Monday leftovers (Tuesday edition)
Now that Josh McCown is done for the season with a broken collarbone, coach Mike Pettine has an interesting decision to make between now and Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals invade.
Does Austin Davis get the start at quarterback? Or is Johnny Manziel going to be forgiven, released from his coach’s prison cell (doghouse?) and handed the assignment?
“I don’t want to head down that slope,” Pettine told the Cleveland media Tuesday. “I’m going to reserve talk for the quarterback stuff until (Wednesday).” In other words, he’s conflicted. He later said he would “make the decision . . . that’s best for the team.” That’s a rhetorical copout.
Based on what we saw in Monday night’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens, it would be understandable if Pettine wants to get a longer look at Davis, whose guidance of the offense after McCown went down was eye-opening.
Given a whole week of preparation for the Bengals, Davis would be the natural choice if Pettine is still ticked off at Manziel for breaking a promise about how to spend the bye week and then lying about a video that clearly showed he broke that promise.
It’s not as though Davis is such a significant dropdown from McCown that it wouldn’t make any sense to favor him over Manziel. What he did in the last nine minutes against the Ravens was intriguing.
When he connected with Travis Benjamin on a 42-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 27-27 with 1:47 left in regulation, eyebrows were raised. It was one of those beautiful perfectly timed, in-stride bombs you see in practice.
When Davis relieved an obvious incapacitated McCown, fans naturally had their doubts about the possibility of a Cleveland comeback. He erased them in a hurry and gained some new members in his “who’s he?” fan club.
It was interesting that the ESPN cameras caught Manziel counseling Davis during his brief shot, proving the defrocked starting quarterback is not holding a grudge and willing to help in any way he can, even patting Davis on the head at one point to show support.
While McCown was in, Manziel sat quietly while offensive coordinator John DeFilippo ran the show. Perhaps it was because he was more familiar with the game plan that lending a helping hand when Davis entered the game was beneficial.
Now Pettine undoubtedly will be bombarded with daily questions of the hypothetical variety until a decision is made. The sooner, the better, though, unless the coach enjoys being pestered. Or he could wait until game day to make that decision to keep the Bengals guessing.
The differences between Davis and Manziel are stark. Manziel is 22, Davis is 26; Manziel has started five NFL games, Davis has started 10 (for St. Louis last season); Manziel was a first-round draft choice, Davis went undrafted. And then there is the size difference: Manziel is barely 6-0 and 210 pounds; Davis, is 6-2, 220.
From a pro experience standpoint, Davis gets the nod. In those 10 games last season, he completed 63.4% of his passes for 2,001 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
It will be interesting to see who gets most of the snaps in practice this week. Considering Davis had limited practice for the Ravens’ game, playing as well as he did weighs in his favor. He certainly did not hurt himself.
With only five games remaining in the season and McCown now a non-factor, it makes sense to see just what the more experienced Davis has as the club points to the future.
He has a better-than-average throwing arm and showed he is much more pocket-savvy. On his touchdown throw to Benjamin, he sidestepped an initial rush, moved up and nailed the throw. He bought enough time that allowed Benjamin to make a move on the back end.
If that had been Manziel, he probably would have vacated the pocket and turned the play into a scrambling affair. Davis is much more comfortable once the pocket breaks down.
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Three thoughts on the blocked field goal that turned into the game-winning touchdown for the Ravens Monday night:
(1) What were the odds that defensive lineman Brent Urban would get a hand on Travis Coons’ 51-yard attempt? Yes, he’s 6-7, but when interior linemen throw up their hands in an effort to block a kick, only a fraction of them are successful. He was lucky and even luckier the ball bounced into the hands of Will Hill, who ran untouched to the end zone,
(2) One of the reasons Urban was successful was the trajectory of the ball. On longer field goals, kickers tend to hit the ball higher to achieve more distance. Coons’ 51-yard effort was just starting to rise when Urban stuck up his left paw. Had it been closer to the Baltimore end zone, the ball would have been struck lower and risen quicker.
(3) And did anyone see the illegal block in the back on Coons around the Cleveland 35-yard line during Hill's run? Check the tape again and you’ll see a Baltimore player (didn’t get his number) clearly shove Coons from behind even though the kicker had no shot at tackling Hill. It was not flagged because only three officials trailed the play (the other four were either behind the line of scrimmage, across the field or under each side of the goal post) and probably couldn’t see the infraction through the maze of bodies.
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ESPN had to be thrilled with the entertainment value of the game, especially the final two minutes. It did not look like a game that featured two of the worst teams in the National Football League. It dragged early, but picked up speed in the second quarter and the strange ending was the bow on a nice unexpected package.
Jon Gruden really got into it when Pettine decided to replace McCown with Davis instead of Manziel, a favorite of the commentator. “This kid (Manziel) needs to be playing,” he said. When Davis brought the Browns back to tie the game, Gruden took a few steps back and suggested that perhaps he might have been wrong about the move.
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Gruden and Mike Tirico, his telecast partner, nailed the Browns’ defense on multiple occasions, citing their poor tackling. Tirico called it “horrific” while Gruden called it “inexcusable.”
On one play when rookie Ravens running back Buck Allen busted off a 21-yard run on which the Browns missed several tackles, Gruden said, “I’d run that same play from the same formation until they stop it.”
The “horrific” tackling remark occurred in the second quarter when Allen ripped off a 13-yard scoring burst, roaring between and then through converging linebackers Karlos Dansby and Christian Kirksey as though they were a 2-6 split on a bowling alley. Both men fell like pins.
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Notebook: On Dansby’s pick 6 on Baltimore’s third play of the second half, he stepped in front of Kamar Aiken, who was being defended by Tramon Williams. When Dansby made his theft, Williams, thinking interception himself, slapped his hands in frustration. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. update: The rookie running back started, but touched the ball only 12 times for 50 yards. He had a nice 11-yard run nullified by a penalty. He is still being misused. . . . Tight end Gary Barnidge continued his terrific season with seven more catches for 91 yards. . . . Brian Hartline came alive with eight receptions for 74 yards. . . . Gruden delivered the line of the night when a pass intended for Dwayne Bowe sailed high. It was his only target of the evening, after which Gruden cracked, “Dwayne Bowe has been open since he has been here.” . . . Once again, the Browns were sackless. It was their fourth such game (three at home) this season. Seven of their season total of 16 came in the game two victory over Tennessee at home. The other four home games have yielded just one. Embarrassing.