Friday, August 31, 2018

Guessing the final 53

It's always fun at this time of the football season to guess what the final 53-man roster will look like for the Browns. But because the roster is so fluid before the first regular game, the following might look a whole lot different between now and the opening snap a week from Sunday at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

There are roughly 40 players assured of having the famous stripe placed on their orange helmets. It’s the 13 other slots that are malleable. The 53 men who survive Saturday’s announcement by General Manager John Dorsey and coach Hue Jackson, most likely will change dramatically at the bottom.

The Browns are at the top of the waiver claim order, which means they get first shot at those sent packing by the other 31 teams.

The following predictions were written prior to the club announcing 14 initial cuts Friday that reduced the roster to 72 men.

Waived were quarterback Brogan Roback, tight end Stephen Baggett, wide receiver Jeff Janis, defensive backs Elijah Campbell, Derron Smith and Christian Boutte, offensive linemen Anthony Fabiano, Avery Gennesy and Fred Lauina and defensive linemen Jeremy Faulk and Blaine Woodson. Waived injured were receiver C. J. Board, linebacker Justin Currie and defensive lineman Lenny Jones.



Who stays: Tyrod Taylor, Baker Mayfield, Drew Stanton

Bubble: None

Gone: Brogan Roback (maybe practice squad)

Comment: Taylor plays quarterback in a trying-not-to-lose manner, which means winning becomes a little more difficult. He is very conservative in his approach, accounting for low touchdown production. Mayfield, on the other hand, is much more daring with a football in his hands. His confidence level is significantly higher than Taylor, who will hold on to his starting job only if he wins games. Otherwise, the Baker Mayfield era in Cleveland is launched.

Running Backs, Fullback

Who stays: Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson Jr., Nick Chubb, Dan Vitale

Bubble: Matthew Dayes

Gone: Dontrell Hilliard

Comment: Strength, speed and depth define this position. Hyde has the résumé, Johnson has the versatility to be anything offensive coordinator Todd Haley wants and Chubb brings speed, quickness and raw brawn to the huddle. Dayes and Hilliard performed well when called upon in exhibitions, but there doesn’t appear to be a roster opening for either. Vitale is on only because I believe the coaches want him. Why, I don’t know. The fullback is the most underused non-special teams member on this roster.

Wide Receivers

Who stays: Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Antonio Callaway, Damion Ratley, Jeff Janis

Bubble: Derrick Willies

Gone: C. J. Board, Blake Jackson, Da’Mari Scott, Ricardo Louis

Comment: This position is so much better than last season in many different ways. It is far more talented top to bottom. Gordon, if he can control his personal life, is one of the best in the NFL despite missing a large majority of games over the past few seasons. Landry brings leadership, Higgins seems to have found himself after wandering his first couple of seasons and Callaway, who also has had personal problems, is a star waiting to burst forth if he stays clean. One caution: That’s a lot of ifs. Janis makes it for special teams.  Willies could sneak in.

Tight Ends

Who stays: David Njoku, Darren Fells, Devon Cajuste

Bubble: Seth DeValve

Gone: Stephen Baggett, Orson Charles

Comment: All Njoku needs is confidence in his ability to catch the football. Moments of concentration loss creep up on him on occasion and render him useless to the offense. Consistency is his biggest enemy with the ball in the air. His blocking skills also need honing. That’s Fells’ strength and he figures to be one of the building blocks as the Cleveland ground game finally comes alive. Guessing Cajuste holds on as long as DeValve nurses injuries.

Offensive Line

Who stays: Joel Bitonio, Austin Corbett, JC Tretter, Kevin Zeitler, Chris Hubbard, Austin Reiter, Earl Watford, Greg Robinson, Desmond Harrison, Spencer Drango

Bubble: None

Gone: Shon Coleman, Anthony Fabiano, Fred Lauina, Christian DiLauro, Avery Gennesy

Comment: It will take time for this unit to jell. Timing and rhythm are ultra essential up front and the five guys in the starting unit have not played one snap together in the exhibition season, which means they have never played as a unit entering the season opener against Pittsburgh. So don’t expect too much. It will take some time. The only incumbents are Tretter at center and Zeitler at right guard. Bitonio is new at left tackle, Corbett is new at left guard and Hubbard is new at right tackle. Watford, Robinson, Reiter, Drango and Harrison provide adequate relief from the bench. If Shon Coleman is not gone, color me shocked.



