Tuesday, December 30

Happy Birthday LeBron!

The most important member of the Cleveland Cavaliers' family not named Austin Carr turned 24 today. Happy birthday King James!

Dark Days in Brownstown PLUS: The Coaching Carousel

This past Sunday, the Cleveland Browns were defeated by the Pittsburgh Steelers. This is nothing new, as the Steelers have won approximately 456 consecutive games against their AFC North "rival," but this time, for this Browns fan, something was different, and upsetting: I didn't really care.

There was a time when I got super-jacked up for the biennial Browns/Steelers tilts. Sure, some of that has to do with me living in Pittsburgh for the fourteen games from 1999-2005, but regardless of location, this was a game I got crunked for, regardless of the Browns' frustrating lack of success. Yesterday: not so much. Sure, I had my TV ready to go and was sporting my Josh Cribbs jersey, but these were just perfunctory gestures. As the first half droned on, I managed to balance all my finances, organize my music collection, write a couple of blog articles, fold my laundry, and get some groceries at halftime. When Pittsburgh took a 31-0 lead, I decided it wasn't worth any more of my time and shut off the game.

Here's the thing: it really hasn't sunk in with me that the Browns lost to the Steelers again. Those losses used to sting because I thought we had a chance and it was important to me. This time, we've known for weeks how this was going to turn out, and even suspected that the Browns would post another goose egg on the scoreboard. The game was so uninspiring, so rote, and such a foregone conclusion, that it really is not registering in my mind that my favorite football team just lost once again to their arch-rivals. The Browns have inspired a lot of emotions in me over the years, but this is the first time that one of those has been indifference. That, for me, represents a nadir in sports fandom, and I don't think I'm the one to blame.

Of course, the fallout from the tragic season that has inspired this lament is that Cleveland has fired GM Phil Savage (see Nick's story from yesterday) as well as Head Coach Romeo Crennel. Neither is a huge surprise, though Crennel's departure was far more certain in the weeks leading up to the announcement. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone not in favor of the Browns organization making these changes at this time, and I am no exception. These men simply are not the right men for these positions. I say this despite the fact that I tend to be cautious in criticizing coaches and managers, and in particular calling for their ouster. The only regret I have in letting these fellows go is the ridiculous contract extensions the Browns are now on the hook for. Why management extended Crennel, I will never know. I imagine they wanted to avoid a lame-duck scenario at the end of 2008 (09? I can't be bothered to look it up) if Romeo's contract situation was still unsettled. If that was the case: nice try, but no. I don't buy this notion that players will somehow quit on a coach just because he's not signed for the following season. Players will play hard to 1) win and to 2) get new contracts, not necessarily in that order, regardless of the coach's situation. The Browns quit on the second half of this year because they knew they sucked and had nothing to play for, and would have done so whether Crennel was signed through 2008 or through 2050.

Part of the patience I try to exercise with coaches comes about because I think demanding coaching changes is often simple-minded and indicative of a lack of analytical prowess; part is because I recognize that coaching changes are frequently ineffective, particularly when the talent level on the field, court, diamond, or rink remains the same.

For the first part, I recognize that fans are frustrated with losing, and so am I, but why are people always so quick to point out every flaw with every manager and coach and are so willing to call for them to be fired? Look right here in town - people have been clamoring for the firing of both Eric Wedge and Mike Brown for years now, though the Cavs' 26-4 start has no doubt quieted the anti-Brown camp. Yet a logical assessment of the situation doesn't justify such demands. Sure, Brown has struggled at times to get the club in consistent offensive rhythm, but he's installed a solid defense-first mentality that has yielded deep playoff runs year after year and has the team poised to contend for a title yet again this year. Do you really think throwing Coach Brown overboard and bringing in a new guy is really what this team needs? Likewise with Wedge. Admittedly, his in-game strategy has taken a few years to develop, but Wedge consistently gets a lot out of his players and has Cleveland's small market baseball club ready to compete year after year. One can hardly blame Wedge for the bullpen-led disasters of '06 and '08. Sure, you could hire some other guy to manage, but who and why? This is especially true in baseball, where there's a reason why the boss is called a "manager" and not a "coach." The X's and O's of baseball managing aren't nearly as important as the other games; preparation and focus are more key qualities. I'm not saying that Wedge or Brown are perfect, and neither would they. What I am saying is that both have grown well into their jobs and replacing them (with whom?) offers little benefit to either franchise.

