Monday, October 8, 2018

Monday leftovers

 It is approaching the alarming stage right now and the longer it lingers, the worse it will get unless it is addressed.

It’s gratifying the Browns lead the National Football League in turnover ratio at +8, but that figure means very little unless the offense picks up the defense by capitalizing on them. Which they are not and therein lies the problem. It has cost them games already.

Theoretically, the Browns would be unbeaten if the offense had taken full advantage of the numerous times the defense got them back the football, often times in enemy territory.

Good offenses generally salivate when taking over in what is known as plus territory; in other swords, short fields. Catch opposing defenses on their heels as they are forced back onto the field well before they expect to return.

That clearly has not been the case of the Browns, who have turned 15 takeaways into only 24 points. Opportunism should exist on both sides of the football. Not with the Browns, though.

For whatever reason, this offense seems to function more efficiently the farther it is from the opposition’s goal line. Maybe it’s because field position determines what part of the playbook is used.

Takeaways are supposed to be momentum turners. Change the course of a game to their advantage in a hurry. Not buckle to good transition defense.  

It has to be extremely frustrating to the Browns’ defense when it retreats to the bench following a turnover only to see the offense fail in some way, shape or form and reach for their helmets again.

It seems to me that the plays called at one end of the field for the offense should not be dissimilar to those called at the other end. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley spent enough time in Pittsburgh to experience solid turnover offense to realize that.

Of course he had quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown for several seasons with the Steelers. The Cleveland offense does not pack that kind of wallop yet.

Maybe Haley seems to be taking baby steps with this offense with that in mind. It appears as though just about everything he dials up is clearly not working and opportunities are being wasted.

Now that he sees he can trust the youngsters who populate the skill positions on the roster to handle everything he throws at them, it might be time to ratchet up the offense to the point where it can be effective enough to put more than 1.6 points a turnover on the board. That ratio should be more like three points per takeaway.

Haley trusts Baker Mayfield enough to call as many as 50 dropbacks in a game. And he trusts Jarvis Landry to handle as many as a dozen targets a game, And the fact he calls 50 dropbacks for a rookie tells you he trusts his offensive line well enough to protect him.

The lack of opportunistic points has to bother coach Hue Jackson, whose very job depends on wins and losses. Every time the offense blows one of those opportunities, his job security grows more tenuous and he slithers closer to unemployment.

With 11 games left in the regular season, Haley has plenty of time to sharpen the transition offense to the point where the defense has the confidence to know that when it creates opportunities in the future, the offense will capitalize on them.

For the time being, though, consider that a work in progress.
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If I’m Greg Joseph, I’m not getting too comfortable with my job as kicker for the Browns. Not after what happened Sunday in the 12-9 overtime victory against the Baltimore Ravens.

Sure he kicked the winning field goal from 37 yards in a pressure situation. And yes, he booted every one of his kickoffs far enough into the end zone where the Ravens had to start every possession at their 25, That’s the plus side.

Now the reasons Joseph should be worrying that his stay with the Browns might not last that long. One missed field goal from 55 yards that had failure written all over it as soon as it left his right foot and missed the left upright by at least 10 yards. One missed extra point, Did Zane Gonzalez sneak back into a Browns uniform?

And then there was that downright homely game-winning field goal that fluttered like a Tim Wakefield knuckleball and gamely fought hard enough to somehow sneak its way over the crossbar, coming dangerously close to scraping paint off it.

Not exactly the kind of performance that made General Manager John Dorsey silently say to himself, “We finally have our kicker.” If he did, though, here’s a vote for “no you don’t.”

Jackson presented Joseph with one of the game balls after the game in a raucous dressing room, perhaps as a sign of encouragement. Sort of an appreciative pat on the back. He seemed a bit sheepish as he took the ball.

But if he hadn’t badly blown that extra point following the only touchdown of the game, that game ball would have gone to someone else who would have deserved it a whole lot more.

And if Joseph doesn’t realize that, he’ll find out soon enough that job security for a placekicker is tied directly to his successes and failures more than any other position on the team.
*       *       *
Snap by snap, series by series and game by game, Denzel Ward is proving that Gregg Williams was spot on when he successfully lobbied Dorsey to select him with the fourth overall pick of the last college football draft.

Critics suggested drafting a cornerback that high was risky at best, foolish at worst, But the kid from Nordonia High School and Ohio State thus far has proven those critics incorrect.

Ward, who played all 87 snaps against the Ravens, is many things in the Cleveland secondary. He is rapidly proving his success with the Buckeyes was no fluke, from providing much-needed press coverage to lending strong support in the ground game to starring on special teams.

He right now is the closest the Browns can come to boasting a shutdown cornerback. He’s not quite there yet, but ls getting closer with each game. He can be fooled on occasion and susceptible to a double move, but is a quick study and rarely repeats mistakes.

He already has three interceptions in five games, all at critical times, and one forced fumble, which he recovered. And don’t forget about the 48-yard field goal attempt by Ravens kicker Justin Tucker that he blocked Sunday when he reached the football in what seemed like record time against a field goal unit considered the best in the NFL.

Bottom line: Ward thus far has proven himself a playmaker.
*       *       *
Speaking of special teams . . .

They were only marginally better against the Ravens. Besides Joseph’s uneven performance, there was one holding penalty on the punt return unit and an unusual holding call against long snapper Charley Hughlett, who was detected grabbing a defender on one of Britton Colquitt’s nine punts.

Now that the poor performances by these units have finally caught the attention of Jackson, it is reasonable to expect improvement. One would think that all the problems would be ironed out by week six. Such is not the case yet.
*      *       *
The defense has played solid football for the most part this season. Only one niggle: Too much arm tackling. Arm tackling does not bring down most runners. Never has, never will

Reason for arm tackling is either being caught out of position or poor coaching, most likely the former. Overpursuit is usually the culprit with defenders often times incorrectly guessing where an opposing runner, whether a running back or receiver, is headed, and reaching instead of squaring up the target.

The best tacklers maintain their balance, placing themselves in the best position to make a play. The Browns seemingly surrender more yards after contact than most NFL teams.
*       *       *
Finally . . . Mayfield’s 19-yard touchdown strike to Rashard Higgins on a post pattern Sunday bought back memories of Brian Sipe to Dave Logan and Frank Ryan to Gary Collins on the same exact pattern. The execution was so perfect, it almost looked too easy. . . . Colquitt’s big leg kept the Browns out of trouble. Often punting from inside the 15-yard line, Colquitt averaged a whopping 50.2 yards a punt against Baltimore. . . . Nick Chubb got three carries again Sunday against the Ravens with dramatically different results. Last week against Oakland, the rookie carried three times, gained 105 yards and scored twice. What a difference a week makes. He gained only two yards this time after Jackson and Haley strongly hinted the kid would get more opportunities. Yeah right. . . . It looks as though cornerback/safety Briean Boddy-Calhoun has entered Williams’s doghouse, playing only one snap against the Ravens. . . . The Browns have scored only six points in the first quarter all season on field goals by Gonzalez and joseph, , , , Duke Johnson Jr. touch watch: One pass reception for seven yards; five carries for 35 yards (setting up the winning field goal); six touches for 42 yards, seven yards a touch. For the season, he has 27 touches (just 10 receptions) for 166 yards, an average of 6.15 yards a touch. At this pace, Johnson is seasonal pace to touch the football 86 times and gain 531 yards. Promises, promises.

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