Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Mid-week thoughts

Well, well, well. Look who is going to be on the opposite sideline when the Browns travel down to Cincinnati to play the Bengals a week from Sunday.

It’s none other than that old revisionist history guy who just a few short weeks ago the Browns called their head football coach.

Hue Jackson has answered the clarion call for help from his good friend and Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, whose club has played recently like the Browns of the last 19 seasons.

It will be Hue Jackson to the rescue in an effort to salvage a season that started out so promisingly for the Bengals with four victories in their first five games before collapsing spectacularly in the next four.

They have labeled Jackson’s role special assistant. Which probably means he will be more like a bench coach in baseball and make suggestions within the game in an effort to help Lewis concentrate on the defense after the firing of coordinator Teryl Austin.

It is a move – more like a cry for help – that very likely could eventually see Jackson elevated to the top spot when Lewis, who has helmed the Bengals since 2003, finally retires or is kicked upstairs after this season.

Rumors suggest Jackson could have had the top job in Cincinnati last season – he was already a successful offensive coordinator there – had he waited just one more year. He chose instead to take the top job with the dysfunctional Browns.

That ill-fated move, in many more ways than one, led to the Browns posting the worst two-season record in National Football League history at 1-31 and setting a few other low bars in the process.

Lewis and Jackson are extremely close in a brotherly way and share the same basic football philosophies. It was thought Lewis would step down after last season, but now that Jackson is a free agent following his firing by the Browns, that likelihood is coming more into focus.

What makes this move interesting now is the teams meet twice in the next couple of months, which ostensibly gives Jackson the opportunity to share some Browns secrets.

That won’t work and here’s why.

The team that invades Cincinnati won’t be any different from a personnel standpoint than the one he left. But it will be significantly different from a schematic and philosophical standpoint with new names in charge.

Jackson almost assuredly will shed light on the Browns’ strengths and weaknesses on offense. Where they excel, where they are the most vulnerable, and point out their tendencies.

But he will soon discover this is not the same team he left a couple of weeks ago. That one stopped listening to him a while ago and has played a different brand of football since under new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens.

We are being told Kitchens is basically running the offense of fired offensive coordinator Todd Haley. If that is the case, then he has thrown in a myriad of different wrinkles, many of which seem to be working.

He has dumbed down the Haley offense to an extent and simplified it to the point where fewer mistakes are being made. There has also been, at least seemingly, far less motion before the snap.

It doesn’t take much to see that this offense runs much more smoothly and effectively under Kitchens. Baker Mayfield is a much more efficient quarterback and the running game has become dangerous now that rookie Nick Chubb has had the handcuffs removed.

There isn’t much Jackson can share with Lewis regarding the Cleveland defense because he left that side of the ball almost totally to Gregg Williams. And that defense, in addition to becoming healthier, is playing more conservatively since Williams became the interim head coach.

Too often a switch such as this, which is unusual because of its timing, turns out to be nothing more than talk-show fodder. You can prepare for a team just so much, but it’s all about execution. And right now, the Browns appear to be the better team when it comes to execution.
*       *       *
A couple of new faces have emerged on defense the last two games, names that not had seen much more bench, other than on special teams, earlier this season.

Tanner Vallejo is logging more time in the linebacker rotation now that Christian Kirksey is done for the season and has not disappointed. If fact, Williams has rewarded him with more playing time.

Vallejo played 41 of the 75 defensive snaps against Atlanta Sunday and checked in with an efficient six tackles (four solo) in support of fellow linebackers Jamie Collins and Joe Schobert, who missed the last three games.

On the line, defensive end Anthony Zettel was a stickout with three solo tackles on just 25 snaps. Conversely, Emmanuel Ogbah needed 53 snaps to compile two tackles (one solo) and half a sack.

Fans probably remember Zettel best after he was a little too exuberant celebrating his sack of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on a two-point conversion attempt after the final Atlanta touchdown, injuring his left leg. 

Both young men joined the Browns days apart at the beginning of the season when teams trimmed their rosters to the required 53. Vallejo was claimed on waivers from Buffalo and Zettel, a teammate of ex-Brown Carl Nassib at Penn State, was claimed a few days later after he was released by the Detroit Lions.
*       *       * 
Scraps . . .  T. J. Carrie, the forgotten man in the secondary at the beginning of the season, is making the most of an opportunity created by a few injuries. The five-year veteran from Ohio University forced and then recovered one fumble and held the dangerous Julio Jones to seven receptions and just one touchdown. . . . Mayfield fell just short of a perfect passer rating (158.3) with a 151.3 against the Falcons. . . . Defensive end Myles Garrett’s sack streak was halted at three straight games. He has logged just seven solo tackles in the last six games. . . . Britton Colquitt still leads the NFL by far in number of punts with 64, nine more than Lachlan Edwards of the New York Jets.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Monday leftovers

It was a cloudy day in Cleveland Monday, but you’d never know it in Browns Nation. The sun was shining brightly there.

The euphoria that gripped Browns fans after Sunday’s surprising 28-16 victory over the Atlanta Falcons is hanging around for at least the next few days as those fans add a little bounce to their step.

Smiles replaced the usual glum looks most Browns fans usually wear on Mondays throughout the season. And because of the bye week, it definitely should linger. It sure was good to feel good about being a Browns fan.

It wasn’t the totally unexpected victory that elicited that feeling as much as it was the manner in which it was achieved, the Browns putting together one of the best team efforts in a very long time.

Just about everything clicked on a day where they genuinely looked like a very good National Football League team. There were mistakes, of course, but even the good teams experience them. Keeping them to a minimum is the difference.

Some skeptics might consider this an overreaction to just one game. It’s just one-sixteenth of an entire season. What makes that so special, they no doubt wonder.

It’s because they do not know what it’s like to be a fan of this team. All they see on the outside is the terrible and often times embarrassing football this franchise has played since reentering the NFL in 1999.

They can’t relate to all the emotional suffering for nearly two decades. All the games that looked like victories until they became losses in some bizarre manner. They look at what happened Sunday against the Falcons and wonder why Browns fans got so excited about winning one game.

The notion it just might be an aberration does not enter their minds. Way too early for that. Nor does it foretell the future anymore than the four consecutive losses that preceded it.

We’ll all find out in a couple of weeks, of course, when the Browns resume the season in Cincinnati against the Bengals, who looked as though they were going to run away with the AFC North by winning four of their first five games.

But the ruggedness of the schedule has brought them back to reality in the last three games, during which their defense hemorrhaged 130 points with an upcoming Sunday date in Baltimore against the Ravens as they look to avoid being a .500 team when they welcome the Browns.

In the meantime, all that talk about whether the Browns will win another game this season or how high they will pick in the annual college football draft next spring can officially take a rest for the time being.
*       *       *
Baker Mayfield had a ready answer to explain the reason his three-touchdown performance and firm control of the offense against the Falcons.

