A road game against an opponent with a solid defense and a good running game; this did not look like a game the Browns were going to win on paper. But with the jobs of Derek Anderson and Romeo Crennel possibly hanging in the balance, the Browns received some clutch performances from a few key reserves, and flew home from Florida in victory. Like the previous game in Washington, this wasn't an aesthetically pleasing affair, but the Browns won their third game in four tries and ultimately kept their season alive.
This Week's Heroes
Five Gold Stars: Shaun Rogers
Shaun Rogers just keeps topping himself. Phil Savage may want to double-check to make sure that Rogers' contract isn't purely incentive-based, because Rogers seems to be playing that way. The Big Baby was all over the field again Sunday, and Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard may have been less familiar with his center's back side than with Rogers' front side when things were all said and done.
Nine solo tackles from the nose tackle position is pretty sick, but add to that a sack and the fact that Garrard was harassed by Rogers more than Rodney King, and you've got yourself one hell of a performance. Oh, and he blocked a field goal, too. That six-year, $42 million contract is looking like a bargain all of the sudden. Do you want to see more of Shaun Rogers? Apparently the Browns are considering using him as a fullback in goal line packages. I don't have to explain how cool that would be.
Four Gold Stars: Steve Heiden
Heiden's been one of the Browns' real unsung heroes the last several seasons, particularly since Kellen Winslow arrived and started stealing his looks at tight end. But you never hear Steve Heiden whine. No, Heiden just shows up, does some solid blocking, occasionally has a pass thrown his way if Winslow needs a blow, and continually plays fundamentally sound football. The Browns could use a few more Steve Heidens.
Heiden led the Browns in receiving yards on Sunday, and his 51-yard catch on 4th-and-1 set up the Browns' second touchdown. Answer me this: would you rather have Heiden or Braylon Edwards catching that pass? Exactly. Heiden's not going to outrun anybody or get any airtime on SportCenter with an acrobatic catch, but if you put the ball around his numbers, he'll catch it, then he'll rumble up the field and drill a defender to pick up an extra yard or two.
Drafted in 1999 by the Chargers, Heiden landed in Cleveland in 2002 after a pair of disappointing seasons with the Bolts. He's been a fixture on the lake shore ever since. Heiden's never caught more than 43 balls in a season, nor has he caught fewer than 10. A solid blocker and an overachieving receiver given his lackluster speed and athleticism, Heiden provides a reliable alternative to the flamboyant Kellen Winslow.
Three Gold Stars: Syndric Steptoe
What a difference a year has made for Syndric Steptoe. A seventh round pick in 2007, Steptoe was buried on the practice squad last season after Joshua Cribbs won the punt returning job over the summer. But this year Steptoe has proven to be an adequate punt/kickoff returner in addition to a decent third/fourth receiver.
Steptoe has nine catches for 131 yards this season, and none was bigger than his 53-yarder in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game to set up Phil Dawson's go-ahead field goal. Steptoe doesn't have blinding speed or shake-you-outta-your-shoes (I'm out of control with hyphens) quickness, but he's got a good balance between the two, and there's a good chance that he'll be able to stick with the Browns as the third receiver for more than just this season.
Two Gold Stars: Nick Sorensen
Not long after taking heat from myself and others for being a woefully ineffective blitzer, Sorensen saved the game in Jacksonville. The Browns had a six-point lead when Dave Zastudil punted and Maurice Jones-Drew returned the ball to the Jacksonville 30. The Jags had 70 yards to go, just 1:51 to do, and no timeouts. A tying touchdown seemed only a remote possibility.
But in yet another little case study of why the prevent defense sucks, the Browns allowed the Jaguars to drive down to the Cleveland 26-yard line. After throwing an incomplete pass on first down, the clock showed just :09, and David Garrard had no choice but to take another shot at the end zone. Garrard must have done a double take when he saw the 6' 6" Matt Jones in man coverage on the outside. And Garrard probably licked his chops when he saw that Jones was being covered by the 5' 10" Brandon McDonald. Garrard got the ball to Jones, who bobbled the ball but appeared poised to haul it in. Then Sorensen followed the play and broke it up.
Also: I like Nick Sorensen's hair.
One Gold Star: Joshua Cribbs
Joshua Cribbs hasn't busted off a return touchdown yet this year, but that doesn't mean that he hasn't been valuable in coverage. And to be fair, I think there have been some lingering effects from Cribbs' high ankle sprain that have sapped some of his explosiveness on returns. At any rate, Cribbs recovered a fumbled Jacksonville kickoff return with under 5:00 to play that set up Phil Dawson's third and final field goal. Without that field goal, which gave the Browns a six-point lead, the Jags could have kicked a field goal to tie the game on their final drive, and we may have been looking at an overtime game.
This Week's Zeroes
Five Demerits: Brady Quinn
If any Brown lost as much as the Jaguars did on Sunday, it was Brady Quinn. This seemed like the game when Quinn might get his shot. The Browns had just fallen in embarrassing fashion to the Redskins during which Derek Anderson posted a 57.9 passer rating. In fairness, Anderson actually played worse than that rating.
A DA turnover or two in the first half combined with the threat of going 2-5 might have tempted Romeo Crennel to finally pull the trigger and make the switch many Browns fans had been waiting for. It never happened. Anderson finished 14-for-27 for 246 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions, although he did lose a fumble (DA also had an interception wiped out by an offsides penalty).
DA didn't replicate his terrific performance against the Giants, but he did play well enough to earn himself at least another pair of starts. Plus, the Browns now have an outside shot at the playoffs which gets more realistic if they knock off the Ratbirds this week. As long as the Browns are in the playoff picture, Romeo Crennel seems determined to stick with the incumbent Anderson. And as long as that's the case, Quinn will continue to rot on the bench.
Sometimes life's unfair, Brady, but you're still arguably the most popular Brown in town, and I'm willing to bet there's are tons of fans who'd be happy to buy you a Myoplex shake at a local watering hole. Now I'm done.
Four Demerits: Joe Jurevicius
This isn't as much a rip on Jurevicius as it is on fans, media, and folks in the Browns organization who shrugged off the problems at receiver, using the "we'll be fine when Jurevicius gets back" defense. This week it became clear that the cavalry ain't comin'. Jurevicius appears to be out for the season, and not to toot my own horn, but I've been saying since summer that it was unrealistic to expect a contribution from Joe this season.
Last season Jurevicius became a key target for Derek Anderson, who looked to the sure-handed Penn State product on many a third down. This year Jurevicius hasn't been there for DA, and it hasn't helped that Braylon Edwards' hands have never found their 2007 form, either. Unlike Willie McGinest, Jurevicius provided not only "veteran leadership" but also some clutch catches, and his absence means that the Browns will be thin at receiver for the remainder of the season, especially if Donte Stallworth catches the injury bug again.
Three Demerits: Jaguars Fans
Can the NFL just acknowledge that putting a team in Jacksonville was a mistake and move this franchise to Los Angeles already? Not only is the Jags' fan base one of the least enthusiastic in the league, but they also don't draw. For instance, Jacksonville Municipal Stadium has a capacity of 76,867 which can be expanded to 84,000 for college or Super Bowl games. When the Jaguars play, they cover sections of the stadium (a la McAfee Coliseum for A's games) to reduce the seating to 67,164. The Jags still can't fill the place. Sunday's game in Jacksonville brought in only 64,775 fans.
When you're an NFL team that has trouble drawing fans, you're in trouble. When you're a warm weather team that doesn't draw, you're in big trouble. And when you're a competitive team that doesn't draw, you're completely screwed. Mr. Goodell, it's time to stick a fork in the Jags.
Two Demerits: Rob Chudzinski
Chud actually didn't call a bad game, but his offense made an unforgivable mistake midway through the fourth quarter when they had a 1st-and-goal from the Jacksonville 1-yard line. The Browns had four chances (three plus one more for a defensive 12 men on the field penalty) to put the ball into the end zone and take a 7-point lead, and they failed. Out of those four plays, they ran with Jamal Lewis only once. What's more ridiculous: not scoring a touchdown in four chances from the one, or only banging your 245-pound running back up the pipe one time? It's a rhetorical question.
Chud better come up with something new from inside the five, because kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns from that spot on the field could be the difference between winning and losing.
One Demerit: Dave Zastudil
Okay, we're reaching a bit now; Zastudil's been very solid overall this year. The D-Zaster's averaging 44.5 yards per punt and has done a good job pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line. But Zastudil had a punt in the third quarter of Sunday's game from the Jacksonville 40 that had the potential to bury the Jags deep in their own territory. Instead, Zastudil botched the kick and hit it only 15 yards to the Jacksonville 25. That field position almost cost the Browns points, as the Jags drove down to the Browns' 20 and attempted a field goal that was ultimately blocked by Shaun Rogers. Had that field goal been good, the Jaguars would have needed only three points to tie the game in the waning seconds, yet another scenario that could have led to overtime.
