Thursday, September 30, 2010

More Mangini Magic?

When it comes to playing guessing games, very few do it better than Eric Mangini. In his own strange way, the Browns coach seems to believe he can fool the opposition by waffling on who starts at quarterback for his beleaguered team. He did it last season with Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn when both men were healthy.

This season, he played the same game again with quarterbacks Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace after Delhomme went down with a bum ankle following the season-opening loss in Tampa Bay. Mangini suggested Delhomme might be ready for the Kansas City game even though the ankle was far from healed. Of course, Wallace started.

For some strange reason, Mangini believes he has a competitive edge if the opponent doesn't know for whom to prepare. It hasn't worked in the past, but he insists on falling back on that tactical move as if it has paid dividends. It hasn't come close.

Perhaps that's why he has changed his approach to announcing his starting quarterback for Sunday's invasion of the Cincinnati Bengals. He actually came right out and proclaimed that Delhomme, if healthy, will start under center. "He's our starter,"the coach said. "If he's ready to start, he'll start."

There. That wasn't so difficult.

No deception. No cloak-and-dagger stuff. Just downright honesty.


On second thought, does that really mean Wallace will start?

Hmmmm. Another Mangini swerve? Nah.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday leftovers

It isn't often that a National Football League team treats wide receivers as subordinates in the offense's playbook. Such, however, seems to be the case with the Browns.

How else can Brian Daboll, Eric Mangini, Gil Haskell and Mike Holmgren (as we climb the corporate ladder of responsibility and/or blame) explain why only nine of Seneca Wallace's passes in Sunday's loss in Baltimore were directed at wideouts? And eight of them were targeted for the hands of Joshua Cribbs. Mo Massaquoi, the team's so-called No. 1 wide receiver, saw only one (incomplete) pass thrown his way. And Chansi Stuckey was nothing more than window dressing.

The other 15 throws went to either Peyton Hillis on swings, dumpoffs and checkdowns, tight end Ben Watson and the no-gain dumpoff to fullback Lawrence Vickers. What in the world is going on here?

The fact that the Browns cannot stretch the field successfully through the air gives rise to the notion that opponents from this point forward will place no fewer than eight men in the box on every play and dare the Cleveland quarterback to beat them. Which is what the Ravens did Sunday, making Hillis' 144-yard day on the ground that much more remarkable.

If Holmgren doesn't see just how poor his receiving corps is on the flanks, then it is safe to assume he now wears blinders for the first time in his NFL career.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan tried just about everything in a desperate attempt to rattle Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco. He dialed up blitzes from just about every conceivable direction, but Flacco, sensing pending trouble, wisely called for max protection and made the Browns pay the price.

Flacco, not the most agile quarterback in the NFL, had an inordinate amount of time all afternoon to throw the ball as the Browns' pass rush stumbled and staggered. Would the presence of outside linebacker Marcus Benard, the club's best pass rusher who was unavailable due to injury, have made a difference? If so, then the club is hurting more than they think in that critical area.

It was not a coincidence the Browns' running game took a significant leap when Tony Pashos replaced the injured John St. Clair at right tackle in the first quarter. Pashos is a grinder and pounder who fits in well with Hillis' running style. Playing next to Pork Chop Womack, another grinder, the right side of the line is no longer seen as weak spot. St. Clair's best position is on the bench.

One of the unsung heroes of Sunday's game was nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin. For most of the afternoon, he commanded double teams as the Baltimore running attack suffered a large number of misfires. That allowed Cleveland linebackers to remain clean and rack up more tackles than normal.

And Rubin showed his versatility midway in the fourth quarter during a zone blitz called by Ryan. Rubin dropped off the line of scrimmage into shallow coverage and made a solid, open-field tackle of Baltimore running back Ray Rice for just a four-yard gain. His versatility and athleticism on the play has to have caught the attention of the coaching staff.


Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, one of the best fecal-matter disturbers in the business, was a virtual no show against the Browns. The normally active Lewis was neutralized for the most part by center Alex Mack, who was able to get to the second level most of the afternoon. Solid work by Womack and left guard Eric Steinbach freed up Mack to do his thing and frustrate Lewis.

Their work basically provided the little creases with which Hillis had to work and the big fullback took full advantage. He never lost yardage in any of his 22 carries. If Daboll is smart -- let's give him the benefit of the doubt here -- we'll see a lot more of Hillis Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. It seemed he did his best running with Vickers in front of him in either the I or offset I formation.

Slapping the Ravens in the mouth over and over had to have felt good in spite of the loss. The Browns basically did to the Ravens what the Ravens normally do to them. They took no crap and presumably sent a message to the rest of the AFC North that these aren't the same old pushover Cleveland Browns. "We might not win," they seemed to be saying based on their performance against the Ravens, "but you can bet you'll know you've been in a fight." We'll find out soon enough Sunday against the Bengals.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The thinnest line

There is such a fine line between winning and losing, it takes extraordinary scrutiny to detect it. Such is not the case with the Cleveland Browns. Sunday's 24-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens is ample proof.

The Browns, for the greater part of the game, played well enough to win. Their offense, while not razor sharp, executed all afternoon without turning the ball over. That, in itself, is a victory with this team.

Peyton Hills, with his throwback running style, is becoming the second-most well-known NFL player named Peyton after a certain Indianapolis Colts quarterback, giving the Browns a weapon on the ground. His no-nonsense, here-I-come-try-to-stop-me style of running is reminiscent of former Tampa Bay fullback Mike Alstott, who took pleasure in gaining yards and hurting people.

The vaunted Baltimore defense, which prides itself on stopping the run, had no answer for the powerful and determined Hillis, who pounded out 144 yards and a touchdown. Many of those yards were of the down-and-drty variety where he merely stuck his nose in a tiny hole and gouged out extra yardage. Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis was a virtual non-factor in this one as the Cleveland offensive line played very well.

The defense, with one notable exception, played well enough to win. That exception, of course, was when Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco decided to throw the football toward Anquan Boldin when his club was within striking distance of the Cleveland goal line. It was most unfortunate the Browns assigned Eric Wright to stop Boldin. He didn't stand a chance.

Boldin made four trips into the Cleveland end zone and came away with the ball on three of them, making Wright look more like a college freshman making his first start rather than a veteran in his fourth National Football League season as the Browns tumbled to 0-3.

Wright, who has been around long enough to know, seemed to bite on Boldin's first move on all three TD receptions and each time, it was the veteran wide receiver's second move that allowed him to achieve the separation needed for an easy catch.

But that fine line between winning and losing didn't rear its ugly little head until the latter stages of the game unless you factor rookie safety T. J. Ward's drop of a sure pick 6 on the second play of the game into the equation. Ward makes that play and the Browns, at least in theory, win the game.

Back to the final stages, when the difference between winning and losing takes shape. All it took was three mistakes by the Browns to stick this one in the wrong column.

No. 1: What in the world possessed offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to call a counter play from the Cleveland 20 halfway through the fourth quarter shortly after the Ravens had taken a 21-17 lead? The Browns hand't run that play at all previously and the Ravens hadn't stopped the dive play all day long. Hillis was running well. Seneca Wallace's short pitch to an unsuspecting Hillis winds up back on the Cleveland 3 and short-circuits any possibility of a successful drive. Nail #1.

No. 2: Next series, third and 2 at the Cleveland 28 with about four minutes left and Hillis showing no signs of tiring or slowing down. The Baltimore defense is tiring, so why not another dive play by Hillis? Daboll thinks differently and calls for a long pass to Joshua Cribbs. It sails out of bounds. Drive over. Nail #2.

No. 3: Subsequent series, the Ravens have a third and 4 at their 34-yard line with 1:55 left in the game and clearly playing defensive football. The Browns squeeze the line of scrimmage, but Matt Roth can't help himself and commits a neutral-zone infraction. The Browns, out of timeouts, never get the ball back. Nail #3.

