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Browns find no San Francisco treat

We knew going into the 2011 season that things could get rough for the Browns this year.

When you are rebuilding a franchise that is coming off consecutive 5-11 seasons, and has won only 14 games in the past three years under two different regimes, things aren’t going to get fixed over night.

If the Browns were a TV show, they would be Hoarders, and you have to clean out the dead cats, moldy food and collection of cheap tschotskes before you can start fixing anything else.

But we didn’t expect them to be quite this pathetic on offense.

Against the 49ers, the Browns tried once again to win the game the hard way – no need to score any points in the first or third quarter – and, just like in Oakland a few weeks ago, they came up short, falling to 3-4 on the season after a 20-10 loss to San Francisco.

For the seventh consecutive game (aka the entire season), the Browns were held without a touchdown in the first and third quarters. On the year, the Browns have been outscored 44-3 in the first quarter and 29-6 in the third quarter.

What the hell is going on around here?

“Our margin for error on offense is very small,” coach Pat Shurmur said after the game. “That’s not an excuse. That’s the reality. We have to hit on everything. We just do.

“We have to fight for every yard. We can’t make mistakes, and if we do make a mistake, we have to overcome it. We’ve struggled right now to overcome penalties.”

On the one hand, it should probably come as no surprise the Browns struggled on Sunday. They were down to their third-string running back after Montario Hardesty left with a calf injury, were without (by default) No. 1 wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, and are still playing an overmatched Tony Pashos at right tackle and Jason Pinkson (rookie fifth-round pick) and Shawn Lauvao (second year third-round pick) at guard.

And things are only getting worse now that Hardesty is going to be out for a while with a moderate tear of a medial gastroc in his right leg.

That’s not going to help the running game, which currently ranks 29th in yards per game (87.6), 30th in yards per carry (3.2) and last in touchdowns (two).

“I know Brownstown is really upset, but one thing they can be excited about is our effort,” Josh Cribbs said in published reports. “I hope back home they won’t get into a frenzy like the world’s going to end with this loss.”

It’s true, the team doesn’t give up. The Browns cut San Francisco’s lead to 17-10 with 6:17 left to play after Cribbs’ touchdown reception.

But after carrying the team all game, the defense finally wore down. On their first five possessions of the second half, the Browns defense forced the 49ers into four three-and-outs and five punts. But after Cribbs score, the 49ers had an 11 play, 67-yard drive that took up 4:21 and ended up in a field goal that sealed the loss.

But trying hard can only take you so far.

“I get tired of talking about never give up and fight to the end, but now it’s about winning,” Colt McCoy said in published reports. “We can talk all day about how we fight and fight and fight, and that’s good, that’s the character of this team. But we’ve got to start winning.”

It’s hard to see how the Browns can do that with the offense in its current state.

The Browns are already seeing eight- and nine-man fronts because the wide receivers don’t have the ability to win one-on-one battles. That lets the defense load up in the box and, when McCoy dumps the ball off to the backs or tight ends, there’s no room to run.

If you can’t score in the first quarter and the third quarter – and with the exception of the Indianapolis game, the Browns have shown they can really only score against a prevent defense – you’re not going to be winning many games.

Things don’t get any easier as the Browns head to Houston next week, and the Texans are averaging 25.7 points per game.

The way things are currently going, it may take the Browns the entire month of November to score that many points.

(Photo by The Associated Press)

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The Colt McCoy question

“We’re constantly looking for the things that are part of what we do that he does well.” – Browns coach Pat Shurmur

Cleveland Browns coach Pat Shurmur addressed the topic on everyone’s mind in the wake of the team’s 6-3 win over Seattle on Sunday: just what do the Browns have in quarterback Colt McCoy?

“This is a little uncharted, playing without an offseason,” Shurmur said in his Monday press conference. “I think it’s important that (McCoy) just improves each week. At the end of the year we’ll just add it up and see where it’s at. It’s a little bit hard to define right now. If we would have had a full offseason with all the OTA’s you would have had a better idea where he was during training camp, then you can judge the improvement during training camp and then so on. This is a little bit uncharted as far as marking the progress I think.”