Up Next: 11/2, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns Stadium, 1:00
The Browns can get back into the thick of the playoff picture if they win this one, and it's a winnable game. Baltimore is one-dimensional on offense and Joe Flacco will make some mistakes. The key to this game is Derek Anderson. If DA can hang onto the ball then he doesn't need to have a great game for the Browns to win. But if Anderson blows up and the Browns lose the turnover battle, this will be a tough game to win. Field position will be crucial in a relatively low scoring affair, but the Browns will prevail.
Prediction: Browns 19, Ravens 10
Friday, October 31
A road game against an opponent with a solid defense and a good running game; this did not look like a game the Browns were going to win on paper. But with the jobs of Derek Anderson and Romeo Crennel possibly hanging in the balance, the Browns received some clutch performances from a few key reserves, and flew home from Florida in victory. Like the previous game in Washington, this wasn't an aesthetically pleasing affair, but the Browns won their third game in four tries and ultimately kept their season alive.
Thursday, October 30
Wednesday, October 29
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports jumped on the opportunity to write, once again, about James bolting from Cleveland in 2010. I'd like to rip Adrian for writing an article that's already been overdone, but I know this commentary is only one of about six-thousand that we'll see between now and June. I won't waste my time.
Cavs forums are also coming to life after the long summer layoff. Opinions are mixed -- some fans are blaming Mike Brown, others are blaming LeBron James. However, even with the loss there are more positives to take away from this game than negatives.
Positive - The score was close
Last season Boston was 2nd in the NBA in opponent points per game, and first in opponents field goal percentage. This is by no means a moral victory, but Boston is arguably the league's best defensive team, and the Cavs gave them all they could handle on opening night. Neither team particularly stood out, Boston simply hit a couple more shots than the Cavs in the 2nd half. Move the game to Cleveland and the result may have been reversed.
Positive - Cavs defense showed up
Boston averaged 100.5 points per game last season. On an emotional night, the Cavs held the Celtics to just 90 points. I would be thrilled with that effort every single night out of this team.
Positive - Anderson Varejao
The stat line for Varejao does not tell the whole story, although nine points, nine boards and three steals in 26 minutes is pretty solid. With defense and hustle, he single-handedly kept the Cavs in this game when the Celtics were trying to pull away in the fourth quarter. I cannot see Ferry trading Varejao if he has more games like this than not.
Positive - Starting guards
Mo Williams was three for five from beyond the arc but only dished out two dimes. Likewise, Delonte West had six points in 35 minutes. Both were effective, but finished well below their career averages. Still, they showed flashes of brilliance in this game and will only get better as the season progresses.
Positive - LeBron James
The Cavs still have the best player in the world.
Negative - LeBron still thinks he can shoot the three
Gibson, Williams, Szczerbiak, and even Pavlovic would own James in a three-point shootout. So why was James hoisting threes down the stretch in a close game? It's time to trust those teammates.
Negative - Free throw shooting
Why can't the best player in the world make free throws during crunch time?
Ok, so there were some negatives. Boston walked away with the victory of course, but just like last season when LeBron dropped 45-7-7 on the Knicks after struggling in the opener against Dallas, I expect the Cavs to take this loss out on Charlotte at The Q Thursday night. Cavs by 1,633 points!
Tuesday, October 28
Although I worked through the numbers sometime last week, I'm a little late getting up my predictions for the upcoming NBA season. Without further ado...
Western Conference (614 - 616)
That's right, I am predicting that the Western Conference will actually have a losing record for the season.
Eastern Conference (616 - 614)
The (L)Eastern Conference will win 2 more games than the Western Conference this year thanks to the poor showing by the Pacific and Northwest Divisions.
New Orleans over Denver (4-1)
Houston over Dallas (4-2)
LA Lakers over San Antonio (4-1)
Utah over Phoenix (4-2)
Boston over Atlanta (4-1)
Cleveland over Miami (4-2)
Orlando over Toronto (4-2)
Philadelphia over Detroit (4-2)
New Orleans over Utah (4-2)
Houston over LA Lakers (4-3)
Boston over Philadelphia (4-2)
Cleveland over Orlando (4-3)
Houston over New Orleans (4-2)
Cleveland over Boston (4-2)
Cleveland over Houston (4-3)
You heard it here first.
The Cleveland Cavaliers begin their 2008-2009 season tonight at Boston where the Celtics will receive their championship rings and hang their banner before the game. Sports pundits across the nation are already predicting that the Celtics and Lakers will meet again in June, but the Cavaliers are not interested in a repeat of last season.
Tonight's game doesn't mean much in the long-term of the season, although I always enjoy seeing a team from Boston lose – unless they are playing a team from New York. However, this will be the first look for many fans at an upgraded roster from the team that nearly sent the Celtics home from the playoffs in the second round last season.
The current Cavs roster tells the story to why there is so much anticipation entering this season:
LeBron James – Small Forward
No introduction required as LeBron James has improved his game each season since entering the league in 2003. Last season he averaged 30.0 points, 7.2 assists, and 7.9 rebounds, and followed it up by leading the USA Team to an Olympic gold medal.
With the addition of Mo Williams, James will no longer have the pressure of initiating the offense, and instead can play in the post. With the ability to play low and pass out to one of the Cavs sharpshooting guards when the defense collapses on him, I expect to see James' assists and rebounds improve, with his point average suffering slightly.
Mo Williams – Point Guard
Coming to the Cavs from Milwaukee, Williams' style is fast and deadly. The addition of Williams has forced coach Mike Brown to install offensive plays other than the spread. Expect to see the Cavs push the ball and look like a cohesive offensive unit as the season ages.
Williams bring 17.2 points and 6.3 assists to the Cavs. His greatest asset is his shooting percentages. Williams shot .480 from the floor last season, and .856 from the free throw line. This asset is priceless on a team that averaged .717 from the line last season, and often allowed opponents to hang around at the end of games due to missed free throws.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas - Center
Big Z is not getting any younger, and will once again man the middle of a talented Cavs core. Ungraceful and lumbering, Ilgauskas still averaged 14.1 points and 9.3 rebounds last season. With the flurry of guard activity in the lineup, he could actually see those numbers improve slightly this season.
On a side note, Ilgauskas has been with the Cavs for so long that when he was drafted, the roster consisted of names like Terrell Brandon, Danny Ferry, Tyrone Hill, Chris Mills, Bobby Phills, and Bob Sura. Through all of his injuries, surgeries, coaches, and teammates, and losing seasons, Ilgauskas deserves to win a championship with this team.
Ben Wallace - Forward
Wallace came to Cleveland in the mid-season trade last year after a disastrous tenure with the Chicago Bulls where he was often booed and heckled by fans in Chicago. Do not expect much offense, but he will bring a defensive toughness to the Cavs every night as long as he stays healthy.
At 34 years old, Wallace's biggest contribution may be what he does on the bench. In 2002, Tyrone Hill played a major role in the development of Carlos Boozer during his rookie season. The Cavs again have a young big man with potential in JJ Hickson, and Wallace is possibly the best career defensive player in the league.
Delonte West – Guard
When was the last time a player truly didn't want to play anywhere except for Cleveland? West is a talented two-guard who came to Cleveland last season in the same deal that brought Ben Wallace and Wally Szczerbiak. He can play the point, but with the arrival of Williams, West will bring his 10-12 point average and 3-4 assists to the two-guard position.
Daniel Gibson – Guard
Gibson is simply one of those players that teams must have in order to win a championship. In his second season, Gibson averaged 10.4 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. Gibson's biggest strength is his accuracy – he shot .432 from the field last season, including .440 from three. He also has a habit of coming up huge in key games, dropping 14 in game four against the Celtics last season, and 31 against the Pistons to clinch the Eastern Conference Finals the year before.
Anderson Varejao – Forward/Center
Since he has the right to opt out of his contract at the end of this season, most sportswriters have already determined that the Cavs are going to trade Varejao at the trade deadline. His stats are not brilliant (5.9 points, 6.2 rebounds career); his energy and ability to annoy opposing players make him a vital piece to this Cavs roster. They may lose him, but if they are winning then don't look for Ferry to remove a key player by trading Varejao.
