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In Cleveland, hope dies last

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Grading the Browns Quarterbacks

Now that the Browns’ 2010 season is in the books, we thought we’d jump on the grading bandwagon and hand out grades to selected positions on the team.

Today we’ll start with the quarterbacks. Rather than just assign an arbitrary letter grade to Colt McCoy, Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, we’re going to try and see how they match up against what was statistically an average NFL quarterback this season.

Thirty-two quarterbacks played enough this year to qualify for the NFL rankings – from Tom Brady at the top to Jimmy Clausen, who narrowly beat out old friend Derek Anderson as the worst quarterback in the league.

For the 2010 season, the average NFL quarterback completed 61.5 percent of his passes (282-for-458) for 3,265 yards, 7.13 yards per attempt, 21 touchdowns and 12.5 interceptions.

If we project McCoy’s statistics over a full season, he would have completed 60.8 of his passes (270-for-444), with 3,152 yards, 7.1 yards per attempt, 12 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.

Those numbers would have put him right in the middle of the pack, although his touchdowns were a bit low and his interceptions a bit high. McCoy’s yardage would have put him ahead of Matt Cassell and Michael Vick, and just right behind Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez. And his yards per attempt were more than a yard better than highly-touted rookie Sam Bradford.

Not bad for a rookie quarterback who was not expected to play this season. A grade of C+ with promise for next year seems right.

Seneca Wallace showed us what he is this year – a capable backup who can fill in on a short-term basis without really harming the team.

Statistically he’s below average when it comes to yards (1,388) and touchdowns (8), but he doesn’t turn the ball over (a projected 4 interceptions) and completes an above-average percentage of his passes (63.4 percent).

We feel OK with giving Wallace a C and are comfortable having him return next year in a back-up role.

That brings us to Delhomme. Again, he came as advertised, completing an above average percentage of his passes (62.4) but was below average in yards (2,790), touchdowns (6) and interceptions (22).

We’ll give Delhomme some extra credit for the work he did helping McCoy this season which brings his grade to a C.

We’re not sure how valid our “analysis” is as they are just numbers; they don’t take into account any intangibles, the support of the running game, play calling or the talent void at the wide receiver position.

But they do confirm what we saw this year on the field: McCoy has shown enough that we want to see more; Wallace is capable as a back-up who won’t kill the team if he has to play in short stretches; and Delhomme is a veteran who is more valuable on the practice field during the week than on the field on Sundays.

The Browns quarterbacks pretty much were what we thought they would be back in July: certainly not Pro Bowlers by any stretch, but far from being the worse collection of quarterbacks in the league (that would be the Arizona Cardinals in case you were wondering).

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It has apparently been a good NFL season for Las Vegas.

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No matter how bad it gets in Brownstown, we can always be thankful we’re not in Cincinnati.

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And speaking of things to be thankful for, the Browns were never in consideration for Jim Harbaugh.

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Finally, ex-Indians Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven were elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame today.

A Bad Day in Buffalo

Oh boy.

The Browns lost their last chance to finish the season with a winning record in an ugly loss on Sunday to the Bills. And along the way they showed that, while they have come a long way this season, they still have a long way to go to be a consistent winner in the NFL.

We subscribe to the theory of win as a team, lose as a team, so we hate to point fingers at one particular unit, but this loss hangs squarely on the offense.

The Browns took the opening kick off and moved smartly down the field with the running game, reaching the Buffalo six-yard line in just five plays, all rushes. But once they hit first and goal the drive stalled, as Peyton Hillis ran three straight times for five yards, leaving the Browns facing a fourth-and-goal at the 1.

Perhaps a play-action call would have been beneficial on first down in that situation, but the Browns were moving the ball and Buffalo does have the worst rushing defense in the league.

The Browns chose a Phil Dawson field goal rather than go for the score on fourth down. We would have been OK with the Browns going for the touchdown, what with the Bills weak run defense and all, but it was the first drive of the day and you want to get points early.

“I did think about [going for it], but I felt like the game was going to be close, like a one-score game,” coach Eric Mangini told The Plain Dealer. “I figured we would have more drives later on.”

We did too, coach. Unfortunately that first drive was the highlight of the day for the Browns offense.