Shurmur’s comments are spot on and show that the Browns are handling the McCoy situation exactly the way they should – by letting him play.

The only way we’re going to know if McCoy has what it takes to lead the Browns into the playoffs on a regular basis is to let him play this season. Too often in this town we’ve seen coaches mishandle the quarterback position, not being able to settle on one player, benching quarterbacks after two games only to make them starters again later in the same season.

And it has to end for the team to have any hope.

This isn’t an endorsement of McCoy as the long-term answer. The stats through six games are certainly not pretty – 27th in completion percentage, 33rd in yards per attempt, 32nd in passes of more than 20 yards, 28th in quarterback rating.

This being Cleveland, half the fans always want the back-up quarterback to play. Of the other half, the majority just want someone else. But that doesn’t work and it’s not how you run a team.

The Browns need to stay the course with McCoy. They need to be certain whether or not he’s their quarterback. And the only way that is going to happen is by letting him play.

There is probably nothing more important this year than for the front office and coaching staff to be able to make a definitive decision on the quarterback position for the future.

If McCoy can stay healthy through 16 games – and that’s no certainty with the play of the guards and the right tackle – there is no doubt that we will all know the answer the morning after the Jan. 1 game against Pittsburgh.

“I know my job is to go out there and play and give our team the best opportunity to win,” McCoy said after Sunday’s win. “If you start to think about what people are writing or what somebody says, that just creates things in your mind that don’t need to be in there. I’m going to give it my all every week, in practice, in meetings and in the games. If you do that, then good things are going to happen. I think we need to focus on our team and give ourselves the best chance to win.”

You can’t really ask for anything more than that.

***

One hundred and forty-six total yards of offense.

No first downs until the 5:26 mark in the third quarter.

Sixteen total yards of offense in the first half.

One passing yard in the first half.

Six total points.

The Browns’ box score from Sunday’s game against Seattle? Think again.

Those are the offensive numbers the Baltimore Ravens put up Monday night against Jacksonville.

You know, the first-place Ravens, allegedly Super Bowl contenders? That’s all they could do against a 1-5 Jaguar team that is playing for a lame duck coach before an apathetic fan base.

But to hear the anti-Holmgren crowd tell it, the Browns are the worst team in the history of forever after their win against the Seahawks.

Think Ravens’ fans would have been crying this morning if Baltimore would have figured out a way to win while only scoring six points?

Yeah, we didn’t think so.

***

We could have sworn it was guard Jason Pinkston who got blown up on Sunday by Red Bryant on Bryant’s two blocked field goals.

But the Beacon Journal‘s Nate Ulrich wrote that: In the second quarter, Oniel Cousins lined up at left guard and fell on one knee while trying to get out of his stance, allowing Bryant to break through the line and earn his first block. In the fourth quarter, Alex Mack played left guard and kept his head down as Bryant maneuvered past him for another block.

Alex Mack, huh? Guess the Browns should have drafted Mark Sanchez after all.

(Photo by Cleveland Browns.com)

Browns do just enough to win

The goal in the NFL is to score more points than the opposition.

Using that standard, consider it mission accomplished for the Cleveland Browns on Sunday against Seattle.

The Browns rode their defense to a 6-3 win over the Seahawks, evening their record on the season at 3-3.

“You can’t start out talking about this game unless you talk about the performance of the defense,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “When you hold a team in the NFL to three points, that’s outstanding.”

“We’ll take this one,” Browns kicker Phil Dawson, who made field goals of 52 and 53 yards, said. “We’re probably not going to brag about it in 15 years, but we’ll take the win.”

The defense brought it on Sunday, limiting Seattle to 137 yards of offense, nine first downs, and letting the Seahawks convert only 2-of-12 on third down. The defense also recorded three sacks of Charlie Whitehurst, who threw for all of 97 yards and averaged 3.2 yards per attempt.

