Monday, November 4, 2013

Monday leftovers

The sigh you might have heard around Browns Nation Monday morning was due to a diagnosis by team physicians. Jason Campbell is still the club’s quarterback.

The thought of losing yet another quarterback would have been devastating to a team that has displayed a genuine desire to win this season. Unlike previous seasons, when some games were mailed in, this team has no such agenda.

And losing Campbell for any length of time, on top of watching Brian Hoyer go down with a season-ending injury earlier, would have been devastating news. That’s why Monday’s medical report of just bruised ribs for Campbell drew the huge sigh of relief.

The thought of Brandon Weeden back under center because he was the only healthy quarterback left conjured up images of Halloween. Scary. Fans had seen enough of him to realize he’s not even close to being the answer at the position.

So when Campbell went down late in the first quarter under the full 340-pound weight of Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata on a scramble and had to leave the game, fans obviously thought the worst.

“First it was Hoyer and now Campbell goes down?” had to be coursing through the fans’ minds. “Hasn’t this team suffered enough?” And when Weeden’s brief relief of Campbell produced negative results, the worry thermometer trended up.

But it seemed as though everything returned to normal when Campbell returned to the game on the Browns’ next series. And yet, the fans had to wait until Monday before getting the good news.

The Browns do, indeed, look like a different team on offense with Campbell under center. The running game still stinks, which makes his performances in two games thus far that much more impressive.

Several times in the 24-18 victory over the Ravens Sunday, Campbell successfully executed a play fake. Why the Ravens’ linebackers and defensive backs bit on the fake is difficult to understand. In order to be successful on play action, a team has to have a strong running game in order to keep the defense honest.

Cleveland's running game consists of Willis McGahee running for two and sometimes three yards on first down. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner called for a run on first down 12 times against the Ravens. They produced 21 yards, including three for no gain. Turner was far more successful calling a pass on first down.

So even though it’s obvious the best way to stop the Browns is shutting down the passing game, Campbell has excelled in his two starts, throwing for 554 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. And he’s been sacked just three times.

Why is he more successful than Weeden? They work with the same personnel. It’s not as though he has a stronger arm. And it certainly isn’t as though he’s more mobile.

So what makes him more successful than Weeden? Easy. After nine seasons in the National Football League, the game has slowed down for him. He sees developing plays quicker and is able to make smarter decisions.

It’s been only two games, but he has yet to make a horrible throw playing against two very good defenses in Kansas City and Baltimore. He tries to stay away from the kind of throws that makes you wonder out loud “what the hell was he thinking?”

We haven’t seen those bad passes thus far. There are still seven games remaining and anything can happen. Bear in mind that Campbell is an NFL journeyman for a reason. The Browns are his fourth team in five seasons. He has bounced around because he hasn’t proven he can be consistent.

And now, he’s the toast of Cleveland after knocking off the Ravens. Good things happen to the Browns’ offense when he’s on the field.  Now all he has to do during the bye week is take it easy, rest those sore ribs and grab a flak jacket to protect them when the season resumes a week from Sunday.

~ Greg Little is an enigma. There are times you wonder if the wide receiver will ever get it as a professional football player. He’s hard to figure out. Take the Ravens’ game for example.

We all know Little has hands of stone. Watching him drop passes right in his mitts has become commonplace. It was almost as though he didn’t care when he dropped a pass. It earned him a demotion.

Then the Ravens’ game arrived and Little played like a man possessed. It was almost as though he demanded the ball be thrown to him. He seemed angry when he caught each of his seven passes and ran in almost reckless fashion for most of his 122 yards.

The belligerent, almost cocky attitude also cost the Browns 30 yards in penalties, the most egregious being a 15-yarder for taunting after catching his second straight 15-yard pass midway through the second quarter. He immediately baited Ravens safety James Ihedigbo and just as immediately drew a flag.

His body language told you he knew he had made a mistake because the official who threw the flag was standing next to him.  Little reacted by tilting his head in obvious acknowledgment of the error. Fortunately, it didn’t hurt as the Browns scored a touchdown three plays later.

Now if Little can bring that nasty and aggressive attitude to every game with some discipline and good hands attached, then the Browns just might have another weapon besides Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon.

~ Turns out Joe Haden was right about the Ravens.

Several days before the game, the veteran cornerback told Cleveland reporters that “the Ravens are not the Ravens of old. They’re still really good, a real talented team . . . but at the same time, our team is a whole different team. It’s a different squad. We still haven’t gotten over the hump, but there’s no reason why we can’t.”

The Ravens are not the same team that won the last Super Bowl. The emotional and spiritual leader of that team now works for ESPN. 

They won’t admit it, but the Ravens miss the playmaking and uplifting approach to the game that linebacker Ray Lewis delivered for all those years. And safety Ed Reed, who stabilized the secondary and tortured the Browns over the years, is now in Houston. He was the quiet kind of a player who led by example.

On offense, they sure miss Anquan Boldin, who made numerous clutch catches en route to their Super Bowl victory. Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta, on injured reserve all season, were Joe Flacco’s reliables, the guys he knew he could rely on.

~ Notebook: Is there any question coach Rob Chudzinski trusts Campbell more than Weeden? I don’t think the coach would have twice gambled on fourth down Sunday with Weeden. Each time, he was rewarded with a successful play. . . . The last two games have produced 11 sacks for Ray Horton’s defense. Flacco was also hit on eight other occasions. He had no idea where the pressure was coming from. . . . It is quite obvious Horton loves T. J. Ward. The strong safety was everywhere on the field. If he wasn’t blitzing, he was faking the blitz or dropping back in coverage.  He played as much in the box as he did in coverage. . . . McGahee ran the ball 21 times against the Ravens for 31 yards. Talk about ramming your head against a cement wall. . . . Lost in the afterglow of the victory was the terrific transition defense following McGahee’s lost fumble in the second quarter. The Ravens, trailing, 14-3, began the drive at the Cleveland 38. Three plays later, they had to punt from the Cleveland 48. Three plays, zero yards and a holding penalty on Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher. . . . One last thing: Someone needs to teach Cleveland quarterbacks how to slide when scrambling. That’s how Hoyer got hurt. Campbell and Weeden look like wounded giraffes when they slide. The Browns need to hire someone from the Indians to teach their quarterbacks how to slide.

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