Thursday, November 29

NFL Picks: Week 13

Last Week
Andy: 8-8
Nick: 7-9

Year To Date
Andy: 24-21-1
Nick: 29-16-1

COWBOYS (-7) vs. Packers
Andy: Cowboys
Nick: Packers

VIKINGS (-3.5) vs Lions
Andy: Vikings
Nick: Vikings

RAMS (-3) vs Falcons
Andy: Rams
Nick: Rams

TITANS (-4) vs Texans
Andy: Texans (next time I take the Titans I'm calling them the titties)
Nick: Texans

DOLPHINS (-1) vs Jets
Andy: Dolphins
Nick: Jets

REDSKINS (-5.5) vs Bills
Andy: Redskins (would you EVER bet this? ever?)
Nick: Redskins

CHIEFS (+5.5) vs Chargers
Andy: Chargers
Nick: Chargers

COLTS (-6.5) vs Jaguars
Andy: Jagoffs
Nick: Colts

EAGLES (-3) vs Seahawks
Andy: Seahawks
Nick: Seahawks

PANTHERS (-3) vs 49ers
Andy: 49ers
Nick: 49ers

SAINTS (-3) vs Bucs
Andy: Saints
Nick: Bucs

CARDS (PK) vs Browns
Andy: Browns
Nick: Browns

RAIDERS (+3.5) Broncos
Andy: Broncos
Nick: Broncos

BEARS (+1.5) vs Giants
Andy: Bears
Nick: Giants

STEELERS (-7) vs Bengals
Andy: Bengals
Nick: Steelers

RAVENS (+20.5) vs Patriots
Andy: Ravens
Nick: Patriots

Heroes & Zeroes: Week 12

I hate to break it to you, but the Browns have gotten boring.

Another week, another win, making it five out of six for the team with no logo. No double-digit comebacks, no last second field goals, no overtime. The score was 27-17, but the game wasn’t that close, as the Browns took the lead late in the first half, built a comfortable lead in the second half, and then shut the door on the Texans with a steady diet of Jamal Lewis’ bruising runs.

Just another day at the office for a team that has vastly exceeded everyone’s expectations except for a few extremely inebriated Clevelanders. If the Browns can put together a few more “boring” games, they’ll find themselves somewhere they haven’t been for nearly five years: the playoffs.

This Week’s Heroes

Author’s Note: There aren’t enough Dog Bones to go around this week, and that’s a great problem to have…

Five Dog Bones: Brandon McDonald
Rookie Brandon McDonald (fourth round pick, Memphis) is one of only four (out of seven) members of last April’s draft class who remain on the active roster. At least we know that McDonald’s roster spot certainly wasn’t wasted.

An injury kept Eric Wright out of the lineup, and gave McDonald a chance to shine in the nickel package. McDonald responded, playing exceptionally well in coverage. The Texans were well aware that the Browns were giving a greenhorn significant time in the secondary, and made a concerted effort to keep Andre Johnson on McDonald’s side of the field. But McDonald rose to the occasion, helping the secondary limit the uber-talented Andre Johnson to just 37 yards on three catches.

McDonald’s biggest play of the day was clearly his fourth quarter interception of Matt Schaub, which set up the Browns’ final score of the day, a Jamal Lewis touchdown run that erased any doubt. If that wasn’t enough, McDonald also had a big day on special teams, making two tackles in kick coverage.

Although it was only one game, it’s difficult not to be impressed with McDonald. How McDonald has been stuck behind a stiff like Kenny Wright on the depth chart is beyond me. McDonald looks to have potential as a nickel back, and possibly a starter at some point down the road. Phil Savage’s maneuvering on draft day traded quantity for quality, and assuming that Brady Quinn’s progressing as rapidly as has been rumored, Savage appears to have added four quality pieces via the ‘07 draft.

Four Dog Bones: Kellen Winslow
During the last two seasons, Kellen Winslow has become the heart and soul of the Cleveland Browns. Do you remember when Winslow was ripped by the media for stating that “I hate to be brash, but I think my 90 percent [health] is still better than every tight end out there.” As far as being a receiver’s concerned, I’m inclined to agree with him.

Braylon Edwards can still be inconsistent, but Winslow has given the Browns the kind of reliability that Karl Malone used to deliver on the hardwood for the Utah Jazz. And unlike the Mailman, Winslow delivers almost exclusively on Sundays.

Only once this year has Winslow posted fewer than four catches, and Sunday marked his second game of 10-plus catches, and his third 100 yard game of the year. Winslow leads all tight ends in receptions (tied with Tony Gonzalez), receiving yards, and yards per catch, and ranks seventh in touchdowns. There aren’t many receivers in the league more adept at finding holes in coverage and elevating to make the tough catch.

No Browns player is more deserving of Pro Bowl recognition than Winslow. Well, maybe Joshua Cribbs.

Three Dog Bones: Jamal Lewis

"When it gets to be cold and it's November and December, it's my time of year. It's time to run the football." -Jamal Lewis

Jamal Lewis had his second consecutive strong performance, and has exceeded 20 carries in back-to-back games for the first time this season. Lewis appears to be finding a groove, and not a moment too soon, as Cleveland’s final four games are in cold weather cities (New York, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Cleveland).

With 29 carries for 134 yards, Lewis helped the Browns bulldoze the Texans. Lewis added a touchdown which pushed his season total to eight scores, already the third most touchdowns in his career. Lewis has an outside chance to tie or break his career-high of 14 touchdowns (2003), and is quietly compiling a very solid season.

In the past two games, Lewis has been running with a renewed vigor, and his foot injury seems healed. The remainder of the Browns’ schedule is composed of at least four teams that they should beat. With the exception of Cincinnati and possibly Arizona, there aren’t any teams that the Browns should ever trail by more than a possession, so we should see a very balanced attack from Rob Chudzinski’s offense.

These are teams that the Browns should lead in the second half, comfortably in most cases, so Lewis can expect a heavy workload in the games to come. I still think the Browns should be working Jason Wright into the game more, not only as a change of pace, but to ensure that Lewis is fresh down the stretch.

Two Dog Bones: Lawrence Vickers
Lawrence Vickers is now on the short list of my favorite Browns, a list that also includes Steve Heiden, Joe Thomas, and Kellen Winslow.

Although Jamal Lewis received most of the fanfare, Vickers was an integral part of Lewis’ success against the Texans. It was an absolute pleasure to watch Vickers lead block for Lewis, blowing up defenders to spring Lewis to the second and third level. Vickers’ progression as a blocker over the last year and a half has been amazing, and it’s safe to say that he was a steal for Phil Savage in the sixth round of the ‘06 draft.

True fullbacks are an endangered species in the NFL, with many teams switching to a more versatile H-back that’s closer to a tight end than a fullback. Teams want fullbacks that can catch the football and be put in motion before the snap, and they’re willing to sacrifice the power blocking of a traditional fullback for the speed of a hybrid.

The Browns used to have a traditional fullback in Terrelle Smith, and while Smith was a sound blocker, his hands were made of granite and he was often too slow to lead block on sweeps and other running plays to the outside. Vickers is an upgrade over a traditional fullback like Smith in almost every facet of the game; he’s faster, a competent receiver, a quality ball carrier, and can still lay the lumber on blocks.

Lone Bone: Todd Grantham
Grantham has taken some major heat from fans for the defense’s apparent regression this season, but his scheme got the job done this week. Houston’s best offensive weapon is Andre Johnson, and the Browns keyed on Johnson, deciding to force guys like Owen Daniels, Ron Dayne, and Kevin Walter to beat them.

While those three all played a solid game, it wasn’t enough without a meaningful contribution from Johnson, their resident superstar. The Browns allowed 314 yards of total offense to the Texans. And while that isn’t a great number, it’s almost 100 yards less than the 406 yards per game the Browns were yielding prior to the Houston game.

It’s only one week, and the defense is still the team’s obvious weakness, but maybe this is a harbinger of things to come. If Grantham’s defense can achieve an average level of performance, or even mediocrity, the Browns will cruise to a playoff birth and might be a tough out come January.

This Week’s Zeroes

Five Demerits: The Rooneys and Pittsburgh Brass
Coming off of a game during which the Browns had few figures ripe for ridicule, the Pittsburgh’s management came through in the clutch to get the nod.

Steelers’ management decided to re-sod Heinz Field after four WPIAL high school games were played on the ketchup field on Friday, AND the University of Pittsburgh squared off against South Florida on Saturday. Mind you, it wasn’t true replacement - the new turf was simply rolled out on top of the field - which might explain why Willie Parker looked about three inches taller this week.

The old field wasn’t removed or killed/ground up because it will only stay in place for the remainder of this season. After the season, the new turf will be removed and the original playing surface will be re-exposed and used in the future.

I had a good laugh about this concept when I heard about it prior to Monday night’s game, but the result was far worse than anyone could have imagined.

The Steelers/Dolphins game was like watching a pee wee league game where both teams are trying really hard, but you need to keep swigging down coffee to keep from falling asleep due to boredom. Thank God for the superimposed line of scrimmage and first down line provided by ESPN, because the field was marked about as well as Pittsburgh’s maze-like streets.

The sad state of Heinz Field left the two teams playing on what looked like a giant green and brown sponge, and the NFL couldn’t have been happy with the poor product that was put on display (in HD!).

Why bother with new turf so late in the year? Why hasn’t the Heinz Field grounds crew done a better job with their playing surface? Why don’t the Steelers install field turf? Why do Steelers fans think that yellow handkerchiefs look badass? I simply don’t have the answers.

But one thing is certain; Monday night’s game did little to alter the prevailing (and incorrect) national opinion of Pittsburgh as a dirty, grimy, steel mill city. Fact: there presently are no steel mills within the Pittsburgh city limits. Fact: Pittsburgh is no longer the smog-filled metropolis once described by author James Parton as “hell with the lid off”. Fact: Pittsburgh is still filled with toothless, beer-bellied, Steely McBeam loving morons. You can’t win ‘em all.

Four Demerits: Romeo Crennel
Romeo Crennel is such a nice guy that it’s impossible not to pull for him. Plus he looks kind of like a walrus, which is a cool animal…

But Sunday was yet another reminder to many Browns fans of why they had major (or maybe even lieutenant colonel) doubts about Crennel after the debacle that was last season. Once again, a time management blunder nearly cost the Browns points at the end of the first half.