“When I woke up this morning,” he said, “I was feeling pretty dangerous.” And then, with exquisite timing, he waited a couple of seconds to let that sink in as the media chuckled. Then he did a small double eyebrow lift and followed up with a wry smile.

He was clearly enjoying sitting down after a game and not talking about a loss. The uniqueness of the situation prompted his playful dialogue with the reporters. And then he got serious.

“We have to build on it,” he said. “. . . We have to find the positives. We had a lot of positives this week. It’s going to be about how we handle that – not realizing or thinking we’ve made it because we haven’t. We’ll find out in two weeks.”

Mayfield talks not like a rookie who has only six games on his résumé, but one who has been around for a few seasons. It’s that part of his personality that seems to be rubbing off on his teammates.

I could see the difference in the offense the last two weeks. The confidence that was missing on that side of the football earlier, which probably was one of the reasons that triggered the firings of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, has reappeared.

New offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens has given Mayfield an offense that requires quick decisions and quicker release of the ball, taking advantage of his accuracy and making it easier on the offensive line to protect him.

It also extends possessions. In the last two games, the Browns have owned the football 17 times with only one three-and-out. And that was the last possession of the Falcons game when the outcome was secured. At the same time, it keeps the defense well rested.

What excited fans Sunday were two throws on the same possession (the second of the afternoon) that provided a glimpse into what Mayfield’s afternoon was going to be like. “Pretty dangerous.”

They were the opening and final plays of what turned out to be an eight-play, 88-yard scoring drive that took nearly five minutes off the clock. It started off with Mayfield delivering a laser to Breshad Perriman on a 16-yard square out, a staple in a quarterback’s arsenal.

The ball was delivered impressively on a line and on time.  It was the beginning of a drive in which Mayfield completed all six of his passes for 85 yards. He capped it with a 28-yard scoring strike to Rashard Higgins after being forced out of the pocket and running to his right, connecting with a flick of the wrist to his wide receiver.

Quite impressive and definitely “pretty dangerous."
*       *       *
The more I watch Nick Chubb, the more the rookie reminds me of Jamal Lewis, who was one of the stars of the strong Baltimore Ravens offense for six seasons and three more with the Browns from 2000-09.

Both are Georgia born and almost the same size. Both are 5-11. Chubb weighs 230 pounds; Lewis hovered between 235 and 240. Both own the same traits: Tough runner, hard to bring down and deceptively fast.

Lewis racked up 1,000-yard seven times in his nine-year NFL career, including a 2,000-yard campaign in 2003. He ran for 1,304 yards in his first season with Cleveland in 2007, when the Browns posted their only double-digit victory record since the return in 1999.

Believe it or not, Chubb still has a chance to reach 1,000 yards on the ground this season despite his relative non-use in the first six games. He sits at 579 yards, 421 yards shy of the mark with six games remaining. That’s 70 yards a game, which shouldn’t be a problem for him.

He is a smart runner with seemingly excellent vision who always seems to fall forward after getting hit. His jump cuts make him that much more difficult to square up for defenders attempting to bring him down.

He also uses his blockers beautifully. Perfect example was his dazzling – and team record – 92-yard touchdown run that put the game out of reach for the Falcons Sunday.

It started out as a simple stretch play to the strong side, but Chubb quickly took advantage of seal blocks by right guard Kevin Zeitler on his left and right tackle Chris Hubbard on his right, split them with a cutback move and then turned on the afterburners.

That trade of Carlos Hyde to Jacksonville is looking better by the game.
*       *       *
Orson Charles is listed on the Browns’ roster as a tight end, but it appears as though he spends more time in the backfield lately as a blocking back than at his listed position.

The six-year NFL veteran has seen his snap count rise significantly in the last three games to almost twice the snaps in each of the first seven, He appears to be the primary blocker in front of Chubb in certain running situations,

The 6-3, 260-pounder seems to have gained he confidence of the coaching staff to the point where he enters the game when tough yards are needed. His increased snap count indicates he is becoming at least a semi-permanent figure in front of Chubb.

He was so thrilled with the Atlanta victory, he waylaid interim head coach Gregg Williams on his way to shake hands with Falcons coach Dan Quinn after the game and celebrated joyously by hoisting him in a bear hug and then exchanging fist bumps. 
*       *       *
Finally . . . Mayfield threw as many incomplete passes (3) against the Falcons as he did touchdown passes. . . . He distributed his 17 completions among nine different receivers. . . . The Falcons entered the game with a 50% conversion rate on third down. They were 5-for-14 against the Browns. . . . The Browns needed only 50 plays from scrimmage to score their 28 points and produce 427 yards, a season-high 8.5 yards a play. . . . Chubb’s 20 carries was 40% of the offense. . . . Left offensive tackle Greg Robinson had problems with Falcons defensive end Bruce Irvin, picking up a couple of holding calls and fanning on Irvin, who blew right past him early in the third quarter and caused a Mayfield fumble which the quarterback recovered. . . . Williams has as many victories as interim boss as Jackson had in his first two seasons with the Browns. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. touch watch: Three carries, 15 yards; four receptions, 31 yards and a touchdown. Season totals: 26 carries, 130 yards; 33 receptions, 312 yards and three touchdowns. That’s 59 touches in 10 games for 442 yards, or 7.49 yards a touch. One can only imagine what the New England Patriots would do with Johnson’s talents.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A memorable given Sunday

 Remember that old football expression regarding the improbability on the outcome of some games in the National Football League?

No, not the one that appeared here just the other day with respect to playing games on the schedule one at a time when the next opponent is far superior to yours and no one expects an upset.

The one I’m referring to appeared here about a week ago in reference to the Browns’ meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs. Recall this one: “On any given Sunday, any team in the National Football League can beat any other team.”

Well Sunday Nov. 11, 2018 down by the lakefront in downtown Cleveland was such a Sunday.

In a didn’t-seen-that-one-coming and absolutely stunning performance by the Browns, they didn’t just beat the Atlanta Falcons, 28-16; they literally outplayed them in every phase of the game.

This was one of those games you watch, whether in person or on television, and your eyes are telling you “this is not really happening,” given the sad history of this club since 1999. The eye-blinking disbelief makes it appear as though everything unfolding before you is surreal.

The Browns, in the throes of a four-game losing streak, during which they have looked awful, are beating up a team on a three-game winning streak and looking a lot lately like the powerful Chiefs.

The offense was sensational throughout most of the afternoon, looking nothing like the offense that has been terrible for the last month.  New offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens’ approach is much more creative than his predecessor’s.

The defense bent somewhat, but did not break. It swarmed around Falcons ball carriers, the tackling was crisp and the quickness that was missing in the last month reappeared with the return to health of cornerback Denzel Ward, safety Damarious Randall and middle linebacker Joe Schobert.

Even the special teams looked good. Not because of what they did, but because of what they didn’t do: Make mistakes.

Everything clicked on offense. The ground game, a.k.a. Nick Chubb, ran relentlessly behind an offensive line looking for retribution after looking extremely mediocre during the losing streak.

Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield was sensational, masterfully guiding his almost mistake-free offense on touchdown drives on four of five possessions at one point as the Browns opened up a 28-10 lead with 8:45 left in the third quarter.

He completed his first 13 passes as the Browns led, 14-10, at the half, and wound up 17 of 20 for 216 yards with scoring passes to Rashard Higgins (28 yards), Chubb (13 yards) and Duke Johnson Jr. (11 yards). He added another season first: A sackless afternoon.

The Higgins touchdown produced a first in a season when firsts have been hard to come by. It was the Browns’ first first-quarter touchdown after 145 minutes and 24 seconds of abject futility.

Chubb, who has all but made Browns fans forget Carlos Hyde started out the season as the lead running back, ran for 176 yards on 20 attempts, planting the exclamation point on the victory with a team record 92-yard touchdown gallop midway through the third quarter.

The run started out innocently on a simple stretch play to the strong side with Chubb cutting back inside behind a block by right tackle Chris Hubbard at about the 15-yard line and finding himself open. He easily dismissed one attempted tackle before turning on his deceivingly swift speed, easily outracing the Falcons to the end zone.

In four starts since Hyde’s departure, Chubb has run for 406 yards and three touchdowns. He added a touchdown through the air when he slipped out of the backfield against the Falcons and gathered in a screen pass en route to the end zone.

The Cleveland possession that sort of tipped off fans that this was going to be a fun afternoon occurred right after the Falcons took their only lead of the afternoon at 10-7 with five minutes left in the second quarter.

The Browns responded with an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive with Chubb getting six touches along the way for 64 of those yards. It gave the Browns a lead they did not relinquish. It also sent a signal to the Falcons this could be one of those given Sundays.

The defense, meanwhile, was stout, especially when the Falcons threatened the goal line on three occasions. It forced them to run 11 plays inside the Cleveland 5 before they scored their only touchdowns of the game, both on short-area passes.

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan had to throw the ball 52 times against mostly a zone employed by head coach Gregg Williams, who evened his record at 1-1 as interim head coach.

There was no question his team arrived at the ballpark with attitude on both sides of the ball and ready to play a smart brand of football against a hot team. The breaks came their way all afternoon.

For example, Mayfield was stripped of the ball by Falcons defensive end Bruce Irvin after Browns corner T. J. Carrie recovered a Mohamed Sanu fumble in Falcons territory on the third play of the third quarter. But the ball bounced right back to the Cleveland quarterback and he picked up six yards.

Five plays later, Mayfield hooked up with Johnson, who leaked out of the backfield and was wide open at the Atlanta 5 and waltzed into the end zone.

Then later in the quarter, Johnson lost the ball at his 35. It was ruled a fumble and recovery by the Falcons, but was overturned after a replay review. Things like that usually don’t happen to the Browns. It’s normally the other way around.

The offense misfired just twice all day and on both occasions, Kitchens tried to get cute. Cute fails much more often than it succeeds in the NFL.

On the game-opening possession, the Browns faced a third-and-1 at their 44. Mayfield suddenly broke from the formation and walked toward the sideline, his arms akimbo, seemingly not understanding the play. Chubb then took a direct snap and gained nothing. An illegal motion penalty against Mayfield was declined.

That one was harmless. The next gaffe was not.

On the third Cleveland possession, the offense was rolling after a 17-yard Breshad Perriman reception placed the ball at the Falcons’ 34. Everything was going well when Kitchens struck again.

Rookie reserve running back Dontrelle Hilliard took a pitch from Mayfield, who sneaked out of the backfield down the left sideline. Hilliard’s pass floated in his direction came down into the waiting arms of Falcons cornerback Damontae Kazee, who returned it 33 yards to the Cleveland 45.

Those are the kinds of plays that are great if they work, which isn’t very often. If not, it usually becomes a disaster. This disaster was a gift to the Atlanta offense, which capitalized six plays later.

It’s best to tear that play out of the playbook and incinerate it. But it sure did not spoil the afternoon for Browns Nation.

So now the Browns will have two weeks off, courtesy of the bye, to enjoy this one, or more probably just a week before getting ready to see if they can make it two in a row at Cincinnati.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

No break for the defense

 There is an old expression in football, generally overused by coaches whose teams are in the midst of a forgettable season, that applies to those poor souls just looking for any kind of sanity and/or stability.

It’s a trite fallback line that goes something like this: “We just play the games that are on the schedule. All we can do is play them one at a time.” And, of course, not worry about anything else.

With that in mind, the guys (or computers) who put the 2018 National Football League schedule together are either masochists or harbored a deep dislike for the Browns.

It’s bad enough the schedule called for the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons to be placed somewhere on their schedule. But back-to-back? Really? Sure, both games are at home, but c’mon, two of the best offenses in the league in consecutive weeks?

That is what Gregg Williams faces in his first two games as the Browns’ interim head coach. It was bad enough the Chiefs came to town and rode roughshod last Sunday, a 37-21 slap around that wasn’t as close as the final indicates.

The Chiefs rank second in the NFL in total offense and proved it big time behind the quarterback wizardry of Patrick Mahomes II. Now along comes the Falcons, ranked fifth in total offense.

Trying to stop that offense will be the 30th-ranked team in overall defense, which sounds very much like the outcome won’t be that much different than the brutal Kansas City verdict.

Injuries are beginning to take a toll on the Browns, especially in the secondary where a few new strangers, picked up off waivers, will make their team debut Sunday against the Falcons.

Cornerback Denzel Ward, (hip), free safety Damarious Randall (groin) and middle linebacker Joe Schobert (hamstring) are expected back which should help. But how much action they’ll see is unknown.

It will be interesting to see whether Williams, in his role as defensive coordinator, backs off his usual aggressive self and plays more conservatively against Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and his terrific corps of receivers.

Ryan, headed for the first 5,000-yard season of his 11-year career, spreads the ball around to the likes of Julio Jones, rookie Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu, tight end Austin Cooper and running back Tevin Coleman.

The peerless Jones has booked a 60-catch, 933-yard season thus far, but with only one touchdown, that last Sunday as the 4-4 Falcons won their third game in a row against the Washington Redskins.

Seven of Ryan’s 19 scoring passes – he has thrown only three interceptions – have gone to Ridley, three to Sanu (who has been known to throw a pass or two) and four to Coleman, who has also scored a pair on the ground. And when Coleman needs a breather, rookie Ito Smith has picked up the slack with four rushing touchdowns

It’s an offense that might not be as good as the one the Browns faced last week, but it’s damn close and seems to have found itself, averaging 32 points during its winning streak, recovering nicely after beginning the season 1-4.

Williams’ biggest problem, if he chooses to maintain his aggressive stance, is determining whom Ward, his best press corner, covers, leaving him vulnerable elsewhere in the secondary with the other talented receivers.

Few teams this season have stopped the Atlanta passing attack, ranked second in the NFL. About the only way to neutralize Ryan, who completes 71% of his passes, is with a strong pass rush. He has been sacked 22 times.

