Monday, October 1, 2018

Monday leftovers

 As far as I can tell, Hue Jackson was not asked the following question after the Browns’ bitter 45-42 overtime loss to the Oakland Raiders Sunday:

Did you ever consider going for it on fourth and inches at your 18-yard line with about 90 seconds left in regulation with the lead and the Raiders out of timeouts? Doing so and succeeding would have won the game.

Instead, the Browns punted, the Raiders started near midfield after a 14-yard return (more on the special teams later), the defense played prevent and the Raiders tied the game in less than a minute, forcing overtime.

All because replay officials overruled the call on the field of a first down after Carlos Hyde had gained the necessary two yards on third and two and placed the football literally inches from the first-down marker. Rarely, if ever, do you see a ball re-spotted from the original spot determined by the officials on the field.

Unless it’s so obvious that a correction needs to be made, it is hard to overturn the original call when inches are involved. If anything, the replays were inconclusive to the point where the original call, first down by the nose of the football, would have stood.

But that’s getting away from the original question. Did Jackson consider going for it on fourth and inches to put the game away and if not, why not? Until we know what he actually thought, all we can do is guess.

Was it because he did not want to risk not making it and giving the Raiders an easy path to the tying touchdown? If so, that’s a defeatist approach. If it were two feet and or a yard, not mere inches, then maybe a punt was in order. Or faking to go for it, trying to trick the Raiders’ defense into jumping offside. 

Was he afraid of being second-guessed if he didn’t make it? Again a defeatist approach. Wouldn’t it be more convincing to believing his team could squeeze out that inch or three and go home happy? If Hyde cannot wedge out a few inches or Baker Mayfield sneak the same amount, then the Browns didn’t deserve to win that game.

All that punt did was bring back out onto the field a defensive unit that was exhausted at that point. Gaining those precious few inches would have earned them the rest of the game off.

Jackson has won twice in the last 36 games as this team’s head coach. Granted he is probably on a short leash, but what did he have to lose by going for it? Because it was thisclose to a first down, fans would have understood and sanctioned going for it even it had failed.

Not going for it for the wrong reasons places him that much closer to his departure. One can only imagine what went through the mind of General Manager John Dorsey when Jackson meekly sent out his punting team in surrender.

Dorsey is a proactive administrator with a penchant for taking chances. He is a gambler. Jackson is the antithesis of his GM. The guess here is Dorsey did not like it at all. Reacting that way more than substantiated the notion Jackson is not his type of head coach.
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It took four games, but Jackson finally acknowledged his special teams are not so special after all. The punting and punt return units in particular have been not so special the entire season.

Coordinator Amos Jones brought his brand of special teams play in from Arizona, where he helmed some of the worst units in the entire National Football League the last several seasons.

If it’s not field goals being blocked, punts being blocked, it’s a member of the punt return unit either holding or illegally blocking someone in the back; or the punting unit allowing large chunks of yardage in returns. Such was the case in the Raiders’ loss.

Dwayne Harris of the Raiders returned five punts 98 yards Sunday, nearly 20 yards a pop. The final return, a 14-yarder of the punt that should never have been made because of a timid coaching decision, set up the Raiders near midfield. If defended properly, the Raiders would have had to start from their 33.

(The Browns had two returns totaling 10 yards.)

The return units almost never give the offense decent field position. Makes no difference whether it’s T, J. Carrie, Antonio Callaway, Jarvis Landry or the disappointing Jabrill Peppers returning punts, the Cleveland offense has not had a short field to work with this season.

While special teams units rans third on the scale of importance, most successful head coaches in the NFL rely heavily on those units with regard to field position. The Browns thus far this season have been awful, terrible and downright harmful to the other two units.

The Cardinals did not fire Jones mainly because of head coach Bruce Arians, his staunch ally. They let him go when his contract expired, shortly after Arians’ retirement.

That’s when the Browns mistakenly lured him to Cleveland. Not certain why because his record of ineptitude the last several years should have disqualified him. Unless Jackson and/or the front office seriously address this problem, the situation will get worse.
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Other than the Browns failed to break their 22-game losing streak on the road, the worst news that came out of the setback was the loss of cornerback Terrance Mitchell to a wrist injury that required surgery and will sideline him for an undetermined period of time, perhaps the rest of the season

Mitchell has been steady all season in coverage, solid in run sport and being an important contributor to the turnover ratio with an interception and a pair of forced fumbles, recovering one.

