Cleveland Browns

Browns NFL Team Column
By Bill Smith

22 January 2011

Post season analysis of the Browns Offense

Quarterback

The 1000 pound gorilla in the room is the question is Colt McCoy THE guy?

While I think he can be a good QB I do not believe that McCoy has the arm to take the Browns to the Super Bowl. I believe that the Browns have come to the same conclusion. So the second question is what can they do about it?

Like a lot of analysts I think that there are only two Franchise QBs in the 2012 draft. Furthermore, there is a very good chance both will be gone by the 4th pick in draft.

The move that makes the most sense for the Browns given their mind set is to trade down out of the 4th pick to accumulate high picks in the 2013 draft. That draft will have the QB that the Browns brain trust really wants Matt Barkley USC. But there is a good chance they will have to trade up to get him and that is not in the DNA of this group.

I do believe that the Browns will draft a QB in 2012 with a 3rd or 4th round pick. There are several QBs that have some potential who will be available at that point in the draft. Here is the problem.

When you get a QB after the 2nd round your choices are a guy with a strong arm and no accuracy or a guy like Colt with accuracy but not much of an arm.

So assume McCoy will be the QB to start the 2012 season. We have seen enough of Seneca Wallace. He is not a decent backup let alone a starter.

Running backs

The next issue on the O is running back. The Browns have no starting quality RBs on the roster. Hillis will go in free agency. He will not consider an offer from the Browns. Hardesty is as fragile as fine china. The injury he suffered in warm-ups should be all the proof that the Browns need.

If they trade down Richardson will be gone. The Bucs at 5 are most interested in him to improve the weapons for their O. The choice will be either take him at 4 or look to the 2nd or 3rd round for a RB. In a future article here on the NFL Draft Dog I will detail a draft plan. For now I will say we have to expect a rookie RB. McCoy better hope the new guy can pick up a blitz.

Receivers

We were told that the team was fine at WR. What we found out as the 2011 season unfolded was that the starter Brian Robiskie was not an NFL receiver. The other pre-season starter Mohamed Massaquoi was as fragile as Hardesty. Ex-RB Greg Little was the best WR the team has but he is green as baby peas and is a 2nd or 3rd guy at best. Jordan Norwood, an undrafted free agent, was the 2nd best WR on the team. He was the only one that could get open and make yards after the catch.

The experiment with Josh Cribbs at WR is a failure. He should be a special teams player and part time wild cat QB. Carlton Mitchell is a tall WR. He has not made an impact so far but has one thing that no other WR on the roster has—great speed.

The team is deep with quantity at TE but not quality. Ben Watson is past his prime but plays hard. Evan Moore has decent speed but has developed unsure hands. That is a problem that seemed to impact the entire team. Jordan Cameron, a 4th round pick in 2011 is a never was. He may develop but so far I have not seen any indication he will.

Alex Smith full time TE and part time FB will be lost in free agency.

Offensive line

Two fifths of the O line in 2011 was fine. LT Joe Thomas and C Kevin Mack are solid and at their best close to all pro level. LG Eric Steinbach went down before the season started. The RG was already staffed with a virtual rookie in Shawn Lauvao. Rookie Jason Pinkston was thrust into the LG spot. Both Gs were poor or worse. Steinbach should be close to 100% in 2012 but the RG spot is a problem.

The RT was manned by Tony Pashos. Pashos has a history of injury and it contributed to his below average play. For the last 6 weeks of the season he was playing with significant leg issues. When he is healthy he is OK but that does not happen often.

Most of the reserves are cuts from other teams and will be UFAs in 2012. There is nothing worth keeping in that list.

In the future we will discuss the options for the Browns on O. Next time we will detail the D following a very disappointing 2011 season.

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12 October 2011

The Browns D has been better than expected.

Overall, the D has not played badly. The one really BAD play was the brain lock against the Bengals that cost the team a win in week 1. The D was not ready when vet QB Gradkowski hit rookie WR Green with a TD pass. The D still struggles to get teams off the field on 3rd down and against the Titans gave up 3 BIG plays. Given the number of changes in personnel and scheme, it has done as well as could be expected.

DE

J. Sheard was the 2nd round pick of the team in 2011. He was an instant starter because there are very few other choices. I had predicted him for the 37th pick all along. He is solid against the run and is a good but not great pass rusher. He lacks the great first step that most great pass rushers have. As I have written here before I would have preferred the team sign a vet UFA DE like Johnson (Carolina) or Edwards (Minnesota) to play the RE and put Sheard on the LE. When Sheard said he was more comfortable at RE he was moved. Sheard tends to fight too much with the OT and fails to contain runs to his side.

GM Heckert called RFA J. Mitchell (26) the best pass rusher on the roster but he never saw the field under Mangini. He did play in 29 games with 3 other teams but has only 22 tackles and 5 sacks. He was at best a huge question mark for the team as a starter. But he has played pretty well so far. He has gotten some pressure on the QB but also struggles to defeat sweeps to his side. Both DEs are young and lack the experience to take full advantage of their physical skills. That will come and at least at this point both look like they can develop into solid NFL starters.

M. Benard gained weight in the off season and has clearly lost a step. He was expected to be the designated pass rusher. In just 21 games with 2 starts he has 11 sacks. That is more than most guys on the roster. But he struggles against the run which makes it to make him a starter.

DT – All the DTs on the roster are NT types. That may be good for stopping the run but will not help generate an inside pass rush.

P. Taylor The 1st round DT was an under-achieving guy at Baylor with great potential but questionable durability. When he is motivated, he is outstanding. In games he does not care about he is nearly invisible. He has played well early in games but because of the lack of quality rotational players, he wears down and is not nearly as effective late in games when the team needs a pass rush the most. He can crush the pocket from the inside and when fresh is difficult to block by 1 guy.

A. Rubin (24) is a lock for years to come. He is solid against the run and helps to protect a weak LB group. He is a high motor guy without much pass rush ability. Even late in the game he has been a force against the run and given some decent pass rush. He is becoming a star.

B. Schaefering (27) was out of football until the Browns signed him in 2009. He is at best unproven. He lacks the athletic ability to be a starter and is only marginal as a rotation player.

S. Paxson was also out of football since 2008 and since 06 had appeared in only 1 game prior to winning the spot on the Browns roster. He is a stop gap journeyman at best and has only 2 tackle assists in 4 games.

MLB

I said that D'Qwell Jackson (26) was definitely not a candidate in my opinion for the position. The MLB in most zone coverages which Jauron prefers has to step into the hole and attack the run as well as be able to drop deep in pass coverage to take the middle seam away from TEs and RBs. Jackson makes a lot of tackles but nearly all of them are 5 to 7 yards down field and not at the line of scrimmage. He has played better than I expected but is still not a good fit for the D.

In T. Brown’s first 2 seasons Titus was active for 5 of 32 games with a grand total of 1 tackle assist. Last year he was active for 13 games and had 11 total tackles. He has never had a sack. Even so, he will likely be the first LB off the bench in case of injury. But was the one bright spot among the LBs in the preseason. He has the speed and good instincts that make him a better MLB than Jackson but he has been hurt. He has yet to see the field during the regular season.

OLB

S. Fujita is an inside LB that will be asked to play OLB this season. In his 9 year career he has been a starter but has had trouble staying healthy. In the last 3 seasons he has lost significant parts of seasons to injury. At 32 he is not likely to get more durable. He is also not likely to get any faster. Team speed at LB has proven to be a major fault. We have seen old 99 trying to chase down a TE but losing ground with every stride. He is the weakest link in the D.

C. Gocong is no pass rusher. In 4 years he has started 51 games and has just 6 sacks. He is not much of a cover LB either. He has just 11 passes defended. He will start because he has some speed and 4-3 experience. I wonder what the team is thinking giving a 3 year contract extension to a slow LB without enough quickness to rush the passer.

K. Maiava – He is a special teams’ guy and at 230 is a candidate to replace Jackson in passing situations. But to date he has not shown the ability to cover receivers down field.

Spears was a surprise to make the team and I am still wondering what he is doing in the NFL

CB

J. Haden is the bright spot of the CB group. He has developed into a very good corner despite still being very green thanks to riding the bench for 9 games last season. Mangini did not like starting rookies when his job was in jeopardy. This year he has shown flashes of becoming a shut down CB. The team REALLY needs him to get to that point.

S. Brown is 32 but has been remarkably durable in his 9 year career. He has 109 passes defended and 21 picks. He has been picked on this season because teams tend to stay away from Haden’s side. He has been exploited but is decent. The team needs to get a younger guy in this spot next season.

C. Francies has been on the team for 2 years but has been active for only 6 games in that time. He is a special teams guy with no experience in zone D.

B. Skrine is a rookie with great speed some of which is straight line speed. He has played well at a lower level of college ball and shows good instincts. He is a wild card for the team.

FS

A. Elam has been a starter in his 2 years with the Browns but the team let him leave via FA. M. Adams got the job by default. He has been active for almost all of his 7 year career but has only 16 starts in 4 seasons with the Browns. He has always been a utility guy/dime back that was not very physical.

The team picked up U. Young as a UFA but his lack of speed and failure to take good angles to ball carriers has him on the bench most of the time.

SS

T. Ward had a very solid 2010 starting all 16 games. But he brakes coverage regularly which that makes the CBs look bad. He is not fast or athletic enough to play FS but is an effective hard hitting SS. He has above average instincts and is very good against the run.

R. Ventrone has 0 starts in 5 seasons. He is a special team guy with no NFL field experience. Despite this he is the backup to Ward. That is not a good situation but the team has so many other holes that it will go unfilled for a year or 2.

E. Hagg is a 7th round pick in 2011. He played FS for Nebraska but did not make enough plays for me. He has some potential but was a long shot to make the team. He made the club but has been injured and has not seen any action yet.

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4 October 2011

The Browns are punished by a lack of talent and the Titans 31-13

When you get outclassed like happened to the Browns Sunday, the only thing to do is admit it. The team D was beaten with big plays but today we will look at the offense. I doubt that the Browns management will agree, but the team is clearly suffering from a lack of talent on both sides of the ball.

The Titans are a decent team. Not great or even very good but they are decent. This was the first game this season where the Browns were outclassed.

There are still major questions about QB McCoy. As I have pointed out before, McCoy has small hands. That is a problem in cold, wet or windy weather. On a day when the wind was up and there was mist in the air, McCoy’s limitations were more apparent. He does not have the arm to get the ball deep down the field. Because of small hands, he cannot get the tight spin on the ball to take full advantage of the arm strength he has. The result is that he dumps the ball for a 5 yard gain. When the game is close, that works. When the team is 20+ points behind, it doesn’t.

He has developed happy feet in the pocket. Part of the fault for that falls on an O line that is very inconsistent. The lack of pass protection gets worse as the team gets further behind the chains. The lack of success on 1st down leads to a lot of 3rd and long situations. The team just is not explosive enough to survive several of those in a drive. But some of the blame for his happy feet is due to a lack of confidence on the offense, his arm, his receivers and his experience. He is not making the throws on time and does not sense the pressure when it comes. He also tends to hold the ball to long waiting for someone to come open. That increases the number of hits he takes and the amount of pressure he experiences.

He has developed a bad habit of staring down his receivers. That will not only get them covered more easily but increases the danger of interceptions. It may again be a function of his lack of comfort with his protection but it is a habit that has driven a number of QBs out of the league including former Brown Delhomme.

Those are problems that coaching can help but cannot cure. With a totally inept QB Wallace as the backup, there is nothing on the roster that can spell McCoy. The question of McCoy as a long term starter is not decided. But unless things change, the team will likely be looking for a new QB next year and McCoy will be the backup.

The wide receivers lack speed. They struggle to get open and to catch the ball when the attempt is contested. That exacerbates the issues with McCoy and further condemns the passing game to a pedestrian level that will not win games in the NFL. The one bright spot at WR has been the rookie WR Little but he is not a legitimate #2 guy yet and may never be a #1. The administration told us that they were good with the receivers they had. That has not proven to be the case so far. It has also led to problems in the running game.

The Browns have a plugger and a possibility. RB Hillis is a plugger. He will get some tough yards but will ever break a big run. The opponents have tended to load up the box and keep Hillis’ runs to a minimum. The team drafted Hardesty in the 2nd round last year but in typical Cleveland fashion he tore an ACL in the preseason and was lost for the year. It takes 18 months to recover from that injury. To add to the questions about him is his history of serious knee injuries in college. Undrafted RB Smith has lots of speed but is not even close to being NFL ready.

The line has suffered a number of injuries and has 3 new starters this season. They have been rotating players at RT due to an injury to Pashos. But again, with his history of injury his absence should not have been a surprise to anyone. Both guards are unproven and have been uneven in their performance.

The bottom line on the offense is that it is not an NFL quality unit. The team lacks identity and that makes the situation worse. The decision to keep HC Mangini last year delayed the development of the offense, postponed the implementation of the West Coast Offense and pushed the issue of McCoy et. al. to this offseason. Given the likelihood of a lockout eliminating the 2011 OTAs it was a particularly curious decision. But this team is not going to win a lot of games where the D gives up 24 or more points. The Browns just don’t have the fire power to score that much.

Next week with the team on a bye I will have an in depth analysis of the defense.

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28 September 2011

Come From Behind to Win on a Last Minute Drive 17-16.

For the first 56 minutes of the game against the Dolphins, the Browns looked like they were playing knee deep in the mud that used to occupy the corner of the field in the days when the Indians shared the old barn of a stadium. The game played out just like the script indicated it would.

The Dolphins would move the ball between the 20s but in Brian Daboll style, they bogged down and had to finish with a field goal. The Browns who were without star RB Hillis moved the ball is spurts and starts but started off very slow in the first quarter. At the beginning of the 2nd period Miami was up 7-0 a lead that the Browns provided field position for by throwing an interception at their own 43.

QB McCoy missed receivers and got hit regularly from all sides. He still was 19-39 210 yards and 2 tds with 1 pick. RB Hardesty is clearly not 100 percent but gave good effort running for 67 yards in 14 carries. He had a couple of good runs but was not able to bust one for a big gain.

But the story of this game and an indication for hope for the season was the final drive by the Browns. They were behind by 6 points after another field goal by the Dolphins. They were at the 20 yard line with 3:23 left in the game. At that point the Browns implemented a new script—one that was just for the 2 minute drill. In almost any season since the team came back from exile the final drive would have been snuffed out by an interception, a fumble or a dropped pass on 4th down. Not this time. Not with this team.

McCoy did what every good QB has to do—forgot all about every missed pass and hit while throwing. He drove the team 80 yards for a TD to win the game. With 48 seconds left he hit WR Massaquoi for a 14 yard TD. Then it was the Browns that ended the game with an interception.

This team is still struggling on offense. They do not yet have a group of receivers to challenge an above average defense. But rookie WR Little is coming on and looks like he can become a very good #2. Utility man Cribbs was hurt but toughed it out to contribute to the win. He had a great TD reception in the 2nd quarter to bring the Browns back into the game. WR Robiskie has started 2 games but has no receptions. He is clearly a bust and must not take up a roster spot next year. The one truly fast guy is Mitchell but he must be on double secret probation because he has not had any impact since his joining the team last season as a low round draft choice.

Another area that the team needs to improve is the O line. The Browns did not give up a sack but McCoy got hit a number of times. The RT is still an issue. Pashos was still hurt (the story of his career) and while Hicks seemed to play reasonably well, Cousins was inserted to start the 2nd half. Both OG spots are an issue as well. RG Lauvao is getting better but still not able to hold off a DT regularly without help from C Mack. Rookie LG Pinkston is not ready to start but was thrust into the lineup because of the season ending injury to all pro Steinbach.

The D was inconsistent just like the O but contributed to the win with a pair of turnovers and decent pressure on Dolphin QB Henne. At one point in the game Henne was 16-19 but the D tightened up and he went 3-10 with an interception when the game was decided. The Dolphin rushing game gained 138 yards but was not a factor with the game on the line.

Overall this was as ugly a win as is possible in this era of the big play. But the Browns won a game in the way that they have lost so many close games before. McCoy may not ever be a top NFL QB but he will give the team everything he has. He is tough minded and smart.

The Browns have beaten 2 very bad teams and lost to another bad squad. But the team is showing signs of improvement. In my opinion, the team would not have won this game last year because that team was incapable of a comeback in the final minutes.

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21 September 2011

The Browns beat the Payton-less Colts 27-19

The Browns (1-1) won a game against what might be the worst team in the NFL. The fact that the Colts have drafted very poorly has led to an organization totally dependent on its superstar QB Payton Manning. For most of his 13 years he has single handedly made the team competitive including leading it to a Super Bowl championship.

But a win is a win and given the Browns total ineptness since it came back to the league in 1999, all donations are gratefully accepted. The coaching staff made some good moves that helped the team win this game.

First the team settled on Hicks at RT. Part of the struggle the team faced in the 1st quarter of game 1 was due to the lack of blocking at RT. In the 2nd quarter the team placed Hicks at the position and the team began to move the ball. Hicks was named the starter for week 2 and the line play was much more consistent against the best pair of DEs in the league. The line allowed only 1 sack which was more QB McCoy’s fault for holding the ball than the fault of the line.

Another change the team made was to switch their DEs. Rookie DE Sheard went to the LE and Mitchell went to RE. That did not help the team slow the running game. Indy has been a pass only O for years but gained 4.2 yards per attempt against the Browns. It did help the pass rush. The D line was in Indy QB Collins face often. The Browns got 2 sacks and several hurries. The improved pass rush against a line that is in transition did contribute to a 50% completion rate by the Colts and limit the team to 28% conversion on 3rd down.

The O was not flashy but did generate 3 TDs. Hillis faced 8 and 9 men in the box in most running situations and managed only 3.4 yards per carry but did score 2 TDs. The passing game generated 6 yards per attempt less the sack and McCoy completed 68% of his passes.

The Browns were again slow to get the O going but the D held the Colts to 2 field goals. After Hillis’ first TD the Browns were in the lead and never gave it back.

While the win was badly needed, it was anything but a work of art. This team is still very thin on playmakers and will struggle to win against good teams. And as we saw last week, it will even struggle to win against some very bad teams as wel.

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1 September 2011

Browns Preseason has been the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good was the first preseason game against the Pack. The O was timed up and McCoy was extremely accurate. The D held the first team of the Pack on one of their 2 series without a first down. The Pack scored on the other possession.