After gaining 49 yards on the opening drive, Hillis would only gain another 59 yards the rest of the day. And once again he had no support in the running game, as Mike Bell ran three times for eight yards and Josh Cribbs added minus 11 yards on a botched end around.

This is a problem we’ve all seen coming for weeks now: Hillis is the Browns only running option so teams can key on him; there is simply no one else they need to worry about at all. Unfortunately there is nothing the team can do about it until the off season.

Same with the passing game as tight end Ben Watson had only one catch on the day. The Bills knew that Watson was the only person in the passing game they needed to worry about and it showed.

The Browns put up 54 yards on that opening drive, they would only gain another 133 yards the rest of the game.

Which brings us to Jake Delhomme.

Delhomme just wasn’t very good, going 12-for-20 for 86 yards. He had two fourth-quarter turnovers – a fumble and an interception where he was hit on the throw – that killed the Browns last chances to tie the game. He couldn’t move the Browns past midfield at all on their five second-half possessions.

Look, Delhomme was supposed to be a stop gap this year at the quarterback position. From all reports he’s been great mentoring Colt McCoy and that’s wonderful. But he is clearly past his expiration date as a starting quarterback in this league.

Since returning to the starter’s role three weeks ago, the Browns have gone 8-for-35 on third downs under Delhomme. He’s just not moving the team and there really is no good reason to keep him in the starting role now that Seneca Wallace is healthy. The Browns have options, they need to use them.

Speaking of things we don’t need to see anymore, it’s time the coaches sat down with Hillis and put the kibosh on his hurdling obsession. It’s unnecessary and it led directly to a fumble on Sunday when the Browns had a chance to take control of the game.

After the defense forced a turnover and gave the offense the ball on the Buffalo 25-yard-line, Hillis ran the ball on first down and tried to hurdle Bills safety Jairus Byrd, who knocked the ball loose and the Bills recovered.

“You knew from watching film that he has been [hurdling] for a while,” Byrd told The Plain Dealer. “If you get him in the open field, he’s going to try to stiff-arm you or jump you. It was something I knew was coming. I prepared for it.”

That was one of three fumbles by Hillis, to go with the one by Delhomme and one by Cribbs. In one absurd sequence in the third quarter the Browns fumbled three times on one drive and were lucky to recover all of them.

Bottom line it was a frustrating loss. But it doesn’t undo the good the Browns have done this year with moving the team forward. The loss does highlight the holes the team has and all the work still left to do. The front office and coaching staff don’t appear blind to that, so we can stay confident that things are turning around, despite how we feel after today’s game.

The Browns now need to refocus and get ready to travel to Cincinnati next week. Because if they lose to the 2-11 Bengals and come home at 5-9 to face the Ravens and Steelers, it may not be a pretty sight.

Browns get a second date with Lady Luck

Lady Luck enjoyed the company of the Browns so much she went on the road with them to Miami and watched as the Browns pulled out a last-minute win over the Dolphins – the first win in Miami for the Browns since 1970.

Offensively this wasn’t Miami-San Diego in the 1981 playoffs, but the Browns defense came up with several big plays at the right time to keep the team in the game and the Browns finally won on a Phil Dawson field goal as time expired.

A week after poor tackling almost doomed the Browns against Carolina, and on the heels of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan saying that defense was “looking forward to this challenge,” the defensive highlights included:

  • Three interceptions, including another one by Joe Haden, who also added five solo tackles and four passes defended. Despite the ramblings of some, Haden has quickly shown that he is the real deal and one of the best draft picks in recent Browns history.
  • A blocked field goal and a key fourth-quarter sack by Shaun Rogers on third down.
  • Holding the Dolphins to 4-of-14 on third down, making sure the defense didn’t wear down as the game went on.
  • Holding Chad Henne to a Derek Anderson-like 37.8 passer rating. Of course, that may be a bit unfair to Henne, as Anderson was pulled from the Cardinals game today after going 7-0f-20 for 93 yards and a 29.8 QB rating. He did have time to get in his weekly interception, however.
  • Limiting the Dolphins to just 3.6 yards per rush.