With under a minute left, Derek Anderson completed a 12-yard pass to Jason Wright that took the Browns to the Houston 11-yard line. Anderson rushed the Browns up to the line to run another play when the best choice was clearly to use the Browns’ final timeout. The Browns called that timeout with 27 seconds remaining, after letting more than 20 seconds run off of the clock.

Those 20 seconds were valuable. At the 11-yard line, the Browns would have had time to attempt a run, or throw a pass short of the goal line if they had called the timeout immediately. The Browns were fortunate enough to find the end zone on the very next play, but they were lucky that Crennel’s time management mistake didn’t come back to haunt them.

The time management problems are a microcosm of Crennel’s in-game coaching problems. In addition, his teams never seem to adjust well (if at all) during halftime, and he consistently struggles with coach’s challenges. What’s frustrating about these deficiencies is that things like time management and coach’s challenges should be the easy part of the job. Nine year old kids playing Madden Football know how to use timeouts at the end of a half. Hell, Crennel could send me five bucks and his cell phone number and from my living room, I’d let him know what calls he should and should not challenge.

It’s frustrating and unfortunate, but I’m still wholly unconvinced that Crennel is the right man for the job. Are we merely witnessing the Peter Principle at work?

Three Demerits: Rob Chudzinski
Author’s Note: The Browns played well in virtually all facets of the game, so I’m starting to nitpick a little…

Is it just me, or did the first quarter of the game feel like Maurice Carthon was calling the shots on offense? There were several uncreative Jamal Lewis dive plays right into the line that gained next-to-nothing, but the bad mistake was on fourth and one from the Houston 39.

The Browns decided to go for it on fourth down, which seemed like a fairly logical choice, but the play they ran was questionable at best. Chud called Lawrence Vickers’ number - no surprise there, as Vickers has established himself as a competent short yardage back - but for some reason, the Browns ran to the right, not the left.

If the Browns need one yard and decide run the football, Chudzinski better run to the left 100 times out of 99. Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach are the strength of this offensive line, if not the team as a whole. Call me crazy, but if I’m running the football for one lousy yard, I’m doing it behind my premier guard and tackle.

I don’t expect Chud to make this mistake twice.

Two Demerits: Tennessee Titans
Three weeks ago the Titans were in the catbird seat (has anyone ever actually sat in said seat, is it comfortable, does it recline?) at 6-2, with a sleeper hold on a Wild Card birth and an outside should at an outright divisional crown in the AFC South. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

The Browns’ win over the Texans is even more significant because Houston plays in the same division as Tennessee, and the first Wild Card tiebreaker is winning percentage against common opponents. Plus, Tennessee lost to the Bengals, another common opponent, another boon to the Browns’ tiebreaker status.

The Titans have lost three straight, and their vaunted defense has allowed 32.3 points per game in those three contests. It’s not a coincidence that Albert Haynesworth has been injured and unable to suit up for the last three games.

Haynesworth might be able to play this week against Houston, but the damage might already be done. Question: in this battle between Houston, Jr. and Houston, Sr., will some hayseed down in Texas actually fire up the old “Houston Oilers, Number One” cassette while driving in his beat-to-shit Ford pickup, and which team will that indigenous ne’er-do-well actually be rooting for? Given the general weakness of Cleveland’s remaining schedule and Tennessee’s tough upcoming matchups against San Diego, at Kansas City, and at Indianapolis, the Titans’ playoff aspirations may be sinking faster than the MS Explorer.

One Demerit: Braylon Edwards
Edwards had four catches for 57 yards and a touchdown, but he dropped several Derek Anderson passes that hit him right in the hands. My Michigan-loving friend (it’s embarrassing, I know) who shall remain nameless has informed me that Edwards’ problems with easy catches dates back to his days with the Maize and Blue.

Edwards is so talented that it makes it all the more frustrating when he doesn’t haul in an easy catch. Frankly, these drops are keeping him from breaking through to that “elite” level at which we know he’s capable of playing. Some of Edwards’ drops are nothing short of mind-boggling, especially after watching one of his leaping, acrobatic catches that defy logic and gravity.

For the Browns’ sake, let’s hope that Derek Anderson isn’t very accurate this week as Edwards seems to have the most trouble catching anything that’s thrown between his belt loops and the top of his socks.

Author’s Note: At the suggestion of several readers, I’m going to start posting “net” standings in addition to “total” standings. Net standings are the sum of an individuals Dog Bones minus his Demerits.

Total Dog Bones
Offensive Line---23
Joshua Cribbs---17
Kellen Winslow---16
Derek Anderson---16
Braylon Edwards---13

Net Dog Bones
Offensive Line---21
Joshua Cribbs---17
Kellen Winslow---16
Braylon Edwards---9
Kamerion Wimbley---6

Total Demerits
Romeo Crennel---25
Defensive Line---16
Derek Anderson---11
Todd Grantham---10
Brian Billick---8 (t)
Andra Davis---8 (t)

Net Demerits

Romeo Crennel---17
Defensive Line---12
Todd Grantham---9
Brian Billick---8 (t)
Andra Davis---8 (t)

Playoff Picture

Although the Browns still trail the Steelers by a game (and essentially two games due to the head-to-head tiebreaker) in the AFC North, last week greatly strengthened the Browns’ shot at a Wild Card birth, and the Browns now control their own destiny. In other words, as long as the Browns keep winning, they’ll be playing football in January.

Around the conference, the Patriots clinched the AFC East, and Buffalo, Denver, and Kansas City all lost, putting all three teams’ Wild Card hopes in doubt. Denver and Kansas City still have a chance to win the lackluster AFC West. San Diego won to move a game ahead of Denver in the West, and Jacksonville, who leads Cleveland by a game in the Wild Card standings, won their third straight game.

This week’s games with AFC playoff implications include Jacksonville at Indianapolis, San Diego at Kansas City, the aforementioned Houston at Tennessee, Denver at Oakland, and Cincinnati at Pittsburgh.

Up Next: 12/2, At Arizona, University of Phoenix Stadium, 4:15
The 5-6 Cardinals should be a good challenge for the Browns, especially on the road. In week 5, the Cardinals lost quarterback Matt Leinart for the season. But no matter, Kurt Warner has stepped in and outplayed the underperforming Leinart, and Warner brings a solid 90.8 quarterback rating into Sunday’s game. Not bad for a guy who turned 36 last June.

Edgerrin James is having a decent season, but he’s averaging only 3.7 yards per carry, and the Cardinals average only 87.6 yards per game on the ground. James’ struggles, combined with the continued success of Joseph Addai, are making James look more like the beneficiary of Peyton Manning and the Colts’ offensive system than an elite running back.

The Cardinals boast a potent air attack, headlined by Larry Fitzgerald. The former Pitt Panther already has 1,000 yards receiving this season. Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin make a formidable duo, and both receivers have six touchdown catches. Tight end Leonard Pope can be sneaky in the red zone, he only has 17 catches, but four were for touchdowns.

Rookie head coach Ken Whisenhunt has received improved play from his defense, which ranks thirteenth in total yardage and yields 23.5 points per game on average. Although Arizona’s defense is improved, expect the Browns to score in the high 20s or low 30s in the desert.

Derek Anderson should be wary of cornerback Antrel Rolle. The third year DB intercepted Carson Palmer three times when the Cardinals met the Bengals in Cincinnati two weeks ago.

It could be tough on the road, but I don’t see the Cardinals slowing down the Browns’ offense. If the Browns can make some timely stops on defense, they’ll pull it out. I expect the Browns to win their sixth game out of seven, and keep the pressure on their playoff competition.

My Call: Browns 31, Cardinals 20

Wednesday, November 28

Jumping the gun

Plain Dealer Cavs writer Branson Wright went on record as saying that if the Cavs were to beat the Celtics last night, that they should give the MVP award to LeBron James, and reasserted the same after the Cavs' overtime victory last night.

Bran, I know that as a sportswriter you're in the hyperbole business, but maybe wait until the Cavs play the other 67 games left on the schedule?

Speaking of the Plain Dealer, the bizarre site redesign with the Cavs and Browns pages is absolutely horrible. The old design had problems with multiple links to stories, broken links, incorrect photo captions, and articles that didn't continue on to their next page, but at least the front pages were workable. This blog-style thing is atrocious.

Tuesday, November 27

Big win

The season is still young, but tonight marked a very big win for the Cavaliers.

The Cavs knocked off Boston 109-104 tonight at The Q to push their record to 9-6, extend their winning streak to four, pull into a virtual tie with Detroit, and hand the Celtics just their second loss of the season.

Fred McLeod kept commenting about how tonight's contest felt like a playoff game, and I'm inclined to agree with him. The crowd was into the game for what seemed like the first time all year, and it was mostly a half court game.

LeBron continued to build his case for MVP, with 38 points, 13 assists, and 4 boards. But the key was Drew Gooden, who added 24 points and 13 rebounds on a terrific 11 of 15 shooting.

Gooden is one of the streakiest shooters in the league, but every half dozen games or so, he gets dialed in. When this occurs, the Cavs have to recognize it and feed him until he cools off, and tonight the Cavs did just that. I've been a huge proponent of running the offense almost exclusively through James' slashing, with Gooden/Z pounding the paint when those three are on the floor, and it's amazing how much better the Cavs' shot selection becomes when Larry Hughes is "injured"...

Regardless, a huge win for the Cavs and a definite confidence-builder. I was worried that the Cavs might have problems handling the Celtics mentally after Boston beat up on them pretty badly in the preseason, but obviously those worried were dead wrong. Hopefully the Cavs remember this win if only to know that they can beat the Celtics, particularly if the two teams meet up in the playoffs.

Rumors of the Cavaliers' demise have been greatly exaggerated...

Sunday, November 25

Many Happy Returns...

First, Bernie Kosar, one of my favorite football players, former quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, Dallas Cowboys, and primarily, the Cleveland Browns. Kosar remains one of the most intelligent quarterbacks to ever strap on a helmet, and is one of the most charismatic and beloved figures in Cleveland sports history. Bernie is 44 today.