The Bad was the game against the Lions. The Browns lost LG Steinbach and it showed. In the first game the O line was able to pick up the rush and the blitzes easily because C Mack was able to help 2nd year RG Lauvao. But when vet Steinbach was lost he had to help RG Pinkston and the line broke down consistently.

The Ugly was the O or lack there of against the Eagles. The team came out throwing the ball all over the field against the best d backfield in the league. The O line did not improve and McCoy was below average. The D line showed it best in the first quarter putting a lot of pressure on QB Vick. But in the 2nd quarter, the D line was dead tired. The O had not held the ball much and the team does not have enough depth to substitute the way they should to keep the bigs rested. That is one of the biggest issues as the team prepares for the regular season.

This week we look at the O. Next week we will project the D.

There is no question that the 1st team O and D are better than it was at any time last year. The problem comes from the failure of the team to draft well in the later rounds for the last few years. Normally the 2nd team is built from solid picks in rounds 4-7. The Browns have been a total failure at picking guys in those rounds that can play. As a result, the depth is nearly non-existent.

O LINE:

On O the lack of depth is a problem. The O line just picked up ex-Raven Cousins who started for the team 3 games in 09 and one in 10. Another possible sub at RG is Greco obtained in a trade with the Rams. He is a 4th year guy that has started 4 games for the Rams none last year. Steinbach is now on IR after having surgery on his back. Mack is going to have to help LG a lot which will challenge RG Lauvao.

The OT spots look good with Thomas at LT and Pashos at RT. But Pashos has a history of injury playing only 11 games in the last 2 seasons. There is no quality depth.

WR:

WR Little and Cribbs look like the starters. Both are just learning but have skills. Cribbs is helped by going in motion. He struggles to get off the line vs. press coverage. The backups Massaquoi and Mitchell have yet to play this year. Both have yet to prove themselves as starting quality WRs and neither is sure to make the roster. Robiskie did see action but did not get open as the slot receiver. He is on the bubble. Norwood had a great game 1 but did not look as good in the 2nd or 3rd game. He is from Philly and will make the roster. The majority of the rest are undrafted RFA. The Browns will keep 4 or 5 WRs and other than the starters the cast is not clear. The team really could have used one more quality vet WR but did not get one in free agency.

TE:

The team will likely keep 3 TEs. Watson and 4th pick Cameron are givens. If Moore stays healthy he will be the 3rd. TEs will have to be a big part of the O due to the lack of quality WRs.

QB:

McCoy has looked good overall. When he has time to throw he finds the open guy and is very accurate in short and medium passes. His deep ball is accurate but is a rainbow rather than a tight spiral lazer. He looks like he will be good in the West Coast O that the Browns are putting in. Is he a “franchise QB?” I am not sure. But he looks like a guy that can be a successful if not spectacular QB in the league.

The Browns are going to be in the Luck sweepstakes if anything happens to McCoy. Wallace will be the backup but has suffered “diminishing skills” (does that phrase ring a bell to Browns fans) since his days at Seattle. Brown is not ready for the NFL and may never be. Unless the team gets a legitimate backup QB off the cut list, the team will be in big trouble if McCoy goes down.

RB:

Hillis needs some help and so far no one seems to be claiming the #2 spot. The team brought Jackson in from Green Bay but he has turf toe and will be out awhile. Hardesty has yet to show he can play or even stay healthy. Smith has great speed but struggles to hold on to the ball and pick up the blitz. The other prospect is Porter who was on the Browns’ practice squad for the last few weeks of 10. But he has been cut by 2 teams and is far from a sure thing.

Overall the Browns O looks OK if the O line can hold up. That is a big IF. The O is going to have to carry the D early in the schedule which is the easy part of the season. Otherwise it could be a long year.

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7 May 2011

Analyzing the Browns 2011 NFL Draft

The Browns made the Big trade down. Many were expecting a trade down but not THAT far down. They got 5 picks including 2 1st round choices a 2nd and 2 4ths. One way to evaluate a trade is to see what the writers of the other team are saying about the deal. Most in Atlanta are complaining that the Falcons gave up way too much in the deal to get to the 6th pick and get the WR that they wanted. The great thing (except for GMs that draft busts) is that we will know who got the best of the deal in a couple of years.

I think the Browns then panicked a bit when they saw DT Liuget come off the board with the 18th pick and traded back up to 21 to get their guy Phil Taylor NT Baylor. The trade cost them a 3rd for a player that many “experts” including me had going in the middle of the 2nd round. There are unsubstantiated rumors that another team was thinking about taking him but none of the teams between 22 and 27 took a DT.

Here are the picks and my analysis of how they will fit into the

team’s plans:
Round 1 Pick 21 - Phil Taylor NT Baylor – He is the classic “big eater” that would fit best at NT in a 3-4. According to the Browns he will play DT beside Rubin to help stop the run. If they plan on Jackson playing MLB the D will need all the help stopping the run they can get. Taylor is a solid DT that is stout (to say the least at 334) against the run and has a good but not great motor to rush the passer. He got double teamed a lot at Baylor and has the strength to fight through the block to get to the play.

R2 P37 – Jabaal Sheard DE Pitt – He will start at DE in 2011 because there is not another 4-3 end on the roster. I projected him for the Browns at 37 before the draft. He is a solid run stopper with some pass rush ability. I see him working better at the strong side end. I am hoping the team gets a true pass rush DE in free agency. He is just OK rushing the passer with limited speed and moves. The moves can be taught but the speed can not.

R2 P59 – Greg Little WR North Carolina – Little is 6-2 and 210 with decent speed (4.53/40) and excellent strength. He will not get pushed off his route by press coverage and will fight for the ball. He was among the top receivers in the 2nd group below Jones and Green and fell only because he was part of the mass suspensions at NC. He will likely start for the Browns but is not the #1 receiver that the team really needed to help QB McCoy.

R4 P102 – Jordan Cameron TE USC – The team called Cal DE Cam Jordan by mistake to tell him they had drafted him. He informed the team that the Saints had beat them to him. Cameron is a clone of TE Moore except for the Moore experience catching and his injury history. The new TE has potential—a lot of potential but very little college football experience (16 catches in 2010 as a part time player). He is an ex-basketball player and is 6-5 254 with 4.59 speed. He is not much of a blocker. I was more than a little surprised at the pick and had him rated as the 154th best player. I would have preferred Acho DE Texas (P103) or Ballard DE Iowa (P106).

R4 P124 - Owen Marecic FB Stanford – He was the only 2 way player in the BCS level of college football playing MLB as well. The team indicated he was taken to be a blocker and receiver in the west coast O. He had 5 catches last year while UFA FB Vickers had 4 in limited starts. I would have preferred to get Vickers back and taken CB House New Mexico State (P133) with this pick.

R5 P137 – Buster Skine CB Tenn. Chattanooga – Skine runs a 4.22 40 but is only 5-10. He has done well at a lesser level of college, has good instincts and decent ball skills. The question is how will he do with the 6’+ WRs in the AFC North?

R5 P150 – Jason Pinkston OT Pitt – He was a value pick. I had him rated in the mid 70’s. He has good feet and will be used at OG to start. He could end up starting at RG for the Browns this season with the possibility of moving to RT if needed. With the history of injury for Pashos, that could come sooner rather than later. The team traded both 6th round picks to get up to grab him.

R7 P248 – Eric Hagg FS Nebraska – He had 5 picks in 2010 part of which was because no Big 12 team wanted to throw in the direction of CB Amukamara. He can cover but runs a 4.75. There is a lot of question about SS Ward’s ability to play center field in a 1 deep zone coverage. Hagg might be able to fill that role.

Overall I would give the Browns a B grade which is moved up to A- because they have 2 extra picks (Atlanta’s 1 and 4) next year. This should be the 2nd consecutive good draft by the new regime. The trade was 5 times better than the deals that Mangini got trading down from 6 to 21 in 2009. He got a couple of cast off Jets that were not in the plans of the team and a bucket of used driving range balls.

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8 April 2011

Who Will the Browns Likely Draft?

Part 2 of 3 on the Browns and the 2011 NFL Draft

Anyone that has tried to project the first round of the draft will realize that is impossible. So trying to guess who a team will draft in 7 rounds is enough to drive even the most dedicated draft analyst over the edge. However, in an attempt to give our readers a feel for what to expect in the draft, I will do my best.

In the last article we outlined the team needs. So given the picks that the Browns have and ignoring trade possibilities, here are my best guesses:

R1 P6 - Julio Jones WR Alabama - The Mangini regime drafted 2 WRs in the second round last year then never threw to them all year. With all the needs that the D has trying to transition to the 4-3, this pick should be a pass rushing DE. But my best guess is that it will be a WR to try to give QB McCoy the best chance to succeed.

Jones has above average speed and will snatch the ball. He can get open and catch the ball against tight coverage. The one drawback of Jones is his tendency to make a spectacular catch on one play then drop an easy pass on the next.

Alternative 1 - Green WR - My projection shows the Bengals taking WR Green Georgia at 4. If Green is there he will be the pick.

ALT2 - Marcel Dareus DT Alabama - If DC Jauron has his way Dareus or one of the DEs will be the choice. I don't expect that to happen.

ALT3 - Patrick Peterson CB LSU - A longer shot is that Peterson will somehow fall to the Browns. If so, they could opt for him.

Round 2

IF the Browns go WR with the first pick, they must do DL with the second. Given the fact that the team had absolutely no pass rush at all in 2010. Most likely they will take the best DE available. All of the top pass rushers will be gone by 37. Two DEs (Cam Heyward Ohio State and Da'Quan Bowers Clemson) have had major injuries that could threaten their ability to play in 2011. One or both could be available but I doubt it.

R2 P37 - Jabaal Sheard DE Pittsburgh Sheard is a combo DE who plays the run and pass well but is not special in either case. In terms of a pass rusher he is a major step below the top guys.

ALT1 - Leonard Hankerson WR Miami (Fla.) or Torrey Smith WR Maryland - If the Browns go DL with the first pick, they will be forced to go WR with the 2nd. Hankerson is fast and big at 6-2 209 with a great up side but some history of drops. Smith has risen fast but is not as well known. He is not as physical but more consistent with his hands.

Round 3

There is a lot of conversation about CB. My feeling is that the team needs in the DL are much more pressing than those in the DB. However, there is a chance that the team will look at the CBs here.

R3 P70 - Ras-I Dowling CB Virginia - Dowling is a solid corner with good size and instincts but below average speed. He supports the run well which is a key ability in the zone that Jauron prefers.

ALT1 - Sam Acho DE Texas - If the team goes DL Acho will likely be the pick here. He is primarily a run stopper. He has good pursuit and excellent awareness. He has below average pass rush abilities however.

ALT2 - Ahmad Black SS Florida - Another area the team has a possible need is S. Based on what the team says, they feel that Ward is a FS. He is not in my opinion but if the team adds a S Black may be the pick. He had a decent season but ran a disappointing 4.84 40. He is good against the run but will struggle in either man or zone pass coverage.

ALT3 Jason Pinkston OT Pittsburgh - Another need on O is RT. While the team has Pashos the position is in flux due to his injury history. Pinkston is a decent T that does nothing particularly well.

Round 4

Even if they sign some UFA defensive linemen, they might address the line again here.

R4 P137 - Greg Romeus DE Pittsburgh - Known as the "other" DE at Pitt, Romeus would be a value pick here and may not still be on the board. He is not as much a pass rush threat as his running mate Sheard but is the best option at DE here. He is limited in athleticism but has a good motor.

ATL1 - Ricky Stanzi QB Iowa - The team has talked about getting a QB in the draft. If they want one this will have to be the pick because there is another dropoff after this group. Stanzi is a poor man's McCoy. He is accurate in short throws but his arm is weaker than most think and this pick would be a waste. But as Browns fans know from our history, it would not be the first time a pick was blown.

ALT2 - Colin McCarthy MLB Miami (Fla.) - The team thinks Jackson can play MLB in the 4-3. They will find out that their safeties will be making a lot of tackles against the run if he does. If the team wants a good candidate for MLB McCarthy is the guy here. He is a high effort guy that attacks the run at the line. He has the quicks to drop into zone coverage as well.

Round 5

If the Browns do what we have outlined so far, they have to be praying for a DT they like falling into this spot. They have 1 DL that can play a 4-3--NT Rubin. That is it.

R5 P137 - Sione Fua DT Stanford - Fua is a versatile DT that can play E in a 3-4 or T in a 4-3. He is solid against the run and gives you a little pass rush as well. He handles double team blocks pretty well and will collapse the pocket when his head is in the game.

ALT1 - Kelvin Sheppard MLB LSU - If they have not gotten an MLB yet, Sheppard could be the guy here. He is solid against the run with a good motor and some ability to cover receivers. He would be an upgrade over Jackson.

ALT2 - Deunta Williams FS North Carolina - The only reason Williams falls to the 5th is that he broke his leg late in the season. Williams is a solid tackler that gives good effort and can play center field in a zone. He should be ready for the 2011 season opener.

Round 6

R6 P168 (from Denver) - Derek Newton OT Arkansas State - The Browns need a RT candidate and in this scenario have not gotten one yet. Newton is an athletic RT with the possibility to develop into a LT in the future. He is very raw and has technique issues particularly in pass blocking. But he is the best OT at this level of the draft.

R6 P170 Martin Parker DT Richmond - If Parker had played at a name school, he would have gone a lot higher than this. He is a one gap guy that creates havoc in the backfield. He has good awareness and motor with the ability to collapse the pocket.

ALT1 - Ugo Chinasa DE Oklahoma State - Some have Chinasa listed as an OLB. I like him better as a DE in the 4-3. He is an under-achiever that needs to improve his motor. He handles the double well and can pressure the passer when he feels like it. He will struggle in pass coverage as an OLB.

ALT2 - Josh Bynes MLB Auburn - Bynes is better against the run than the pass and lacks the speed and hips to provide pass coverage in zone or man. However, at this point in the draft, he has enough experience to provide some value.

Round 7

R7 P248 (Compensatory) - Colby Whitlock DT Texas Tech - I like a DT with a nasty streak and Whitlock has one. However, he does not make as many plays as you would like. He has the athleticism to penetrate but tends to fight the OL guy too much to be effective. If you can focus his nasty streak he could be a real value at this point in the draft.

ALT1 - Lazarius Levingston DE LSU - This guy is a tease. In one game you would put him in the 3rd round. After the next game you would wonder who would want him. He has the ability to rush the passer and disrupt the run in the backfield. He needs motivation and tough love.

ALT2 - Josh Thomas CB Buffalo - I really like this kid. He probably won't be here this late but is really good. He has the hips to turn and cover deep man or zone. He also has awareness and puts out great effort. He is only 5-10 and runs a 4.49. Playing at Buffalo may allow him to be a real value in the draft.

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6 April 2011

The 2011 NFL DRAFT Needs of the Browns.

Part 1 of 3

The team needs are about as clear as those of any team. I tend to rank needs in terms of the number of possible candidates on the roster for the position. The more "maybe" type players already under contract the lower the need.

1. Pass rushing DE for the 4-3 - This is a BIG need because the team has 0 4-3 DEs on the roster. The Jauron D expects the majority of pass pressure to come from the DE. There is only 1 maybe type candidate, Jayme Mitchell, but he is an RFA.

2. Outside linebacker with some pass rush/blitz capability. The reason that the 3-4 did not work is that the team was playing 4 inside linebackers with no history of sacks. The team needs at least 1 guy that can blitz effectively and still cover receivers down field.

3. 4-3 Penetrating DT to start - Jauron has a NT in Rubin. He needs a 1 gap DT that can penetrate and disrupt the pocket.

4. A true #1 WR with speed - Part of the reason that teams put 87 guys at the line of scrimmage to stop Hillis was that the Browns did not play a guy that could stretch the D vertically. They have WR Carlton Mitchell and his 4.35 40 speed on the roster but did not give him a chance. The excuse was he did not run good patterns. How much training does it take to go deep?

5. A right tackle that can actually pass block. St. Clair has gotten QBs hurt in 3 different towns. The team brought Pashos in to start but he has a history of injury that prevents him from every completing a season. To protect a somewhat fragile QB McCoy, the team should look for a vet RT and also draft a rookie to fill the hole in a year or 2.

6. A free safety - The team has a SS in Ward. He supports the run well and hits like a dump truck. But he struggles to read pattern combinations and in man to man coverage. He struggles to know when to break a zone and cover a receiver. The team struggled with 2 SS and Elam in not capable of being a FS. The one maybe guy would be CB Brown that could be moved to FS IF the team can find other CBs.

7. A cornerback - Some people think that CB Wright (UFA) is not worth resigning. I am not of that opinion. But beyond that, the team needs one more starting CB and a bunch of subs. Mangini only kept 3 CBs to start the season in 2010. In the current game of 4 and 5 WR sets, that is just stupid. No NFL team can expect to have decent pass coverage without a minimum of 4 and most likely 5 on the roster.

8. Backup DL - A 4-3 requires at least 4 DEs and 4 DTs. The scheme would benefit from a 9th guy that can play both. With 1.5 4-3 type DL guys on the roster, there is a huge need for an additional gaggle of 4-3 players.

In part 2 next week, I will propose the players that the Browns should draft with each pick.

Part 3 will be my projection of the actual picks the Browns will make. Any resemblance with the list in Part 2 will be totally accidental.

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26 February 2011

What Do the Browns Need in the 2011 NFL Draft?

The Browns have 7 picks including 2 6th round choices. They will need all of those and more if they are going to be able to play effectively in a 4-3 system that DC Jauron is going to implement. But then the team didn't have the players to make their 2010 3-4 D effective either.

According to Michael Herrera who covered the Lions for the Detroit News while Jauron was both DC and HC, the new Browns DC is effective at making the players he has as effective as possible. That is good because Jauron doesn't have much on the roster now.

It seems that everyone looking at the Browns' roster has a different opinion about how many current players fit in a 4-3. By cutting DT Rogers and Coleman the team put another pair of holes in what was already their Swiss Cheese 4-3 roster. Here is my view:

DE 4 or 5 needed - Maybe RFA Jayme Mitchell (26) who GM Heckert called the best pass rusher on the roster but never saw the field under Mangini. In my opinion there is not another 4-3 DE candidate on the roster.

