Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Mid-week thoughts

 It’s so easy to compliment Freddie Kitchens these days, especially with an offense that genuinely carries a dangerous label. It’s difficult to criticize what we have seen the last three games since he took over as the Browns’ offensive coordinator.

But here is one vote against what Kitchens did in the second half of Sunday’s 35-20 bludgeoning of the Cincinnati Bengals. He fell into a trap of believing the game was already won and backed off in, as in no need to embarrass the opposition.

The Bengals stormed back and drew to within 35-20 on consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter while the Cleveland offense went flat, registering a pair of three-and-outs and a four-and-out.

Instead of continuing to attack, they looked much more like the abysmally bad offenses fans have gotten used to over the last several seasons.

After taking a 35-7 lead two minutes into the third quarter, taking advantage of a turnover on a poor snap, the Browns ran just 17 plays that gained 60 net yards. Nick Chubb carried the ball on 12 of those plays, picking up 53 of those yards.

Baker Mayfield threw the football just four times in the entire second half, completing two for only 14 yards and his fourth scoring pass of the afternoon. It’s hard to figure out whether Kitchens wanted to work in the run game or thought Mayfield had thrown enough.

There is nothing wrong with continuing to do what got you there in the first place. Just because you run up a score like 35-7 over a division rival with 28 minutes left in the game doesn’t mean you should back off and go conservative, especially against a division rival. You could even call it a prevent offense.

It might have looked as though the Bengals made halftime adjustments. That was not the case at all. It was suddenly and inexplicably bad football, a total turnaround from the first half, during which the offense scored on four straight drives and totally dominated.

Kitchens went away from what worked in the first 30 minutes, perhaps trying out some new wrinkles, figuring the outcome was secured. It was, as it turned out, but there were some needless anxious moments along the way.

The defense, which spent 17½ minutes on the field because the offense couldn’t sustain a drive, finally came to the rescue after surrendering a 14-play, 94-yard drive to make it a 15-point game. The next Cincinnati drive reached the Cleveland 13-yard line before stalling with 3:09 left in regulation as fans started getting nervous.

The whole idea of offensive football is to chip away at and then take away the will of opposing defenses. Keep doing what you’re doing until they wave what amounts to a white flag of surrender.

Right now, it sure looks as though the club’s offensive unit loves what Kitchens is doing. It shows in their execution. It has really looked like a legitimate NFL offense six of the last eight quarters. It’s those other two quarters that need to be addressed.

There is absolutely no reason to steer away from it no matter the score. Calling off the dogs might work with a better team. Right now, though, it does not work for the Browns.
*       *       *
Baker Mayfield’s chilly handshake with ex-Browns coach Hue Jackson after Sunday’s game and his post-game comments regarding that handshake met with a mixed reaction in the social media universe.

My take: Same as when the Condoleezza Rice-Browns head coach story broke a few weeks back: Much ado about nothing. The latter is now forgotten; the former will soon be forgotten. As you were.

Scraps . . . On a personal note, family matters will take me away from the resurgent Browns for a couple of games. I plan on catching up with them via DirecTV and will share my thoughts at that time. Predicting a couple of close losses in Houston (31-24) Sunday and at home against Carolina (34-28) a week from Sunday against a pair of very good quarterbacks in Deshaun Watson and Cam Newton.  Defense takes a vacation in both games. Hope I’m wr, wro, wron . . . incorrect.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Monday leftovers

 It’s the guys who make the plays who get all the publicity, all the glory on offense; the so-called skill players.

But without the guys up front, the plug uglies as I like to call them, doing their jobs well, there is no publicity, no glory. Only misery and finger pointing.

That said, the recent surge by the Browns’ offense can be directly attributed to the offensive line, which has made the skill players look extremely good to the point where they have become dangerous.

Baker Mayfield was joking (or was he?) when he said after the upset of the Atlanta Falcons a couple of weeks ago that he felt “really dangerous” when he awoke on game day.

The uglies have quietly and without fanfare led the way the last three games, during which Mayfield has completed 74% of his passes, thrown for 771 yards, nine touchdown passes and just one interception.

And here is the best part. Mayfield has not been sacked in his last 109 dropbacks, or ever since the latter stages of the Kansas City loss three games ago. Can’t remember the last time the Browns have allowed zero sacks in consecutive games.

The Cincinnati Bengals almost got one in the Browns’ 35-20 thrashing Sunday, but a holding penalty on linebacker Vontaze Burfict wiped out a Carlos Dunlap sack.

The ground game has also benefited since General Manager John Dorsey moved Carlos Hyde to Jacksonville and forced the coaching staff to elevate Nick Chubb from almost-forgotten status.

The rookie running back has responded beautifully, with considerable help from the uglies, who have provided him with enough space to be dangerous enough to take some of the pressure off Mayfield and the passing game.

The offense has averaged 386 yards a game the last three games, 132 of them on the ground, and scored at a 28-points-a-game clip with 69 first downs. It’s an offense the likes of which Browns fans have starved for the last two decades.

Granted, the impressive numbers have been gained against three bad defenses (Kansas City, Atlanta and Cincinnati), but Browns teams of the past would have struggled against them.

The Atlanta and Cincinnati victories were gained with impressive and arguably dominating performances by the offense.

It sure doesn’t look like a coincidence that positive things are happening when the Browns own the football since Freddie Kitchens became offensive coordinator following the firing of Todd Haley.

It seemed as though Haley ran plays designed more for the talents of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, whom he coached in Pittsburgh, not Mayfield, Chubb and a lot of young receivers.

Kitchens has virtually eliminated the seven-step dropbacks and redesigned plays that enable Mayfield to get rid of the football quicker and more decisively. He also has the rookie quarterback rolling out more often by design where he becomes even more dangerous.

He also showed supreme confidence in the uglies right out of the chute in the Cincinnati game, calling a screen pass to Chubb that gained 23 yards and sent a message that this game will be different from an offensive standpoint.

It isn’t often you see a screen called on the very first play of a game. The offensive line pulled it off perfectly, as perfectly as the offense hummed the entire first half when it scored on the first four possessions. Key blocks from Greg Robinson and Joel Bitonio paved the way.

Free safety Damarious Randall sounded a warning after the game. “This locker room is very, very talented,” he said. “This team is very scary right now.”
*       *       *
Chubb seems to have added a new skill to his repertoire, one that was not expected, at least as a rookie: Catching the football.

He was rarely used in the passing game at Georgia, catching only 31 passes in four years, 18 of them as a freshman. So no one really knew whether he could make a successful transition to the National Football League with regard to the aerial game.

