Red Right 88

Life as a Cleveland Sports Fan

Archive for the month “September, 2010”

That’s nice, but … catch the ball

It’s nice that Mohamed Massaquoi doesn’t want to be a distraction or a stereotypical wide receiver diva.

“You want to stay within the game plan,” he told The Plain Dealer this week. “Last game we didn’t have any turnovers. We were moving the ball effectively. You don’t want to take away from the game plan, don’t want to become a distraction.”

And it’s even better that coach Eric Mangini is talking Massaquoi up, trying to keep his confidence high.

“The numbers aren’t there, but he’s made strides in a lot of areas,” Mangini said in the same article. “I don’t think it’s just purely numbers based. Would he love to have a lot more catches? Yeah. Would we like those numbers to be different? You want all your guys to have a lot of catches. It’s a function of getting the opportunity and when it comes taking advantage of it.”

And it is heartening that Massaquoi doesn’t see any reason to panic.

“It’s early. It’s very early,” Massaquoi said. “If this was week 11, 12, 13, 14, it might be a different conversation, but it’s still early. My time will come.”

The thing is, it’s not early. The Browns hit the quarter mark of the season Sunday against Cincinnati and it will be Massaquoi’s 20th game – it’s time to start catching the ball.

According to The Football Outsiders Almanac (Terry Pluto referenced them in his Sunday column), the average wide receiver catches about 57 percent of the passes thrown to him. Last season, Massaquoi was at 36 percent and, with only three catches this year after three games, the number can’t be much higher. Fellow receivers Chansi Stuckey (48 percent) and Brian Robiskie (35 percent) were just as bad.

If you look at his first 19 games, 35 percent of Massaquoi’s career catches and 39 percent of his career yards came in two games last season – the home game vs. Cincinnati and the Detroit game. For the other 17 games he’s played, he’s averaging 1.5 catches and 24 yards per game.

Some of that can be attributed to the quarterback play last year, but not all of it. It’s time for some on-field production.

Much like how the team needs a win to show real evidence of its improvement, it’s time for Massaquoi to start putting up some tangible numbers to reflect the progress that he is supposedly making. Being a good practice player is nice, but more players need to start producing on game day if the Browns are going to start winning.

In short, it’s time to start catching the ball.

All’s quiet on the brown-and-white front

For a team that is 0-3 on the season and 5-14 over its last 19 games, all is refreshingly quiet in Berea.

After three close losses, the Browns are focusing on Sunday’s game vs. Cincinnati, trying to figure how to get not only their first win of the season, but how to beat the Bengals in Cleveland for the first time since 2007 (aka when we didn’t know how horrible Derek Anderson is at quarterback).

For a change other teams are dealing with quarterback issues: Buffalo, Arizona (ha!), and Carolina to name a few. And, for the most part, those media members who are interested in the temperature of the office furniture have moved on to Miami, Jacksonville and San Francisco.

This must be what it’s like to follow a real NFL team, looking ahead to the next game and wondering:

  • How Eric Wright will bounce back?
  • How the Browns will game plan for Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, a particular thorn in the Browns’ side over the years?
  • Can Peyton Hillis have another day like the one he had in Baltimore?
  • Will the wide receiving trio of Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie and Chansi Stuckey have more than three catches combined?
  • Can the defense bring some pressure on a declining Carson Palmer?
  • Can the Browns finally hold on to a second-half lead and close out a game?

After more than a decade of distractions, hoo-haa, motorcycle crashes, “teeny, tiny fractures,” debates over which lousy quarterback gives the team the best chance of not being embarrassed and everything else, it’s nice to be able to focus on football for a change.

This is something we could get used to around here.

Now about that 0-3 record …

Why Can’t We Have Nice Things?

Came across this on The Spoiler site: it’s a video presentation of Qatar’s proposed stadiums as part of its bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

Why can’t we take a water taxi to a Browns game at Cleveland Browns Stadium?

Why can’t we have cooling and/or heating technology in the stands?

Why can’t our stadiums have a 420,000-square-foot media facade?