DT 4 or 5 needed - Athyba Rubin (24) is a lock. NT Brian Schaefering (27) was out of football until the Browns signed him in 2009. He is at best unproven. Robaire Smith (32) is a huge question mark coming off an injury and considering retirement.

OLB 3 or 4 needed - NONE. Last year we had 8 3-4 ILBs on the roster. That is why the team was not able to generate any pass rush even with the blitz. Some believe that the team is set with starters SLB Scott Fujita (31) and WLB Chris Gocong (26). I might be able to see Fujita but not Gocong. He does not have the rush ability to handle the WLB. In reserve only Exclusive Right FA Marcus Benard (25) is even a candidate for OLB.

MLB 2 needed - NONE. Some think D'Qwell Jackson (26) can handle the job but he is definitely not a candidate in my opinion. The MLB in most zone coverages which Jauron prefers will have to step into the hole and attack the run as well as be able to drop deep in pass coverage to take the middle seam away from TEs and RBs. Jackson makes a lot of tackles but nearly all of them are 5 to 7 yards down field and not at the line of scrimmage.

Zone capable CBs 5 needed - Joe Haden (21) is fine at one CB. He can play M or Z and is a solid tackler. The other starting CB spot is a question mark. UFA Eric Wright (25) really struggled last year and is better suited to play the nickle back. Sheldon Brown (31) has some zone experience but might have to play FS if the team can not find a player for that spot. The only other CB on the roster is Coye Francies (23) has very little experience. There are several "DB" players on the roster but they are more special team players than anything else. A perfect example is Nick Sorensen (32) who has played 10 seasons for 3 different teams without a single start.

Zone capable SS - 1 or 2 needed - The candidate for this spot is last year #2 pick TJ Ward (23) but I have serious doubts he has the coverage ability and speed to handle the position in a zone environment. If he can not do the job the team is in real trouble. There is no other candidate on the current roster.

Zone capable FS - 1 or 2 needed - NONE. The Z defense requires a top tackler with above average speed to play the deep zone or single deep coverage in the case of a blitz. The only players with any chance of playing the spot are CB Brown and S Abram Elam (28). Brown does not have the speed to handle it and may be forced to start at CB if the team can not draft another guy. Elam is also not fast enough and despite having made some key plays late in 2010 is in danger of being released.

The bottom line is this--The team is a very long way from having the personnel to play 4-3 effectively. To fully staff a 4-3, the Browns are going to have to add between 12 and 20 new players on D alone. This is a bad year to need that many new faces. There will be no veteran free agent signings until either the NFL owners declare an impasse or a new CBA is in place. The team has 7 draft picks including 2 6th round selections. But even if they use all their draft for D players that still leaves 5 to 13 roster spots to be filled. In addition the NFLPA has told Agents that no undrafted rookie free agents can be signed either.

There will be a free agency period but if the new CBA does not start until June, it will be VERY short. The scramble by teams to sign quality UFAs will make the fighting at the bottom of a pile on a free ball look like a Sunday school spelling B.

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26 January 2011

The Browns name former HC Dick Jauron as the new DC.

There were several names being discussed as possible Defensive Coordinators for the Browns. The choice was in my opinion the best of all of the options.

Dick Jauron, 60, has a great deal of quality experience not only as a long time DC but also as a former HC. He played in the NFL for 8 years with the Lions and Bengals and earned a Pro Bowl spot in 1973.

He began his NFL coaching career in Buffalo in 1985. He also served as DBs coach for the Packers for both HC's Infante and Holmgren. In 1995 he was named DC for the Jags where he served for 4 seasons before being named HC of the Bears in 1999. He coached the Bears for 5 years ending with a Coach of the Year award (2001) and amassed a 35-45 record. He was fired after the 2003 season when the team was 7-9.

He then was named DC for the Lions in 2004 and was named interim HC of the team part way through the 2005 season. He then was selected to be HC of the Bills in January 2006 but was fired after the 2009 season due to public pressure on owner Ralph Wilson. Despite a lack of talent and financial struggles of the franchise he ended with a record of 24-33.

Jauron is primarily a 4-3 front guy but has been known for his creative use of players with special talents. He is also known for a creative use of pass coverage/blitz combinations.

The reason that this is such a strong hire in my opinion is the depth of experience on the Defensive side of the ball with significant HC experience. He and Pres. Holmgren will be able to provide the guidance to first time HC Shurmur in a number of areas. Jauron also can handle the D totally leaving Shumur and whoever is named OC to focus their entire effort on the O. With both sides needing a lot of help, that will be another key advantage of this hire.

Jauron was also a prime candidate to take a promotion to DC from his 2010 job of Senior Assistant/DBs coach but chose the Browns job instead. He is an excellent judge of talent and a coach that seems to be able to get the most out of his guys. That too will be critical for the further development of the Browns D. Too many times the D in 2010 gave up big plays and 4th quarter leads that led to losses.

In my opinion, getting Dick Jauron for this critical post is a great move and it will help insure a better 2011 for all Browns fans around the world.

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10 January 2011

Pres. Holmgren starts the hunt for future ex-Browns Head Coach.

NFL stands for Not For Long. Every head coach only borrows his title for awhile then leaves. 98% are fired and 2% retire. Every coach interviewing for a head job realizes that or at least should. The history of the Browns since returning to the league in 1999 is Exhibit A.

While there are a lot of rumors about who is the most likely pick, I want to focus first on what kind of coach the brain-trust might be seeking. The ultimate pick has to share the Holmgren's offensive philosophy -- the West Coast O. It would be great if that coach was also a 4-3 D guy but that is much less important than the O foundation. QB McCoy is perfectly suited for the WCO. He lacks deep arm strength but in the WCO that is not nearly as important as the accuracy to put the ball on the hands of a WR running a crossing pattern. The power of the WCO is based on yards after the catch.

From the WR perspective, the WCO does not require guys with great speed. That is a good thing because the Browns current starters are not burners to say the least. The team does have one deep threat -- WR Carlton Mitchell the 6-3 rookie from South Florida picked in the 6th round. But he spent the entire season in Mangini's dog house and never got on the field. WR Massaquoi, a 2nd round pick in 2009, timed fast at the combine but his is more straight ahead speed than functional football speed. He struggles to maintain his speed going into and coming out of breaks. He also does not run disciplined patterns. To add to his issues, he has very inconsistent hands. The previous Browns draft guys should have seen that and avoided picking him.

The other 09 2nd round pick, WR Robiskie, runs better routes and has good hands but is a slot type receiver that does not have even decent WR speed.

The other things that the WCO requires include a solid running game with a back with good hands and a good TE. Both RB Hillis and rookie RB Hardesty (if he is healthy) possess those qualities. TE Watson has proven to be the most effective passing weapon on the team. TE Moore has also looked good but ended the season on IR.

The D issues run a lot deeper because this team is not even close to having enough DL guys to go to a 4-3. The usual 4-3 team has 8 DL guys that are able to rotate in. The Browns have only 5 DL guys with any experience and 3 of those are on the wrong side of 30 years old. So despite Holmgren's preference is the 4-3 the team is a long way from being able to change back to that as a standard formation.

Now for the list of guys that Holmgren is expected to talk to.

1. Jon "Chuckie" Gruden - He is in the MNF booth now and has a son playing HS football in Florida. He is almost certainly at the top of Holmgren's list but has indicated he wants to wait until his son graduates in 2012 to start coaching again. He would be the kind of "name brand" coach that would really excite the fan base.

2. Pat Shurmur - Shurmur is the OC of the Rams spent 9 seasons with Browns GM Heckard at Philly where he was QB coach for the last 7 years there. He is in his first year as OC and is credited with helping rookie QB Stafford develop into a pro. According to current rumors, he may be 2nd on the boss' list.

3. Mike Mularkey - He is the Falcons offensive coordinator and has led one of the top O teams in the league. He served under Bill Cowher in Pittsburgh including 3 seasons as OC there. He has a lot of credentials as an OC and was 14-18 as the head coach of the Bills.

4. Marty Mornhinweg - Most people know him from his days as HC of the Lions where he went 5-27. In his defense, he worked for the worst GM in the history of the NFL in Matt Millen. He also has been the OC of the 49ers and the Eagles currently. In most of his time with Philly, he has not done the play calling.

There have been a couple of others mentioned by the media but the only other real candidate is Holmgren himself. In his press conference he said he would not come done to coach "as of now."

I would like to see ex-Raven HC Billick and former Panther HC Fox be added to the list but so far they are not in the mix.

Be sure to join my on my new Cleveland Internet Radio Show on DSN M-F 5-9 PM EST. The address is

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5 January 2011

The Steelers dominate the Browns 41-9

Speed kills on the highway and on the football field. The speed of the O and D of the Steelers killed the Browns chance to improve on their record of last year.

The speed of WR Wallace allowed him to get 97 yards and a TD on his first 2 catches of the game.

The speed of RB Mendenhall gave the Steelers 39 yards on a safety valve pass.

The Browns have not had team speed since the comeback. That has been one of the critical problems that have made the team the punchline of NFL jokes. Another thing that has transformed this franchise from the Browns to the Cleveland Tans--a pale cartoon of their former greatness.

The question is where do the Tans go from here?

Step 1--Fire the coaching staff. With the possible exception of Special-teams coach Brad Seely they all have to go. There has been no question about the O side of the staff. They should have been fired half way through last season. The only question has been about the D staff. After a season of losing 4th quarter leads, losses to the 3 worst teams in the league (yes, I'm still mad about the "win" over Carolina that was really a loss) and a blowout against the Steelers, it is time for DC Ryan and his coaches to go as well.

Step 2--Find a good head coach. There is a good chance that Holmgren has already got a couple of guys in mind. He needs to get one hired VERY soon. There will be 9 or 10 openings this season and those teams that delay will be stuck with a Josh McDaniels clone. We know how that will turn out. There will be a lot of competition for the top names and even the 2nd tier group. The fans demand as high a profile coach here as possible. This team is closer to losing the fan base than ever before.

Step 3--Fill as many holes with free agents as possible as quickly as possible. We definitely need a vet RG and RT. There will be very few UFAs until the CBA is signed. There will be a lot of BIG bucks chasing very few quality players. We need to get as many holes filled with quality UFAs as possible.

Step 4--Trade as many of the players that might have some market value as possible to get vet holes filled or draft choices. The problem is without a CBA being at least close by the Junior Declaration day (Mid January), this could be a very weak draft. But there will be talent upgrades available deep in even a weak draft because the talent level of this team is so low. The trick is to find them. Don't forget one of the top WRs in the NFL (Colston-Saints) was taken with a late 7th round draft choice.

In future weeks I will take a detailed look as who the Browns should keep and who should be traded or released. I project the Browns will get the 5th pick in the first round. I will also look at the choices the Browns have and what should be done with them.

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28 December 2010

The Ravens score on turnovers and beat the Browns 20-10

The Offense:

Sunday, QB McCoy played like a rookie for the first time this year. He did make some bad reads but also was getting hit almost every time he threw the ball. The pick on the first possession was a bad decision by McCoy but Massaquoi needed to do a better job breaking it up. He should have undercut the DB and made the catch. The second and third picks were desperation throws as McCoy was getting hit. In both cases the rusher hit him without being touched. There were also some key drops.

WR Robiskie made some excellent catches. The TD was a great catch by Robo and it was a good play call. The fumble by Massaquoi was a lack of concentration. He has to get down in that situation. Stuckey actually got past the line to gain on a 3rd down play. Overall this group lacks a true #1 guy that can stretch the field.

The running game disappeared. RB Hillis was no factor. RB Bell had a couple of nice plays but did little on the ground. The run blocking also didn't help. The right side of the line was pushed into the backfield on a regular basis. Even so, the calls were runs to to the right more than the left.

The O line had another bad game. There were too many free rushers coming at McCoy. The D put pressure on him on every throw and he got knocked down on almost every pass even though the Ravens did not get a sack.

Defense:

The D played fairly well. It was put in bad positions from the turnovers and from the botched on side kick. It stopped 2 of the drives but allowed 2 TDs as well.

The pass coverage was overall good. CB Haden had a great pick that shut off one drive. He played very well. QB Flacco was held to 102 yards passing. The two TD passes were covered but were excellent throws. The pass rush was not effective. They got only one sack and missed several others. It also allowed Flacco to escape out the back door and get a huge first down.

The team did only fair against the run most of the game. It had 2 good stops on 3rd down but otherwise gave up 4.2 per attempt. SS Ward did a good job helping on against the run.

Coaching:

The time management at the end of the half was horrible again. The on side kick to start the 2nd half was another stupid move. The game was too close to take that kind of chance. Overall the playcalling was better than in most games. OC Daboll realized that the running game was not working and got away from it sooner than usual.

The Bottom Line:

Right now pending the Tuesday game, the Browns have the 9th pick in the draft. After they lose next week they could end up at 7 or 8. This team needs 2 more really productive drafts and free agent periods to be competitive with the Ravens and Steelers. Both of those teams are getting older and have not been able to fill the spots with top young talent. There is an opportunity for the Browns to take over the division for 6 to 8 years IF they take care of their needs effectively.

Without the CBA the FA crop will be limited to those players with contracts that have expired and have 6 years experience.

The team needs are very clear. In no particular order they need a #1 WR, 2 CBs, 2 Rush LBs, a RT, a RG, and unless RB Hardesty recovers fully from his knee injury, a backup RB. The draft is weak in senior WRs but is deeper at OLB and CB.

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20 December 2010

The Browns improve their draft position by giving the Bengals a 19-17 win.

The musical lead-in to the Browns Aftermath show on DSN/Cleveland.com was a tribute to the Browns coaching staff. The song played was "So Long, Farewell" from the Sound of Music. It was a fitting choice given the fact that this team has lost to the three worst teams in the league. They were given a victory against 1 win Carolina only because the Panther kicker missed a chip shot field goal. That guy is now selling insurance door to door in downtown Mogadishu.

The Browns have now lost to the previously 2 win Bills and 2 win Bengals. The team is now 5-9 with games against the Steelers and Ravens ahead. At 5-11, the team should get the 10th pick overall. If Mangini was still in charge of the draft choices we could expect him to trade for the 32nd pick and a bucket of KFC grilled chicken.

The Offense:

As usual the 1st drive was GREAT. QB McCoy drove the team down the field in the air. The formation for the TD pass had RT St. Clair out wide in a 3 man set on the right side. That formation makes a lot of sense since he has done very little to protect the QB lined up tight. Also as always, that was the end of the O. From that point until the 4 minute point in the game the Browns under the lack of leadership of OC "Dumboll", the team got exactly 2 first downs.

The last minute of the first half with the Browns on O looked like a Chinese fire drill. The team blew an opportunity to put points on the board. First, the team did not get the call to McCoy on time and they had to use a timeout. Then our friend St. Clair had 2 penalties in 2 plays and cost the team a first down with 26 seconds left inside the 25 because he lined up in the backfield on a play. That offset a personal foul on the Bengals. Then he was called for a false start.

The sack of McCoy on the first series of the second half was due to St. Clair letting his man in the backfield nearly untouched. When McCoy tried to escape Womack's guy tackled him for a loss. That same trend followed through the 3rd and 4th quarter until the ball was taken out of Daboll's hands because the Browns were 2 scores behind with 4 minutes in the game.

This loss is not on McCoy. The TD drive from the 12 with 4 minutes on the clock showed what he can do. Overall he went 19-25 248 yards 2 TDs and no picks. THIS loss like so many others falls on the head of OC Daboll and HC Mangini. The play calling was so bad that prior to the TD drive in the 4th, the team had managed only 2 first downs after the 1st drive.

The running game was a non-factor. RB Hillis gained only 59 yards on 18 carries. The O line was getting no push and like against the Bills, Hillis was usually hit behind the line of scrimmage. Even so, Daboll continued to run the ball and getting into 3rd and long situations. That caused the team to make only 2 of the 8 third downs it faced.

The Defense:

The D got pushed all over the field. The Bungles came in as the 30th rushing team. Those same Bungles gained 188 yards on the ground. They held the ball for 38 minutes. The Browns D was on the field for long periods of time but that still does not excuse the bad tackling. The D line was making tackles on Bengal RB Benson but it was only after he had gained 5 or 6 yards.

The last TD drive of the Bengals was a perfect example of how the D played. The Bengals drove from their 12 to score with most of the yardage on the ground. They faced only 1 third down during the drive.

Special Teams:

There was nothing special about the Browns special teams. KR Cribbs is a shadow of what he was last year. The foot problem has taken away the third gear that made him special. The D forced only 1 punt the entire game. What had been a strength of the team, kick and punt coverage, was a disaster. They left wide lanes open through which the Bengals ran with ease.

The Bottom Line:

This team has under-performed badly. That is a direct hit at the coaching staff. The team plays hard but anything but smart. At this point, I would fire the entire staff at the end of the season. That would include DC Ryan. The D has surrendered too many 4th quarter leads. While it has been MUCH better than the O, I am not convinced that Ryan can contain his need to blitz. The Browns do not have the CBs good enough to play tight man to man that full blitz calls require.

There was a rumor this past week that the coaching staff had told the team it would not be back in 2011. That was reported by ESPN and DSN/Cleveland.com. Of course the team sources denied it. In addition, Pres. Holgren's old friend Bill Cowher is reportedly ready to come back to coaching. He said that his preferences would be Houston, Miami, and NY Giants. You may have noticed that Cleveland is not on that list. The Houston job will undoubtedly become available with Miami and the Giants jobs not likely to open up. Cowher has also been rumored to be interested in the 49ers job. That too will likely be available after the season.

It is anyone's guess what will happen. I will stick with my guess that unless Holmgren either gets a name brand HC like (Gruden or Cowher) or decides he wants to coach himself, Mangini will be back with Daboll being replaced as OC. Some will wonder if Mangini would be willing to let Daboll go. Don't forget, he gladly fired his friend GM Kokinis with a smile on his face and a song in his heart. No one on that staff had better pin their hopes on keeping a job based on Mangini saving them. Mangini is more than willing to throw any of them under the bus to keep his job. If he is fired, Mangini is not likely to find another HC job even though there should be 6 or 7 openings.

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13 December 2010

The Bills help the Browns improve their draft status by winning 13-6.

I have had 12 1/2 hours of knee surgery. That was not as painful as watching the Brown so called offense. The season is over except for the draft position and disposition of the staff for next year. Given the Browns totally inept attempts to move the ball, it looked like they were intentionally trying to lose to improve their draft position. And despite the wrath of Browns fans pelting down on the coaching staff like a heavy sleet, OC Daboll and HC Mangini don't seem to capable of improving things.