Who stays: Myles Garrett, Emmanuel Ogbah, Chad Thomas, Nate Orchard, Carl Nassib

Bubble: Chris Smith

Gone:  Lenny Jones

Comment: Garrett is projected by many observers to be one of the NFL’s best quarterback disturbers this season. He had seven sacks in 10 games last season while playing hurt. He’s healthy now. Ogbah is better at stopping the run, but should pick up his share of sacks with Garrett attracting double teams on the other side. Nassib and Orchard beat the odds to make the team and should be helpful in sub packages.


Who stays: Larry Ogunjobi, Trevon Coley, Caleb Brantley, Jamie Meder

Bubble: None

Gone: Daniel, Ekuale, Jeremy Faulk, Blaine Woodson, Zaycoven Henderson

Comment: Young and hungry best describes this group. Still learning the nuances of the position, look for improvement as the season unfolds. Brantley could be the best of this bunch with his cat-like quickness off the snap.

Inside Linebackers

Who stays: Joe Schobert, Genard Avery

Bubble: None

Gone: B. J. Bello, Jermaine Grace

Comment: All of sudden, what used to be the strength of the defense has been neutered by sudden departures and injuries. The versatile Mychal Kendricks is no longer around and Avery, as well as outside backers James Burgess and Justin Currie, are nursing injuries. The season begins with the three returning incumbents for at least the first game or two. Schobert is out to prove his tackling-machine 2017 season was no fluke. When healthy, Avery is a load and a bonus on third and long as a pass rusher.

Outside Linebackers

Who stays: Jamie Collins, Christian Kirksey, James Burgess, Justin Currie

Bubble: None

Gone: Brady Sheldon

Comment: Kirksey has grabbed the leadership role on this side of the football and Collins has looked good thus far, showing no ill effects after knee surgery last season. Now all they need is for Currie and Burgess to return to health.


Who stays: Denzel Ward, Terrance Mitchell, T. J. Carrie, E. J Gaines, Mike Jordan

Bubble: Simeon Thomas, Denzel Rice

Gone: Montrel Meander, Christian Boutte, Jeremiah McKinnon

Comment: Easily the most improved unit on the team, especially considering what happened last season. Ward makes an immediate impact along with Mitchell and a strong bench. Thomas a sixth-round pick, could sneak in.


Who stays: Damarious Randall, Jabrill Peppers, Derrick Kindred, Briean Boddy-Calhoun

Bubble: None

Gone: Derron Smith, Elijah Campbell, Tigie Sankoh

Comment: Ditto at this position. Huge improvement. Randall is a natural free safety who played out of position in Green Bay. Peppers is the X factor here. He looked lost at free safety in his rookie season, but now appears to be more comfortable at strong safety. Kindred and Boddy-Calhoun are good enough to be starters.



Who stays: Zane Gonzalez (unopposed)

Comment: Has the leg. All he needs is consistency.


Who stays: Britton Colquitt

Gone: Justin Vogel

Comment: It was Colquitt’s job to lose and Vogel never seriously challenged him.

Long Snapper

Who stays: Charley Hughlett (unopposed)

Comment: Steady as she goes.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Big victory toughens roster trimming

 If Thursday night’s 35-17 drubbing of the Detroit Lions is any indication, the Browns this season will have bench strength as never before since the return in 1999.

At the same time, General Manager John Dorsey and his staff, along with Hue Jackson’s coaching staff, will have an extremely difficult time paring the roster to the final 53 by Saturday afternoon.

It is at the same time a pleasant situation to have from a depth standpoint and one where Dorsey and Co. will slash some pretty good players if the Lions’ victory is indicative of where this rebuilt roster stands.

There is no question whatsoever the 2018 Browns are a far better team from a talent standpoint up and down the roster. The exhibition spanking in Detroit produced eye-opening performances from names on that roster who had not yet been given a chance.

Names such as running backs Dontrell Hilliard, Matthews Dayes, quarterback Brogan Roback, defensive backs Jeremiah McKinnon and Denzel Rice, linebacker Justin Currie and an offensive line that permitted only one late sack, kept quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Roback clean and provided enough holes for a 163-yard evening on the ground.

Twenty-eight Browns did not suit up, all presumably who figure prominently in the grand scheme for the season, players the Browns did not want to expose the possibility of an injury.

Starting right guard Kevin Zeitler played his first and only series of the exhibition season after sitting out the first three games with a calf injury, rookie left guard Austin Corbett once again played the entire game and defensive tackle Caleb Brantley was in for a few plays.