The little things often times make the biggest difference between winning and losing. Some teams just can't help themselves. The Browns time and again fall into that category. Thus their place among the bottom feeders.

However, despite the disappointing way they lost this one, there is no question the Browns played their best overall game of the season against the Ravens. And if they play the same way next Sunday at home against Cincinnati, the Bengals will be in for a long afternoon.

Their overall effort cannot be faulted. A lot of pundits, including yours truly, believed this would be a blowout. A Baltimore blowout. All signs pointed toward it. Home opener for the Ravens, Flacco usually plays well against the Browns and the Ravens have a strong edge in the talent department.

It's only one game, of course, but the Browns raised their competitive level a couple of notches even though they lost. The Ravens knew they were in a ball game and have to realize how fortunate they were to win.

The big question is whether the Browns can sustain their effort more than one game.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Not gonna happen

If defense is the name of the game in the National Football League, you can bet the Baltimore Ravens are among the best to play that game. In fact, they play it extraordinarily well.

That's why the Browns will not only lose to the Ravens Sunday in Baltimore, they will lose large. That prediction even though the Ravens have scored just two touchdowns in eight quarters this season. It is only a matter of time before that offense plays up to pre-season expectations.

When the Ravens traded for Anquan Boldin during the offseason, giving quarterback Joe Flacco a much-needed No. 1 receiver, all the smart heads around the NFL anticipated a flood of points from an offense that lacked an aerial threat last season. It hasn't come thus far mainly because the Ravens have been shackled by two very good defenses (New York Jets and Cincinnati).

The Browns, who received a strong defensive effort in their first two outings, are not the Jets or Bengals on that side of the ball, however. And Flacco, who has thrown just one touchdown pass, is way overdue to help his club's defense get more rest.

There is only one way the Browns, whose offensive performance this season against two of the NFL's weak sisters (Tampa Bay and Kansas City) has been nothing short of abysmal, have a chance in the Ravens' home opener. The defense must overachieve. It's as simple that.

That means defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has to get down and dirty in his approach. The Jets and Bengals harassed and harried Flacco, often times forcing him to deliver the ball before he wanted. That's what the Browns, who failed to do that against Tampa's Josh Freeman and K.C.'s Matt Cassel, need to do.

Playing defense is all about aggression. Just watch the Ravens and the way they play when the opposition has the ball. They are masters at disrupting plays, often forcing the opposition into mistakes. They play defense in a very belligerent, almost hostile, manner. As a result, Ray Lewis and his buddies have not allowed a touchdown (but eight field goals) this season.

The only way the Browns can win this game is to shut down Ray Rice and the Ravens' running game and intimidate Flacco by playing play press coverage against his receivers. If they play as conservatively as their offense, the Ravens will finally discover their offense.

The Cleveland offense? Forget about it. Not with Seneca Wallace at quarterback. (And isn't it about time Eric Mangini finally admits Jake Delhomme is going to be out a lot longer that originally thought?) It stands no chance against the very active Baltimore defense. Its only hope is to get close enough to the goal line for Phil Dawson to kick a field goal or three.

Given that both clubs' offenses have staggered out of the gate, there is every logical reason to believe this will be a low-scoring affair. That's not gonna happen. Somehow, I think a lot of points are going to be scored, most of them by the home team. Make it:

Baltimore 31, Cleveland 6

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday's leftovers

Quick question: What is the personality of this season's edition of the Cleveland Browns? After OTAs, minicamp, training camp, four exhibition games and the first two games of the regular season, can anyone definitively describe or explain the personality of this team?

If it is rooted in the running game, something is terribly wrong because that aspect of the offense is moribund at best. If it's the passing game, then someone should grab Eric Mangini and explain to him that he has a terrible receiving corps.