“If the offense scores 100 points, we want it to be 100 to zero,” safety T.J. Ward said in published reports. “Every time we go out there we’re looking for a shutout. Defensively, we want people to fear us and know it’s going to be tough against Cleveland. You’re not going to get no easy points. We’re one of a kind.”

On offense, certainly didn’t light up the scoreboard, but the offense did just enough, especially when it counted the most.

After the Seahawks’ fourth three-and-out forced them to punt, the Browns took over leading 6-3 with 9:54 left in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Colt McCoy led a 14-play, 65-yard drive that took 6:49 off the clock.

The drive ended, unfortunately, with a blocked Phil Dawson field goal – the second of the day as guard Jason Pinkston had no answer for how to block Seattle’s Red Bryant – but the offense finally managed to take over the game when it needed to.

The drive featured Montario Hardesty, who gained 30 of his game-high 95 yards. Coming into the game, the Seahawks had not allowed a single runner to gain more than 70 yards this season.

Running back Chris Ogbonnaya, signed earlier in the week, contributed a team-high five catches for 43 yards as he showed some nice hands coming out of the backfield – no drops!

The Browns totaled 298 yards of offense, converted 12-0f-24 third downs and held the ball for a ridiculous 42:56. They only thing they couldn’t do was put the ball in the end zone.

The offense was hampered, however, by not having starting running back Peyton Hillis, who was inactive because of his balky hamstring. The Browns also lost starting wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and starting tight end Ben Watson to head injuries, as well as starting right guard Shawn Lauvao with a leg injury.

With a team that is already struggling on offense, having four starters out doesn’t make it any easier.

In the end, they found a way to win, which is something new this year. How many times over the past few years have we seen the Browns do the opposite and find a way to lose? (Think Jacksonville and Buffalo last year, Detroit in 2009, just to name a few).

And six games into his tenure as head coach, Shurmur will wake up Monday morning with a .500 record, something that former coaches Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel were never able to say.

As pretty as the defense was on the day, that’s how ugly the offense was. But the Browns got it done and, after not winning for almost a month, coming out of the game with a victory is a nice reward for a team that definitely needed it.

(Photo by The Associated Press)

Browns a hot mess in Oakland

The Autumn wind is a Raider
Pillaging just for fun

He’ll knock you ’round and upside down

And laugh when he’s conquered and won.

The Browns learned on Sunday that the Autumn wind truly is a Raider, falling to Oakland 24-17 in a game that featured one ugly performance from the offense.

Let’s start with the good stuff.

Phil Dawson kicked a 47-yard field goal and executed a perfect onside kick. Punter Brad Maynard had a nice day.

See where this is going?

Actually, the defense had another solid effort. After giving up a touchdown on the Raiders’ opening drive (and forcing Oakland to use two timeouts in the process), the defense held the Raiders to just three points the rest of the way.

The Browns held Darren McFadden – the NFL’s leading rusher – under 100 combined yards and did their best to keep the team in the game.

After ranking 22nd and 31st the past two years, the Browns currently sit 7th in the league in defense, so they have that going for them.

Unfortunately, the offense continues to be a considerable work in progress.

After another slow start, the Browns looked like they were ready to play, finishing a seven-play, 56-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown pass from Colt McCoy to Alex Smith, making the score 7-7.

But the special teams squad gave the momentum right back to the Raiders as Jacoby Ford took the ensuing kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown. Another special teams breakdown – this time in the third quarter when Oakland scored on a 35-yard fake field goal – put the Browns into a 24-7 hole that the offense was not able to dig out of.

The Browns were supposed to use the bye week to figure out what works and clean the playbook of what doesn’t. Instead the offense staggered through the game, never getting anything going until it was too late.

This team has no identity on offense, no consistency in the play calling – it seems at times as if the coaches are using a roulette wheel to call plays in the hopes that something works – and is struggling considerably to pick up the West Coast offense.

For the second game in a row McCoy threw to many passes – 45. On one level that is understandable as the Browns were trailing 24-7. But we can’t shake the feeling that the current offensive strategy is to abandon the run at the first sign of trouble.