It’s the next 22 who were playing for their professional football lives against the Lions and acquitted themselves well in just about every phase, making those front-office decisions that much harder to make. 

McKinnon, Currie and Rice, who logged eight unassisted tackles, stood out on a defense that swarmed to the football all evening and produced enough of a pass rush that limited the Lions to just 170 yards through the air, forced eight punts and nearly shut out the Lions on third down, allowing just one in 11 tries.

The feeble Lions offense recorded 15 first downs, but five were achieved via Cleveland penalties. More on that later.

The Cleveland offense ran with smooth efficiency from the opening play, Mayfield connecting on a play-action 41-yard strike to rookie tight end Devon Cajuste that set up rookie Nick Chubb’s three-yard scoring run on fourth and 1 from the 3.

Cleveland’s five first-half possessions took 19:13 off the clock and produced 256 yards in just 37 plays. Mayfield was nine of 16 throwing for138 yards, but stats do not totally define him.

He is extraordinarily quick in the pocket and seems to have a sixth sense of knowing where the trouble is and working his way either around it or sometimes through it keeping his eyes downfield at all times. He also seems much more comfortable under center and smoother with his play fakes.

On this night, though, his running game ground out 118 yards in the opening half, Dayes gaining 77 on eight carries (he also caught two passes for 34 yards), Hilliard 54 in 18 and Chubb put up 20 on just five rushes. It will be interesting to see who, if anyone, gets the call behind Chubb, Duke Johnson Jr. and Carlos Hyde.

Roback introduced himself to Cleveland fans in a rather impressive fashion, too., connecting on half his 14 passes for 139 yards, including a pretty 22-yard scoring throw to fellow rookie Blake Jackson on a perfectly thrown post pattern.

It would appear, speaking hyperbolically, as though the Browns have an embarrassment of riches at the important running back position, a situation this franchise hasn’t seen since the original Browns moved.

And the defense, which has shown so well in the 3-1exhibition season (that’s 7-1 in gamest that don’t count the last two seasons), definitely won’t lose much, if at all, if injuries strike.

One who stood out was linebacker Nate Orchard, one of many veterans on the roster bubble. It’s entirely possible he saved his job with a terrific and very athletic 64-yard pick six in the final minute of the first half that boosted the halftime lead to 25-0.

Orchard delayed his rush on Matt Cassel and batted the veteran quarterback’s attempted flat pass up in the air, controlled it and raced untouched into the end zone.

It is difficult to find negatives after a game such as this, but two stand out – special teams and penalties.

Special teams committed three penalties on punts and kickoffs and carelessly let a short Detroit punt hit a member of the receiving team, giving the Lions a gift field goal early in the third quarter.

The Browns, who committed only one harmless penalty for five yards in last week’s 5-0 victory over Philadelphia, made up for it against the Lions, committing 14 (that were accepted) for 134 yards.

Even though they did not impact the final outcome, there is no excuse for penalty statistics like that. That’s an area that definitely needs to be cleaned up.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Kendricks no longer a Brown

Well, that didn’t take long.

The Browns late Wednesday released Mychal Kendricks mere hours after it was announced the linebacker had been charged by the government with insider trading.

General Manager John Dorsey said the club signed Kendricks as a free agent even though they knew he was being investigated for what he called “a financial situation he had been involved with in 2014.

“We were told Mychal had fully cooperated,” Dorsey said in a prepared statement. “From what was communicated at that time and based on numerous questions we asked . . . there was no information discovered that conveyed otherwise.”

Dorsey said the Browns “were provided an update on the matter and the circumstances have changed. We are now dealing with a different set of facts and the additional information we’ve gathered has led us to the decision to release Mychal from our team.”

Dorsey declined to delve into what he meant by a different set of facts. “Due to the ongoing legal nature of this situation, we will have no further comments,” he said. And that’s when he dropped the hammer on Kendricks' too-brief career with the Browns.

Trouble always seems to find Browns

 What in the world is wrong with the Cleveland Browns in addition to playing the worst football in the National Football League for the last 19 seasons?

This is a franchise that can’t seem to get out of its own way. It is a magnet for trouble. It hovers like a perpetual black cloud over the team’s complex in Berea. Take the last few days, for example.

A 22-year-old woman accused a man of sexual assault early Saturday in the apartment of tight end David Njoku and wide receiver Rashard Higgins. Neither man was implicated in the assault.

Then early Wednesday came the news that linebacker Mychal Kendricks has been charged by federal authorities with participating four years ago in an illegal $1.2 million illegal insider trading scheme.