It is said a football team takes on the personality of its coach. Sort of a trickle-down effect. Considering Mangini's personality and ultra conservative approach to coaching, it's no wonder the Browns have floundered out of the gate this season. This team has no apparent life.

Dissenters to this notion will argue the Browns lost both games by a total of just five points. Five measly points. That's how close they are to being 2-0 as opposed to 0-2. That's the argument of losers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-0, having scored only six more points than the Browns. The difference is the Steelers, playing without their starting quarterback for the first four games of the season, know how to win games. They do the little things that help win those games. The Browns don't because they don't know how.

The good news thus far is the Browns own the same record as the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings. The bad news is both those teams have a far better chance of making the playoffs than the personality-challenged Browns.

Unless Mangini can somehow manage to summon some life for his club in the next month, and that would take a major change in his coaching approach, the Browns are are headed toward a similar start to last season when they celebrated just once after the first 12 games.

The Baltimore Ravens, this Sunday's opponent, have had a tough time putting points on the board. They haven't played the Browns yet. The Steelers, as previously mentioned, have had a tough time putting points on the board. They haven't played the Browns yet.

If Mike Holmgren doesn't see this as bad offensive football by his team, he lowered the bar somewhere between Seattle and Cleveland. Either that or he is quietly letting Mangini hang himself and greasing the slide for his reentry into the coaching ranks.

Other thoughts:

* As if things weren't bad enough, opponents are playing keep-away with Joshua Cribbs width their kickoffs and punts. In a mute sign of ultimate respect, they are taking the All-Pro return specialist out of the equation. There goes good field position.

* Did you notice the Kansas City Chiefs often deployed eight and sometimes nine men in the box on defense at the snap Sunday? They basically dared Seneca Wallace to throw the ball. Unfortunately for the Browns, he accommodated them.

* With Jake Delhomme still questionable for the Ravens game, the Browns are now one injury away from the future at quarterback. If Wallace goes down, here comes Colt McCoy.

* T.J. Ward looks like the real deal based on his first two games. He seems to be comfortable in coverage, hits with authority and seems right at home on special teams. All the oft-injured rookie safety has to do now is remain healthy.

* When are we going to see Shaun Rogers at defensive end? Ahtyba Rubin has been solid at nose tackle, so why not move Rogers out?

* Marcus Benard is making a nice case for himself to start at outside linebacker. Move Scott Fujita inside, replacing Eric Barton, and stick the undrafted Benard on the weak side opposite Matt Roth. That would give the Browns two solid pass rushers.

* Chiefs coach Todd Haley, on the Browns after Sunday's victory: "That's a good team we played. They are fighting, fighting to play out there. It is evident they are a good team." Really? The team that turned the ball over twice, missed an easy field goal, committed nine penalties (not to mention a few others that were declined), and racked up a hefty 55 yards of offense and three first downs in the second half (one via the penalty route)? That team? Really? Wonder what he honestly thinks.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

No they are not

Stop it. Stop it right this minute.

For those of you who still believe the Cleveland Browns are a better football team than last season, maybe their performances in the first two games of the season will finally make you think otherwise.

All together now. Click you heels together three times and repeat after me: The Cleveland Browns are not improved over last season. They basically are the same team that finished 5-11.

Sure, some of the faces are different. But the quality of play has not improved. Losses to two of the National Football League's bottom feeders in the first two games of the season is more than ample proof that it's the same-old, same-old all over again. These are the games on the schedule the Browns were expected to win.

And because they are the NFL's version of Groundhog Day with Bill Murray in the role of Eric Mangini, they now enter the roughest part of the schedule with two highly disappointing losses. In the next seven games, the Browns must play Baltimore, Cincinnati, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, New England and the New York Jets.

All are teams with strong defenses and, for the most part, have no problem scoring points. The Browns will not be favored in any of those games, especially with an offense that renders one almost speechless when searching for appropriate adjectives. They have problems scoring against the Buccaneers and Chiefs. What makes anyone think it'll be better against these seven teams?

