From the editor’s notebook …
With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming to town on Sunday for what has turned into a rather important divisional game, the Cleveland Browns are facing the usual litany of problems when it comes to the Steelers.
One of those problems may be getting worse with the uncertainty surrounding the availability of cornerback Joe Haden, who may miss the game after injuring his hip in the win against Tennessee. (Defensive tackle Phil Taylor is also out now for several weeks after injuring his knee, which doesn’t help matters, either.)
Even with Haden in the lineup the Browns have had problems with Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown, who has career highs in receptions (37), receiving yards (610) and touchdowns (four) against the Browns. In the opening game of the season, Brown had five catches for 116 yards and a touchdown.
See what we mean?
If Haden can’t go, things may get dicey for the Browns.
As we saw once again on Sunday, Buster Skrine is not good when forced to play on the outside. Against the Titans, he allowed five receptions for 122 yards and two touchdowns and, according to Pro Football Focus, Jake Locker and Charlie Whitehurst had a perfect quarterback rating when throwing at Skrine. (Read that last part again, Browns fans).
Skrine has been forced to the outside because rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert continues to struggle to make the transition to the pro game. He has seen his playing time diminish to the point that he was only on the field for nine plays against Tennessee.
“(Justin) just keep getting after it in practice,” head coach Mike Pettine said earlier this week. “With Joe’s status potentially up in the air, he might have to play. But we’ll see. We haven’t given up on Justin, but he has some stuff he’s just got to work through at practice and get to the point where he can trust the coaching and trust his technique. We’ll get him back out there.”
“If a guy is underperforming, we’ll look him in the eye and we’ll let him know that. I’m not going to do it in a disrespectful or in a demeaning way, but when we need better, they’ll know it. They need to play up to the standards that we set, that we know they’re capable of. To me, that’s important for the guys to know that.”
The Browns may not want to do it, but they may have to go back to Gilbert against the Steelers – whether he is ready or not.
As if they didn’t have enough to worry about as it is.
It all starts up front
The Browns offense has been one of the surprises through the first few weeks of the NFL season, with Brian Hoyer doing his thing, the wide receivers playing respectably without the suspended Josh Gordon and an injured Jordan Cameron, and the rushing game currently at No. 4 in the league’s rankings.
And it all starts up front with the offensive line, which Pro Football Focus currently ranks as the best in the NFL. (In fact, three of the top four offensive lines are in the AFC North.)
The site writes that, “Tt’s rare the stars align like this. You’ve got five players who have played every snap and look like a line in sync. They’re opening up holes for their backs and giving their quarterback time to make plays. A real testament that the guys you associate with making up the numbers are playing just as well as the guys on the big money.”
According to the team’s website, the offensive line:
- Has allowed just 15 quarterback pressures, tops in the league. (The median number is 46.)
- Has allowed Hoyer to be hit just twice all season.
- Has given up just five sacks. The only starting quarterbacks to be sacked less are Drew Brees and Peyton Manning.
“We can be as good as we want to be,” Joe Thomas said. “The talent is here. We’ve invested money and draft picks into the positon. We’ve got studs all across the board. The offense we are running fits perfectly with the personnel that we have.”
Some of that is attributable to Hoyer getting rid of the ball quickly, but that shouldn’t take away from what the offensive line has been doing so far this season.
Don’t hold out hope, Tribe fans
Ever since the end of the regular season, the Cleveland Indians have gone on the offensive in letting their fans know not to expect much when it comes to improving an offense that scored three runs or less in half its games this season.
The latest stop on the tour comes courtesy of Crain’s Cleveland Business (h/t Factory of Sadness), which had a talk with team president Mark Shapiro, who shared that the plan to improve the offense is relying on bounce back years from Jason Kipnis and Nick Swisher.
Kipnis reportedly came to spring training out of shape and then suffered an oblique injury that he never seemed to recover from. He was limited to 129 games, finishing the year with a batting average of just .240, with six home runs, 41 RBI and 61 runs scored.
It’s one thing to hope that Kipnis will be better next year, although since the 2013 All-Star break, he is batting just .247 with 38 doubles, 10 home runs, 68 RBI and a painful 160 strikeouts.
Swisher is an entirely different story.
In the second season of a four-year, $56 million contract, Swisher had surgery on both knees in August. In 97 games, he posted an overall batting average of .208 (it was .168 with no home runs against lefties), 111 strikeouts in only 360 at bats, a .278 on-base percentage and a .609 OPS.
And did we mention that Swisher had surgery on both his knees?
While we understand it would probably never happen anyway, that doesn’t make it any easier to know that the Indians can’t pursue Victor Martinez because of Swisher’s contract. As Paul Hoynes points out in The Plain Dealer, “The only way the Indians could sign Martinez is if they were able to trade Swisher. No one is going to take Swisher – regardless of how much of his contract the Indians swallow – without knowing he can play following his knee surgeries. Swisher would have to prove that in spring training and probably through the early part of the regular season. Martinez will be signed, sealed and delivered long before then.”
It’s taken almost 40 years, but Swisher has surpassed Wayne Garland as the worst free agent signing in franchise history.
(Photos courtesy of steelers.com, clevelandbrowns.com and Getty Images)