Thursday, December 22, 2016

Head overrules heart

Searching for reasons why the Browns have at least a chance at ending a couple of miserable losing streaks and finally winning a football game in 2016 . . .

They have played Saturday’s opponent, the San Diego Chargers, 24 times over the years, but have won just eight, including only one of the last six since the rebirth in 1999.

Nope. Can’t go there.

Okay, how about games in Cleveland in December, giving the hometown team a decided advantage when it comes to weather conditions? After all, Cleveland Decembers are generally very cold and snowy and friendly to the home team, especially against teams from southern California.

A quick check shows only one victory and three losses in December climes. Can’t go there, either.

So what does the game-time weather forecast call for? Any snow? Rain? Sleet? Anything to slow down the Chargers and make them feel uncomfortable?

Wouldn’t you know it? The San Diego Chargers come to town and the forecast calls for morning showers with temperatures in the upper 30s and low 40s by game time.

Wait a minute. That’s not Cleveland weather in late December. Those conditions should hurt both teams. No Cleveland advantage there. The Chargers come east and get relatively mild weather. It’s supposed to be 58 degrees the day after Christmas. That’s almost San Diego weather at this time of the year. (It’s going to be 56 and rainy there Saturday.)

The weather gods must not be Browns fans and have instead rescheduled blizzard conditions for January and February.

Still searching.

Damn, this is hard. It’s a victory this week or else the Browns join the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only National Football League teams to lose all 16 games in one season. Forget the season finale in Pittsburgh on New Year’s Day. Plunk that one in the loss column now.

Let’s try this one.

The Chargers enter the game with a three-game losing streak and coach Mike McCoy very well might have one foot out the door, his right hand clutching his résumé, with the other foot not that far behind. Losing to the Browns would be the final blow.

Those three losses have been to Tampa Bay, which is challenging Atlanta for the top spot in the NFC South; Oakland, which has clinched the AFC West; and Carolina, which has heated up after a slow start. The Browns, by comparison, are a relative soft spot in the schedule.

Well, the Chargers are just 2-5 away from home. There’s something to be said for that, no? Yeah, but the two teams they beat on the road, Atlanta and Houston, are on top of their respective divisions.

Damn, is there any way to give the Browns any advantage entering the game and provide fans any hope that this nightmare is finally going to end?

It appears as though Melvin Gordon, the Chargers’ top running back who was a dismal failure as a rookie but who is just three yards shy of 1,000 yards this season, won’t play. He injured his hip a couple of games ago and missed last week’s loss. He has not practiced this week.

Considering the Cleveland defense surrenders 156 yards a game on the ground on the average, that’s a big boost, no? Well, yeah, considering Gordon has scored 12 touchdowns this season (10 on the ground) and considering only rookie Kenneth Farrow and recently obtained veteran Ronnie Hillman are expected to play.

Factor in Farrow fumbled twice last Sunday, losing one, and Hillman is still learning the San Diego offensive system and a flicker of hope emerges.

Now factor in that Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who completes around 62% of his passes and has a terrific corps of receivers at his disposal, most likely will throw heavily against a Cleveland pass rush that has sacked opposing quarterbacks only 22 times this season and a secondary that surrenders 255 yards a game.

Kind of balances the scales. So once again, is there any way to give the Browns any advantage and provide their shrinking legion of fans hope this nightmare will end? Afraid not.

Guess it really boils down, then, to the talent on both teams as the criteria for determining who emerges victorious. In that case, there is no question the Chargers win the talent battle.

For example, count on Rivers spreading the receiving wealth. He has thrown 28 scoring passes to six (five if Gordon sits out) different receivers – Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman, tight ends Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry and ex-Brown Travis Benjamin.

He has tossed 18 interceptions this season, 11 in the last four games, but the Browns’ secondary has picked off only eight passes this season, none in the last four games. The Chargers have swiped 17 passes, seven by cornerback Casey Hayward.

The Browns offer up Robert Griffin III at quarterback, an unknown quantity after three games as the starter. Terrelle Pryor, his leading receiver, has a broken finger, not to mention an apparent disconnect between the two that has hampered the offense.

And what kind of a pass rush can The Third and Cleveland offensive line expect? Let’s start and end with rookie defensive end Joey Bosa.

The former Ohio State standout, who was drafted third overall by the Chargers and held out until the final week of training camp, missed the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury. But he has been dynamite in the 10 games since his return.

He has 7½ of the club’s 25 sacks, 3½ in the last four games after registering four in his first three games. Thus far this season, he has been credited with 11 quarterback hits, 32 hurries and 57 pressures. Cleveland offensive tackle Austin Pasztor will try to handle him Saturday.

If there is any weakness to the Chargers on either side of the ball, it’s their offensive line, which has given up 36 sacks, 10 during the three-game losing streak. But then you swing on over to the stats on the Cleveland defensive pass rush and notice it has only 22 sacks.

Everything points to a San Diego victory and the continuation of the losing streaks.. There isn’t one glimmer of hope for the Browns unless the Chargers pack it in now that there is really nothing to play for. That is the Browns’ only hope.

But this team is so bad in so many different ways, it will take a lot more than hope to squeeze out a victory Saturday. The talent quotient is the deciding factor. The heart says the Browns somehow will find a way to win. The head says otherwise. Make it:

Chargers 27, Browns 10


  1. You deserve a lot of credit for finding something to write about when there is actually nothing there. Writing about the Browns is sort of like trying to get your Model-T entered in the Indy 500, there's just no earthly chance of success. You'd probably have a better chance of writing an article on how the North Koreans are going to win the Nobel Peace Prize this year. But, somehow you manage every week. Congrats(and Happy Holidays).

  2. Careful, Southie, your sense of humor is showing. Good stuff. Particularly like the North Vietnam reference. Elicited an LOL.

    Thanks for the kind words. Don't get them often from you (understandably in some cases), so they are welcomed.

    And happy holidays to you and yours. Looking forward to what 2017 has to offer (besides more grief from the Browns). Sorry, couldn't resist. That's what happens when one gets curmudgeonly.

  3. Oops. Make that North Korean reference.