Friday, August 21, 2015

Meanderings after another loss

Johnny Manziel has one very good series against the Buffalo Bills in Thursday night’s exhibition loss,  Josh McCown’s performance conjures up visions of Tim Couch, Colt McCoy, Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn and Todd Philcox, and voila, the nasty QC phrase is unleashed.

QC, a.k.a. quarterback controversy, raises its ugly, little head after the game and now Browns coach Mike Pettine is doing everything within his power to not only stem that tide, but vanquish it altogether.

“I’m not going to sit here and talk about trying to stir up a quarterback controversy,” he said following the game. “Josh is firmly the one.” Of course he is.

Pettine is absolutely right. No need to create any possible locker room upheaval by muddying the situation. This one is a no-brainer.

The Browns brought in McCown, victimized by three sacks and two interceptions against the Bills, to be the No. 1 quarterback because Manziel is still in the midst of learning how to play National Football League style football.

To elevate him above McCown now would be a terrible move and certainly cause General Manager Ray Farmer and owner Jimmy Haslam to wonder whether their head coach is panicking.

Pettine correctly pointed out Manziel’s one good drive was executed with the Browns’ second unit against Buffalo’s second- and third-stringers. McCown, on the other hand, faced the Bills’ starters in his three series and looked awful.

The coach, however, left a little slit in the door. “We’d say it’s possible (for Manziel to overtake McCown between now and the season opener against the New York Jets), but I think . . . that’s a pretty good dropoff from any starting unit down to the twos,” he said. “We’ll evaluate both guys.”

Nothing wrong with the evaluation process. That’s done throughout the season by all clubs. It’s a process that spans 365 days a year.

But to think Manziel is even close to being adequate enough to take control of the Cleveland offense is ludicrous. Unless McCown goes down with an injury or performs as badly as he did last season in Tampa Bay, Manziel should be tethered to his clipboard all season.

Giving Manziel a false sense of security is a mistake at this point. He still has to prove a lot more before he can be even considered for the starting role. He still is a considerable distance from earning it.

Creating a QC at this point of the season – just two exhibition games for goodness sakes – only reinforces the notion of how desperate the team and fans – and the media – are to once and for all settle the quarterback situation.

It’s dumb and totally unnecessary.
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Speaking of dumb, did anyone notice how many stupid penalties were committed by both teams that ruined or seriously hampered scoring chances?

Like the facemask penalty on Cleveland’s Jalen Parmele during Shane Wynn’s 58-yard punt return in the fourth quarter. Instead of first down at the Buffalo 14, the Browns began the drive at their 15. A 71-yard difference because of a dumb penalty.

Or a Buffalo offside on a fourth-and-4 with the Browns deep in their territory and desperately trying to win the game in the final minutes. The gift extended the drive, which died a few plays later, anyway.

Then there was a 17-yard Manziel completion to tight end E. J. Bibbs on a third-and-15 that was wiped out by an ineligible man (right guard Cameron Erving) downfield during a frantic Manziel scramble.

There were several other stupid blunders, but these stood out. Dumb penalties on parade in front of a national television audience.
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It’s truly amazing how far McCown’s’ terrific half season in Chicago in 2013 has carried him. It seems as though no one wants to point out the Browns are his seventh NFL team in 13 seasons. Good quarterbacks don’t bounce around. Those that do are labeled journeymen. Not McCown.

On Thursday night’s telecast, Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden on ESPN brought up that terrific half season as if to anoint McCown more than a journeyman. For the record, he started five games in the absence of the injured Jay Cutler that season and was 3-2.

He played in three other games and completed two-thirds of his passes for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and just one interception. As it turns out, that five-game span was clearly an aberration when one looks at his entire body of work (58.8% completion rate, 61 touchdowns and 59 picks).

What McCown did in Chicago is ancient history. When you look at his career stats, a journeyman is what he is. And if Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and his coaches think he’s better than those stats, they are badly mistaken.

So enough with McCown’s five great games. He is not that quarterback now. And he wasn’t before those five games. So stop it already.

But he is certainly the best quarterback (comparatively speaking) on this team.
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The Buffalo game was so dull and unimaginative, Gruden was moved to utter the following late in the third quarter: “They need to make something happen to give them confidence.” Not certain whether he meant both teams or just one.

At the end of the third quarter with both teams plodding along in a 3-3 tie and flailing helplessly on offense, Tirico uttered, “I’m afraid someone might not score the rest of the way tonight.” He was almost right.

That’s when the Browns scored on a 96-yard touchdown drive and the Bills replied with a long scoring drive of their own, winning it with a two-point conversion, sparing the fans overtime.
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Once again, the Cleveland defense had problems setting the edge. With rookie nose tackle Danny Shelton helping shut off anything up the middle, the Bills successfully attacked the edge on both sides of the formation.

Unless defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil is able to correct that situation, we’re going to see teams attack the Cleveland flanks as often as possible. It’s not clear the Browns have anyone on the roster strong enough to bolster what obviously is a huge problem that will be exploited by other teams during the regular season.
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Notebook: What in the world is Travis Benjamin doing catching a punt at his two-yard line in the first quarter? Instead of getting the ball at the 20-yard line after a touchback, he tried to return it and got to the 18. A holding penalty brought it back to the Cleveland nine, which makes the point moot. Still, he should know better. . . . The Cleveland run game needs work. Even with Alex Mack back, the offensive line looked sluggish and holes were nearly impossible to find. . . .  Mack still has some rust to chip off. The veteran center, battling back from a broken leg last season, was badly beaten by Buffalo defensive tackle Marcell Dareus for a second-quarter sack. . . . It appears as though Travis Coons’ leg is stronger than Carey Spear’s as the two battle to become the Browns’ placekicker. At least he reaches the end zone on his kickoffs. . . Rookie wide receiver Darius Jennings is not hurting himself by making plays when called on. He made a nice catch on a low Manziel throw during the 96-yard scoring drive. 

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