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Life as a Cleveland Sports Fan

Archive for the month “August, 2010”

Time To Move On

Now that Jim Brown has had his 15 minutes, it’s time for the Browns to move on with the Ring of Honor and the season.

Brown clearly is upset that team President Mike Holmgren is now between Brown and owner Randy Lerner. Brown wrote his own job description – raise your hand if you got to do that at your job – and now that Holmgren has changed his role, Brown is taking his ball and going home.

According to The Plain Dealer, Brown delivered a letter to Holmgren that explained why he’s upset, saying in part that:

“That job description included two things that I think are important. As Executive Advisor to the owner, my job was to use my intelligence, and my logic to advise Mr. Lerner. The second most important thing to me was a clause in that agreement that stated that I answered to no one except Randy Lerner. These two thing were highly important to me because I truly believed, with my educational background, having been a Cleveland Brown for 9 yrs, and having a pretty good knowledge of football, that I could contribute in a valuable way to the organization.

Brown failed to mention that the time he used his experience to advise Lerner coincided with one of the worst periods in team history. But why get bogged down in facts?

Brown also made some not so subtle claims that Holmgren dealt with him in a racist manner. I have no doubt that Brown has seen and experienced things in his life that I can’t even imagine because of his skin color. If he wants to view his position change through the prism of racism, I can’t really speak to that.

But if he doesn’t want to show up Sept. 19 when the Browns honor the inaugural Ring of Honor class, that’s on him. The team will still show a video clip of his career, the fans will still cheer and the game will go on.

One of the few positives out of this situation is that Holmgren is on hand to deal with this. If this had occurred last year, head coach Eric Mangini would have been the face of the franchise and he would have been dealing with reporters and questions, taking time away from his real job – coaching the team.

Now, Mangini can point down the hall, say “talk to Mike,” and get back to what is really important – getting the Browns ready for the season-opener against Tampa Bay.

Establishing a Ring of Honor is a smart – and overdue – move by the Browns. It’s too bad the induction of the first class will be overshadowed by Brown’s insistence on making himself the center of attention.

***

Good news on the Shaun Rogers situation
. Although it would be even better if we actually saw him on the field.

***

More good news, as Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib will be suspended for the season-opening game against the Browns.

Talib’s suspension is for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. He was also fined one additional game check for an incident in August 2009 where Talib punched a cab driver.

Talib is one of the top defensive players on the Tampa Bay roster after being taken in the first-round of the 2008 draft. Talib led the team last season with five interceptions and he had four in his rookie season.

***

I can’t believe the Cardinals are actually considering making Derek Anderson their starting quarterback. He may be the luckiest guy on the planet.

The Third-Year Wide Receiver

There’s a growing statistical trend in the NFL that wide receivers have their breakout season in Year 3 because that is when they adjust to the speed of the game and fully understand how to read defenses and run routes.

In recent years, Greg Jennings (2008), Braylon Edwards (2007) and Roddy White (2007) all had statistical leaps in their third season. Carolina’s Steve Smith (2003), Chad Ochocinco (2003) and Terrell Owens (1998) are also solid examples.

“You’re buckling down and learning the playbook and just learning how to play the wide receiver position,” White said in an interview at CBS Sports.com. “When you first get in the league you just use your athletic ability, but everybody is athletic. Once you start studying and use your technique and things like that, then the game becomes a whole lot easier and slows down. That’s when you start making plays.”

If that trend holds true this season, it could be very good news for the Cleveland Browns because Josh Cribbs is entering what we can call his third season as a wide receiver.

Cribbs was involved on the fringes of the Browns offense his first few years, so for this argument we’re going to count 2005-08 as his “first” year. During that time he totaled 16 catches; last year he topped that four-year total by pulling in 20 passes as he continued his maturation as a receiver.

Compare those numbers to the Saints’ Robert Meachem, who in his first two years totaled 12 catches for 289 yards. Last year he pulled in 45 passes for 722 yards and nine touchdowns.

