Monday, October 29, 2012

Monday leftovers

For years now, the Browns have been searching for that one running back who can slog with the best of them through any kind of weather Cleveland can throw at them.

That kind of runner can be the difference in the ugly games of November and December when there is no such thing as predictability when the weather is concerned.

The closest the Browns came was when Jamal Lewis gave them one very good season in 2007, but the former Baltimore Raven, who bedeviled the Browns for so many years, was clearly at the tail end of a very good career.

And now along comes a running back in the mold of Lewis, except he’s just starting his career. And if his performance in the Browns’ 7-6 victory over San Diego Sunday is any indication, the Browns have found themselves a mudder.

Ironically, he comes from a part of the country that is the polar opposite of Cleveland. Trent Richardson is a Floridian. He is used to running the football in weather that is dry and relatively warm.

No one really knew what Richardson, who did most of his collegiate running in the warm Southeastern Conference, would do in Cleveland, where weather unpredictability is the norm.

His 122-yard, one touchdown effort against the Chargers in conditions more suitable for fowl than humans answered that question rather succinctly. It’s going to take a lot more than large wind gusts and a steady rain to slow down this rookie.

Running on a slippery field is not easy, especially when you’re a back like Richardson, who is always looking for cutback lanes through which to run. A perfect example was his 26-yard touchdown run on the Browns’ first possession against the Chargers.

It began around right end, but his vision told him to change course and cut back toward the middle of the field. And then he did something that eventually will make him one of the great running backs in the National Football League.

He broke a few tackles before somehow winding up squarely between Cleveland guards John Greco to his left and Shawn Lauvao to his right with nothing but the end zone in front of him. When Lauvao realized this, he pretty much shoved Richardson toward the end zone.

Great runners break tackles. They make defenders miss. They do not go down on initial contact. That’s what separates them from the ordinary backs. One of the most telling statistics for a running back is yards gained after initial contact.

Richardson is still an NFL baby, but you can see he’s beginning to get it. More and more, he’s making quicker decisions on where he wants to go. If a designed play breaks down, he’s looking for an escape.

It took the Browns’ coaching staff eight games to figure it out, but they finally realized Richardson can be just as effective running out of the shotgun as he is in the standard pro set.

A couple of times against the Chargers, he ran a toss sweep left from the gun and gained significant yardage. It’s a play that should be used more often because it enables him to get to the boundary a lot quicker since he’s on the move at the snap.

The fact Richardson was playing with banged-up ribs and rib cartilage made his performance against the Chargers even more impressive. After his eight-carry, eight-yards game against Indianapolis the game before, some questions were raised as to whether he should be rested.

The emphatic answer came Sunday against San Diego. The young man is a warrior. Now let’s see if he can improve on that against the Ravens this Sunday.
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It’s a good thing the Browns’ defense showed up and played maybe its best game of the season against the Chargers. It bailed the offense out series after series after series.

That’s because Brad Childress and Pat Shurmur combined to dial up one of the lamest game plans of the season. Maybe they figured that because of the weather and playing conditions, it would be better to be conservative.

Some might call that coaching not to lose. Others might call it trying to manage the game. Either way, the Cleveland offense, after that first possession, played it mighty close to the vest except for one play, which we’ll get to next.

A myriad of high-percentage, low-risk plays played right into San Diego’s hands and resulted in nine straight Reggie Hodges punts. Fortunately, the Browns’ defense, received plenty of help from a San Diego offense that was as vanilla as Cleveland’s.
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What in the world was Shurmur thinking when he called as double reverse on the last play of the first quarter? It was raining and the wind was gusting, so let’s call a play where ball handling is paramount, right? Wrong.

It’s time to shelve the double reverse until, say, next season, which means it might never be seen again since Shurmur most likely won’t be back to call it, anyway. Tear it out of the playbook and set a match to it.

OK, it worked once, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee success every time it’s called. This one lost 20 yards when Joshua Cribbs and Travis Benjamin got their signals crossed. The Browns were lucky they didn’t lose the ball.

The stupid call was made on the second play after Billy Winn jumped on a fumble caused by James-Michael Johnson at the San Diego 46. The best play against a team on its heels is a deep pass, not a double reverse.
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Confession time: I thought Shurmur was dumb to challenge a six-yard completed pass to San Diego’s Robert Meachem on the first play of the Chargers’ second possession.

First of all, it took place deep in San Diego territory. It was a relatively insignificant play. Why challenge so early? If you lose, you burn a timeout. And timeouts should be treated like precious jewels. Save them for when you really need them.

Besides, the replay showed Meachem got both feet in. Or so I thought. Referee Jerome Boger did not agree and overturned the decision on the field. I immediately made a note to call and make an appointment with my ophthalmologist.

I owe Shurmur an apology. He was right and I was wr-r-r-r-r-ong.
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Notebook: It was nice to see defensive coordinator Dick Jauron come up with a much more aggressive game plan for the Chargers. The very active linebackers seemed to be in just about every play and the game stats reflected it. They were the club’s top three tacklers. If his play in this game is any indication, rookie James-Michael Johnson is going to have a nice career. . . . Quarterback Brandon Weeden might have to adjust his release point if opposing defensive linemen continue to deflect or get a hand on his passes. Rolling him outside the pocket a few times helped. . . . Notice that Weeden did not throw an interception or fumble the ball. That’s progress. . . . Only two holding penalties on punts. That’s progress, too.

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