Why can’t our stadiums reflect the landscape and uniqueness of Northeast Ohio?

Why can’t we ever have anything nice?

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Disappointing news if true: Brian Windhorst may be leaving the Plain Dealer to join ESPN and cover the Miami Heat. Sad news for Cavs fans as we would be losing one of the best NBA beat writers around, and to cover the Heat no less.

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As if following the Cleveland teams hasn’t been tough lately, we are still dealing with the mess in Liverpool created by owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Red Right 88’s English cousin, Red Right 26.82 meters, pointed us to this story preaching patience.

Same as it ever was? Same as it ever was

The Browns finally read the rule book and realized they are allowed to play offense for a full 60 minutes – even scoring a touchdown in the second half – but despite putting up a good fight against the Ravens, the Browns lost, 24-17, to drop to 0-3 on the season, the fourth time in the past five years they have started 0-3.

It was more of the same for the Browns as too many mistakes made at the worst possible time cut short any chance they had to pull out a win. For your consideration:

  • On the Browns first drive, Seneca Wallace was called for a delay-of-game penalty on Baltimore’s 19-yard-line. A tough 3rd-and-8 became a 3rd-and-13 and the Browns settled for a field goal.
  • In the second quarter, after falling behind 7-3, the Browns had a drive going but right tackle Tony Pashos was called for holding on a Peyton Hillis run. So instead of 2nd and 6 at the Ravens’ 43 yard line, the Browns faced 1st and 20 at their own 43. Three plays later they punted.
  • In the third quarter, Ben Watson was called for unnecessary roughness on a drive into Baltimore territory. Two plays later the Browns punted.
  • After cutting Baltimore’s lead to 17-14, the Browns pinned the Ravens on their own 15 on the kickoff. But Blake Constanzo, who is only on the team for special teams play, was offside. On the re-kick, the Ravens returned to the 31 yard line, starting a drive that resulted in a touchdown.
  • Matt Roth – who we are completely tired of – was offside on the Ravens final drive, killing any chance the Browns had of making a final comeback. That was his second offside of the day.

Well, you get the picture. We thought that having a disciplinarian for a coach, rather than a “softie” like Romeo Crennel was supposed to fix the problem of excessive penalties?

Offensively, the Browns moved the ball pretty well, and you really couldn’t ask any more out of Wallace, who finished 18-of-24 with a touchdown, no turnovers and a QB rating of 103; not bad against the second-ranked pass defense.

The Browns also rushed for 173 yards, with Hillis ripping the Ravens for 144 yards on the ground and another 36 through the air. How the Browns got this guy for Brady Quinn remains one of the biggest mysteries of the year.

The defense, overall, didn’t play all that bad, although they were not able to put any pressure on Joe Flacco, who passed for 262 yards and three touchdowns – all to Anquan Boldin. Which brings us to the biggest pile of ugly from the game.

We have absolutely no idea how to describe Eric Wright’s game against the Ravens. He was burned by Boldin on all three touchdowns and seemed completely lost/overmatched/out of his league on Sunday.

Boldin had 8 catches for 142 yards. Consider that in one game Boldin had:

  • More yards than Chansi Stuckey has had in his last eight games for the Browns.
  • More yards than Brian Robiskie has had in his entire career.
  • More yards than Mohamed Massaquoi has had in his last five games for the Browns.

Somehow Massaquoi and Stuckey played an entire game without catching a single pass. For the season, Massaquoi has five total receptions for 55 yards; Stuckey has five for 41 yards.

Let’s review: in one game, Boldin had more yards than Massaquoi, Stuckey and Robiskie have combined for the season (114) and almost as many catches (10).

We’ve tried very, very hard to give these receivers the benefit of the doubt and accept that they will have growing pains. But with each passing week the evidence is slowly mounting that these guys probably just are not that good.

Excuses were made for them last year with the abysmal quarterback play, but that hasn’t been the case this year. If Josh Cribbs, Ben Watson, Peyton Hillis and everyone else can catch passes from Jake Delhomme and Wallace, why can’t these guys?