McCoy also struggled when the Raiders blitzed, which they did on 22 of his pass attempts. On those plays, McCoy only completed 35 percent of his passes for 56 yards (according to ESPN Stats & Information). McCoy entered Sunday averaging 3.1 yards per attempt when the defense blitzes a defensive back, the fourth-lowest average in the NFL this season.

“There were a couple times where we had pressures that should have been picked up that weren’t,” coach Pat Shurmur said on Monday. “It may have appeared Colt didn’t see it coming. He saw it coming and thought it was picked up.”

All that does is ensure that McCoy will continue to see a steady diet of blitzers in the coming weeks.

The Browns couldn’t run the ball as Peyton Hillis gained only 14 yards before hurting his hamstring (what Madden Curse?) and Montario Hardesty only added 35 yards and two more dropped passes.

Things have gotten so bad that Josh Cribbs is volunteering to play more on special teams.

“I’m very insignificant on offense, so I need to be out there heavily on all special teams,” Cribbs said after the game. “I got the ball only twice, so that’s insignificant right there. Snaps, it’s insignificant. I want to help my team win. You get the ball to your athletes. I feel like where I’m an asset on this team is special teams and I want to re-focus on what got me into this league.”

So now what?

This year was never about the final won-loss record for the Browns. Rather, it’s about developing the young talent and finding out which players fit into the offensive and defensive system.

And it’s not as if the Browns were a well-oiled offensive machine under the previous regime, finishing last year 29th in overall offense and 31st in points scored.

But we expected the offense to show us something five games into the season – be competitive, be able to sustain more than one drive a game, be consistent at something.

Instead we have an offense that does nothing well, with an injured No. 1 running back, and the hoople heads calling for the coach to be sacked already.

“We fought till the end,” McCoy said in published reports. “Eventually, we thought, we’re going to catch a break. In the huddle, after we got the onside kick, we thought we had a chance. We had a minute, that’s a long time. We got it on the 50. We just didn’t capitalize.”

Yep, that about sums it up.

(Photo by The Plain Dealer)

What to do about Fausto?

How do you solve a problem like Fausto Carmona?

As if the Cleveland Indians didn’t have anything else to worry about, with their division lead down to a half-game (pending Detroit’s game Saturday night) and the non-existent offense, now the Tribe has to worry about what to do with their “ace” pitcher.

Friday night against the Yankees, Carmona was, to put it simply, horrible. He threw 14 of his first 18 pitches for balls and walked three in a 40-pitch first inning that saw the Yankees take a 3-0 lead.

“I haven’t seen him so divorced from the strike zone as he was today in the two years I’ve been here,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “His loading the bases in the first inning did him in.”

In his past six starts, Carmona has allowed 33 earned runs in 35 innings for a 8.49 ERA. He has won since May 3 and, since then, has five losses and two no-decisions.

So what does the Tribe do?

It’s clear the Carmona of 2007 is gone, and he is not coming back. But Carmona’s numbers for this year project out to be not that far off than his average of the past four seasons, although he is on pace to give up 30 homers, almost double what he has given up, on average, over the past four years.

The options for the Indians are limited and none, basically. They could try and trade Carmona, but what would they receive in return? 10 cents on the dollar? 20?

They can’t send him to minors without exposing him to waivers and someone would almost certainly claim him. And they are not going to just release him.

Fausto is always going to battle some inconsistency with his delivery because he flies open a little,” Acta told The Plain Dealer. “It’s more about getting the separation right between his off-speed stuff and the sinker.

“We’re going to look at everything. He’s had some really good starts this year. We have to find a happy medium.”

We’d be happy if Carmona could just find some consistency.

Maybe the best, and only option, is to start skipping his turn in the rotation when the schedule falls correctly. That’s probably more of a band-aid that an actual solution, however. But the team needs to do something.

The Indians have lost 13 of their past 17 games. They were seven games up on the Tigers when the streak started; that lead is now gone.