Second, today happens to be my birthday. For those of you keeping score at home, today's birthday makes me 21 years of age, which means I can drink beer now.

I wonder what being drunk feels like? I hope it's fun!

Saturday, November 24

NFL Picks: Week 12

Last Week
Andy: 7-8-1
Nick: 10-5-1

Year To Date
Andy: 16-13-1
Nick: 22-7-1

LIONS (+3) vs. Packers

Andy: Lions
Nick: Packers

COWBOYS (-14) vs. Jets
Andy: Cowboys
Nick: Cowboys

FALCONS (+12) vs. Colts
Andy: Colts
Nick: Colts

BEARS (-2) vs. Broncos
Andy: Broncos
Nick: Broncos

BENGALS (+1) vs. Titans
Andy: Titans
Nick: Bengals

JAGUARS (-7.5) vs. Bills
Andy: Bills
Nick: Bills

CHIEFS (-5) vs. Raiders
Andy: Chiefs (would anyone actually bet on this game?)
Nick: Chiefs

BROWNS (-3.5) vs. Texans
Andy: Browns
Nick: Browns

RAMS (+3) vs. Seahawks
Andy: Seahawks
Nick: Seahawks

GIANTS (-7.5) vs. Vikings
Andy: Giants
Nick: Giants

PANTHERS (+3) vs. Saints
Andy: Saints
Nick: Panthers

BUCCANEERS (-3) vs. Redskins
Andy: Bucs
Nick: Redskins

CARDINALS (-10) vs. 49ers
Andy: Cards
Nick: Cardinals

CHARGERS (-9) vs. Ravens
Andy: Chargers
Nick: Chargers

PATRIOTS (-22.5) vs. Eagles
Andy: Eagles (on principle, I have to take 22.5 points in an NFL game)
Nick: Patriots (I'll take them until they burn me)

STEELERS (-16) vs. Dolphins
Andy: Steelers
Nick: Steelers

Rules and regulations

The NFL's discpline gurus have handed out two fines from this past week Ravens-Browns game. Browns running back Jamal Lewis was fined $5000 for spiking a ball on the sideline after a long run; Ravens fat man Haloti Ngata was fined the same amount for punching Browns tackle Joe Thomas in the head.

This is ridiculous. I don't see how the NFL rule-makers can justify issuing the exact same fine for Ngata's sucker-punch and Lewis' spike. Here's a fun exercise for you to try:

- Get a football
- Go outside
- Run 25 yards and spike the football on the ground
- Smack someone in the head
- See which one gets you in more trouble

I'm exaggerating for fun, but I can't understand why the NFL puts such a premium on enforcing silly things like ball-spiking and end-zone dances and worries far less about the more dangerous, violent things that go on in games. The idea that the two offenses in this example carry the same fine should make it clear to the NFL how misplaced some of its priorities are, but I'm not counting on it.

Everyone's least favorite franchise

Time to pick on the Ravens!!!

Let's start with Raven linebacker and noted justice-obstructor Ray Lewis.

After regulation time had expired in this past Sunday's Browns-Ravens game, Lewis had returned to the locker room thinking his team had pocketed a 30-27 victory, as officials huddled to sort out what had transpired on the final play. Of course, as we know, Cleveland kicker Phil Dawson's 51-yard kick was eventually determined to be good, and thus overtime loomed.

Informed by a clubhouse attendant that he would have to return to the field, Lewis replied, "It’s over. We won.”

At the time, Ray-Ray was totally wrong on both counts; the game was not over, and his team had not won. Now, several days later, his statement has been bumped up to half right; the game is now over, but the Ravens still have not won, thanks to another Dawson kick on the first drive of overtime.

I like this story because of the front of denial Lewis initially puts up. Obviously the attendant knew something, and Lewis had to at least be sort of aware that the kick was in question. He is a team captain, no? Either Lewis was too stubborn or too foolish to accept the truth initially, like if he didn't acknowledge it, the situation would go away and the Ravens would be declared victors by inaction. The old head-in-the-sand trick. I like picturing the scene - if you're the ballboy, what do you say to this scary man once he disputes you? "Um...sorry, sir, but it's not over, and you haven't won?" I wonder how long it took Lewis to accept the truth.

Probably not as long as it's taking crybaby Ravens coach Brian Billick, one of the NFL's least likable people and one soon to be available for all your coaching needs. Let's review: the kick bounced off of a goalpost, hit the curved support, and bounced weirdly back into the end zone (Nick put up a video of the kick in an earlier post). It is clearly a good kick. Everybody on the Browns knows this, everybody on the Ravens knows this, everyone in the world who has seen it knows this. There is no dispute, even from Brian Billick. The kick is good and the correct ruling was made.

This should be all that matters, no? If I was a Browns fan and we lost via that kick, I would not be complaining, other than maybe muttering about bad luck a bit. The most important thing is getting the call right, which is one of the reasons why the Browns fans' bottle-throwing escapades from a few years back were so embarrassing.

Then there is the matter of the officials, who, it must be reminded, got the call correct. Not only that, but they also used correct procedure. The two judges did not initially agree on the kick, so the officials held a conference. The referee, Pete Morelli, called the replay booth only to verify that the kick could not be reviewed by instant replay. The officials then had a discussion on the field (Morelli's words) and correctly ruled the kick good.

So what would a sportsmanlike coach do in this situation? Acknowledging that the kick was good and that the refs acted properly, crediting the opponent with a victory, and beginning to prepare his team for the next game all seem like reasonable next steps.

What has Billick done? Given the Browns no credit, never once mentioned that the kick was good, filed a complaint with the league, and spent several days of the week whining. Brian Billick, you are the epitome of class. Watch this press conference after the game. What a dork.

There are some special touches that Billick adds that even a normal overcompetitive coach wouldn't think to do.

He makes a sarcastic remark about the situation, saying that, "I was remiss in covering what we do when we've won a game [editor's note: you never won the game, Brian], go into the locker room and are told to come back out again. That's not one scenario that I've covered. So, I don't know that I had them adequately prepared." Ha ha, Brian! You're so funny! Apparently you didn't have them adequately prepared to manage the clock properly and not allow the Browns 30 seconds with which to tie the game, either! Maybe next training camp you can set some time aside to work on that.

Billick also classily adds in a dig about "a couple of calls leading up to [the kick]" that he didn't like, implying some bad officiating during the contest. Check out the box score: the Browns were flagged 12 times for 104 yards during the contest, including one tremendously bad roughing the passer call. The Ravens were whistled twice for 15 yards. Take out the 15-yard unsportsmanlike call against Haloti Ngata for punching a prone Joe Thomas in the head (for which Ngata should have been ejected and will undoubtedly be fined), and the Ravens were penalized zero yards for the entire game. Damn those refs, right Brian? That's why you lost!

Maybe instead of sending the league a tape of the end of the game, you should send yourself a tape of all the times you stubbornly kicked to the Browns' Josh Cribbs and allowed the Browns to seize the field position that allowed them to tie and ultimately win the game, maybe splicing in some of your finer clock mismanagements. Review that and tell me what you think, BB.

Friday, November 23

Heroes & Zeroes: Week 11

How sweep it is! Lousy pun aside, the Browns have swept the revolting Ravens for the first time since 2001, when Uncle Butch was running the show and Ben “Analgesic Cream” Gay was in his heyday.

Honestly, did that actually happen? Did the Browns just steal a game with a goofy last-second play? Considering how often the opposite has occurred, it’s going to take time for this win to sink in. There hasn’t been a more dramatic finish in the NFL this season, and for once, fortune has smiled on the Cleveland Browns.

For a few minutes, I thought the Browns had lost. I thought that Dawson had missed his field goal and I turned the television off immediately, only to receive a phone call from my Uncle Jack about five minutes later informing me that the game was, in fact, still underway. I’m glad I took that call.

While watching sports on television, there is little that I enjoy more than seeing an opposing team, and especially their fans, completely vanquished and demoralized. But when it comes to fans of the Ravens and the Steelers, I don’t want to see mere disappointment; I want to see soul-crushing defeat etched on their faces, I want to see quiet weeping in the stands, and I want to hear the (non) sound of complete silence in their stadiums.

Sunday was a rare instance when the collective discouragement of Baltimore fans was palpable, and it was delicious. It doesn’t get any better than watching those idiots wearing that ridiculous shade of purple, quiet enough to hear a pin drop, and no longer waving their weird white phallus-shaped cheering devices. Savor the flavor.

This Week’s Heroes

Five Dog Bones: Joshua Cribbs
There isn’t much to write about Cribbs that hasn’t already been written, suffice to say that he’s one of the few players on this team who is truly irreplaceable.

Cribbs’ kick returning powers now border on supernatural levels. Wrap your head these return numbers; 32, 24, 35, 50, 24, 39, and 41 yards, good for an average of 35 yards.

One of the big reasons that Browns are scoring with such regularity is that thanks to Cribbs, they oftentimes don’t have to go very far.

Cribbs forced a fumble on punt coverage that set the offense up with a short field, but the Browns failed to capitalize on the turnover when Phil Dawson inexcusably missed a 35 yard field goal wide right.

As much as Derek Anderson and Phil Dawson deserve credit for tying the game and sending it to overtime, Cribbs needs to be recognized for returning the ball 39 yards to the Cleveland 43. Without that kick return, the Browns would not have had time to set up Dawson’s 51 yard field goal. It was a Herculean effort; Cribbs bulled his way for an extra ten yards, carrying three Ravens for the last five yards.

And on top of his responsibilities with the Browns, the Kent State alumnus has managed to star in FSN Ohio’s best (and only) reality show. Versatility, thy name is Cribbs.

Four Dog Bones: Defensive Line
Surprised? So am I.

I considered lauding the line after they performed admirably against the Steelers, but for good reason, I was still skeptical.

This week the defensive line proved that the Pittsburgh game was no mirage, as they applied fairly consistent pressure on Kyle Boller all day, although Boller played well in the second half.

