Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday leftovers

Slowly but surely, the Browns’ version of the west coast offense is starting to pay dividends. Kind of makes one wonder where it has been all this time.

Here we are 10 games into the season and there are definite signs that the heretofore-moribund offense actually lives. And the chug-chug offense that bored most of us the first eight games seems to be nothing more than a bad memory.

Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy appears to be finding his primary receiver a lot quicker. The offensive line is opening up some nice holes for Chris Ogbonnaya, who is doing a much better job of finding them.

When he needs to scramble, McCoy is making much quicker decisions to run rather than waste time trying to throw the ball. But he does need to learn how to slide at the end of his scrambles or else he’s going to get scrambled.

The fact the Browns rang up 11 plays of 10 yards or more in Sunday’s 14-10 victory over Jacksonville is a testament that the jell factor has kicked in. Unfortunately, five of the next six games are against three of the National Football League’s best defenses.

After a trip to Cincinnati this Sunday, the Browns have to deal twice each with the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers. Only a mid-December date at Arizona gives them a breather.

So it might be a little unfair to judge the progress the Cleveland offense has made with opponents like that waiting.

* * *

There’s an old expression in football when it comes to scoring. “Never take points off the board.” And it came back to bite the Browns in the hind flanks against the Jaguars.

On their first series of the second half, the Browns marched from their 15-yard line to the Jacksonville 22, but stalled when McCoy was sacked for a six-yard loss on third-and-3 at the 16.

Phil Dawson came in and booted a 40-yard field goal that gave the Browns a 10-7 lead. However, Jags rookie linebacker Mike Lockley catapulted over the line of scrimmage, using a teammate’s back as a springboard. That’s a no-no and resulted in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, placing the ball on the 11-yard line with a new set of downs..

Pat Shurmur, perhaps influenced because he was so close to the Jacksonville goal line and that his offense seemed to be running smoothly, said no thank you to the points. We’ll take the penalty. Bad move.

Four plays and a Joe Thomas holding penalty later, McCoy tried to hit Ben Watson in the end zone, but Jaguars safety Dawan Landry cut in front of him and picked off the pass. No points, a tie game and an old expression that should have been heeded but wasn’t.

* * *

Ogbonnaya is starting to show some running chops now that he’s the No. 1 running back by default. If he continues to run as he has the last two games, the Browns should have decent depth at running back next season.

Peyton Hillis almost certainly will not return, but Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson will and that bodes well. That is, of course, they remain healthy. Jackson met up with the injury jinx in training camp and is on injured reserve.

Hardesty, still nursing a sore calf, has missed three games and is expected to miss at least a couple more. The big question is whether Hardesty is strong enough to withstand the rigors of the game long enough to put in a full season. If the Browns have their doubts, running back might pop up on their draft and free-agent radar.

* * *

Did anyone notice a Cleveland pass rush against the Jaguars? Neither did I. The Jacksonville offensive line is not that good, but the Browns’ front four had all kinds of problems getting to know quarterback Blaine Gabbert up close and personal. He was barely touched.

The only lineman who came close to Gabbert was rookie end Jabaal Sheard, but his close-up visits were few and far between. If the Browns are going to be successful against the pass, they must find a way to get to opposing quarterbacks.

With Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger on deck, it is almost imperative that defensive coordinator Dick Jauron finds ways to disrupt their rhythm and flow.

* * *

Interesting that the NFL assigned referee Terry McAulay to work the Jaguars game. Close observers of pro football will remember that McAulay was the referee for the famous Bottlegate game at CBS almost 10 years ago. Further irony is that the opponent that day was the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Late in the fourth quarter of the Dec. 16, 2001 game, the Browns trailed, 15-10, but were driving in the final minute when Cleveland wide receiver Quincy Morgan caught a pass deep in Jacksonville territory on a fourth-and-1. Quarterback Tim Couch quickly spiked the next snap before a replay review.

McAulay halted play after the spike and announced the Morgan reception would be reviewed even though another play had been run. He later blamed the delay on communication problems with the replay booth. He then determined Morgan did not control the ball and ruled the pass incomplete, giving the ball back to the Jaguars on downs.

Fans littered the field with plastic beer bottles, striking players and officials. McAulay then called the game, but NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue overruled him and sent the teams back on the field, where they finished the game’s remaining few seconds with debris flying all over the place.

* * *

Stream of thought: There sure were a lot of orange seats at CBS Sunday. Bad sign when fans spend good money and yet don’t show up to watch a product that continues to disappoint year after year after year. . . . The Browns crowed when they signed safety Usama Young as a free agent. Jacksonville tight end Marcedes Lewis loved it, too. He massaged Young for seven catches and 64 yards and was open most of the afternoon. . . . Another game, another poor Brad Maynard punt. His first effort against the Jags traveled a majestic 23 yards in the first quarter. How does this guy keep a job? . . . Jags bowling-ball running back Maurice Jones-Drew was “held” to only 87 yards rushing, 58 of them in the first half. More than half of those yards were gained after initial contact. . . . Who knows what the score would have been had Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown not missed easy interceptions. Haden dropped one at midfield early in the third quarter with only the Jacksonville goal line in front of him. . . . The Browns had 26 first-down snaps. Twelve were runs that gained 39 yards. Fourteen were pass plays that gained 89 yards. Kind of makes you go hmmmmmmm.

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