Kendricks, signed by the Browns as a free agent after spending six seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, immediately confessed he was part of the scheme along with several others and apologized.

He admitted he participated and that “I deeply regret it,” he said in a public statement. He went on to “accept full responsibility for my actions” and said he was “committed to repaying all of the funds gained illegally and accept the consequences of my actions.”

Maximum prison sentence for illegal insider trading is 20 years in prison and a criminal fine of $5 million, according to CBS Sports reports Kendricks is likely to serve 8-12 months in prison, according to David Weinstein, an attorney and legal analyst.

According to, the Browns said they were aware Kendricks was under federal investigation when they signed him but did not know the extent of it. They said they are in touch with the NFL and “will comment at the appropriate time.”

Kendricks, who has had a solid training camp and exhibition season, will not travel with the Browns to Detroit for Thursday’s night’s final game of the exhibition season.

How all this impacts his status with the Browns and possibly his career overall is unknown at this time. It is not certain under what league guidelines, if any, this falls.

This very possibly could be the first case of this nature the league has faced. The only assumption than can be made now because of the uniqueness of the case is the Browns will do whatever the league ultimately decides.

If Kendricks never plays again for the Browns, the club is still in good shape at the position, clearly the most solid unit on that side of the football. Kendricks’ presence made it that much stronger.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Is Jackson really in control?

 So Hue Jackson doesn’t like the way his defensive coordinator handled a ticklish situation with regard to what happened in the exhibition victory over Philadelphia last week.

Gregg Williams, who loves to verbally flex his testosterone muscles, openly criticized rookie cornerback Denzel Ward on his tackling technique, one that short-circuited his participation in that victory to just a few plays.

Labeling Ward’s technique “stupid” to the media, Williams made it quite clear the former Ohio State star would have to change his manner of tackling to avoid the kind of back injury he suffered against the Eagles.

Williams’ candor caught the attention of his head coach, whose unhappiness was evident. “Gregg does not get to do just what he wants to do,” Jackson told beat writers.

“Our players, there’s a certain way we want them to tackle because of size, structure and all of that. We don’t want a guy to get hurt or anything like that. I’m sure Gregg does advise. We don’t need to do all of that stuff in the media.”

If that is the case, then, it would have never happened that way if the head coach had instructed his coaches that if there is a problem, it needs to be solved, or at least addressed, in house first.

That way, the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. Jackson, who’s got enough worries to begin with, doesn’t need to publicly apply bandages to small wounds that crop up.

If he doesn’t know now that his two main coordinators are the Alpha-est of males whose mercurial personalities can be launched quickly, then shame on him. He is the head coach and as such, everything should be funneled to the media through him. His job is not putting out fires his coordinators start.

The best way to handle the latest Williams eruption would be to strongly suggest to the media that the matter has either been handled in house or will be. Then make it perfectly clear to the coordinators that further such incidents will not be tolerated.

Being a head coach is more than deciding to accept or decline penalties, challenging the on-field ruling of an official, deciding whether to go for it on fourth down or managing the clock.

If he cannot control his coordinators, what does that say to the players? How confident can they be that their head coach has everything under control?

Without really knowing for certain, Jackson almost certainly has to be on the shortest leash of any National Football League head coach this season. How can he not be with a 1-31 record in Cleveland, the worst two-season mark in the history of the NFL, on his résumé?

It will be interesting to see how he handles the next uproar caused by Williams or Haley, whose volatile personalities just might turn out to be too much for Jackson to handle.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

News & a view

 News: Browns coach Hue Jackson names Baker Mayfield his backup quarterback Sunday.

View: To the surprise of mostly no one.

As recently as a couple of weeks ago, Jackson said he hadn’t made up his mind as to whom would back up Tyrod Taylor and be there if/when the veteran quarterback goes down.

Now did anyone actually buy that? Really?

He cited Mayfield’s performance when Taylor did, indeed, go down with hand and finger injuries in the exhibition victory over Philadelphia Thursday night as the reason he all but made it official.

“It’s Baker,” he told reporters Sunday, removing all the mystery. “Baker is there. . . . I feel good about the things Baker went in and did in the game.” In the two series the kid played with the starters, that is.

For the record, the overall No. 1 selection in the college draft piloted two series (10 plays) with the ones. The first ended on downs at the Eagles’ 39. The second resulted in Zane Gonzalez’ 54-yard field goal after one of the Browns’ seven takeaways gave the offense the ball at the Eagles’ 35.