It might be that newcomers Shaun and Robaire Smith are finally settling in, or it might be that the Browns now start a nose tackle (Ethan Kelley) who can actually generate some leg drive (i.e. someone not named Ted Washington), but either way, the defensive line has shown signs of life the past two games. What’s more, the last two contests have pitted the Cleveland D-Line against the much-ballyhooed offensive line of the Steelers, and a Ravens group that aren’t slouches, either.

Only time will tell whether or not the line can continue their improved play, but one thing is certain: if the defensive line can reach even a level of mediocrity, it will be a serious boon to the porous Browns defense.

Three Dog Bones: Jamal Lewis
It’s obvious that Lewis circled this game on his calendar. J-Lew ran with a passionate fury, as if to chastise Baltimore management for shoving him out the door last winter.
Lewis looked revitalized against his old mates; it’s too bad the Browns don’t have six more games against the Ravens…

Baltimore hasn’t allowed a back to crack the 100 yard mark this season, but Lewis came quite close, accumulating 92 yards on the ground and 30 yards receiving, in addition to a rushing touchdown. After the game, Ray Lewis had to steal a car and rob a liquor store just to take his mind off of the embarrassment.

Jason Wright also had success in limited action (4 carries, 19 yards), which suggests that the offensive line was opening holes for Jamal Lewis, but I’ll stow the “don’t re-sign Jamal” spiel for at least one week. Lewis played inspired football on Sunday, and he earned each and every yard he gained against a Baltimore defense which allows less than 80 yards per game on the ground.

Two Dog Bones: Derek Anderson
Derek “Neo” Anderson has struggled during the last two games, but considering the level of quarterback play we’ve become accustomed to over the last few seasons, Anderson’s “struggles” aren’t actually that bad. Numbers like 397 yards passing, three passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown, one interception, and ratings of 83.4 and 73.8, respectively, look pretty good when compared to the likes of Charlie Frye, Trent Dilfer, and Jeff Garcia.

The Ravens obviously got a good look at the tape from the Steelers game, because they tried to force Anderson to throw underneath for a good part of the game. Anderson showed his mettle on the final drive of regulation, when he moved the Browns 24 yards in only 23 seconds (without using a timeout) before the Browns called their final timeout to set up Dawson’s 51 yard field goal attempt.

Keep in mind that although DA has had a rough time in the last two contests, he’s been up against two of the best defenses in the league (Baltimore is sixth, Pittsburgh is first). In spite of facing two qualities defenses, Anderson has turned the ball over only once. Clearly, Anderson is going to have to prove that he can throw accurately on short slants and dump offs, or the opposition will continue their attempts to confound him with six, seven, and eight man zone coverage.

One Dog Bone: Mike Adams
Joshua Cribbs receives most of the media attention when it comes to special teams, and for good reason. But the Browns play well on special teams as a whole, and consistent contributors like Mike Adams often fly under the radar.

During Sunday’s game, Adams recovered a first quarter fumble on a punt return (forced by none other than Joshua Cribbs), and also recorded a sack on a safety blitz.

After going undrafted in the 2004 Draft, Adams played three seasons in San Francisco before being released by the 49ers last winter. The Browns signed Adams in April to provide some depth in the secondary, and Adams has given the Browns a decent third safety while quietly playing well on special teams. With Mason “The Skunk” Unck sidelined for the entire season, it’s good to see a guy like Adams step up to complement J-Cribbs on punt and kickoff coverage.

This Week’s Zeroes

Five Demerits: NFL Officials
Where is Ed Hochuli and his guns when you need him?

As I mentioned last week, I’m not a fan of whining about the officials. The referees have a difficult job, and they inevitably make one or two bad calls in every game. That said, Pete Morelli and friends had an extraordinarily bad game last week.

Those refs were blowing calls left, right, and center. It started early, when Haloti Ngata clearly punched Joe Thomas in the helmet. Last time I checked, that was an automatic ejection, not unnecessary roughness. Had Ngata been ejected, it would have been a huge blow to the Baltimore defense, and overtime might not have been necessary.

But the mistakes weren’t limited to the Ngata call, there were numerous officiating gaffes which usually hurt the Browns. Kamerion Wimbley appeared to be a victim of holding every single time he rushed Kyle Boller, there was a missed horse collar tackle on Cribbs, Lawrence Vickers was marked short on a third down when his forward progress had clearly earned a first down, Sean Jones was preposterously whistled for roughing the passer, and an obvious facemask call on Jamal Lewis in overtime was completely ignored.

True, the officials deserve some credit for finally making the right call on Dawson’s game-tying fourth quarter field goal, but they should have had that call right from the start. Overall, this was a very poorly officiated game, and the Browns almost lost as a result.

Four Demerits: Brian Billick
“I wouldn’t begin to try to explain what happened at the end of the game. I’ll leave that to those that think they know better. So you can save your questions with regards to it, because I have no clue what just happened in terms of the ruling and why they did what they did. I’m sure they’ll explain it and I’ll get the appropriate memo later in the week.”
-Brian Billick

Only from Billick’s twisted perspective could the correct call be perceived as the wrong one.

Billick seems determined to become the NFL equivalent of Ozzie Guillen. After he spurned the 1999 expansion Browns and landed with Baltimore, Billick became a convenient villain for Cleveland fans. But it’s been Billick’s sardonic attitude, rock star (self) image, and propensity to pass the blame that have cemented his position as one of the Forest City’s most hated sports figures.

Did I mention that he’s an offensive genius?

Brian Billick is a pompous ass, and given his team’s nose dive from 14-2 to a six or seven win club, he might find himself looking for work this spring.

Three Demerits: Romeo Crennel
For reasons unknown, Crennel’s staffs have never adjusted particularly well during the game. The Browns left a boatload of points on the field in the first half, and while the Ravens made the appropriate offensive adjustments at halftime, the Browns blew a sizeable lead. After being held scoreless in the first half, the Ratbirds offense put up 23 points in the second half. Baltimore’s offense shouldn’t score 23 points in an entire game, let alone a single half.

Frankly, the Browns stole a game in which they completely outplayed the Ravens, but still should have lost. The team can’t seem to put together 60 minutes of quality football under Crennel, and that’s an awfully disturbing reality.

I want nothing more than for Romeo to prove me wrong. Crennel’s an easy guy to root for; he paid his dues and then some as a coordinator, he’s one of the nicest guys in the NFL, and he’s the embodiment of class. Unfortunately, wins, not character, are the bottom line the NFL.

I was far from sold on Crennel heading into the season, and ten games later nothing has changed much.

Two Demerits: Offensive Line
The Ravens only logged one sack, but penalties have become a problem for the offensive line. On a second quarter drive that led to a 39 yard Dawson field goal, the line was penalized five times (four false starts, one holding) in addition to penalties on Jamal Lewis and Kellen Winslow. Those penalty yards kept the Browns out of the end zone, and kept points off of the board.

After two weeks in hostile territory, a return to the friendly confines of Cleveland Browns Stadium should reduce or completely eliminate those false starts. The Browns aren’t good enough to overcome significant penalty yardage, and although Sunday’s game was not well-officiated, the penalties on the offensive line were legitimate and must be minimized.

One Demerit: Braylon Edwards
Edwards finished with eight catches for 85 yards and a lost fumble. Minus the fumble, that’s not a bad day, but Edwards has averaged a very pedestrian 56 yards per game the last three weeks, with only one touchdown catch. Where is the dominant, unstoppable Braylon Edwards of the first seven games?

It’s probably nothing to worry about, and Edwards will more than likely return to form this week against the Texans. However, it’s a bit irksome that Edwards didn’t step up and deliver big time performances during what was arguably the most important three game stretch of the year for the Browns.

As Joshua Cribbs is fond of saying, “Big playmakers make big plays in big games.” If the Browns are to break through and qualify for the postseason, they’ll need Edwards to be the playmaker he was earlier this year.


Dog Bones

Offensive Line---26
Joshua Cribbs---17
Derek Anderson---16
Braylon Edwards---13
Kellen Winslow---12


Romeo Crennel---21
Defensive Line---16
Derek Anderson---13
Todd Grantham---10
Andra Davis---8

Playoff Picture
Last week seriously bolstered the Browns’ playoff aspirations. Obviously, the Browns won and the Ravens lost. But in addition, Buffalo, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, San Diego, and Tennessee were all defeated.

Winning the division still looks like a long shot, but Pittsburgh’s upset at the hands of the lowly Jets gives the Browns a glimmer of hope. The Browns still must pick up two full games on the Steelers to be the top dog in the AFC North, but with six games remaining, that’s not an impossible task.

Still, the Browns’ best chance of getting into the bracket remains the Wild Card, where they are now tied with Tennessee at 6-4. The first Wild Card tiebreaker is winning percentage against common opponents, which makes the Browns’ upcoming game against Houston even more significant, as Houston and Tennessee are both in the AFC South.

Up Next: 11/25, Houston, Cleveland Browns Stadium, 1:00
Houston is a pretty good team this year, and they arrive in Cleveland with a 5-5 mark. Obviously, this game has serious playoff implications, with the Texans only one game behind the Ohioans in the Wild Card hunt.

Matt Schaub has breathed life into the Houston air attack, and his Texans pass for over 250 yards per game. Andre Johnson played last week for the first time since week two, posting 120 yards receiving and a touchdown. Johnson has averaged over 127 yards in his three games this season, while scoring four touchdowns, and the Miami product is an elite receiver when healthy.

The running game has been spotty. The Texans gave Ahman Green a ton of money to be their featured back, but apparently they didn’t get the memo that Green is more washed up than Britney Spears. Green has nursed a knee injury for the majority of the season, and it’s unclear whether or not he’ll play on Sunday. Ron Dayne will probably get the bulk of the carries for Houston

On defense, the Texans are yielding more than 23 points per game, and are ranked 18th overall. Linemen Mario Williams and Amobi Okoye have five sacks apiece.

Once again, the Browns will probably be involved in a close game, but home field advantage should give them the edge. The Browns will win the game, if only because the Texans are the worst-named team in the NFL.