Wally Szczerbiak – Small Forward
The standout from Miami of Ohio has become a journeyman after a very successful 6 ½ years in Minnesota. He will probably be traded at the deadline, but the minutes he gives the Cavs early this season will be critical to their long-term success by offering LeBron James the much needed rest he deserves after a long summer. His number have dipped in the past few years, but that may also be because he is switching teams so often. He is still averaging 15.0 points per game for his career.
Sasha Pavlovic – Guard
Sasha is such an unknown commodity from night to night. He is one year removed from the starting two-guard, and was a key player in the NBA Finals run of 2006-2007. If Pavlovic can find his form of two seasons ago, improve his defense, and eliminate the mental errors then he could become the dark horse of this team. Then again, that is a lot of ifs.
J.J. Hickson – Forward, Darnell Jackson – Forward, Tarence Kinsey – Guard, Jawad Williams – Forward, Lorenzen Wright – Forward
There is no doubt that the Cavs have a strong roster with unlimited potential. Based on the dynamic of the team, and the tendencies of coach Mike Brown, the following key points will still be essential to the success of this team:
This has been the modus operandi of Mike Brown during his coaching tenure. Defense wins championships, and contains offensive juggernauts. I am interested to see how this team continues to play solid defense while transitioning into a running offensive team.
At this point, I'll take any offensive set that doesn't include spreading the floor while LeBron dribbles 20 seconds off of the shot clock. The word out of the Cavs camp is that they are prepared to push the ball on offense and produce more scoring in transition. We'll see.
With so many able guards and a backup center who can run the floor, the Cavs may have the best small lineup in the NBA. If Mike Brown is truly committed to running different offensive sets, then utilizing this lineup would be a potent strategy both for fast scoring, and for tiring out the opposition.
The Cavs consistently came out flat in the third quarter last season. To be an elite team, they must learn to open quarters, as well as close them out.
High Percentage Shots
I was sitting at the Winking Lizard during the playoffs last season when LeBron hit a three. The next trip down the court, random people in the restaurant began shouting "Don't do it!" What happened? LeBron fired another three -- only this time he badly missed.
The Cavs have a solid set of guards who are all capable shooters. However, a team can die by the three point line just as quickly as it can live by it.
Sometime during the summer I was pondering what the Cavs were missing, and the name Craig Ehlo kept popping into my head. No, they aren't missing somebody to give up the series ending shot -- they were missing an unselfish, athletic player who is simply a good player. After pouring through stats, I realized that Delonte West is actually that player. Then when I read about both West and Gibson praising the Cavalier "family", it became obvious that this team has been built properly. Gone are the days of Ricky Davis, Damon Jones, and other show the the money players.
There will be growing pains early as the team learns to play with each other. Expect nights where they can do no wrong, and others where they simply look average. After a .500 November, the Cavs will turn it up, finishing the season at 52-30 and the 2nd seed in the East.
Monday, October 27
Before this baseball season escapes us, Andy and I would like to discuss some of the fonder moments of the Indians 2008 season. While not everything went the Tribe's way this year, that doesn't mean a lack of great games, achievements, and memories. Just, like, not as many as there would be had the season actually been successful.
Opening Day, March 31, Progressive Field
JHH: I should probably leave this one up to Andy since he did attend the game but I'll do my best. The only way I can think to describe this game is exciting. Lots of runs and a tie that lasted from the seventh to the bottom of the eight. Beating the White Sox is always a great way to start the season. Tribe wins 10-8
Andy: I was feeling great both with respect to the upcoming baseball season and a solid level of inebriation heading into this game, and the Tribe did not disappoint. The white socks struck early with a home run from Jim Thome, despite a seriously drunk fan near us informing Jim: "you don't belong here anymore!" The Tribe built a big lead, wasted most of it, and reclaimed it on Casey Blake's 3-run double, a hit that foretold a season (well, most of one) of production in RBI situations from a man not previously known for that. Of all the celebratory beers I've had at Scorcher's, well, this was one of them.
Walking off against the Yankees, April 26, Progressive Field
JHH: My father hates the Yankees more than any person I know. So how does a person like my father handle this hatred? By attending more Yankees games in Cleveland than I could possibly fathom. I guess he has a thing for self-inflicted pain. Anyway, having endured this long, it is hard to believe this was the year the Indians took the season series and series in New York. It was little things like this that made the season a little more bearable.
Andy: Nice work, Victor. Who cares that we lost the next two games? Take that for the first time since 1992, jerk Yankees!
Every game David Dellucci did not play in
JHH: I guess the Delluc provides something to this team. What that is I can't imagine. Sure there were a few bright spots early on in the season but once the Indians were out of the playoff picture why was he not regulated to a permanent bench position? I prefer my veteran players to be a little more gritty and I don't see Dellucci in that role. Here's to hoping for less Dellucci in '09.
Andy: OK, not every one - I liked his GW HR off of Jabba Chamberlain in Yankee Stadium. But seriously, by the end of the season, I was taking this dude's at-bats as a personal affront, kind of like what Nick does with Derek Anderson continuing to start for the Browns.
44 1/3, May 9-15, Progressive Field
JHH: Seriously could our starting pitching be any better at what was the high point of the season? Remember that May 15th marked the Indians' 1.5-game lead in the AL Central. Unfortunately this was still the stretch of horrible offensive output from the Tribe, but much of that was covered by amazing starting pitching.
Andy: In a May homestand against Toronto and Oakland, our starters gave up the following sequence of earned runs: 1, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0. All told, 44 1/3 straight scoreless and even more ER-less. I was at the first of these, where CC Sabathia outdueled Roy Halladay. They managed to only go 6-1 in those games, though, dropping a 3-0 decision and wasting a great Cliff Lee start in the process. That game also happened to be...
The triple play, May 12, Progressive Field
JHH: This has the distinction of being a great moment in a game the Indians lost. Originally this game was to take place Sunday but was postponed and moved to Monday evening as part of a doubleheader with the Toronto Pájaros Azules. Any triple play is part luck and part stupidity, and to be unassisted it take a whole lot of luck and a whole lot of stupidity. Actually maybe the most overlooked part of a triple play is that you need no outs to actually perform it. Anyway fifth inning with Kevin Mench on second, Marco Scutaro on first and Lyle Overbay at the plate no outs. Overbay hits a liner near the bag Cabrera had to dive for. Unfortunately for the Jays, they also decided to have the hit and run on for this at bat. Meaning all Cabrera had to do was step on the bag to get Mench and tag Scutaro as he ran for second without holding up.
Tribe Weekend, May 23-25, various locations in Cleveland
JHH: I'll just comment on game 1. Dear officials, even while sitting in the upper deck behind home plate while drinking a beer and probably eating nachos I knew Francisco's home run was over the line. Yes this blown call was just one more nail in the coffin for trusting you to handle important calls on the field unaided. In other news the Rangers won the game but at least it was fun watching Julio blow up. And I remember something about Scorcher's and a lobster. Oh yeah Mike, John, and sometimes Andy what did you think of that Ben Francisco call?
Andy: Best YouTube video ever. Your bride beat me by like 1 pin in mini-bowling that night. I demand a rematch.
Yeah, so the Tribe only took 1 of 3 from the Rangers here, but the FCF crew and special guests did it up right for Tribe Weekend. Game 1, a Tribe loss, featured Ben Francisco's home-run that wasn't (more evidence in favor of instant replay), and...I'm sorry, I can't go on until I finish with what a fucking terrible call that was. Please. Someone tell these guys about the railing by the Home Run Porch. This game also featured us loudly recapping Jorge Julio's finest meltdown Simon Says-style as the Ranger lead ballooned to 11-3 in the 2nd inning: walk, walk, grand slam, double, double, infield single. Wow. After the game was Game Night at Scorcher's, where I think we fed quarters to every diversion they had there.
In Game 2, Ben Francisco hit a three-run home run that the umpires actually decided to allow, and Clifton Lee picked up win #7 in a solid game for the Tribe. Scorcher's ensued with a now JHH-less team. Was this the night Nick and I threw Skittles at some random person in the bar? Can't recall for sure.
Game 3 on Sunday was boring as hell; between that and weekend fatigue, I fell asleep in the 8th inning but awoke to see the Tribe lose it 2-1 in the 10th. Why did I make this a highlight again?
The early-June slugfests with the Rangers
JHH: While not winning a lot, the Indians did muster some offense in early June. The Indians batted .277 (108-390) with 64 runs scored (5.8 RS per game) in their first 11 games in June, raising their team batting average from .234 to .242. And at one point they scored 75 runs in 11 games. This offensive outburst wouldn't be seen again until the second half.
