Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday leftovers

Here’s how bad it was for the Browns against the Green Bay Packers Sunday and a large clue as to why Cleveland annually resides in the poor neighborhoods of the National Football League.

The Packers have something the Browns and other pretenders in the NFL wish they had. It’s called quality depth. And they have in spades.

There’s an expression around the NFL when it comes to opportunity. In a game where an injury is just a play away, the rallying cry is “next man up.” If you are not a starter, be ready because you could be “the next man up” on any given play.

Sunday in Green Bay, the Packers employed three such players and all contributed mightily in the victory over the Browns. In fact, they were a major difference.

The Packers, a 3-4 team on defense, entered the game with three of their starting linebackers injured and unable to play. Gone were All-Pro Clay Matthews III, Nick Perry and Brad Jones. A. J. Hawk was the lone healthy linebacker.

Off the Green Bay bench came linebackers Jamari Lattimore and rookie Nate Palmer and defensive coordinator Dom Capers improvised by frequently employing a nickel look in the secondary.

Lattimore turned in a solid game playing next to Hawk on the inside, making 12 tackles (nine solo) with one sack, a tackle for loss, a pass defensed and got close enough to Brandon Weeden to be credited with a quarterback hit. Palmer had six tackles, half of them solo.

Now imagine the Browns, also a 3-4 team, without Jabaal Sheard, Paul Kruger and Craig Robertson. How do you suppose Barkevious Mingo, Quentin Groves and Tank Carder would have done?

We’ll never know, of course, but with the exception of Mingo, whose play lately has been substandard, there is no way Groves, a pass rushing specialist, and Carder, more of a special teamer, could have at the very least prevented a dropoff in talent.

On the other side of the ball, the Packers entered the game without two of their best wide receivers in Randall Cobb and James Jones. So who steps up and bothers the hell out of the Cleveland secondary all afternoon? Second-year man Jarrett Boykin, who entered the game with only one reception in four games this season.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers targeted Boykin 10 times and connected on eight for 103 yards and a touchdown. Jarrett Who became Jarrett Wonderful (to Packers fans for at least this game) in a hurry.

To compensate for the loss of two wideouts, Packers coach Mike McCarthy went to a two tight-end look most of the game until Jermichael Finley went down with an injury.

Now imagine the Browns without starters Josh Gordon and Greg Little. Wait a minute. Little isn’t a starter. Davone Bess replaced him a few games ago. OK, make that Gordon and Bess.

So that bumps up Little, whose reputation as a solid pass catcher remains in doubt, and Travis Benjamin, whose strength is returning kicks and running reverses. The likelihood of either of them matching what Boykin did is unlikely.

Bottom line is the Packers beat up on the Browns despite the loss of some key personnel. The Browns? All you have to do is look at what they did when guard Shawn Lauvao missed the first few games of the season. Oneil Cousin was the next man up and quickly became the weak link of the offensive line.

Solidifying the roster with capable replacements should be one of the prime goals for Joe Banner and his minions. The way the game is played today, the injured lists of teams are growing at an alarmingly rapid rate.

So who is the player the Browns can most ill afford to lose to serious injury? Easy. That would be tight end Jordan Cameron, whose ability to remain healthy thus far has been a most pleasant surprise. There isn’t a tight end on the roster who can at least equal his production. Lose him and the downhill slide will pick up in velocity. If that’s possible.

~ Once again, tackling has become a big problem for the Browns. When Finley scored the first touchdown of the game for the Packers in the opening quarter on an 11-yard pass, four different Browns had a shot at stopping him before he reached the end zone.

Now Finley is a big guy at 6-4, 250 pounds, but there is no way he would have reached the end zone if proper tackling technique has been applied. In order, Finley shook off Robertson, Tashaun Gipson, Buster Skrine and D’Qwell Jackson, who was late to the play to begin with.

None of these men extended their arms in an effort to wrap up the Green Bay tight end. In a couple of cases, they attempted to make arm tackles. Arm tackles do not work in the NFL. Never have. Never will. Arm tackling means you are out of position to make the proper play.

On several other occasions, the Browns had Rodgers trapped in the backfield attempting to pass and each time, with one exception, he escaped. For a team that prides itself on rushing the passer, that should never happen. Speaking of the pass rush, where is it? Only two sacks in the last two games.

~ The Packers led the Browns, 17-6, early in the fourth quarter when coach Rob Chudzinski made a curious decision that wound up costing his team a touchdown.

The Browns had driven down to the Green Bay 31-yard line with about 11 minutes left in regulation  and the Browns holding their own. Instead of calling for Billy Cundiff’s third field goal of the evening, which would have made it a one-possession game at 17-9, he went for it on fourth-and-15. It would have been a 49-yard attempt, certainly within his range.

Weeden nearly connected with Gordon, open briefly at the Green Bay 3, but the pass arrived late (sound familiar?), giving the Packers’ secondary time to recover and knock it away. The Packers took over at the 31 and scored five plays later when Jordy Nelson grabbed a 1-yard toss from Rodgers on a slant in front of Joe Haden. So instead of trailing, 17-9, the Browns were on the wrong end of a 24-6 score.

~ Notebook: Here’s a hint on whom to use as the kickoff returner: On the kickoff following the Nelson touchdown, Travis Benjamin was the return man for the first time in the game. He returned it 86 yards to set up the club’s only TD of the game.  Ya think maybe he should do it a little more often? . . . Foswhitt Whittaker, a.k.a. Fozzy, did all right in that department, too, with 103 yards on three returns with a long of 56 yards. . . . Loved those 1929 season replica uniforms the Packers wore. Would love to see the Browns follow suit and play a game in their inaugural 1946 season replica uniforms. . . . Adding insult to injury: Mike McCarthy challenged (unsuccessfully) the spot following the Browns’ successful fake punt late in the first quarter. He was already up, 14-0, at the time. Nervy. . . . The Browns have to work on their onsides kicks. After pulling to within 24-13 with 6:09 left in regulation, Joe Haden fell on the ball following the first kick, but Tank Carder was offside. The Browns also recovered the second attempt, but it did not travel the required 10 yards. 

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