Monday, November 16, 2015

Monday leftovers

In the wake of your favorite National Football League team’s five-game losing streak and its supersonic plunge to the bottom of the AFC North Division, it is not unreasonable to wonder just what that team’s owner is thinking these days.

For someone who is quite vocal with his intent to turn around this franchise, he has remained unusually quiet and out of sight. Or at least away from the media spotlight. If we are to believe he is passionate about this team, this must be eating him up.

We don’t know because that owner has kept a low profile for any number of reasons. Perhaps he’s embarrassed, as well as he should be, by the way his investment is playing the game of football.

Then again, he might be already planning his next moves as he seeks to bring that team’s city something resembling a representative product in order to stem the growing notion that winning football will never be played there again.

It’ll be interesting to see how much longer Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III stays mute with regard to the performance of his pro football investment. What we do know is Haslam is at least talking with his head coach.

Mike Pettine revealed to Cleveland media members over the weekend that he has spoken with his big boss, calling his one-on-one with him last week “just a normal middle-of-the-year get together.”

Nothing new or newsworthy came out of the talk other, said Pettine, than the two “covered a lot of ground. . . . It was looking back, looking forward, where we are. We addressed it by unit, by player. . . . We talked about the program A to Z.”

And . . .

“Where we are right now isn’t good enough,” Pettine admitted in classic understatement fashion following Sunday’s embarrassing 30-9 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh. In fact, the Browns are not even in the same area code.

Most NFL teams have their highs and lows, their zeniths and nadirs, during the season. The Browns, it seems, don’t have zeniths and their nadirs come in bunches.

With two weeks to prepare for the invasion of the Baltimore Ravens in two weeks, one would think that’s enough time to change things up just for the sake of changing things up because what they are doing now isn’t working.

Nope, said Pettine. No changes on the coaching staff during the bye week. “We’ve got to get it right as a staff and we’ve got to get it right as a team,” he conceded. ”We’re challenged as a staff to do a little soul searching and come up with some answers and make sure when we come out of this break we’re ready to go.”

It is very possible that how the Browns fare in the final six games of the season, four of which will be at home, will determine whether Pettine returns for a third season.

If he’s smart, Haslam will hang on until the end of the season so he can make a complete evaluation of the situation before making any moves. No sense in making knee-jerk decisions.

If he decides to overhaul his front office again, he needs to line up people well in advance of making such moves. No more lingering and eventually winding up with a third or fourth choice.

If Haslam opts to jettison Pettine at the end of this season, he must get an experienced head coach for his team. No more learning on the job. No more Rob Chudzinskis or Pat Shurmurs or Romeo Crennels. Browns fans deserve better. Much better.

The best head coach the new Browns have had was Butch Davis, who arrived with solid head coaching credentials. Davis eventually ran into problems when he attempted to run the entire organization rather than concentrate on coaching.
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Now that Josh McCown is much healthier than he was a few days ago and is virtually certain to be ready to when the Ravens arrive, Pettine once again faces a quarterback controversy.

He has chosen for the time being to sidestep it, other than to admit Johnny Manziel “took a big step forward” against the Steelers. He remained non-committal on whether Manziel will get chance to finish the season as the starting quarterback. He called that possibility “too early for me to stand up here and speak on it.”

It is, however, truly puzzling that a 2-8 team has such a dilemma. What difference does it makes who commands the huddle? McCown or Manziel . . . the Browns will lose either way, right?

But fans, even those who don’t like him, must admit Manziel didn’t look awful against the Steelers Sunday even though the club put points on the board just twice. In fact, he looked downright decent.

It’s time to call out the offensive line. From tackle to tackle, its performance against the Steelers was abysmal. The Browns couldn’t run the ball (again), picking up only 15 yards in 14 attempts.

Manziel was the leading rusher with 17 scrambling yards. Isaiah Crowell checked in at negative five yards on six carries. In the last four games, the Browns have rushed for just 205 yards.

Only two of the club’s 20 touchdowns have been scored via the run. Crowell has one and McCown the other. And to think this was an offense at the beginning of the season that wanted its run game to set up the pass. Oops.

The Browns were within 10 yards of the Pittsburgh goal line three times Sunday and scored just one touchdown. And late in the second quarter, the line couldn’t budge more than a few inches from its own goal line in the final minute, eventually setting up a Pittsburgh touchdown following a short punt. That’s a three-touchdown swing.

Not only can’t the offensive line block for the run, it has trouble protecting its quarterback. More often than not, Manziel was forced to evacuate the pocket within four seconds against the Steelers because his protection broke down.

He was sacked six times, in part because he sometimes had problems locating his receivers, and knocked down six other times. It would have been much worse had he not been able to extend plays. Most of his yardage came when he was on the run.
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A rarely called penalty cost the Browns four points against the Steelers. As Pittsburgh kicker Chris Boswell attempted a 27-yard field goal on a fourth-and-five at the Cleveland 9 late in the second quarter, Browns defensive lineman Armonty Bryant used a teammate to rise up in an attempt to block the kick. He failed, but umpire Carl Paganelli flagged him immediately for leverage.

Rule 12 of the NFL Rules Book under Player Conduct declares leverage falls under the category of unsportsmanlike conduct. Subsection O states that “jumping or standing on a teammate or opponent to block an opponent’s kick” is not permitted. Subsection P states “a hand or hands on a teammate or opponent to give additional height in the block or attempt to block an opponent’s kick” is also not permitted.

The Steelers accepted the half-the-distance penalty, took the points off the board and subsequently scored on the next play, a four-yard scoring pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown.
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In case you’re wondering, the Browns did not set any club records with their penalty surge against the Steelers Sunday. But they are on pace to shatter team marks for most penalties and most penalty yardage in a season.
They are on course to record 133 penalties (team record 128 in 1989) and 1,189 yards (team record 1,165 in 1978). The 188 yards they accumulated against the Steelers ties for second place the 1995 team against Cincinnati.
Club record there is 209 yards against the Chicago Bears in 1951. Most penalties in a game is 21 in that same game. Also in that game, the teams totaled 37 penalties for 374 yards, both NFL records. The Browns won that Nov. 25 war, 42-21, at the old Stadium.
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Notebook: Duke Johnson Jr. watch: The rookie running back touched the ball eight times and gained 28 yards. . . . Pittsburgh quarterback Landry Jones received credit for the victory Sunday as his team’s starting quarterback. . . . If Manziel doesn’t have a sore neck today after getting his helmet 180 degreed by Pittsburgh linebacker Arthur Moats in the second quarter, he’s got stronger neck muscles than most humans. . . . The Browns’ run defense held the Steelers to just 60 yards, Small consolation for the lack of a pass rush. . . . The Steelers recorded five first downs by penalty. . . . The Browns won time of possession, 32:43-27:17, and that was after the Steelers owned the ball the final 5:42 of the game. . . . The Steelers so dominated the game on offense, punter Jordan Berry was called on just once.

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