Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The day after the bad dream 

Meanderings of the mind in the wake of yet another head-scratching game by the Browns . . .

No matter whom Mile Pettine chooses to be his opening-game quarterback, one thing remains perfectly clear: The Browns are desperately seeking an offense.

Based strictly on what we’ve seen thus far of Kyle Shanahan’s offense – and, yes, most of it is vanilla-based because, you know, this is just the exhibition season – it is going to be a long season.

With Brian Hoyer expected to be named the starter for the season opener in Pittsburgh on Sept. 7, the Browns’ offense won’t look much different than the last few seasons.

Unlike last season, though, Hoyer won’t get much help from his receiving corps. That’s because the Browns have arguably the worst set of wide receivers in the National Football League.

With the impending Josh Gordon suspension – and didn’t he look totally disinterested in the Monday exhibition loss to Washington? – and the emergence of no one to replace him, who is Hoyer going to throw to?

It won’t be Jordan Cameron often because opponents now will begin taking the tight end out of the equation by double-teaming him. That leaves the likes of Miles Austin, Nate Burleson, Andrew Hawkins and Travis Benjamin. Scary bunch, no?

It won’t be long before General Manager Ray Farmer starts experiencing feelings of regret, if he already isn’t, for not selecting at least one wide receiver in the last college draft. He did absolutely nothing to help his quarterbacks.

Yes, the running game has improved. Ben Tate and Terrance West grinded out some tough yardage against a good Redskins defense Monday night. But unless the run game is complemented by the passing game, opponents soon will be able to shut that down, too, and dare the Browns to pass.

Right now, we have no idea what Shanahan wants his offense to look like. Not certain even he knows. It is disjointed, has no identity and is heading in too many different directions.
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Based on their performances, Hoyer and Johnny Manziel took Pettine’s pre-game challenge of stepping up and laughed at it. What other conclusion can one come to with such awful performances?

On more than one occasion, we saw both quarterbacks slap their helmets in frustration with both hands after missing easy passes. Executing the basic fundamentals of the game escaped both men. And there was no good reason for it.

Both knew what was on the line and they gagged. Yes, it was only an exhibition, but it’s possible it foretold what lies ahead. That’s the pessimistic view. Optimists will say it was a meaningless game and it can’t get any worse.
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The NFL’s crackdown on grabbing and holding bit both clubs Monday night. Officials are now flagging all contact outside the five-yard area beyond the line of scrimmage and the players are having problems adjusting to it.

It all stems from the antics of the extremely active secondary of the Seattle Seahawks, whose clutch-and-grab tactics were a factor in their successful march to a Super Bowl championship. Many coaches complained officials let the Seahawks get away with them.

The league complied and the result is a preponderance of illegal contact and holding calls. Unless the league steps in and backs off or the clubs make dramatic adjustments in their pass coverage to comply, the laundry will fly often this season.

They are just five-yard penalties, but they carry an automatic first down with them. What hurts the most – and is the most frustrating – are those penalties on a third and long that negate a good play. They help sustain drives and take away defensive momentum.
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Not certain what Pettine said to his club in his pre-game remarks, but whatever it was, it did not work. For the most part, especially on offense, the Browns arrived not ready to play a football game. The Redskins were active on both sides of the ball.

The Cleveland defense had its moments. Four turnovers, a solid goal-line stand, but spotty tackling. Not certain how the latter can be improved since teams no longer place a great emphasis on that phase of the game.
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Consider Mike Foss, who writes the ForTheWin column for USA Today, an optimist in regard to Manziel’s future in the NFL. “It isn’t Johnny Football’s time,” he wrote. “Now, he has a chance to be ready when it is.”

Manziel fans can rationalize by saying it can’t get any worse than this. His detractors can reply, “Or can it?”
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Notebook: Only plus from the game? No one was seriously injured. At least that we know of. . . . Defensive end Armonty Bryant made a strong push to get more playing time with his second straight solid game. . . . Veteran safety Jim Leonhard will prove a valuable contributor to the secondary. His savvy feel for the game is invaluable. . . . We’ll get a much better idea of just how strong the defense is in the St. Louis exhibition Saturday night in Cleveland when they play into the third quarter. . . . Curious as to why we saw just a few misdirection bootleg plays by both quarterbacks. They seemed to work well in the exhibition opener against Detroit. . . . Backup Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins must enjoy playing against the Browns. As a rookie in 2012, he beat the Browns, 38-21, with a 26-37, 329-yard, two-touchdown performance while filling in for an injured Robert Griffin III. Monday night, he dissected the Cleveland secondary again, albeit the second- and third-teamers, 12-21, 145 yards and a TD. 

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