The biggest defensive play came with 1:05 left when David Bowens deflected a Henne pass into the arms of Mike Adams, who returned the ball to the Miami two-yard line and set up Dawson’s game winning kick.

“It’s about time for us to win a game like that,” Adams told The Plain Dealer. “I got an early Christmas gift.”

Yes, yes it is.

Offensively the Browns … well … they did enough to win.

The Dolphins keyed their defense to stopping Peyton Hillis – the Browns only running threat with Josh Cribbs still slowed by his foot injury – and held Hillis to 57 yards on 18 carries and kept him out of the end zone.

With Hillis shut down, the Browns had to rely on Jake Delhomme. And while the Browns were horrible on third down – converting just two of 14 – Delhomme led the Browns on a 94-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter.

Ben Watson had a big day with 10 catches for 100 yards and a touchdown. Mohamed Massaquoi added four catches for 81 yards and Brian Robiskie even contributed two catches, albeit for only 10 yards.

And it was clear that Delhomme tried really hard to not make the killer mistake that would cost the Browns the game. He threw the ball away on a couple of occasions and ate the ball on a sack.

Honestly, he really did try, but it almost all came apart with 1:49 left in the game. Delhomme targeted Watson but the pass went directly to Miami cornerback Nolan Carroll.

There’s little doubt the play had TAINT written all over it, but miraculously Carroll dropped the ball.

“I should have made it,” Carroll told The Plain Dealer. “I saw the route. I knew it was coming before the play even happened because they ran the same thing earlier in the game. I just got to make the play. I score. I know for a fact I score.”

For the second week in a row the Browns caught a break and when Adams picked off the pass a minute later they won their second in a row.

Some may scoff that this was an ugly win, but there really is no such thing. For a team that never stops fighting, these kinds of wins reward that attitude and help the team stay positive and focused for the next game. Plus its about time the Browns had some luck come their way.

The win means the Browns are now:

  • 4-2 after starting the season 1-5
  • 9-7 in their last 16 games after their 1-12 start to last season.
  • Just as importantly, they are now 4-1 in December under coach Eric Mangini, a sure sign that this team keeps improving and won’t give up.

And with Buffalo and Cincinnati coming up the next two weeks, it’s not to hard to see this team finding itself at 7-7 when it comes how for the final two games of the season.

Browns finally dance with Lady Luck

It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t easy and, at times, it wasn’t enjoyable to watch, but Lady Luck finally blew on the right dice as the Browns held on to beat the 1-9 Panthers, 24-23.

After back-to-back last minute losses, the Browns built an early 21-7 lead and slowly tried to give the game away to the Panthers, finally prevailing when John Kasay’s 42-yard field goal attempt nailed the left upright as time expired.

The Browns seemed to seal the game when Joe Haden intercepted Jimmy Clausen’s pass with 1:30 left in the game. After three runs exhausted the Panthers timeouts, Reggie Hodges pinned the Panthers down at their own 5-yard-line with less than a minute left.

Hodges earned every penny of his contract extension on Sunday. In addition to the clutch punt, he pulled down a high snap on Phil Dawson’s game-winning field goal and picked up a first down by drawing roughing penalty on a third-quarter punt.

Clausen somehow marched the Panthers down the field to set up Kasay’s field goal attempt. It didn’t look good for the Browns after the refs inexplicably let Carolina receiver Brandon LaFell roll out of bounds despite being down at the Browns 24-yard-line. Rather than the clock running out on the Panthers, the refs botched call gave them a chance to set up for the winning field goal.

The Browns offense was once again led by running back Peyton Hillis, who ran for 131 yards, added a team-high 63 receiving yards and scored three rushing touchdowns. Hillis had a lot of success running left behind Lawrence Vickers, who had another monster day, Eric Steinbach and Joe Thomas.

Hillis now has 13 total touchdowns on the season, 905 rushing yards and 414 receiving yards. For the year, Hillis has accounted for 37 percent of the Browns offensive yards and 62 percent of the team’s offensive touchdowns. General manager Tom Heckert should be named Executive of the Year for turning Brady Quinn into Hillis and additional draft picks.

Now for the bad part, namely the play of Jake Delhomme.