He has been targeted only 13 times this season with nine receptions for 92 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The last two games, he is perfect on six targets for 77 yards and the two scores. The young man can catch the football and figures to be even more involved in Kitchens’ offense.

His touchdown reception in the second quarter from 14 yards out was a thing of beauty and proved he can be clutch in the passing game, too. Mayfield lofted the ball toward Chubb, who grabbed it, pinned it with both hands against the back of cornerback Brandon Wilson’s helmet, lifted it and secured it as he was falling in the end zone.  

As for the ground game, Chubb checks in with 663 yards and six scores and averages 5.4 yards a carry. He needs 337 more yards (or 67.4 yards a game) to make the 1,000-yard club, which seems like more of a probability than possibility.

Kitchens called on Chubb 31 times against the Bengals, 28 as a runner, and he did not look tired at the end, although most of his yards on the ground were gained the hard way, between the tackles. He totaled 128 yards with his 31 touches.

His indefatigable performances have reduced the number of touches Duke Johnson Jr. gets in a game. It seems Kitchens is having as much trouble as Haley fitting the more versatile Johnson into the offense scheme.
*       *       *
All head coaches preach ball security. The quickest way to lose momentum is to cough up the football, especially on the ground. Interceptions will happen occasionally because the quarterback throws the football so often.

Putting it on the ground is an entirely different matter. The Browns have excelled at ball security this season, especially in the last six games, during which the offense has not lost a fumble. The only lost fumble in that span was on special teams. (More on them later.)

Not since Mayfield lost a pair of fumbles in his first NFL start in the Oakland overtime loss in week four has an opponent had a chance to capitalize on a Cleveland fumble.  Not much is more dispiriting to an offense than turning over the football in careless fashion.

Cleveland runners have fumbled the football only three times all season, while the receivers have also fumbled three times. All six were recovered by teammates.
*       *       *
Myles Garrett blocked a field goal attempt by Randy Bullock on the Bengals’ first possession of the game. That, not surprisingly, is the only special teams positive that came out of the game. From then on, it was a typical special teams disaster.

The Bengals’ Alex Erickson returned three punts for 57 yards, the longest a 33-yarder, all due to poor tackling. Erickson also tacked on 49 more yards on two kickoff returns, again due to poor tackling.

And what is a Sunday Browns game without a penalty on one of their punt returns. Yep, you can add that one to the list. Another holding call.

The only good that will come out of this is knowing special teams coordinator Amos Jones will not be gainfully employed by the Browns next season. Only five more games left. Let the countdown begin.
*       *       *
Finally . . . The gadget play Kitchens called at the end of the third quarter, a jet sweep by Breshad Perriman that lost 12 yards, should be ripped out of the playbook and permanently destroyed. It had no business being called with a 35-14 lead. . . . Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton entered the game with 15 touchdown passes and no picks in the last six games against Cleveland. Randall ended that in a hurry midway through the second quarter..  . . . Tight end David Njoku has caught nine of 10 passes thrown his way in the last three games after coming up empty in the Pittsburgh loss. . . . A. J. Green not dressing because of a toe injury certainly made it easier on the Cleveland secondary. The big Bengals wide receiver has hurt the Browns plenty in the past. . . . Mayfield threw five interceptions in his first two games and just two in the next five.. . . . The Bengals registered only one quarterback hit against the Cleveland offensive line. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. touch watch: Two carries, 16 yards; one reception, 23 yards. Total: Three touches, 39 yards. Season totals: 28 carries, 146 yards; 34 receptions, 335 yards. Total:  62 touches, 481 yards, 7.76 yards a touch.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Turning it up a notch or four

The corner has not been turned yet, but it is clearly in sight and coming more and more into focus for fans of Cleveland’s professional football team.

Playing with stunning near perfection for the first 32 minutes of the game on both sides of the football, the Browns Sunday sent a message to the rest of the National Football League with a resounding 35-20 victory over the Bengals in Cincinnati.

The Cleveland Browns are no longer the league’s stepchild; nor are they the league’s rest stop on the schedule; or the league’s pushover when an easy victory is in order.

It was a 35-7 game two minutes into the third quarter after Baker Mayfield tossed his fourth touchdown pass of the afternoon to tight end Darren Fells after the second of two takeaways.

The victory snapped a 25-game road losing streak, which began 1,142 days after the Browns knocked off the Baltimore Ravens in overtime on Oct. 11, 2015. It also smashed to smithereens the Bengals’ seven-game winning streak against Cleveland.

And it marked the first time the Browns have won back-to-back games since consecutive victories against Tampa Bay and Cincinnati Nov. 2 and Nov. 6 in 2014. That season, the Browns stood at 7-4 before losing their final five games,

The offense was spectacular in the first half Sunday, scoring on the first four possessions in precision-like fashion each time against a Cincinnati defense that looked clueless, rather ironic since ex-Browns head coach Hue Jackson supposedly clued the Bengals defense on what to look for from that offense.

If so, he sure gave them bad information. It was the most first-half points the Browns had scored since the old Browns put up 31 in the first half (28 in the second quarter) in a 31-0 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 1, 1991.

Jackson soon discovered this was not the same offense he left when he was cashiered a few weeks back. The players were the same, but their execution was much sharper and the creativity of new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens made a huge difference,

As the Browns piled up the score, CBS-TV cameras occasionally provided Jackson’s rather bemused reaction to what was unfolding. A couple of times he shook his head almost in disbelief that this was the same offense when he was the head man in Cleveland.

Mayfield, whose play suggested he woke up Sunday morning feeling really, really, really, really dangerous, was sensational, spreading the ball around, converting five of six first-half third down opportunities along the way.

Throwing with supreme confidence and unerring accuracy, he completed 17 of his 21 first-half passes for 244 yards and the four scores, many of which were quick developing plays that neutered the Bengals’ pass rush,

He threw for 70 of the 78 yards on the first drive, Nick Chubb scoring from a yard out; 51 of the 56 yards following a Myles Garrett’s block of a field attempt, Antonio Callaway hauling in a 13-yard scoring strike; 81 of the 96 yards on drive #3, tight end David Njoku on the receiving end of 51 of those yards, including the final six following a Damarious Randall pick; and 42 of the 59 yards on #4 with Chubb taking a pass 14 yards for the score.

After his interception, Randall wound up on the Cincinnati sideline and playfully handed the football to his former head coach, who spent most of the afternoon beside or near Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis.

All in all, Mayfield needed just 19 minutes and 44 seconds in those four possessions to travel 299 total yards in only 37 plays, or a fraction above eight yards a play against the NFL’s worst defense.