It’s not reasonable to expect Cribbs to put up those kind of numbers, especially since the Browns don’t have a high-powered offense like the Saints. But if Cribbs’ understanding of the position catches up with his physical skills, is it that hard to see him pulling in 30-40 receptions this year? Especially with the improvement at the quarterback position?

The coaching staff has noticed, with head coach Eric Mangini saying in published reports that “the thing about Josh that we can’t look past is any time he gets the ball, regardless of what distance he gets it at, he is a vertical threat because it’s Josh with the ball in his hands in space. It just goes from a catch to a kick return.”

Mangini also credited Cribbs with improving his blocking and route running, which supports the trend of third-year receivers having a breakout season.

Cribbs has eight receptions in the past two preseason games, including a major-league catch along the sideline against Detroit. If he can become a reliable option as the team’s No. 3 receiver, that’s just another viable piece of the puzzle for an improving offense.

Opposing teams already have to fear Cribbs in the return game. Just think what it will mean for the offense if they have to start worrying about him in the passing game as well.

Thoughts on Browns-Lions

The Browns final real preseason game (is that an oxymoron?) left the team with as many questions as answers.

Once again, while the offense put together a solid effort, the defense continues to struggle.

The Good:

  • Jake Delhomme continued to show fans what an NFL-caliber QB looks like. He completed 20-of-25 passes against Detroit, with one TD. In three preseason games, Delhomme has completed more than 79 percent of his passes and has a QB rating of 110.5. Most importantly, he has yet to throw an interception.
  • Delhomme completed passes to 10 different receivers.
  • In the first half, when the starters were playing, the Browns scored 17 points, had 17 first downs and controlled the action, running 41 plays to Detroit’s 18.
  • Josh Cribbs had a nice sideline catch on a TD drive in the second quarter. He’s showing that he may finally be ready to be productive as the third wide receiver.

The Bad:

  • Matthew Stafford had a big day for Detroit, completing 13-of-17 passes. In three preseason games, the Browns defense has allowed opposing QBs to complete 30-of-36 passes.
  • The Browns have only one sack in three games.
  • The run defense regressed. After holding opponents to 2.6 yards per carry in the first two games, the Browns allowed the Lions to rush for 4.1 yards per carry.
  • The Browns have turned the ball over eight times in the past two games. That simply has to stop.

Overall, there are certainly reasons to feel, if not good, then better about this team after three games:

  • Delhomme appears to have settled the quarterback position; he’s taking control of the offense, he’s spreading the ball around and he’s not making any mistakes.
  • While the defensive secondary has struggled at times, the group should continue to improve. Rookies Joe Haden and T.J. Ward are getting game experience that will pay off when the season starts, and Sheldon Brown is a solid pro who’s play will rub off on the younger players.
  • Most importantly, the coaching staff – primarily head coach Eric Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll – seem to have cottoned on to what the preseason if there for. Unlike last year’s baggy-pants farce, the coaches are using the preseason to work on different aspects of the game – the no-huddle offense, going for it on fourth down, etc. – to prepare the team for the regular season. You actually see the offense come out with a plan and work to execute it.

The best part of Saturday’s game is it means we are now only two weeks away from the season opener.

***

What everyone else is saying:

Who Should the Browns Honor?

Lost somewhat in all the hoo-haa about who won’t be there, was the announcement that the Browns are finally establishing a Ring of Honor at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

The initial class will be made up of the team’s 16 Hall of Famers. Going forward it gets trickier to try and guess who will be eligible or worthy enough to have their names added to the ring.

“I think, going forward, we are going to work on that, team President Mike Holmgren said in published reports. “We haven’t decided yet quite honestly. I know with our Legends program we have a group. My feeling is that if you go into the Ring of Honor for a particular team, there are a lot of great players that have played here first of all. Not every great player gets to be in the Ring of Honor, that should be something very, very, very special. When we do decide criteria or put a group together to decide who should be considered for that, we are not going to rush in to it. We are going to kind of nail that down and as soon as we figure it out, we will let you know.”