My Call: Browns 34, Texans 27

Tuesday, November 20

Phil The Thrill

Monday, November 19

Tough luck

The hard-to-take football losses by the Browns and Buckeyes last weekend (since avenged) provide me with a convenient backdrop to look into the numbers and analyze just how disappointing Cleveland sports have been in my lifetime. So much has been written about Cleveland's run of bad professional sports over the last 20 years, especially their legendarily epic defeats in big games, that I don't think I need to go too in-depth to impress them upon you. If you’re actually reading this website, you’re well aware of these events. The city’s struggles actually extend back twice that far, as we’re reminded by television networks every single time one of our clubs makes the postseason, but this article concerns my lifetime as a sports fan, so we'll use 20. Here's what we've got since 1986, just to recap:

Browns: Have never even played in a Super Bowl, losing 3 AFC Championship Games
Cavs: Claimed their first Eastern Conference title in 2006-07, losing in the Finals; also made the Conference Finals in 1992
Indians: Lost World Series in 1995 and 1997, making it to the 1998 and 2007 ALCS as well.

Overall, that’s pretty bad - you could make a strong case that Cleveland has had it rougher than any city in the US when it comes to pro sports history, which is exactly the conclusion ESPN reached a few years ago. Factor in the painful nature of many of their postseason near-misses (which I do not care to rehash), and it's been pretty bad for C-Town.

But has it, really?

Let's consider the three teams’ results from the standpoint of probabilities and expected values. I've been watching sports for roughly 20 years now, so let's say I've cheered for the Browns, Indians, and Cavs 20 years apiece. Yes, I know there was no Browns team for a few years; so let’s make it 21, 21, and 18 seasons, dating back to 1986. That makes a total of 60 seasons.

Each league (NBA, MLB, NFL) has typically had approximately 30 teams over this time period; sometimes more, sometimes less, but this is a good approximation and a convenient number given my 60-season career. In a first analysis, let's assume that every team in each sport has had an equal probability of winning the championship each year: 1/30. Likewise, each team has a 1/15 chance of simply appearing in the sport's championship game/round, and somewhere around 1/5 of claiming a division title each year (except for those absurd eight-team Centrals the Cavs used to compete in).

So, given 60 seasons over the last 20 years, my entire career as a fan, assuming 1/30 title odds, 1/15 finals appearance odds, and 1/5 division odds, Cleveland fans like myself should have expected to celebrate two championships among their clubs' four Finals/World Series/Super Bowl appearances, picking up twelve division titles along the way. To hear people decry Cleveland sports history, you’d think we were a lot farther away from these expected outcomes than we actually are. In the interest of accuracy, I went through and corrected my approximations with the actual number of teams in the Cavs’, Browns’, and Indians’ divisions, conferences, and leagues over the years. Still giving every team an equal shot to win (even the ’99 Browns), here’s what we have:

Expected Division championships: 11.1
Actual: 10

Expected Conference championships: 4.2
Actual: 3

Expected Championships: 2.1
Actual: Um...0

You know, suddenly things don’t seem so bad, despite that final value. Honestly, we’re really not too far off the expected values here. It’s true that the Indians are propping up the other two clubs – they’re responsible for seven of the division wins and two of the championship appearances. The Cavs have not managed to win the Central since before I even existed, and the Browns last claimed a division some 18 years ago, so the football and basketball sides of things haven’t been too great. Still, as a city, it’s not such an awful history – all it would take is for one club to win their division on the way to a championship and we’d be very, very close to our expected outcome at all levels.

The one thing that I think this analysis makes clear is just how difficult it is to win a major sports championship – we’ve not had one in my time, but on average we should only have expected two.

I think there are three factors that make the Cleveland sports experience seem more miserable than it is. One is, obviously, the big donut in the overall championship category. The psychological difference between even ONE title and our current zero weighs heavily on our minds. I know we all appreciate the late-80’s Browns, the great Tribe clubs of the ‘90’s, and the playoff runs the Indians and Cavs posted in 2007, but that zero just won’t budge. A second factor is the devastating nature of some of Cleveland's legendary playoff flops. Here, the numbers don’t provide proper insight – most of the later-round exits taken by the teams (other than the 2007 NBA Finals) have been rather painful and those memories tend to stick. The third is that it is the Browns who have been the biggest laggards, especially in more recent years. There’s no question that football rules Ohio, and Cleveland is always a Browns Town. You wouldn’t even have heard of the Cavs if the Browns had notched a couple of Super Bowls – the success of the Brown and Orange means far more to Cleveland fans as a sporting body than do the other clubs.

I’m not going to do it right now, but it would be interesting to perform similar analyses for other major cities and see who the numbers favor. There have to be some other below-average cities, numberwise, especially with the one-sport spurs gobbling up NBA Finals appearances and victories and with Boston claming championships left and right. If even poor Cleveland isn’t far off the pace in terms of division, conference, and league wins, then which sad-sack cities are sitting far below their expected wins?

Again, the good news is that we’re just one magical run away from respectability when you evaluate the history of the past 20 years from a probability standpoint – consider how the Tribe squeaking by the red socks in this year’s ALCS and breezing past the Rockies would have impacted the table presented earlier. Let’s hope our teams can raise a few more banners sooner rather than later and get ourselves back to equilibrium.

Welcome to Forest City Fanatics!

Hello everyone!

Andy and Nick would like to welcome visitors to our new blog, which will be focused on Cleveland and Ohio State sports. Some of you have probably arrived here from the Francis Blog and others from The Cleveland Fan, but no matter how you found us, we're glad to have readers and hope you enjoy the site.

For now, we'll be adding Nick's commentaries from The Cleveland Fan, making NFL picks each week, and devloping new features while we work on the site design.

Go Browns!
Go Tribe!
Go CaVs!
Go Bucks!

Sunday, November 18

NFL Picks: Week 11

Last Week
Andy: 9-5
Nick: 12-2

RAVENS (+2.5) vs. Browns
Andy: Browns
Nick: Browns
Why do we even bother? We're both going to pick the Browns every week!

JAGUARS (-3) vs. Chargers
Andy: Jaguars
Nick: Chargers

COLTS (-14.5) vs. Chiefs
Andy: Colts
Nick: Colts

VIKINGS (-5.5) vs. Raiders
Andy: Raiders
Nick: Vikings

JETS (+9.5) vs. Steelers
Andy: Steelers
Nick: Steelers

FALCONS (+3) vs. Buccaneers
Andy: Bucs
Nick: Bucs

BENGALS (-3) vs. Cardinals
Andy: Cardinals
Nick: Cardinals

EAGLES (-10) vs. Dolphins
Andy: Dolphins
Nick: Eagles

BILLS (+16) vs. Patriots
Andy: Patriots
Nick: Patriots

COWBOYS (-11) vs. Redskins
Andy: Cowboys
Nick: Redskins

TEXANS (-1) vs. Saints
Andy: Saints
Nick: Saints

PACKERS (-9.5) vs. Panthers
Andy: Packers
Nick: Packers

LIONS (+2.5) vs. Giants
Andy: Lions
Nick: Giants

49ERS (+3) vs. Rams
Andy: 49ers
Nick: Rams

SEAHAWKS (-5.5) vs. Bears
Andy: Seahawks
Nick: Seahawks

BRONCOS (-2) vs. Titans
Andy: Titans
Nick: Titans

Saturday, November 17

Big Ten Champions!

Three straight Big Ten titles.
Two outright championships in a row.
Four consecutive wins over Michigan.
Six wins in seven tries agaist the school up north.

And now, almost certainly, a trip to Pasadena.
This never gets old. Congratulations to the Buckeyes.

For Obvious Reasons


Friday, November 16

Heroes & Zeroes: Week 10

The Browns lost to a better team on Sunday. The Browns were robbed by the refs. The Browns’ playoff hopes could endure a loss. However you rationalize it, it’s still the Steelers, and anytime the Browns snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, it still hurts.

On paper, this game shouldn’t have been close. The Steelers out-gained the Browns 401 to 163. But two Joshua Cribbs kickoff returns and an interception allowed the Browns to carry the lead deep into the fourth quarter, and there’s no way around the fact that they squandered a golden opportunity to defeat the Steelers for the first time in nine tries.

This Week’s Zeroes

Five Demerits: Romeo Crennel
Sunday’s game was a reminder why many still don’t think that Romeo Crennel is the right man for the job.

With 3:13 left in the game, Ben Roethlisberger found Heath Miller for a 2-yard go ahead touchdown. While considering whether or not to challenge the play, the Browns called timeout. According to Crennel, a player on the field was worried that the Steelers would snap the ball for their extra point attempt before Crennel could challenge, and that unnamed player called timeout.

Crennel then challenged the catch, which was upheld, and the Browns forfeited their second timeout. If the Browns had simply challenged initially, they would have only lost one timeout, and they might have been able to get close enough for Phil Dawson to tie the game.

The problem here is that Crennel, his staff, and his team once again were out of sync with their clock management in a pressure situation. The player who called the timeout should have known better, and Crennel deserves some of the blame for the miscue.

Furthermore, the Browns went into an offensive and defensive shell in the second half. Honestly, didn’t the second half defensive strategy of Crennel and Grantham feel eerily similar to the prevent scheme that Butch Davis and Foge Fazio instituted when the Browns fell to the Steelers in the 2003 playoffs?

Instead of staying aggressive on both sides of the ball to put the Steelers away, the Browns fell into the cliché trap of “playing not to lose.” Against a talented team like the Steelers, that’s the wrong strategy.

Four Demerits: Derek Anderson
Anderson was solid in the first half, posting three touchdowns against zero turnovers. Although the Browns were given a short field twice (90 yard Josh Cribbs kickoff return, Brodney Pool interception), Anderson still deserves credit for leading the offense to paydirt.

It was clear that the Steelers hoped to neutralize that Browns’ vertical passing attack, especially deep routes to Braylon Edwards, and to a lesser extent, Kellen Winslow. Anderson responded and took what the defense gave him, attacking the Steelers with short, quick passes. DA finished the first half an efficient 10 for 16, passing for 80 yards.

The second half was a different story. Derek Anderson jogged into the locker room at halftime, and when he returned, he was the flustered quarterback of the preseason.

The contrast was incredible, as Anderson lost all semblance of touch passing, became gun shy, and began to bird-dog the dump off receiver. Before the final drive of the game, the Browns had not earned a single first down in the second half, as each drive ended with a punt or turnover.