Think about it: if the Browns released Massaquoi, Robiskie and Stuckey on Monday, would any of them get picked up by another NFL team? It seems highly doubtful. Thank (insert your deity here) that Eric Mangini is no longer in charge of the draft or trades.

The Browns are back home next week against Cincinnati. We wonder what fun awaits as we near the quarter mark of the season.

Browns vs. Ravens – Week 3

The Browns travel to Baltimore to hang out with Avon, Stringer, Wee-Bey and the gang, and to take on the Ravens in an attempt to avoid their fourth 0-3 start in the past five years.

The Opposition

Baltimore record: 1-1
Offensive rank: 25th overall/21st passing/26th rushing
Defensive rank: 2nd overall/2nd passing/13th rushing
All-time record: Browns trail 7-15-0, with a 3-8-0 mark in Baltimore
Last meeting in Baltimore: Browns lost, 34-3
The line: Browns (+10.5)

What to Watch For

After failing to score in the second half in their first two games, it will be interesting to see what the Browns can do offensively against Baltimore. The Ravens are only giving up 12 points a game, have been difficult to run against and have yet to give up a touchdown.

“You get into a third and long situation against this team and it’s really, really hard to pick up,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said in his Friday press conference. “You have got to stay on track and get some positive plays. You have got to understand that you’re going in there and you’re going to get some negative plays, but you’ve got to try to stay on track with this team and keep pounding it, keep hitting the completions and keep moving. When you get a chance to hit your shot, you hit it. They’re tough.”

One thing that could play into the Browns’ hands is that it looks like they will be without Jake Delhomme again this week as well as Brian Robiskie, which weakens an already soft receiving group. If the team can’t pass it will be forced to run, which the Browns should be doing anyway.

In addition, it looks like the offense will remember Josh Cribbs, as they plan to give him more opportunities out of the Flash package. Opposing teams can work to limit Cribbs in the kicking game, but they can’t do anything about the Browns giving him the ball on offense, except try and stop him. “I think more touches for Josh would be a good thing,” Daboll said in the understatement of the season so far.

Having a mobile Seneca Wallace at quarterback can’t hurt, either, as the Ravens will surely bring pressure defensively, especially against the John St. Clair and Floyd Womack on the Browns right side of the offensive line.

Defensively, the Browns have to hope Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco continues his poor play. The Ravens have only scored 10 points in each of their first two games, and Flacco threw four interceptions last week against Cincinnati. The Browns secondary will be tested this week; hopefully the front seven can get some pressure on Flacco and help out T.J. Ward, Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown.

The Best Browns vs. Baltimore Game I’ve Ever Seen

Easily the 2007 game in Baltimore where Phil Dawson tied the game at the end of regulation and then won it in overtime. Seems more like 30 years ago rather than just three.

Here’s the Plain Dealer’s game story. Video from the game is available here.

The Prediction

It’s hard to see a way for the Browns to win this game based on how they’ve played the first two weeks. Certainly they won’t have a chance if they don’t score in the second half.

If they can force multiple turnovers, control the clock, get a defensive score and a special teams score, then they may have a chance. If not, we could be giving the NFL Sunday Ticket a good workout.

Week 3 Picks

After a monster Week 2 that brought us to a half-point out of first place in the 2010 Cheddar Bay Invitational over at Cleveland Frowns, it’s time to keep the magic going.

This week we like:

Army (+6.5) vs. Duke

Tennessee (+3) vs. NY Giants

Dallas (+3) vs. Houston

And the money pick: Pittsburgh (-2.5) vs. Tampa Bay

Here’s why:

Those of us who hoped Pittsburgh was going to struggle with their crappy back-up quarterbacks have been disappointed through the first two weeks of the season. With the way the Steelers’ defense is playing, the team could alternate Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn on every play at quarterback and still win. They held Chris Johnson, the best running back in the NFL, to 34 yards rushing last week. The Browns defense held Tampa to 10 points and 288 yards of total offense when they played in Week 1. Last week, Tampa had only 273 yards of total offense. They may not break 200 yards against Pittsburgh. This is the week the Bucs embrace their destiny as a 3-13 team.