After Sunday's extremely disappointing loss, one has to wonder if Mangini can feel the leash tightening even more? Wonder how long it will take Mike Holmgren to realize he made a huge mistake in retaining the former wunderkind?

With the distinct possibility of the Browns repeating their 1-11 start last season, Holmgren has to be at least thinking of reaching for the plug and ending this misery. This just is not working, Mike. The fans are not the least bit thrilled with your club's start.

The Browns are not just a bad football team on offense. They're an awful team. Whether it's Jake Delhomme or Seneca Wallace under center, the Browns' ineptitude quotient rises significantly. At any point during the game, you can count on something to go wrong.

In the season-oepning loss to Tampa Bay, it was Delhomme's career-long flirtation with disaster that helped turn a possible victory into a sure loss. And in the 16-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Wallace's imitation of Delhomme helped produce the Chiefs' only touchdown of the day on Brandon Flowers' pick six early in the second quarter.

Holmgren's reputation as a quarterback guru is taking a severe hit with the play thus far of his two replacements for the departed Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson. Not saying Quinn and/or Anderson would have done any better. Fact is Delhomme is still a 35-year-old journeyman who is mistake-prone and Wallace is still a midget quarterback who has trouble seeing over big linemen. His best quality is the ability to escape the pass rush.

Both men are almost guaranteed to make mistakes. And this club is so fragile on offense, the least little miscue usually winds up hurting the team.

It has gotten so bad on offense, the offensive line has come under fire. And not just the weaker right side. The play of usually reliable Joe Thomas and Alex Mack has been, to put it mildly, spotty.

The running game is rooted in mud, the passing game is arguably the NFL's worst with a corps of receivers who have trouble separating from defenders and the play calling of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is predictable.

If not for the strong play of the defense against the Chiefs, the end result would have been worse. And if the offense continues to play this offensively, that defense will wear down and become vulnerable. In a hurry.

The Browns ran only three offensive plays in Kansas City territory in the second half and that was only because Chiefs safety Kendrick Lewis' helmet hit on Evan Moore on an incomplete pass drew a personal foul penalty. The Browns wound up on the Chiefs' 46 and punted three unproductive plays later. Of the Browns' 13 (ugh) first downs, two came via the penalty route.


No, folks, this is not a good team. Not even close. No matter what you hear or read about correcting the mistakes, some mistakes are not correctable if they're made over and over. Groundhog Day.

That's bad coaching. And the sooner Holmgren realizes this, the better off the Browns will be.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Keep your fingers crossed

No one paid much attention to it when it happened in the second quarter of Sunday's loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Browns quarterback Jake Delhomme delivered a pass while running to his left and suddenly pulled up lame. He was not hit. In fact, no Buc was near him at the time.

Team doctors and trainers would call Delhomme's subsequent limp a non-contact injury. But it wasn't bad enough to keep him out of the game. He missed no time and finished the game. Sunday night, however, it apparently got worse because now the veteran QB will undergone an MRI to determine exactly what's going on inside his right ankle.

Best-case scenario would be a mild strain in which case Delhomme will be under center for Sunday's home opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. Worst-case scenario would be a high ankle sprain, which could keep him out of action for upwards of a month or more. (Practicing medicine without a license here.)

The Browns have enough problems on offense without the possibility of losing their starting quarterback. That would elevate (pun intended) Seneca Wallace to the top spot. The National Football League's littlest quarterback is perfect as a backup wherever he plays. He is not a starter.

The Browns almost certainly have a large number of plays for Wallace, whose forte is his quickness and ability to escape trouble in the pocket. He's a miniature Michael Vick. But if Delhomme can't go, Wallace's presence exacerbates an already dismal situation.

It's bad enough that Delhomme is not on the same page with his receivers here. Problem is they have a tough time getting open long enough for Delhomme to deliver them the ball. One can only imagine how difficult it would be for the 5-9 Wallace.

