Monday, December 3, 2012

Monday leftovers

They were called The Triplets down in Dallas. Capital T, capital T.

They arrived in consecutive years beginning in 1988 and proceeded to resurrect football in Big D after a five-year drought.

First, there was Michael Irvin, a big receiver out of Miami of Florida who played on Tom Landry’s last team in Dallas. A year later, UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman brought his big arm to the Cowboys. And then along came the missing piece of the offensive puzzle, running back Emmitt Smith out of Florida.

Aikman provided the leadership with his savvy approach to quarterbacking; Irvin became known as The Playmaker with his ability to come through in the clutch time and again; and Smith was the slashing running back who proved the perfect complement to his teammates.

Together, they rode the Cowboys to the playoffs eight times in nine seasons, three of them winding up in Super Bowl victories. They were the three-headed straw that stirred the Cowboys’ offensive drink. As Aikman, Smith and Irvin went, so went the Cowboys. And all three wound up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

So what does that have to do with the Browns? Right now, nothing, but there are glimpses of another set of Triplets, capital T, looming on the Cleveland horizon.

Call it far fetched, but think about it. Brandon Weeden has an Aikman kind of arm, Josh Gordon has surprisingly proved a playmaker very early in his professional career and Richardson’s running style is reminiscent of Smith.

Aikman finished 1-15 in his rookie season even with Irvin as his favorite target. It wasn’t until Smith came along in 1990 that the Cowboys began to make a move.

The Browns’ Triplets have arrived as the same time. All three rookies have taken baby steps as they learn what the National Football League is all about. Those steps are about to become larger as they grow more confident in their abilities.

We saw a large dose of that in Sunday’s victory over the Oakland Raiders. Weeden threw for a career-high 364 yards; Gordon caught six passes (in seven targets) for 116 yards and a touchdown; and Richardson racked up 72 very tough yards and a score.

If the Browns are looking for players who lead by example, they should look no further than these three. You can see the growth as they become more comfortable in transitioning to the professional way of playing the game. If anything, they’re going to get better.

It took the Dallas Triplets a few years before they became a force that lifted the Cowboys to championship heights. In Cleveland, that very well could happen sooner rather than later because they jumped onto the same page at the same time.

It is entirely possible, based on what we’ve seen thus far, all the Cleveland Triplets need to ascend to heights enjoyed by the Dallas Triplets is an offensive line that allows them to do what they do best.

That would mean whoever the club’s general manager is next season must upgrade the interior of the offensive line, most notably the two guard spots because what they have now is not working.

There are those who might argue that Weeden should not be factored into this equation because of his age. At 29, limited career longevity could be a mitigating factor.

Well, the Cowboys appeared in five Super Bowls in the 1970s with a quarterback from Cincinnati by the name of Roger Staubach. When he made his NFL debut with the Cowboys in 1969, he was 27 years old. Didn’t seem to bother him.

Now I’m not trying to compare a Hall of Fame quarterback with Weeden. That’s idiotic. All I’m saying is that age might not be that much of a factor if you use Staubach as an example.

The next year or two should provide some offensive fireworks if what we’ve seen thus far is any indication. Remember, they are still taking baby steps. Once the game begins to slow down for them, then we’ll get a chance to enjoy these Triplets.
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Pat Shurmur has received a lot of criticism here for his coaching on game day, so it’s only fair to praise the Cleveland coach for a couple of gutsy calls he made in the Oakland victory.

It took a lot of nerve to send his offense back out after they failed to pick up a first down on a third-and-a-foot at the Oakland 45-yard line with about five minutes left in regulation and clinging to a 13-10 lead. He could have punted and pinned the Raiders deep in their territory. That would have been the passive thing to do.

The Browns were in the middle of what turned out to a 14-play, 94-yard drive that sealed the victory and Shurmur had a command decision to make. Fortunately, he went completely out of character and ordered another sneak. This time, the offensive line obliged and created a three-yard hole for Weeden to sneak through.

In the second quarter, Shurmur faced a similar situation. Faced with a fourth-and-2 at the Oakland 42, he surprised everyone and disdained the punt. Weeden proceeded to connect with Richardson in the left flat on a checkdown and the running back picked up 21 yards. It led to the second of Phil Dawson’s two field goals.
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So what’s with the Cleveland run defense? All of a sudden, it’s becoming a force. Three straight games limiting the opposition to less than 100 yards rushing. What gives?

Having good health certainly helps. Right now, no one along the defensive line is in sick bay. All of which means defensive coordinator Dick Jauron can liberally substitute to keep all his guys up front fresh.

Everyone is contributing on a series-by-series basis. All are making it that much easier for the linebackers to remain clean and be in a position to make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.
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The Cleveland offense was so productive against Oakland, although the final score doesn’t reflect it, Reggie Hodges punted just twice. In nine drives, the Browns, who compiled 475 total yards, had only one three and out. The other eight drives averaged 59 yards.

All of which had a positive impact on the defense, which was awarded ample time to recover on the bench before having to face Carson Palmer and his arm. The Oakland quarterback threw a staggering 54 passes, but for only 351 yards. Weeden threw for his 364 yards with only 36 passes.
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Notebook: Did anyone notice the Browns committed only two penalties against the Raiders? Tight end Ben Watson was called for a hold during the first series of the second half and Buster Skrine was flagged for fair catch interference early in the fourth quarter. That’s it. No false starts, no offsides, no pass interference. Nothing. Distinct improvement. . . . Joshua Cribbs must learn that when he fields a kickoff nine yards deep in the end zone, he must take a knee. He put his team in a hole on the kickoff following the Oakland touchdown that made it 13-10 by trying to come out. He made it to the nine-yard line. Cribbs is no longer the threat he used to be. . . . Greg Little is starting to become the wide receiver the Browns thought they drafted. He’s catching just about everything thrown his way. And he’s throwing some nice blocks. . . . Kudos to Sheldon Brown on a solid game. It seemed as though Palmer picked on the veteran cornerback all afternoon and he responded with (officially) four pass breakups, although it seemed more like 10. . . . Nice to see the Browns run some clearing patterns for their receivers. The Oakland secondary looked confused all afternoon.


  1. Hi,
    It was a really nice win, but it was still the Raiders, among the very worst in the league. The offense left a lot of points on the field and should have scored into the 30s. It shouldn't have been close in the 4th.

    While I'm still hopeful for Weeden, he may have Aikman's arm, but certainly not his accuracy. Both Madden & Summerall said Aikman was the most accurate passer they'd ever seen. Unfortunately, accuracy is not something that improves all that much with coaching.

    Still, nice win and nice to see them finish off a game.

    Switching gears: I'm sure you've seen the local firestorm this week over the leaking of Mike Lombardi's name as possible GM. Thoughts.

    As always, thanks.

    Paul from Seattle

  2. Hi Paul,

    If Lombardi is hired by this team in any capacity, I'll mount my soapbox and thrash the new management. We've had Lombardi once and that's quite enough.

    And you're right about the points vs. Oakland, but I couldn't do that two weeks in a row. Not after leaving all those points they left on the field against the Steelers, who gift-wrapped that one.