The two possessions produced 27 net yards. Mayfield completed two of five passes for 19 yards, was strip-sacked on a sixth attempt and was fortunate when tackle Chris Hubbard recovered the fumble, setting up Gonzalez’ field goal.

Not exactly a dazzling performance. And for that, he was rewarded the role of backup quarterback, dropping Drew Stanton to No. 3. Makes perfect sense in Jackson’s world.

Stanton had as much of a chance beating out Mayfield for No. 2 as he did at beating Taylor out for the starting job. The only way he sees the field this season is if he is the only healthy quarterback on the roster. And considering how often Cleveland quarterbacks have fallen the last two decades, that is a distinct possibility.

“There’s value in seeing Mayfield play,” said Jackson in explaining the reasoning behind his decision. Not sure what that means. Just the head coach seemingly stringing together a bunch of words that have no meaning without a reference.

“I don’t know about most of the game,” he added. “I’ve seen quite a bit of him. I like what I’ve seen. He’s done a good job.”  Again, words randomly strung together with no reference.

Mayfield ,however, is not on the same page as his coach, pronouncing himself “disappointed with myself” with his job against the Philadelphia starters.

If Jackson meant the two series with the starters, he was watching an entirely different part of the game than I saw. With the exception of those two possessions with the starters, Jackson has seen Mayfield with only the second- and third stringers.

Now if you take how well Mayfield has performed minus his disappointing two possessions with the starters against the Eagles, then yes, he should be Taylor’s backup.

Stanton was brought to Cleveland to shepherd Mayfield as he learns the National Football League, Impart the knowledge he has gleaned over eight seasons as a backup with three different teams.

So for those who believed Jackson and are breathing a sigh of relief with Sunday’s news, relax. There was no way the future face of the franchise was going to be relegated to No. 3 on the depth chart.

And for those who knew all along this would happen, don’t worry. Mayfield will get his shot at starting sooner rather than later.  Much sooner.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Exhibition #3 leftovers

The key to the success of any offense in the game of football lies in the performance of the grunts who play up front.

They play well, said offense has a better than decent chance to play well, too, if not better.

That said, fans of the Browns are witnessing a work in progress when it comes to the club’s offensive line. It was clearly on display in the 5-0 exhibition victory over the Philadelphia Eagles Thursday night.

It doesn’t take much scrutiny to determine that the offensive line right now is not very good – being kind here – with one game remaining in the exhibition season. That’s not the way you want to enter the regular season.

It is a line in a stage of flux, especially while protecting whoever is at quarterback, that will get better because it can’t get any worse.

Joel Bitonio, a tackle in college who switched to guard with the Browns the last four seasons, is brand new at left tackle. Rookie Austin Corbett, a tackle in college, is brand new at left guard.

Shane Drango is filling in less than adequately at right guard until Kevin Zeitler recovers from a calf injury. And Chris Hubbard is brand new at right tackle. The only constant right now is center JC Tretter.

When you have two players playing a position in the National Football League they have never played before and arguably your best lineman (Zeitler) hurt, consistency cannot be reasonably expected.

The offensive line is unique in that in order to be successful, all five men have to play rhythmically and with excellent timing. One breakdown generally means failure. Missing an assignment is usually disastrous.

Critics would push the notion that this line isn’t that bad at all when discussing the ground game. That argument gathered momentum the last two exhibitions with 302 yards infantry style.

Considering the Browns’ run game was terrible the last two seasons in an offense coordinated by head coach Hue Jackson, what we’ve seen the last two games under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley gives fans hope.

Pass protection has been mediocre at best. Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield has shown an innate ability to protect himself in the pocket, showing uncommon presence for someone so young to keep his eyes downfield and his feet moving to extend plays.

That cannot be said of Tyrod Taylor, who seems to be confused when forced to remain in the pocket. His delivery is slower than Mayfield’s right now. Perhaps it’s learning and adjusting to a new offense after several seasons in Buffalo.

Whatever the case, Mayfield has been the better quarterback thus far. His ability to find the open man and deliver with amazing accuracy is surprising considering operating an NFL offense is radically different than in college.

This is not to suggest Mayfield open the season as the starting quarterback against Pittsburgh in a couple of weeks. That won’t happen unless someone convinces Jackson otherwise and the likelihood of that happening is all but dead.