As the score mounted, the shock resonated in the television booth with play-by-play man Kevin Harlan and analyst Rich Gannon having trouble believing what they were witnessing. After all, these were the sad sack Cleveland Browns, the perennial cellar dwellers of the AFC North Division. This was not supposed to be happening.

Once the Browns took the 28-point lead on a Mayfield-to-Darren Fells connection from seven yards after Cincinnati center Billy Price air-mailed a shotgun snap halfway to the Bengals’ goal line two plays into the third quarter, Kitchens dialed it way back in the final 28 minutes.

That, for all practical purposes was it for the Cleveland offense. Britton Colquitt, whose only first-half appearances were to hold for Greg Joseph on extra points, was much busier in the second half with four punts.

It all kind of made it interesting with Mayfield & Co. on cruise control. The rookie quarterback threw the ball only five times in the second half, completing two for 14 yards.

Chubb took over the brunt of the attack  -- if you call 21 plays in five possessions much an attack – with 13 of his 28 carries for 54 of his 84 yards. All Kitchens wanted to do was bleed time off the clock and move the chains. They responded with only 21plays, 66 yards, four first downs (two by penalty) and just 11:08 off the clock.

The Bengals took advantage of the soft coverage and climbed to within 35-20 after rookie Jeff Driskel, who took over at quarterback when Andy Dalton suffered a thumb injury in the scrum trying to flag down the soaring Price snap, threw for one score and plunged a couple of yards for another, climaxing a 94-yard drive..

It gave the Bengals and their booing fans a false sense of security and at the same time caused at least a few members of Browns Nation to think they had seen collapses like this way too often in the last 20 seasons and is this another one of those in progress.

Has it been just about any other team – the Bengals have lost five of their last six games – the final quarter might have been scarier than it seemed until the defense clamped down and forced the Bengals to turn over the football on downs.

Now all the Browns have to do to prove this is not just another tease, another aberration that has plagued this franchise for so long is to go down to Houston next Sunday and prove all over again this is really happening against the AFC South-leading Texans. .

That will be the supreme test to gauge whether that corner is still in the distance or getting closer by the game.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The losing stops here

In the run-up to the Browns’ game Sunday against the Bengals in Cincinnati, the team’s fans have become emboldened by the upset victory over Atlanta a couple of weeks ago.

They won in such entertaining and commanding fashion, the glimmer of hope for this franchise has turned into much more than a glimmer. It has become a spotlight that portends a bright future.

Yes, it is only a one-game winning streak they carry into this one, but its significance resonates more than the various similar streaks of the past. If thy can knock off the Falcons, who entered that game on a hot streak, then anything is possible.

The bye week allowed fans to enjoy that victory and look forward that much more to Sunday’s game. All the losing over the last nearly two decades has caused fans of the team to glom on to any shred of positivity.

But this time, it seems to be different in the wake of the twin firings of head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley several weeks ago. Jackson’s ultimate landing back with the Bengals has added another interesting storyline to this one.

The ex-Cleveland coach has been brought back on board in Cincinnati in an effort to help coach Marvin Lewis and stem a tide of losing football that has seen the Bengals lose four of their last five games with a defense that has crumbled.

Normally, seeing the Browns up next on the schedule provides relief in situations such as this. But with Cleveland playing much more representative football lately, the Bengals’ seven-game win streak against their Ohio rivals is in jeopardy.

It is being speculated the Bengals have an advantage because Jackson knows all there is to know about the Browns and has fully divulged it. But even though it’s been only a few weeks, this is not the same team he left, at least on offense.

The pieces and parts are the same, but interim offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens has added several new wrinkles that seem to have been welcomed by those on that side of the football.

The brashness of rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield has become infectious among the denizens of Browns Nation, as well as his teammates, as the Browns resume the season. The Atlanta victory enhances that notion.

Another incentive Sunday is ending the 25-game losing streak on the road the Browns lug into the game. One more loss ties the (2007-10) Detroit Lions for National Football League futility

The Bengals appear to have reached the nadir of their season. Only a three-point victory over Tampa Bay separates them from a five-game losing streak. And the chief culprit has been the defense, which has surrendered 182 points in those five games.

That defense allows the opposition to complete 67% of their passes, convert 58% of their third downs, and give up 450 yards and 26 first downs a game, including 154 yards on the ground. And the strength of the Cleveland attack is running the football.

Lewis has taken over that side of the ball in an effort to stanch the blood flow. His main goal probably will be to slow down rookie Browns running back Nick Chubb, who leads a Cleveland running game that hasn’t looked this good in years,

That defense would be a whole lot worse if not for the contributions of defensive end Carlos Dunlap and defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who have combined for 14 of the club’s 23 sacks.

The Cleveland defense should have a less difficult afternoon against a Cincinnati offense that most likely will be without the services of wide receiver A. J. Green, who is listed as doubtful and is expected to miss his third straight game with a toe injury.

That makes quarterback Andy Dalton’s task that much more difficult, which could mean more work on the ground game from Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard, who have had previous success against Cleveland. Tyler Boyd and speedy John Ross become Dalton’s chief targets along with Bernard.

Once again, look for quick-developing short-to medium-range passes from Mayfield mixed with the slashing running of Chubb with more emphasis this week in wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who caught only two passes in the Atlanta victory as Mayfield liberally distributed the ball to nine receivers.

It has been more than three years – Oct. 11, 2015 in Baltimore to be exact – since the Browns exited the opposition’s home field with a victory. That was a 33-30 overtime victory over the Ravens.

The Browns’ long losing streaks are slowly being toppled. Gut in the interest of transparency, it must be noted they are just 6-11 after a bye week, 3-7 on the road, which does not bode well.

Nonetheless, Sunday will mark two more felled losing streaks. Led by the arm of Mayfield and legs of Chubb on offense and opportunism on defense (two more takeaways), the Browns end the road misery and shatter the Bengals’ winning streak against them, all in one afternoon, Hue Jackson notwithstanding.  Make it:

Browns 27, Bengals 17

Friday, November 16, 2018

Bye week thoughts

 John Dorsey spent 25 minutes with the Cleveland media the other day before heading to his bunker as he prepares to name the next head coach of the Browns.

That, of course, will be the overwhelmingly most important story that will emanate from Berea sometime in the next two to three months. The remainder of the 2018 season takes a back seat by comparison.

The Cleveland general manager pretty much laid out the kind of coach he is looking for to lead this team into what everyone hopes and believes will be a brand new era of winning football.

He said he wants “a man of character. I would like to see a man who can lead young men. I would like a man who has high football acumen. Those are the three basic things I’m looking for.