As we said in our game preview, the only way the Browns lose this game is if they have multiple turnovers and Delhomme did his best Derek Anderson impersonation to try and prove us right.

Holding a 21-13 lead to start the second half, Delhomme was intercepted on his first two passes of the half, the second a TAINT by Carolina’s Captain Munnerlyn that cut the Browns lead to 21-20 and put what was once a sure win in doubt.

Delhomme was rusty and off target with several passes, which was to be excepted after missing eight weeks, but there were also the silly throws while running out of the pocket or being pulled down by a defender. We saw that in the Tampa game and the Atlanta game and there is no reason to believe that won’t continue if Delhomme is back under center next week.

And on a day when the Browns rushed for 4.8 yards a carry, they still felt the need to have Delhomme throw the ball 35 times. And while his completion percentage was almost identical from the first half (12-of-18) to the second half (12-of-17), Delhomme threw for less than 100 yards in the second half and had those two picks. Plus he almost lost a fumble on a sack.

And remember how we said Hillis was successful running behind Vickers all day? Well when the Browns drove to Carolina’s 25-yard-line early in the fourth quarter and faced a fourth-and-one, the Browns decided to go for it – which was the right call. Not so right was, after a timeout, they came out and ran Hillis out a formation that did not include Vickers. Hillis was stuffed, the Panthers went down and kicked a field goal, and suddenly the Browns were trailing.

But, in the end, the Browns won and that’s the most important thing. They didn’t play particularly well at times, and they were fortunate to be playing a team as bad as Carolina, but after some of the tough breaks that have come their way this season they deserved to come out on the right end of one of these games.

For this week at least, Lady Luck didn’t leave her escort and blow on some other guys dice. Hopefully she’ll want to hang around for next week’s trip to Miami, where the Browns haven’t won since 1970.

Browns vs. Panthers – Week 12

The Browns return home Sunday for the next leg in Reunion Tour 2010 as Jake Delhomme is back in the lineup to face his old team, the Carolina Panthers.

The Opposition

Carolina: 1-9
Offensive rank: 32nd overall/32nd passing/26th rushing
Defensive rank: 13th overall/6th passing/23rd rushing
All-time record: Carolina leads 3-0 (2-0 in Cleveland). The Panthers are the only team the Browns have never beaten.
The line: Browns -10 (!)

What to Watch For

The Browns are back home after their second-consecutive late-game loss last week, this time to Jacksonville. The positive energy around the team from the back-to-back wins against New Orleans and New England has faded some, but having the Panthers come to town should be the perfect remedy for the Browns.

With Colt McCoy taking his turn at having a high-ankle sprain (there’s a little known bylaw in the NFL constitution that requires at least one quarterback on the Browns to have a high-ankle sprain at all times apparently), Jake Delhomme returns as the starter for the first time since opening day.

Hopefully Delhomme won’t have too much rust after barely playing since Week 1. As odd as it sounds, probably the best thing Delhomme can do during the game is play like McCoy – take what the defense gives him, take the safe throw and hand the ball off a lot. The fear is that Delhomme will be out for revenge against his old team and, combined with not playing for so long, will try to do too much and make some mistakes.

Offensively the Browns should be able to move the ball and get back on track. Carolina’s defense is ranked 13th in the league, but they may not be as good as that ranking looks on paper. They are a league-worse -135 in point differential (the Browns are -14 by comparison), so while the Panthers may not give up a lot of yards they do give up a lot of points. That would seem to show that the Panthers don’t give up a lot of yards because opposing offenses are working on a short field.

The Browns should be able to run the ball as Carolina is 23rd against the rush, giving up 4 yards per rush on average. With Josh Cribbs most likely not playing again this week, Peyton Hillis is the only running back on the Browns that Carolina has to worry about. Hillis should be able to get the running game going again. It would help if Floyd Womack is back in the lineup this week; hopefully his return coincides with John St. Clair returning to the bench.

The defense finally catches a break, as Carolina is last in the league overall on offense, last in passing and 26th in rushing. This is the first week since the opener against Tampa that the Browns have faced a offense this week and, after a stretch against some of the league’s top quarterbacks, it will be refreshing to see the defense against Jimmy Clausen or Brian St. Pierre.