The Offensive offense:

The first drives are always the best. That is probably because someone other than Daboll scripts the first series. In the Bills game, the script was RUN RUN RUN. The Browns moved the ball from their own 45 to the Bills 6 first and goal. But 3 straight runs up the gut netted only 5 yards and as happens way too often, the Browns were forced to kick a 19 yard field goal. That drive included 3 of the 9 total first downs the Browns earned.

The CBS announcers seem to think QB Delhomme was doing fine. He finished with 12 for 20 for just 86 yards 1 pick, 1 fumble lost and no TDs. That is 4.3 yards per attempt with a QB rating in the 30's. In the NFL QB rating system, if you go 0-1 with no interceptions you have a rating of 32.

We are in ABD mode. Delhomme has to go to the bench. Play Wallace or the lady in the 3rd row with the brown earmuffs on. Anybody But Delomme. However, if Mangini refuses to play Womack at RT, DON'T PLAY McCoy! RT St. Clair will get him hurt worse.

Half of the problem is Delhomme who calls himself "Captain Checkdown." Given the lack of passing down field, I would demote him to Private First Class Checkdown. That seems much more in keeping with his production.

The other half of the problem is Daboll who has the creativity of a turnip. I have a question for Mangini. What in the world ever made you think Daboll could do the job as OC? With the exception of the games with McCoy at the QB, the O has been totally devoid of any threat to a 6th grade PeeWee defense.

Another major issue is the total inability to make in game or second half adjustments. When the opponent figures out what the Browns are doing, it is easy for them to shut the O down because the Browns will do exactly the same thing in the second half. The coaches seem to not understand what the D is doing differently and unable to change the O because of the changes in D. That is unforgivable. At this level, a coach must be able to change on the fly to take advantage of changes in the D. After all this is Big Boy Football!

The one bright spot is RB Hillis. But he is wearing down. Part of the fumbling problem he has is due to his desperation to gain as many yards as possible on every carry. He knows that Delhomme is not a threat with either the pass or the run. The total O rests on his shoulders often without much help even from the O line.

The O line has struggled in the second half in part because the D knows that Daboll will be calling runs up the gut on 1st and 2nd down. On 3rd and long the D need only to blitz which forces PFC Checkdown to throw a 2 yard completion. When the team is 3rd and 3, Delhomme seems to prefer a long incompletion. I don't understand that either.

Defense:

Given the fact that the D was on the field for the vast majority of the 2nd half, it held up OK. As the game wore on it struggled to stop the run but given the lack of depth on the front 7 that is understandable. Even so, the D held a good Bills' O to 1 TD.

The Bottom line:

The Browns are now officially in the "plan for next year" mode. The key questions revolve around the status of the coaching staff and the top draft and FA needs of the team next year. The mood of the fans has been on the Blue Streak roller coaster at Cedar Point. After the wins against the Saints and the Pats, the fans were convinced the Brows were on the right track. Now after a bad loss to the Jags and now to the Bills, the feeling is that the staff should go with the possible exception of DC Ryan. Of course, there are only 2 votes that count--Holmgren and Randy Lerner.

If I had to guess what will happen at this point, I would say that unless Holmgren can get a name HC, Mangini will stay and Daboll will get reassigned. That would necessitate the hiring of a new OC. But as I said that is only a guess. There is a decent chance that DC Ryan will get interviews for HC positions with a number of teams that will fire their coaches after the season. He is being hurt somewhat by the struggles of his brother (HC of the Jets) and the Browns losses failing to hold leads late in games.

If the Browns lose out or win only 1 more game, all bets are off and the chance that everyone on the staff goes increases.

In terms of the draft, unlike most analysts I do not believe we will see many of the Juniors come into the 2011 draft because of the uncertainty about the league reaching a CBA deal with the NFLPA. If those that have eligibility remaining go back to school, the draft will be the weakest in several years. That is particularly true at the WR, OT, and pass rush OLB positions which are the most likely early targets of the team. The Browns will need to be flexible to take the top player in a position of need rather than reach for a specific position in the first couple of rounds.

As far as the OT position goes, I would rather see the Browns bench St. Clair (as if that surprises anyone), and put Pashos at RT and Womack at RG. Even Womack at RT with a veteran UFA RG would work for a year or 2 until the middle round OL prospects from the 2010, 2011 and 2012 drafts develop. The team needs to develop at least 2 guards and an OT.

We will know more at the end of the season but my job here is to project as accurately as I can what might happen.

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6 December 2010

The Browns luck out in a 13-10 win over the Dolphins.

Note to HC Mangini--Don't expect anything for Christmas because you got the 2nd gift win in successive weeks.

Offense:

The game plan was average at best. The expertise of OC Daboll was obvious in the 1st half stats--79 total yards. 79 stinking yards in 30 minutes of football? Like in every game, there were the typical head scratchers. For example on 3rd and 3 why throw deep to nobody in particular?

Part of the reason is that on 3rd down St. Clair never touched a single defender. The CB that ran right past him blocked Delhomme's pass nearly causing a pick.

St. Clair is as effective as the statue of Venus--he can't move and no arms. After a nice run over LG for 9 yards, Hillis ran right. St. Clair was watching the play. RT is the most expensive seat in the house for watching the game! Hillis was hit behind the line of scrimmage.

There will be a new star for the Dr. Pepper commercial airing during the Super Bowl. It will be St. Clair saying "I've sent QB's to the doctor!" When St. Clair does decide to block and realized who he needs to get, the Browns moved the ball in the air.

The O looked good only on 1 drive that resulted in the TD. Otherwise it did not turn the ball over. THAT is a MAJOR step in the right direction. However that had more to do with the Fish defenders unable to catch several Delhomme passes that hit them right in numbers.

Hillis had 57 yards on 18 carries. He did not have a good game because he was hit on almost every carry at or behind the line of scrimmage. That can not continue. Hillis can not continue to take that kind of punishment.

Here is a thought. Why not use the fact that every opponent stacks the box with 8 or 9 guys? A play action pass would devastate the D. If we don't have that play in the Daboll coloring book, we need to put one or two in.

Delhomme:Jake was 24-34 for 217 yards 1 TD and 0 picks. That last number was by far the most important. For the first time in Cleveland, he did not throw a pick. If the Fish defenders had any ball skills at all, there would have been 2 or 3 at least.

He has been known as Captain Checkdown but on the TD drive had a couple of throws to the WRs. The rest went to Hillis swinging out of the backfield or to TE Wallace down the middle. Wallace had 10 catches and Hillis had 7. He is still staring down his receivers and that will cause more picks than anything else. Because of St. Clair, he is also not able to slide to the right to extend the play because that is the source of the pressure.

He is still having serious problems with accuracy. A number of the catches by both Wallace and Hillis were extraordinary efforts to get inaccurate balls. Part of that is footwork. A larger problem is his inability to see the field in time and make good decisions.

There is no question that this team does need a #1 WR. They need a speed receiver that will force the D to play the entire field rather than just 15 yards off the line of scrimmage. Massaquoi is at best a #2 and Stucky is a 4th or less. One reason that Robiskie has not been as productive as we want is that Daboll is using him incorrectly. He is not a deep receiver. If he was used like the Pats use WR Welker, I think Robiskie could become a major factor.

Defense:

The first drive was disturbing but the D ended it well with a blocked FG attempt by Rogers. He had a GREAT game with a number of pressures, a sack and the blocked kick.

Blitz on 3rd 1 was a great call. But except for the 3 man rush, the Browns did a good job putting pressure on Henne. Too many of the D calls on the Fish drive for the TD involved the 3 man rush in passing situations.

Haden had a pick thanks to a badly under thrown ball by Henne and his own outstanding catch up speed. Haden had been fooled by a second move but had the quicks to get back and undercut the receiver to steal the throw. Haden had a great game. He defended passes, picked a pass, and made a ton of tackles on the run.

S Elam and Ward both had very solid games. Elam had a pick and did a decent job vs the run. Ward was all over the field and contributed by turning the run inside where a few of his friends could make the tackle.

The D was playing too far off the WRs all game long. The 2 WRs that had speed for the Fish were out of the game. The DBs needed to play a lot closer to the line than they did.

Finally there is nickle back Adams. He gave up the TD to the Dolphins by getting beat inside on a slant. At the snap Adams was on the goal line several yards away from Fasano. The receiver cut inside Adams and caught the TD pass. But Adams made up for that by catching the pick at the end of the game caused by LB Bowens batting a Henne pass up in the air. Adams caught it and took it inside the 5. That set up the winning field goal.

Overall the D played well. They had a hand in 3 Henne interceptions but one was under thrown and another was an overthrow. They did hold the Dolphin running game to 3.6 per carry.

There were some brain cramps by the D on the field. On 3rd and 1 for the Dolphins at the close of the 1st half the D wasn't set. With 56 seconds left in the half they had to know that the Fish would go no huddle.

CBS Coverage

Greg Gumbol thought the game was really going fast. Twice he said the time left in the first quarter was time until half time. Dah? Any game that has him calling the plays is a reason to tune into Jim Donovan and the Browns radio coverage.

The Bottom line:

The talk around town tomorrow and this week will be that Mangini and company have earned a chance to come back and coach next season based on their 5-7 record. As you know from reading my previous articles, I do not want Mangenous anywhere close to Cleveland next season. I believe that he has been given gifts of the last 2 wins and only had the other 3 because both of "his" QBs were hurt. McCoy won 2 of those games and was good enough not to lose the 3rd.

In addition, he has made some bonehead moves that have cost us talent without anything in return. As a GM, Mangini is a great plumber. If the rumor about him demanding that RB Harrison get traded is true, he should be fired for that if nothing else. Harrison would have been the change of pace at RB that we so desperately need.

I like DC Ryan but I am not sure he is HC material at this point. His D has given up some critical drives at key points that have cost the team wins.

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29 November 2010

Christmas for Mangini comes early in the form of a 24-23 gift win from the Panthers.

You win some and you lose some. This game was not won by the Browns; it was lost by the Panthers. The problems with this team start with the coaching staff and run right through the team.

The Coaching staff:

In my opinion Mangini sealed his fate last week with the loss to the Jags. There is no downside to firing him Monday and letting Ryan coach the team the rest of the way. I suggest he have Daboll carry his stuff to the car and get in with him because Daboll should have been fired weeks ago. But it is clear that Holmgren will not make the move until the season is over.

Given that fact good luck filling the stadium and preventing blackouts. The problem with keeping this bone-head crew in place is that they will beat down the one remaining semi-health talent we have--Payton Hillis. The trade of RB Harrison for Bell has turned into a disaster. Why was Harrison traded? Rumor has it that he and Mangini didn't get along. Mangini seems to have a man-crush on Delhomme.

OC Daboll is a major problem. He was directly responsible for the McCoy injury. Daboll set McCoy up for failure by calling so many runs on 1st and 2nd down that went for less than a yard or 2. Daboll knew that the O line was playing badly and yet with the play calling, he put McCoy in 3rd and long all day. The Jags blitzed and sacked McCoy 6 times.

He was also primarily responsible for the loss to the Jags with totally inept play calling. There is no excuse for failing to score more than 3 points with 5 turnovers (not counting the 1TO that the D scored on).

It can not possibly be a coincidence that the Browns do move the ball in the last few minutes of the game regardless of which QB is behind C. In those cases, the play calling is out of the hands of Daboll and the QBs are free to throw the ball on almost every play.

QB Delhomme:

HC Mangini said that because Delhomme knew the Panther D, the Browns would have the advantage. It was obvious that Delhomme knew the Panther D because he was throwing right to them. 2 picks on 2 passes. THIS is what we waited to see when Delhomme got healthy? Does it seem like an issue to anyone but me that we can close out the game against New Orleans and New England with McCoy at QB but can not against 1-9 Panthers with our "starter" Delhomme at the helm?

Good QBs throw WRs away from trouble. He threw TE Moore into the S and got Moore's bell rung. Part of the reason he throws so many picks (36 in his last 30 starts vs. 24TDs) is that he does not look off the coverage. When he stares down the WR he brings extra coverage to the area. The other reason is that he does not read coverages like most vet QBs. He seems to be unaware of a safety coming into the area or a LB providing underneath coverage.

He does get credit for the drive for the final field goal. But the Cleveland fans have seen more than enough of Delhomme throwing perfect passes to the opponents to last us a lifetime.

Delhomme is probably a great guy. However, I don't want him anywhere around McCoy "teaching" him how to play QB. Delhomme at this point in his career couldn't read a kindergarten picture book. Delhomme refuses to throw deep or to the outside. That takes the WRs out of the offense.

O line:

The line played better than last week but that is not saying that much. It was good to see Womack in the starting line up it's just too bad they didn't put him back at RT. The line did a decent job of pass blocking but when the D figured out that Daboll no longer trusted Delhomme passing, the Panthers shut down the running game and punished Hillis. In the 3rd quarter on Hillis was getting hit behind the line. The D line of the Panthers was pushing the O line back into the backfield. The line allowed 2 sacks which considering how long it takes Delhomme to make up his mind where to throw the ball is not bad.

Overall O:

Browns best O was throws by the officials with yellow flag. The Panthers did everything they could to give the game to the Browns but it seemed that the Browns were intent on refusing to accept the gift.

Defense:

The Panthers were scoring 11.7 points per game and scored 16 against the Browns D. Given how inept the O was for most of the game that is not bad. The turnovers by the O hurt but the team got decent pressure on the QB. They did a decent job also of limiting the running game although the Panthers did not have their starter RB Williams.

After the field goal that put the Browns back on top 24-23, the D picked off a Clausen pass. But the O went 3 and out giving the ball right back to the Panthers. The D did allow Clausen to drive down the field to set up for the winning field goal. The drive started on the Panther 5 with 59 seconds left on the game clock. He drove the team down to the Browns 24. The only thing that saved the Browns was Kasey missing the 42 yard field goal.

The Bottom line:

The final reason that the Browns won and the Panthers lost was Carolina took Clausen rather than McCoy. Had Colt been behind C for the Panthers, the Browns would have lost the game for sure.

Tune into my broadcast on Digital Sport Network Monday at 3 over the Internet. You can hear it on the following website.

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25 November 2010

The Browns lose a heart breaker to the Jags 24-20.

The D got 6 turnovers and scored a TD on one of them and yet the Browns dropped the game to a very average Jaguar team. To make things worse, the team may have lost rookie QB McCoy for significant time with the dreaded but very familiar ankle injury. The Jags shut down the running game of Hillis and put constant pressure on McCoy.

Offense (or lack thereof):

The Jag D line which has struggled to get pressure on QBs all year looked like a collection of Hall of Fame candidates Sunday against the Browns. It is not a coincidence that John St. Clair was again starting at RT when this happened. I want to make it clear that I have nothing against him personally and I am sure he is a really nice guy. But he can not play RT or any O line position for me because he has cement feet. He has gotten QBs hurt in St. Louis, Miami, Chicago and now here in Cleveland.

In several cases the D line replacements for pro bowl DRE Kampman got around St. Clair untouched. In a couple of other cases, St. Clair double teamed the DT along with rookie RG Lauvao leaving the DRE unblocked. To be honest, none of the O line had a good game but the most frequent problem was the pass rush from right side of the O line.

McCoy did not have his best game but under as much pressure as he endured, Otto Graham would have struggled. McCoy went 17-28 for 241 yards and a TD. The TD was thrown as he was being tackled for what would have been the 7th sack against the O line. He did give up a pick on a deflected pass at the end of the game.

McCoy did drive the team to a score to break a 17-17 tie the game that started on his 20 with 3:34 on the clock. He hit 2 passes and despite his injured ankle on 3rd and 4 he ran for 18 yards. But then Daboll called 2 runs that netted just 2 yards and McCoy was sacked again on 3rd and 8 from the Jag 18. That led to a FG that made the score 20-17.

Even when the Jags got the final TD, McCoy limping badly led the team on a drive that could have resulted in a score. With no time outs and 1:16 left McCoy got the ball at the 20. He hit 4 straight passes (except the spike to stop the clock) to take the ball to the Jags 29 with 13 seconds left. On his throw to the endzone, the ball bounced off of TE Watson who had been injured earlier in the game and was intercepted.

McCoy did not roll out to the right once. He knew better. There was no where to run right because St. Clair and the D lineman of the moment were in McCoy's face within a second of the snap. That cut off McCoy's ability to extend the play without having to throw across his body. He is extremely effective throwing on the run to his right but that part of the game was taken away not by the D but by the decision of the coaching staff to replace Womack with St. Clair.

The play calling was again a BIG problem. After both interceptions by S Ward, OC Daboll called runs on 1st and 2nd down. Because the line was getting no push at all, that left McCoy with a 3rd and long in both cases. Rather than getting a chance to score a TD, the team was forced to try field goals.

The play calls were similar most of the game. McCoy was first hurt on a sack on the 1st series of the 2nd half. After that, there a lot more sacks and very little O until Daboll was forced to put the ball in McCoy's hands at the end of the game. The play call was significantly different and worse than those made in the previous 2 games against much better defenses of New Orleans and New England. The play calls were much more like the losses in the early part of the season pre-McCoy.

The team management decided not to give McCoy many weapons as well. TE Moore gives opponents great match up problems. Why was he not in the game most of the way? Even when TE Watson went down, we did not see Moore in often. He caught 3 passes for 69 yards and would have stretched the field. Where is WR Mitchell? He has size at 6-2 and great speed. I have heard that he does not run patterns well. SO WHAT! He can go deep and at the beginning of the game we had a QB that could get the ball to him. The advantage of a WR with speed is that it almost guarantees that there will be only 7 in the box against the run. Once he catches a ball or 2, one safety will have to cheat to that side to help the CB. That takes one out of the box and probably 2 because few teams will be willing to play 0 coverage (no deep safety) regularly.

I am a HUGE McCoy supporter. However, IF the coaches are going to continue to start St. Clair at RT, I don't want to see McCoy back in the lineup for fear that he will get really hurt or gun shy like Couch did.

Defense:

This was the best game the D played so far this year. The effort was outstanding and the team generated all 6 turnovers. S Elam had another superb game with a pick and causing a fumble, picking it up and scoring on the play. S Ward had 2 picks. Because of the injury to CB Wright, both CBs Hayden and King played fairly well. King was a 5th round pick in 2005 by Buffalo and has never been a more than a reserve in his career. The D did give up 133 yards to RB Jones-Drew.