One can easily extend this discussion out of C-town, where coaches are being fired left and right, like it's going out of style. Look at the NFL, all of one day after the regular season ended. Sure, one can understand Detroit letting Rod Marinelli go after their historically bad campaign this year, but Eric Mangini out as Jets coach after just three years? Lane Kiffin out in Oakland after less than two? Weird, especially for Mangini. I suppose one has to consider the flipside of that, coaches who continue to stay on and get work when it's clear they should be removed, and by "flipside" I mean "Herm Edwards."

Things get even crazier when you look at the NBA, where six teams (Philadelphia, Toronto, Washington, Oklahoma City, Minnesota, and Sacramento) have already fired their coaches even though the season is barely a third over. This is insane. Does anyone really think firing these guys mid-season is going to do any good? Like installing "Scott Brooks" at the helm at Oklahoma City is going to somehow lift the "Thunder" into the playoffs? So many of these moves are simply cases of an organization doing something just to do something. Hell, Sam Mitchell of the Raptors was NBA Coach of the Year two years ago and they axed him after 17 games. Seventeen. Teams with interim or replacement Head Coaches do not win, and the move does nothing but impede team development. Just to take one example (picked at random from the list of six), let's look at how Kevin McHale firing Randy Wittman to install...Kevin McHale as the new coach has worked out:

2008-09 T'Wolves under Randy Wittman: 4-14
2008-09 T'Wolves under Kevin McHale: 1-9

Bravo! Without going to the trouble of running linear regression analysis on the various factors affecting the Wolves' performance, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Wittman's coaching wasn't the root cause of Minnesota's problems. Perhaps McHale should fire himself and try again. After seeing those numbers, I got curious and totaled up the pre- and post- coaching change records for all six teams who have made mid-season coaching changes. Ready?

Initial coaches: 29-77 (.273)
Interim coaches: 15-56 (.211)

Can we agree that this doesn't work? Are there any doubts that it's not so much the coach that is bringing down these clubs? In all cases, the players continue to suck, and it's not a big secret that NBA players don't exactly give 110% for interim coaches. The question remains: why do NBA executives keep doing this?

Look, there are only so many wins to go around in a professional sports league. Each year, approximately half of the teams are going to lose more games than they win. This is unavoidable. Yet, for some reason, pro sports executives think that coaching changes (particularly mid-season ones) are going to somehow turn things around for their teams, and they almost never do. Coaches in the NBA now last an average of less than three years, and that's even with a few long-timers (Jerry Sloan, Gregg Popovich) skewing it high. The main reason is owners and GM's making knee-jerk decisions to can the coach with almost no benefit to the team and at a significant cost in stability and cohesiveness. If you're the GM of a lousy team with lousy players, why not give the floor boss a few years to grow with the team as you build the roster? I mean, you hired the guy, so he must have some qualifications and talent, so why not let him hone his skills? Your players obviously suck, so you're not going to win right away no matter who coaches your club, so it's a perfect time to let a sharp coach construct his system and build a winner. Sure, there's absolutely a time to recognize when it's not working out with a coach. I just can't figure out why NBA execs seem to think that time is after 20 games of coaching sub-mediocre talent.

Monday, December 29

It's Official: Romeo Sleeps With The Fishes

At a press conference earlier today, the Browns and owner Randy Lerner officially fired Romeo Crennel, the Browns' coach since the 2005 season. Crennel's imminent departure had been clear for several weeks. Combined with Sunday evening's firing of general manager Phil Savage, Crennel's firing brings the Savage/Crennel era crashing to a close, making their failure complete.

Crennel's time in Cleveland was marked by inconsistency, and he will likely be best remembered for the incredible disappointment of the 2008 season and his mismanagement of the Anderson/Quinn quarterback situation. During his 4-year tenure on the north shore, Crennel's teams went a combined 24-40 (.375).

