Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Archive for the month “April, 2010”

The Opposite of Love

Apathy can be overcome by enthusiasm, and enthusiasm can only be aroused by two things: first, an ideal, with takes the imagination by storm, and second, a definite intelligible plan for carrying that ideal into practice. – Historian Arnold Toynbee

The Wall Street Journal New York reported this week that the Indians are the most hated team in Major League Baseball. On a sentimental scale of -5 to 5, the Tribe scored 0.9.

When I first heard this I was outraged. Or at least I thought I should be outraged. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I just don’t care. Like the Indians or dislike them, it doesn’t matter to me. Apathy has set in – the worst thing than can happen to a team’s fan.

I’ve come to the realization over the past few years that I’m really not a baseball fan, just an Indians fan. I don’t consider myself a fair-weather fan, I’ve seen too much bad baseball since the late ’70s to only be interested when the team wins, but my interest does peak when the team is successful – like in 2007 & 2005.

When the team crashed in 2008, interest started to wane. Then, in 2009, by the time the Cavs were eliminated from the playoffs and I checked, the Indians were struggling along and had no chance of being competitive. I found myself drifting away from the team.

And as the team sinks into the abyss of irrelevancy, either because they are unwilling (not likely) or unable (much more probable) to spend enough on payroll to compete, it gets harder and harder to follow the team on a daily basis.

That point was driven home with the cover story in this week’s Sports Illustrated, featuring the Yankees’ Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. I have no intention of reading the story, I mean c’mon, but the coverline implies that the foursome being together on the same team for most of the past 16 years won’t be repeated again in baseball.

That’s true for any team that’s not the Yankees. One of the biggest misconceptions about the Yankees is that they have an advantage because they can buy any player they want. While that’s certainly true, the real advantage they have is that they know they can retain any player on their roster that they want. They’ve never had to worry about Jeter, Rivera or anyone leaving in free agency. If the team wanted to keep them, they always had the money and, with no salary cap, could spend as much as they want.

Think about how different it would have been for the Indians if they never had to worry about Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, CC Sabathia, Victor Martinez, Cliff Lee, Bartolo Colon, etc., leaving in free agency.

But that’s not reality, so we’re stuck with a team hitting .238 with four regulars hitting below .200 – Jhonny Peralta (.190), Travis Hafner (.190), Grady Sizemore (.192) and Luis Valbuena (.196). And there’s no hope of help from the minors as the front office won’t promote younger players because they don’t want their service time to start and put them closer to free agency and the first train out of town.

As the Tribe finishes another disappointing opening month, fans are left to wonder when the team will come up with a definite, intelligible plan that we can get enthused about.

Surrounded by Conspiracies

The secret kabal that is behind the scenes of all the LeBron to New York scenarios has struck again, this time roping in a headphone manufacturer in, of all places, Utah.

According to The New York Times, Skullcandy, based in Park City, Utah, has produced a run of NBA Limited Mix Master headphones, a continuation of its NBA Player Series of headphones.

The signature models – Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, David Lee (seriously?) Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade – are available on the company’s website and at Apple stores in the players’ hometown cities – except in Cleveland!

So you are going to the trouble of making a LeBron James signature product but you won’t make it available in his home city? Are you serious?

Then The Wall Street Journal New York sports section (yes, there is such a thing because New York sports needs more coverage) read the tea leaves and came up with this:

“Speculation about where the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James will play next season, and whether the Knicks and Nets are on his list, is starting to bubble. But one big New York sports figure says he’s not counting on it.

“Mitchell Modell, chief executive of Modell’s Sporting Goods, one of Nike’s biggest accounts in New York, said the apparel giant isn’t planning to push huge amounts of LeBron merchandise for the fall.

“From what we hear, there’s a very, very long shot of him coming to New York,” Mr. Modell said. “We speak to our retail partners about our athletes on a regular basis,”

“Nike spokesman Derek Kent said. “At this stage, there is absolutely nothing specific or out of ordinary relating to LeBron and NYC.”

Gotta go to Mo’s!

The conspiracies aren’t limited to just the Cavs, of course.

When the news came out that Ben Rothlisberger was suspended for six games it was good times for Browns fans. But as details came out, it was revealed that the “six game” suspension could be reduced to four games if Rothlisberger behaved.

So when the suspension is reduced to four games, which you know it will be, Rothlisberger will return during the Steelers’ bye week, just in time to prepare for Pittsburgh’s Week 6 game against – wait for it – the Browns.