It also gave up a horrible play in the 75 yard screen pass to Jones-Drew late in the game that took the ball to the 1. On that play there were a number of missed tackles that could have ended the game favorably for the Browns.

Special Teams:

The ST weren't that special. The offensive MVP of the team for most seasons since the team came back in 1999, K Dawson missed 2 long field goals. Each was made longer than necessary by the bad play calling of Daboll. The new kick and punt returner Smith was just OK. Even P Hodges was only average Sunday.

The Bottom line:

This was a very bad loss after a string of 4 consecutive great efforts 2 of which were wins. I believe that Daboll and Mangini were directly responsible for the loss because both play calling and choice of St. Clair at RT on O. At 3-7 this team is out of the playoff picture (regardless of what Farve said about the Vikes). It is time to play the young guys to see what we have in Moore, Mitchell, and others. CB Hayden must start. Both Moore and Mitchell should start as well. Let's get some of the younger D players in as well. And for the sake of the fans and the well being of the QBs, let's bench St. Clair.

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15 November 2010

The Browns lose in overtime 26-20.

People say a tie is like kissing your sister. I'd much rather kiss my sister.

The team played well against another of the top 5 teams in the league. Rookie QB McCoy has won the right to play the rest of the season. He is 2-2 against 4 legitimate Super Bowl contenders. He played very well against the best pair of CBs in the AFC. No running back in the league runs as hard or as aggressively as Hillis. The OL played well. Having said all that, the Browns lost.

Thoughts about QB McCoy:

He led the great drive with 2:24 left in regulation. Any question about McCoy being the guy that should start must have been crushed by the job he did on the last drive in regulation. He drove the team down the field in the air with rocket passes into very tight coverage. The Jets put pressure on him and he stood up to it very well and got the ball into the endzone to tie the game. That drive alone should convince everyone that he is the only choice to finish the year.

He also again did not have a pick. He finished 18-31 for 205 with a TD and 0 interceptions. McCoy not only throws down field but is careful with the ball.

There were some serious questions about play calling on both sides of the ball.

On D, Why rush just 3? During the game, the 4 and 5 man rush was working better. The 3 man rush was more of a walk. Most times when we rushed 3, the only threat to Jet QB Sanchez paper cuts from the copy of the NY Post he was reading prior to throwing the ball. The Jet running game took away the 5 or 6 LB formations for the most part. That hurt the effectiveness of the D because the Browns do not have enough DL players to rotate and keep them fresh.

The 3 man rush added to the problems in the 10+ minute drive of the Jets to start the 2nd half. They did not score thanks to a bad kicker (did you really think an ex-Cowgirl kicker was a good idea?) but it wore the D down and kept the O off the field. The Jets followed that up with a 7+ minute drive after the Browns went 3 and out. The D has to find a way to get off the field. Time after time, the 3rd down play was a wheel pattern to the RB. Can we find someone that can cover that?

On O several calls that frustrated me. Those calls included in the red zone, on 3rd and 3 in the next to last drive in regulation, and at the end of OT. On the first, the team has struggled in the red zone since 99. It does not seem to be getting any better even with a more accurate QB like McCoy. OC Daboll needs to work out some plays that are more effective inside the 10 in particular. When the Jets locked up the screen to Hillis in the 2nd quarter, a perfect call in the red zone would have been a fake screen to Hillis and a wheel pattern to the TE on the other side.

Second, why go for the long ball on 3rd and 3 when you need the first down so badly? Put a couple of options just beyond the line to gain and give McCoy a chance to move the chains.

On the series inside the 5 after the interception it seemed like the coaches were trying to get too cute by a half. They were in a run formation with 2TE a FB and just 1 WR. Then from that formation they threw deep! If you are going to throw, at least split the TEs out. When the pass was incomplete, it looked they decided to play for the tie and ran the ball. On 3rd and long, they almost gave up a safety that would have ended the game with a sack. Again it looked like they changed their mind again to go for the medium pass.

3rd down was a problem all day. The Browns were only 4-12 or 33% on 3rd down. Again part of the low percentage was the 3rd and long situations. It is impossible to maintain long drives with 3rd and 8 being a regular occurrence.

On special teams I question the on side kick after the 1st score. That is an unnecessary risk and gave the Jets the field position to tie the game with just a couple of first downs.

What happened to the O in the second half?

The Jets made some critical 2nd half adjustments to the run D. In the first half they blitzed more even in some run situations. At halftime they changed their approach. They encapsulated the line of scrimmage cutting off any avenue of escape. Hillis couldn't run. McCoy did not have time to get the ball down field and could not find the openings to run the ball. The first 2 Jet drives took 17+ minutes off the clock and slowed the pass rush because the D was exhausted. The Jets ended up converting 12 3rd or 4th down attempts in just 21 situations. That is way too high a percentage. Many of those conversions were during the two long drives in the 2nd half.

The adjustment also kept McCoy from getting out of the pocket to buy time. The front 7 of the Jets sealed off all paths of escape for McCoy.

The OT was affected by the substantial advantage in time of possession that the Jets had. They ended the game with a 20 minute edge in that statistic.

Some general thoughts:

Somebody needs to teach McCoy how to slide. When he tries it looks more dangerous than getting tackled.

The Jet TD at the end of the 1st half was a killer. It is hard to win when you let the team that is going to get the the ball in 2nd half score at the end of the 1st half.

Is there anybody more fun to watch than Cribbs? There is no question that losing Cribbs in the 2nd quarter hurt the team. He is a weapon that OC Daboll is just starting to figure out how to use best.

3 scores in the first 4 possessions is good but 2 of those were field goals. Against the top teams in the NFL, field goals rather than TDs get you beaten.

DL Shaffering playing very well. He is solid against the run and is able to put some pressure on the QB.

CB Haden covers well and has the catchup speed to fix any coverage mistakes he makes. He is ready to start in place of Wright when and if CB Brown comes back. But this team needs a minimum of 2 more CBs. With more teams using 3 and 4 WRs as base personnel in some positions on the field, we must have more than 3 CBs.

The Browns DBs are doing a better job of covering. The problem on 3rd and 4th downs was mainly the running game or passes to the RB which is the responsibility of the LBs.

The 3rd down pass went right in the arms of S Elam but he dropped it. That is a reason that some fast guys are WRs and some are DBs.

A great pass rush on the 3rd down in OT prevented the conversion on the Jets 1st possession in OT.

The fumbles by Hillis and Stuckey were both errors of effort. The coaching staff usually overlooks those but when they cost you a game it is different.

In general, the O line did a good job protecting McCoy. He was sacked 3 times but has the awareness to step up when the pocket collapses. That reduces the loss and keeps the team in position to make a 1st down. The RBs also did a very good job in picking up the blitz. RT Womack and RG Yates have done a decent job at those positions. The combination is much better than St. Clair at RT and anybody at RG. St. Clair should not be put back into the lineup except in an emergency--like a typhoon hitting Cleveland from Lake Erie.

Jet PK Folk missed his 3rd kick in the game. Next week he might have to learn a new system with key phrases like "Do you want fries with that?"

DL Rogers made such a great effort to get to Sanchez but missed the tackle for a sack that could have made the difference.

In conclusion:

This team has come a long way this year. But it is very clear that the team needs some additions badly. The one thing that it may not need is new QB. The team needs to play McCoy to see if he is the guy that can lead the team for the next few years. As Radio Personality Harry Petsanis of Digital Sports Network Cleveland suggested, the Browns win either way if he plays. If he does well, the team can focus on other needs next year. If he does not play well, the team will know that they need to look for another QB. Harry is exactly right about that.

At least the way the team is playing keeps up the fan interest. At times watching the Browns since 1999 has been more painful than root canal without Novocain. This team is competitive and that is the first step toward becoming a power.

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8 November 2010

Browns Span Pats

The Browns beat in Pats in every aspect of the game and win 34-14.

The special teams got the ball back on a kickoff that set up a TD and a 10 point lead. The rookie QB McCoy moved the ball and didn't turn it over. The O line drove the Pat D off the line like a snow plow moving 5 inches of partly cloudy off the parking lot. RB Hillis ran through the Pats D like a dump truck crushing orange traffic cones. The D kept the pressure on QB Brady and held them to 1 TD. They got the second score only on a long penalty. In short, it was a total team win.

The Offense:

With Colt McCoy at QB, the Browns controlled the ball and the clock. It kept QB Brady and the dangerous Patriot O off the field and allowed the Browns D to rest. The play calling was better with some 1st down passes. McCoy played a solid game throwing the ball down field. He was 14 for 19 for 174 yard. He had no TDs but also no interceptions. He did run for a TD.

A big part of the success of McCoy was his very quick decision making. Against a team like the Pats, that is particularly important. He read the D and threw the ball on time for the most part. He was not sacked although he had to scramble out of the pocket several times. But while he was on the run, he was looking down field for a target. That is a major indication of the level of his development. In my discussion with Harry Petsanis and Chuck Booms on Digital Sports Network Cleveland on Cleveland.com, Harry had a great point. He said if someone watched McCoy and Delhomme play, they would assume that McCoy was the veteran and Delhomme was the rookie. McCoy is more accurate throwing on the run because he has solid mechanics. He squares his shoulders to the target and sets his feet before he releases the ball. That increases the chance of his pass being on target.

McCoy got the ball to the WRs. The WRs reciprocated by helping out their QB. When McCoy was chased out of the pocket, Cribbs ran with him and made himself a target. Result--a 10 yard completion and first down. WR Massaquoi also fought for the ball and had 4 catches for 58 yards. Even WR Robiskie had a catch. TEs Watson and Moore both had big catches as well. WR Cribbs threw a great block on the TD run by McCoy.

RB Hillis was outstanding. He carried the ball 29 times for 184 yards and 2 TDs. The Hillis fumble was due to effort trying to make the line to gain. A coach can live with errors from effort. He was a one man battering ram breaking though tackles like they were puffs of snow. The time off allowed him to get his legs fresh again.

Hillis had a lot of help. FB Vickers is the best blocking back in the league. He was blasting holes in the usually solid run D of the Pats all afternoon. The O line also had a very good game. It pushed the weary Pat D 5 yards down the field on a regular basis. The line also did a good job picking up the multiple blitz packages of the Pats. One thing that is overlooked about Hillis is his ability to pick up the blitz. He is a solid blocker that can catch the ball as well. He caught 3 for 36 yards.

The O controlled the ball for 38:08 and they only punted 3 times. That was a big difference from the games that the Browns lost. In previous games (and years) the team has been unable to hold onto a lead. But against both the Saints and the Pats, the Browns controlled the ball down the stretch and even added to the lead Sunday. If you can't run the ball, you can not close out games in crunch time. This was a major step forward. The TEs were also collapsing the D line down inside giving Hillis the outside very consistently. That was particularly true on the last TD drive.

There are some concerns. Hillis can not take the kind of punishment he does for 30 carries over a 16 game season. No one can. But the Browns don't have a second back that can spell him except for Vickers. That is a problem. RB Bell is S L O W.

The red zone play calling is still a weakness. Run Run Pass not working. This team is not talented enough to live on 3rd and 8+ on a regular basis particularly in the red zone.

Defense:

The D took the ball away 3 times. Late in the 2nd quarter with the score 17-7, the Pats drove from their own 30 down to the Browns 9. Brady completed a pass to the 3 to Gronkowski but S Elam stole the ball and thwarted the drive. A score there would have totally changed the game. That was typical of the D making plays when they had to. They held the Pats O to just 3 third down conversions in 11 attempts. The Browns were 7 for 13 on 3rd down.

But as well as the D played, again there were some concerns. During the no huddle at the end of the half the Browns were rushing 3 and Brady picked them apart. Only the great play stealing the ball by Elam saved a TD to end the half. But in the 2nd half, they were blitzing from all positions to keep the Pats off rhythm.

Special Teams:

The ST came through again. Perhaps the one play that started the game in the right direction was a short kickoff that the KR Morris muffed. The Browns recovered and scored the TD taking the game to 10-0 before QB Brady ever got on the field. Well done. The kicking game was solid again. P Hodges was outstanding. He punted only 3 times but 2 were inside the 20 and his 51 yard punt went out of bounds on the 2. PK Dawson is the best in the league. He was 2-2.

The Bottom line:

This was a great win over one of the very best teams in the league. It was a complete team win with contributions by every aspect of the team. One of the remarkable aspects to the wins in the last 2 games is that the team was able to close the opponent out. In most of the early season losses the team had a lead in the 4th quarter but could not make the plays necessary to finish. In these two HUGE wins they were able to make the plays to save the game.

Best of all, for the first time in years and only the 2nd time since 1999 this team is fun to watch. The team is beginning to earn the love and support the Browns fans have given them even through the bad years. Congratulations to the Browns players, coaching staff and Browns fans. This win's for you.

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1 November 2010

MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT: Bill Smith on the Radio

Starting this week, Digital Sport Network Cleveland will begin to broadcast the best sports talk North East Ohio has ever had. The stream will be on Cleveland.com and feature talk about the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL for both Cleveland, Ohio State and the national scene. The lineup includes Chuck Booms who had the top Fox Radio show, Bud Shaw from the Plain Dealer, Harry Petsanis formerly of SportsTalkRadio, Les Levine from cable TV, Greg Kozarik from Cleveland Channel 5 TV and many more. I will be a regular guest talking about the Browns and the NFL Draft.

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24 October 2010

The Defense and Special Teams spark the Browns to a 30-17 win over the Saints.

The D and special teams did what the Browns O has not been able to do--put the ball into the endzone. LB Bowens picked Saint QB Brees off twice and took both to the endzone. Both interceptions were caused by DE/NT Rogers getting hits on QB Brees forcing inaccurate throws. Trick plays by the special teams provided field position that lead to scores as well. The D got a total of four interceptions from Brees and the punting of Hodges consistently put the Saints in bad starting field position.

The trick plays began with the first punt return by the Browns. Cribbs caught the punt, faked a run to the right side of the field then threw a great lateral pass across the field to CB Wright who was wide open. Too bad they won't let Cribbs throw it much from the wildcat. It was a great call because it will slow down the pursuit against Cribbs on returns by forcing teams to defend the width of the field on their kick coverages.

That play put the ball into the red zone but after QB McCoy throwing for a 8 yards and a first down run by RB Hillis, the team was not able move much more and K Dawson kicked a field goal.

McCoy got his 2nd best drive of the game on the next possession. He threw the ball deep to WR Cribbs and CB Jenkins was called for pass interference. The only reason the flag came out was that McCoy threw the ball deep with enough accuracy to make both the interference and the flag necessary. Neither Delhomme nor Wallace would have taken the risk of that long throw. The foul put the ball at the 4 and Hillis took it in from there. Score Browns 10 Saints 0.

Another big play by the special teams was a fake punt. According to P Hodges, it was called. On a 4th and 8 on the Browns 23 in the 2nd quarter with the score just 10-3, Hodges ran through a hole big enough to drive 2 buses through side by side. He ran for 68 yards and gave the Browns a first ad goal inside the 10. Again the O could not convert and Dawson kicked another short field goal.

The Offense: Perhaps the biggest thing about the O was that there were 0 turnovers. QB McCoy managed the game well. He made some key throws when he needed to. McCoy went 9-16 for 74 yards and 0TDs and unlike his fellow Browns QBs 0 picks. RB Hillis had a handful of big runs at critical times. He carried 16 times for 64 and a TD.

The one huge black mark against the O was a 5 for 15 third down conversion rate. Way too many of those chances were 3rd and long because the team was a little too conservative in play calling on 1st and 2nd down. This team is not talented enough to keep drives going facing multiple 3rd and 8 or more.

The O line was shuffled again due to the injury to RT Pashos. RG Womack moved to RT and rookie G Lauvao played most of the game at RG. The line did well. McCoy was sacked once and pressured several times. But it was not a debacle that could have been expected with the 3rd string RT and 2nd string RG in the starting lineup.

The Second half O was intended to hang on for dear life to try to win the game. That does not work. When the Browns have given up late game leads, the culprit has often been the play calling being way too conservative. Daboll did better in this game but needs to try to win games not just avoid losses. The D is not deep enough to force it to be on the field all game long. The Saints had a 17 minute time of possession advantage at half time and finished with a 10.5 minute edge. That puts the D in for too many snaps to be effective. Three and outs are had on a D.

The Defense: The D scored two TDs and was outstanding against what was in the past few years one of the top Os in the league. The D put consistent pressure on Brees. The team got 4 sacks and numerous pressures against Brees. Ex Saint Fujita played extremely well as did LB Roth who helped provide the pressure with Rogers that led to the first pick-6.

For the most part, the DBs did well covering the WRs. There were times on crossing routes that guys came open but some of the pressure and sacks were the result of Brees not having anyone to whom he could throw the ball.

The D has been particularly strong in Red zone D. Again today, they held the Saints to field goals when it looked like New Orleans was about to score TDs. That tough D around the goal line has kept the Browns in games that otherwise would have been blowouts. The no men with a hand on the ground D again caused confusion on the blocking scheme of the Saints and got the team off the field on 3rd and 4 from the Browns' 14.

Tackling is still a problem. Several of the Saint WRs got extra yards because the Browns DBs tried to knock them off their feet.

Special Teams: This was by far the best game ST have played. The 2 critical calls for trick plays made a great deal of difference and the first (Cribbs to Wright pass) set the tone for the game. It put the Browns up early and made the Saints play from behind all game long.

The two kickers were also outstanding. K Dawson is the most over looked super star at his position in the league. There are few places that are harder to kick field goals in than Cleveland in the late season. Even so, he has hit big kick after big kick and often from 45+ yards. Hodges leads the league in punts inside the 10. Given the struggles that this team has had on both sides of the ball, field position is always critical. Hodges flips the field position every chance he gets.

The Bottom Line: This was a great win over a very good team. The Saints have not been close to their 2009 level of play thus far in 2010. However, it has a lot of talent earned this win with a total team effort. Now the team goes on the bye week. It is not clear if McCoy will be the starter coming out of the week off. I believe he should be. He has done nothing to show that the game is too big for him. The Browns need to know if he is the QB of the future or just another pretender. The other 2 QBs are too old to be available when (and if) the Browns get ready to seriously challenge for a playoff spot. The team is going nowhere this year and nothing would be lost giving him a chance. He has already started in the two most difficult places on the 2010 schedule. Let him finish it out and see what we have in McCoy.