Crennel's first season, 2005, found him with a relatively talentless roster. Not only that, but the Browns were switching from Butch Davis' 4-3 defense to the 3-4 that Crennel preferred, and to say they lacked the ideal personnel for such a switch would be a gross understatement. Nevertheless, Crennel's '05 squad went 6-10 and probably overachieved given their circumstances. Rookie quarterback Charlie Frye replaced Trent Dilfer late in the season and showed promise. Although they still needed a significant upgrade in personnel, the Browns' future looked favorable.

After Phil Savage made several big name free agent signings in the 2006 off-season, including Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley, receiver Joe Jurevicius, linebacker Willie McGinest, and tackle Kevin Shaffer, the Browns had high expectations for the '06 campaign. Unfortunately, things went awry from the very beginning.

LeCharles Bentley tore the petellar tendon in his left knee on the first play of training camp and suffered a staph infection during a surgery to repair the tendon. The infection forced him to have several subsequent surgeries, further gutting his knee. LeChuck never played a down for the Browns and would be released two years later. In a bizarre turn of events, Bentley's backup, Bob Hallen, went AWOL soon after being named the starter. Hallen later notified the Browns of his retirement, citing back problems, but there's long been speculation of something Spears-esque going on there. Many think Hallen simply couldn't handle the pressure of starting, causing him to bolt. (No word on whether or not he shaved his head thereafter.) The instability at center haunted the Browns all year long, as Charlie Frye was battered behind a lousy offensive line and missed several starts down the stretch. The Browns finished a disappointing 4-12.

The banner year of Crennel's stint in Cleveland was 2007, when the Browns surprised everybody to go 10-6 and come within a tiebreaker of a wild card bid. After Phil Savage made a draft day splash reminiscent of Porter's cannonball in The Sandlot by landing Brady Quinn and Joe Thomas, fans were expecting big things. Even so, nobody expected such a strong showing in '07, especially after the Browns were sliced and diced by the Steelers 34-7 in the opener. But Derek Anderson came out of nowhere to throw 29 TDs, Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow both had 1,000 yard seasons, and a resurgent Jamal Lewis carried the Browns down the stretch. Coming out of nowhere, the Browns became one of the league's most fun teams to watch. A Derek Anderson meltdown in week 15 at Cincinnati ultimately cost the Browns a playoff spot, but the season was viewed as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. That pleasant future never came to fruition.

After beefing up the defensive line with Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams, and improving their already stellar passing attack by signing Donte Stallworth, the Browns appeared poised to challenge the Steelers for the AFC North title. Instead, the linebackers were exposed, Derek Anderson played himself out of the starting job, and the team limped out of the gate to an 0-3 record. The Browns were out of the playoff hunt before the leaves started changing colors.

The Browns' highlight of the season was spanking the Giants 35-14 on Monday night; a win nobody predicted. But highlights were few and far between, as the 2008 Browns started four different quarterbacks and didn't score an offensive touchdown in the last 6 games, setting an embarassing NFL record in the process. Crennel's club finished 4-12, losing 6 straight games as the season came to a close, including 8 of the last 9. The Browns' final loss, a 31-0 trouncing in Pittsburgh, put an exclamation point on one of the most disappointing seasons in the history of the once proud franchise.

Romeo Crennel was initially considered a good hire, as he was an accomplished defensive coordinator with over 27 years of NFL coaching experience. But Crennel was in over his head, personified by ridiculous coaching gaffes like chronic clock mismanagement. Frequently described as a player's coach, Crennel was considered by many too lax in what he demanded from the players in training camp, on the field, and in terms of locker room discipline. Loyal to a fault, there was a minor fan uprising until Mo Carthon, a Crennel hire, was removed from his offensive coordinator position midway through the 2006 season.