Of course.

Cleveland sports baby. You gotta’ love it!

Are we not entertained?

The Cavs apparently brought their “A” game to Chicago for Game 4, rolling the Bulls to take a 3-1 series lead.

Or did they?

While it feels like Chicago has been competitive in this series – just ask the Bulls, they’ll tell you just how close they are to leading the series – the numbers don’t back it up. Last year, during the Cavs’ first-round sweep of Detroit, Cleveland won the four games by an average of 15.5 points. This year, in the three wins so far against the Bulls, they are winning by an average of 15.3 points. Not a big difference. In the three losses, the Bulls have shot 42 percent, 44 percent and 37 percent.

So, while it seems like a more competitive series, it really isn’t.

After posting a triple-double, there’s really not much more to say about LeBron. Nothing he does amazes me any more. According to Brian Windhorst in the Plain Dealer:

“Including his triple double in the Cavs’ Game 4 victory over the Chicago Bulls Sunday, James is off to the most well-rounded first-round performance of his career. That includes averaging 32 points and 11.3 rebounds in last season’s sweep of the Detroit Pistons.

“James is averaging 35 points, nine rebounds and eight assists against the Bulls, which are numbers no one else currently in the playoffs can match. Beyond the numbers, it is James’ efficiency that has been so impressive … James is shooting 59 percent (50-of-85) from the field and 55 percent (12-of-22) from 3-point range. He’s also averaging 2.5 blocks and 1.5 steals.”

And after Game 2, ESPN had this to say:

“LeBron James made 16 of his 23 shots to finish with 40 points, eight assists, and eight rebounds in the Cavs’ 112-102 victory over the Bulls in Game 2 of their first-round series. How does LeBron’s game compare to some of the bigger performances in recent playoff history? Let’s take a look at this using John Hollinger’s adjusted game score, essentially a single-number summary of how good a player’s game was, in terms of his box score statistics, adjusted for pace.

“The numbers can be roughly thought of on the scale of points: 30 is very good, 40 is great and 50 is spectacular.

“Last night, LeBron’s adjusted game score was 42.55, which is:

  • The best single game by any player in the first three nights of this postseason
  • The fourth best single postseason game of James’ career
  • The 13th best single game performance in the first round since 1996
  • The 24th best single game playoff performance in last 15 years”

Simply incredible. And LeBron has never had to miss the end of a crucial game because of menstrual cramps, the way Dwyane Wade had to in Game 3 against Boston.

I also am continuously surprised at the play of Antawn Jamison. It’s incredible how, time and again, he gets into position under the basket for a pass and an easy layup. I don’t know how the defense forgets about him so often, but the mid-season trade for him goes down as one of Danny Ferry’s best moves.

Game 5 is Tuesday.

13 more wins to go.

Brilliant!

Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert hit a home run in their first draft with the Browns. From filling major holes in the secondary with the picks of Joe Haden and T.J. Ward, to playing the waiting game perfectly and landing Colt McCoy at the exact right time, this has been one of the best draft days since the team returned in 1999.

It’s heartwarming for Browns fans everywhere to finally have credible, knowledgeable, NFL-caliber people in charge of the team. With their years of combined NFL experience working in harmony to rebuild the team, the Browns are finally on the road out of the NFL’s wasteland.

The team formulated a plan and stuck to it, rejecting the urge to over trade or overrate players and take them too high. Holmgren and Heckert also made a point to select players in the first two rounds who can step on the field in September and play – not in a couple of years but now – and who will not be inexplicably placed on the inactive list on a weekly basis.

In fact, Tony Grossi of the Plain Dealer reported that “all the Browns’ draft picks so far are considered by the team to be serious contenders for starting jobs as rookies.”

What a novel approach, not redshirting your draft picks but actually allowing them to play.

Finally, Holmgren and Heckert saw the late-season win streak of last year as the smoke-and-mirror show it was, so they wisely determined that the team can’t have any long-term success with the QB play it was receiving. So they waited patiently for McCoy – accepting the possibility that they would miss out on him – again showing that not only do they have a plan, but that they understand the reality of quarterback play in the today’s NFL.

“I wasn’t going to force-feed it that much,” Holmgren said of the waiting game for McCoy. “Sometimes it just kind of falls to you. If it was going to happen, that’s kind of the way I wanted it to happen.”

