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In Cleveland, hope dies last

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Ready for some holiday R & R

mai taisWe are going dark for a few days as we head to a warmer place to relax and possibly knock back a few umbrella drinks with former Cleveland Browns team president Mike Holmgren.

We’ll be back (possibly) in time for the Browns final game of the season against the Steelers (although we may need a few more of those drinks to get through that one).

Happy holidays to everyone.

Are Tribe fans realistic about the team?

The numbers have been downright depressing as the Cleveland Indians have sunk toward the bottom of the standings in the American League Central Division.

None of this comes as a surprise to anyone who has watched this Indians team for the past month. But night after night fans still throw the remote, pull out their hair and take to Twitter and other outlets to complain about the team.

Which leads us to wonder – why? Did Tribe fans really think this team could compete for 162 games and, if so, why?

We look for answers at The Cleveland Fan.

Tribe rotation hitting a Lowe point

Another day, another disappointing outing from a starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians.

Friday night it was Derek Lowe’s turn, as the veteran gave up nine earned runs, five walks and two home runs in just three innings of work in the Tribe’s 10-2 loss to Baltimore.

This is getting old.

Lowe’s outing is just the latest in a series of starts that make him look like the pitcher who went 4-10 with a 6.20 ERA after the All-Star break last season with Atlanta.

Read more…

Can money buy a division title?

Heading into the 2012 Major League Baseball season, many believed the Detroit Tigers had won the American League Central Division title during the off-season, when they signed megabucks free agent Prince Fielder and pushed the team’s payroll to the fifth highest in baseball.

Now that we’ve had our first look at the Tigers, we are left to wonder what they got for their money other than headlines.

It’s not just that, in sweeping the three-game series from the Tigers, the Tribe won for the eighth time in 10 games, opening a six-game lead over third-place Detroit. It’s the way they did it against a team with a $132 million payroll.

Head over to The Cleveland Fan for the rest of the story.

(Photo by The Associated Press)

Browns right where they should be

The anti-Holmgren crowd has been very vocal through six games of the Cleveland Browns season so far.

Struggling to accept that the Browns are in a better place with the power trio of team president Mike Holmgren, general manager Tom Heckert and head coach Pat Shurmur – after all, the Browns are currently just one game back in the loss column of first place in the AFC North – some have resorted to discrediting the team by saying they only beat “bad teams.”

Well, what did people expect?

The Browns are still very much a work in progress. They are going to struggle – and lose – to good teams; hopefully they can hold their own and find a way to win against other mediocre and bad teams (think Miami and Seattle).

But are they really any different than the other teams in the division?

The Browns three wins have come against teams (Miami, Indianapolis and Seattle) that are a combined 2-17, a “winning” percentage of .105 – which is about as bad as you can get.

Look at the first-place Steelers, though. Pittsburgh’s five wins have come against Seattle, Indy, Tennessee, Jacksonville and Arizona – teams that are a combined 8-24, a .250 winning percentage.

Is that really that much different than the Browns?

What about the Bengals? They’ve beaten four teams (Cleveland, Buffalo, Jacksonville and Indy) that are a combined 9-17 (.346). Not exactly an achievement that justifies all the attention they are receiving.

The Browns, Steelers and Bengals have all struggled against good teams, with their losses coming against teams that win at a .579 clip (Browns), .583 (Bengals) and .615 (Steelers).

The Ravens are the exception in the division as the teams they have beaten have a better winning percentage (.481) than the teams they have lost to (.385).

The Browns can’t control who they play, but they can control how they play. To show fans they are ready to take that next step, they need to start being competitive against better teams and pull off a win or two.

This week in San Francisco would be as good a time as any to get started.


Good news on at least one injury for the Browns, as Peyton Hillis was expected back at practice today and will get the start on Sunday if his hamstring holds out.

“I’m very confident and we’re looking forward to (Hillis) performing on Sunday and having a good game,” Shurmur said during his Wednesday press conference. “I’ve told this to players in the past that your next great performance is right on the horizon and we’re hoping for him it’s Sunday. He’s our starting halfback and if he’s able to go, he’ll be the starter.”

The Browns are going to need all hands on deck as San Francisco is second in the NFL against the rush, giving up just 74.7 yards per game.

“I think (San Francisco’s success) is a combination of number one the scheme as well as the talent of the players that play it,” <span class="blShurmur said. “They’re very good, they’re very good up front. They have a 3-4 scheme and they play it well. Against a 3-4 defense there’s not as many of combinations of runs that you can run at it. There’s five guys standing on the line and they’re very talented.