He can't run the wildcat formation all the time. That requires almost perfect timing with ball-handling. And with their predilection to fumble running from simpler sets, changing up now could prove disastrous. Fun maybe, but disastrous.

The Browns, who could use a break even though we're only 1/16th of the way through the season, had better hope that MRI shows no damage and that Delhomme, as shaky as he is, is able to suit up against the Chiefs. Because if he doesn't, we could see Colt McCoy a lot earlier than Mike Holmgren envisioned.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Gonna be a long season

My goodness. The Browns can't even beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 3-and-13-last-season Bucs. The bottom-of-the-barrel Bucs, whose approach to the game of offensive football is so conservative, it makes even Sarah Palin proud.

When the 2010 National Football League schedule was released and showed the Cleveland season opener in Tampa, Browns fans uttered a collective sigh. Finally, they thought, the NFL schedule makers felt just sorry enough for the club and gave them a patsy to kick off the season.

All indicators pointed toward a Cleveland victory Sunday: An anemic Bucs offense, a defense that surrendered 400 points last season, and a quarterback in Cleveland's Jake Delhomme who has had marvelous success over the years against Tampa. No way could the Bucs win this one.

Only one problem. Bad teams find a way to lose games. One way is to let another bad team hang around and hang around while you self destruct.

Bearing that in mind, the Browns are a bad team. Even after one game, it's not difficult to point out the blemishes.

Let's start with the offense, which actually looked halfway decent throughout much of the first half. Unfortunately, the rules book mandates the game must last at least 60 minutes. Playing well for 30 minutes doesn't cut it.

Delhomme actually was sharp in the opening 30 minutes until he unwisely decided to throw a sidearm pass while heading toward the ground with 30 seconds left. Turned what could have been a 17-3 lead into just a 14-10 margin and enabled the Bucs.

Shades of Derek Anderson, Tim Couch and Brady Quinn. When will Cleveland quarterbacks stop passing brain gas?

Other bright spots: Tight end Evan Moore and running back Peyton Hillis (for the first half only). The Browns should involve Moore much more into the game plan. He's a big target and hard to bring down. Besides, he's not really a tight end. He's more of a big wide receiver in the mold of Joe Jurevicius.

Hillis, when he managed to hang onto the ball, proved a tough runner. His two fumbles, however, almost assuredly paved a path toward coach Eric Mangini's doghouse. Hillis never again ran from scrimmage after losing the second bobble deep in Tampa Bay territory on the first series of the second half.

From that point on, the Cleveland offense resembled the stodgy, backward-thinking, mind-numbingly boring offense that led to just one victory in the first 12 games last season. Seven series, 25 plays, four 3-and-outs, an embarrassing two first downs, Delhomme's second pick and 60 puny yards from scrimmage later, the Browns trudged off the field with a 17-14 loss.

That's because the offense, which fell into waltz mode (1-2-3-kick), basically left it up to the defense to win this one. And it nearly worked. The Tampa Bay offense never seriously threatened until midway through the fourth quarter.

Too bad cornerback Joe Haden was the victim when Michael Spurlock hauled in a 34-yard touchdown strike with 6:45 left in the game. The Browns' top draft pick had played a solid game until that point.

At the two-minute mark of the second half with the Browns trailing by just three, I jotted down the following: Let's see what this team is made of. Who's going to step up and make a play?

The answer: No one. That's because the club's only playmakers on offense are a special teamer (Joshua Cribbs) and an offensive tackle (Joe Thomas). Tough to win games with such a serious lack of talent.

If the Browns play this way on offense next Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs in the home opener, it won't be pretty on the lakefront. And you can bet Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel -- y'all remember him, don'tcha? -- will have a few new wrinkles to put on display.

That short leash that stretched from club President Mike Holmgren to Mangini got tugged big time Sunday. Holmgren is a big fan of offensive football. What he saw against the Buccaneers was far from it.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hopeful optimism

A redundancy if there ever was one. Of course, any kind of hope contains a large dose of optimism.