“I just want the best possible head coach to move this thing forward regardless of age. . . . I mean it could be a woman, too. I’m serious. (No he’s not.) We’re going to look at everything is what I’m trying to tell you all.”

Dorsey doesn’t believe he will encounter any problems seeking candidates, calling the job “very attractive. I really think this job is very attractive,” he said, repeating himself for emphasis.

In what way is it so attractive? Let’s start with a quarterback Baker Mayfield, whose performance thus far exceeds that of the other high-profile quarterbacks who were first-round draft choices and portends an exciting future.

Throw in a growing and impressive core of young playmakers – Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Antonio Callaway, Duke Johnson Jr. and David Njoku on offense and Denzel Ward, Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers and Genard Avery on defense – on a team assembled by a well-respected talent evaluator who happens to be the general manager.

Other enticements include the 11 selections the Browns have in the next college football draft with Dorsey and his veteran cohorts in the front office in charge, and a generous amount of salary cap space.

He also recognized the terrific fan base of this franchise. It didn’t take him long to find out in the one year he has been with the Browns that this team has arguably the fiercest and most loyal fans in the league. 

Dorsey also has gravitas among those in the know around the National Football League. His reputation precedes him. He should have no problems attracting highly thought of candidates. All that will work in his favor as he whittles the field.

The importance of the choice is not lost on the GM, who said he reminds himself daily “don’t mess this thing up.” After all, it’s the first time he has been in position to make such an important decision.

Choosing a new head coach will not be like the past, or since the Browns returned to the NFL after a three-year absence in 1999, when they more often than not wound up with their third or fourth choice.

That’s why they wound up with the likes of Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Rob Chudzinski, Pat Shurmur, Mike Pettine and Hue Jackson. All good assistant coaches who failed as head coaches.

The Browns need to start hiring generals, not lieutenants. The train of futility with regard to Browns head coaches almost certainly will grind to a halt with the naming of the new man.

This time, they will wind up with the man Dorsey and his crew deem the best, not as in the past when most of the good ones turned them down in part because they did not want to work with the front office in charge at the time.

Coaching the Cleveland Browns was not high on the list of prospective candidates. Mangini and Jackson were retreads, having coached elsewhere before arriving in Cleveland. The others were not ready to be head coaches. That will not be the case this time.

As for retired Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who said recently he always wanted to coach the Browns, Dorsey said he has great respect for him and the media will know at the appropriate time if he decides to interview him. Sort of a polite way of saying that’s not going to happen.

Dorsey indicated current interim coach Gregg Williams will get an interview. It’s hard to believe he has a shot even though the atmosphere in Berea has changed for the better since he took over for Jackson a few weeks ago.

Williams has already failed once as a head coach at Buffalo in a league where coaches who initially fail rarely get a second chance. He will be considered, but it will be stunning if Dorsey removes the interim tag from his job.

One of the names certain to be on Dorsey’s list is highly respected Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub.  Consider the following strictly a guess: When the Chiefs visited the Browns a couple of weeks ago, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dorsey didn’t have a small, and ostensibly innocent, chat with Toub.

Dorsey will make the pick, not an outside search firm that has helped in the past. A massive step in the right direction. Dorsey knows what he’s doing and the only help he needs will come from the football men who work for him.

He will get carte blanche from Dee and Jimmy Haslam up until the time he makes his decision and shares it with them. The Haslams, as they should as owners, will probe deeply as to how and why Dorsey selected his man – it is their right to do so –  and then rubber stamp it.

This will be one time, finally, when trust will be the determining factor instead of interfering, as has been the case for the last six years under the Haslams.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Mid-week thoughts

Well, well, well. Look who is going to be on the opposite sideline when the Browns travel down to Cincinnati to play the Bengals a week from Sunday.

It’s none other than that old revisionist history guy who just a few short weeks ago the Browns called their head football coach.

Hue Jackson has answered the clarion call for help from his good friend and Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, whose club has played recently like the Browns of the last 19 seasons.

It will be Hue Jackson to the rescue in an effort to salvage a season that started out so promisingly for the Bengals with four victories in their first five games before collapsing spectacularly in the next four.

They have labeled Jackson’s role special assistant. Which probably means he will be more like a bench coach in baseball and make suggestions within the game in an effort to help Lewis concentrate on the defense after the firing of coordinator Teryl Austin.

It is a move – more like a cry for help – that very likely could eventually see Jackson elevated to the top spot when Lewis, who has helmed the Bengals since 2003, finally retires or is kicked upstairs after this season.

Rumors suggest Jackson could have had the top job in Cincinnati last season – he was already a successful offensive coordinator there – had he waited just one more year. He chose instead to take the top job with the dysfunctional Browns.

That ill-fated move, in many more ways than one, led to the Browns posting the worst two-season record in National Football League history at 1-31 and setting a few other low bars in the process.

Lewis and Jackson are extremely close in a brotherly way and share the same basic football philosophies. It was thought Lewis would step down after last season, but now that Jackson is a free agent following his firing by the Browns, that likelihood is coming more into focus.

What makes this move interesting now is the teams meet twice in the next couple of months, which ostensibly gives Jackson the opportunity to share some Browns secrets.

That won’t work and here’s why.

The team that invades Cincinnati won’t be any different from a personnel standpoint than the one he left. But it will be significantly different from a schematic and philosophical standpoint with new names in charge.

Jackson almost assuredly will shed light on the Browns’ strengths and weaknesses on offense. Where they excel, where they are the most vulnerable, and point out their tendencies.

But he will soon discover this is not the same team he left a couple of weeks ago. That one stopped listening to him a while ago and has played a different brand of football since under new offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens.

We are being told Kitchens is basically running the offense of fired offensive coordinator Todd Haley. If that is the case, then he has thrown in a myriad of different wrinkles, many of which seem to be working.

He has dumbed down the Haley offense to an extent and simplified it to the point where fewer mistakes are being made. There has also been, at least seemingly, far less motion before the snap.

It doesn’t take much to see that this offense runs much more smoothly and effectively under Kitchens. Baker Mayfield is a much more efficient quarterback and the running game has become dangerous now that rookie Nick Chubb has had the handcuffs removed.

There isn’t much Jackson can share with Lewis regarding the Cleveland defense because he left that side of the ball almost totally to Gregg Williams. And that defense, in addition to becoming healthier, is playing more conservatively since Williams became the interim head coach.

Too often a switch such as this, which is unusual because of its timing, turns out to be nothing more than talk-show fodder. You can prepare for a team just so much, but it’s all about execution. And right now, the Browns appear to be the better team when it comes to execution.
*       *       *
A couple of new faces have emerged on defense the last two games, names that not had seen much more bench, other than on special teams, earlier this season.