For once, the offense hung the defense out to dry, as the offense’ inability to sustain a drive of any significance kept the defense on the field nearly the entire second half. In fact, in the second half, the Browns had possession for less than seven minutes.

The difference was palpable. In the first half, the defense was sufficiently rested, and stood up three times in the red zone to hold the Steelers to field goals. But forced to play nearly 80 percent of the second half, the defense caved, allowing 22 points.

This is hardly an indictment of Anderson, as Sunday was only his 11th NFL start and it came against a defense that is ranked number one in every major statistical category. Just as it was imprudent to deify Anderson in weeks prior, it would be foolish to let his struggles in Pittsburgh overshadow what remains a very impressive campaign.

The only thing that last week’s loss confirmed was that Derek Anderson is mortal, and like every other quarterback in the NFL, subject to an off day. Given how impressive Anderson’s overall performance has been thus far this year, he’s certainly earned a mulligan or two.

Three Demerits: Jamal Lewis
Going into the Pittsburgh game, many were talking up Lewis’ experience as a major positive for the Browns. Some touted the fact that Lewis has “run in big games” and knew how to run against the Pittsburgh defense. Apparently, Jamal is still learning.

Lewis fumbled twice (one lost) while carrying 16 times for 35 yards (2.2 YPC), and adding three catches for a paltry eight yards. Lewis didn’t have much running room, so the low YPC average was excusable, but the fumbles were not.

Having played against the Steelers numerous times, Lewis shouldn’t have been surprised that Pittsburgh’s top priority was, and remains stripping the football from running backs. The Steelers punch, pull, and pry at the pigskin whenever the opportunity presents itself, but Lewis didn’t secure the ball accordingly. Lewis’ third quarter fumble jump started the Pittsburgh comeback.

Honestly, with the exception of goal line scenarios, the Browns are not worse off with Jason Wright in the ballgame. Wright has progressed as a blocker, and remains an excellent receiving back, one of Lewis’ weaknesses.

Lewis looked tired against Pittsburgh, which leads me to believe that a two back system might benefit the offense. Unless a team possesses a rare, premier talent at running back like San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson, I’m a huge proponent of the two back system. Both running backs are well-rested, and the defense is continually shown a different look.

It’s time for the Browns to consider instituting a “thunder and lightning” platoon, taking advantage of both Lewis’ power, and Wright’s speed and quickness. With Lewis nursing a bum foot and looking fatigued, giving Wright double digit touches every game might be just what the doctor ordered.

Two Demerits: NFL Officials
Usually, I’m completely against blaming officials for losses in any capacity. I’m breaking my rule for one week.

The Browns were hosed twice in the game’s final minutes, both on Crennel’s challenge of Heath Miller’s touchdown catch, and the phantom holding call on Darnell Dinkins.

The recently amended NFL rules might state that Miller’s catch was legal, but the rules committee may have out-thought themselves on this decision. If the receiver catches the football in the air, hit’s the ground without getting two feet down, and ground helps the receiver gain possession of the football (i.e. the ball was clearly on the turf), it shouldn’t be a catch. Until the day I die, that was not a catch.

As for the holding penalty, it was difficult to get a good look at a replay. That said, the “penalty” took place away from the play, didn’t have any effect on the play, and wasn’t blatant enough to be obvious in real time. With the game hanging in the balance, a few yards were the difference between Phil Dawson sending the game into overtime and the Browns losing to the Steelers for the ninth straight time. With all that in mind, it would have been an excellent no-call.

Instead, the Browns lost about 20 yards that they desperately needed for Dawson’s field goal, and a few more valuable seconds. That penalty ultimately cost them a chance to beat the Steelers in overtime. It’s always unfortunate when the officials dictate the outcome of the game, and Sunday was no different.

One Demerit: Willie McGinest
Willie McGinest is simply too slow to start in the NFL at this point. McGinest was burned on a play where he missed a tackle on Willie Parker, the pursued Parker, and appeared to running in quicksand.

On one of the game’s most crucial plays in the fourth quarter, McGinest wasn’t quick enough to stop Ben Roethlisberger from scrambling for 10 yards to convert a third-and-nine in the Cleveland red zone. Roethlisberger would throw the controversial touchdown pass to Heath Miller two plays later.

Don’t the Browns have anyone more worthy of playing time? Do I dare ask for Chaun Thompson?

McGinest deserves credit for taking responsibility for his poor performance this week, calling it “[his] worst game as a Cleveland Brown.” Considering that McGinest has delivered sub-par games by the boatload since his arrival in C-Town, that’s a bold statement.

I like Willie McGinest; he is one of the all-time great linebackers, the consummate professional, and a high-character guy. The world needs more Willie McGinests. Unfortunately, the Browns need fewer Willie McGinests. Barring some miraculous turnaround down the stretch, McGinest, who is due approximately $4 million next year, should be jettisoned in the off season.

This Week’s Heroes

Five Dog Bones: Joshua Cribbs
Joshua Cribbs gives the Browns a tremendous advantage on kickoff returns. A solid 6-1, 215 pounds with sprinter’s speed, Cribbs is a lock to reach the 30 yard line, and is a serious threat to take it to the house every time he returns a kick.

Cribbs’ returning skills were on full display against the Steelers, as he had kick returns of 90 and 100 yards, the latter for a touchdown. Quite frankly, Cribbs came pretty darn close to beating the Steelers on his own.

Cribbs is now has two touchdown returns and is averaging an intimidating 32.4 yards per return; both stats place him second in the league among kick returners (with 10 or more returns). Let’s face it, the upside of the Browns allowing 30-plus points on a weekly basis is that opposing teams have to kick to Cribbs each time they score.

While his kick returning prowess is obvious, Cribbs makes other special teams contributions that often go unnoticed. Cribbs is an excellent gunner, and he’s always in the mix on kickoff coverage, having recorded seven solo tackles (eight total) on special teams. It doesn’t end there.

Dennis Northcutt’s departure, though welcomed by most, left the Browns with a major hole in the punt return game. The Browns didn’t go out and sign anyone to replace Northcutt, but elected to let Cribbs and seventh round pick Syndric Steptoe battle for the job in camp. By the end of the preseason, Cribbs had won the job, allowing the Browns to save a roster spot by letting Cribbs fill the roles of both punt and kick returner.

Cribbs hasn’t blown the doors off on punt returns, but he’s developed into an average returner. Considering how Cribbs struggled mightily with punt returns late last season, it’s obvious that he worked hard to improve and his progress is admirable. Cribbs’ north-and-south running style still isn’t ideal for punt returns, but Cribbs’ development into a competent punt returner is has helped the Browns at a position that could have caused them considerable grief this season.

Four Dog Bones: Offensive Line
During the first game against the Steelers, the Browns allowed six sacks. On Sunday, the Browns yielded no sacks to their rust belt rivals.

Of course, it isn’t quite that simple. Some of the sacks the Browns gave up in September were due to poor quarterback play, and part of the reason the Browns blanked the Steelers in the sack department this time around was that Anderson was predominantly taking three step drops. Even so, six sacks is a huge disparity, and it speaks to the progress the line has made.

Derek Anderson isn’t a quarterback who handles pressure well, but his pass protection has been stellar so far this year. The line still has a long way to go with their run blocking, but that should improve as they develop more chemistry.

The Browns face the Ravens this weekend, so the line will once again be tested by a blitz-happy defense. Ray Lewis or not, at this point there isn’t a defense out there that can get to Anderson at will, and given the atrocious line play we’ve seen for nearly a decade, that’s cause for celebration.

Three Dog Bones: Eric Wright
Wright was something of a goat the first few games, as he was welcomed to the NFL with trial by fire. But Wright has quietly matured into a very promising young defensive back, and if the Browns can develop anything even remotely akin to a pass rush, the league will quickly learn that this kid is for real.

When Phil Savage pulled the trigger on a trade to draft Wright, it was a controversial decision due to Wright’s collegiate problems with the law. Savage reassured fans that Wright was simply guilty of one youthful indiscretion, and that his character wouldn’t be an issue. Low and behold, we haven’t heard so much of a whisper of malfeasance from Eazy-E. Pacman Jones, this guy is not.

The future is bright for the Browns secondary, which is loaded with three day one draft picks. In particular, the tandem of Wright and Bodden at cornerback should give offensive coordinators fits for years to come.

Two Dog Bones: Lawrence Vickers
Vickers is the best fullback the Browns have had since their resurrection. In addition to being a sound and powerful blocker, Vickers is faster than most traditional fullbacks and is a capable receiver. Vickers also has a habit of scoring against the Steelers, against whom he’s scored the only two touchdowns in his career.

Vickers deserves around five touches per game on offense, as he’s a strong runner who’s uncharacteristically fast for a 250 pound fullback (he looks faster than his NFL Combine 40 time of 4.75). I really like Vickers’ versatility, and he may have potential as a goal line back in the future, a la Mike Alstott.

One Dog Bone: Rob Chudzinksi
Chudzinksi once again showcased why he’s building a reputation as a top-notch play caller. Two of Derek Anderson’s three touchdown passes were the result of play fakes where the Steelers took the bait.

Chud’s inventiveness near the goal line is a breath of fresh air, especially considering that the offensive line still has a ways to go as a run blocking unit. Chudzinski is one of the three core coaches under contract through 2009 (Crennel and Grantham are the other two), so unless another team tries to pry Chud away from the Browns for a head coaching position, expect him to keep playing the Browns offense like a piano in the foreseeable future.


Dog Bones
Offensive Line---26
Derek Anderson---14
Braylon Edwards---13
Joshua Cribbs---12(t)
Kellen Winslow---12(t)

Romeo Crennel---18
Defensive Line---16
Derek Anderson---13
Todd Grantham---10
Andra Davis---8

Playoff Picture
The Browns are now 5-4 and two games back of the Steelers. Their chances to win the division were definitely dealt a big blow with this loss, because not only do the Steelers lead the Browns by two full games in the standings, they also hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. In order to win the division, the Browns will have to make up three games on the Steelers in the only seven weeks, which is extremely unlikely.

If the Browns make the playoffs, it will be via the Wild Card. Presently, the Browns are trailing both the Jaguars and the Titans, who are both 6-3. The Browns are tied with the 5-4 Bills, which could make the Browns/Bills showdown in week 15 a huge match up.