The Browns have 10 interceptions and 10 sacks in the four games and Clausen has been sacked 12 times in his last four games. Expect the defense to have a big day.

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

For the first time all season, this gets a goose egg. We knew the Browns haven’t played the Panthers much over the past decade, but until we researched it we didn’t realize they have never beaten the Panthers. So we will have to make do with video of this inbred Panthers’ fan.

The Prediction

It was a bit of a shock to see the Browns as a double-digit favorite this week, the biggest of the weekend.

But the Browns are clearly a better team the Carolina and, just as importantly, they are playing better. As disappointing as the losses to the Jets and Jaguars were, the Browns were in both games and fought to the end. The same can’t be said of the Panthers this season as their losses have come by an average of 16 points a game.

It’s hard to see the Browns losing this game unless they have a day like Jacksonville last week and turn the ball over multiple times.

And while we’re not sure about the 10 points in the spread, we’ll go with the Browns to cover in their last home game until Baltimore comes to town the day after Christmas.

Record picking the Browns this year: 2-7-1

Wrapping up Browns vs. Falcons

Some final thoughts on the Browns tough loss to Atlanta on Sunday:

  • Despite their 1-4 record, the Browns defense has actually played pretty well. Take away the TAINTs that Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace have thrown and the Browns are only giving up 15 points a game. They may give up a lot of yards and have trouble getting off the field on third down – they are 24th in the league allowing the other team to convert 41 percent of the time on third down – but they don’t give up points. They have yet to give up a rushing touchdown and held Atlanta to 0-for-3 in the red zone.
  • After putting together big games against Baltimore and Cincinnati, everyone in Brownstown was wondering how the team was able to acquire Peyton Hillis from Denver for Brady Quinn. It’s likely the team just fleeced an incompetent Denver front office, but something Terry Pluto mentioned in his story Sunday in The Plain Dealer gave us pause: “It’s not widely reported, but Hillis missed four games in 2006 with ‘calcification of the bone in the right thigh’ when he was at Arkansas.” Now Hillis’ thigh is bothering him again. No way to know if this is tied to his problem at Arkansas, but that sure sounds serious. And may explain why the Broncos were willing to basically give him away.
  • Brian Robiskie: 14 career games, 10 career catches.
  • Finally, we have to talk about the quarterbacks. Apparently high ankle sprains are the new staph infections, as now Seneca Wallace has one and Jake Delhomme reinjured his against Atlanta. The Browns signed old favorite Brett Ratliff off New England’s practice squad and signs currently point to rookie Colt McCoy making his NFL debut Sunday in Pittsburgh. Now things could certainly be worse than going on the road to face the No. 2-ranked defense (No. 1 against the rush) in the league with a rookie quarterback and a third-year quarterback who has never taken a snap in a regular-season game. We just can’t really think of too many of them right now.

It’s unfortunate that injuries are hitting this team at spots where it is especially vulnerable, but we knew heading into the season that the Browns did not have a lot of depth. And while it has been frustrating and disappointing through the first five weeks of the season, it hasn’t be discouraging. With a couple of breaks, the Browns could easily be 3-2 and we’d be feeling differently.

But their record is what it is, but it’s hard to argue that the team hasn’t show some improvement over last year, especially compared to the first five games of 2009. While the Browns carry the same 1-4 record as last year, their four losses this season are by a combined 22 points; last year it was a combined 69 points. And their win against Cincinnati was a solid showing, not like last year’s ridiculous 6-3 win over Buffalo where Derek Anderson “led” the Browns with 23 passing yards.

So while it’s not all bees and honey, it’s not as bad as it seems. Keep the faith.

Delhomme back … Hillis out?

With it looking more likely that Jake Delhomme will be back under center this Sunday against Atlanta, things are continuing to look good for the Browns.

But now comes news that Peyton Hillis has been added to the injury report with an undisclosed thigh injury. According to James Walker at ESPN:

“Hillis, who has rushed for more than 100 yards the past two weeks, had limited participation in Thursday’s practice. Hillis apparently got hurt following the 30 minutes of practice open to reporters. Hillis was not on the injury report Wednesday.”