Tanner Vallejo is logging more time in the linebacker rotation now that Christian Kirksey is done for the season and has not disappointed. If fact, Williams has rewarded him with more playing time.

Vallejo played 41 of the 75 defensive snaps against Atlanta Sunday and checked in with an efficient six tackles (four solo) in support of fellow linebackers Jamie Collins and Joe Schobert, who missed the last three games.

On the line, defensive end Anthony Zettel was a stickout with three solo tackles on just 25 snaps. Conversely, Emmanuel Ogbah needed 53 snaps to compile two tackles (one solo) and half a sack.

Fans probably remember Zettel best after he was a little too exuberant celebrating his sack of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan on a two-point conversion attempt after the final Atlanta touchdown, injuring his left leg. 

Both young men joined the Browns days apart at the beginning of the season when teams trimmed their rosters to the required 53. Vallejo was claimed on waivers from Buffalo and Zettel, a teammate of ex-Brown Carl Nassib at Penn State, was claimed a few days later after he was released by the Detroit Lions.
*       *       * 
Scraps . . .  T. J. Carrie, the forgotten man in the secondary at the beginning of the season, is making the most of an opportunity created by a few injuries. The five-year veteran from Ohio University forced and then recovered one fumble and held the dangerous Julio Jones to seven receptions and just one touchdown. . . . Mayfield fell just short of a perfect passer rating (158.3) with a 151.3 against the Falcons. . . . Defensive end Myles Garrett’s sack streak was halted at three straight games. He has logged just seven solo tackles in the last six games. . . . Britton Colquitt still leads the NFL by far in number of punts with 64, nine more than Lachlan Edwards of the New York Jets.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Monday leftovers

It was a cloudy day in Cleveland Monday, but you’d never know it in Browns Nation. The sun was shining brightly there.

The euphoria that gripped Browns fans after Sunday’s surprising 28-16 victory over the Atlanta Falcons is hanging around for at least the next few days as those fans add a little bounce to their step.

Smiles replaced the usual glum looks most Browns fans usually wear on Mondays throughout the season. And because of the bye week, it definitely should linger. It sure was good to feel good about being a Browns fan.

It wasn’t the totally unexpected victory that elicited that feeling as much as it was the manner in which it was achieved, the Browns putting together one of the best team efforts in a very long time.

Just about everything clicked on a day where they genuinely looked like a very good National Football League team. There were mistakes, of course, but even the good teams experience them. Keeping them to a minimum is the difference.

Some skeptics might consider this an overreaction to just one game. It’s just one-sixteenth of an entire season. What makes that so special, they no doubt wonder.

It’s because they do not know what it’s like to be a fan of this team. All they see on the outside is the terrible and often times embarrassing football this franchise has played since reentering the NFL in 1999.

They can’t relate to all the emotional suffering for nearly two decades. All the games that looked like victories until they became losses in some bizarre manner. They look at what happened Sunday against the Falcons and wonder why Browns fans got so excited about winning one game.

The notion it just might be an aberration does not enter their minds. Way too early for that. Nor does it foretell the future anymore than the four consecutive losses that preceded it.

We’ll all find out in a couple of weeks, of course, when the Browns resume the season in Cincinnati against the Bengals, who looked as though they were going to run away with the AFC North by winning four of their first five games.

But the ruggedness of the schedule has brought them back to reality in the last three games, during which their defense hemorrhaged 130 points with an upcoming Sunday date in Baltimore against the Ravens as they look to avoid being a .500 team when they welcome the Browns.

In the meantime, all that talk about whether the Browns will win another game this season or how high they will pick in the annual college football draft next spring can officially take a rest for the time being.
*       *       *
Baker Mayfield had a ready answer to explain the reason his three-touchdown performance and firm control of the offense against the Falcons.

“When I woke up this morning,” he said, “I was feeling pretty dangerous.” And then, with exquisite timing, he waited a couple of seconds to let that sink in as the media chuckled. Then he did a small double eyebrow lift and followed up with a wry smile.

He was clearly enjoying sitting down after a game and not talking about a loss. The uniqueness of the situation prompted his playful dialogue with the reporters. And then he got serious.

“We have to build on it,” he said. “. . . We have to find the positives. We had a lot of positives this week. It’s going to be about how we handle that – not realizing or thinking we’ve made it because we haven’t. We’ll find out in two weeks.”

Mayfield talks not like a rookie who has only six games on his résumé, but one who has been around for a few seasons. It’s that part of his personality that seems to be rubbing off on his teammates.

I could see the difference in the offense the last two weeks. The confidence that was missing on that side of the football earlier, which probably was one of the reasons that triggered the firings of Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, has reappeared.

New offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens has given Mayfield an offense that requires quick decisions and quicker release of the ball, taking advantage of his accuracy and making it easier on the offensive line to protect him.

It also extends possessions. In the last two games, the Browns have owned the football 17 times with only one three-and-out. And that was the last possession of the Falcons game when the outcome was secured. At the same time, it keeps the defense well rested.

What excited fans Sunday were two throws on the same possession (the second of the afternoon) that provided a glimpse into what Mayfield’s afternoon was going to be like. “Pretty dangerous.”

They were the opening and final plays of what turned out to be an eight-play, 88-yard scoring drive that took nearly five minutes off the clock. It started off with Mayfield delivering a laser to Breshad Perriman on a 16-yard square out, a staple in a quarterback’s arsenal.

The ball was delivered impressively on a line and on time.  It was the beginning of a drive in which Mayfield completed all six of his passes for 85 yards. He capped it with a 28-yard scoring strike to Rashard Higgins after being forced out of the pocket and running to his right, connecting with a flick of the wrist to his wide receiver.

Quite impressive and definitely “pretty dangerous."
*       *       *
The more I watch Nick Chubb, the more the rookie reminds me of Jamal Lewis, who was one of the stars of the strong Baltimore Ravens offense for six seasons and three more with the Browns from 2000-09.

Both are Georgia born and almost the same size. Both are 5-11. Chubb weighs 230 pounds; Lewis hovered between 235 and 240. Both own the same traits: Tough runner, hard to bring down and deceptively fast.

Lewis racked up 1,000-yard seven times in his nine-year NFL career, including a 2,000-yard campaign in 2003. He ran for 1,304 yards in his first season with Cleveland in 2007, when the Browns posted their only double-digit victory record since the return in 1999.