Andy: Yeah, so we only won two of four, but we looked good doing it. The average score in this series was 12-7. Talk all you like about the beauty of a good pitcher's duel, and I like those games as well, but these were downright comical. Being at Scorcher's for both the wins didn't hurt either.
Beating LA in extras twice in a row, June 20-21, Dodger Stadium
JHH: If you're not aware, Dodgers fans may easily be the most obnoxious people no one talks about. Maybe its a West Coast bias and the fact that I don't follow the NL that closely but I've never heard much good about their hospitality. Just another reason to enjoy every extra inning win that no one saw because they left to beat the traffic.
Andy: Right in the middle of some really lackluster baseball (with much more in store), the Tribe beat the Dodgers twice in LA in extra innings, with Jhonny Peralta collecting the game-winning hit in both contests.
Sweeping the Rays, July 10-13, Progressive Field
JHH: After being swept by the Indians the Rays had lost seven in a row. I was wondering if the magic of the '08 had worn off the kids from Tampa Bay, but I was wrong. You may also remember Matt Ginter made a start in game 3. Yeah Matt Ginter. This series came after a disastrous ten-game losing streak on the road against division rivals that basically sealed the fate of this team this season. So the sweep going into the All-Star Game was a welcome bright spot.
Andy: I was on the West Coast when this happened, so I have no firsthand knowledge of it, but it does appear to have happened somehow, and by a 31-8 cumulative score to boot. Take that, eventual AL and possibly World Series Champs!
The 10-game winning streak! August 17-27
JHH: Not too many teams can boast a 10 game winning and 10-game losing streak in the same year. While at the time I mentioned this wasn't so much an amazing turn around but a team that had been playing below its ability getting some good breaks and figuring out how to win again, I still really enjoyed all 10 games, which could have been 11 if it wasn't for a certain blogger needing to see so many Indians games this season.
Andy: Marooned at 55-67, the Indians suddenly and without warning served notice that you weren't going to have them to kick around in the second half of 2008. The streak started with the Tribe taking the rubber match from the California Angels (I attended the series-opening win), smacking Kansas City around Progressive Field for a few days (27 runs in three games), embarrassing the Rangers three times in front of their fans, and avenging an earlier sweep to Los Tigres by sweeping three in Comerica Park.
Guess which loser blogger went to the game where the streak ended?
Cliff's 20th, September 1, Progressive Field
JHH: Another great 2008 Indians moment brought to by the Chicago Pale Hose. Growing up with the amazing late 90's Indians always made me believe that a Cleveland pitcher wasn't going to win 20 games. If they could win 100 games in a strike-shortened '95 season and the best they could do was 16 by Nagy maybe this team didn't have the stuff to get a starter across the mythical 20-win line. I guess all it took was an amazing year by one overlooked starter without the pressure of the team actually doing well. Cliff's 20th win was a 5-0 win over the White Sox complete game shutout. Lee gave up only five hits and walked zero while striking out four. I'm really happy that Lee was the pitcher who I will always remember as the guy who finally wiped my boyhood doubts away.
Andy: Lee also led the league in ERA. Can we get this man his Cy Young?
The 7 game winning streak! September 15-22
JHH: This was during my "vacation" as it were so this period of Tribe play is hazier than usual. I imagine starting pitching went well and Choo had some good hits. Am I right? High-five!
Andy: Oh, you thought the 10-gamer was a fluke? Think again. Fresh off of three ugly losses to the Royals at Progressive Field (yeah, I know), the Indians ripped off three-game sweeps over division rivals Minnesota and Detroit, then took one from Boston in Fenway for good measure. Winning streaks are fun.
I like the dedication this showed; the streak took them to just 79-77, still way out of it, but the team showed a lot of pride (and Choo a lot of bat) over the last couple of months. The Minnesota victories were especially satisfying, including the final one, which I watched at Scorcher's, but most notably...
V-Mart's walkoff to beat the Twins, September 16, Progressive Field
JHH: I was in transit at this time so the weight of this moment will be passed on to the capable Andy.
Andy: I found the Twins a bittersweet opponent this season. I certainly like them better than Chicago, and now that Torii Hunter is gone, they have a likable group of guys, develop players well, and win on the cheap, kinda like the Tribe. On the other hand, I'm a Cleveland Indians fan, and I like to see us beat people. Victor's blast was a particularly fun way to beat people, plus the Tribe did their best to help Minny into the playoffs by taking the season-ending series from the black socks, alas to no avail.
The Sheffield fight and subsequent rally over the Tigers, September 20, Progressive Field
JHH: Sheffield is a loudmouth jerk playing for a town and team I'm not a big fan of. This represents another game Andy attended. Of course I'm 226 miles away and Andy lives a little closer to Progressive Field. At the time Andy called this his second best MLB in-person experience ever. Makes you wonder how great number one was.
Andy: As I wrote before, this had it all: perfect weather, free ticket, Sheffield being a total dick and getting pummeled by Carmona, Shin-Soo Choo blasting two home runs, including a game-tying 3-run job in the 8th, and a walkoff win courtesy of Jamey Carroll. Oh, and fireworks. And I went to Scorcher's afterwards and got drunk with Tigers fans.
The #1 experience, you ask? A doubleheader at PNC Park a few years ago, Pirates v Cubs. Herb and I were in a section comprised of a vast Cub fan majority, such that I kept getting confused by the ball-strike applause. Herb opened a friendly dialogue with the Cub fans that became more about trash-talk as the night went on.
The Cubs took a 5-4 lead on a grand slam; the Pirates erased this off the Cubs closer in the 9th, loaded the bases with two outs, and set the stage for Rob Mackowkiak's game-winning walk-off grand slam. Who was this closer, you ask? None other than Joe Borowski.
Nice first game - how about the second? Well, as the PNC beer kept flowing, the Pirates once again fell behind as the stunned Cub fans regained their footing. Trailing 4-2 in the 9th, the Pirates tied it on a two-run homerun by...yep, Mackowiak (whose first son was born hours earlier), and won it on a walk-off in the 10th by Craig Wilson. Wow.
The only thing that could have made this better would have been Mackowiak beating up Sheffield, but you can't have it all, I suppose. I did not go to Scorcher's after this, but did go to PHI, the proto-Scorcher's.
Even a so-so season like this one produced lots of great moments and that's what makes baseball great. Let's hope for even more in 2009. Go Tribe!
Sunday, October 26
I've taken enough time off from writing about the Indians, I think. One thing I didn't want to do is speculate on a lot of players that don't even get to the FA market - I'm looking at you Mark Ellis - but that doesn't mean I'm totally against speculation.
If you remember from my Tribe 2008 Recap, I had a to do list which included:
Who from the farm teams will make contributions in 2009?
Who's on second? Or third, for that matter?
What will become of our DH, Travis Hafner?
What will the Indians' 2009 rotation and bullpen look like?
I plan on touching on the 2008 rotation and what maybe the 2009 rotation will look like. In doing so a few farmhands names may come up. Also the second / third baseman issue will also be discussed and maybe a little bullpen discussion. OK, enough planning time - let's talk Tribe.
2008 - 2009 Rotation
We have six or seven pitchers we need to discuss. We'll start off by making the obvious point that Cliff Lee is your 2009 Opening Day starter. Any debate of Cliff's performance in 2009 is mostly based on voodoo but I'll temper my hopes by saying if Cliff pitches anything close to 2008 we should be OK. Unfortunately after Cliff we've got issues. The first up is Fausto Carmona. Carmona's 2007 was so amazing and his 2008 so disappointing that one has to wonder which Fausto will appear in 2009. I hope it is safe to say one between 2007 and 2008
2007 IP-215 ER-73 BB-61 SO-137 ERA+ 151 WHIP-1.209
2008 IP-120.7 ER-73 BB-70 SO-58 ERA+ 82 WHIP-1.624
Did the 2007 workload hurt Fausto? Fellow Indians bloggers have speculated that maybe there was too much movement on Carmona's pitches this year and hitters were content to wait for a fastball or the ever-growing number of balls he threw. Something needs to happen this winter for Carmona to not fall from a number two pitcher on this team to number four or worse. Hopefully the injury is behind him. If Carmona can keep the walks down then we should all be happy.
As far as the number three pitcher goes, Paul Byrd is gone, and while he did a fine job and I loved the nickname "The Cobra," I hope he doesn't return. However, despite all the early talk of infield needs and back-end bullpen problems, Terry Pluto reported that a number three guy in the rotation was the new number one priority. And who am I to argue with Terry? What does this mean for this team? We're not yet ready for harder-throwing lefty Huff to be a keystone of this team's 2009 success. This shouldn't be surprising, as the Indians don't like to rely on a rookie to fill a major spot in the roster - just ask Grady. I thought Reyes looked like a number three guy, but with the injury concerns again the Indians are being cautious. So who do the Indians go after, a reclamation project or maybe a guy past his prime? Definitely somebody we can get away with only signing for two years or maybe less.