Let’s roll.

Building the Perfect Browns Coach

With the Browns 0-2 (again) and people busy monitoring the temperature of the office chairs in Berea (again, some more), reader jimkanicki asked where we at Red Right 88 stand on coach Eric Mangini.

I kind of talked around the answer, eventually pointing him to this post. It’s a tough question to answer, because I don’t think this is an either/or situation. In some ways it is still hard to evaluate Mangini, even 18 games into his tenure as coach as coach of the Browns and carrying the weight of a 28-38 career record.

I think either explicitly, by locking GM George Kokinis in an equipment shed last season so he couldn’t make any decisions; or implicitly, by Randy Lerner not telling him no, Mangini ran the show last season. And that just doesn’t work.

When he was a coach, Bill Parcells would talk about how if he was “cooking the dinner” then he should be the one “buying the groceries.” But when he took over as the top guy in Miami, he didn’t let the coach pick the players. It’s just too much for one person to handle.

Just like coaches have to put players in a position to succeed, the GM has to put the coach in a position to succeed, the president has to do the same for the GM and the owner for the president. That’s only fair.

Now that the Browns have the proper structure in place, Mangini has the framework around him to maximize his potential to succeed. If he fails, it won’t be because he was distracted from doing his primary job. If the structure had been in place when he was hired last season, we would be able to evaluate him better at this stage.

All this got me to thinking, who would be the perfect coach for the Browns? Who would finally satisfy the fans?

So, armed with the knowledge of 30+ years of watching Browns football, plus countless hours reading books, news sites and other blogs on the Browns, as well as fan comments, we entered the Red Right 88 laboratory to build the perfect Browns coach.

First, you need someone who will win. The coach doesn’t have to go 16-0 every year, 14-2 will be fine; just don’t ever lose a division game. And they have to win the Super Bowl, not every year, just three out of ever four.

When the Browns were looking for a coach after firing Romeo Crennel, the call went up for Bill Cowher. After all, he won a Super Bowl with the help of an incompetent officiating crew. But what about those four AFC title game losses at home? That would never work here in Cleveland.

The coach also has to oversee an offensive attack that would make the famed Air Coryell offense in San Diego look like a Pop Warner team running the single wing, while getting the starting quarterback and his backup an equal amount of playing time.

The defense must be a combination of the Steel Curtain, the ’86 Bears, the Fearsome Foursome and Dallas’ Doomsday. And don’t give up more than 10 points a game; and never give up any points against a division opponent.

He should also make sure the every draft pick and free agent performs at an All Pro level.

Finally, he must handle the media flawlessly, providing quotes worthy of Shakespeare.

We think that sums up the expectations placed on the coach of the Browns. And despite working tirelessly to build someone to fill the role, we were unable to pull it off.

So, for now, we’ll ride with Mangini as coach and keep our pitchforks and torches in storage.

But we’ll keep our matches close at hand.

Still Struggling for Reception

By establishing Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie as the starting receivers, the Browns are relying on two second-year wide receivers.

The problem with that is there is growing evidence that a majority of wide receivers don’t adjust to the speed of the game and fully understand how to read defenses and run routes until their third season.

In his book, Take Your Eye off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, Pat Kirwan, a senior analyst on NFL.com and former coach and front office member, highlights what a receiver must do during a play:

“It’s on the post-snap read that a receiver gets the true indicator of what the defensive back is going to do. If the cornerback lines up 7 or 8 yards off the line of scrimmage and is aligned with the receiver’s outside shoulder, it might look like off and soft to the receiver. But the receiver can’t be sure until after the snap, when he’ll see the cornerback backpedal and reveal his deep coverage principles. The receiver then immediately must decide whether he’s going to run a post, a deep curl or something in front of the deep coverage. That decision will also depend on another factor – the drop his quarterback will be taking, something the receiver must always be aware of.”

