Now they are breaking up, and apparently egos have gotten in the way.  Each wants a chance to prove that he can make it without the other.  I'm sure that they can, but it may never be the same. 
    I'm reminded of the great comic duos like Martin and Lewis, Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy.  Behind each funny man was a great "straight" man.  It was widely believed in the business that a good straight man was a rarer commodity than the funny man.  For instance, Abbott and Costello always split their money 60/40, with straight man Abbott receiving the larger share.  And Costello never questioned the arrangement, grateful to have Abbot to guide things behind the scenes.  
     In the same way, Mike Greenberg is thought to be a sports idiot, doesn't contribute anything to a sports discussion and is completely out of touch with how a pro athlete thinks. All that is true.  But the show won't work without him. Greenie is able to organize the show and keep it moving, and he is willing to ask the dumb questions that make his partner and guests seem like geniuses.  The amazing thing that happens on Mike and Mike is they can talk about their lead story for several minutes, talk about other issues, and then seamlessly transition back to the lead story without being repetitious.  That's mainly because of Greeny quarterbacking the flow of the show.  . 
    Greenberg is able to put a different spin on stories so that they sound like fresh stories.  What is the coach's perspective?  The offense's perspective?  Fans' perspective?What does it mean for other teams?  You get the idea.  You can actually listen to the show for four hours and hear the same story five times or more, and never feel that it is repetitious or boring.  That is Greenie magic, and seems so natural that you might never be aware of it.  
    Greenberg is able to speak with the rapid fire delivery, but unlike most of his peers, he actually makes sense and speaks in grammatically correct senses.   I've never heard anyone who is better than that than the Green Man.  Oprah Winfrey might be his main competitor in that department.   
     So, I'm sure the affable Golic will find another partner or partners that will be very good.  But I doubt whether they can ever get the ratings of Mike and Mike, without Greenie there.
I'm saddened by the change, but support both of them wanting to try something new.  Go for it, guys.  But it may never be the same.     

   The Mikes get ready for a nice friendly game of tennis, supervised by champion tennis player Luke Jenson.  Look at the size of Golic's fist compared to Greenie's!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Hello Browns! Did you really give Joe Haden to Pittsburgh??

The Pittsburgh Steelers apparently do not believe Joe Haden is through at age 28.  

Hello Browns! You're sure Joe Haden is Through, Right? Because if not, there is going to be **** to pay, and heads may roll in the Front Office.  

The Browns analytics guys have figured out that they would rather move up in draft position rather than win an extra game or two with veterans who will likely not be present for Super Bowl runs in 2018 and 2019.  Hence, the team let go (or failed to re-sign) a slew of capable but not superstar veterans last year like Karlos Dansby,  Donte Whitner, Paul Kruger, Mitchell Schwartz, Travis Benjamin, and others.  

This year they did it again by axing Gary Barnidge, .  Now the coup de grace is they cut Joe Haden and thus allowed him to sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers.  

Joe Haden played last year with two torn groin muscles that required surgery to repair.  That displays incredible toughness, but on the other hand, he was not anywhere near his former self last year.    

But these injuries are not permanently degrading, the operations have apparently been successful, and there was Joe playing effectively again in the exhibition season.  

Is he injury prone now?  Many fans and commentators seem to believe so, but they said the same thing about Sam Bradford, and he's held up and had two consecutive good years.  

The Steelers front office knows Joe as well as anyone, particularly with former Browns Defensive Coordinator Ray Horton back with the Steelers.  Their scouts evidently say that Joe is back, or at least close enough that he can still be an effective starter.  Hence, they signed him for $7 M this year and a larger non-guaranteed amount next year.  

The Browns get out of his contract, but $7 M gets charged to the 2017 salary cap, so the net savings is about $4 million. setter draft position.  

It makes complete sense if Joe Haden truly can not play well enough to earn substantial playing time in the current Browns backfield.  Maybe Jason McCourty, Jamar Taylor and Brian Boddy Calhoun are all better players.  

But if they made the cut mainly to get $4 Million taken off the salary cap, and if they are deliberately seeking draft position over wins before the season starts, that is a very serious organizational issue.  