And they know that if you can give a rookie QB a few years to mature the odds increase dramatically that he will succeed. So there will be ridiculous quarterback competition this summer in Berea and no chance that McCoy will be named the starting QB this fall. Jake Delhomme and/or Seneca Wallace will handle the position this year and possibly even next. McCoy will be given the time to mature and the opportunity to succeed that is vital in the NFL today.

And Brett Ratcliff can start working on his resume.

A healthy appetite for debate

“I love argument, I love debate. I don’t expect anyone just to sit there and agree with me, that’s not their job.” – Margaret Thatcher

There has been some speculation – primarily from Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King and Yahoo Sports‘ Charles Robinson – that there was some debate within the Browns draft room over who to pick in the first round – Joe Haden or Kyle Wilson.

Browns fans everywhere should be thrilled that the team finally has a functional, knowledgeable front office in place that can rationally talk about the value of two players and reach a consensus.

We’ve been down the dictator road before with Butch Davis, who wanted his voice to be the only one in the room, which is how the Browns ended up with Gerrard Warren.

That doesn’t work.

Having Mike Holmgren working as, in his words “the tiebreaker,” is what this team needs. There is absolutely no downside if Eric Mangini wants one player, lays out his reasons why, and then Tom Heckert, who may want another player, does the same and then Holmgren makes the final decision.

Why would anyone not want the team to function this way?

As for the second-round pick, I have to admit I don’t really know anything about T.J. Ward. But the Browns need help at safety and he plays safety.

However, I also found that “Ward’s junior year, 2008, was his only full season as a starter. He was a backup as a freshman and sophomore, and his senior season was cut short by injury. In fact, Ward has a long history of knee and ankle injuries, which is why it’s a bit of a surprise that he went as high as he did.”

But according to Oregon Live: “Former Oregon safety T.J. Ward hits like a freight train and has enough speed and range to play either safety position in the NFL.

“The knock on him is his durability. Given how fearless he is, injuries are certain to come and they did during his career at Oregon.

“Ward’s stock has fluctuated during the draft process. One NFL scout said he saw Ward as a late-round pick. But Scout Inc. has Ward going in the third round to Dallas. NFLDraftScout.com has him rated as the No. 2 strong safety in the draft.”

Hmm, hits like a freight train sounds good – can we test that out on Hines Ward? Injuries are certain to come sounds bad. Let’s overlook that for now.

The only concern I have with the Browns passing on Colt McCoy or Jimmy Clausen in this spot is the overwhelming evidence that quarterbacks have a higher success rate if they can sit their first year or two in the league. With Delhomme set to start this season, getting a QB this year rather than next year and starting the learning process may have been a good idea.

We’ll see. There’s still the possibility the Browns can move up out of the third round to grab a QB.

The plan is coming together

It’s all starting to come together for the Browns during this weekend’s draft.

When was the last time we could say that?

Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert resisted the voices and did not trade up for Sam Bradford, despite the insanity of a rumor floated out by ESPN’s Michael Smith that the Browns were offering to give up most of their picks in this year’s draft and picks next year to St. Louis to move up.

It’s so comforting to finally have credible, clear-thinking people in charge of the Browns.

And when Eric Berry went off the board the Browns stuck to their plan to fix the defensive secondary and selected Joe Haden.

Things only got better from there as not only did no one bite on drafting Colt McCoy (not a total surprise), but Jimmy Clausen also fell into the second round. And unless a team trades up in front of the Browns, this sets the Browns up perfectly to grab the QB of the future in the second round if they want to. Or they can fill one of multiple holes elsewhere on the team because, let’s be real here, when you rank 31st on defense and 32nd on offense you have a lot of holes to fill.

The last time the Browns drafted someone named Joe in the first round, it worked out pretty well. Optimism remains high that this Joe will be just as solid of a pick.

They got one. No more.

OK, the Cavs dropped Game 3 of their series with the Bulls. We knew this was bound to happen; the odds of the Cavs sweeping another first-round playoff series were slim. After winning seven consecutive opening-round games, a slip-up was going to happen.

And while it wasn’t the only problem, poor free-throw shooting killed the team. The Cavs missed 11 free throws in a two-point loss. Which, again, should be no surprise.

There’s little reason to fear that the Cavs will lose this series, let alone another game. The bigger concern is the player rotation, or lack of rotation. All season long the team succeeded by being versatile: playing big against the Lakers and Boston, playing athletic against Orlando and Atlanta, playing small against Phoenix and Dallas. It was a real strength of the team.

