Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday leftovers

OK, what went wrong Sunday down in Jacksonville?

That wasn’t supposed to happen. The manner in which the Jaguars (man)handled the Browns flies against a lot of football principles.

There were very good reasons the Jags were winless – and 5½-point underdogs at home – entering the game. They were terrible on defense (couldn’t stop the opposition) and terrible on offense (couldn’t score, either).

Coach Mike Pettine said he tried everything to get his team to realize the Jaguars were not going to roll over and become just another football corpse for the resurgent Browns.

Apparently the old bromide “on any given Sunday” didn’t penetrate those in the meeting rooms during the week leading up to the game. And when it finally did during the game, it was too late.

Of course, several strange coaching decisions by Pettine and his clueless staff didn’t help matters. But still, the Browns trailed by only four points midway through the fourth quarter. Someone had to blink. That someone was Pettine, whose two brain flatulations didn’t help.

Many Browns fans, perhaps spoiled by the club’s second-half heroics this season, mistakenly figured the coaches’ halftime adjustments would eventually place the result of the Jags game in the proper column in the standings.

The Jaguars’ game plan was extremely simple. Stop the Browns’ running game, force Brian Hoyer to throw the football, pound the football on the ground and stay away from mistakes against the Cleveland defense. Check, check, check and oops.

Three Blake Bortles interceptions sort of complicated that part of the plan, but the Jacksonville defenders more than made up for it with solid transition defense, limiting the Browns to just three points on the turnovers.

This one was ultimately won in the trenches. The Jacksonville offensive line bashed the weakened-by-injury Cleveland defensive line most of the afternoon, racking up 185 yards in relatively easy fashion.

Denard Robinson, who used to bedevil Ohio State’s defense as a quarterback at Michigan, looked more like a Pro Bowl running back than a fill-in for the injured Toby Gerhart, piling up 127 of those yards on 22 carries. Bortles added another 37 yards on five freeze-option runs.

In six games this season, the Browns have surrendered 933 rushing yards (155½ a game), at least half of them after contact. The Browns are adept at getting their hands on opposing runners. Bringing them down is an entirely different matter. The tackling on this team is amateurish.

If Browns defenders were in a better position to make tackles, they would. Arm tackling does not work in the National Football League.

The Cleveland running game, which hummed along at a 146-yard-a-game clip before the Jacksonville game, (sarcasm alert) amassed (end sarcasm alert) 69 yards against the Jags.

Why? Because the home team was determined to shut down the Browns’ run game. How? By crowding the line of scrimmage, often times playing seven men within two yards of it. Every now and then, strong safety Jonathan Cyprien would make it an eight-man front.

With one exception, an 18-yard Ben Tate run in the second quarter that led to Billy Cundiff’s second field goal of the afternoon, everything the Browns tried on the ground failed. Dive plays, trap plays and stretch plays proved futile. Take out the Tate run and the Browns rushed for 51 yards on 29 carries.

Hoyer’s success depends, in large part, on a successful ground game. Makes him more effective on his play-action passes. On this day, he was totally ineffective.

And since the NFL is the ultimate copycat league, you can bet future opponents will take note on how the Jaguars handled the Cleveland offense. It is incumbent now on the coaching staff to make the necessary adjustments with winless Oakland up next, followed by one-win Tama Bay.

The Browns can still be 5-3 at the midway point of the season, but they had better arrive at the stadium on game day believing the opposition is better than its record. That’s a lesson they learned the hard way in Jacksonville.
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Coming into the game, the Jaguars had owned the football for just 26½ minutes a game. Against the Browns, it was 31½ minutes. The only reason it wasn’t higher was Bortles troika of picks.

It seems the Browns failed to take into consideration how determined the Jags were, especially on defense. They were flying to the ball on every run play, whereas the Cleveland offense pretty much allowed the Jags to dictate the tempo.

And the Jacksonville pass rush, which produced three sacks, seven hits, at least three knockdowns, and what seemed like double-digit hurries, was relentless against the Browns’ offensive line. Linebackers Paul Posluszny, J. T. Thomas and Telvin Smith seemed to be everywhere.
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What was all that fuss regarding a long-term contract for Hoyer? Seems to be a bit premature. The afterglow of the big Pittsburgh victory probably had something to do with that. After what happened against the Jaguars, that afterglow has probably been reduced to a spark.

Hoyer is a nice quarterback. Nothing great. Nothing that would make you believe he is the quarterback of the future. There are too many more games, too many more defenses to beat, too many more roadblocks to hurdle before he can be anointed thusly. Time to rethink.

He might not like the label, but Hoyer is best at being a game manager. Make certain the offense runs smoothly and efficiently. Keep mistakes at a minimum. Don’t beat yourself.  The Jacksonville game is an object lesson in that regard. He some day might wind up as that quarterback of the future. He first has to grow into it.
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The Jaguars, mainly a passing team coming into the game, were anything but against the Browns. Of their 68 plays, 35 were of the ground variety. That might have been a contributing factor in the Cleveland game plan, which appeared to marginalize the Jags’ run game.
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Best player for the Browns Sunday? That one’s easy. Punter Spencer Lanning enjoyed his best day of the season, averaging 50.4 yards on seven kicks. Runner-up: Cundiff, who was perfect on two field goals and kicked the ball out of the end zone on his three kickoffs Second runner-up: Long snapper Christian Yount, also perfect on nine snaps.
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Great quote from Pettine: “I think we took a large step backwards (against Jacksonville).”  Ya think?
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Notebook: The Browns maintained their standard two-sacks-a-game pace against the Jaguars and now have 12 on the season. Still waiting for the vaunted Pettine pass rush to show up. . . . How bad was the Cleveland offense Sunday? Thirteen first downs. For a team that averaged 22.2 first downs in the first five games, 13 would have been close to a halftime stat. . . . Posluszny suffered a torn pectoral muscle in the game and is out for the season. One game too late. . . . The Browns need to work more on ball control. The opposition this season averages nearly 32 minutes a game in that category – 4 for 17 on third down Sunday doesn’t help. . . . Neither do eight penalties.

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