That aspect of the Cleveland defense has become troublesome lately. It seems as though only Myles Garrett is making life uncomfortable for opposing quarterbacks. The second-year man owns nine of the team’s 22 sacks. That’s not going to cut it against an improving Falcons offensive line, anchored by ex-Brown Alex Mack.

Where the Browns have a chance, much as they did last week against the Chiefs, at least on paper, is against a Falcons defense that surrenders 28 points a game and hemorrhages 413 yards on the average.

But that would mean the Browns’ offense, which showed signs of coming out of its funk against KC, would have to match the Falcons point for point, an exercise that worked only once this seasons against Oakland and that was in a losing cause.

It didn’t work against the Chiefs, whose defense is just as porous as Atlanta’s, because it is not an offense equipped to handle such a task.

The 30th-ranked Cleveland defense, meanwhile, has taken a sharp turn for the worse in the last four games, yielding 33½ points a game. It has plummeted to 29th in the NFL against the rush (142 yards a game), 27th against the pass and allowed seven of nine opponents this season to run up more than 400 yards of total offense.

The 23 takeaways sure look nice on the stats sheet, but are meaningless because of an offense incapable of taking advantage of them.

The Browns right now are in a severe nosedive that has landed them in a familiar spot in the AFC North. If you need further explanation, you haven’t been paying attention.

The road ahead is just as unpleasant looking as the last four weeks with three more AFC North games – two against Cincinnati – after the bye next Sunday. Of those six remaining games, only two are against teams with losing records, both on the road.

It is entirely possible, barring a where-did-that-come-from victory or two, the vastly improved Browns that began the season could wind up with just the two early-season victories, a gigantic letdown for the loyalists who honestly believed the turnaround was under way this season.

And because the Falcons began the season so poorly, do not expect a letdown Sunday against a lesser team. They can’t afford one. A few might consider it a trap game, but there is no way the Cleveland offense stays with Ryan & Co. Make it:

Falcons 35, Browns 13

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Mid-week thoughts

Thinking randomly today. On the docket: Austin Corbett, Bruce Arians, team speed and scraps.

When the Browns selected Austin Corbett at the top of the second round in the last college draft, a few eyebrows were raised. The first pick in the second round? For a player drafted beyond his evaluation by so-called draft experts. A reach?

But that’s how much the Browns regarded him. The 33rd best player in the lottery. What did we know?

When anyone is drafted that high, especially an offensive lineman, you expect that player to be good enough to win a starting position. The Browns’ scouting staff obviously thought so or else they wouldn’t have lobbied to take him.

Will Hernandez, a highly regarded guard out of West Virginia, was still on the board and yet, the Browns believed Corbett was the better choice. The New York Giants immediately pulled the trigger on Hernandez, who now holds down the left guard spot. Connor Williams was scooped up by Dallas later in the round and became a starter.

And where is Corbett? Good question. Maybe an APB will locate him. If that fails, send out a search party. The correct answer, of course, is chained to the bench after playing virtually every snap in the exhibition season.

It was assumed he played well enough next to Joel Bitonio, who shifted from guard to left tackle, to earn a spot in the starting lineup. Wrong assumption.

As the season/home opener approached, the coaching staff suddenly decided Corbett was not good enough to start, promoted rookie Desmond Harrison from nowhere to left tackle and bumped Bitonio back to left guard.

Corbett has fallen so low in the eyes of the coaching staff, he barely shows up on the snap count sheet in the first nine games. He didn’t show up at all in games one and four and did not log an offensive snap in two other games.

Overall, he has been on the field for 11 snaps on offense, mostly as a tight end, and 23 snaps on special teams. His high-water marks on offense were four snaps against New Orleans in game two and three vs. Baltimore in game five.

He is not injured – well maybe his ego is bruised a little – and patiently stands ready in the event someone along the offensive line goes down. But everyone has been disgustingly healthy, relatively speaking, this season.

No one has bothered to ask the brass why Corbett has become the forgotten man. It can only be guessed they don’t believe he is good enough to crack the starting lineup. But why? Is he too slow? Not strong enough? What?

Corbett was drafted so high ostensibly because the Browns thought the four-year starter at left tackle at Nevada would have no trouble assimilating to the NFL at that position, replacing the retired Joe Thomas. That has clearly not been the case.

It’s entirely possible they now think he translates better to the NFL as a guard or center, but those positions are filled now that Bitonio is back at his old stand. Thus the Harrison move.

Right now, Corbett has to be considered a draft whiff. A wasted rookie season. Granted it’s still early, but he is so far down the roster, he can hardly be seen on game day. He wears uniform #63 if you look closely.

Perhaps this pre-draft evaluation by Lance Zierlein, Draft Analyst for, answers some questions and unlocks the part of the mystery.

“Corbett won’t blow you away with any of his measurables or play traits,” he wrote, “but he’s solid in most areas. (He) is definitely sharp enough to move inside to guard or even center and has good technique, but his average to below average play strength and lack of length may be a concern.”

The last two attributes might be the answer, but we won’t know for certain until either General Manager John Dorsey or members of his staff are questioned.
*       *       *
So Bruce Arians would love to coach the Browns. He as much as told the Canton Repository that when visiting Cleveland as part of the CBS-TV crew last Sunday for the Browns-Kansas City Chiefs game.

“Cleveland is the only job I would consider,” said Arians, who retired last season as head coach of the Arizona, where he had a nice five-year run with the Cardinals.

Earlier this season, he told ESPN that Cleveland has always been special to him, having served as offensive coordinator there for three seasons when Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb quarterbacked the Browns.

 “That was the job I always wanted,” he said. “I felt like Cleveland deserved a winner.  . . . Every time that job came open, I tried to get it.”

Which begs what-if questions. Like what if the Browns had picked Arians instead of, say, Rob Chudzinski in 2013? Or Pat Shurmur a couple of years before that? Or Eric Mangini two years before that? Where would the Browns be today? Certainly not where they are now. Some revisionist history ammo for that crowd.

It’s nice to know Arian thinks so highly of Cleveland and Browns fans, but hiring him as the next head coach is not going to happen and he knows it. He is 66 years old and has had some health problems the last few years. As much as Dorsey respects him, Arians will not wind up on the list of candidates. Makes a nice little story, though.
*       *       *
If there is one thing most fans learned by watching the Kansas City offense overwhelm the Cleveland defense Sunday, it was the striking skill and speed the Chiefs unleashed. The Browns looked slow,

The KC offensive line was quick, very strong at the point of attack and almost always in position to make a play for the extraordinary skill players who make this one of the most dangerous offenses in the National Football League.

It might be hackneyed to say, but speed kills in the NFL. The Cleveland defense had problems all afternoon trying to stay with the Chiefs, most of the time arriving too tardy to make a play. The Chiefs toyed with them.

Yes the tackling was sloppy at best, but that’s because Browns defenders did not take proper angles to make solid tackles. Why? Because the Chiefs beat them to the spot all day long. The result was arm tackles and flailing-at-air attempts at tackles.