This leaves the final two spots in the rotation to a combination of Reyes, Sowers, Laffey, Jackson, and Lewis. Unless another injury sidelines Reyes I think we can expect him to break camp out of Goodyear in the rotation. The fifth spot is the big question. Sowers didn't show much in '08. He had a few nice four- or five-inning streaks but couldn't put it together. Jackson is nothing more then call-up fodder. Laffey could be a solid starter and was amazing at the beginning of 2008 but can he have that success for a whole season? Is Scott Lewis a September fluke? I hope not, but when he was called up, I thought we had seen the second coming of Zach Jackson. Well Lewis just pitched four wins in as many starts posting a small-sample-sized ERA of 2.63 in 24 innings.
Don't forget: if things go well, Westbrook could be an option after the halfway point. However, expect Jake to take a little longer than that and then spend a good deal of time pitching his way back to the majors.
Who's on Second?
Well, Asdrubal Cabrera is of course, I think. Here's what we know. Jamey Carroll is back as utility infielder and fantasy football commissioner (unless Hafner reclaims the title). I would love to hear the howling from the Indians faithful if Carroll was inserted as the regular second baseman to push Cabrera and Peralta over on the infield. However, rumor has it the Indians are discussing a trade for Royal Mark Teahen. Teahen has spent the last two seasons with the Royals patrolling the outfield in a vain attempt to transition him away from his "natural" position of third base. Third base you say? We need a third baseman. Of course, this would leave a gap in the Royals outfield. That and the Royals really need someone to play center. A center fielder? We got those. So despite the awkward division rival trade situation this seemingly could benefit both parties. We give them Fransisco or Gutierrez and we get someone - anyone - to play third base. Of course, Trevor Crowe's name comes up too, but I would prefer to move one of the previously mentioned gentlemen. The article does mention Crowe that could be the best fit.
Much has been made about the Indians being in the race to sign Rockies closer Brian Fuentes. I'm not good at predictions but I'm not sure about this one. The other major closer in the market is K-Rod. He is, however, way out of the Indians price range, and the Indians wouldn't give that many years to someone they didn't develop themselves. However, the Indians have a little money to work with and the Indians faithful will not be happy this offseason unless Shapiro makes some sort of big signing. Look how mad everyone was after the 2007 offseason. Shapiro has a tendency to be more active after the Indians even-year slumps, so we'll see. I think Jensen Lewis can close but that isn't a totally case-closed situation either. The other question this raises is: if the Indians don't spend the money on the bullpen (Fuentes) where do they use it? I would have to guess the third starter position. Orlando Hudson's name comes up too but if the Indians do trade for Teahen than we don't need Mr. Hudson's services. It's not that I think Fuentes isn't a good closer I just hate the idea of throwing money into a volatile situation such as the bullpen. What I do support is some bullpen help just not players who will only close, like Fuentes.
There you have it: plenty of talk but no answers. OK, how's this for answers:
-I like the idea of the Teahen trade
-I'm not on board for the Fuentes sweepstakes
-Our rotation will be Lee, Fausto, some old guy, Reyes, Laffey
-We'll also sign a few bullpen guys to see if any of them work out in Spring Training
-Of course the Commissioner's Trophy isn't even awarded yet so these answers are subject to change
(As an editor's note as of 28 October Anthony Castrovince is reporting over at his blog that: Royals GM Dayton Moore has told MLB.com that the rumor is a "flat-out lie." And I just spoke with Indians GM Mark Shapiro, who made it pretty clear the Indians have not had one discussion with the Royals about Teahen. So there you have it the first piece of info on the Indians off season is probably fake. It could be a long winter.)
A number of sneaky covers last week reminds us how tricky NFL betting is. Detroit fell behind 21-0 but scored enough meaningless points to cover; the Seahawks scored a useless TD late to pull within 10 (they were 10.5-point underdogs); and the Giants held up their end with a late safety. Does more wildness awaits us in Week 8? That seems to be the only certainty.
Nick's Money Picks: 2-1
Year to Date
Andy: 59-41-2 (Yeah, that's right.)
Nick's Money Picks: 8-7
BROWNS (+7) vs. Jaguars
Andy: Browns. Obviously. Why doesn't Blogger do this for me automatically by now?
Figgs: Beer we go Brownies.
Nick: Browns. If Quinn gets in at some point, we might win this outright.
COWBOYS (-1) vs. Bucs
Andy: I can't get behind this Bucs team, and I have no idea why. They even have a pirate ship! Cowboys. I HATE this pick but find myself powerless to switch.
Figgs: Cowboys I guess.
Nick: Cowboys at home, though I'm not happy about it.
LIONS (+9) vs. Redskins
Andy: The 'Skins win games, but they do it close and play down to their competition. This week they're on the road, and in a dome. I can't believe I'm doing this, but Lions.
Figgs: Skins cover.
Nick: Skins. The Lions just have no chance to win this game, and there's a good chance Washington covers.
DOLPHINS (+1) vs. Buffaloes
Andy: Nick has talked me into the Buffaloes here. And it's "Cock" Jauron.
Nick: Bills. They're banged up, but Buffalo is the vastly superior team. Dick Jauron is an underrated head coach, his Bills have really overachieved the last two seasons.
PATRIOTS (-7) vs. Rams
Andy: Two teams who people are struggling to understand how good they are means a definite stay-away game. Yet at FCF we have no stay-away games, so Patriots.
Figgs: Rams are on a roll.
Nick: Pats cover at home.
SAINTS (+3) vs. Chargers
Andy: Saints. I may or may not have picked them every week this year, and cannot explain to you why.
Nick: Chargers. Chargers will slow down the Bush-less Saints. Saints won't slow down the Chargers.
JETS (-13) vs. Chiefs
Andy: Too many points, even if it is the Chiefs. They must have some pride, no? And yes, I'm now taking both the Lions and the Chiefs.
Figgs: 13 is pretty big, I'll go with KC.
Nick: Chiefs. I've been over-estimating the Jets, and 13 is a big number.
EAGLES (-9) vs. Falcons
Andy: Did you know the Falcons are 4-2? I'm taking the ATL here ATS.
Figgs: Westbrook'sback, Eagles probably win, but 9 is too high. ATL.
Nick: Eagles. Not sure about this game, but Westbrook's back.
RAVENS (-7) vs. Raiders
Andy: The Ravens thrive against teams who make dumb mistakes, and that's the true hallmark of the Raiders. I'll be stunned if Baltimore doesn't post a defensive TD in this game.
Figgs: Uhh, Ravens.
Nick: Ravens, although I'm not cool with giving a full seven.
PANTHERS (-4) vs. Cardinals
Andy: Panthers, why not.
Nick: Panthers. Cards blow on the road.
TEXANS (-9.5) vs. Bengals
Andy: Bengals. I have now taken the three worst teams in the NFL. This is the one I like best of them, though.
Figgs: Texans. The Bungles are awful.
Nick: Texans. Palmer might be done for the year, Houston has a decent offense, and Cincy gives up alot of points.
STEELERS (-3) vs. Giants
Andy: Steelers. Let's just move on.
Figgs: Giants. I'm surprised pittsburgh is favored.
Nick: Giants. No Willie Parker, no Santonio Holmes, no Bryant McFadden. Pittsburgh can't block, the Giants get after the QB, and I'm getting three points? Lock it up.
49ERS (-5) vs. Seahawks
Andy: 49ers. More points than I expected, but Seattle has fallen hard.
Nick: Niners. Can't resist picking on Chuckles for at least one more week.
TITANS (-4) vs. Colts
Andy: Tennessee is 6-0 against the spread, 6-0 overall, and I've taken them 6 times. You know those investment commercials that say "past returns are no guarantee of future performance"? Fuck it. Titans.
Figgs: Tennessee is bound to loser sooner or later, right? Colts.
Nick: Titans. Tennessee is going to blow Indy up at the point of attack on both sides of the ball, and they're at home. This pick is COLD BLOODED!
Labels: NFL Picks 2008
NY police, disputing Thomas' claim that it was his daughter, not him, who required assistance for what is believed to be an overdose.
"My cops ... know the difference between a 47-year-old black male and a young black female."
You stay classy, IT!
Saturday, October 25
Wait, so now Kellen Winslow still gets paid (minus 1/10 a game check in fines, whatever) but still isn't playing? That'll show you, K2! That's really the worst-case scenario for the Browns organization; pay the guy, look bad, and lose one of your best players. Well played.