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18 October 2010

QB Colt McCoy looks OK in the 28-10 loss to the Steelers.

On Colt McCoy:

On his first possession, Colt McCoy looked down the throat of the blitz and competed the 1st 3-10 pass for a first down. The Browns may be 1 and 5 but McCoy looked like he belonged at this level with his play. McCoy was harassed all day long by the Steeler D. But it was not the debacle that most expected with a rookie starting against one of the best Ds in the league. He led the team to converting 6 of 13 3rd downs. And also ran for 22 yards.

McCoy did a good job of looking down field while running for his life under the blitz of the Steelers. He was only sacked 5 times but was under pressure all day. What was more impressive, he hit receivers on the run. That is something that Delhomme had not been doing even in the preseason. It is also an indication of his accuracy. Colt went 23-33-281 1TD and 2 picks.

On the first of his two picks McCoy's throw bounced right in the hands of TE Watson and into the hands of the DB. The second was in desperation time after his pass was tipped by his receiver, then one defender and picked by a second. That was the only pass he threw that went into double coverage.

Woodley got into the backfield of the Browns before the shot gun snap hit McCoy's hands. RB Hillis may be a runner but he isn't much of a blocker. Woodley went right around Hillis and sacked McCoy. McCoy was working without both Cribbs and Massaquoi who were out of the game thanks to LB Harrison head to head hits.

On the officials:

Out of the wildcat, Cribbs as QB was hit head to head by LB Harrison but the blind deaf and dumb zebras didn't even throw the flag. He was out of the game and quite possibly out for a lot longer than that. The loss of Cribbs was key to the Browns' game play because they were hoping to take some pressure off McCoy with the use of the wildcat with Cribbs.

There is a major problem with the officiating. Later in the game, Harrison put another head to head hit on WR Massaquoi putting him out and again no flag. The NFL talks a lot about protecting players but evidently that does not apply when an all pro Steeler hits a Brown. The officiating is not acceptable and nothing will be done to the crew. The crew almost lost control of this game several times. The Steelers have a few players that are famous or should I say infamous for being filthy. If the officials are not going to throw the flag when a player leads with his head and puts a SECOND PLAYER out of the game, they deserve to be fired.

Officiating has been a problem with both MLB and the NFL. In many cases the NFL guys are too old and too fat to do the job. They are not physically able to get into position to make calls. Without proper mechanics, it is impossible to run the game effectively. I understand the job but can not support what is going on now.

The problem with correcting officials is the union. Harrison is a dirty player. He has always been dirty. At some point in time the league is going to have to do something about him as well. But as we know the commissioner is a gutless coward when it comes to facing up to the unions. Goodell is afraid of the official's union. He has to get some guts and force the issue. There are some good young officials in college ball that would do a much better job that is being done now by these old codgers. The players deserve better and so do the fans. If Goodell can not do better, the Owners must replace him with someone that will.

On the rest of the Offense:

RB Hillis was running very well despite a lack of blocking and his injury. He carried 12 times for 41 yards. He was also a key receiver with 6 catches for 49 yards. RB Bell was a non-factor.

The TEs both made some really great catches. Both Watson and Moore got some big catches to help McCoy. Except for a couple of catches by Stuckey, the WRs were a non-factor.

The O line was unable to handle the multiple blitzes the Steelers threw at them. Everyone struggled. They looked like they had never seen the blitz packages that the Steelers threw at them. But they should have been prepared because for the most part the Steelers didn't do anything they have not done to the Browns before.

On the Defense:

Overall, the D played about as well as expected. Rookie CB Haden picked a pass and returned it 50 yards. But the O stumbled and only got a field goal out of the turnover. The D had some good plays against the run. Pittsburgh got 121 yards but only averaged 3.5 yards per carry.

The All out blitz is an all out bust. It does not often get to the QB. The Browns had 0 sacks on Roethlisberger. Several of the big plays against the D happened because of the 1 to 1 coverage that the all out blitz results in. On a 1st and 10 from the 4, Roth went back to pass. S Ward watched WR Wallace run right by him and catch a 51 yard pass. That is inexcusable on any play let alone a full blitz. After the game Mangini said that he "got held up by the TE read." That is ridiculous. As a safety, you NEVER let a receiver get behind you NO MATTER WHAT coverage you are in. In 55 years of watching, coaching, announcing, and writing about football, I have never seen any D that called for a WR to get behind the deepest defender.

The 7 LBs 0 D linemen formation not only forced Roethlisberger to take a time out, it resulted in a pick. The team needs to do more of that. However, there has to more than 3 pass rushers out of it. On a 3rd 13 they had only a 3 man pass rush. That doesn't get it done. The concept is that the other 8 guys are covering the receivers like a blanket. But as we have seen all season, that blanket has a lot of VERY big holes in it.

From the 1, Mendenhall was trapped but the outside backer didn't notice the Steeler was running around his side. That was typical of some brain locks of the D on certain plays. But a lot of the bigger plays were a result of bad tackling technique. CB Wright tried an arm tackle on WR Hines Ward on a catch at the 3. Ward pulled away from him and scored the TD.

Would somebody teach the Browns how to tackle. It is done with arms rapped around the runner not with a shoulder shrug. The NFL does not teach tackling any more. The younger players see the big hits on ESPN and are not taught to tackle in College or at the pro level. Over and over, the DBs in particular tried to blast Steelers off their feet. That does not work even on WRs. And when you miss, you allow a big play.

In a typical Manginous move, the Browns used their two time outs wisely to force a Steeler punt from deep in their endzone. On the kick there was a violation that gave the Browns the option of another play but Mangini chose not to. WHAT? Why not?

DE Schaefering has played very well. He has made several solo tackles closing down his side of the line. Newcomer DE Robinson also made some good plays. NT Rubin continues to play well. OB Roth was a non-factor.

Special teams:

The loss of Cribbs caused Stuckey to return punts. On the third punt Stuckey fumbled a fair catch at the Browns 13 and the Steelers recovered. That resulted in the third TD and guaranteed the Steelers the win with 6 minutes left in the game.

The punting of Hodges was outstanding. Several times he hit the perfect 9 iron putting the ball inside the 5 yard line. He was a weapon but the D was too often not able to take full advantage of it.

The Bottom line:

The Browns are not going anywhere this season. McCoy proved he can stand in there and throw the ball against the fiercest rush. He is clearly not at risk of losing confidence by playing tough teams. He is not going to see a much better D than the Steelers. Let him play for a while even if the other two are healthy. McCoy needs to get some experience that he can only get taking snaps in the regular season.

If nothing else, McCoy gives the fans some hope. Frankly, that is something we have had very little of over the last decade.

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11 October 2010

After an injury filled loss, the Browns will limp into Pittsburgh next week.

Many years ago the cartoon Pogo came up with a phrase that best sums up the 20-10 loss to the Falcons: "We have met the enemy and they is us!" We have watched a gaggle of head coaches including Mangini talk about eliminating mental and physical mistakes, turnovers and penalties since 1999. They haven't stopped and neither has the losing.

The Browns gave the Falcons their first score with key 15 yard penalties. Then the interception of a pass off the helmet of an O linemen was taken back for the TD that cemented the Falcons' win. Wallace was playing well until he went down. Delhomme threw 2 picks and lost a fumble in the red zone. A TD there would have made the game totally different.

It is a problem when you shoot yourself in the foot (or the leg in the case of a certain Jet WR). But it is a sin to shoot a 53 man roster in the foot like Delhomme has done in each of the games in which he has played. We wondered which Delhomme we would get--the 2007 pro bowl guy or the 2009 guy that threw more picks than TDs. So far the answer is the latter. Admittedly, he was hurt. But don't forget he got hurt because HC Mangini refused to put RT St. Clair where he belongs--a greeter for Wal Mart.

The usual excuse is lack of talent. There are two parts to that issue. The Browns had talent and virtually gave some of it away in trades for a basket of used chin straps. Then there were a number of UFA players that could have filled key holes in the Browns' roster. WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (BAL) was available. One of the problems with the O has been the lack of experienced receivers. The Ravens snapped him up to go opposite Boldin.

If you look around the league, there are a lot of teams that have about the same level of talent that the Browns do and win games with it. The Bucs and Chiefs are a perfect examples. Neither has any better talent than Cleveland does but are competitive. Even after a close loss to the Colts, the Chiefs are 3-1 and so is Tampa Bay.

The Good:

Even a hurt Hillis is a good Hillis. He is a old school warrior that would rather lose a leg than give up on a play. His second effort fumble hurt field position but the D came through and got off the field on 3rd down. Hillis is the kind of player that the O line and the D will go out of their way to support. Hillis gave all he had in catching the TD pass and hurt himself further in the process.

Cribbs is the best WR we have. If others duplicated his effort in every play the team would be a lot better. FINALLY they let Cribbs throw the ball from the Wildcat. The team might have had a chance to win with Cribbs at QB rather than an injured Delhomme.

D Backfield looks better in terms of ball skills with defended 2 passes on the 2nd possession alone. Wright had 2 passes defended himself. But there are still WAY too many wide open receivers in the backfield. Most of that problem is D scheme. When the team plays zone, the players are not recognizing and adjusting to the second man through their zone.

The Red Zone D has been excellent in the 1st half forcing 3 FGA and blocking 1. That is an indication that the D is giving great effort.

The Bad:

Penalties, penalties and more penalties. The penalties were not effort fouls they were from a lack of self control. As a coach, I had no problem with the type of penalty that S Ward had last week because he was trying to make a play. But hits out of bounds, hits to a QB on the head, or pushing and shoving after the whistle are not acceptable.

The O has way too many 3 and outs. The team just can not make the key plays that it needs to build the drives necessary to win and to give the D some rest. Part of that is the propensity to throw the deep ball. Neither QB has shown the accuracy to hit those throws. An NFL QB can not miss a wide open WR. Both the Brown QBs miss them regularly.

Delhomme is still staring down receivers and throwing into double coverage. In addition to the 2 picks, he threw 3 other passes that should have been intercepted. There is a reason that some fast guys play WR and some are DBs. He is feeling pressure that is not there. He hurries his throws and setup because he does not trust the protection. For the most part, since St. Clair has left, the protection has been better than average. He is not seeing the field well and is not taking the time to go through his progressions. As a result, he is throwing unnecessarily into double coverage because he does not recognize where the single coverage is going to be.

The pick in the 4th quarter was a killer. When you play an injured QB that will happen. He should not have been in the game at that point. The fumble of the hand-off between Delhomme and Hillis was the result of the Delhomme injury. Cribbs should have been in there to play QB. Either put Cribbs in as a Wildcat QB or put in McCoy. Either would have been a better choice than a limping Delhomme.

Tackling has not improved. It is hard to practice tackling because of the risk of injury. But the Browns have a history since 99 of using the big hit rather than a wrap and drive. That has cost this team a lot of wins over the years.

The Ugly:

The record 1-4. It doesn't get much uglier than that. In the NFL there is a saying that you are what your record says you are. The Browns have been in every game this year. That is an improvement over last year when often the game was over at half time. But the record is what it is.

The chances are that Buffalo will "win" the 1st pick in the 2011 draft because they are awful. However, the Browns fans have already begun to stay away from the games. There were a lot of empty seats Sunday. The fans have stuck by this team despite having the team stolen by Modell and 11 seasons of horrible football. Things are a little better but not much. The organization owes the fans better football than this.

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4 October 2010

The Browns WIN; The B R O W N S W I N!

Paul Brown once said he would rather be lucky than good because good teams lose. The Browns have had the lead in the 4th quarter in each of their 3 losses this season. So when the 4th quarter started, a lot of Browns fans were wondering how they would blow the lead this time. But for once, they didn't.

Against Tampa they were 0-4 on 3rd down in the 4th quarter. Against KC they went 0-3. Against Baltimore they went 0-2. That is a total of 0-9 in the 4th quarter. That meant that the D was on the field for too long and gave up the scores that cost the team the game. Both QBs were involved in this mess as was OC Daboll.

The other side of the coin was the D's struggles to get off the field in 4th quarter on 3rd down. Tampa was 3 for 6 in the first game. KC went 2-5 and Baltimore went 5-1.

The Bengals game was different. A key play was a blocked field goal late in the 2nd quarter. The Bengals got the opportunity to score by picking off a pass at the Cincy 45. But on 3rd down the Browns forced an incompletion from their 26. That was followed by the blocked FG attempt.

What was different in the game against the Bengals was the 3rd down result. The biggest difference was the production both offensively and defensively on 3rd down in the 4th quarter.

The Bengals got the ball on their 14 with 9:34 left. They drove the ball to the Cleveland 31 and faced a 3rd and 3 with 5:20 left. The Browns forced an incomplete pass but the Bengals committed an offensive interference penalty. The Browns accepted the penalty putting the ball on the 41 with 5:14 left and the Bengals facing a 3rd and 13. The Browns sacked Palmer and forced a punt.

With the lead down to 3 points, the Browns got the ball on their 11 with 4:41 left in the 4th. On 3rd and 1 from the 26, RB Hillis drove over the right side (only because Pashos was playing RT) for a 1st down. Then on 2nd and 7 from the 30 with 2:36 left, Hillis ran around the right end for 24 yards and closed the door on the Bengals. 3 kneel downs later the Browns had won their first game of the season.

The pass protection was much better. The Browns gave up just 1 sack and that was as much on Wallace and the coverage of the Bengals down field as it was on the O line. There is still some leakage in pass protection but Wallace has the quickness to avoid most of it. RT Pashos is doing a great job on both pass and run than St. Clair did. Pashos is not overly physical but has good technique and is effective. He is MUCH better than St. Clair even thinks he is.

But you are what your record says you are and the Browns are now 1-3. That was the good news. There still is some bad news from the game.

The running game was sporadic. While Hillis had some nice runs, the team gained only 3.3 yards per attempt. It needs to be around 4.0 to be average. Part of the problem is the play calling. The Bengals were loading up in the middle of the line and yet OC Daboll called plays that ran between the tackles. The edges were wide open. Almost every run to the outside worked. The key play was outside the RT on the 24 yard run that sealed the win.

Our QBs are bad. Wallace has bad mechanics. His footwork is poor leading to a serious lack of accuracy. Just like Delhomme, he tends to decide pre-snap who will get the ball and stare down the intended receiver. That leads to picks as it did in this game. He also feels pressure that is not there. Even when he had good protection, he hurried some throws or was quick to go to the check down too quickly. He is not seeing the whole field and tend to make most of his completions to the right side of the field. That too is something that the Ds around the league will figure out and take advantage of. The inability to get the ball to the WRs is compounded by Massaquoi's inability to catch a 3rd down ball that nearly stuck in his face-mask. Massaquoi does not get aggressive enough going after a pass. That contributed to Wallace's interception. It is hard to win without a medium passing game.

The D is still struggling to get any pressure on the opponent QB. Even with the problems that the Bengals have had on their O line, the Browns were often unable to get pressure on Palmer. The all out blitz that the Browns like to use too often resulted in big completions with Bengal WRs running wide open down field. The Browns did get 4 sacks but those were either bad errors by the Bengal problem child RT Smith or where Palmer was forced to hold the ball due to coverage.

The D is still committing critical penalties at key times in games. The D had the Bengals stopped on a 3rd down and goal on the Browns 7 with the score at 23-13 and 10:54. But S Ward was called for a personal foul in the endzone and gave the Bengals a 1st and goal at the 4. They scored a TD on the next play to cut the lead to 3.

The D still is not making the average plays it needs to make. Part of that is trying to get the big hit rather than wrapping up the runner and driving through him.

The win was needed because there were a lot of empty seats in Cleveland Stadium for the game. But this team now faces a 3-1 Falcon team that needs a win to keep up with the Saints and trips to a 3-1 Pittsburgh with QB Roethlisberger back. This Browns team is no longer the leader for the 1st pick but that is still a possibility. The win today was against a flawed Bengal team that is not as good as last year's record indicated. It is probable that the Bengals weren't that good last year either.

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26 September 2010

The Browns lose another 4th quarter lead and the game to the Ravens 24-17.

The Defense

The Browns color man Doug Deiken said that "the defense has done a good job except for covering WR Bolden." Yea, but he scored 3 TDs and beat the Browns nearly by himself. On 2 of his TD catches, there was not a Brown DB in the same area code. He is one of the top 3 WRs in the league was wide open all day long. Here is an idea. Why not cover Bolden? It looked like CB Wright was expecting over the top help from S Ward but the later was peeking in the backfield and was delayed by the play action fake. That is not only a error in coverage it is a bad coverage design. Against a WR the quality of Bolden, you need to cover him tight by Wright and get help from the S on that side.

The first Raven possession was a 3-out but should have been 7 points for the Browns. Rookie S Ward had a Flacco pass in his hands but couldn't hold onto the pick. A quick TD on the D would have made the game totally different. But as usual, the D came close but could not close the deal.

Pass rush was good on the first drive but non-existent in the second and thereafter. The lack of pass rush changed Raven QB Flacco from a guy that had a passer rating of under 50 coming into the game to a super star with a rating over 100 (128 to be exact). Even on the all out blitz the Browns never came close to getting to Flacco. On one all out blitz, the Browns could not get any pressure on Raven QB Flacco and he hit a wide open Bolden for the third TD in the game. It was Bolden's best game of his Hall of Fame career. The Browns might as well rush LB Roth on every play because he is useless in pass coverage.

The D looked totally confused on several plays including the two TD throws. One of Mangini's ideas about D is that the front 7 kind of wander around before the snap to confuse the blocking. What it has done so far is confuse the D to the point that they give up big plays and touchdowns. It worked in New England where there were experienced players that had worked together for years. It is not working in Cleveland and has to be stopped.

The Offense:

First drive fairly creative. Scripting worked well but was blown up by the delay penalty. OC Daboll needs to be fired immediately. He has the imagination of a ground hog and wouldn't know a half time adjustment if it fell on him like Skylab.

RB Hillis ran hard and the blocking after the 1st series was better. He hits the hole quickly but was asked to run up the gut way too often against the best front 7 in the league. He ended up with 144 in 22 carries. There were several good runs on the edge but most of the carries came up the gut and he was often hit before he got to the line of scrimmage.