The fact that the team is not going to rush into anything is a good sign. One of the problems when they created the Legends Club was trying to include a player from every decade in each year’s class. That’s not the best way to go about something like this, especially with some of the bad teams the Browns have had over the past 40 years. Looking at that list you can see why trying to be all-inclusive isn’t really feasible.

Not having this be an annual event, where you have to honor someone, works to make this truly a way to honor former players.

Having said that, who might the team look to honor in the years ahead?

It’s really a tough call, starting with the non-Hall of Famers in the Legends Club.

Clay Matthews should be a lock. He played in more games (232) than any other player in team history, his 16 seasons in Cleveland are second on the club’s longevity list and he holds the team record for quarterback sacks with 76.5. We’ve even forgiven him for that lateral against Houston.

After Matthews, it’s just gets harder. Fans will certainly want Bernie Kosar, but if you put him in you have to put Brian Sipe in as well. Sipe holds the Browns career passing marks for yards (23,713), touchdowns (154), attempts (3,439) and completions (1,944).

Sipe and Kosar were both good quarterbacks, but are they in Otto Graham’s class? Can the team really include them? Can you honor one and not the other?

Taking a look at the current team, it’s safe to say if his career continues the way it has so far, Joe Thomas will certainly be a ring member. But what about Josh Cribbs? Just like Kosar and Sipe, if Cribbs is found worthy then you’d have to seriously consider Eric Metcalf.

Browns officials have going to have a tough job with this, but that’s probably OK. You want this to be an extremely special, exclusive group.

Probably the only certainty is that, after the initial group is inducted this year, it may be a long time until the team has to host another ceremony.

Someone Else’s Problem

You have to hand it to Derek Anderson – he (or his agent) sure know how to pick his teams.

Anderson has gone from competing in Cleveland with a former high-profile college QB (Brady Quinn) who may not have the goods to play in the NFL to competing in Arizona against a former high-profile college QB (Matt Leinart) who may not have the goods to play in the NFL.

And now the Cardinals are making the mistake of thinking Anderson is the answer at QB as they are reportedly going to start him Saturday night against Chicago in their third preseason game – generally the game that teams use as a final tune-up to get their starters ready for the regular season.

At least some Cardinal fans seem to know what they are getting themselves into. Cardinals Gab describes the QB situation by writing:

“you’ve destroyed Leinart’s barely there confidence to get a look at a quarterback that probably isn’t a better option anyway. Anderson’s still learning the Cards’ system and the INTs will mount, most likely at a rate that will outstrip his TDs. I think it’s tough to say that Anderson is per se a better quarterback than Leinart right now. As a result, a single successful performance won’t tell us much about whether Anderson should start over Leinart.

“I’ve always felt that Leinart doesn’t need to be a stud for the Cardinals to win. I would take a safe, albeit vanilla offense under Leinart over a high risk-high reward offense under Anderson. Derek’s style of play will most likely lead to an increased number of turnovers. This will put a tremendous strain on a defense that has new players everywhere on the field. I’ve yet to see a team consistently lose the turnover battle and win games.”

But just like in Cleveland some Cards fans are inexplicably defending Anerson, like Rabel16 who commented on an Arizona Republic article on the switch by saying:

“Have we forgotten that DA HAS proven himself in the league? He was a Pro Bowl QB a couple years back and remember he was playing in Cleveland for crying out loud, which is comparbale (sic) to playing in AZ in the 90′s. There is plenty of upside and it is very obvious that he has much more command of the offense. Leinart is lackadaisical and there is no spunk in his step, which carries over to the rest of the team. DA is a prototype whiz qb. Effectively run the ball and go up top to Fitz. Start DA, cut Leinart, end of story… ”

Sound familiar?

And media personality Mike Lombardi has weighed in, claiming the Cards may just cut ties with Leinart if they decide to go with Anderson. Of course, we all know first hand about Lombardi’s “analysis” in these parts.