Hopefully, Hillis will be OK to go on Sunday, because the Browns have finally found their identity on offense the past two weeks with a power running game led by Hillis.

“We are who we are,” Delhomme told The Plain Dealer. “We’re a football team that’s physical and runs the football well. When you are who you are, you need to be that.”

If Hillis can’t go, Jerome Harrison or James Davis will have to step up, something they haven’t really done yet this year. Perhaps this will mean more use of the Flash package with Josh Cribbs.

One thing we hope it doesn’t mean is the Browns abandoning the running game and, because Delhomme is Back, trying to force the ball to wideouts Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie. Delhomme, for one, seems to understand how that would be a bad idea and embraces the notion that you are who you are as a team.

“We were working on many things in camp, be it the pass game, where guys fit, different things,” Delhomme told The Plain Dealer. “Certainly, I think you learn as you go. Let’s be honest. We split carries a ton in training camp between [Harrison] and Peyton. Then came the [thigh] injury to Jerome, and Peyton’s had a lot more carries now.

“That’s how things work out. Once you find it, you ride that horse.”

Hold on, I’m Adjusting

What do NFL teams do in the locker room at halftime?

In his new 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, offers a glimpse into what goes on while we’re grabbing a beer and restocking the chip bowl:

“… the booth coach typically gets down to the locker room ahead of everyone else. He sets up a quick statistical breakdown on the white board of everything that’s gone on so far.

“The goal is to give coaches enough material to use both in determining what adjustments are necessary and lecturing the players about what’s working and what isn’t. Some coordinators keep it simple – for example, they’ll decide that every play that gained 4 yards in the first half will be run again in the second half.

“Of course, most coaches aren’t going to have emptied the bucket in the first half. There should always be a few plays at various down and distances that a team didn’t show. Those will get unveiled in the second half.

“Then the coordinators write up new play-call sheets, filling new plays into each box. The key is to not rewrite the entire game plan. A coaching staff may be able to identify three new things to roll out; any more than that and they run the risk of confusing too many players.

“The team that had the best game plan going into the game – and the team that makes the best adjustments in the locker room – is usually the one that comes out on top.”

So now that we know what teams are supposed to do, the question becomes: just what are the Browns doing at halftime? Time and again, the Browns struggle in the second half; what worked in the first half rarely seems to work in the second, and the team, especially on offense, more often than not loses its way.

Last season, the Browns were outscored in the second half in nine of their 11 losses – the only exception being the two games against the Bengals. That’s probably not uncommon for a game where you lose, but consider that in their five wins, the Browns only outscored the opposition twice (KC and Oakland).

It happened again Sunday against Tampa – after a strong (for them) first half, the Browns wilted in the second. The question is why?

Maybe this is just another indicator of a team that isn’t very good. Maybe it’s an indictment of coordinators Brian Daboll and Rob Ryan. If the team plays well in the first half that would indicate the scouts did a good job creating a report on the opposition and the coaches prepared the team well during the week.

But it’s up to the coaches to adjust and put the team in a position to win in the second half of the game. And something is clearly wrong, especially on offense where it seems like Daboll is turning into Maurice Carthon. It could be that in all the talk last year about how coach Eric Mangini must go, we’ve missed the real culprit in all of this.

We know what we’ll be doing Sunday during halftime; the question is: what will the Browns be doing?

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C’mon, Tony, didn’t we just cover this?

If Jake Delhomme is hurt it’s OK for Seneca Wallace to play on Sunday. That’s why you carry more than one quarterback on the team. This isn’t Derek Anderson vs. Brady Quinn all over. This is just the way an NFL team operates.

I wouldn’t expect the hoople heads to be able to tell the difference, but the main beat writer for the city’s biggest paper covering the most over-analyzed team in town should be able to see the difference.

Tell me how having Wallace under center will change the game plan; how will the Chiefs have to adjust; what kind of shenanigans can the Browns throw at Romeo Crennel with Wallace playing instead of Delhomme?

Just don’t give me more of the same.

Two is Better than One

The Browns are better off this season at the quarterback position – despite what happened Sunday in Tampa. And the team may be putting that depth to the test this week against Kansas City.