Believe it or not, Chubb still has a chance to reach 1,000 yards on the ground this season despite his relative non-use in the first six games. He sits at 579 yards, 421 yards shy of the mark with six games remaining. That’s 70 yards a game, which shouldn’t be a problem for him.

He is a smart runner with seemingly excellent vision who always seems to fall forward after getting hit. His jump cuts make him that much more difficult to square up for defenders attempting to bring him down.

He also uses his blockers beautifully. Perfect example was his dazzling – and team record – 92-yard touchdown run that put the game out of reach for the Falcons Sunday.

It started out as a simple stretch play to the strong side, but Chubb quickly took advantage of seal blocks by right guard Kevin Zeitler on his left and right tackle Chris Hubbard on his right, split them with a cutback move and then turned on the afterburners.

That trade of Carlos Hyde to Jacksonville is looking better by the game.
*       *       *
Orson Charles is listed on the Browns’ roster as a tight end, but it appears as though he spends more time in the backfield lately as a blocking back than at his listed position.

The six-year NFL veteran has seen his snap count rise significantly in the last three games to almost twice the snaps in each of the first seven, He appears to be the primary blocker in front of Chubb in certain running situations,

The 6-3, 260-pounder seems to have gained he confidence of the coaching staff to the point where he enters the game when tough yards are needed. His increased snap count indicates he is becoming at least a semi-permanent figure in front of Chubb.

He was so thrilled with the Atlanta victory, he waylaid interim head coach Gregg Williams on his way to shake hands with Falcons coach Dan Quinn after the game and celebrated joyously by hoisting him in a bear hug and then exchanging fist bumps. 
*       *       *
Finally . . . Mayfield threw as many incomplete passes (3) against the Falcons as he did touchdown passes. . . . He distributed his 17 completions among nine different receivers. . . . The Falcons entered the game with a 50% conversion rate on third down. They were 5-for-14 against the Browns. . . . The Browns needed only 50 plays from scrimmage to score their 28 points and produce 427 yards, a season-high 8.5 yards a play. . . . Chubb’s 20 carries was 40% of the offense. . . . Left offensive tackle Greg Robinson had problems with Falcons defensive end Bruce Irvin, picking up a couple of holding calls and fanning on Irvin, who blew right past him early in the third quarter and caused a Mayfield fumble which the quarterback recovered. . . . Williams has as many victories as interim boss as Jackson had in his first two seasons with the Browns. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. touch watch: Three carries, 15 yards; four receptions, 31 yards and a touchdown. Season totals: 26 carries, 130 yards; 33 receptions, 312 yards and three touchdowns. That’s 59 touches in 10 games for 442 yards, or 7.49 yards a touch. One can only imagine what the New England Patriots would do with Johnson’s talents.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A memorable given Sunday

 Remember that old football expression regarding the improbability on the outcome of some games in the National Football League?

No, not the one that appeared here just the other day with respect to playing games on the schedule one at a time when the next opponent is far superior to yours and no one expects an upset.

The one I’m referring to appeared here about a week ago in reference to the Browns’ meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs. Recall this one: “On any given Sunday, any team in the National Football League can beat any other team.”

Well Sunday Nov. 11, 2018 down by the lakefront in downtown Cleveland was such a Sunday.

In a didn’t-seen-that-one-coming and absolutely stunning performance by the Browns, they didn’t just beat the Atlanta Falcons, 28-16; they literally outplayed them in every phase of the game.

This was one of those games you watch, whether in person or on television, and your eyes are telling you “this is not really happening,” given the sad history of this club since 1999. The eye-blinking disbelief makes it appear as though everything unfolding before you is surreal.

The Browns, in the throes of a four-game losing streak, during which they have looked awful, are beating up a team on a three-game winning streak and looking a lot lately like the powerful Chiefs.

The offense was sensational throughout most of the afternoon, looking nothing like the offense that has been terrible for the last month.  New offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens’ approach is much more creative than his predecessor’s.

The defense bent somewhat, but did not break. It swarmed around Falcons ball carriers, the tackling was crisp and the quickness that was missing in the last month reappeared with the return to health of cornerback Denzel Ward, safety Damarious Randall and middle linebacker Joe Schobert.

Even the special teams looked good. Not because of what they did, but because of what they didn’t do: Make mistakes.

Everything clicked on offense. The ground game, a.k.a. Nick Chubb, ran relentlessly behind an offensive line looking for retribution after looking extremely mediocre during the losing streak.

Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield was sensational, masterfully guiding his almost mistake-free offense on touchdown drives on four of five possessions at one point as the Browns opened up a 28-10 lead with 8:45 left in the third quarter.

He completed his first 13 passes as the Browns led, 14-10, at the half, and wound up 17 of 20 for 216 yards with scoring passes to Rashard Higgins (28 yards), Chubb (13 yards) and Duke Johnson Jr. (11 yards). He added another season first: A sackless afternoon.

The Higgins touchdown produced a first in a season when firsts have been hard to come by. It was the Browns’ first first-quarter touchdown after 145 minutes and 24 seconds of abject futility.

Chubb, who has all but made Browns fans forget Carlos Hyde started out the season as the lead running back, ran for 176 yards on 20 attempts, planting the exclamation point on the victory with a team record 92-yard touchdown gallop midway through the third quarter.

The run started out innocently on a simple stretch play to the strong side with Chubb cutting back inside behind a block by right tackle Chris Hubbard at about the 15-yard line and finding himself open. He easily dismissed one attempted tackle before turning on his deceivingly swift speed, easily outracing the Falcons to the end zone.

In four starts since Hyde’s departure, Chubb has run for 406 yards and three touchdowns. He added a touchdown through the air when he slipped out of the backfield against the Falcons and gathered in a screen pass en route to the end zone.

The Cleveland possession that sort of tipped off fans that this was going to be a fun afternoon occurred right after the Falcons took their only lead of the afternoon at 10-7 with five minutes left in the second quarter.

The Browns responded with an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive with Chubb getting six touches along the way for 64 of those yards. It gave the Browns a lead they did not relinquish. It also sent a signal to the Falcons this could be one of those given Sundays.

The defense, meanwhile, was stout, especially when the Falcons threatened the goal line on three occasions. It forced them to run 11 plays inside the Cleveland 5 before they scored their only touchdowns of the game, both on short-area passes.

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan had to throw the ball 52 times against mostly a zone employed by head coach Gregg Williams, who evened his record at 1-1 as interim head coach.

There was no question his team arrived at the ballpark with attitude on both sides of the ball and ready to play a smart brand of football against a hot team. The breaks came their way all afternoon.