Although Crennel was a poor head coach, he was a man of great character, and he was always the consummate professional. When Phil Savage's job was in jeopardy due to a power struggle with then-President John Collins after the '05 season, it was Crennel's threat of resignation that may have saved Savage's job. Crennel frequently took bullets in the media for Savage, even after Savage had publicly thrown Crennel under the bus on more than one occasion. If there was one word to define Romeo Crennel, it was "class," and although we frequently blasted him for his coaching decisions, we always respected him as a man. (We also enjoyed making fat jokes.)

Speculation over Crennel's successor began in earnest well over a month ago, and it will now reach a fever pitch. But for at least a moment, it's worthwhile to reflect on the solid leadership qualities that Crennel brought to the table: honesty, integrity, and candor. Those were qualities which the organization sorely lacked after Butch Davis seemed on a crusade to rub as many people the wrong way as possible. Hopefully Crennel's replacement will be a better head coach, but hopefully he will possess Crennel's first-rate character traits as well.

Sunday, December 28

NFL Picks: Week 17

This is it, just one week of the regular season to go. I've got to make up a game or two on Dr. Francis to have a shot of catching him in the playoffs. That's right, Andy, we will be counting playoff games. (If for no other reason than to give me a chance to catch you.) Figgs, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Last Week
Andy: 7-9
Figgs: 6-10
Nick: 9-7
Nick's Money Picks: 1-3

Year To Date
Andy: 126-106-7 (I've been slipping of late)
Figgs: 99-120-7 (I really am ashamed of myself. I don't think anyone that watches as much football as I do could possibily be this bad. Therefore, I will be picking the opposite of what I originally think for each game this week.)
Nick: 119-113-7
Nick's Money Picks: 22-24

FALCONS (-14.5) vs. Rams
Andy: Falcons, once again. What a fun club, like the '07 Browns.
Figgs: Rams.
Nick: Birds. Michael Turner's going to put up 31.5 fantasy points for the few leagues that go 17 weeks.

BILLS (-6) vs. Patriots
Andy: The Pats have been a reliable cover for me, and they won't be afraid of the cold. Buffalo is toast.
Figgs: I don't think either team is gonna score six points in this one due to the wind. Pats win, 4-2. So going with the opposite, I'll take NE.
Nick: Pats. This is a classic Belichick "rip out their throats" game.

BENGALS (-3) vs. Chiefs
Andy: Bengals have won two straight and can finish at home on a positive note. That's how I can give points.
Figgs: Cinncy.
Nick: Chiefs. How can you give points in this game?

PACKERS (-11) vs. Lions
Andy: What is the final score of a forfeit? 7-0 or something? That's the only way I'd take the Lions.
Figgs: I believe a forfeit is 2-0. Lions.
Nick: Pack. Detroit, I'd just like to say good luck, we're all counting on you.

TEXANS (-3) vs. Bears
Andy: Houston's organizational Mission Statement is: "8-8." Give me the Texans here.
Figgs: The Bears need this for the playoffs. Houston.
Nick: Texans. Take away Matt Forte and the Bears can't score 14 points.

COLTS (+3) vs. Titans
Andy: What is this, 2007, the Colts playing a meaningless Week 17 game that involves Tennessee? Tough one to pick, I'll go Colts.
Figgs: Titans.
Nick: Titans. Tennessee's running game lends itself to a meaningless scrubs game like this one.

VIKINGS (-7) vs. Giants
Andy: I'm glad we didn't guess lines this week, Nick. Is Tarvaris Jackson still playing? Giants.
Figgs: After what happened last year, Coughlin won't sit his guys. Vikes.
Nick: Giants. I feel like the Vikes win this one, but by less than a TD.

SAINTS (+2.5) vs. Panthers
Andy: Two teams I love to take...I had NO the first time I wrote this, but I've reconsidered and now I have the Panthers.
Figgs: The Panthers need to make a statement. NO.
Nick: Panthers. Carolina has to win this game if they're serious about challenging the Giants in the NFC.