The Plain Dealer is reporting the Jake Delhomme is scheduled for an MRI on his right ankle after injuring it during Sunday’s game. Delhomme was visibly limping for most of the second half, and it looked like it was affecting his throwing as his right foot is his plant foot.

With Seneca Wallace on the roster, the Browns actually have one of the better starting/back-up quarterback situations in the league. If the team needs to turn to him for a week or two, things should be fine. As WFNY points out, they can use both quarterbacks without it turning into the mess from last season.

So no worries on Delhomme’s ankle; odds are the MRI is just a precautionary procedure, you know, teams do that all the time.

Of course, T.I.C.

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Much like the Browns, we’re off to a bit of a disappointing start to the 2010 Cheddar Bay Invitational over at Cleveland Frowns:

Saints (-5) vs. Minnesota – PUSH thanks to Garret Hartley. Jackass

Notre Dame (-3.5) vs. Michigan – FAIL. This is the only pick we regret as we had narrowed it down to this game or Oklahoma (-7) vs. Florida State. The lesson? Notre Dame ruins everything.

Indianapolis (-2) vs. Houston – FAIL

Cleveland (+3) vs. Tampa Bay – PUSH

So 0-2-2 to start the season. Time to head back to the Red Right 88 lab and crunch some data in preparation for Week 2.

Just remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

A Tale of Two Halves in Tampa

What happened?

How did the Browns look so good in taking a 14-3 lead against Tampa, only to see the offense revert to 2009 levels of play calling and execution, eventually turning what looked like a sure opening-day win into a 17-14 loss to the Buccaneers?

It wasn’t even so much that they lost – this team is still rebuilding and will lose more games than it wins this season – as much as how they lost. The one thing you didn’t want to see was Jake Delhomme turn the ball over and make some of the bad decisions that haunted him last season in Carolina. He really needed to carry over his performance from the preseason, both for his confidence and to retain the confidence of the fan base.

But after leading the Browns to the early lead on a 41-yard pass to Mohamed Massaquoi and a 10-yard run by Peyton Hillis, the bad Jake Delhomme returned.

With a chance to put points on the board at the end of the first half after a Mike Adams interception, Delhomme made a horrible throw under pressure, Ronde Barber intercepted and returned the ball to the Browns 3. Tampa then scored right before halftime, trimming the Browns lead to 14-10.

The Browns moved the ball well in the first half, gaining 202 yards, but could only total 138 yards in the second half as offensive coordinator Brian Daboll fell back into his 2009 bad habits of inexplicable play calling. Daboll, supposedly “more comfortable” this year had Delhomme throw three straight passes – the third of which was intercepted – on the series following Eric Barton’s fumble recovery on the six-yard-line. Why?

After completing passes to seven different receivers in the first half, the wide receivers became an after thought about halfway through the third quarter. Was that play calling? Or another example of how this group of receivers just really isn’t all the good?

After Hillis fumbled the ball away at the Tampa 15-yard-line early in the third quarter, the offense ground to a halt. From that point on, the Browns only gained two first downs and had only one play of more than 10 yards.

The Browns also threw 38 passes to only 23 rushes for the game. The team can not win that way, especially on a day when Browns rushers were gaining 4.5 yards per run. Now obviously the game situation can dictate the play calling, but if the plan was to throw the ball that many times, it’s going to be a long year.

And going back to Barton’s fumble recovery for a minute, after falling on the ball he just laid there; why didn’t he get up and run with the ball? He wasn’t down by contact – at least not until defensive end Jason Trusnik jumped on him for no reason. It may have changed the play calling if the Browns hadn’t been starting the drive on their own 6.

OK, it was just one game. For all that went wrong, the Browns did some things well and we’re more disappointed than discouraged. They essentially lost this game through their mistakes, rather than Tampa beating them, but that shows that this team has virtually no margin for error this year; they can’t make mistakes and hope to win.

The running game was solid; the defense put pressure on Freeman, sacking him three times; and the young secondary held up well, with rookie T.J. Ward totaling 10 tackles, a forced fumble and a forced interception.

So while the team has some things to build on from this game, they also have plenty to work on as they prepare for the home opener against Kansas City.

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