For example, Mayfield was stripped of the ball by Falcons defensive end Bruce Irvin after Browns corner T. J. Carrie recovered a Mohamed Sanu fumble in Falcons territory on the third play of the third quarter. But the ball bounced right back to the Cleveland quarterback and he picked up six yards.

Five plays later, Mayfield hooked up with Johnson, who leaked out of the backfield and was wide open at the Atlanta 5 and waltzed into the end zone.

Then later in the quarter, Johnson lost the ball at his 35. It was ruled a fumble and recovery by the Falcons, but was overturned after a replay review. Things like that usually don’t happen to the Browns. It’s normally the other way around.

The offense misfired just twice all day and on both occasions, Kitchens tried to get cute. Cute fails much more often than it succeeds in the NFL.

On the game-opening possession, the Browns faced a third-and-1 at their 44. Mayfield suddenly broke from the formation and walked toward the sideline, his arms akimbo, seemingly not understanding the play. Chubb then took a direct snap and gained nothing. An illegal motion penalty against Mayfield was declined.

That one was harmless. The next gaffe was not.

On the third Cleveland possession, the offense was rolling after a 17-yard Breshad Perriman reception placed the ball at the Falcons’ 34. Everything was going well when Kitchens struck again.

Rookie reserve running back Dontrelle Hilliard took a pitch from Mayfield, who sneaked out of the backfield down the left sideline. Hilliard’s pass floated in his direction came down into the waiting arms of Falcons cornerback Damontae Kazee, who returned it 33 yards to the Cleveland 45.

Those are the kinds of plays that are great if they work, which isn’t very often. If not, it usually becomes a disaster. This disaster was a gift to the Atlanta offense, which capitalized six plays later.

It’s best to tear that play out of the playbook and incinerate it. But it sure did not spoil the afternoon for Browns Nation.

So now the Browns will have two weeks off, courtesy of the bye, to enjoy this one, or more probably just a week before getting ready to see if they can make it two in a row at Cincinnati.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

No break for the defense

 There is an old expression in football, generally overused by coaches whose teams are in the midst of a forgettable season, that applies to those poor souls just looking for any kind of sanity and/or stability.

It’s a trite fallback line that goes something like this: “We just play the games that are on the schedule. All we can do is play them one at a time.” And, of course, not worry about anything else.

With that in mind, the guys (or computers) who put the 2018 National Football League schedule together are either masochists or harbored a deep dislike for the Browns.

It’s bad enough the schedule called for the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons to be placed somewhere on their schedule. But back-to-back? Really? Sure, both games are at home, but c’mon, two of the best offenses in the league in consecutive weeks?

That is what Gregg Williams faces in his first two games as the Browns’ interim head coach. It was bad enough the Chiefs came to town and rode roughshod last Sunday, a 37-21 slap around that wasn’t as close as the final indicates.

The Chiefs rank second in the NFL in total offense and proved it big time behind the quarterback wizardry of Patrick Mahomes II. Now along comes the Falcons, ranked fifth in total offense.

Trying to stop that offense will be the 30th-ranked team in overall defense, which sounds very much like the outcome won’t be that much different than the brutal Kansas City verdict.

Injuries are beginning to take a toll on the Browns, especially in the secondary where a few new strangers, picked up off waivers, will make their team debut Sunday against the Falcons.

Cornerback Denzel Ward, (hip), free safety Damarious Randall (groin) and middle linebacker Joe Schobert (hamstring) are expected back which should help. But how much action they’ll see is unknown.

It will be interesting to see whether Williams, in his role as defensive coordinator, backs off his usual aggressive self and plays more conservatively against Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and his terrific corps of receivers.

Ryan, headed for the first 5,000-yard season of his 11-year career, spreads the ball around to the likes of Julio Jones, rookie Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu, tight end Austin Cooper and running back Tevin Coleman.

The peerless Jones has booked a 60-catch, 933-yard season thus far, but with only one touchdown, that last Sunday as the 4-4 Falcons won their third game in a row against the Washington Redskins.

Seven of Ryan’s 19 scoring passes – he has thrown only three interceptions – have gone to Ridley, three to Sanu (who has been known to throw a pass or two) and four to Coleman, who has also scored a pair on the ground. And when Coleman needs a breather, rookie Ito Smith has picked up the slack with four rushing touchdowns

It’s an offense that might not be as good as the one the Browns faced last week, but it’s damn close and seems to have found itself, averaging 32 points during its winning streak, recovering nicely after beginning the season 1-4.

Williams’ biggest problem, if he chooses to maintain his aggressive stance, is determining whom Ward, his best press corner, covers, leaving him vulnerable elsewhere in the secondary with the other talented receivers.

Few teams this season have stopped the Atlanta passing attack, ranked second in the NFL. About the only way to neutralize Ryan, who completes 71% of his passes, is with a strong pass rush. He has been sacked 22 times.

That aspect of the Cleveland defense has become troublesome lately. It seems as though only Myles Garrett is making life uncomfortable for opposing quarterbacks. The second-year man owns nine of the team’s 22 sacks. That’s not going to cut it against an improving Falcons offensive line, anchored by ex-Brown Alex Mack.

Where the Browns have a chance, much as they did last week against the Chiefs, at least on paper, is against a Falcons defense that surrenders 28 points a game and hemorrhages 413 yards on the average.

But that would mean the Browns’ offense, which showed signs of coming out of its funk against KC, would have to match the Falcons point for point, an exercise that worked only once this seasons against Oakland and that was in a losing cause.

It didn’t work against the Chiefs, whose defense is just as porous as Atlanta’s, because it is not an offense equipped to handle such a task.

The 30th-ranked Cleveland defense, meanwhile, has taken a sharp turn for the worse in the last four games, yielding 33½ points a game. It has plummeted to 29th in the NFL against the rush (142 yards a game), 27th against the pass and allowed seven of nine opponents this season to run up more than 400 yards of total offense.

The 23 takeaways sure look nice on the stats sheet, but are meaningless because of an offense incapable of taking advantage of them.

The Browns right now are in a severe nosedive that has landed them in a familiar spot in the AFC North. If you need further explanation, you haven’t been paying attention.

The road ahead is just as unpleasant looking as the last four weeks with three more AFC North games – two against Cincinnati – after the bye next Sunday. Of those six remaining games, only two are against teams with losing records, both on the road.

It is entirely possible, barring a where-did-that-come-from victory or two, the vastly improved Browns that began the season could wind up with just the two early-season victories, a gigantic letdown for the loyalists who honestly believed the turnaround was under way this season.