He beat out T. J. Carrie and E. J Gaines to start opposite rookie Denzel Ward. Carrie had taken over for Briean Boddy-Calhoun as the slot defender and played well. When Mitchell went down early in the second quarter while tackling Raiders receiver Jordy Nelson, Gaines initially replaced him.

Apparently, the coaches did not like that combination and shifted Carrie to Mitchell’s spot and reinserted Boddy-Calhoun into the slot. Carrie, who unsuccessfully defended Nelson on the game-tying two-point attempt, was credited with 12 tackles in the game, seven solo.

Mitchell’s long absence will severe as a test for a Cleveland secondary that has been strafed for 296 yards a game and a 61.2% completion rate despite averaging three sacks a game. At that pace, the club will register 48 for the season, the most since the 1999 return. The last time the Browns had that many sacks was 1993.
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Myles Garrett was a dynamic force against the Raiders with nine tackles (seven by himself), half a sack (a more generous scorer would have given him at least two he was in quarterback Derek Carr’s face that often), and two quarterback hits while playing 87 of the defense’s 92 snaps. That’s 90%. The man is simply a physical marvel.

His abundant talent and the relentless approach to his game has become infectious throughout the defense, which strives to stay with him as he harasses NFL quarterbacks.
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Ask defensive coordinator Gregg Williams who his strong safety is and he cannot name one man. Peppers was drafted to be that man. Last season, Williams positioned him as the very alone free safety, playing a few zip codes off the football.

During the offseason, Damarious Randall was obtained in a swap with Green Bay for quarterback DeShone Kizer and was immediately plugged into the free safety slot. Those in the know believed Peppers would move to strong safety on a full-time basis with incumbent Derrick Kindred backing him up. That hasn’t been the case.

If the snap counts in the Raiders game is any indication, Kindred has moved ahead of Peppers at the position. He played 55 of the 92 snaps (60%), while Peppers logged just 37 (40%). Overall, Peppers has played 148 of the team’s 305 snaps (48.5%) this season; Kindred has logged 188 snaps (61.6%)
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Strange playcalling by offensive coordinator Todd Haley in the first quarter. After throwing a pick six on the second possession, Mayfield guided his offense down to the Oakland 1 in a dozen plays on the next series.

He failed to connect with Landry in the end zone on first down. Hyde was stopped for no gain on second down and Haley tried to fool the Oakland defense with a Mayfield pitch to Callaway sweeping around end. It lost six yards. Greg Joseph then kicked a 25-yard field goal.

Whatever happened to smash mouth football? First and goal at the 1 and the best the Browns could muster was a field goal? Why throw on first down? Why try to get cute on third down? Whatever happened to three straight dive plays? A quarterback sneak? Is it that difficult? 
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Mayfield took the Raiders loss hard and in an introspective way. Despite putting 42 points on the board, he was realistic about his four turnovers. “I’m the quarterback of this team,” he said. “It’s on me. I feel terrible for our defense.”
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Finally . . . Overlooked in the loss was what Carr did to the Cleveland secondary. He threw 55 passes, completing 35 for 437 yards and four touchdowns, , , , His favorite targets were wide receiver Amari Cooper, who caught eight passes for 128 yards and a touchdown, and tight end Jared Cook, who caught eight for 102 yards and a pair of scores. Why can’t the Browns effectively cover tight ends? . . . And why doesn’t Nick Chubb get more reps? Gaining 105 yards and scoring two touchdowns on only three carries is quite remarkable. . . . Of Mayfield’s 41 throws, 26 (63.4%) were directed at Landry (10), Callahan (9) and tight end David Njoku (7). That trio totaled only 12 catches. . . . The rookie quarterback was once again victimized by his receivers with six noticeable drops. Landry, Callaway and Njoku were the main sculprits. . . . He was also victimized by his lack of height. Several of his passes were tipped and barely made it past the line of scrimmage. . . Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who tried out for the Browns before landing in Oakland, recovered both of Mayfield’s fumbles. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. touch watch: Playing only 29 snaps (35%), the team’s biggest threat touched the football six times against Oakland, twice as a running back, and gained 56 yards, more than nine yards a touch. For the season, he has touched the ball just 21 times in four games, good for 124 yards, an average of 5.9 yards per touch. He wins the awards for most underused player and worst use of talent.

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