I'm hard-pressed to name another profession where you can publicly disrespect your boss, still get paid, and not work. That's the life!
Note to my boss, if you're reading this: not serious. I'll be in Monday, ready to work!
Friday, October 24
This was a bad week to be a Browns fan. Derek Anderson’s play left us yearning for Tim Couch, Kellen Winslow and Phil Savage had a childish spat in the media, and the team had their slim playoff hopes essentially squashed by losing a mind-numbing contest in Washington. And although the Redskins got the win, they hardly played like winners, and neither team’s fans won when you consider the lackluster product they were forced to watch which masqueraded as professional football. Do you know who the real winner was on Sunday? Joe the Plumber!
This Week’s Zeroes
Five Demerits: Derek Anderson
Anderson’s stat line: 14-for-37 (37.8%), 136 yards (3.7 Y/A), 1 TD, 57.9 rating
Do you remember when we were having a debate on who should be starting at quarterback? It seems like years ago. Any Browns fan who thinks that Derek Anderson should still be starting is a strong candidate to be euthanized. Fortunately I think we all have enough sense that Dr. Kevorkian won’t be receiving any calls.
Derek Anderson put on a display in the first half that was nothing short of stunning. It started with a screen pass that was beautifully conceived -- until Anderson did his best Rick Vaughn impression to muck it up. He wasn’t helped by Braylon Edwards’ propensity for distraction or some more questionable play calling from Rob Chudzinski, but Anderson redefined the word “erratic” on Sunday, and the onus for this loss fell most squarely on DA’s shoulders.
DA’s confidence is shot, the team no longer believes in him (see: Vickers, Lawrence), and the playoffs are solidly out of the picture. Furthermore, Anderson has once again reverted to the gun shy behavior that plagued him earlier this season. Without playing to his greatest strength, the deep pass, Anderson is nothing more than a decent backup.
We know that Brady Quinn can throw short and intermediate passes more effectively than DA, we know that Quinn is more mobile, and we know that Quinn is a better leader. The playoffs are no longer a possibility and this season is now screaming for some shadow of purpose. With all of that in mind, there’s absolutely no reason why Brady Quinn shouldn’t be the starting quarterback for the balance of the season, or until his play becomes so pathetic that even a neutered Derek Anderson is a markedly superior option.
Four Demerits: Braylon Edwards
After that Giants game, a few idiots (namely me) declared that Braylon Edwards was back, and I come before you humbled by another pathetic display from Edwards. The drops were back in full force. This kind of inconsistency would not be tolerated in most scenarios, but Edwards is still starting based on what he did last season and the fact that the Browns simply have no realistic alternatives.
Last season Edwards grabbed 80 catches for 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns. Based on his stats so far this season, Edwards projects to have 53 catches for 819 yards and 5 touchdowns. That’s a spectacular drop in production.
Some of Edwards’ troubles can be attributed to play calling that doesn’t take advantage of his strengths, and of course the horrible play of Derek Anderson. Even so, Edwards never dropped the football like this in the past, and he was a guy who was known for the occasional gaffe. Not unlike several other key Browns, Braylon was probably going to be looking for a new contract this off-season, but if his numbers don’t spike during the last 10 games that request is going to fall on deaf ears.
Three Demerits: Romeo Crennel
Anybody else wondering what kind of horrific performance Derek Anderson would have to unleash to get himself benched? You’re not alone. Anderson was 3-of-14 for 17 yards at the half. Wrap your head around those numbers. That’s a completion percentage of 21-percent, and an anemic 1.2 yards per attempt. Even after struggling for the vast majority of a season that’s nearly halfway gone, apparently those numbers are good enough for Romeo Crennel.
Romeo’s fixation with Derek Anderson has reached a crisis level. After Crennel is canned (either before or after game 16), he may have to enter some form of rehab. You thought Eric Wedge’s love for Casey Blake was bad? It’s nothing compared to Romeo’s thing for DA.
What’s even more hysterical about this situation is that playing Quinn may be the only way that Crennel would have even a slim chance of keeping his job. If Quinn succeeds and the team finishes say, 8-8, maybe Romeo can avoid the guillotine. But even if Quinn struggles, developing him would give the season some sort of purpose, and may grant Crennel one more chance on a very short leash, a la 2007.
But as for the actual coaching, once again the Browns came out flat and lost a game that they easily could have won. There was another questionable field goal -- although questionable this time because Romeo chose NOT to kick it. And kicking deep instead of onside kicking? It worked, but once again, it was a questionable choice given how Clinton Portis had gouged the defense all day long. At this point, Crennel’s instincts are so out of whack that he may want to take a page out of George Costanza’s book and just do the opposite.
“Hi, my name is Romeo. I’m unemployed and I live with my parents.”
In a few months, at least half of that statement should be true.
Two Demerits: Phil Savage
In spite of the problems the team has had this season, I generally give Phil Savage the benefit of the doubt. Savage isn’t perfect, but since his arrival he’s significantly upgraded the talent on the team, and he’s given us something resembling a GM for the first time in a long time. But Savage dropped the ball in a big way with this Kellen Winslow situation.
Winslow’s hospitalization and comments to the media are old news by now; Winslow went to the Cleveland clinic with a staph infection and his injury was hushed up by the Browns, who didn’t want another staph infection made public. The fact that the Browns tried to sweep Winslow’s injury under the rug only made it more intriguing, simply because nobody actually knew what was wrong with Winslow. But then Winslow came out and told the world that he did in fact have a staph infection, and also voiced some dissatisfaction with how the team had treated him.
Winslow’s comments about Savage failing to call him in the hospital and being treated “like a piece of meat” are likely contract frustrations manifested in a public outburst, but the (failed) deception taking place at Berea is worrisome. To make matters worse, even after lying initially, Savage suspended Winslow for speaking out against the team - basically for being a snitch. Winslow was slapped with a one-game suspension that could cost him about a quarter of a million dollars if he doesn’t win his appeal.
This move makes no sense. Number one, it hurts the team on game day. Number two, it’s as if Savage went out of his way to alienate one of the Browns’ best players. It would be most unfortunate, but you can’t help but wonder if this is the beginning of the end for Winslow in Cleveland. Savage already drafted Martin Rucker last spring, and Rucker could indeed play the Kevin Boss to Winslow’s Jeremy Shockey. Regardless of what happens in the long-run, this incident is just another example of unprofessional, questionable decision making that has tormented the Browns since they returned almost 10 years ago. What’s the one constant in that equation? The Lerner family. Draw your own conclusions.
One Demerit: Rob Chudzinski
Last year, Rob Chudzinski looked like the type of coach we’d been struggling to find; young, intelligent, creative, and instinctive. Out of the coaches, Chud was most responsible for saving Romeo Crennel’s job last season. What a difference a year makes.
The genius of Chudzinski’s system was that it took advantage of the Browns’ strengths, especially in the passing game; a strong-armed quarterback who had big, athletic receivers to catch the football. That cast of characters really lent themselves to Chudzinski’s vertical passing game last season, and they thrived in it. But this season most of those deep passes appear to have been removed from the playbook, and I can’t understand why.
It looked like Chud finally got the message when Braylon Edwards caught that bomb from Derek Anderson in the Giants game, but the Washington game brought back the same old song and dance. If you want to run an offense with lots of slants and quick hits, Derek Anderson isn’t your guy. As long as Anderson is under center, this play calling needs to change or the Browns will continue to struggle in the passing game.
This Week’s Heroes
Five Gold Stars: Sean Jones
Sean Jones was back after four weeks on the shelf, and it was great to see him in the defensive backfield. Jones didn’t look too rusty, as he recorded a game-high 10 tackles (all solo) and forced Clinton Portis’ late fumble, recovered by Brodney Pool. Although Jones’ 10 tackles are encouraging, the fact that he had so many opportunities indicates that the seven guys up front weren’t doing their jobs.
The defensive backs have been one of the few pleasant surprises this season, with Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright progressing more rapidly than anyone imagined. Unfortunately, the Browns are also incredibly thin at defensive back, and just one injury could leave us with the doomsday scenario of Terry Cousin cracking the starting lineup. That’s why it’s so crucial that Jones and Brodney Pool are healthy. If those two are out there, then Mike Adams (when he’s fully healthy, of course) becomes the nickel back, thus greatly reducing Cousin’s playing time.
Four Gold Stars: Shaun Rogers
Whenever you hear the phrase “great job by the Browns’ defensive line,” it’s a safe assumption that someone’s talking about Shaun Rogers. The revamped defensive line has thus far been a disappointment, with Corey Williams looking like a bust until proven otherwise and the Smiths both suffering various degrees of injury. But Rogers continues to impress, delivering the Browns’ lone sack against the Redskins, giving him three sacks on the year.