I don’t wish Cards fans any ill will, but I’m sure glad Anderson is their problem now.

Is Colt Leaving the Corral?

It was more than surprising to read that rookie QB Colt McCoy, according to the Plain Dealer’s Tony Grossi, was one of the players who needed good showings in the final preseason games to make the Browns final roster.

Seriously? After trading around and eventually drafting McCoy in the third round, the team would be ready to cut him loose after one training camp and four preseason games?

Bleacher Report jumped on the news, listing 10 Reasons Why Colt McCoy May Never Play a Down for the Browns.

It certainly is possible the Browns could cut McCoy, stranger things have happened. But it just seems so unlikely that they would have reversed course so quickly. Especially since team president Mike Holmgren said after the draft that “… I don’t expect him to play this year. We did not draft him necessarily to come in and play this year.”

So if the team went into the preseason with the expectation that McCoy was going to spend this year learning, why would they cut him?

They could always place him on the practice squad if they are not comfortable letting him be the No. 3 QB or don’t want to lose a roster spot to someone they don’t plan to use this year. But that’s no guarantee that he’ll remain with the team.

Arrowhead Pride has a nice summary of the NFL’s practice squad rules, and while McCoy would be eligible, here’s the kicker:

Practice squad players are always free agents, meaning any NFL team could sign McCoy away from the Browns.

In a league where teams are always desperate for quarterback depth, I can’t imagine McCoy making it through the entire season without someone being willing to take a chance on him.

Now the PD is reporting that, according to a source (oh boy), McCoy will make the team barring an “unforseen” circumstance.

And here we thought we were going to make it through an entire Browns preseason without any nonsense.

Running on Empty?

You have to run the ball to win in the NFL, yes?

Well, maybe not, according to Tuesday Morning Quarterback’s AFC preview column on ESPN.com. According to the column:

“The National Football League is all about running the ball, right? That’s what you hear. Yet for two consecutive seasons, the last-ranked rushing team made the Super Bowl — Arizona in 2008 and Indianapolis in 2009 reached the ultimate game despite having the league’s worst rushing offense those seasons. True, both lost, but 30 of the 32 NFL franchises gladly would have traded places with the team that lost the Super Bowl. And last season, the AFC’s two best teams, winning the first-round byes — San Diego and Indianapolis — were 31st and 32nd overall, respectively, in rushing.

“Thus you don’t have to run the ball well to win at football. … In 2008, only seven NFL teams rushed more often than they passed. In 2009, the number fell to just four — Carolina, Cincinnati, Jersey/B and Tennessee. Maybe this is because, as the Football Outsiders website long has contended, establishing the pass has more tactical value (because of more yards gained per attempt) than establishing the run.

First off, we have to point out that last year the Browns ran the ball 498 times and passed it 443. So it was actually more than four teams in 2009.

Plus, in the Browns season-ending four game win streak, they ran the ball 181 times compared to just 65 pass attempts. That late-season surge helped the team finish eighth in the NFL in rushing – and only 19 yards behind Super Bowl champion New Orleans.

So while running the ball may not be a guaranteed path to victory, it doesn’t mean you can’t be successful with a solid ground attack. It seems likely that the positives of a top-notch running game – keeps the ball away from the other team, limits the possibility for mistakes by the QB, helps immensely in cold/bad weather – outweigh any perceived negatives.

But having NFL-caliber play at the quarterback position certainly can’t hurt. Mike Holmgren has gone on record as saying the Browns can’t consistenly win the way they did at the end of last season. Which is why the team worked hard in the off-season to fix last year’s mess – Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn – and upgrade to Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace.

TMQ’s preview column missed the point on those moves as well, writing:

“What is it that new Browns president Mike Holmgren saw on tape of Jake Delhomme that no one else sees? Holmgren traded away Brady Quinn, passed on Tim Tebow and Jimmy Clausen in the draft, and handed the Cleveland starting quarterback’s job — plus $7 million guaranteed in 2010 — to Delhomme, who has thrown 35 interceptions over the past two seasons. Carolina immediately got better when Delhomme was benched in 2009. And the $7 million guarantee, it’s nice that Holmgren is generous, but he wasn’t bidding against anyone: Delhomme might have signed for the veteran minimum.