QB Wallace had a good game. He ended up with a QB rating of over 100 which is double what Delhomme has. Neither WR Massaquoi nor Stuckey caught a pass. Cribbs did very well but most of the throws were check downs. There were also way too many check downs to Hillis. Wallace often had the time to go through his progression but when his initial target was covered, he went to the safety valve. The one soft spot in the Ravens team was the DBs. On 3rd and long there is a much better chance of a penalty on the young DBs than running for the 1st down.

St. Clair went out after the first series. Pashos does much better against a speed rusher like DE/OB Suggs in part because he has better feet and uses his hands more aggressively. He was called for a holding penalty on a running play that ended up killing the Browns' second possession. But the running game was better and Wallace had time to throw the ball. St. Clair, who is out with an ankle injury, seldom is called for holding because he never gets close enough to the pass rusher to grab him.

A penalty on TE Watson killed the great field position the Browns got when the Ravens' missed a 51 yard field goal. What hurt even more was that the penalty was after the play. That gave the Browns 3rd down and the line to gain was half way to Washington DC. Watson is a vet and knows better than that.

The second half play calling was a the usual Daboll duds. Too much running up the gut after the Ravens had adjusted their D to stop it. The runs at the edge were much more effective. But Daboll never saw the change and kept pounding the middle.

The O in the 4th quarter was "Offul!" Daboll couldn't get the call in on 3rd and 28 from the 2 after the pitch was fumbled on 1st down. Behind by 4 points, the team had to call a time out. Wallace's 3rd down throw was in the second row of the box seats.

Again just like last week on 3rd and less than 3 the Browns threw the ball deep to the sideline. And just like last week the ball went out of bounds and the Browns were forced to punt. On the last possession, the Browns were going to fake a punt with less than 3 minutes left but a procedure penalty blew the chance and they punted.

Special-teams:

On the critical series, the Browns stopped the return at the 15. But they were offside on the kick and the Ravens got the ball out to the 30. The Raven punter dropped a snap but there was not a single guy assigned to him. He picked the ball up and got the kick away. Had the Browns tackled him before the kick, they would have had the ball inside the Raven 30.

We have seen the best chances for the Browns to win games in the first 2 weeks. The only comment I have at this point is "With the first pick in the 2011 NFL draft, the Browns select..."

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20 September 2010

QB Wallace leads the Browns to a 16-14 loss against the Chiefs.

The Browns starting QB Delhomme had an injury. While some believe it is an ankle (and he limped admirably on the sideline) the real issue is a potentially career threatening case of "interceptitis." Wallace stepped in and was better than Delhomme performed last week. Wallace was 16 of 31 with 1 TD and 1 pick.

Wallace was throwing the ball down field which is something we saw very little of in game 1. He also used his ability to avoid the rush to keep plays alive despite below average pas protection. Wallace had set up one TD with a great throw to Robiskie. Robo kept his feet in and reached over the sideline to pluck the ball out of the air. Wallace did not stare down his targets but was not as accurate as he had been in the preseason. It will be interesting to see who starts next week.

But the play calling was baffling. In several cases after that big play to Robo when the team had 3rd and medium (4-6) yards to go, the play call was a 20+ yard pass down the sideline. They failed to connect on any of them and were forced to put the ball away. You would think even a newbie OC would try something else after one or two long throws didn't produce a 1st down.

The Browns were again ahead at the end of the first half. The missed field-goal at the end of the first half could have won the game by giving the Browns a 17-10 lead. The multi-year Offensive MVP PK Dawson missed the kick. The Chiefs made some excellent adjustments and Mangini made his usual adjustment--none what so ever.

The pass protection was at best inconsistent. St. Clair at RT is a disaster even with a TE helping him double-team a DE.

The Browns have now lost the first two games. In the period from 1990-2009 a team that starts the season 0-2 makes the playoffs less than 13% of the time. That won't be an issue for the Browns. They are much more likely to "win" the first pick in the draft than they are to make the playoffs.

The real problem is that these were their best chances to win in the first half of the season. The next 4 games include at the Ravens, home against the Bengals, home against the Falcons and at the Steelers just in time to welcome QB Roethlisberger back. Then before the bye they go to play the World Champion Saints.

The Browns may give the "Bye week" a whole new meaning--as in bye bye to Coach Mangini and his minions could well get their walking papers by then.

There were a few bright points. S Wade continues to play well as does 1st round pick CB Haden. Robo continues to make spectacular catches. The D plays hard but the lack of O in the second half causes them to ware down and give up yards late. In addition, DE Smith went down with an injury. That is a position in which the team is very thin.

The running game was totally stymied by the Chiefs. RB Harrison who racked up an NFL record 286 rushing yards against the Chiefs last year, gained 33 yards on 16 attempts and lost a fumble.

The team is bad and in a season and 1/8th have not gotten any better under Mangini. Unless something changes soon, the team will be 0-7 by the break. I can not believe that Pres. Holmgren will want to see the continue to struggle. My guess is that Holmgren will coach the team himself the rest of the way rather than hiring a new coach prior to a potential labor issue in 2011.

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13 September 2010

New Season, new organization, new QB, but the same old result.

This was one of the few games on the Browns' schedule that they expected to win. They had a 14-3 lead and had dominated the game much of the first half. But as has happened way too often since 1999 they gave the game away to the Bucs with 2 picks and a lost fumble. In case you have any question, in football it is NOT better to give than receive.

The most disturbing factor was the cause of the 2 picks. QB Delhomme was nearly picked 3 more times and all 5 were caused by him staring down his target. He got into that habit last year when the Panther O line suffered injuries and the protection broke down regularly. That resulted in 8 TDs, 18 picks and a passer rating of 59.4 in 2009. It also resulted in his exit from the Panthers.

In the preseason, he was going through the progression most of the time. But in the regular season, the coverages are hidden better and more complex. But Delhomme is a vet and is supposed to be able to read coverages. He ended up with 20 for 37 for 227 1 TD and 2 picks. That was a passer rating of 59.2. This team is not good enough to win with that kind of QB performance. At this level, a QB can not stare down a receiver. The safeties in the NFL are too quick and too smart to let a QB get away with that.

By focusing on one target, Delhomme missed open receivers. On the next to last possession (4th and 9 from the 14) Delhomme threw deep to WR Stuckey who was double covered. What he didn't see was Cribbs breaking open 7 yards down field with a 2 yard lead on the LB trying to cover him. Cribbs would have gotten the 1st down and might well have made a big play with his ability to avoid tacklers.

In defense of Delhomme, the O line protection was poor. St. Clair couldn't block a stop sign. But even pro bowl LT Thomas was beaten on a number of occasions. With the exception of a 39 yard run by Harrison, the running game was stuffed by the Bucs. That is the same Buc D that was 32nd against the run last year. They have the 3rd pick in the draft, DT McCoy, on their line but that does not explain their ability to pressure Delhomme all day and stuff the run.

On D, the team played fairly well but were seldom able to pressure Buc QB Freeman who played with a broken thumb. The blitz was not able to pressure the QB and left WRs wide open in the middle of the field.

Next week the Browns get the Chiefs at home. That will be the 4th team they have played this season that was at the top of the 2010 draft. That is the good news. The bad news is that the Browns have lost to the 3 previous bottom dwellers. The Browns' schedule after the Chiefs is week 3 at the Ravens, wk 4 home vs. Cincy, week 5 home vs. the Falcons and wk 6 at the Steelers with QB Roethlisberger back under center. It is going to be a V E R Y L O N G season.

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6 September 2010

Browns Edge the Bears 13-10.

After a bad start with a fumbled snap, QB McCoy showed that he can play at this level at least against a 2nd team D. His play won him the 3rd QB spot on the 53.

Robinson showed good instincts and made some plays and that probably got him on the 53.

What did we learn overall in the preseason?

The QB play so far is better than at any time in the last couple of years.

The O line has the potential to be better but it will take some time to see if the new parts fit well.

The D line is better. The team proved that it has a suitable backup for NT Rogers in NT Ahtyba Rubin.

The D backfield is better as well. CB Brown can cover better than McDonald. Haden and Ward are upgrades.

The team made some moves

The cuts included:

DB Larry Asante, DB Chris Chancellor, DL Clifton Geathers, DL Travis Ivey, RB Chris Jennings, DB Brandon McDonald, DL Swanson Miller, OL Pat Murray, QB Brett Ratliff, DL Brian Sanford, DB DeAngelo Smith, WR Bobby Engram, OL Scott Kooistra and DL C.J. Mosley, WR Jake Allen, OL Casey Bender, CB Coye Francies, TE Joel Gamble, OT Joel Reinders, OL Paul Fanaika, and WR Syndric Steptoe.

Most of them were expected with the exception of McDonald (signed by the Cards) and possibly Geathers (Dolphins).

The Browns then re-signed FS Larry Asante, OL Paul Fanaika, DL Travis Ivey, OL Pat Murray, DL Brian Sanford and CB DeAngelo Smith to the practice squad.

The questions remaining to be seen in 2010:

1. Will the O line be improved? Any line that includes St. Clair is not better than last year. It is no accident that the running game started to work just after he went down. Lauvao has struggled but has potential. I haven't seen enough of Pashos to know if he can play or not. He is coming off an injury filled 09.

2. Will the play of Delhomme be more like his NFC Championship year or his 2009? If he has regained his aim, he will contribute to an improved O. Wallace is an improvement over Quinn.

3. Will the running game survive the loss of Hardesty? Harrison ran great last year after he was let out of the Mangini dog house. But that was only for a small part of the season. Hillis and Davis both can contribute. But will that be enough?

4. How much will the improved TE play help? Watson is solid when he is healthy.

5. Can the kiddie corps WR unit produce? Robiskie and Cribbs played well in the preseason but that is the not the regular season.

6. Will the LBs make tackles at the line of scrimmage or 5 yards down field like last year? The 3-4 is supposed to keep the LBs clean to make tackles. If they are 5 yards down field, the team can't get off the field on 3rd down.

7. Will the team get more pressure on the QB? While the team brought in new guys at LB, none of them have pass rush/sack credentials.

If the answers to these questions are positive for the Browns, it could be a turnaround season. If not, it will be just more of the same.

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23 August 2010

Its not looking Good

The Browns have now lost to the bottom 2 teams in the league last year.

The Browns had the lead after the 1st half 24-14. That is a better indication of the teams than the final score. But again it was turnovers that told the story. The Browns lost 3 fumbles in a 35-27 loss to the Lions. The game was not that significant. What we saw was however.

The Offense

The Browns O looks a little shaky but WAY better than last year. The O drove inside the red zone but failed on 3 plays to get it in the endzone and were forced to kick a FG. Mangini put QB Wallace in on 1st and 10 from the 10 and a half yard line but the new package failed to gain much on 2 downs with a run and a pass. A 3rd down pass by Delhomme was foiled by a good pass rush and was incomplete.

The Wallace pistol formation has a problem. The Browns have trouble running the ball without FB Vickers. He is a earth mover in front of the RB. The organization is going to have to rethink that package. We have not seen Hardesty yet but could next Thursday.

The running game looks good. RB Harrison had a fumble but it was a fluke. He proved last year that he is not much of a fumble risk. RB Hollis is a guy I really liked coming out of college. He has decent speed but great power and a high motor. When he is behind Vickers, it is a challenge for the D. He is also an above-average pass receiver.

QB Delhomme is much more accurate and consistent than anyone the team had last year. What is even more important, he is helping the O line by pointing out blitzers to what has been a constantly changing group due to injuries. He also has the experience to audible out of bad plays when the D formation requires it. The only down side of Delhomme is that there are still way too many check downs. He needs to stand in a little longer and find receivers down the field. As he becomes more confident in the O line, he should be better in that area.

QB Wallace didn't do much Saturday. He has the ability to run but keep his eyes down field to throw if he gets a chance. That is a good combination. He is not as accurate as a drop back passer. When he is on the move, it creates movement by the DBs and forces openings in the coverage.

QB McCoy just is not ready. He has very little pocket awareness in part because except for a couple of games at Texas, he never had to think about it. He has a little stronger arm than he is given credit for and is reasonably accurate. He needs a couple of years to learn to read coverages.

The concern comes from the O facing so many 3rd and long situations. While they were able to convert a decent number of them against the Lions, they will struggle to score unless the team makes more positive yardage on 1st and 2nd down. In the preseason they have gone for the first on 4th down but won't do that in the regular season.

WR Robiskie has been very strong catching against tight press coverage and helping out the QB by coming back for the ball. I can't help but wonder how much better the team would have done had Robo not been in the Mangini dog house last year.

UFA WR Engram and Cribbs both made nice catches as well. Cribbs continues to prove his development as a receiving threat. On a 3rd and long Cribbs jumped to get a ball that was well over his head right at the out of bounds line. He caught it and was able to get both feet down in bounds. Last year he was not as aware of his feet.

The play of the TEs has really been promising. TE Moore made a great catch that kept the first drive going. Moore has great hands and can jump for the ball. Because he is young, he is not as aware of the D around him. He fumbled a catch in the 3rd quarter that led to a Lion TD. TE Wallace has also shown he is a red zone threat in previous games.

The O line did OK. The strength of the Lion D is their front 4. With rookie Lauvao at RG and Pashos at RT, the pass protection seemed to be better. Lauvao did OK. He was leading runs to his side down field and held his own against both standard pass rushes and the blitz. My favorite guy RT St. Clair was not with the team for "personal reasons." That was addition to the protection by the subtraction of St. Clair.

The Defense

The D let the Lions score on 3 plays with their first possession. The team was giving up chunks of yardage in the Lions' second possession until RB Smith fumbled and CB Wright picked it up and raced for a score. The D still struggles to get off the field on 3rd down. While the LBs make tackles, too many are 4 or 5 yards down field. The D is also not getting much pressure on the QB even when they blitz. They should have been able to do more against a Lion O line that has struggled.

The D is not nearly as effective in zone than they are in man coverage. Zone is harder to teach young DBs and LBs because they hesitate to leave their zone when a receiver comes through it. They have to be taught when to go and when to stay in their zone.

A couple of things stuck out on D. The LBs lack of coverage in either man or zone of RBs and TEs is going to be a problem unless they fix it. The other thing that bothered me was the weakness against the sweep and soft run D on the edge. The OLB has to force the run back to the middle without giving up the seam between him and the DE. Too often the OLB was blocked to the outside and the RB ran between him and the DE.

The bottom line

The first team looked just OK against the second worst team in the league last year. But then one of the Lions' few wins last year was against the Browns. This team is 10 players or so away from being a playoff team. It will take a couple of drafts to get that many really good guys.

This year, I can't see the team winning more than 4 or 5 games. They will be better but the record may not show it.

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23 August 2010

The Browns lead against the Rams is washed away.

When Cribbs and Harrison each fumble and QB Delhomme fumbles twice all in the 1st quarter, its going to be a long day for the D. The D did manage to stop the Rams twice after fumbles and force field goals but it did give up a 60 yard drive for a TD. The team lost the game due to 5 turnovers by the O and the D failing to get any. The 2nd team O line (which due to injuries was actually the 3rd) was unable to protect either QB McCoy or Ratliff. Both were sacked and were unable to generate a score.

Offense

The O line is suffering a number of injuries including RT Pashos and RG Womack are both unable to play. Rookie G Lauvao played a lot last week but was also not in the starting lineup. The Rams' blitzes confused the Browns O line in the first couple of possessions. However, after the team figured out the blitz pattern, the 1st team O line did a fair job at giving Delhomme time to throw.

Part of that is due to the large number of throws he made to the safety valve. That is an issue because Delhomme was brought in to throw down field. It is hard to win against good teams by always dumping off to a back or TE. The number of passes batted down is also a concern.

RB Hillis looks very strong breaking tackles. The combination of Hillis and FB Vickers are going to be a challenge for any D.

TE Watson looks like a force inside the red zone. He made a great 1 handed catch to score the Browns first TD. It was his 2nd this year.

KR/PR/WR/DB Cribbs has come a long way as a receiver. He made two key catches getting first downs then caught a poor pass against double coverage for a TD to give the Browns the lead.

QB Ratliff who led the team to a come back win last week got only one possession against the Rams. He hit WR Mitchell with a perfect pass that the receiver was unprepared to catch. He was then hit as he threw and the ball was picked off by former Buckeye LB Carpender.

Defense

The three things that jump out at me so far this season are (1) the improved tackling of the CBs, (2) the strong play both against the run the pass by reserve NT Rubin and (3) the solid play of rookie S TJ Ward.

CB Wright, Brown and rookie CB Haden were good in run support. That was not Wright's strength in previous years. The second group struggled to cover Rams receivers down field.

Rubin has shown the ability to collapse the pocket against a double team on the pass and hold his ground against the run. Don't be surprised if when Rogers comes back he isn't put at DE to bolster the D line and keep Rubin at NT.

S Ward plays the run tough but can cover as well. He reminds some of old folks of former Brown Eric Turner back in the 90's.

The LBs played fairly well. Barton and Fujita both made plays from the inside spots and OB Roth provided some pass rush.

Special-teams

The special-teams weren't so special this week. Both Cribbs and Steptoe turned the ball over deep in Browns land. That just can't happen.

Overall

The first team had 1 drive but lost the ball twice on fumbles. The Browns are not good enough to beat the bottom teams in the league when they commit turnovers. QB Wallace had a drive for a score but again, McCoy got no support either from the O line or WR Mitchell. Mitchell played a lot better in South Florida and has to improve his field awareness to make this team.

It is hard to blame the TOs on the rain because it seemed to be raining on the Rams end of the field as well and they did not turn the ball over. The Browns have to take better care of the ball to win any games this year. After a nice win against a really quality team last week, this was a stinker that was more reminiscent of the first 10 games last year.

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17 August 2010

Well, it was a win!

The Browns won the first preseason game against the Packers 27-24 with a 46 yard field-goal with 2 seconds on the clock. It wasn't pretty but it was a win but last year's game at GB was 0-17. The Browns got beat up and humbled. This season it was a win. After the last couple of seasons, we will take all of those we can get even in the preseason.

The Good

The first string O moved 80 yards in just 5 plays to score a TD on their only possession of the game. QB Delhomme looked very sharp in leading the drive mostly in the air. The other thing that really stuck out was the tremendous improvement in the structure of the O. The team used new pass route combinations that enabled WRs to get open. Delhomme delivered the ball on time and threw very accurate medium and short passes. The O will focus more on hitting players on the run rather than stopped waiting for the ball and the hit of the DB. WR Robiskie should benefit from the Holmgren version of the West Coast O the team has implemented. He runs very disciplined routes and has good hands.