The Browns are now into the weaker portion of their schedule, and only one team with a winning record (Buffalo) remains. If the Browns can get to 10-6, they have a good shot at the Wild Card, but if they can get to 11-5, a Wild Card birth is a virtual lock. It’s time for this team to put up or shut up.

Up Next: 10/18, At Baltimore, M & T Bank Stadium, 1:00
All of the games from here on out are big, but this game is huge. The Browns can move two games above .500 while realistically ending Baltimore’s season with a win.

There won’t be a much better time to catch Baltimore. They are coming off of two embarrassing losses to divisional foes (Pittsburgh, Cincinatti), and they can’t seem to move the football. Starting cornerback Samari Rolle is out, while Chris McAlister, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs are all questionable.

Kyle Boller will start at quarterback, replacing the painfully inadequate Steve McNair. Here’s a team that the Browns defense should hold under 30 points.

We know the Browns can score on the Ravens, as they burned the vaunted Baltimore defense for 27 points in week four, even with a conservative approach in the second half. With the Ravens defense battered and bruised, the going should be even easier.

My Call: Browns 23, Ravens 13

Thursday, November 15


Wait, I thought he was leaving?

Unfortunately, the Yankees are obviously a better team with A-Rod than without him. Still, with the way the whole thing worked out, at least it was nice to see Scott Boras' figurative nipples twisted a little bit.

Wait, did I just mention Scott Boras' nipples?

Wednesday, November 14

Random thoughts

- I read an article today wherein Browns coach Romeo Crennel defended his "decision" to spend two timeouts to challenge the Steelers' final touchdown this past Sunday, a decision that essentially everyone in Northeast Ohio with a television set knew instantly was the wrong one and one that may have cost the Browns a chance to win.

Crennel seems like an honest guy, one you'd expect to stand up and take responsibility for mistakes, so this defensive position is strange. If ever a situation warranted a coach simply admitting that he and his staff handled the situation badly and made errors in judgment, this is the one.

- Congratulation's to the Tribe's CC Sabathia, taking home a well-deserved AL Cy Young Award for his performance during the 2007 season. He got 19 of the 28 first-place votes, while runner-up Josh Beckett got eight from confused voters who don't understand that the playoffs don't factor in and John Lackey got one from, presumably, an extremely drunk writer.

Somehow, someway, some idiot left Sabathia out of his top three entirely. This is another prime example of why the balloting should be open - this person should have to justify such a ridiculous decision, especially if he's the same loon who voted for Lackey, in which case he should never be allowed to vote again. For anything.

I hope Tribe fans can appreciate CC's selection for this award - no, it's not the trophy we wanted, nor is it what CC would have preferred, but it's still something to be celebrated. I'm a tad bit disappointed that Tribe fans seem to be focusing more on how this affects contract negotiations with CC rather than simply enjoying the moment. Obviously it's important to think about the organization's future and long-term health, but sometimes the present is good, as well.

- Nice work by the CaVs to finish a difficult early-season West Coast roadtrip at 3-3, very nearly pulling out a 4-2 voyage but falling to a tough Utah team along with tough Suns and Nuggets squads. Apparently, their play was enough for ESPN resident Cav-naysayer Bill Simmons to revise his pick of Los Caballeros not making the East playoffs (as if), bumping them all the way up to 3rd in the conference in his forecast.

Tying this note into the previous point, it's interesting how many Cav fans worry incessantly about LeBron moving and about what the team will be like in a few years, etc. Hey, we're the Eastern Conference Champions - things are pretty good right now. Enjoy it.

- As long as I'm making a point about Cleveland sport fans' sometimes farsighted perspectives, let me mention a few Browns items, namely the situations of rookie left tackle Joe Thomas and QB Derek Anderson.

Thomas, in his first year, has solidified what most observers regard as one of the truly important positions in football, playing at a Pro Bowl level at a position that the Browns have been absolutely horrible at ever since rejoining the league and, dare I say, establshing himself as a legitimate rookie of the year candidate, if linemen won such things. So why are so many people debating whether they should have picked Adrian Peterson, a running back who is now injured? Can't we just be happy that we drafted an outstanding player at a position of need who will probably be among the league's elite for many years? Isn't that good enough? Even knowing what we do now, would anyone in their right mind do anything differently on draft day? I would not.

The situation with Anderson is different, but with some common themes. He's played very well this year - even his off game against Pittsburgh featured three TD passes and zero interceptions. So why so many articles about how/why/whether to get rid of him? Again, I know it's interesting and fun to speculate on the future, and you should read Nick's earlier piece on the subject, but why not just enjoy the Browns' high-scoring offense and leave the Quinn/Anderson talk for the off-season?

I don't mean to sound overly critical, but I wish sometimes Cleveland sports fans would simply focus on the games and live for the moment, especially now, given the unprecedented current situation where all three clubs in town are, to varying degrees, good. I'm reminded of Yoda talking about young Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back - the old Jedi master delivers a scathing third-person assessment of Skywalker as if Luke's not sitting right there next to him, saying "All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing."

For now, I'm happy to have my mind on where the Browns, Indians, and Cavs are. Hmm? What they are doing.

Tuesday, November 13

Hot Stove Quick Hits

Sabathia wins AL Cy Young Award
Sabathia definitely deserved the award, and he beat Josh Beckett decisively. However, this surprises me solely due to the East coast bias in the media (ESPN effect) and lack of exposure for Sabathia. It's nice that CC won, but it can do nothing but hurt the Tribe's chances of re-signing him.

Tigers acquire Jacque Jones from Cubs for Omar Infante
Detroit just keeps improving. Jones is a solid defensive outfielder who's a very average hitter, but he's a good depth guy, not unlike Jason Michaels for the Indians. Jones, who can't hit lefties worth a lick, will probably be involved in a platoon with Cameron Maybin, the Tigers' (right-handed) star prospect.

Tigers re-sign Todd Jones for 1 year, $7 million
This could be a mistake, but it's only for one year. Jones' WHIP has risen over the last three years, from 1.03, to 1.27, to 1.42 last year, which might suggest he's about to go off the deep end.

Yankees re-sign Posada for 4 years, $52 million
Posada hit .338 last year, but he's 36 so that kind of year probably won't happen again. $13 million is a ton of money to be paying a guy who will soon be 40, and catchers usually don't age gracefully. Re-signing Posada was probably a mistake.

Yankees offer Rivera 3 years, $45 million
I'm done predicting a dropoff for Rivera because the guy obviously has found the fountain of youth. This is a no-brainer move for the Yankees, although it's too much money. I know this isn't a done deal yet, but nobody else is going to offer Rivera $15 million. It's funny that some thought Torre's departure would prompt guys like Posada and Rivera to leave. Nothing's different; the Yankees still have money, and money talks.

Monday, November 12

Andy's second post!

A quick summary of this past Sunday's Cleveland Browns football game:

Pittsburgh? Again?

Sunday, November 11

Andy's first post!

A quick summary of this past Saturday's Ohio State Buckeyes football game:

Illinois? Really?

NFL Picks: Week 10

STEELERS (-9.5) vs. Browns
Andy: Browns
Nick: Browns

TITANS (-4) vs. Jaguars
Andy: Titans
Nick: Jaguars

SAINTS (-11.5) vs. Rams
Andy: Rams
Nick: Rams

PANTHERS (-4) vs. Falcons
Andy: Panthers
Nick: Panthers

CHIEFS (-3) vs. Broncos
Andy: Chiefs
Nick: Chiefs

RAVENS (-4) vs. Bengals
Andy: Bengals
Nick: Bengals

CARDINALS (-1) vs. Lions
Andy: Lions
Nick: Cardinals

GIANTS (+1.5) vs. Cowboys
Andy: Giants
Nick: Cowboys

DOLPHINS (+2.5) vs. Bills
Andy: Bills
Nick: Bills

REDSKINS (-2.5) vs. Eagles
Andy: Eagles
Nick: Eagles

PACKERS (-6) vs. Vikings
Andy: Packers
Nick: Packers

RAIDERS (+3) vs. Bears
Andy: Bears
Nick: Bears

CHARGERS (+3.5) vs. Colts
Andy: Chargers
Nick: Chargers

SEAHAWKS (-10) vs. 49ers
Andy: Seahawks
Nick: Seahawks

Friday, November 9

Heroes & Zeroes: Week 9

What a game! A 15-point comeback, 58 first downs, over 850 total yards of offense, a game-tying field goal as time expired, and a Phil Dawson walk-off winner in overtime. Sunday’s game was not for the faint of heart, and it was the biggest win of the year for the Browns, who are now 5-3 and in the thick of the playoff hunt.

This season has been a trip to the Bizarro World. Think about it: the Browns can score at will, multiple Browns are having Pro Bowl caliber seasons, and the team is receiving high praise from the national media. Don’t pinch yourself too hard, because you might wake up.

This Week’s Heroes

Five Dog Bones: Kellen Winslow
Winslow was clearly banged up on Sunday, still bothered by knee and shoulder pain. Nevertheless, Winslow came up huge with 11 catches for 125 yards. In the second half K2 dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone, but he deserves a mulligan for what was otherwise a terrific effort.

As Browns fans, we’re privileged to watch a guy like Winslow each week. Winslow never takes a play off, plays through injuries, and always plays inspired, passionate football. As a fan, particularly a Browns fan, how is possible to dislike this guy?

Even the media is changing their tune on Winslow, whose “soldier” rant had turned him into a football version of Howard Dean. Remember Winslow’s motorcycle accident? ESPN’s talking heads seemed to revel in it.

Winslow was featured on ESPN’s E60 this week, as reporter Michael Smith (of Around the Horn) revealed that Kellen Winslow is, in fact, not the Antichrist. Even Jim
Rome, who for years periodically blasted Winslow, complimented K2 for his competitive drive and the incredible commitment it took to recover from his devastating motorcycle crash.

It’s amazing how winning can alter poorly-formed perceptions.

Four Dog Bones: Derek Anderson
After throwing an interception early that made fans scratch their heads, Anderson could have crumbled. Instead, he showed a remarkable resiliency that’s quickly becoming the defining characteristic of this Browns team, as he brought the Browns back from a 15-point deficit.