“I’ve seen them four times in the last two years at the last place I was and they’re very good and it’s a credit to them.”

And the team may very well be without starters Mohamed Massaquoi and Ben Watson, who both left Sunday’s win over Seattle with head injuries.

“I think the challenge is that the guys that replace them have to come in and play at a high level and that’s why you practice,” Shurmur said. “Whether you’re getting the reps or not, you’ve got to find a way to make sure you’re either getting mental reps or we throw balls after practice. In the run game, they’ve got to make sure they’re getting their fits.

“It’s important that the guys that step in do a good job. The challenge is of course that you’ve got to still be able to execute the scheme and then you maybe do a couple things a little bit differently. Other than that you try to still play the game the same way.”

What fun would it be if there wasn’t something for the team to overcome?

Browns vs. Titans – Week 4

The Cleveland Browns host the gang from Music City as they take on the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

The Opposition

Tennessee record: 2-1
Offensive rank: 17th overall/7th passing/32nd rushing
Defensive rank: 1st overall/2nd passing/8th rushing
All-time record: Browns lead 33-28 (including playoffs), with a 15-15 mark in Cleveland
Last meeting: Titans won 28-9 in 2008
The line: Browns (-1)

What to Watch For

Can the Browns offense show up and actually play for a full 60 minutes?

There’s no added time in American football, so leaving it late like they did last week against the Dolphins is not really a sustainable winning strategy. Especially as Colt McCoy’s quarterback rating is 64.6 in the second half of games, compared to 97.2 in the first half.

McCoy’s biggest strength is supposed to be his accuracy, but he has struggled so far this season to to get into a rhythm with the receivers, and he has completed less than 50 percent of his passes in two of the three games so far.

The Browns are one of three NFL teams who have yet to score in the first quarter this year. The Titans are one of the other ones, so we may not see many fireworks in the first quarter.

The Titans have built their No. 1 defensive ranking, second against the pass, with strong performances the past two weeks against Joe Flacco (2 interceptions, 51.2 QB rating) and Kyle Orton (2 interceptions, 67.6 QB rating), so this may be a good week to heavily ride the ground game.

Montario Hardesty put up nice numbers last week with Peyton Hillis out; seeing the two of them healthy and pounding the ball on the ground in the same game is something we want.

On defense, the Browns are catching another break this week, as Tennessee will be without No. 1 receiver Kenny Britt. After Nate Washington (21 receptions on the year), the Titans will trot out Damian Williams (2 receptions), Marc Mariani (3 receptions) and Lavelle Hawkins (5 receptions) as wide receivers.

If the Browns can take away Tennessee’s passing game, they can load the box and focus on continuing Chris Johnson’s poor start to the season.

Johnson is off to a slow start, gaining just 98 yards through three games, a big part of the reason why the Titans rank last in the NFL in rushing offense.

Some (most?) of Johnson’s struggles can be attributed to the Titans’ weak play along the offensive line. Last week against Denver, Johnson ran 13 times and the Broncos were in the backfield on 10 of those. There was just no room for Johnson to get untracked.

Sounds like a perfect opportunity for defensive tackles Ahyta Rubin and Phil Taylor to have a big day.

The Best Browns vs. Titans (nee Oilers) Game We’ve Ever Seen

The 1988 home game vs. the Oilers that sent the Browns into the playoffs.

Don Strock rallied the Browns in the snow from a 23-7 deficit, hitting Webster Slaughter on a post pattern for a 22-yard game-winning touchdown.

The game was also the last win for Marty Schottenheimer as Browns coach. Who know that, 23 years later, the Browns would still be searching for a suitable coaching replacement?

The Prediction

We’ve had a bad feeling about this game all week.

It’s not that we can’t picture the Browns winning, it’s just that we’re struggling with the image of the Browns being 3-1 heading into next week’s bye. Is that possible?

The thought of Chris Johnson running against the Browns 29th-ranked rushing defense also gives us pause.

Of course, the Titans have lost six consecutive road games, with their last road win coming almost a year ago against Jacksonville.

So we’re going to have to go with the Titans and the points this week.

Record picking the Browns (using the point spread) this year: 1-2-0.

(Photo by The Associated Press)

What if they threw a lockout …

… and nobody cared?

OK, that’s a bit of a stretch. We’re sure there are plenty of people who care that the NBA owners decided they didn’t want the NFL to have all the fun and called their own lockout.

But we don’t really care and we’re not sure why.

Maybe it’s labor fatigue. The NFL lockout is still ongoing and after months of hearing that the NBA owners wanted a lockout, the news was a bit anti-climatic.