Can the players, coaches and team just flip a switch and try to win games in some future year?   I don't think it is that easy. They are human beings who are going to be furious if one of their best players was simply handed to the Steelers. Future free agent players won't want to sign with an organization that deliberately tanks the season.   Season ticket holders are going to be furious, and fans will stay away in droves.  They are not going to buy the products advertised on games because they won't watch the games.  That's going to have repercussions league wide.  

Frankly, I think that the Front Office has overdone it by getting rid of skilled players like Gary Barnidge and Joe Haden.  True they might not be on the team in 2019 but they could contribute to a few wins in 2017.  If you're not going to save enough money to afford to hire a better replacement, don't make the cut.  And especially don't humiliate the organization by helping out the team's bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers.  

Owner Jimmy Haslam III is going to come under a lot of pressure.  He evidently believes in the analytics business, rightly so.  But taking it to the point of tanking before the season starts may be more than he can stand.  

Sashi Brown and John DePodesta will come under fire, and rightly so, in my opinion. They could lose their jobs if they have helped the Steelers have a good year.  Helping their rivals win may damage the organization far more than the $4 million they saved on the salary cap.  

We'll see whether the Browns front office or Steelers front office win out on this deal.  The Browns better be right.  

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Browns Look Like a 4 Win Team to the Village Elliot

Gregg Williams is my new hero.  I believe in him an his defense, and defense alone might cause the Browns to win a few games.

      It's not possible to project much in Pro Football, but if you predict the Browns are going to lose a lot of games, it's usually a safe prediction.  This year, I think they had the talent to win about 7 or 8 games.  But the plan is to collect young talent, above the desire to win.  The Browns are seeking to get excellent draft position, by getting rid of veterans like Joe Haden, Terrelle Pryor, John Greco, Cameron Erving, Stephen Paea, Gary Barnidge, Josh McCown, RG3, DeMario Davis, Brock Osweiler and, probably, Joe Thomas.  I expect that Thomas will go for a second round pick later this year. That is simply too much to give away.
    The Browns have added key draftees in Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, DeShone Kizer and David Njoku.   Jason McCourty, Calvin Pryor, J. C. Tretter  and Kevin Zeitler are the main free agent additions. That's a lot of talent, but there were a lot of losses also.
      One of the most controversial decisions is to start DeShone Kizer in his first year.   It's almost unheard of for a 21 year old to succeed in his rookie year.  I hope I'm wrong, but I think Kizer is going to have a rough time for the first year. I don't see him as the first successful 21 year old quarterback in the NFL.  To the contrary, he was very rough at Notre Dame, and probably needs work on fundamentals.   

        Last year we had one of the NFL's worst defenses versus the run.  The front seven consisted of Ogbah, Shelton, Meder, Collins, Kirksey, Davis, and Cam Johnson. This year it will be Garrett, Shelton, Coley, Ogbah, Collins, Schobert and Kirksey.  In other words, Meder, Davis and Johnson out, Garrett, Coley and Schobert in.  That seems like a very significant change.  It will be much harder to move the ball against us, and we have some significant new players in McCourty, Calvin Pryor and Jabrill Peppers in the secondary.  I look for major improvement on defense.

     My guess is that the Browns will be competitive in most of the games that they play.  However, the Front Office has established that they don't mind losing, and so I suspect that this attitude will permeate to the individual players.The nature of football demands that you try your best to win as many games as you can every year, and I think the Coaches and players will be worn down by the Front Office's plan to weaken the team in order to generate high draft pics. Accordingly, I can see the Browns blowing several games that they should win.    
     This team looks like a 4 win team, which will put them in good position for the 2018 draft, which is shaping up to be the richest draft in NFL history.   I believe that there will be at least five quarterbacks that will project as first round draft picks, and the Browns will probably pick one up, just as the Chargers (for example) felt compelled to draft Philip Rivers even though they had Drew Brees at the time.
     Will Hue Jackson survive the year?   Maybe, but he's in a bad situation with the General Manager giving away his star players to teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Coach Jackson will try his best, but he's only human.  There may come a time when he can't co-exist with the tanking Front Office.