Monday, October 4, 2010

Monday leftovers

Much conversation today regarding T.J. Ward's near decapitation (exaggeration, of course) of Cincinnati wide receiver Jordan Shipley in the end zone in Sunday's 23-20 victory over the Bengals.

Sides, as expected, were taken. On one side are those who believe it was a dirty and unnecessary hit by the rookie safety. Obviously, the official who threw his flag on the play and the letter that is certain to arrive beckoning a fine for the hit agree with that assessment.

Then there are those who believe there was nothing wrong with the shoulder-to-helmet hit on a defenseless player. Aggressive football, they argue. This is not a game for players who wear skirts. Ward was only doing his job. Wonder how those people would feel if the Bengals Roy Williams had done the same thing to Chansi Stuckey in the end zone. Methinks they would have railed.

Ward's coach defended his immediate label of dirty player. His teammates defended him. That, naturally, is to be expected. Protect your own. That's what good teammates and coaches do.

Was his hit dirty? Borderline dirty. Had Ward's aim been lower and a little quicker, no problem. As it was, the head was targeted and National Football League officials have been instructed to flag anything to do with that area.

At the same time, it was nice to see some physical play from any of the Browns. Aggressive plays like reflect an attitude and if there's anything this team needs in large doses on defense, it's attitude. Ward just might have lit that fuse. We'll find out soon enough.

It would appear that Tony Pashos has entrenched himself at offensive right tackle. Two straight 100-yard games for Peyton Hillis is mute testimony that Pashos' insertion into the starting lineup has paid off handsomely. He and right guard Pork Chop Womack have also upgraded the club's pass protection on that side of the line.

It almost, but not quite, goes without saying that when John St. Clair is pronounced fit and ready to play, it would be a good idea to staple him to the bench. Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach, Alex Mack, Womack and Pashos now seem to be functioning as a unit in a manner that offers hope for the future.

So much for passer rating, one of the most confusing and useless statistics in the stats-crazy NFL. In Sunday's victory, Browns quarterback Seneca Wallace had a passer rating of 74.9, while Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer racked up a passer rating of 121.4. Give out those numbers anonymously to a football fan who didn't see the game and ask him which quarterback won the game and anyone who would pick Wallace is either drunk or on drugs.

Wallace's number would have been higher had Chansi Stuckey been able to hold on to Wallace's pass late in the second quarter. Cincinnati's Leon Hall picked off the tipped ball, which was thrown perfectly. Why then should Wallace be penalized for the mistake of his receiver? Again, the fallacy of the passer rating.

It was nice to see Stuckey involved more in the offense. Now let's see more of Mo Massaquoi, the so-called No. 1 receiver on the team. And let's see a lot more of Evan Moore, a wide receiver mislabeled as a tight end. He's big, has good hands, knows how to get open and makes plays when called upon. Use him as a wideout with Stuckey and Massaquoi and take advantage of the middle of the field.

For those of you having a Wallace-Jake Delhomme argument, consider this: Wallace manages a better game. He has turned the ball over only once (that was his fault) in 12 quarters since taking over for Delhomme. His ability to escape the pass rush gives other teams something about which to worry.

This is not an endorsement of Wallace as the starting quarterback the rest of the season. He's way too short to withstand the rigors of a 15-game season and would wear down somewhere around midseason. But do not underestimate how important he is to an offense that can ill afford to turn the ball over.

In the first series of the Bengals game, the Browns took a timeout after the fifth play of Cincy's first drive. It was third-and-2 at the Bengals 46 and the Browns called a timeout. Why? Less than four minutes into the game and they needed a timeout? What the hell for? That was never explained.

Timeouts should be treated like gold. They are precious and should not be squandered in the opening moments of a game. They should be hoarded and used only when necessary because you never know when you're going to need one. It's always more valuable to keep them in your pocket for later use and not need them than to need them and not have them.

And then they blew another timeout late in the first quarter when they challenged -- and lost -- a ruling by an official who said the ball hit the ground on Ben Watson's alleged end-zone catch. The replay clearly showed the ball touched the ground. The Browns' eye in the sky in the press box apparently doesn't know the rule regarding end-zone catches. Another blown TO.

It's refreshing to see defensive coordinator Rob Ryan gamble on almost every play Sunday. Corners blitzing off the edge; zone blitzes on occasion; all-out blitzes; all kinds of exotic pressure designed to rattle Palmer. Most of the time it didn't work because the Browns don't have outstanding an pass rusher, but because he stayed with it long enough, it produced Matt Roth's clutch sack that kept the Bengals out of field-goal territory and helped preserve the victory. It would be nice to see him continue his gambling this Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

Will this be the week Joshua Cribbs finally breaks free for one of his patented long touchdown runs on either a kickoff or punt? Probably not. Word has spread around the league that kicking off short, thus throwing off his blockers' timing, and punting away from him seem to be working just fine. Look for it to continue and challenge special teams coach Brad Seely to come up with something different.

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