After all, it’s only July 1 – no one is losing money yet and there are no games to be missed, so right now it’s all just talk.

It could be that we don’t trust that the owners want to make the NBA move competitive, but rather that they just want to make more money.

Of course, the NBA has never been competitive, not really, with only a handful of teams having won championships – the Lakers and Celtics have combined for 33 of the league’s 65 titles. So if anything really does change when a new labor deal is reached, it will most likely be a coincidence, not a result of the lockout.

Maybe it’s the realization that the fans just don’t matter anymore. What we want is so far down on the list of the league, the owners and the players, it probably doesn’t even register.

Maybe we don’t care because the Cavs aren’t very good right now and are not going to be much better next season. A shortened season wouldn’t really impact them one way or another.

Even if the season was reduced to 50 games – like in 1999 – that is enough for Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and the other young players to get their feet wet.

If the Cavs were coming off consecutive 60-win seasons and were still a threat to win an NBA title, our feelings may be different.

But maybe not.

The Browns aren’t any good, coming off consecutive 5-11 seasons and in what seems like perpetual rebuilding mode – and we care very much about the NFL lockout.

The possibility, even if it is remote, that the NFL season will be shortened this fall is something we just don’t want to entertain. No Sunday Ticket, no fantasy football, no Cheddar Bay.

It’s all just too much.

But if the NBA doesn’t come back until the first of the year?

We’ll be OK.

Indians give Seattle a wedgie

The first-place Cleveland Indians took it to former manager Eric Wedge and the Mariners in Seattle on Friday night, winning 12-3 for their fifth-consecutive victory.

The Tribe continued to show its flexibility, using a 10-run fourth inning – highlighted by Travis Hafner’s three-run homer – to back a solid rebound effort from starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco.

“Travis’ three-run homer was a big dagger in that inning,” manager Manny Acta told The Plain Dealer. “That inning pretty much summed up the game for us. It was a huge inning.”

The Indians pounded out 17 hits one day after only getting three against Boston.

Longball, smallball, everything the Indians are doing is currently working. Who doesn’t love Mannyball right about now?

Just like Fausto Carmona on Thursday against Boston, Carrasco erased the memories of his first start by working six innings of one run, four-hit ball.

“Carrasco basically set the tone for us,” manager Manny Acta said in published reports. “He threw some zeros out there and gave us an opportunity to come up in the fourth inning and do what we did. We put together a lot of good at-bats there.”

Tribe pitchers have now only given up 11 earned runs in their last 52 innings of work – good for a 1.90 ERA.

We have no idea how long this will continue, we’re just along for the ride.

Justin Masterson, who started the streak last Sunday, gets his turn to keep it going tonight.


Found this one on Uni Watch and we have to admit, we were intrigued.

While we’re not fond of the font choice, we like the idea of bringing red back as an alternate jersey color rather than the current blue.

What really caught our attention was using Tribe rather than Indians on the jersey front. For as long as we can remember everyone has referred to the Indians as the Tribe, so why not embrace that as part of a unique uniform set?

And the team has certainly made it synonymous with the team over the years through marketing slogans like “Tribe Time” and “Are you in the Tribe?”

While we certainly don’t want to see Chief Wahoo go anywhere, using Tribe on an alternate uniform, at the very least, has a lot of potential.

If nothing else, it sure beats a giant script I.

The Incredible Shrinking Tribe Payroll

We try hard to stay positive about the Indians as we move closer to Opening Day.

If Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore can stay healthy, if Carlos Santana, Matt LaPorta and Michael Brantley produce, if the pitching holds up … hey, this team could be pretty good.

At least that’s what we keep telling ourselves.

So a little bit of the air went out of our sails when we read that the Tribe’s expected Opening Day payroll is just a little over $48 million. This is the third consecutive year the payroll has declined and it is now the lowest since 2005.

The payroll has gone from $81.6 million in 2009 to $61.5 million in 2010 and now to $48.4 million – a 41 percent drop in just two years.

Not only is the Tribe payroll shrinking, three players – Hafner, Sizemore and Fausto Carmona – eat up 55 percent of the total.

Not a fun thought as we are less than a week away from first pitch at Progressive Field.


Florida learned Saturday afternoon what Old Dominion, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin already knew – in the end it’s always the Butler that did it.

The Bulldogs are making a return trip to the Final Four – the only team to return from last year’s group – by beating the Gators in overtime.

Butler is also the first team outside of the over-rated big six conferences since UNLV in 1990-91 to make consecutive Final Four appearances. The Bulldogs are also the first team to reach consecutive Final Fours and not be seeded first or second in either appearance.