That now seems to be forgotten. Even though Shaq and Z continue to struggle with the Bulls quicker frontcourt players, JJ Hickson can’t get off the bench. He’s played three minutes so far in the series. Why not give some of Z’s minutes to Hickson in Game 4, especially if Z and Shaq continue to struggle? In Game 3 the duo combined for six points and five rebounds. In Game 2 it was 11 points and 10 rebounds.

It’s not like if Hickson plays against the Bulls the Cavs can’t go back to Z in the next round if the matchups favor him. Wasn’t that the whole point of building a flexible roster?

Game 3 is Sunday afternoon.

14 wins to go.

The draft secret they don’t want you to know

Mel Kiper. Big Board. Fluid hips. Todd McShay. Short arms. Combine. Trade up. Trade down. Pro Day. 40-time. Character issues. Upside. Game changer. Mock drafts. Mike Mayock. War room. Boomer. Sleepers. Busts.

Millions of words have been written and spoken over the past few months about the NFL Draft. Coaches and general managers have spent hours watching video, attending the NFL Combine and college campuses for Pro Days. Self-proclaimed “experts” – like Kiper, McShay and Mayock – have published multiple, often contradictory, mock drafts because they “know” what teams should do on draft day.

But here’s the secret that the NFL and the experts don’t want us to know:

They don’t know any better than we do.

OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Coaches, scouts and GMs know more than the average hardcore fan, but that extra knowledge gives them only the slightest edge on draft day.

Think about it, if you pick a fan who really follows both the NFL and college football to represent each of the 32 teams in this year’s draft, would they really be at such a disadvantage? Maybe over the course of several drafts the experts would hit on a handful of players that the fan missed, but is that really such a big advantage? Plus that slight advantage would be offset by the GM or coach who tries to outsmart everyone and drafts a player too high (see the Browns second round from last year for an example).

Just look at some of the draft picks over the years; was it really that hard to believe Jamarcus Russell would be a bust? Or that Gerard Warren, who was a dog at Florida, would still be a dog once he cashed a paycheck? Or Ryan Leaf? Todd Marinovich?

The New York Times had a great anecdote in a story this week about the growth of the draft. In 1953, Giants owner Wellington Mara had run out of players on his draft list when his turn came up in the 27th round. He happened to find a copy of The Pittsburgh Courier’s list of the nation’s best African-American players and selected someone from the list: Roosevelt Brown.

Do you honestly think Mara knew Brown would end up in the Hall of Fame?

The NFL Draft is probably 40 percent preparation and 60 percent luck. You really don’t know if a player will get injured (Courtney Brown), just never improve (Kamerion Wimbley) or just not be good enough (Mike Junkin). Or if they will turn into a three-time Super Bowl champion (Tom Brady). Or that Kent State would have more Pro Bowl players last year than Ohio State.

So remember that when you turn on the draft this weekend and someone with a giant helmet of hair is screaming about something.

Now, for what I’m hoping for out of the Browns in the first two rounds:

Best-case scenario: Eric Berry in Round 1 and Colt McCoy, either early in Round 2 or move up to pick him late in Round 1.

Solid scenario: Eric Berry in Round 1 and whoever the Browns believe is the best offensive or defensive lineman in Round 2.

Worst-care scenario: Gutting the draft to trade up for Sam Bradford.

Nightmare scenario: Trading their first-round pick and additional picks for Ben Roethlisberger.

Stay thirsty my friends.

Save the Date

With the NFL releasing the 2010 schedule last night, there are several dates Browns fans should circle on the calendar.

For the first time since they returned in 1999, the Browns will open on the road, taking on Tampa Bay. That’s probably a good thing as the Browns are 1-10 in season openers since 1999.

Also the Browns are not scheduled for Monday night, Sunday night or Thursday night. Not sure how that happened since I’m pretty sure the NFL bylaws require them to play Pittsburgh at home on Thursday night.

Speaking of Pittsburgh, the Browns travel there in Week 6 and host the Steelers in the season finale. In fact, the last three games are all division games, with the Browns traveling to Cincinnati in Week 15 before closing the season at home vs. Baltimore and then Pittsburgh.

The other big dates are the Jets at home on Nov. 14, which should be the most intense regular-season game since Marty returned with KC – still the most physical game I’ve seen the Browns take part in.