It is too bad that Rogers’ impressive season will probably not garner much attention because the Browns have been so disappointing and the defensive line isn’t playing well on the whole. But if Rogers can produce at this level for the next few seasons he gives the Browns a crucial building block on defense. The Browns have tried to run the 3-4 without a nose tackle, and they’ve discovered that it’s damn near impossible. Nose tackle is the most important position in the 3-4, if for no other reason than they’re incredibly difficult to find. Between Rogers and the young secondary, the Browns have a good start on defense.
Three Gold Stars: Jamal Lewis
The first half played like a broken record. “Derek Anderson incompletion, Jamal Lewis run, Derek Anderson incompletion, punt.” With Derek Anderson’s incredible impotence on full display, it’s nothing short of miraculous that Lewis averaged 4.2 yards per carry in Washington. The Redskins had no reason to respect the pass, and why they didn’t have at least eight men in the box at all times is beyond me.
Lewis picked up tons of yards after contact, and there were likely several Washington defenders who woke up with some bruises on Monday morning. Although he doesn’t quite have that breakaway speed that drove Butch Davis to drinking (I have no evidence to back that up), Lewis grinds as hard as ever, keeping his legs churning and running with a good lean to pick up tough yards even when the blocking is sub par. As one of many who believed Lewis to be washed up when Phil Savage signed him in 2007, I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong.
Two Gold Stars: Kellen Winslow
Kellen Winslow’s whining about being underappreciated and “treated like a piece of meat” were unfortunate. Um, Kellen, you’re a pro football player making millions of dollars. There are lots of people who would allow themselves to be treated much, much worse for that kind of cash.
But there’s no denying Winslow’s passion and toughness. The Soldier was back on the field despite that staph infection, and God love him, he was finding soft spots in that Washington defense. Winslow only had two catches for 17 yards, but those numbers would have been much more impressive had the Human Sprinkler not been playing quarterback. Kellen Winslow isn’t Mr. Rogers. He never will be. But he plays hard all the time, he plays through a ton of pain, and he hates losing just as much as the fans do. I respect that.
One Gold Star: Gerard Lawson
Joshua Cribbs has developed a cult following over the last two seasons, and rightfully so. Cribbs is a terrific special teams player on returns and coverage who has a huge effect on the Browns’ field position. But if anyone tries to convince you that Cribbs is somehow irreplaceable, they’re wrong.
Of all the things Cribbs does for the Browns, returning kickoffs is probably his most notable contribution, and also his most overrated. Returning kickoffs is much easier than returning punts due to the way the returner has to track the ball, and Cribbs’ most underrated role is probably as a gunner on punt coverage. But back to the kickoffs, Gerard Lawson should serve as a reminder of why the world would continue to turn if Joshua Cribbs were not returning kickoffs.
Lawson, an undrafted Oregon State product, returned a kickoff for 43 yards in the second half. All you have to do on a kickoff return is run north and south, run hard, and hit the seam as best you can. Gerard Lawson showed us that there are tons of guys who can do that, even if they all aren’t as good as Cribbs. There’s no doubt that Cribbs is a very valuable part of the team, but if he thinks he can get Devin Hester money strictly for playing special teams, he’s out of his gourd.
Up Next: 10/26, At Jacksonville Jaguars, 4:05, Jacksonville Municipal Stadium
It’s easy to look at this game on paper and chalk it up as a loss, but this isn’t the Jacksonville team that beat the Steelers in the playoffs last season. Treading water at 3-3, the Jags have been fairly ordinary on both sides of the ball. The running game that fueled their offense last season has been brought down to earth due to some injuries on the offensive line, and their defense hasn’t been as dominant as it has in the past. Jacksonville has had to lean heavily on David Garrard, who has struggled because his offensive line and receivers have been awful.
This looks like a game that the Browns will have a shot at winning. But with Crennel still coaching, Anderson still quarterbacking, and the way this team has played the last few seasons on the road, I can’t pick the Browns without being a homer. I’d take the touchdown the Browns are getting in Vegas, but I don’t like them straight up.
Prediction: Jaguars 17, Browns 13
Tuesday, October 21
Finally, onto the Tampa Bay-Philadelphia Fall Classic that everyone was picking at the start of the season!
After a solid 3-1 first round, I missed on my picks for both LCS series. Oh well. In the NL, I overcompensated for underestimating the Dodgers by instead overlooking what has proven to be a pretty good Phillie team. Over in the AL, my inner pessimist got in the way of a clear-headed choice, though I'm absolutely elated to be wrong any time it means the red socks have to sit home and watch the postseason unfold without them.
New York Yankees vs. Nobody
Philadelphia Shelbyvillians vs. Tuberculosis Devil Rays
There's no question that the Tampa Bay Rays have been the story of the 2008 Major League Baseball season. For a team that had never even posted a winning record, competing in baseball's toughest division, to come out and earn a spot in the World Series, well, it's remarkable. The Phillies aren't quite the same human-interest story, but firejoemorgan.com points out that zero of ESPN's 18 experts had them advancing from the four-team NL pool at the start of the playoffs. Neither did I, though at least I had them toppling the Brewers.
As much as I've enjoyed the Rays slaying the AL East giants this season, I'm supporting Philly here, and not just because I'm from New Phila (pronounced like "Philly" and also short for Philadelphia), Ohio. It's because I empathize with their plight and also feel like Tampa Bay sports fans (do these exist?) have had it way too good.
While I plow ahead season after season having never seen a Cleveland championship in my life (as we know, the last one was the Browns in 1964), Tampa Bay, that noted sports hotbed, has enjoyed both a Stanley Cup and a Super Bowl championship in this decade. This makes me insanely jealous. It's not fair, damnit, just like Boston's absurd success in the '00's. Now they're on the verge of a World Series title, the prize I covet most out of them all.
Philly, on the other hand, has almost certainly the roughest drought of any metro not at the intersection of the Cuyahoga and Lake Erie. Their last win was 1983, that being the 76ers, with the Phillies (1980) before that. (For completeness' sake, the Eagles claimed the NFL in 1960 and the Flyers' last Cup was 1975). That's 25 years of a four-sport city going without a title, close to 100 seasons. Cleveland's is approximately 128 campaigns. Philly fans, I feel your pain.
But the question is, again, who do I think will win? The Rays once again have home-field advantage thanks to the dumbest idea Bud Selig ever had, which is a substantial advantage for them. Philly's run differential for the year was 16 better than TB's, but in an inferior league. The AL was only 22 games over .500 against the NL this year - not as dominant, but it's still a better collection of talent. So you can basically wash out run differential. Both teams are at full strength, both have three very good starters and a strong bullpen back-end, and both feature lineups that can score consistently and in bunches. This could be a really good series!
Vegas has the Rays at -135 and Philly at +115. I was leaning Rays before getting the pros' opinions, and I'm still going that way. Ladies and gentlemen, the most unlikely World Series champion ever:
Rays in 7
Monday, October 20
I was watching the Browns play in a bar named Nickie's in San Francisco on Sunday, where I enjoyed a bloody mary consisting of roughly 96% pepper prior to watching the Browns lose. The place was sparsely populated, though for some reason they were selling mimosas by the truckload. I still can't figure out who was putting all those things down, but we were by the bar and noticed the staff almost constantly preparing them like it was some mimosa-only hurricane relief effort.
Anyway, I was the lone Browns fan in the joint, but also overheard some joker openly rooting for the Washington Redskins, their opponent. Say what? I looked over and found not a red-and-gold clad 'Skins fan, but instead a white guy with a huge afro and a Liverpool soccer hoodie on. As a quick digression, I generally find this to be a faux pas - if you're going to randomly root for an out-of-city team, buy a damn t-shirt or something. I mean, if you're just going out to root for San Francisco or Oakland, fine, but this annoys me. As this guy did.
Some time in the second half, already annoyed, I took a trip to the men's room, and guess who decided to join me? Our favorite Liverpool Redskins fan. He said "hi, old chap" or something and I sort of mumbled back a greeting, and he said with a British accent (hence the hoodie), "you a Redskins fan?"
I said, in full sarcastic mode as I washed my hands (after asking him to repeat this crazy question): "What is it that would make you think that? Is it my Cleveland Browns shirt? Or maybe my Cleveland Browns hat? Or maybe my Cleveland Browns wristband? Or maybe how I've been rooting for the Cleveland Browns all game long against the Redskins?"