That said, the Cleveland Browns will wind up with a record of 6-10 this season, a prediction based on a modicum of talent, a lot of luck and nothing more than a hunch they'll win one game by accident.

As has been stated earlier, this team does not have the speed or quickness to compete with most of the teams in the National Football League. They have to physically beat the opposition into submission in order to have a chance to win.

That's why they'll blitz far more than the average defense, thus exposing what is widely known around the NFL. The Browns still can't stop the run, defend the pass or pressure the quarterback without some sorry of trickery.

On offense, Jake Delhomme will discover early on that he no longer has the likes of Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad to throw the football toward. And he won't be able to hand the ball off to the likes of DeAngelo Smith and/or Jonathan Stewart.

When he faces the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the season opener tomorrow, he will have one hand figuratively tied behind his back. Yes, he has completed roughly 75% of his passes during the exhibition season, but precious few went beyond 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Why? Because his receivers had trouble getting open.

And you can bet the Bucs today will stack the box early and often against Delhomme, who has had great success against them in the past, and force him to throw the ball. Unless Mo Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, Chansi Stuckey or Joshua Cribbs have somehow discovered ways to get open, it could be a long afternoon for the veteran quarterback.

But the Browns should win the opener against a team clearly worse than them. And the defense should be the main reason. For that reason alone, the score should be low and close because nether team has the offensive tools to scare anyone. Browns win, 17-13.

But don't get too sanguine. After the Kansas City Chiefs in the home opener next week -- and that one is not a lock -- the Browns face the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints in the next five weeks. Oy!!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Sometimes there is a disconnect between what a man thinks and what he says. That appears to be the case with Browns General Manager Tom Heckert Jr.

The new GM, defending the rather unusual path he took to get to the final 53-man roster, said, "We kept the best 53 we needed to get ready for Tampa (in Sunday's season opener). We'll have to wait and see, but we think we're improved. We really do."

Now it's quite understandable that Heckert would take the positive approach. He's not going to come out and say something like "well, to be honest with you, we're really not very good right now. It's going to take more time and you'll just have to be patient with us."

No, he's not going to say that because the Browns are in the business of selling seats in their stadium. They're in the business of keeping up the hopes of a large number of Cleveland pro football fans. To say otherwise would be counterproductive.

But surely, Heckert, club President Mike Holmgren and coach Eric Mangini cannot seriously think this is a good team. Not when the cupboard is practically naked when it comes to identifying playmakers. Outside of Joshua Cribbs and Joe Thomas, a special teams ace and an offensive tackle, who can honestly be labeled as an offensive playmaker on this team?

Jake Delhomme? Hardly. He wasn't a playmaker last season in CArolina with a far better team to direct. His receiving corps here is dismal at best. Which brings us to another Heckert burp. When asked why he declined to go after then-free agent wide receiver T. J. Houshmandzadeh shortly after his release by Seattle, he said, "I think we're going to be good with the guys we have for right now."


You mean the likes of Mo Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, Chansi Stuckey, Carlton Mitchell and Cribbs will cause shivers of anxiety throughout the National Football League? Really!!

And Delhomme's running game, the last four games of last season notwithstanding, is a tick shy of mediocre. Throw in a shaky right side of the offensive line and you have a recipe for potential disaster. Delhomme will face more eight-in-the-box looks than he wants.

Delhomme and the Heckert had better hope the defense steps up and rescues the offense throughout the season because that's the club's only hope of squeezing out as many as six victories. And there are no reputable playmakers on that side of the ball with the exception of Shaun Rogers.

Heckert, who knows what a good football team looks like after all his years in Philadelphia, cannot seriously believe this is a good football team. If he thinks the way he speaks, then the great revival of the Cleveland Browns is going to take a lot longer than he believes.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Postings from the edge

Observations after watching four Browns exhibition games and a rather unusual roster trim to 53 . . .

It's going to be a long season for the Browns, folks, a very long season during which significant changes will be made as club President Mike Holmgren seeks to change the culture and direction of the team.