Butler’s Shelvin Mack showed that he is truly the dogs bollocks by scoring 27 points, including a 3-pointer with 1:21 left in overtime that gave Butler the lead for good.

The Bulldogs are now 9-1 in their last 10 tournament games, and with a return to the Final Four, how can you not root for them?

Maybe once the tournament is over, they could give Ohio State some tips on how to beat teams from the SEC.


Staying in Columbus, Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated came up with some very interesting information about NCAA Bylaw 10.1, the rule prohibiting Unethical Conduct and the one that Jim Tressel willing broke.

A study by of the past 177 NCAA infractions cases involving violations of Bylaw 10.1 revealed that coaches accused of such violations rarely retain their jobs.

Of the 177 cases, 172 involved coaches or athletic administrators accused of committing unethical conduct. Of those, 159 resigned or were terminated. Eighty-one cases involved coaches or athletics administrators accused of providing false or misleading information to NCAA investigators or encouraging others to lie to investigators. Of those, 78 resigned or were terminated.

There are varying degrees of 10.1 violations, but it’s interesting to note that the rule Tressel broke, 10.1_(d), is the same that former Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl was charged with violating.

Just something to think about.


England moved back to the top of its group in qualifying for Euro 2012, with a 2-0 win over Wales.

Germany extended its lead at the top of qualifying Group A to move closer to the finals in Poland and the Ukraine next year with a comfortable 4-0 win over Kazakhstan.


As recently as six or seven years ago someone would have told us that we would willingly choose to watch a friendly soccer match between the USA and Argentina over an NCAA basketball regional final, we would have thought you were nuts.

But that’s exactly what we did Saturday night.

The US gave as good as it got against an Argentina squad that wasn’t just going through the paces in a 1-1 draw.

The times, they truly are a changing.

Are the Browns about to get offensive?

Browns coach Pat Shurmur hinted at it during his introductory press conference and he made it official yesterday: he’s also going to be calling the plays on offensive on game days.

When Shurmur first talked about it, we were a little uncomfortable. Now that he’s made it official, we’re starting to worry that the offense could turn into a big enough mess on Sundays that we will actually miss Brian Daboll.

In his book, Take Your Eye off the Ball, author Pat Kirwin highlights how an offensive game plan evolves throughout the course of a game, writing that:

Game day is when the plan becomes practical, where a game plan gives way to the strategy of play-calling. And, as you might imagine, game plans change over the course of the game.

Coaches who run the West Coast offense like to script the first 15 plays. The players know what’s coming, they’re familiar with the plays and ready for them to be called, and they are going to run those 15 plays come hell or high water.

The part about scripting the opening plays is something we actually like, especially with a second-year quarterback in Colt McCoy running the offense. Having practiced those plays and knowing they are coming should help McCoy find his comfort level early on.

But what happens after those first 15 plays are exhausted? The game plan needs to evolve as the game goes based on what’s happening on the field. For example, if it’s 2nd-and-5, the offensive coordinator needs to consider:

  • We’ve run the ball at this down and distance, but we haven’t thrown it yet, should we mix it up?
  • The first two times we faced this down and distance, the defense blitzed. Which of the plays might work best against a blitz?
  • Most of our plays for this down and distance avoid the defense’s best pass rusher, who’s now on the sidelines. Should we expand our plays to take advantage of that?
  • Is the weather an issue?
  • How much time is left in the half/game?

Those are just some possibilities for one play during a game. Then come the halftime adjustments:

(In the locker room the coaches go over) enough material to determine what adjustments are necessary and also lecture the players about what’s working and what isn’t. … Most coaches aren’t going to have emptied the bucket in the first half. There should always be a few plays … that will get unveiled in the second half.

The coordinators write up new play-call sheets. 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. … All this happens in about four minutes.

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.

That’s a lot – and that’s just on the offensive side. The defense is doing the same and Shurmur has to make sure they are on top of things as well. Plus keep track of injuries, clock management, challenges and everything else that goes on during a game.

Is he going to be up to that – especially in his first year? We’re starting to have our doubts, but we’re willing to see how this plays out (not that we have much choice in the matter).

Shurmur said the team tried to hire an offensive coordinator – ”[We] made an effort to hire the very best guys we could, and I think that’s the way it shaped up this year,” he told the Beacon Journal. But we have to wonder how well that search went when it became clear the offensive coordinator role would not necessarily come with the play calling responsibilities.

Hopefully team president Mike Holmgren and special adviser Gil Haskell can school Shumur quickly on everything he needs to know before the season starts.

Because if not, things could get down right offensive when the Browns have the ball.

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