He sort of laughed and commented that it was a boring game (this was true), pointing out that it was "nil-nil" at halftime.
Nil-nil? That's it, you're deported. Out!
Later in the evening, I gleefully watched the Boston red socks dispatched from the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Rays while at the airport (I was at the airport - the game was played in a baseball stadium, sort of). After the final out, this random guy remarked to me that he was going to have a very upset grandson after this game. My initial thoughts:
1) Who cares?
2) After championships in '07 and '04, I think your son will get over it.
After getting my heart broken year after year by my beloved Ohio teams, I've become quite the pessimistic fan. However, prior to Ohio St's game this past Saturday against Michigan St, I really had a good feeling. I thought that it was time that the offense was finally going to click, and they were going to take out two months of frustration on an overrated MSU team. I could not have been more right, as OSU took the Spartans behind the woodshed for a 45-7 beatdown.
The offense finally came together, as Terrelle Pryor and Chris Wells each had fantastic games. The defense was the best it has been all year, being the first unit to hold standout RB Javon Ringer to under 100 yards this season and only the second to keep him out of the end zone.
In what turned out to be a sign of things to come, the offense started off on the right foot as Terrelle Pryor made some great moves before scrambling for 32 yards on the game's second play. Later in the quarter, TP made the Michigan St D look silly on an 18-yard touchdown run. After a Ringer fumble on the ensuing drive, Pryor escaped several would-be sacks before showing his passing skills by throwing a dart to Brian Robiskie in the end zone. Michigan St promptly went three-and-out on their next drive, and the route was on when TP hooked up with Hartline for an amazing 56 yard catch and run, resulting in a 1-yard Beanie TD. At the end of the first quarter, it was 21-0 Buckeyes.
The second quarter was all Wells, as he led a nine play, 77 yard drive in less than five minutes, capping it off himself with a 12 yard run. The teams exchanged a couple punts and Ohio St DB Kurt Coleman had an interception in the final minute of the half. 28-0 OSU at the break.
Backup QB Kirk Cousins started the second half for Michigan St, and led the Spartans right down the field for a score, making it 28-7. After OSU's next possession resulted in a punt, Cousins took his team right down the field again and was threatening to score as the third quarter ended. On the second play of the final frame, Malcolm Jenkins was at it again, sacking Cousins and forcing a fumble, which Thaddeus Gibson scooped up and rumbled 69 yards for the game-clinching touchdown. I don't know if Ohio St got comfortable with their lead and didn't play as hard, or they just weren't prepared for the backup so he was able to execute better, but either way, if Michigan St scores there it's only a two possession game and they have all the momentum. Thankfully, we have a guy like Jenkins on the defense that refused to let that happen. After taking a commanding 35-7 lead, the rest of the game was handled by Wells and the defense. A long OSU drive led to an Aaron Pettrey field goal, and a Jermale Hines 48-yard fumble return for a TD gave the Buckeyes a 45-7 victory.
-Game ball goes to: Chris Wells. A 100% Beanie is almost unfair for defenses. Seeing him play like this really makes me think about what would have happened if he were never injured. He probably doesn't make up for all 32 points that the Bucks lost to SC by, but boy does he make it close. Wells was a machine on Saturday, carrying the ball a career high 31 times for 140 yards and two touchdowns. The stiff arm he put on a Spartan defender en route to his second TD made the dude look like he was in grade school.
-TP finally breaks out. Pryor has shown flashes of brilliance this year, but until this game he hasn't shown that he can consistently be effective for an entire 60 minutes. He certainly did that on Saturday. Not only did he look unstoppable on some plays running and throwing the ball, but he also eliminated the mistakes that have been plaguing him thus far. Pryor had by far his best game as a collegiate athlete, going 7/11 for 116 yards with 1 TD and 0 INTs, and running 12 times for 72 yards and another touchdown. He dodged defenders, he ran over them, he threw past them, he simply looked incredible.
-James Laurinaitis was a beast. The Animal was back in his '06-'07 form on Saturday, constantly being found around the ball. If he wasn't making one of his 11 tackles, he was right behind his teammate that did. He led a defense that was devastating yet again. Michigan St was held to a season low 52 rushing yards and a season high 5 turnovers. It was great to see Laurinaitis dominate a game again.
-This victory marks the seventh in a row and 12 out of 14 against Michigan St. Why do we even play this game any more? Can't they just give us a win and save them the embarrassment? I love how MSU always just tanks it at the end of the season every year after losing to us. I don't know the exact stats, but take a look at their record prior to their beatdown from Ohio St and after, it has got to be ridiculous.
Next weekend Ohio St welcomes the third ranked Nittany Lions of Penn St to The Shoe (8:00, ABC). This is always a big game, but this year it's even bigger. National Championship picture aside (Penn St is right in the thick of things, and don't look now, but Ohio St is climbing back in) this game is essentially for the Big Ten title. Each team comes into the game undefeated in conference play, and this is certainly each team's toughest game left on the schedule. Penn St has simply looked unbeatable this season. They have outscored their opponents 363-94! That's insane. If QB Daryll Clark and RB Evan Royster aren't Heisman candidates yet, they should be. (By the way, how awesome of a nickname is the "Blue Royster Cult" for his fans?) In 2005, the Lions ended our hopes of a National Title with a 17-10 victory. Here's hoping that we can do the same to them this year.
Sunday, October 19
I did not like last week's board at all, evidenced by my 5-9 record. On the other hand, I was 2-1 with the games I bet on (the one's that actually mattered), so it's not all bad. I like this week's board alot better, and I'm looking to bounce back and pick up a game or two on Andy, who's been pretty impressive so far this season. Go Browns!
Nick's Money Picks: 2-1
Year to Date
Nick's Money Picks: 6-6
CHIEFS (+9) vs. Titans
Andy: Titans. Until I'm wrong.
Figgs: The Titans never blow anyone out. KC.
Nick: Titans. I'm not happy about giving more than a touchdown, but I can't pick the Chiefs in a game they have no chance of winning.
BILLS (-1) vs. Chargers
Figgs: Definitely could go either way, I'll take SD.
Nick: Bills. Again, a game I'm not thrilled about, but Buffalo's at home and coming off of the bye.
BENGALS (+9.5) vs. Steelers
Andy: Steely McBeam
Nick: Steelers. Pittsburgh has a bunch of key players coming back from injuries, they're coming off the bye, and Ryan Fitzpatrick is starting? Lock it up.
DOLPHINS (-3) vs. Ravens
Figgs: Dolphins. I hate the Ravens.
Nick: Dolphins. Miami's looked good in their last three games or so.
RAMS (+6.5) vs. Cowboys
Note: this line was probably assuming Brad Johnson's starting for Dallas.
Nick: Dallas. It's less than a touchdown, and the Rams are really bad.
BEARS (-3.5) vs. Vikings
Andy: Da Bears.
Figgs: Close call, gimme Minny.
Nick: Vikings. I don't like either team here, so I'm taking the points in a divisional game that should be close.
PANTHERS (-3) vs. Saints
Figgs: Saints win.
Nick: Saints. Feels like this could be a bounce-back game for Carolina, but New Orleans should be favored here.
GIANTS (-10.5) vs. 49ers
Figgs: Giants. How'd they do last week?
Nick: Giants. This line should be 14 or more. The Giants are going to be pissed after last Monday night.
TEXANS (-9.5) vs. Lions
Figgs: Not every day a 1-5 team is favored by 9.5. But then again, it is the Lions. I'll take Houston.
Nick: Texans. I wish I didn't have to give 9.5, but Houston's at home and the better team.
RAIDERS (+3) vs. Jets
Figgs: Jets, as long as a Heidi episode doesn't come on.
Nick: Jets. New York can score, the Raiders are awful, and I only have to give three? "Oh, I'll play your game you rogue."
REDSKINS (-7.5) vs. Browns
Figgs: Beer we go Brownies.
Nick: Browns. I was really close to putting dough on this game, but I'm still not comfortable enough with the Browns.
PACKERS (+1.5) vs. Colts
Figgs: Indy. The NFL should have burried the Colts when they had the chance. They should have started 0-4. Their back now.
Nick: Colts. The Pack has been underwhelming, particularly on defense, and I feel that Indy hit their stride last week.
BUCS (-10.5) vs. Seahawks
Figgs: I'll take the 'Hawks, hoping Wallace can start and Frye gets 0 snaps.
Nick: Bucs. Seattle's awful, and we may see more of Charlie Frye this week.
PATRIOTS (-3.5) vs Broncos
Andy: New England, just to spite Nick.
Nick: Donks. New England's awfully ordinary without Brady at QB.
Labels: NFL Picks 2008