Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday leftovers

Time to play the blame game with regard to the offense of your Cleveland Browns. And no punches will be pulled or otherwise directed elsewhere.

There is no question the Cleveland offense lately has turned into a one-trick pony. It's Peyton Hillis up the middle, Peyton Hillis in the flat for a pass, Peyton Hillis over the middle for a dump-off pass, Peyton Hillis around end, Peyton Hillis here, Peyton Hillis there.

In the last four games, the Browns have had 234 snaps from scrimmage on offense. Hillis has touched the ball 110 times in that span, either running the ball, catching it or throwing it. That's an astounding 47% of the time.

Now I like Hillis and what he brings to the offense, but that's way too much for any player on the offense, outside of the quarterback of course, to be handling the ball. It's one thing to rely on someone you trust. It's quite another when that player is playing full-time for the first time in his professional career.

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has fallen so much in love with his large running back, he seems to have forgotten there are other pieces and parts of the offense that have been underused. Sure the Browns have the worst set of wide receivers in the National Football League. But to almost totally ignore them makes his offense way too predictable.

Then again, perhaps it's because he has so little confidence in Jake Delhomme that he dumbs down his game plans. Very few, if any, throws are directed downfield. Basic running plays use an offensive line incapable of blocking well enough for them to succeed.

The Browns' five offensive linemen are not strong enough to blow anyone off the ball. They are not mashers. This is a finesse group. You probably noticed that a vast majority of Hillis' yards are gained after initial contact. That's because he's getting hit far too early, a condition that ultimately leads to fumbling because of second and third efforts. Opponents now are looking to rake the ball out of his hands first before thinking about tackling him.

Daboll needs to back off on using Hillis so much and involve the other members of his roster. Design plays that take advantage of what the offensive line can do well.

When, for example, did you see the Browns use misdirection plays in their attack? Flow one way with the play going the other. Teams with defenses that are more reactive are susceptible to giving up big plays with misdirection.

And when was the last time you saw a Cleveland tight end run a seam route straight down the middle of the field? No deep square ins or 15- to 18-yard out cuts. Right down the middle. So simple and yet so forgotten.

When he looks back at his body of work with the Browns following his dismissal, Daboll no doubt will realize he failed to maximize the talent with which he had to work. That's because he did not put them in a position to succeed.

So who put Daboll in a position to fail? Here comes some more blame.

Eric Mangini some day will look back and rue the decision to stick with Daboll so long because it'll eventually cost him his job, too. He's come too far with loyalty to his coordinator to admit that now. He won't do the Greyhound thing with him with only three games left in the regular season.

Mangini has no one but himself to blame for the Browns' offensive ineptitude. He seems to coach not to lose rather than trying to win. That approach appears to have missed feisty defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, however, but seems to have trickled down to Daboll.

For once, I'd like to see a Browns head coach encourage his team to slap around opponents. Get physical. Let them know they've been in a game. Develop a reputation that when you play the Browns, you're in for a long afternoon.

Now let's deal with Delhomme as the blame game continues.

What in the world did Mike Holmgren see that led him to gift the over-the-hill veteran quarterback with a $7 million contract and the job as the team's No. 1 quarterback? Delhomme arrived with the reputation of being a good leader, some who could inspire other teammates. A good guy in the clubhouse.

He also arrived with the reputation of delivering the football into opponents' hands with an alarming degree of regularity. Haven't Browns fans seen enough of that through the years with the likes of Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn?

Only the faces and names change, it seems. Otherwise, it's the same old, same old.

Holmgren is supposed to be a quarterbacks guru. He has developed them, nurtured them, knows their strengths and their faults. He's the godfather of quarterbacks, right?

Well, this time he blew it by foisting Delhomme on his coaching staff. Marc Bulger was out there, but the club president opted for Captain Interception. By now, he probably realizes the best quarterback on the squad is the guy he lobbied for in the third round of last April's draft. At least he got that one right based on what we've seen thus far.

It's pretty safe to say Joshua Cribbs will not he headed to the Pro Bowl this season. The return specialist has been anything but special this season for any number of reasons.

Opposing teams have kicked away from him for the most part and the Browns have allowed up men in kickoffs to handle the ball. There's no reason why Cribbs can't move up from the goal one and field kickoffs deeper upfield.

When opponents have challenged him, though, he still hasn't broken one. Why? Because they know he's a north and south runner and have jammed the middle of the field and forced to him to travel east and west. As soon as he breaks in either of those directions, he loses speed and leaves himself open for more contact due to better tackling angles.

It took a few years, but opponents have finally taken away one of the Browns' most important weapons. The field position he gave the offense was invaluable. Working with a short field is always a bonus. That luxury no longer is the case for the Browns.

In watching the loss to Buffalo Sunday, I noticed something rather disturbing. When Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick ran a keeper to the left side of the Browns' defense late in the second quarter, he picked up about 8-10 extra yards by tiptoeing along the sideline.

Several Cleveland defenders had a shot at pushing him out of bounds, but chose for whatever reason not to do so, perhaps thinking he was going to step out. Well, he didn't and picked up the bonus yardage before Kenyon Coleman finally shoved him out. It helped shorten the length of Rian Lindell's field goal that gave the Bills a 10-6 halftime lead.

It was just another example of passive football from a team that can ill afford to play that way. Hopefully, Ryan delivered a strong message to his men at the half.

Did Ben Watson play against the Bills? He did? How'd he do? One catch? One measly catch by the club's leading non-running back receiver? What the . . . Well, how many times did Delhomme throw to him? How many times was he targeted? One? One!!!!! Just one? Was he hurt? Did he catch the dreaded high ankle sprain virus? One stinking catch all afternoon? How many catches did he have the week before, something like 10? Must have been too tired to be counted on against the Bills.


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