Saturday, August 17, 2013

Taking care of the football

It’s a familiar refrain heard throughout dressing rooms all around the National Football League. Coaches use it all the time as a constant reminder.

Take care of the football.

In other words, possession is nine-tenths of the NFL law of the land. Own the ball and you are difficult to beat. Lose it to the opposition and the odds of losing increase.

Take care of the football.

It seems to be working with the Browns’ offense. The most impressive statistic they have rung up thus far this exhibition season is turnovers. They have none.

In victories over St. Louis and Detroit, the Browns’ offense snapped the ball 122 times in 19 drives and has yet to record its first turnover. Makes no difference whether it’s the first team, second team or third team. Not once has the opposition taken the ball away from the Browns.

Cleveland quarterbacks have put the ball up 63 times with 47 competitions. That’s an astounding completion percentage of 74.6. Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer haven’t come even close to throwing an interception.

On the ground, running backs have 59 carries and no fumbles. On the negative side, they have rushed for just 163 yards. That’s 2.76 yards a tote. Blame a lot of that on poor blocking by the offensive line.

When you do not gift your opponent with fumbles and interceptions, your odds of winning games grow substantially. In the past, you could almost count on the Browns to turn the ball over at crucial junctures of games.

Of course, these are just exhibition games now, but it’s apparent that Rob Chudzinski and his coaching staff have drilled the importance of holding on to the football into the minds of the offense.

~ While the offense, for the most part, has played near flawless football thus far, the defense stole the show in the 24-6 victory over the Lions Thursday night.

Even though we’re only two exhibition games into the season, Ray Horton’s influence on the defensive side of the ball is becoming obvious. You never know from which direction the pressure is coming.

Sometimes, the Browns lined up in a three-man front with two outside linebackers on the line of scrimmage. Other times, only two defensive linemen put their hands on the ground with two outside backers and as many as nine men in the box.

Safeties darted in and out of the box, faking blitzes, in an effort to confuse the opposing quarterback. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such aggressive defense with man coverage on the outside.

Horton is clearly the master of surprise and probably takes great delight in showing quarterbacks one look and then switching to something entirely different at the snap. If nothing else, it sure is fun to watch.

The Lions crossed into Browns territory only twice Thursday night, once in each half, accounting for their two field goals. The first string Cleveland defense forced four punts in the first quarter and yielded only 41 yards, 28 on the fourth series.

The second- and third-stringers picked up the cue and played stifling defense against their opposite numbers on the Lions. It certainly appeared as though they have taken to Horton’s complex schemes with extreme relish.

~ Watching Weeden play pitch and catch with Jordan Cameron against the Lions brought back memories of Colt McCoy and Evan Moore in the 2011 season. Both of Cameron’s touchdowns Thursday night were high throws only the 6-5, 255-pound tight end could catch.

McCoy and Moore hooked up for four touchdowns in 2011 with McCoy throwing the ball high enough where only the 6-6, 250-pounder could catch it. Cameron and Moore each showed the ability to get open and each has shared the unfortunate inability to stay healthy long enough to contribute on a full-time basis.

If Cameron can stay healthy, then the Browns just might have a weapon that enables the wide receivers to become even more effective. And now that Weeden has discovered him and seemingly trusts him, it’ll be interesting to see how much coordinator Norv Turner incorporates him into the offense.

Turner loves working with pass-catching tight ends. He has cultivated a reputation for maximizing that position in his offensive scheme.

~ Some observations . . .

Notice the amount of man coverage on pass defense? With eight, nine and sometimes 10 men in the box at the snap, Horton has no choice but to use that approach. And I love it.

Mano y mano has always been my favorite type of coverage. Of course, its good to mix it up once in a while and throw some Cover 2 or Cover 3 in there, but there’s nothing like chin-to-chin coverage.

In order to be successful at it, though, the pass rush has to be just as successful. Not getting to the quarterback in time and allowing him to throw whenever he wants can result in negative plays. It’s a gamble Horton seems to enjoy.

That pass rush has not shown up much in the first two exhibitions. Maybe Horton is ramping it up in stages so that by the time the regular season starts, it will be ready with the full arsenal. . . .

Injuries are finally beginning to take their toll. With Jason Pinkston (ankle), Barkevious Mingo (lung), Dion Lewis (broken leg), Brandon Bogotay (groin) and Gary Barnidge (shoulder) out of action, we’ll see just how deep this team really is.

Brandon Jackson brings a nice, hard-nosed attitude to the running game, but Lewis’ speed and quickness will be missed. The Browns are strong enough at outside linebacker to be patient in awaiting Mingo’s return. And Garrett Gilkey acquitted himself well filling in for Pinkston against the Lions. . . .

One very noticeable change on defense, except the obvious ones, is that the tackling is a lot crisper and sharper thus far. Have yet to see a broken tackle, a plague that has deviled this team for so many seasons. . . .

The offense seemed a bit sluggish at the beginning of the Lions game, but Turner and Weeden didn’t take long to figure out the problems . . . If Bogotay is healthy, it would be incumbent on the Browns to keep him for no other reason than his strong keg on kickoffs. Making the opposition start each drive after a kickoff from the 20-yard line makes it that much easier on the defense and tougher on opposing offenses. . . .  Travis Benjamin is making a lot of fans forget in a hurry who Joshua Cribbs was.


  1. Hating myself for getting my hopes up, but!

  2. They're just exhibitions, Elf. Don't get sucked in yet. You'll have plenty of time for that once the games take on some meaning.