Another area young receivers struggle with is getting release off the line of scrimmage. Kirwan explains:

“Some great college receivers can’t even get off the line of scrimmage in the NFL. They never faced big, strong cornerbacks, guys who are 6’0″, 200 pounds and can bench 400 pounds. Some great college receivers never even have a chance to think about reading coverages because they’re too busy trying to get out of their stance.”

Former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar gave still another example of the learning curve required of NFL wide receivers in an article in The Plain Dealer:

“Those passes down the sidelines that guys can’t catch and stay in bounds,” said Kosar. “If you watch them, you see that the receivers are 1-2 yards away from the sidelines as they run down field. That’s too close. They should be 5-6 yards. You want to give the quarterback about 15 feet to throw the ball between the receiver and the sidelines.”

On their training camp tour for Sirius NFL Radio, Kirwan and his on-air partner Tim Ryan talked about how the Browns receivers did not have the extra gear needed to get separation on a defensive back and give the quarterback an opportunity to drop the ball in. Without that speed, Massaquoi and Robiskie have to find other ways to get open, and that will only come with time.

The more you read about what it takes to be a successful NFL wide receiver, the more you realize what a big project this is for the team. And these examples are just the start; it’s not even taking into account how responsibilities change if you are the X, Y or Z receiver on a given play.

Of course, the Browns find themselves in this conundrum of their own doing. Because they did not have the proper people in place for the 2009 NFL Draft, they drafted two wide receivers in the same year, hoping they would be able to contribute sooner rather than later. By throwing in with Massaquoi and Robiskie, for better or worse the team has to live with the mistakes, limitations and growing pains.

There were calls during the preseason for the Browns to get a veteran player to be the No. 1 receiver. But there are a couple of problems with that. First, there are really only a handful of true No. 1 receivers in the league: Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. That’s pretty much it; everyone else is a notch (or further) behind that group.

So that leaves the team looking at two options, neither of which is very appealing:

  • Sign an older receiver on the downward part of his career – T.J. Houshmandzadeh or Terrell Owens for example. But having someone like that who is not a long-term solution would just slow the development of the young receivers even more.
  • Sign a problem player like Vincent Jackson. But if the Browns didn’t want to deal with Braylon Edwards or Kellen Winslow, why would they want to take a chance on someone who is only one more incident away from a year-long suspension?

Like most things, all this takes time and patience. The first Browns fans have; the second is continually being tested, but we haven’t hit the bottom of the well just yet.

A Step in the Right Direction

Browns coach Eric Mangini may be on to something here as the team prepares for its first division game of the season, this Sunday in Baltimore.

In his Monday press conference, Mangini said the Browns should have used Josh Cribbs in the Wildcat more against KC:

“I feel like I would have used it more yesterday looking back. That’s something I would have done more of in retrospect. I think that whether they’re catching up or not catching up giving Josh (Cribbs) a few more chances to carry the ball sometimes they have caught up and he changes things.”

On getting Cribbs more opportunities:

“Yes, just to get Josh more touches. I think with him, they may load the box, they may do a lot of different things. He’s got a chance on any play.”

And why haven’t they used the Wildcat very much so far:

“You’re going through the course of the game and there’s a lot of things that, when you have a chance to sit in your offense and analyze, you think of. There are some decisions that you’d like to have back, but you don’t get to it at that point. I think every coach in the league goes through that process on Monday morning, win or lose. ‘I wish we had done this, I wish we had done more of that.’ When you have the benefit of time and reflection and you’ve seen how the game has unfolded, you always go through that process. Good and bad.”

This is good stuff. The first step to becoming more effective at work is awareness. If you don’t know a problem exists, you can’t fix it. Without feedback, most people believe they are doing just fine. It seems as if the feedback is starting to get through.

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In a city with more than 10,000 taxi cabs running 24 hours a day, you would think it wouldn’t be that hard to avoid being arrested for drunk driving. The Alumni Office at the University of Michigan must be so proud.

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A very solid article at the Orange & Brown Report on the early results of the Mike Holmgren era.

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