Bottom line: If the Browns hope to compete with teams like the Chiefs in the future, Dorsey needs to place much more emphasis on team speed on both sides of the football. Being a step or two slow are not ingredients for success.
*       *       *
Scraps . . . Britton Colquitt has had two punts blocked this season and each could have been avoided with a simple block. Kevin Pierre-Louis of the New York Jets blocked the first when Nick Chubb totally missed a block on the right side of the punt formation. And Damien Williams of the Chiefs stuffed the second one Sunday after Derrick Kindred flat out whiffed. Same side. . . .  Question: Why hasn’t Amos Jones been fired? His awful coaching is as, if not much more, egregious than the departed Hue Jackson and Todd Haley. Promote assistant Sam Shade and hire Josh Cribbs as his assistant..  . . . Jarvis Landry is well on his way to maintaining his 1,000-yards-a-season average, He is on pace for 1,026 yards. The fifth-year wide receiver has been inconsistent, however, catching less than 55% of the passes thrown his way. And he has scored just two touchdowns. But to be fair, he has maintained his 10-yard average gain. . . . If the Browns are without Joe Schobert, Christian Kirksey, Denzel Ward and Damarious Randall against the invading Atlanta Falcons Sunday, take cover and then the over. (Updating: the Browns placed Kirksey and E.J. Gaines on injured reserve Wednesday.)

Monday, November 5, 2018

Monday leftovers

 John Dorsey must have had mixed, maybe even conflicted, feelings as he watched his current team play his former team Sunday afternoon in downtown Cleveland.

On the one hand, the Browns’ general manager had to feel awfully proud privately as the Kansas City Chiefs took apart the Cleveland defense in the 37-21 loss. And on the other, he no doubt was upset his current team stretched its current losing streak to four games.

It took Dorsey several years as general manager in Kansas City to put together what arguably is currently one of the best teams in the National Football League. The Chiefs' roster is heavily populated with many of his college draft selections.

It didn’t happen overnight as he constructed piece by piece the parts that have emerged as one of the most dangerous offensive teams the NFL has seen in a long time.

The legacy he left behind should last for a long time since most of his choices are still young enough to cause damage for many seasons and give fans of the club more than just hope that a future Super Bowl appearance is not that far away.

That’s the hope Browns fans cling to with Dorsey in charge, His reputation as a solid talent evaluator preceded him to Cleveland. He has been with the organization for less than a year and his presence has already impacted the quality of the roster.

He inherited a mess, a franchise that was headed nowhere in a hurry without a compass. He almost immediately stabilized it, giving it credibility, silencing the guffaws that usually accompanied mention of the Cleveland Browns.

That’s why it would be unfair to expect positive results from Dorsey right away. It takes time to build a team, especially one that was gutted a couple of years ago by those who never should have been in charge in the first place.

With only one draft class on his watch in Cleveland, it’s unfair to Dorsey for long-suffering Browns fans to expect immediate results. The relatively strong and unexpected start to this season buoyed the hopes of some fans.

As it has turned out, it was only a small glimpse into the future and at the same time an aberration. Standing at 2-2-1 after five games and the insertion of Baker Mayfield as the starting quarterback was merely a tease.

The fans and, as it turned out the Browns’ front office, were jolted back to reality in the four games since that giddy feeling. It, among other internal annoyances, cost Hue Jackson and Todd Haley their jobs.

No one expected the Browns to all of a sudden become a factor in the AFC North, although observers of the NFL began to wonder if that was going to be the case after the first five games.

Situations like the one last season in Los Angeles with the Rams, where a team almost instantly goes from worst to first, rarely occur. The big difference there was all the right pieces and parts were in place. They just needed the right head coach.

That is a situation that could happen some day in Cleveland with Dorsey in charge. Patience is what is required for at least one more year. And when the next steps are taken, he will probably have much better feelings about his team while watching a game than he did Sunday against the Chiefs.
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How lethal is the Kansas City offense? A closer look at what went down Sunday in Cleveland reveals the answer.

The Chiefs needed only 47 plays to score their 37 points. Their final snap total actually reached 58 after the Browns’ defense finally showed some life and shut down the Chiefs in their final two possessions, well after they had locked up the victory.

Of those 58 plays, 20 gained at least 10 yards. That's 34.5%, a rather astounding success rate of plays that theoretically gain a first down with just one snap. Of those 20, seven produced gains of at least 20 yards.

Conversely, the Browns ran 70 plays, only 15 of which were at least 10 yards. Of those 15, just two were longer than 20 yards, a 23-yard pass from Baker Mayfield to Duke Johnson Jr. and a 38-yard connection with Antonio Callaway.

Other than that, the Browns marched down then field almost deliberately in an effort to keep the ball out of the hands of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Only problem was Mahomes, when he owned the football, ate up sizable chunks of yardage with relative ease.

The big difference is the Browns’ offense with Mayfield in charge is in its infant stages. The Chiefs, meanwhile, hum like a well-tuned engine under the direction of Mahomes, who shows maturity and poise well beyond his years,
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The screen pass is a staple in the playbooks of most football teams. It was created many years ago as an antidote to a strong pass rush and teams that love to blitz. It is a play that relies heavily on acting and exquisite timing. One little glitch in its execution usually winds up in a negative play.

The Chiefs ran numerous screens against the Browns and every one was successful, in a few cases for huge gains. Their initial touchdown was scored on a screen when Kareem Hunt romped 50 yards after making a reception in the left flat.

The key to the success of a screen rests with the offensive linemen, who pretend to block for a normal pass. After holding their blocks for a predetermined period of time, they abandon those blocks and drift to the flat, forming a cordon for the running back who slides out in the flat behind them awaiting the pass from the quarterback.

The Browns’ version of the screen usually winds up with minimal yardage and often times negative yardage. That’s because they do not possess the athleticism to make it work. Might not be a bad idea to study the way the Chiefs run it and try to replicate it.
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When it was announced shortly before the game Sunday that Desmond Harrison would not suit up due to an undisclosed illness and that Greg Robinson would fill in at offensive left tackle, I worried for Mayfield’s health.

Robinson, the second overall selection in the 2014 college draft out of Auburn, has been a spectacular bust in his previous four NFL seasons, flaming out with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams for three seasons and last season with Detroit.

At 6-5 and 335 pounds, he was a plodder. All he did was take up space, a lot of space, which was thought to be good enough. Maybe it was in college, but Robinson was exposed in the NFL, where pass rushers were quick and fast, abilities he wished he had.

Playing the second-most important position on the offense, chief blind side protector for the quarterback, had not been a problem with the Browns since Joe Thomas was drafted in 2007. His retirement changed all that and paved the way for Harrison, whose athleticism wowed the coaches to the point where the rookie won the starting job.

But he played like a rookie and was clearly overmatched by stronger and quicker defensive ends. He had all kinds of problems holding the edge in the ground game and became a turnstile in the passing game.

Robinson’s starting debut Sunday wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. He held his own for the most part with regard to protecting his quarterback. Chris Hubbard had a much more difficult time on the opposite side.