What you see now with the Browns a week away from the season opener down in Tampa will look significantly different a year from now as General Manager Tom Heckert Jr. and Holmgren massage and reconstruct what is undeniably the worst team in the AFC North.

If the Browns win six games this season with the roster they have, they should be thrilled. Especially with a 35-year-old quarterback who has averaged roughly an interception a game throughout his career (and who is the fourth-best quarterback in a four-team division), a receiving corps that might be the worst in the National Football League as a unit and an offensive line that sags badly on the right side.

Defensively, it looks like this same old, same old. Little resistance to the opposition's running game, a mediocre pass rush and a secondary that looks more vulnerable than last season's Swiss-cheese gang.

This is a slow, plodding team. With few exceptions, there is no appreciable speed or quickness on either side of the ball. And in the NFL, you had better have at least one of those attributes or you're in trouble.

And now that the regular season is about to commence, the speed and quickness of the game will ramp up even more. Exhibition games are for honing skills, nailing down the timing, getting into the rhythm of the game.

Other observations . . .

Don't get too excited about Peyton Hillis. He's determined, sure, but he's slow. He's not an every-down back. Barring injury, you'll see him more down by the goal line where he is most effective. . . .

Jerome Harrison, the every-down back now due to Montario Hardesty's season-ending injury, will have a bull's-eye on his back after his spectacular finish last season. And he had better learn how to hold on to the football. His fumbles in the exhibition season have to be a major concern to the coaching staff. . . .

With their gambling luck, Heckert and Holmgren should stay far away from Las Vegas. They took a huge chance when they traded three picks in last April's draft to move up and take Hardesty. Risky at best at the time and disastrous the way it has turned out. . . .

The surprise of training camp has to be Shawn Lauvao. The fifth-round draft choice arrived with the reputation of being smart and a hard worker and has parlayed those attributes into a starting spot at right guard. . . .

Tight end Evan Moore will be more beneficial in the passing game if he was used a a wide receiver. Of course he doesn't have the speed or quickness of most wideouts, but neither did Joe Jurevicius. Moore was a wideout in college and knows the nuances of the position. Besides, he's a terrible blocker as a tight end. . . .

Speaking of tight ends, Benjamin Watson should become one of Jake Delhomme's favorite targets based on his exhibition showing. Nice soft hands and he knows how to get open. . . .

Rookie safety T.J. Ward looks like a keeper if he can avoid the same fate as Hardesty. Ward, like Hardesty, was drafted despite a history of injuries. And the highly aggressive way he plays the game does not bode well for the future. . . .

It looks as though defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is going to use the blitz ad one of his main weapons this season. Overuse of the blitz usually disguises a weakness. . . .

Based on his play toward the end of last season and during the exhibitions, nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin will be a hard man to dislodge from the starting lineup. Unfortunately, he didn't get much help from his ends. Perhaps the arrival of Shaun Rogers will help. . . .

Brian Robiskie is slow and has trouble getting open. But the second-year receiver has wonderful football instincts. Unfortunately, the first two attributes stand in the way of any success he might enjoy in the NFL. . . .

Reggie Hodges is no Dave Zastudil and needs to be replaced. Certainly there is someone out there who can punt better than this guy. . . .

Nice to see Brian Daboll unveil the no-huddle and sugar-huddle looks that weren't part of a two-minute package at the end of a half. Gives opponents something to think about. . . .

Biggest surprise (negative edition): The release of rookie safety Larry Asante, a noted big hitter Heckert and Holmgren were relying on to spark the secondary. . . .

Phil Dawson = one of the most reliable placekickers in the NFL. . . .

If he can stay healthy, maybe James Davis will be able to give Harrison some relief at running back. He sure looked good during the exhibitions. . . .

Rookie receiver Carlton Mitchell is big and fast and that's all. Strictly a special teamer. . . .

Bold prediction: Coach Eric Mangini does not make it past game eight and is replaced by Ryan.