2nd team QB Wallace looked good as well. After a fumble recovery on GBs first play, Wallace got the team a TD with a very athletic pass. Running for his life to the left, he squared his body and hit Robo who had followed his QB across the back of the endzone. It was great recognition by both players.

The pass protection was only fair. I am still scratching my head wondering why Jon St. Clair is starting at RT. The first drive was successful more because Delhomme was reading the blitz and coverage than the O line providing great protection.

K Phil Dawson is one of the most under-rated kickers in the history of the game. He plies his trade in one of the toughest environments in the league and has been extremely consistent. His 58 yard field-goal to tie the game at 24 was good by a yard or two. He makes it look easy.

The Bad

The running game struggled against one of the better run Ds in the league. RB Harrison was hit a couple of times in the backfield but averaged only 3.6 per carry. The line struggled to open the kind of holes that we saw in the last few games last year. To be fair, the Pack had the 1st D in against a mix of starter and sub O line for the Browns for the 3rd possession.

The first team D was not able to get any pressure even with an all out blitz. Worse yet, the DBs aren't able to stay close enough to the WRs to prevent the completion. That is a bad combination. The Browns blitzed all night but seldom got much pressure on the passer regardless of who was the QB. Early in the game, the DBs missed tackles on short passes allowing longer gains against the blitz. As the game went on however, the team began to make the tackles short of the line to gain.

The D still struggles to get off the field on 3rd down. There always seemed to be a single player breakdown on a play that allowed the Pack to make the first down. The run D still gets gashed but in the 3rd quarter the D was on the field a lot because the O could not make a first down. The absence of NT Rogers makes a big difference.

The Ugly

Nothing was nearly as ugly as last season's game. However seeing QB McCoy walk off the field with an injured hand was disappointing. He threw 2 picks but the second one was not totally his fault as the O lineman got pushed back into him preventing a follow through.

Individual notes

S Ward showed good instincts and brings a big hit. He also has better-than-average coverage skills for a S. He had 6 solo tackles in the game. He played very well.

CB Haden showed some cover skills and speed but had his hands on a pick and dropped it.

WR Robo looked very good. You can't help but wonder if the passing game would have been as ugly as it was last year had he not been in Mangini's dog house.

Wallace looked sharp in his second drive. Wallace did have a drop and has to work on his vision to see the secondary defender.

TE Watson showed his ability to get open on the TD catch with a great double move. He has the size to be a factor in the red zone.

QB McCoy made 2 mistakes on the first interception. First, he threw the ball short. Second, he threw into double coverage. He will need some time to get up to speed in the pros.

OLB Marcus Benard flashed around the field and made plays. He could become a factor in the pass rush.

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22 July 2010

Browns Need to Answer Several Questions in Training Camp

Every team has some question marks going into a training camp. Generally the more losses you have the more questions need to be answered in camp. That is certainly the case with the Browns in 2010.

1. Who will be the QB?
The team signed ex Panther Jake Delhomme and traded for Seneca Wallace. Delhomme was very good in 2008 and terrible in 09 with 8 TDs and 18 picks. Which Delhomme will we get? If it is the 09 version, Wallace will be starting very soon. There is very little chance QB Colt McCoy will see the field much in the first half of the year.

2. The black hole known as RT.
It was not a coincidence that the running game got going just after Jon St. Clair went down with an injury. The team signed UFA T Tony Pashos (3y 10.3M). Pashos is decent which will be a big improvement over St. Clair. But Pashos has a history of injury. Can he hold up for a full season and who would replace him if he goes down?

3. Who will be the primary RB?
When Jerome Harrison finally got his chance, he was outstanding even when the opponent knew the team had to run because it could not pass at all. But Harrison is light at 205 and the team doesn't believe that he can be THE guy for 16 games. Enter RB Montario Hardesty who was drafted with the 59th pick (2nd round). Hardesty has the size at 225 but has a history of injury at Tennessee that makes him a question mark as well.
One dark horse candidate is RB James Davis (pick 195, 6th round 2009 draft). He is the second year back that was put out for the season during Coach Mangenous' "opportunity" time. When he was at Clemson he split time with C.J. Spiller who was the 9th pick in the 1st round by the Bills this past draft. Thanks to Mangenous we have no idea what he can do.

4. Who will be the starting DBs?
Last year the team started Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald most of the year. McDonald won a spot in Mangenous' dog house for getting beaten like the oversized base drum in the Purdue University band. Wright has been good covering receivers but is not a run support corner. That "helped" the Browns give up more big runs than any other team in the Conference. The team drafted Joe Haden (Florida) with the 7th pick and traded for CB Sheldon Brown with the Eagles. Rookie CBs usually get spun around like merry-go-rounds by veteran receivers. Brown was most likely going to lose his starting spot because he lost a step and was never the fastest CB in the league to begin with. But he would be an upgrade for the Browns. Look for Wright and Brown to start with Haden being the 3rd CB and McDonald needing to work to make the 53.

The safety position is not in any better shape. In 2009 the team let starting S Sean Jones leave via free agency. This year they let the other 08 starter S Brodney Pool go when they did not tender the RFA. In 2009 the team started Abe Elam (ex-Jet) at SS and anybody that was not in the Mangini doghouse at FS. That group included WR Mike Furrey who was the most effective S on the team.

This year things will be interesting again. In my opinion the team reached to get S T.J. Ward (Oregon) with the 38th pick in the draft (2nd). He will get the first shot at S opposite Elam. However, they got a real steal with SS Larry Asante (Nebraska) in the 5th round with the 160th pick. Asante has already signed and is better than Elam and Ward against the run and even with the later in pass coverage. Elam could be moved to FS to make room for either rookie.

5. Are there any LBs that can put pressure on NFL passers?
Mangini wants to play 4-6 LBs blitzing from every spot like the Pats do. But even the Pats found out last year that it takes intelligent veteran guys to make that work. The idea is that every LB is able to play the run and pressure the QB. Unfortunately, the team doesn't have that kind of LB.

IB D'Qwell Jackson was resigned as a RFA AND makes a lot of tackles. Unfortunately too many are 5 yards down field. He was a starter in 08 but only played 6 games in 09. He does not have the feet to be a combo inside/outside backer that Mangini wants. IB David Bowens started 15 of his 16 games in 09. Eric Barton started 8 games then went down. He is more of an inside only guy. Matt Roth was signed late in the season after being cut by the Dolphins and was by far the best OB on the team. He had 4 sacks in 6 games played. Jason Trusnik was a surprise and started 10 games with 2.5 sacks and 45 solo tackles. He too is primarily an inside guy. The last holdover is David Veikune who was a 2nd round pick (52nd) in 09. He was a DE at Hawaii and was flipped around from IB to OB to IB again last year. That experiment is over and he will be developed at DE.

The Browns traded for LB Chris Gocong (Eagles) and signed UFA Scott Fujita (Saints). In his 4 seasons, Gocong started 35 games and had a grand total of just 4 sacks. Not great. Fujita has started 103 games with 3 different teams but has only 19 sacks.

6. How many more Brown's DL will be arrested at Cleveland Hopkins airport for having a gun in their carry-on luggage?
Who knows?

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23 June 2010

June 2010 in Brownie Land

So far, the WRs have been looking much better. Part of that is undoubtedly due to more accurate passers over last June. But it does look like WR Brian Robiskie has gotten out of the Mangini Dog House. He has been the star of the June OTAs. According to most experts, rookie receiver Carlton Mitchell is on the bubble to make the 53. Forget that. He is not only going to be on the roster, he will be the 3rd WR by week 5. Remember, you read that here first.

Mitchell has deep speed but is quick as well. He fell in the draft a little because he lost his QB at USF in his last year but still caught 105 balls even though he was doubled a lot. He is an athlete with above average hands and one guy I suggested the Browns draft on this site.

In other news, the 4 holdout RFAs have all signed their tenders. IB D’Qwell Jackson, RB Jerome Harrison, S Abe Elam and FB Lawrence Vickers and LB/DL Matt Roth signed their tenders before the amounts were reduced. The first 3 got contract of $1.58M and Roth got 1.81M. These players are key to the teams plans in 2010.

Harrison will be the primary ball carrier to start the season. His performance in the last 5 games of the 09 season showed that he can be very effective. The only question is can he take the beating of a 16 (or 18) game season. That was the reason that the team drafted RB Montario Hardesty with the 59th pick.

Roth was a great free agent pickup during the 09 season. He showed the ability to rush the passer and has the instincts to play DL or LB.

Elam was not the impact player that the team hoped he would be but was better than the guys he replaced. Elam may not be a starter depending on how quickly the two rookie DBs develop. But he will be a decent DB on a team that needs all the decent players it can get.

Vickers has developed into one of the top FBs in the league. His blocking was key to Harrision's success last season.

The only one of the RFAs that might not be critical is IB Jackson. Mangini likes LBs that can play all 4 positions and DE in some pass rush situations. Jackson is not athletic enough to play outside and struggles to cover TEs or RBs in pass routes. He is a run stuffer but makes too many tackles 5 yards down field. He could well be on the bubble depending on the final cuts of other teams and how the rookies develop.

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25 April 2010

2010 NFL Draft: Browns Get Texas QB Colt McCoy For a Bargain

Round 1/7 — Joe Haden, CB, 5-11, 193, Florida grade A-
As we predicted S Eric Berry was gone when the Browns #7 pick came up. The team probably will be sorry they didn't take Thomas but got Haden. Given the lack of experience at S, expect CB Brown to move to FS and Haden to move in opposite Wright at CB.

Haden is a solid CB prospect but fell a little due to a slow 40 speed at the Combine. He ran a little better at his pro day. The good news is that he plays faster than he times. He is a very good M to M cover guy that SEC QBs stayed away from in games. He has quick change of direction and is smooth coming out of breaks. In zone he adjusts to multiple players and anticipates the throw.

He is a decent tackler but not exceptional and will force the run inside by position rather than physical play. He tends to grab and hang on waiting for help rather than exploding through the ball carrier.

Round 2/38 — T.J. Ward, FS, 5-11, 208, Oregon grade C-
I had Ward at 92 on my overall list. This pick was a reach. The team might have been looking at Allen from USF but he was taken by the Seahawks the pick before. They should have expected that and moved up a couple of picks to get Allen. Ward is more of a SS than FS. He has a history of injury and below average ball skills. He is a hitter and very good tackler.

He is very good against the run and is good in the box. In zone he reacts to the ball but tends to hit the receiver preventing the reception rather than looking to make the pick. He can play man but has only average long range speed but quick acceleration to catch up to the receiver. He is OK at at man but is better-suited for zone. He does handle TEs better than most.

Round 2/59 — Montario Hardesty, RB, 5-11 1/2, 225, Tennessee grade B+
The team moved up to get Hardesty and it was a good move. They needed a bigger RB to go with Harrison et. al. At this point he was a little early but they had to make the move and they did not give the farm away to get him.

He is a very good runner that will press the point of attack and make his cut and go. He is quick to the hole and is a classic over-achiever. He seldom goes down with the first hit and is outstanding at YAH (yards-after-the-hit). He is a good receiver with sneaky speed that is a mismatch for most LBs.

The only downside is that he has a history of injuries to his knees. This is a very good pick and he will challenge for the starting spot.

Round 3/85 - Colt McCoy, QB, 6-2, 212, Texas grade A+
McCoy was the pick of the draft for Cleveland. At the bottom of the 3rd round he is a great value. McCoy has outstanding accuracy and good anticipation. He sees the play well and will throw the ball before the receiver makes his break. He is a smart kid with decent instincts vision of the field.

Like most college QBs he played in the spread and does not have the footwork or mechanics for the drop back passer that the NFL requires. The biggest 2 issues I have with McCoy are his lack of average arm strength and his inexperience at reading Ds. He will have problems with the long ball in the winds of Cleveland. He is OK at the short and medium throws but floats the long ball. The other more serious but correctable issue is the lack of making reads. He would look to the sideline to get the play rather than looking over the D to see what the coverage and blitz package might be. Film time will help with that but he is less experienced at reading Ds than most other QB prospects in this draft.

Round 3/92 — Shawn Lauvao, OL, 6-3, 305, Arizona State grade D
This was the biggest reach of the draft for the Browns. I had him around 175. Lauvao is smart and can play G or RT. The ASU line was bad and he was the LT and bell-cow of the unit. He struggles to pass block quicker pass rushers at T. He can not move his feet quickly enough and tends to reach to much. He is an above average drive blocker with someone on his nose but is not quick enough to get into a position to cut off pursuit outside. He has started for ASU at guard and both T spots.

Round 5/160 — Larry Asante, SS, 5-11, 210, Nebraska A-
I really like this kid. He is a hitter with a nasty disposition that tackles with extreme prejudice. He has above-average instincts and causes fumbles. He has above-average ball skills and can pluck the ball out of the air or bat it away. He will be flagged from time to time but they are hustle fouls not mental ones. He can also tend to over commit on play-action but has the football instincts to recover. He is not fast but his instincts help make up for it.

Round 6/177 — Carlton Mitchell, WR, 6-3, 215, South Florida A
I love this pick as well. Mitchell was rated as a solid 3rd round value pick. To get him here is very lucky. He is big and fast. He needs work on his routes but every college WR needs that. He is fluid and has the shakes to get open against man coverage and can find the open area in the zone. He lost his senior QB Grothe to injury and his 09 season stats took a hit. He needs work on his hands because he allows the ball to hit his body too much. But at this point in the draft, he is a gift.

Round 6/186 — Clifton Geathers, DE, 6-7, 299, South Carolina B
He was a nice value here but is green as baby peas. At 298 he is big enough to play 3-4 DE. He needs seasoning and technique help. He doesn't use his strength to best advantage. He also needs to get a few more pass rush moves. He is solid at the point of attack vs. the run.

The bottom line:
This was by far the best draft the team has had since coming back into the league but that is not saying much. On previous draft days the parties were as much suicide prevention meetings as anything else. Congrats to the staff and to Holmgren. They filled as many of the needs as they could and took value when they found it. More than that you can not ask as a fan. It is more than we have gotten since 99.

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22 April 2010

Who will the Browns Draft?

On Fryingpansports.com I listed the guys I think they should draft. This is my projection of who they will take with their top picks. We have heard in the last few weeks that the Browns board has 1. Ndamukong Suh DT Nebraska 2. Sam Bradford QB Oklahoma and 3 Eric Berry FS Tennessee.

1-7 Everyone knows that both Suh and Bradford will be long gone with the first 2 picks. The team would love to have Berry here but he will be gone.

According to rumors, the Redskins would love to trade down a couple of picks to pick up more choices. They traded most of this draft to get QB McNabb from the Eagles. That trade would cost the Browns 1-7, 3-71 and their first 2 5th round picks (#134 + #146).

Without that trade Berry could be taken at 5 by KC but probably not. Another issue is the latest rumor--the Steelers might trade Roethlisberger to the Chiefs for the 5th pick and QB Matt Cassel. The Steelers would seriously consider Berrry with that pick. How would you like to see the player you want playing against you with the Steelers twice a year?

That trade will not happen and the Chiefs take the OL Russell Okung OT Oklahoma State with the 5th pick. They like him more than Trent Williams OT Oklahoma and might have taken Berry if Okung was not available.

The problem is that the Seahawks had the 30th ranked pass D last year and they will take Berry at 6.

So the Browns will have a decision to make. What they should do is take Earl Thomas S/CB Texas but they won't. Thomas is 2 atoms below Berry, can cover better and is a year younger than Berry.

The guy I think they want is Jared Odrick DT Penn State. He is ranked in the 25-30 area but for a 3-4 team is a top 15 pick because he can play DE in that set. The team will try to trade down a couple of spots to get him and may be able to do that for teams looking to take either Thomas, Derrick Morgan DE Georgia Tech or maybe even Jimmy Clausen QB Notre Dame because that team would be afraid the Raiders would take him at 8. That trade is not at all likely either.

So the team will be stuck at 7 and will take Odrick.

2-38 The team would love to get Colt McCoy QB Texas at this spot. He won't be there. Depending on how much they like him, they may be willing to trade up to 33 to get him. There will be a premium on that pick because a lot of teams will be after players at the top of the 2nd round. The 33rd pick would cost the Browns 2-38 and their first 2 5th round picks. If the Rams get a better offer, it could cost the Browns 38 and their last 3rd round pick #92. Unless they make that moves, the Browns are going to be forced to take their next choice at this point.

Nate Allen FS South Florida would be a possibility. He is not nearly as good as the top 2 safeties but would be an upgrade for the Browns. Remember they have only 1 experienced player at S.

Demaryius Thomas WR Georgia Tech is a physical freak. He is a big receiver with speed and very good hands. He has a foot injury that might allow him to fall to 38. Otherwise he would be a mid 1st round pick.

Daryl Washington OLB TCU is the "other" DE that will convert to OLB from the Hornfogs. He is a solid pass rusher that has the speed (4.58) and hips to cover receivers.

3-71 If the team has not gotten a QB, they probably will take Dan LeFevour QB Central Michigan or Tony Pike QB Cincinnati. Both have the same accuracy (67%) as Bradford but both are bigger and have experience throwing in the winds of the Rust Belt. I prefer LeFevour but will be delighted with either one at this point in the draft. I think Clausen will fall like rock and that will push all the QBs behind him down.

3-85 This would be the spot to pick up the WR they need. The 2 that might be most interesting would be Taylor Price WR Ohio or Mardy Gilyard WR Cincinnati. Both have been very productive and anyone that can walk and chew gum at the same time without letting it drop out of their mouth would be a help. The team might go LB here with Brandon Spikes ILB Florida. After the eye gouging incident I would not touch him.

3-92 I would take the LB here with either Navorro Bowman OLB Penn State or Thaddeus Gibson OLB Ohio State. My projection is that Gibson is gone but Bowman is active and a play maker. If they do not have a WR yet, one of 2 fast rising player might be available. Marcus Easley WR Connecticut has the size at 6-3 and speed at 4.39 to be a steal here but he is very green. Andre Roberts WR Citadel is just as fast but small. He dominated at a lower level in college and can really catch the ball.

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