Thursday, August 20, 2015

That was football?

In what was laughingly called a professional football game Thursday night at the Factory of Sadness in Cleveland, two National Football League teams played embarrassingly bad football.

It was a three-hour study in how not to play the game as it was meant to be played. In the history of NFL exhibitions, this was one where the fans had every right to demand their money back.

It was bad football from the beginning. And don’t let Buffalo’s 11-10 victory over Cleveland fool you. With offenses that sputtered and spattered almost all evening, it’s a wonder that many points were scored.

And the worst part of it all? This snoozefest was nationally televised by ESPN with Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden gulping No-Doz tablets from time to time. Yes, it was that boring and the nation was its witness.

Tirico tried valiantly to inject positive little tidbits about two of the NFL’s most moribund teams and Gruden resorted to platitudes about certain individual players. To the more sophisticated fans, it had to sound like attendant noise.

It was 60 minutes of two teams with significant injury problems trying to see which one could play worse football on offense. By the time each team scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter to make it mildly interesting, most of America had tuned it out. And no could blame them.

As for evaluating how much of an effect this one will have on the regular season, consider that the starters on both clubs played a majority of the first half and put a stunning six points (three by each team) on the scoreboard.

If you’re looking for a bright spot for the Browns, you might start with Johnny Manziel, who, for the first time in his brief professional career, actually looked like an NFL quarterback, if only for a brief moment or two.

The biggest moment came with 10 minutes left in the final quarter when he culminated an 11-play, 96-yard drive with a well-executed 21-yard touchdown pass to little Shane Wynn, a Glenville High School graduate, in the back of the end zone.

The mere fact he did not score a touchdown with his feet is a huge step in the right direction for Manziel, whose transformation from college spread quarterback to pro-style quarterback has been – being charitable here – laborious.

On his scoring throw to Wynn, Manziel executed a perfect play fake to running back Tim Flanders, freezing the Bills’ secondary, stepped up in the pocket and lofted his perfect strike. It was a sight Browns fans had not seen before.

If nothing else, it proved to them he could do it. More important, it proved to him it could be done. Now he knows how it feels to throw a pro type pass in rhythm and see it pay off. Yes it was against second- and third-stringers. At this point, what difference- does it make?

Other than that, all this game proved was that both teams love to blitz. I mean really l-o-o-o-o-o-ve to blitz. Both coaches turned it loose on what seemed to be just about very play,

Each team had four sacks, a whole bunch of quarterback hits and even more quarterback hurries. Browns quarterback Josh McCown had precious little time to throw and when he did, he looked like the quarterback he was last season in Tampa with three sacks and two interceptions.

And let’s not forget the penalties. Seventeen infractions were called and at least a half dozen others were declined in the sloppy game. Both clubs nullified big plays on both sides of the ball with stupid penalties.

The Bills, for example, had a first-and-goal at the Cleveland 1 with less than two minutes left in the game, but due to penalties wound up scoring on a fourth-and-14 pass from E. J. Manuel to rookie Andre Davis. A two-point conversion to Davis accounted for the final score.

Yes, it was only an exhibition. It counts as much as last week’s loss to Washington and the outcome of the final two games in Tampa and Chicago. But it was the nasty aftertaste of the performance against the Bills that should give Browns fans great cause for concern.

It is quite obvious the coaching staff needs to see a considerable amount of improvement from this stodgy and unimaginative offense before the season opener against the New York Jets. They have only two games in which to accomplish it and the final one is a throwaway when the starters play probably only one series.

Good luck.

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