So with Taylor at the helm, it is incumbent on an offensive line that has played the equivalent of a little less than one game in games that don’t count to make certain he is vertical and healthy enough to play game two in New Orleans.
*       *       *
A lot of Mayfield fans clamored for their man to play with the club’s starters. If didn’t look as though they would get their wish until Taylor departed the Eagles game with a sore left wrist and it was later revealed a dislocated pinky finger midway through the first quarter.

Working with the ones, Mayfield ran two possessions, 11 snaps gaining 26 net yards before Taylor returned. The first possession gained 27 yards in seven plays and ended on downs.

The second, after Emmanuel Ogbah recovered a fumble on a strip sack of Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles at the Eagles 35, went in reverse for a yard in three plays before Zane Gonzalez booted a 54-yard field goal to give the Browns a 5-0 lead.

Mayfield’s stats with the ones: Five pass attempts, two completions for 19 yards, one sack and two scrambles totaling seven yards. He fumbled when sacked with Hubbard fortunately recovering after a loss of eight yards. It took only 4:30 off the clock.

A small sampling with which the rookie was not nearly satisfied. “I would never say it is a good opportunity when our leader and captain goes down,” he said. “ . . . I did that and that is why I am disappointed in myself. I did not take advantage. . . . I have to get the ball out quicker.”
*       *       *
The pick Mayfield threw early in the fourth quarter nearly turned into what would have been the go-ahead touchdown for the Eagles. After Eagles defensive back Avonte Maddox swiped the poorly thrown pass at the Eagles 16, he set sail down the left sideline.

Derrick Willies, for whom the pass was intended, circled back, chased Maddox down, lunged in desperation and barely tripped him up at the Cleveland 48. Otherwise, Maddox would have had an 84-yard pick six.
*       *       *
Myles Garrett looked in mid-season form with three solo tackles, two sacks (one for a safety), two tackles for loss, two knockdowns of Foles and a whole bunch of hurries. And that was in just 23 snaps.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the defensive end lined up most of the time against backup Halapoulivaati Vaitai, subbing for injured All-Pro Jason Peters. “I got may ass kicked,” said the young veteran. “I was out of control. I just got beat.”

If that is a portent of things to come this season, Garrett’s goal of leading the NFL in sacks should be attainable.
*       *       *
Rookie linebacker Genard Avery contributed a sack and caused fumble (recovered by Ogbah) to the defensive statistics as he made a case for more playing time in a linebackers corps that is very deep and talented.

It will be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Gregg Williams uses Avery in the many and varied sub packages he now has at his disposal. The kid, who pulled a hamstring in the fourth quarter, seems to have a nose for the football and puts himself in position to make plays.
*       *       *
The Browns are anxiously awaiting an MRI on Denzel Ward’s back after the rookie cornerback injured it after tackling Eagles tight end Zach Ertz on the defense’s fifth play of the game. The club’s fourth selection of the draft awkwardly twisted his back while bringing down Ertz, but left the game under his own power.
*       *       *
Finally . . . Remember last season when nearly two-thirds of the Browns’ offense was a forward pass? Half the plays called against the Eagles were designed run plays. Look for that to be relatively commonplace during the regular season. . . . Cleveland quarterbacks threw 31 passes against Philly. Jarvis Landry was the target on 10 of them, including three from the Eagles 1 on the second possession of the game. . . . Briean Boddy-Calhoun acquitted himself well after replacing Damarious Randall when the free safety’s knee locked up during warmups. BBC made three tackles and picked off a Foles pass. . . . Three of the Browns’ seven sacks were made by players who probably won’t make the final cut: Linebacker B. J. Bello, defensive tackle Daniel Ekuale and defensive end Chris Smith. . . . Believe it or not, the Browns committed only one penalty against the Eagles, a relatively harmless defensive hold, after compiling 20 for 211 yards in the first two exhibitions.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Defense ready; offense nyet

Two facts emerged from the Browns’ baseball-like 5-0 home victory over the Philadelphia Eagles Thursday night.

The defense is ready to start the regular season. Right now.

The offense isn’t close, not even remotely.

In the so-called dress rehearsal third game of the exhibition season, the Cleveland defense played as though it was midseason. It was opportunistic and aggressive to the enth degree in pitching the shutout.

The offense sputtered and stuttered and was totally ineffective, the starters with the exception of guards Austin Corbett and Shane Drango who played the entire game, on the bench at the beginning of the second half.

The defense produced seven sacks (including a safety) and four turnovers – two fumble recoveries and a pair of interceptions. Not bad for a unit that rang up exactly zero turnovers in splitting the first two exhibitions.

