Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday leftovers

There’s an excellent reason Jason Campbell is considered nothing more than a journeyman quarterback in the National Football League. And it was on display Sunday in the home finale against the Chicago Bears.

Consistency is the great separator when it comes to judging quarterbacks. The ability to play well on a consistent basis separates the wannabes from those who rise above others and excel. Campbell is a wannabe.

Playing well one or two games in a row means nothing if they are followed by games that make one wonder if this is the same quarterback.  Playing well occasionally doesn’t cut it. Eliminating those kinds of performances is something Campbell has been unable to do.

He plays just well enough to be called an NFL quarterback. One week, he will thrill you with a brilliant display of quarterbacking. The next week, he’ll make you scratch your head with a miserable performance.

And that, more than just about anything, is the clear definition of journeyman quarterback. He’s good enough to belong, but eventually he’ll break your heart and move on to another team that believes he belongs until he breaks that team’s heart.

That’s why the veteran has been with several NFL teams in his nine-year career. Cleveland is his fourth stop after stints in Washington, Oakland and Chicago. He’s good enough to hang on to just in case your starting quarterback goes down. We now know why the Redskins, Raiders and Bears let him go.

In examining Campbell’s career statistics, it’s easy to see why he’s 32-45 as a starter (he’s 1-5 with the Browns). He has thrown 86 touchdown passes and 57 interceptions in 84 total games.  That’s one touchdown a game.

Maybe that’s why Rob Chudzinski, no doubt lobbied hard by Mike Lombardi, chose third stringer Brian Hoyer over Campbell when Brandon Weeden suffered a concussion in the second game of the season in Baltimore.

And when Hoyer went down in game five, Weeden was brought back again only to fail again. That’s when Chudzinski had no choice but to turn to Campbell.

To be honest, Campbell has had a few good games for the Browns. And then he went out and played as though he is just learning how to play the position. He’s just good enough to rack up some nice totals, then exposes himself with games such as the one he unfurled against the Bears, for whom he played last season.

One would think playing against your ex-team might be enough motivation to take your game to a new level. After all, he was coming off maybe his best game of the season against New England the previous Sunday.

Rather than show off his strong arm against his ex-mates, Campbell became Captain Checkdown for the umpteenth time this season. Only 11 of his 39 passes were thrown 10 yards or more with just three completions. One was a 43-yard scoring bomb to Josh Gordon in garbage time.

Receivers were getting open in the Chicago secondary, but Campbell kept missing them if he wasn’t checking down. Many of his passes were off target. Now maybe the capricious winds off Lake Erie Sunday were a factor, but that didn’t stop Bears quarterback Jay Cutler from airing it out.

Cutler is a first-rate quarterback. Campbell is not. Never was.

Solid games, such as the ones he had against New England, Kansas City and the second Baltimore game, often lead to the notion that if he can do it in those games, he should be able to do it all the time. And that is where the great separator comes in.

So if you are asked what defines a journeyman quarterback in the NFL, all you have to do is point to Campbell as a perfect example. Good enough to hold a clipboard, but unreliable when called on to produce on the field on a consistent basis.

~ When Ray Horton was named the Browns’ defensive coordinator, most of us (me included) hailed the appointment. Finally, we believed, the dog days of bad defense were over. Passive football on that side of the ball was dead. Well . . . that hasn’t exactly been the case.

When the Bears roared to three fourth-quarter touchdowns in their come-from-behind victory Sunday, Horton’s reputation took a huge hit. It was almost as though his defense wasn’t on the field. In only 17 plays, the Bears racked up 21 points. The third-down and red-zone defense was embarrassing.

As pointed out here yesterday, the second- and fourth-quarter stats for the Cleveland defense in the last five games have been downright awful. Through 14 games, the defense has given up 130 points in the first and third quarters. In quarters two and four, that number jumps to 232. In other words, 64.1% of the 362 points the Browns have allowed this season were scored in the final 15 minutes of each half.

The defense’s net figure is 334 when factoring in the four touchdowns opposing teams’ defenses and special teams have scored this season. Last season, that defense allowed a net total of 347 points (368 total). In other words, this season’s defense will be statistically worse than last season’s unless, of course, the Browns can shut out the New York Jets and Pittsburgh in the final two games.

~ Paul Kruger surely has to feel at least a little bit guilty about stealing money from his employer. Well, maybe not stealing. Taking it under false pretenses might be a better way of putting it.

The outside linebacker, who burst onto the national stage with his post-season performances (13½ total sacks) with the Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens last season, was supposed to be the Browns’ best free-agent signing. He’ll fit in perfectly with Horton's defense, is what they said. That five-year, $41 million contract with $20 million guaranteed will be well worth it.

Through 14 games thus far, the pass rush specialist has 36 tackles (17 solo) and 4½ sacks. In Sunday’s loss to the Bears, the $41 million man checked in with no tackles and one quarterback hit. Played the entire game with no tackles. He is clearly the biggest disappointment on the team.

On second thought, maybe stealing is the correct verb here.

~ Notebook: Hard to believe, but T. J. Ward’s pick of a Cutler pass in the end zone on the first series of the game was the Browns’ first takeaway in the red zone in 10 games. . . . A thought: Greg Little is a running back masquerading as a wide receiver much like Joshua Cribbs when he was with the Browns. . . . Nice to see tight end MarQueis Gray, a college quarterback, run consecutive plays from the wildcat formation on the drive that led to the Browns’ first offensive touchdown in the third quarter. Two plays netted 30 yards and then he disappeared. Nice coaching. . . . Campbell targeted Gordon and Jordan Cameron 16 times and connected on just six passes. . . . Best players on the field on defense were Ward and Tashaun Gipson, the safeties. If Gipson times his leap better, Alshon Jeffery does not make that sensational TD catch on the first of the Bears’ three fourth-quarter scores. . . . Kudos to the offensive line, especially tackles Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz, for keeping Campbell clean. . . . Offensive bust of the year: Davone Bess. . . . The Browns announced Sunday’s crowd as 71,513. Looked as though half were disguised as seats. 

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