Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday leftovers

Based on his first two performances as a professional football quarterback, Colt McCoy deserves to be the starting quarterback for the Browns when they return from their break in two weeks.

Even when the ankle sprains of Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace heal, McCoy should be the man under center when the Browns entertain the New England Patriots Nov. 7. He has earned it.

In just two games? Isn't that jumping to conclusions a wee bit early? Perhaps, but when you stop and think about it, what does Eric Mangini have to lose by sticking with McCoy? His job? That's always on the line, anyway.

In his two games, McCoy had displayed poise and a knack for avoiding mistakes that hamper his fellow quarterbacks. The rookie did not cave to the pressure brought by Pittsburgh defense in the loss to the Steelers. And he was exactly what he needed to be in the stunning victory over New Orleans Sunday.

The co-starring roles for that one belonged to the defense and special teams. All McCoy needed to do was manage the game. Avoid turnovers. Make certain the Saints did not benefit from anything stupid. And that's exactly what he did.

Too often a quarterback's numbers belie his contribution to the team effort. McCoy's stats in the Saints victory is a prime example. He was 9 for 16 for 74 yards. And he won.

In other games Sunday, Buffalo's Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 374 yards and four touchdowns. Carson Palmer of Cincinnati rang up 412 yards and three TDs. San Diego's Philip Rivers racked up 336 yards and a score. Drew Brees strafed the Cleveland secondary for 356 yards and two touchdowns. Great stats. But all were losing quarterbacks.

So until he shows signs of being overmatched or really screws up, McCoy deserves to be the Browns' starting quarterback. Fresh faces have a way of invigorating the fan base. And this fan base needs all the invigorating it can get.

At the beginning of the season, I wasn't exactly thrilled when Dave Zastudil was placed on injured reserve. The Bay Village punter was one of the best in the National Football League and I believed his absence would be keenly felt.

Reggie Hodges, to be perfectly fair, has been a pleasant surprise. All season long, he has helped provide good field position for the defense with his booming kicks and he has developed an uncanny knack of dropping a large number of his punts inside the 10-yard line. So far, Zastudil's talents have not been missed.

The NFL's overreaction to helmet hits and unnecessary roughness in the wake of what happened in NFL games eight days was evident in the New Orleans game when Browns linebacker Eric Barton was flagged with an unnecessary roughness penalty. All Barton did on a pass rush of Brees was literally slap Brees' helmet with an open hand. Actually, it was more of a tap, but referee Walt Coleman, perhaps fearing a chewing out from his superiors if he didn't make the call, hauled out his yellow laundry. A clear overreaction.

Is Mangini losing weight? Take a close look at him now and notice you can see cheekbones, the double chin is almost gone and his face looks thinner. If so, kudos to the head coach for taking steps to improve his health.

Odd fact in the Saints victory: Brees threw more passes (56) than the number of plays the Browns ran (46). If you looked at the stats of that game without knowing who won, most everyone would guess the Saints had romped. It was a clear case of the stats belying the final outcome.

Mangini cost the Browns four points with one of his challenges. As the Saints (trailing, 20-3) lined up quickly to kick a field goal on the final play of the third quarter after a short pass completion to Marques Colston, Mangini hurled the red flag, challenging that Colston had fumbled the ball and Eric Wright had recovered. As it turned out, the play was not reviewable.

During the quarter break, New Orleans coach Sean Payton challenged that Colston was down by contact. He won the challenge and the original call was reversed, giving the Saints a fourth and 1. Payton disdained the field goal, got the first down and the Saints went on to score a touchdown three plays later.

So if Mangini had not challenged the call and allowed the Saints to attempt the field goal, the Browns would have led, 20-6, heading into the fourth quarter and received the kickoff. As it turned out, the 20-10 lead was never in jeopardy.

Look for Joshua Cribbs' return woes to continue. It has become quite obvious that NFL teams have shown him the ultimate respect by either kicking away from him or angling their kickoffs to give their return units a better chance at making early tackles. They seem to be bunching the field, forcing Cribbs to travel mostly east and west rather than north and south.

Unless special teams coach Brad Seely can come up with some sophisticated and imaginative alternatives, don't expect Cribbs to give the Browns any significant field position advantage this season. Those days, it appears, are gone.

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