Right now, the 26-year-old Robinson is an upgrade at the position. It will be interesting to see what the Browns do when Harrison recovers from that undisclosed illness. Guess here is Robinson stays put for the time being and Harrison learns from the sideline, which is where he should have been all along.
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Finally . . . The offenses for both teams played well enough Sunday to keep the punting Colquitt brothers relatively silent. Dustin of the Chiefs punted just twice; so did Britton of the Browns,  but one was blocked due to, surprise!, another special teams breakdown. . . . Wonder how long it will take Gregg Williams to realize his special teams guy is not special at all. . . . It looks as though newcomer Breshad Perriman is becoming a favorite of Mayfield and new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens. He was targeted six times as a receiver and ran a sweep twice for nine yards. . . . The Chiefs needed only 11½ minutes to score their 21 first-half points and just 5:32 to score their next 13 in the second half. . . . Kind of ironic that Greg Joseph was deprived of attempting extra points on three occasions after making a 51-yard field goal. . . .  The Browns’ red zone blues were absent against the Chiefs as they converted all three opportunities into touchdowns. . . . A here-here to Kitchens for finally taking advantage of Johnson's talents as we dive once again into the Duke Johnson Jr. touch watch: One carry (that’s got to improve) for eight yards; nine receptions on nine targets (that’s more like it) for 78 yards and two touchdowns. Ten touches for 86 yards, an 8.6-yard average per touch, For the season, 52 touches for 396 yards. That’s 7.6 yards per touch.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

What else did you expect?

First the bad news. The visiting Kansas City Chiefs overwhelmed the Browns, 37-21 Sunday.

Now the good news. The Cleveland offense finally showed encouraging signs that  it was reawakening from its three-game slumber or else the final would have been worse.

Some more bad news. The vaunted Kansas City offense, led by the remarkable Patrick Mahomes, toyed with the Cleveland defense most of the afternoon, piling up 499 yards in ridiculously easy fashion.

The Browns’ defense, battered by injuries to an already vulnerable secondary, had no clue on how to stop Mahomes and his runaway offensive machine, which scored touchdowns on its first three possessions and five of its first six.

Free safety Damarious Randall didn’t suit up and cornerbacks Denzel Ward (hip) and E.J. Gaines (concussion) went down in the opening quarter, forcing Gregg Williams to scramble the rest of the afternoon to plug holes. As if Williams didn’t have enough to worry about in his debut as the club’s interim head coach.

Mahomes, who threw for 375 yards, is a load to handle even when you are at full strength, but it is patently unfair when forced to play people like rookie Tavierre Thomas and Denzel Rice. Williams was down to six defensive backs (only two starters) in his rotation.

That’s not to say Mahomes would have been pressed had Ward and Gaines not exited. He was also awarded excellent pass protection, providing him oodles of time to find open receivers, an element of the Cleveland defense that was sadly lacking.

Mahomes, who has dismantled opposing defenses all season, put on a classic display on how to play quarterback in the National Football League, working with stunning precision with his extremely talented cast.

It must have felt like old home week for two of the Chiefs’ monsters on offense. Running back Kareem Hunt (Willoughby South) and tight end Travis Kelce (Cleveland Heights) accounted for all five Kansas City touchdowns.

Hunt, who ran for 91 yards and turned a simple screen pass into a 50-yard touchdown run on the Chiefs’ opening possession, also scored twice on the ground, while Kelce caught a pair of scoring passes as Mahomes ran his touchdown pass total this season to 29 in just nine games.

He also played pitch and catch with wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins, who had few problems finding soft spots in the Cleveland secondary, which played mostly zone after Ward and Gaines departed.

On the bright side, it was an afternoon when Baker Mayfield showed several glimpses of the quarterback fans saw after taking over for Tyrod Taylor midway through the third game of the season.

While it was quite evident the Chiefs were the better team, the Browns did not go quietly as they had during the three-game losing streak they dragged into this one. Not one three-and-out in eight possessions. That qualifies as progress.

New offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens leaned much more heavily on the ground game, especially in the early going, an obvious attempt to keep the ball away from Mahomes.

Only one problem. Once Mahomes & Co. owned the ball, the die was cast. The first three first-half Chiefs possessions resulted in touchdowns covering 245 yards in 20 snaps.

The Browns responded nicely to all three with 15 points of their own, requiring 32 snaps. Nick Chubb carried eight times in a well-executed 12-play, 75-yard drive that took seven minutes off the clock, Chubb scoring from three yards out.

Duke Johnson Jr., who reappeared after being becoming the forgotten man in the offense of departed coordinator Todd Haley, scored the first of his two touchdowns on a 19-yard swing pass from Mayfield in the final minute of the half. He wound up with nine receptions for 78 yards.

The score would have been a little closer at the half had Williams, who gambled three times on fourth down and was successful twice, apparently felt lucky and decided to go for two points after both scores and failed.

He failed a third time after the Browns scored again on the first play of the fourth quarter. By going for it way too early after the first score, he sort of boxed himself into attempting it all afternoon, By doing so he handcuffed kicker Greg Joseph, who earlier had kicked a 51-yard field goal, to the bench.

The Chiefs put the game away in the third quarter, taking a 34-15 lead, Kelce grabbing a 13-yard scoring strike over Jabrill Peppers climaxing a 75-yard drive, and Hunt scoring easily two plays after Damien Williams, a running back, blocked a Britton Colquitt punt deep in Cleveland territory.

Their offense was running so smoothly in the first half, the Chiefs encountered only two third downs (a third resulted in a Rice pick on a desperation heave by Mahomes on the final play of the half), converting both.

The first conversion pretty much foretold the fans what the rest of the afternoon was going to be like for the Browns’ defense.

On a third-and- 20 at the Chiefs’ 46, Mahomes destroyed a blitz with a perfect screen pass to reserve running back Spencer Ware, who rambled 25 yards before being run out of bounds at the Cleveland 29. Just like that, out of danger and deep in enemy territory. Four plays later, Kelce hauled in his first touchdown.

Mayfield, who threw for 297 yards, looked more comfortable in the pocket than he has in weeks. Kitchens dialed up several quick-developing pass plays for the rookie and designed a few more that allowed him to escape the pocket and remain vertical.

If anything, it was a step in the right direction for the offense and promoted the notion that the Browns have found a solid running back in Chubb. And that Johnson will be much more a factor in Kitchens’ offense.

It’s also a step in the wrong direction for the defense, which can’t seem to put major pressure on the quarterback, needs to work overtime on tackling and has problems shutting down opposing receivers.

That’s the way things go for teams, usually losing ones, that are inconsistent when trying to put everything together. With the Browns, it’s almost never the case when both sides of the football play at peak efficiency. Thus the losing.

That’s why they have lost four games in a row, five of the last six, languish once again in their perennial home, the basement of in the AFC North, and haven’t won a game in November since Nov.. 23, 2014, a 26-24 victory in Atlanta. That’s 13 games and nearly four years ago.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Only the final score is a mystery

 In the old days of the National Football League, the really, really old days, there was a caveat issued by observers of the league that, every once in a while, rang true. It went like this.