The very offensive offense, which gained only 258 yards, turned those four takeaways into zero points as three Cleveland quarterbacks struggled despite being handed short fields on three of those occasions.

Defense is all about aggression quickness, attitude and nastiness, all attributes that were on display against the Eagles to the obvious delight of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Offense is all about rhythm and timing, attributes that showed up with disturbing infrequency most of the evening.

Quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor, Baker Mayfield and Drew Stanton took turns looking very ordinary, although Mayfield showed on a few occasions he was clearly the best thrower for the evening by making some major league passes.

Stanton was the only one to escape injury. Taylor injured his left hand while breaking a fall on his second series (he returned three series later) and played five for the evening.

Mayfield, meanwhile, was injured after throwing an interception in the fourth quarter, his helmet colliding with tackle Shon Coleman’s right hip as he was falling after being sacked.  After visiting the concussion tent, he returned to the bench.

There was little, if any, of that rhythm and timing all evening when the Browns owned the football. Taylor was 11-of-16 for 65 yards; Mayfield checked in with eight-of-12 for 76 yards.

The running game, which came alive last week against Buffalo, churned out another 138 yards, Nick Chubb and Carlos Hyde gaining 91 of those yards behind an offensive line that is much more comfortable and effective when pass plays aren’t called.

With the season opener against Pittsburgh at home two weeks away, this offense is not nearly ready. And with the final exhibition next Thursday at Detroit, a game where the starters ostensibly will be spectators, offensive coordinator Todd Haley has a mountain of work to do between now and then to get his troops ready.

Taylor has looked notching like the steady quarterback they picked up from Buffalo for a third-round draft pick. Mayfield has clearly looked better in the first three exhibitions.

If Taylor is the starter against the Steelers, and head coach Hue Jackson steadfastly maintains he will be, he’s got a long way to go to come even close to being ready for the games that count.

In his five series, the Cleveland offense racked up a measly 105 net yards. The second possession reached the Philadelphia 1 and then Haley inexplicably sent in a bizarre set of plays.

Instead of simply handing off to Hyde, Haley dialed up four straight pass plays, three of which were designed for Jarvis Landry, none of which produced points.

Taylor, who presumably will watch the Lions exhibition, quarterbacked 11 series in the first three games, completing 20-of-28 passes for 186 yards and one touchdown thus far.

Seven of those possessions ended in a punt, one ended on downs and one ended at halftime.. Overall, he was on the field for 69 snaps, which gained 194 yards and just two touchdowns, one on the ground.

Now Jackson is an old-fashioned coach, which means Taylor will not play against the Lions, presumably ready for the Steelers. As mentioned earlier, he is numerous game reps away from being ready.

Jackson most likely will try to downplay that and somehow justify starting him against Pittsburgh. He will stubbornly say Taylor is his man despite the problems he has encountered.

The eight-year veteran has looked good in only two possessions of the 11 he engineered. Mayfield has looked better. Not much better, mind you, but relatively better.

There is no question the rookie throws a better ball. And his ability to successfully navigate traffic in the pocket and keep plays alive has served him well and enabled him to make several key throws.

Right now, the Cleveland offense, the one that will start the season, needs work. It is duller than a butter knife. The passing game, especially with Taylor at quarterback, is a cold mess.

Haley is quickly discovering Taylor is not Ben Roethlisberger, his quarterback the last six seasons as offensive boss with the Steelers. It challenges his ability to discover an offense with which he is comfortable.

Jackson and the Cleveland offense would be better served with Taylor playing in the final exhibition to get comfortable with the rhythm and timing so vital to success. If Taylor sits, the Cleveland defense will be a very busy unit against the Steelers.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Exhibition #2 leftovers

 Now that Josh Gordon has decided to rejoin the Browns, the big question is whether the pursuit of Dez Bryant is worth resuming after the veteran wide receiver departed Berea Friday without signing a contract.

Gordon announced his return to the team Saturday after taking a self-imposed sabbatical just prior to the start of training camp in order to straighten out some complexities in his personal life.

According to reports, Gordon must apply for reinstatement to play this season pending final approval from National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell. He is expected to begin practicing once cleared by the medical staff.

If Gordon is permitted to return and is placed on the final roster, it represents a roster dilemma for General Manager John Dorsey and coach Hue Jackson with regard to Bryant.

If healthy and ready to go, Gordon joins Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway and Rashard Higgins to form the best wide receivers corps this franchise has had since, well since the team that departed for Baltimore in 1996.