For the first time this season, Anderson didn’t record a touchdown pass, but to be fair, he was the victim of several end zone drops. Plus, Rob Chudzinski wisely elected to run the football inside the Seattle 5-yard line.

Touchdowns or not, DA threw for a career-high 364 yards against a good Seattle secondary. Note that the Seahawks were clearly working to neutralize Anderson’s favorite target, Braylon Edwards, who had only five catches for 67 yards. DA responded by looking for Winslow early and often, in addition to completing four passes to both Joe Jurevicius and Jamal Lewis.

It’s still too early to be completely sold on Derek Anderson, but he led a stirring comeback against a good defense, as he continues to blossom right before our eyes. DA’s success is beginning to look less like a mirage, and more like reality.

Three Dog Bones: The Fans
In my many trips to Cleveland Browns Stadium, Sunday was the loudest I’d ever heard it. The Browns are winning again, the prospect of making the playoffs no longer sounds all that far-fetched, and we can all feel it in our bones.

On the way out of the stadium, complete strangers were hugging, Cleveland’s finest were giving fans high fives, and many declared an unmitigated hatred for all things Pittsburgh. Browns football is alive and well in Cleveland, Ohio.

Two Dog Bones: The Offensive Line
The revamped offensive line is the most significant reason for the Browns’ marked improvement this season. Over the last seven games, the line has allowed only seven sacks.

Starting right guard Seth McKinney injured a shoulder against the Seahawks, but reserve Lennie Frieman filled in admirably. For once, the Browns appear to have quality depth on the line.

McKinney probably won’t play this week against the Steelers, and he’ll likely be replaced by a platoon of Friedman and Ryan Tucker, who last played guard in the late ‘90s with St. Louis.

Left guard Eric Steinbach strained his back on Wednesday and did not practice Thursday, but it seems likely that Steinbach will play on Sunday.

Pitted against the Steelers, the offensive line will square off against a defense that manhandled them in week one, when they allowed six sacks. The line has come a long way since the opener, and hopefully that progress will show during Sunday’s crucial showdown in the Steel City.

One Dog Bone: Jamal Lewis
Although Jamal was criticized in this column last week, he proved a valuable asset against Seattle, especially as a goal line back. Lewis pounded the Seahawks for four short yardage scores.

In spite of the touchdowns, Lewis’ biggest play came during the overtime period, when he turned a screen pass into a 34-yard gain. Lewis had an opportunity to duck out of bounds, but he stayed in bounds and picked up an extra 15 yards as a result, pretty impressive for a back who isn’t known for his receiving abilities.

Although Lewis played well this week, I still don’t think he has a future with the Browns beyond this season. The numbers simply don’t bode well for running backs in Lewis’ age bracket. Guys like Jerome Bettis and Curtis Martin, both of whom played well into their 30’s, are the exceptions to the rule. Awarding Lewis a long-term extension would be equal parts short-sighted and foolish.

If the Browns want to throw cash at a running back, they should pursue a back who’s coming into his prime, like San Diego’s Michael Turner, who becomes an unrestricted free agent this off season.

This Week’s Zeroes

Five Demerits: Todd Grantham
Grantham appears determined to keep the Browns from giving up big plays. That’s all well and good, but it’s allowing the opposition to march up and down the field at their leisure.

Grantham dropped eight men into coverage far more than he should have, giving Matt Hasselbeck time to make his own wacko Seattle low carb mocha latte cappuccino, watch an episode of Frasier, and film one of his lame Chunky Soup ads, all before completing a pass to Bobby Engram without breaking a sweat.

Grantham’s obviously afraid of getting burned, but playing a perpetual prevent is not going to get the job done against quality opponents. Eventually, the Browns are going to have to roll the dice and experiment with this new “blitzing” fad.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Browns caught a break when a 25-yard Seattle completion was wiped out due to an illegal formation penalty on the Seahawks. The very next play, Hasselbeck found Bobby Engram for a 26-yard gain. And who was covering Seattle’s number one receiver? None other than Willie McGinest. Somebody, stop the insanity.

Last year, the Browns gave up 22.3 points per game. This year, that figure has increased to 29.1 PPG. Part of the increase can be attributed to the fact that opponents now actually have to score in the second half to defeat the Browns, whereas 14-21 points was sufficient to down the Browns last season. However, does that account for allowing an extra touchdown every game?

The Browns made defensive upgrades in the off season by bringing in Robaire Smith, Shaun Smith, Antwan Peek, and Eric Wright, while losing only one key player, Brian Russell. If anything, the Browns should be better defensively, not worse. Grantham deserves at least some of the blame for the Browns’ regression.

Eventually the Browns are going to have to hold a good team under 30 points in order to win. But with what we’ve seen so far, does anyone really have confidence that Grantham’s defense can accomplish even such a pedestrian feat?

Four Demerits: Defensive Line
This group is awful. At least it’s encouraging to know that for the remainder of the season we won’t have to watch Ted Washington’s patented “hold your hands up and stand still” method of rushing the passer. Good grief.

Nobody’s expecting a prevent-heavy scheme to yield dozens of sacks, but if the defensive line could at least make the quarterback think that he’s at risk for a sack, maybe that would break up his rhythm a bit. Unfortunately, the front three looks older than Lou Holtz, and slower than, well, Lou Holtz.

I’ll stand by my claim that Phil Savage should have drafted Haloti Ngata in 2005. That’s not to say Kamerion Wimbley isn’t an excellent player, it’s just that stud nose tackles are far more rare than “tweener” athletes who can rush the quarterback. It makes me sick to know that Ngata will anchor Baltimore’s front three for the next half decade.

Three Demerits: Stadium Security
A friend of mine was hassled by stadium security for no good reason. He wasn’t smuggling beer into the stadium, starting fights, or even using four letter words. (Don’t even get me started on the pat downs at the gate, which may or may not be illegal, and exist for the sole purpose of preventing beer smuggling.)

My friend Chris carved a pumpkin into a half-helmet and meticulously painted the brown and white stripes on top. Needless to say, when placed on his noggin, it was the most original fashion item of the week. Stadium security made him throw it away at the gate.

Obviously they were worried that he would throw the pumpkin, but if that was his goal, why take the time to paint it? As we learned back in 2001, anything can be thrown (onto the field or otherwise). Let the man have his pumpkin.

Stadium security should concentrate on fans who are causing actual problems (e.g. fighting, stealing, etc.), instead of fans who are trying to enjoy the game without bothering anyone.

Two Demerits: Punt Coverage
Nate Burleson’s second quarter touchdown on a punt return really took the wind out of the Browns’ collective sails, and left them with a 15-point deficit late in the second quarter. Frankly, it was strange to see another team get the best of the Browns on special teams, which is one of Cleveland’s strengths.

Dave Zastudil put solid hang time on his punt, which actually caused the Browns to over-pursue in coverage. It’s a mistake that the coverage team should learn from.

One Demerit: Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore is finished. Yes, they’re 4-4, but they’re done.

The first half of their schedule was pretty soft, with a collective winning percentage of .354, while the balance of their schedule is playing at a .569 clip. Baltimore needed to mop up against their first eight opponents, and they failed to do so.

The Ratbirds have already lost more games than they did last season, when they were 13-3. The Ravens have a broken down quarterback who can’t get the ball downfield, a defense that no longer dominates, and a coach who thinks he’s Nostradamus with sunglasses. They’re all but mathematically eliminated.

Regardless of whether or not the Browns ultimately qualify for the postseason, we can take solace in the fact that we won’t have to see those hideous purple uniforms next January, unless it’s on the clearance rack.


Dog Bones

Offensive Line---22
Derek Anderson---14
Braylon Edwards---13
Kellen Winslow---12
Romeo Crennel---8


Defensive Line---16
Romeo Crennel---13
Todd Grantham---10
Derek Anderson---9
Andra Davis---8

Playoff Picture
I’m not afraid of ghosts, goblins, gremlins, or the “p-word”. Let’s talk playoffs.

The Browns are currently 5-3, and there are five other AFC teams with the same record or better. With their schedule on the verge of weakening, the Browns are a few wins away from controlling their own destiny.

The Steelers are still the overwhelming favorite to win the AFC North, and if the Browns want to give them a run for the division, they’ll have to win this week’s game in Pittsburgh. The Browns probably have a better shot at a wild card birth.

Last Sunday’s win was huge, as it put the Browns in a great position heading into two tough divisional match ups. If the Browns can just split the next two road games (Pittsburgh, Baltimore), they’ll be 6-4, and their last six games don’t include a single team with a winning record. There’s a very real possibility that the Browns will be playing football in January.

Up Next: 10/11, At Pittsburgh, Heinz Field, 1:00
The excitement is building for the first meaningful Browns/Steelers clash in years. Since 2000, the Browns have beaten the Steelers only twice, and they’ve now lost eight consecutive match ups with their rust belt rivals.

Although the Browns can put up scads of points, it seems unlikely that they’ll end their losing streak this season. It’s just tough to envision the Browns stopping the Steelers, who have a very balanced and potent offensive attack. Willie Parker will get the nod early and often for Pittsburgh, and the Browns can only hope to contain him.

The key for the Browns might be preventing Pittsburgh’s big plays. Ben Roethlisberger is at his best when he’s rolling right to buy extra time for a deep ball to one of the his pesky receivers: Hines Ward, Nate Washington, or former Buckeye Santonio Holmes.

Monday night’s game against Baltimore was a perfect example of why you can’t let Big Ben roll right . Roethlisberger does a great job keeping his eyes downfield when he’s rolling out, and the Browns need to make a concerted effort to keep him in the pocket, or at least force him to scramble to the left, where he’s less effective.

On defense, the Steelers aren’t blitzing as often as they used to, but they’ve been just as effective. This high octane Cleveland offense can score on anyone, but the Steelers should be capable of slowing them down a bit. The Browns can’t win this game if the defense doesn’t step up with some big stops.

Until the Browns prove they can beat the Steelers or at least keep the score within a touchdown, there’s little reason to expect a different result this time around. Nothing would thrill me more than to be wrong.

Like Agent Mulder, I want to believe…

My Call: Steelers 27, Browns 20