“On any given Sunday, any team in the National Football League can beat any other team.” Made no difference if one of the teams was much worse than the other. Anything was possible.

The first time I heard that expression, it was uttered by Blanton Collier, the brilliant football mind who took over as coach of the original Browns from Paul Brown back in the early 1960s.

(I later found out that famous expression was originally made by Bert Bell, a team owner and coach in Philadelphia who later became commissioner of the NFL from 1946 to 1959.)

Collier said it one week while discussing an upcoming opponent, one that was clearly inferior to the Browns. Back then, though, just about every other NFL team was inferior to the Browns.

Collier’s cautionary approach to the game allowed the possibility that an upset was possible and not to automatically put the game in the win column. Numerous coaches over the years glommed onto it before it faded.

So what does that have to do with the Browns’ game Sunday against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs? Well, this kind of fits the Bell/Collier expression that became hackneyed over the years.

Here come the Chiefs rampaging their way through their 2018 schedule at a breakneck scoring pace behind the exploits of quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, who has put up some stunning numbers in his first full season as a starter.

The Browns are playing their worst football of the season and just fired their head coach and offensive coordinator. It’s a classic case of one of the best teams in the NFL against one of the worst. It’s so bad, oddsmakers have installed the Chiefs as eight-point favorites on the road.

The Chiefs average nearly 37 points a game. They have scored 30 or more points in all but one game. Their only loss, a 43-40 setback in New England. They seemingly score with ridiculous ease no matter where they are on the field. The Browns, meanwhile, have encountered problems on both sides of the ball with no solutions in sight.

To give you some idea of just how lethal the Chiefs’ offense is, Dustin Colquitt has punted just 21 times in eight games. His brother Britton, who boots for the Browns, has 59 punts. He reached 23 after the third game.

In the interest of honesty, there is no way the Browns can stop this offense, Bell’s bromide notwithstanding. Picking a winner in this one is easy. The only mystery is how many points the Chiefs score.

The only chance the Browns have in this one is taking advantage of the Chiefs’ lone weakness, their defense, and attempt to slug it out offensively. The KC defense can’t stop the run, can’t stop the pass. It is almost as bad as the offense is good.

It surrenders more yards a game than the offense musters and has given up only five fewer points than the 2-5-1 Browns. That’s why the offense has to literally outscore opponents to win.

Another possibility, albeit extremely slim. In fact, it is a reach. Here goes. The Chiefs haven’t played a bad game on offense this season They are due. It happens even to the best of teams. One stumble isn’t going to hurt, right?

Then you snap out of it and realize two facts: The Cleveland offense has slumbered the last three weeks. And on the other side of the football, the secondary has been strafed repeatedly this season.

One can only imagine how much fun Mahomes will have Sunday against that secondary. With tight end Travis Kelce, wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Tyreek Hill and running back Kareem Hunt in his arsenal, this promises to be an unfair fight.

Hunt, who played his high school ball at Willoughby South, has compiled 854 yards and scored 10 touchdowns from scrimmage this season, proving his rookie season was neither a fluke nor an aberration. He is as dangerous in the passing game as he is in the ground game.

Kelce (Cleveland Heights High School), Hill and Watkins have combined for 122 receptions, 1,800 yards (not a typo) and 14 touchdowns, insane numbers for half a season.

In a perverse way, at least for Browns fans, it will be a treat watching Mahomes operate in almost surgical fashion. Having watched him in other games, he has such a great feel for the game and almost always comes up with the correct play. His unerring accuracy is a gift.

It’s as though the game has slowed down for Mahomes, whose father was a journeyman pitcher in the major leagues from 1992 to 2003. He sometimes sees things before they unfold. That innate talent cannot be taught.

Making it all happen up front is one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. You don’t put up 430 yards a game by accident. Three members of that unit are ex-Browns: Cameron Erving at left guard, Austin Reiter at center and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.

The Cleveland defense, which has not played well during the current losing streak, is still without middle linebacker Joe Schobert. It will be interesting to see how they perform now that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has added the duties of interim head coach.

The only hope the Browns have in slowing down Mahomes is continuing their rather amazing string of takeaways, which now totals a league-leading 22, six more than Chicago. That’s also a bit of a reach because the meager Browns offense hasn’t capitalized much, but at least it will theoretically keep the ball out of Mahomes’ hands.

With all due respect to Bell and Collier, this Sunday down by the lakefront will not be one of those given Sundays. The Chiefs will continue their plundering in rather easy fashion.

It will be close for a few minutes and the Browns might even score their initial first-quarter touchdown of the season. But Baker Mayfield will be on the receiving end of another NFL beatdown while Mahomes throws at least four more touchdown passes against the beleaguered Cleveland secondary. Make it:

Chiefs 41, Browns 16

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Rough edges

 If Browns fans expect Browns interim head coach Gregg Williams to dial back the rhetoric compared to his predecessor in the second half of the season, here’s a warning. It’s not going to happen. Diplomacy is not this man’s strength.

If nothing else, Williams is a straight shooter, unlike Hue Jackson who came at you from multiple directions. You might not like what he says because good, bad or otherwise, if it’s on his mind, it’s on his lips. He gave a preview of it in his initial news conference the other day.

Flaunting hubris that flowed in large chunks along the way, the new coach was swift to remind the Cleveland media of just how good he is and how much others around football had sought his valuable services after his three-season stint as head coach of the Buffalo Bills (2001-03).

“Since I left Buffalo, I’ve had 11 letters sent in to interview for head coaching jobs, In all of them behind the scenes . . .  in four of them I didn’t even have to show up,” he boasted. “(They said) Just sign the contract and come.”

He turned them all down, even the ones where all he purportedly had to do was sign a contract and the job would have been his. He conveniently did not mention on what level those sight-unseen job offers were offered.

When pressed by ESPN’s Pat McManamon, who wanted to know if those were offers from National Football League teams, Williams backed off . . . somewhat.

“I probably never should have said that because I put other people on the spot,” he said. “Those things were easy for me to do because if it is not right, it is not right. I just chose not to do that and chose to keep doing what I was doing and got a raise every time I stayed wherever I stayed. It just is what it is.”

Well that clears that up. Like a good politician, he did not answer the question that was posed.

Williams viewed his new job wistfully. “You know what is fun about sitting in a chair and being a head coach?” he said. “Coaching football. Not coaching marketing, not coaching scouting, not coaching ticketing, not coaching analytics. Coaching football. And when people say you can’t do that and be the head coach, you don’t know.”

That last statement qualifies as a bunch of disqualifying blather.

So how did Williams get the job as interim head coach of the Browns to begin with? Process of elimination, that’s how. Sort of a last-man-standing scenario.

After the ax fell on Jackson and Todd Haley on Monday, Williams was the only high-ranking assistant coach left. Special teams coordinator Amos Jones was still there, too, but there was no way he was getting the gig.