Would there be any need for Bryant, whose brash and egocentric personality could clash with the relatively peaceful landscape in Berea? That is not what Jackson needs at this point of his head-coaching career, which clearly hangs in the balance with how his club performs early in the season.

What’s next with regard to the former Dallas Cowboy? No one knows for certain whether any other team is interested in him. Right now, it appears as though the Browns are the only team on his plate.

He appeared to have a good time in his brief time with the team, but his departure without signing creates doubts whether he is serious about Cleveland. Or whether Cleveland is still serious about him now that Gordon is back on board. The next move is up to Dorsey.  
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Lost in the afterglow of Friday night’s 19-17 exhibition loss to the Buffalo Bills was the Browns’ inability to cover punts well.

Now this might register as low on the importance scale to some fans, but covering punts is just as important as any other aspect of the game of football. It is a small part of the complete package and should not be ignored.

The Browns punted eight times with only three returns, but two of them resulted in runs of 39 and 29 yards and short fields for the Buffalo offense. One resulted in a field goal; the other in a missed field goal. It’s small missteps like this that can be the difference between winning and losing.

Special teams coordinator Amos Jones arrived in town with a questionable reputation following five very average seasons as special teams boss in Arizona. He was so disliked in the desert, a Web site (Fire Amos Jones) strongly suggested his departure.

The Cardinals ranked near the bottom of the NFL in special teams statistics the last few seasons. Hard to figure out what about Jones attracted the Browns, who finished 27th in the NFL in special teams last season, one slot ahead of the Cardinals.

A message from Cardinals fans on the site accompanied Jones to Cleveland. “To those in the Dawg Pound: We’ll track the progress of the Browns’ special teams. I suspect it will be a new Factory of Sadness for the City. Godspeed.”

Definitely an area of the team that bears close scrutiny as the season unfolds.
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Those who thought the Browns might have erred by drafting running back Nick Chubb in the second round of the college draft following his dismal début against the New York Giants in the exhibition opener probably have a different view now.

The Giants’ defense completely flummoxed the Cleveland offensive line and Chubb never had a chance to display his wares. The Nick Chubb the Browns thought they drafted showed up against the Bills.

Clearly attempting to prove the ground game against the Giants was not a true reflection of how much it has improved this season, that aspect of the offense was featured heavily and churned out 164 yards. Chubb was a big part of it.

The rookie is a slasher whose best running comes when he heads north. His 53 yards on 11 carries were accumulated with a series of plus runs on which he showed quickness to the hole and deft jab steps in traffic that gained him extra yards.

And once he learns how to harness and then use his brute strength to fight through those holes and subsequent tackle attempts, he should be in the mix for even more reps. The depth at the position is one of the club’s strengths.

Make no mistake, though. Carlos Hyde is clearly the No. 1 back for offensive coordinator Todd Haley, but after watching Chubb work against the Buffalo defense, he now knows he can call on the rookie without hesitation.
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Count on Haley and his coaches to quickly clean up the problems of offensive pass interference. Officials correctly called it three times in the Bills game, once negating a touchdown that later became a field goal as a result of the penalty. It was the difference between winning and losing the game.

Offensive pass interference is rarely called. Three times in a game is a truckload. Most of the time it is flagged when a receiver rubs (picks) a defensive back to open up a lane for a fellow receiver. A receiver cannot engage a defender as a blocker until the ball is delivered or else flags will fly.
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Jackson hinted this past week that Drew Stanton might be his No. 2 quarterback behind Tyrod Taylor. If you believe that, you’ll believe anything. It’s nothing more than bullroar.

Taylor’s backup will be Baker Mayfield. Period. Stanton’s role on this team is to shepherd Mayfield through the growing stages of his professional football career. Nothing else.

It’s nice to have him on the bench in case injuries mount, a distinct possibility with the Browns. But let’s be honest. The Browns’ hierarchy wants to see Mayfield develop quickly and slotting him at #3 in a three-quarterbacks room is not the way to do that.
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Finally . . .  Callaway and Landry were virtual spectators in the Buffalo loss. Callaway, who played the entire game against the Giants, was not targeted once and gained three yards on an end around. Landry was targeted once with no catches. Each man played only 23 snaps. . . . Rookie guard Austin Corbett played the entire game again at left guard. . .  Jamie Collins received more snaps than any other linebacker. With strength and solid depth at that position, could the Browns be showcasing the veteran for a possible trade?