“Cleveland has been the trade capital of the NFL in recent seasons. Eric Mangini conducted a series of trades with his old team, the Jets, netting Cleveland several decent players but surrendering Mark Sanchez, who would look mighty good in Tootsie Rolls colors along about now. Holmgren has continued the yard-sale ethos. The net is that Cleveland has surrendered two recent first-round choices (Quinn and defensive end Kamerion Wimbley), plus fourth-, fifth- and seventh-round draft choices, for Sheldon Brown, Peyton Hillis, Chris Gocong, Seneca Wallace, third- and sixth-round choices and a conditional pick from Denver in 2012. That’s an awful lot of roster turbulence.”

Yes, by all means, let’s not have any “roster turbulence” on a team that has only won more than six games once in the past seven years.

TMQ does make a valid point about the Browns possibly overpaying for Delhomme, but it’s really not that bad. Plus, Quinn hasn’t really shown much in Denver so far in the preseason, so lamenting his loss is a bit much.

Since 2002, the Browns have only run the ball more than they’ve passed in two seasons – last year and 2004 – and we haven’t been swamped with any victory parades through downtown.

Maybe bucking the trend and going with an old school philosophy is the way to go for what could be an up-and-coming team this season.

Duo writes the book on bad owners

It’s clear following Monday’s 3-0 loss that Liverpool is a mess under the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

As we pointed out a few weeks ago, the (soon to be) outgoing owners have turned one of England’s most-storied clubs into a struggling squad with an uncertain future.

We know bad owners in Cleveland, from Ted Stepien to Art Modell to just about everyone who owned the Indians prior to the Jacobs brothers. So watching these two ruin Liverpool has been painful.

Paul Bestall at EPL Talk has come out with a spot-on look at the current state of the squad under Hicks and Gillett. Some of the “highlights” include:

  • Hicks and Gillett want not just ridiculous, but utterly stupid amounts of money for a club they’ve effectively bankrupted.
  • A fan base determined to run the owners out of town.
  • A stadium that has never made it off the drawing board.
  • Manchester City pulled Liverpool to bits tonight at times without really playing that well. Couple this with some performances on the tail end of last season and it reminded me of the last time a Liverpool squad looked this thin on quality. Under Graeme Souness, Liverpool had become a shadow of a side within 3 years, struggling to qualify for the UEFA Cup as it was then, never mind the Champions League.
  • The arrival of Roy Hodgson cannot paper over the cracks in this Liverpool squad. Hopelessly weak in areas it used to excel in, players shuffled about to try and make do and an attack so lightweight it looked made of paper. This is the worst Liverpool squad in 15 years, no question about it.

And the blame rests solely in the owners’ box for this mess. It seemed like Kenny Huang was going to finally start cleaning-up this mess with his bid for the club, but Huang pulled out last week after reportedly growing impatient.

Now what? Hicks and Gillett are determined to hold onto the team until they can sell it for a payoff they clearly haven’t earned. When Hicks and Gillett bought Liverpool FC, the club reportedly had a debt of approximately £44 million. That debt has now grown to £237 million.

And if the team continues slipping down the table? Apparently Hicks and Gillett have taken the position that will be the next owner’s problem.

Just lovely.

Thoughts on Browns-Rams

While not as affirming as their opening preseason game against Green Bay, the Browns walked out of Saturday night’s tilt with the Rams with some positives.

It was a strange game, with the rain, the offensive struggles in the first quarter and a general feeling while watching the game that the team wasn’t playing very well.

But looking at the stats, the Browns outgained the Rams 285 to 172 and held St. Louis is 1.7 yards per rush. So they have that going for them.