To call Williams colorful would be like calling the Louvre an art gallery. He is clearly not going to be a favorite of the Browns’ public relations people not win any popularity contests. His rough edges have rough edges. Typical shoot first and ask questions later kinda guy.

“I’m not looking for a whole lot of friends anymore,” he said. “If I want a friend, I’ll buy a Labrador.”

He also made it rather clear he had nothing to do with elevating running backs coach Freddie Kitchens to be his offensive coordinator. “That was done,” he said. “No. That was done. That was not me. That was everybody else.”

In other words, General Manager John Dorsey for certain and likely other key members of the front office.

Buckle up, fans, because the second half of the season will be a whole lot bumpier than the first half with the volatile and unpredictable Williams at the helm and liable to say just about anything that comes to his mind.

I think it’s pretty safe to assume that with his abrasive nature, the likelihood of Williams becoming the club’s permanent head coach is about as sure as the club changing its mind and rehiring Jackson.

Mid-week thoughts

 I have never been a fan of Mike Lombardi, who spent two tours with the Browns in the front office in various roles and created so much mischief and controversy he was cashiered both times.

He is still bouncing around the National Football League, poking his nose into the exploits and business of teams and sharing his thoughts with subscribers of the terrific Web site The Athletic.

I find myself, shockingly, agreeing with his latest notes-laden piece in which he leads off with some advice for Jimmy Haslam III. He says the Browns’ owner does not understand that culture, not collaboration, wins in the NFL.

First of all, I firmly believe – and have always believed – that in sports, culture begins at the top. I’m a trickle-down theory sort who thinks that if you are not strong at the top, that weakness filters down.

Such has been the case with the Browns, the ones who returned to the NFL in 1999 after three years of misguided exile, the ones who have not developed that culture in the roughly two decades since that return.

Lombardi makes his case, citing Haslam’s words as he addressed the Cleveland media at the news conference Monday announcing the twin firings of head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

“The message today,” Haslam said, “is we are not going to put up with internal discord. We want people who are collaborative and work together.”

To which Lombardi counters, writing, “Collaborative and working together are words that sound wonderful in a sentence, but never apply to the NFL. The NFL is not a rock and roll band; there is no overall collaboration. It is a military structure with a supreme commander who earns the respect of his men while leading.”

In order to be successful, teams need an ultimate decision maker, according to Lombardi, citing Bill Belichick in New England. “He is the commander in chief and everyone . . . understands their roles and performs them accordingly,” he writes. “And don’t forget we have never dedicated a monument to a committee.”

Lombardi, who has worked for Belichick, was employed by Haslam for a year before being fired for a second time when Joe Banner was in charge of the Browns several years ago. He calls Haslam “a likable man with great intentions” and no understanding of the difference between collaboration and culture.

What the Browns need, Lombardi says, is someone who can come in and set a tone for a team that has no direction, no idea what makes a successful team and with no plan designed with the future in mind.

Seek and then hire a culture builder, Lombardi writes. Get that “supreme commander” and give him “total authority to run the entire football operation.” That rang a bell.

I thought for sure that when Mike Holmgren agreed to become president of the Browns in 2009, he would bring the necessary culture he knew well when he coached so successfully in Green Bay and Seattle.

As it turned out, he treated his job in Cleveland as the final step toward retirement and made bad decision after bad decision. When he retained the awful Eric Mangini, a man he inherited, as his coach, I knew then that Holmgren, who somehow managed to last three seasons in Cleveland, was just taking Randy Lerner’s money and running.

As for the current crew at 76 Lou Groza Blvd in Berea, John Dorsey is not that man, either. The general manager, whose credentials are solid, has a strong background in player personnel. That’s where he is most comfortable and does his best work. He is not a supreme commander.

The next man Haslam hires, writes Lombardi, should be a culture builder, a supreme commander with total authority to run the entire football operation. He “must work only for Haslam. Not for John Dorsey, not for quarterback Baker Mayfield or anyone else.”

And then he veered too far for my taste when he suggested Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney is that man. I find myself in total agreement with Lombardi’s thinking except for the Swinney part even though you can’t argue with his success at Clemson.

I would much rather keep it in state. Why not Urban Meyer? Not as a coach. As an administrator with his fingers on the pulse of this franchise. That would be the ultimate challenge for the brilliant Ohio State coach.

He built winning cultures at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida before landing his dream job in Columbus. If there is anything that would lure Meyer away, it would be the challenge of completely turning around an NFL franchise that has been the league’s stepchild for way too long.

He knows how to chart a course and then steer it in the direction of a winning culture, one that is almost guaranteed to produce the kinds of results for which Browns fans have yearned for years. It’s time to pay them off for all those years they have suffered.

We know what he can do on a football field. Winning and Urban Meyer are synonymous. The natural next step for him would be to move up and prove he can be just as successful running a team from the front office as he has been as a coach.

He certainly has the résumé. He knows football. He knows how to run successful programs, He knows what it takes to win. He has been incredibly successful everywhere he has been employed. And he is a winner.

Why not in Cleveland?
*       *       *
The last time Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes Jr. met on a football field, it was two years ago in Lubbock, Texas, in a good old-fashioned Lone Star State shootout. Mayfield’s Oklahoma Sooners knocked off Mahomes’ Texas Tech Red Raiders, 66-59, in regulation in a point-a-minute score-a-thon.

Mayfield threw for 545 yards and seven touchdowns. Mahomes threw for an astounding 734 yards, five TDs and completed 52 of an even more astounding 88 pass attempts. He ran for two more scores and compiled an absurd 819 yards in total offense.

The offenses of both teams were overwhelming, stringing together 10 consecutive drives for touchdowns in the second half. The Red Raiders were also 20 of 25 on third down. The defenses were on the field apparently because they had to be and yet it seemed as though they were nowhere in sight.

And now these two young men meet for the first time since that classic game Sunday afternoon in Cleveland when Mahomes and his high scoring Kansas City Chiefs take on Mayfield and his struggling Browns.

Mahomes has been sensational this season, throwing for 2,526 yards, 26 touchdowns and only six interceptions, all the picks coming in the last four games. Only Jacksonville shut him out, picking him off twice.

It might behoove interim coach Gregg Williams to study tapes of that game to figure out how and why the Jaguars were successful against Mahomes even though they lost, 30-14.
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Scraps . . .New offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens called plays in the Browns’ final exhibition game of the season, a 35-17 victory over the Lions in Detroit. His starting quarterback for that game: Baker Mayfield. . . . . Wondering how long it will be before the Browns sit rookie offensive left tackle Desmond Harrison before his ineptitude causes a serious injury. . . . 60% of the Chiefs’ offensive line is comprised of former Browns – left guard Cam Erving, center Austin Reiter and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. . . . Also on the KC roster are Greater Clevelanders Travis Kelce (Cleveland Heights) and Kareem Hunt (Willoughby South), and Nate Orchard, another ex-Brown.