And because the Falcons began the season so poorly, do not expect a letdown Sunday against a lesser team. They can’t afford one. A few might consider it a trap game, but there is no way the Cleveland offense stays with Ryan & Co. Make it:

Falcons 35, Browns 13

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Mid-week thoughts

Thinking randomly today. On the docket: Austin Corbett, Bruce Arians, team speed and scraps.

When the Browns selected Austin Corbett at the top of the second round in the last college draft, a few eyebrows were raised. The first pick in the second round? For a player drafted beyond his evaluation by so-called draft experts. A reach?

But that’s how much the Browns regarded him. The 33rd best player in the lottery. What did we know?

When anyone is drafted that high, especially an offensive lineman, you expect that player to be good enough to win a starting position. The Browns’ scouting staff obviously thought so or else they wouldn’t have lobbied to take him.

Will Hernandez, a highly regarded guard out of West Virginia, was still on the board and yet, the Browns believed Corbett was the better choice. The New York Giants immediately pulled the trigger on Hernandez, who now holds down the left guard spot. Connor Williams was scooped up by Dallas later in the round and became a starter.

And where is Corbett? Good question. Maybe an APB will locate him. If that fails, send out a search party. The correct answer, of course, is chained to the bench after playing virtually every snap in the exhibition season.

It was assumed he played well enough next to Joel Bitonio, who shifted from guard to left tackle, to earn a spot in the starting lineup. Wrong assumption.

As the season/home opener approached, the coaching staff suddenly decided Corbett was not good enough to start, promoted rookie Desmond Harrison from nowhere to left tackle and bumped Bitonio back to left guard.

Corbett has fallen so low in the eyes of the coaching staff, he barely shows up on the snap count sheet in the first nine games. He didn’t show up at all in games one and four and did not log an offensive snap in two other games.

Overall, he has been on the field for 11 snaps on offense, mostly as a tight end, and 23 snaps on special teams. His high-water marks on offense were four snaps against New Orleans in game two and three vs. Baltimore in game five.

He is not injured – well maybe his ego is bruised a little – and patiently stands ready in the event someone along the offensive line goes down. But everyone has been disgustingly healthy, relatively speaking, this season.

No one has bothered to ask the brass why Corbett has become the forgotten man. It can only be guessed they don’t believe he is good enough to crack the starting lineup. But why? Is he too slow? Not strong enough? What?

Corbett was drafted so high ostensibly because the Browns thought the four-year starter at left tackle at Nevada would have no trouble assimilating to the NFL at that position, replacing the retired Joe Thomas. That has clearly not been the case.

It’s entirely possible they now think he translates better to the NFL as a guard or center, but those positions are filled now that Bitonio is back at his old stand. Thus the Harrison move.

Right now, Corbett has to be considered a draft whiff. A wasted rookie season. Granted it’s still early, but he is so far down the roster, he can hardly be seen on game day. He wears uniform #63 if you look closely.

Perhaps this pre-draft evaluation by Lance Zierlein, Draft Analyst for NFL.com, answers some questions and unlocks the part of the mystery.

“Corbett won’t blow you away with any of his measurables or play traits,” he wrote, “but he’s solid in most areas. (He) is definitely sharp enough to move inside to guard or even center and has good technique, but his average to below average play strength and lack of length may be a concern.”

The last two attributes might be the answer, but we won’t know for certain until either General Manager John Dorsey or members of his staff are questioned.
*       *       *
So Bruce Arians would love to coach the Browns. He as much as told the Canton Repository that when visiting Cleveland as part of the CBS-TV crew last Sunday for the Browns-Kansas City Chiefs game.

“Cleveland is the only job I would consider,” said Arians, who retired last season as head coach of the Arizona, where he had a nice five-year run with the Cardinals.

Earlier this season, he told ESPN that Cleveland has always been special to him, having served as offensive coordinator there for three seasons when Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb quarterbacked the Browns.

 “That was the job I always wanted,” he said. “I felt like Cleveland deserved a winner.  . . . Every time that job came open, I tried to get it.”

Which begs what-if questions. Like what if the Browns had picked Arians instead of, say, Rob Chudzinski in 2013? Or Pat Shurmur a couple of years before that? Or Eric Mangini two years before that? Where would the Browns be today? Certainly not where they are now. Some revisionist history ammo for that crowd.

It’s nice to know Arian thinks so highly of Cleveland and Browns fans, but hiring him as the next head coach is not going to happen and he knows it. He is 66 years old and has had some health problems the last few years. As much as Dorsey respects him, Arians will not wind up on the list of candidates. Makes a nice little story, though.
*       *       *
If there is one thing most fans learned by watching the Kansas City offense overwhelm the Cleveland defense Sunday, it was the striking skill and speed the Chiefs unleashed. The Browns looked slow,

The KC offensive line was quick, very strong at the point of attack and almost always in position to make a play for the extraordinary skill players who make this one of the most dangerous offenses in the National Football League.

It might be hackneyed to say, but speed kills in the NFL. The Cleveland defense had problems all afternoon trying to stay with the Chiefs, most of the time arriving too tardy to make a play. The Chiefs toyed with them.

Yes the tackling was sloppy at best, but that’s because Browns defenders did not take proper angles to make solid tackles. Why? Because the Chiefs beat them to the spot all day long. The result was arm tackles and flailing-at-air attempts at tackles.

Bottom line: If the Browns hope to compete with teams like the Chiefs in the future, Dorsey needs to place much more emphasis on team speed on both sides of the football. Being a step or two slow are not ingredients for success.
*       *       *
Scraps . . . Britton Colquitt has had two punts blocked this season and each could have been avoided with a simple block. Kevin Pierre-Louis of the New York Jets blocked the first when Nick Chubb totally missed a block on the right side of the punt formation. And Damien Williams of the Chiefs stuffed the second one Sunday after Derrick Kindred flat out whiffed. Same side. . . .  Question: Why hasn’t Amos Jones been fired? His awful coaching is as, if not much more, egregious than the departed Hue Jackson and Todd Haley. Promote assistant Sam Shade and hire Josh Cribbs as his assistant..  . . . Jarvis Landry is well on his way to maintaining his 1,000-yards-a-season average, He is on pace for 1,026 yards. The fifth-year wide receiver has been inconsistent, however, catching less than 55% of the passes thrown his way. And he has scored just two touchdowns. But to be fair, he has maintained his 10-yard average gain. . . . If the Browns are without Joe Schobert, Christian Kirksey, Denzel Ward and Damarious Randall against the invading Atlanta Falcons Sunday, take cover and then the over. (Updating: the Browns placed Kirksey and E.J. Gaines on injured reserve Wednesday.)