The Good:

  • It looks like the team has a starting quarterback in Jake Delhomme. The veteran QB delivered a solid performance for the home crowd, completing 12-of-16 for 127 yards, a TD and a QB rating of 118.5.
  • Peyton Hillis showed that he’s going to become a fan favorite with some tough inside running.
  • Ben Watson made a nice TD catch in the second quarter.
  • The team overcame some early mistakes that resulted in a 13-0 hole to eventually take a 17-13 lead at the end of the third quarter.
  • Even though it seemed like his name was hardly called, T.J. Ward had another solid game, as did Joe Haden. The rookie duo broke up back-to-back passes in the second quarter to stall a Rams’ drive and force a field goal.

The Bad:

  • No sacks on defense.
  • Five turnovers – three fumbles and two interceptions – on offense, plus another two fumbles that the team recovered.
  • Only 3.6 yards per carry on the ground, after only gaining 3.9 per rush against Green Bay. Not a good omen for a team that is banking on being able to run the ball this year.
  • Eric Wright dropped two interceptions.

It some ways this may actually have been the kind of game the Browns needed. By making some avoidable mistakes, the team opened up an opportunity for the coaches to work the team this week and provide some teachable moments.

“We’re gonna turn the sprinklers on (at practice) or dunk the ball in water. It shouldn’t be like that,” coach Eric Mangini said in published reports, talking about the team’s inability to hold onto the ball.

The team needs to work this week to get its mojo back and correct some of the mistakes in time for Saturday’s game vs. Detroit. The third preseason game is generally the game where the starters play most of the way as they make their final preparations for the season opener.

Hopefully the team can bring it’s A game for 60 minutes at Ford Field.

***

What everyone else is saying:

Spanning the Web on a Friday

Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk has joined the bandwagon in claiming Eric Mangini is on the hot seat, writing that:

“Throughout much of the 2009 season, the question regarding Mangini wasn’t if he’d be fired or when he’d be fired, but whether the Browns would try to do it with ’cause’ and thus cut off his ongoing payments.

“His first year in Cleveland had been a disaster, damaged by a string of reports that he was too hard on the players and destroyed by a horrendous win-loss record. But then the Browns caught fire late in the season, and new team president Mike Holmgren apparently decided that giving Mangini at least one more year represented a no-lose proposition.

“If Mangini loses, Holmgren will make the easy decision to move on. And then Holmgren likely will give Jon Gruden a call.”

Can’t we even wait until the season starts to see if the team can carry over any momentum from last year? Maybe see if the offense can be a bit more productive this year? If the defense – with all the new faces – can push some people around?

Is that too much to ask?

***

Via The Spoiler comes news that the England Department of Health released the findings of a survey into which soccer fans drank, smoke and ate the most. Turns out Sunderland fans are the most unhealthy, although you can’t tell from that photo of a Newcastle fan.

It would be interesting to see a similar study of NFL fans. You know Pittsburgh would be at the top.

***

This collection of artwork from the covers of AFL game programs is great. The cartoon illustrations are sweet and it’s an interesting reminder of how attitudes have changed over the past 40 years. The one image I found confusing was this one: since the Browns were 52-4-3 in league play and won all four league championships, shouldn’t they have been the ones driving the steamroller? Thanks to Uni Watch for the initial link.

***

EPL Talk checks in with its weekend viewing guide.

***

It didn’t take very long for the Miami media to become LeBron’s new apologists. Interesting to see how long that will last.

***

Finally, the Browns take the field Saturday night against St. Louis in their second preseason game. The struggles on defense were understandable with T.J. Ward and Joe Haden getting their first game experience and several new faces on defense, plus they were going against Green Bay’s talented offense.

This week they get Sam Bradford and the weak Rams offense. It’s not unreasonable to expect a better showing from the defense this week.

It will be interesting to see if the offense can show the same sense of purpose and success they had last week. It would be nice to see Jake Delhomme for a few additional series, as well, so the starters can start rounding in to shape.

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