Carolina visits Nov. 28 in the Jake Delhomme revenge game.

The Browns’ strength of schedule is 10th. And for some reason they face a brutal stretch in late November with four road games over a five-week span.

I’m ready for some football.

With their first pick in the NFL draft …

the Browns select … Colt McCoy?

According to Pro-Football-Reference’s new player metric rating, quarterback is the primary position the Browns should fill Thursday night.

Their analysis, summarized in a series of articles at ESPN, finds that “almost all of the talent in certain positions has typically been stored in the first round, whereas the depth in other positions is more equally dispersed. Two positions that teams would be wise to position themselves early are quarterbacks and linebackers, while two positions where the talent pool is typically deep enough that it rewards patience are defensive end and running back.”

Pro-Football-Reference found that the talent level of quarterbacks drops severely after the first round and, while Drew Brees and Tom Brady are often cited as QBs who succeeded despite being picked after the first round, the website found that, of the past 10 NFL drafts, David Garrard is the third-best QB selected outside the first round.

The lesson? If you want a quarterback, get one on the first day of the draft.

With Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace not being long-term answers at the position, it would seem that the Browns would be targeting a quarterback of the future.

The top three QB prospects are Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy. I’m assuming the Browns won’t go crazy and trade up for Bradford, so let’s take him off the board. So how to pick between Clausen and McCoy?

ESPN went deeper into what helps make a quarterback successful. They found that, the longer a quarterback sits before making his first start, the better the odds are that they will succeed. In fact, completion percentage, TD/INT ratio and yards per attempt all rise over the course of his career the longer a QB sits to begin it.

Drafted QBs who didn’t get to start until their third or even fourth years have TD/INT rates nearly 50 percent better, and complete passes at a rate a full five percent better than rookie starters. But that’s not just in the first season; that’s for their careers.

Examples of successful quarterbacks who sat include Aaron Rodgers, who didn’t start until his fourth year; Philip Rivers, Chad Pennington and Marc Bulger didn’t start until their third year; and Chris Palmer and Brees sat until their second year.

ESPN cited the mixed results of recent draft picks who started early, saying “Matt Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco seem to be ready to help the reputations of top picks who start as rookies – a realm dotted with failures like Tim Couch and Joey Harrington, or recent cases like David Carr and Alex Smith. Unfortunately, Stafford and Sanchez combined for 25 TDs and 40 INTs as rookies. And based on the data, only confidence in their talent should assure fans they figure to get much better. (Sanchez, for one, built those numbers behind one of the game’s best offensive lines.)

With Delhomme set to start at least this year, the Browns can draft a quarterback and let him incubate the appropriate amount of time. So Clausen and McCoy are still equal.

Then, for what it’s worth, there’s Bill Parcells four rules for drafting a quarterback:

1. Be a three-year starter

2. Post at least 23 wins

3. Be a senior

4. Be a college graudate

This is where McCoy stands out. He was a four-year starter who finished with 45 wins; don’t know if he graduated or not, but he hits on at least three of the four criteria.

McCoy was on 790 The Zone, an Atlanta radio station, this morning and had this to say about Cleveland: “I just left the Browns and Coach Holmgren kind of compared me to Steve Young and Joe Montana and just said that I have the intangibles that they had at this point in their career when they were coming out of college. (Holmgren) expects me to be just like they were. I think that is a good comparison and obviously people would compare me to Drew Brees a little bit. I think because of our height.

“I know how hard I prepare and nobody is going to work harder than me or be more prepared going into a game than I am, and I expect to do exactly what I did in college, and that is come in there and win games. I know that it is going to be different. I know that it is going to be a transition, but I am going to work my tail off and earn the respect of my teammates and coaches and go to work.”

McCoy was asked if he could hand-pick the team he’ll be playing for next year, who it would be. McCoy didn’t directly answer the question, but he did praise Cleveland quite a bit.

“I absolutely enjoyed Coach Holmgren. He is a class act, and I could definitely see myself playing in their organization. I think that it would be a tremendous opportunity and they have a lot of good things going for them and Coach (Eric) Mangini and their staff have been awesome. So, you never know.”

Add it all up and one can see a scenario where the Browns trade down and take McCoy. And while they have other holes to fill – it would be hard to see them pass on Eric Berry if he’s available at No. 7 – it may be unwise for them to ignore history.

Colt’s right, you never know.

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