Saturday, the Tribe was shutout for the fifth time in the past 15 games …

The offense is in shambles (the Indians have scored three runs per game in the 17-game stretch, hitting .227 …

Mitch Talbot was ejected for hitting Alex Rodriguez with a pitch (Rodriguez taking a dive that would have embarrassed an Italian soccer player certainly helped) …

Bartolo Colon worked 6.2 scoreless innings with six strikeouts and only two hits (boy, were we ever wrong about the Tribe having a pitching edge this weekend).

It just doesn’t get worse than that.

The good news is there are still 100 games to go. The division lead may be gone, but that doesn’t mean the division is still not up for grabs.

Having a seven-game lead provided the Indians with a cushion for a slump and while we wish they wouldn’t have cashed in the entire lead, there is still a lot of baseball to be played.

Plus, where would the fun be if the Tribe didn’t give us all a healthy case of agita each summer?

Slumping Indians look for reinforcements

Welcome to the big leagues, Cord Phelps.

The struggling, slumping, sinking Cleveland Indians – losers of 11 of their last 15 – finally made a move, reaching into the minor leagues and promoting Phelps.

Phelps will platoon at second base with Orlando Cabrera.

“The kid’s going to get an opportunity to play, and we’re going to have to see if he’ll take advantage of it,” Indians manager Manny Acta said in published reports. “For now, he’s going to play second base, and we’re going to give him the opportunity to play the majority of times against right-handed pitching.

“Orlando’s been there, done that. You can’t rule out Orlando coming back and playing every day. But this kid deserved a shot based on the way he’s played the last two years at Columbus.”

Phelps batted .299 with seven homers, 40 RBI and 31 runs at Columbus, playing shortstop (28 games) and second base (13 games).

Phelps got the start on Wednesday and fit right in with the current offense, going 0-for-4 in his debut.

“You’ve got to earn it,” Phelps told The Plain Dealer. “I was a little nervous at the start, but that’s to be expected. Overall, I felt pretty good. It was exciting.”

The Tribe is currently in a woeful offensive slump. In their last six games they have only scored eight total runs and barely avoided being swept by the last-place Minnesota Twins. Pretty much everyone not named Michael Brantley or Asdrubal Cabrera is struggling right now and it limits what Acta can do.

Look at the batting averages in Wednesday’s lineup: Grady Sizemore (.256), Carlos Santana (.228), Shin-Soo Choo (.240), Matt LaPorta (.240), Jack Hannahan (.231) and Lou Marson (.207).

The manager can move people around in the batting order all he wants, but if no one is hitting it doesn’t make much difference.

Phelps clearly isn’t going to turn the team around by himself, but at least the Tribe did something to try and right the ship.

The move certainly can’t make things any worse than they currently are.

***

Even though the NFL lockout is still going on, that doesn’t mean Browns general manager Tom Heckert isn’t thinking about all the things he can do once the league comes to its senses.

All the extra time has made him more prepared than ever for free agency – whenever it begins.

Most importantly, the Browns:

  • Will not trade for Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb: ”You can dispel that,” Heckert said. ”We’re not trading for a quarterback. That one I’ll say.”
  • Will not look to sign Plaxico Burress, late of the New York state penal system.
  • Will look for a free safety: “Right now, Mike Adams is penciled in as a guy who’s going to play almost all safety for us, but we’ll see,” Heckert said. “There’s a few guys in free agency and we’ll see what happens with the undrafted rookies, so we still have a couple of options out there.”
  • Haven’t closed the door on fullback Lawrence Vickers: “It’s hard to tell,” Heckert said. “We didn’t really have a chance to talk to him once free agency started because of the rules. It never started. We’ll have to make all of those decisions once everything opens up.”
  • Haven’t decided what to do with quarterback Jake Delhomme: “Whenever the thing opens up, we’ll sit down with Jake and talk to him and decide what’s the best for him and for our organization,” Heckert said. “We have to wait until that happens.”

Knowing all that certainly makes it easier for us to sleep at night.

***

Check out this cool graphic showing NBA titles represented by championship rings.

(h/t Uni Watch)

***

Finally, our post on the U.S. opening game win over Canada in the Gold Cup is up at MLS Talk. Be sure to check it out.

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