STEELERS (-11.5) vs. Browns
Andy: I'm taking the Steelers, but I want Nick's line.
Figgs: Pittsburgh wins, 113-0. So I'm taking the Browns.
Nick: Steelers (-10). Define: deal with the devil. This will be the final insult. I'm convinced the Steelers stick with more starters for a longer period of time than people think. Even if they didn't, would it matter? We were just shut out by the Bengals at home. The Browns haven't scored an offensive TD in five freaking games! Do people realize that this is currently the worst team in the league? Yes, worse than the Lions. I'm comfortable betting against the orange and brown here to drive a stake through the heart of the Crennel/Savage era. C'mon Randy, sack up and clean house!

BUCS (-13) vs. Raiders
Andy: Raiders. TB has been slipping.
Figgs: I agree with you guys. Bucs.
Nick: Raiders. It isn't that the Raiders are any good, I just don't believe the Bucs can beat anyone by 13.

RAVENS (-12.5) vs. Jaguars
Andy: Ravens, but damn do I hate them.
Figgs: Jags.
Nick: Ravens. Baltimore's good at home, they have something to play for, and they tend to blow out bad teams.

JETS (-2.5) vs. Dolphins
Andy: Fish. My whole cold-weather theory has been exploded, and I think Miami is a better club.
Figgs: The Dolphins choke away a great season. Fish.
Nick: Jets. I like going against the grain when people are picking one team with such unanimity.

EAGLES (-1.5) vs. Cowboys
Andy: Philly. One of these teams plays well late in the season each year, and it's not Dallas.
Figgs: Eagles.
Nick: Cowboys. I think the Eagles may have shown their true colors last week. Just 3 points against the Redskins? This team is not that good, they had just been getting breaks the last few weeks with the opponents they were drawing.

CARDINALS (-7) vs. Shehawks
Andy: Seattle. AZ has been unimpressive and will be resting people.
Figgs: Cards.
Nick: Seattle. The Seahawks have been playing well for a bad team for over a month now, and to say the Cards have been phoning it in is an understatement.

49ERS (-3) vs. Redskins
Andy: Gold-diggers.
Figgs: Skins.
Nick: Niners. I believe in Mike Singletary. And Harvey Dent.

CHARGERS (-8.5) vs. Broncos
Andy: Too many points to give against the schizo Broncos.
Figgs: That's too many points, this game will come down to the wire. Chargers.
Nick: Broncos. Again, let's go against the grain here. The Broncos might not win outright, but this spread is too high. The Chargers would be a much better team if they just threw 40 times per game instead of running left with LT on every first and second down.

Friday, December 26

Should the New Boss Be An Old Boss?

There aren’t many guarantees in life, but a few things are pretty safe bets. When you watch MTV, your IQ progressively dips. Any Adam Sandler comedy which isn’t titled Happy Gilmore is probably a waste of your time. And for the better part of two months, it’s been clear that Romeo Crennel will not be coaching the Cleveland Browns in 2009.

Coach Crennel’s fate was essentially sealed when the Browns imploded on November 2nd against the Ravens. If Crennel’s departure looked clear back then, then it’s currently being shown in high definition. With the Browns playing out the string and Crennel preparing to cash his final paycheck, much of the Browns chatter has shifted to speculation over Crennel’s replacement. The debate has not only centered on the specific man the Browns should hire, but also on the types of candidates who should be considered.

One of the fundamental questions being asked is “Should the new coach have previous head coaching experience?” The majority appear to think the answer is “yes,” and many even believe that those without head coaching experience need not apply. On the surface, it’s easy to see why folks are in favor of hiring a retread to supplant the doomed Crennel.

There’s a certain level of comfort that comes with bringing in an established coach. You get a name that at least garners a certain degree of respect and recognition. That is especially true of the two gentlemen most fans want to hire: Bill Cowher or Marty Schottenheimer. But there are other reasons to search among the ranks of former coaches which aren’t quite so superficial.

Being an NFL head coach is a difficult job, as evidenced by their high rate of turnover. Tennessee’s Jeff Fisher is the league’s longest-tenured coach, having coached the Titans since 1994, when they were the Houston Oilers. That was a long time ago. Kurt Cobain committed suicide in ’94, I turned 8 years old, and the Browns beat the Patriots in what remains their most recent postseason win. A long time indeed.

Consider this: beyond Fisher, Denver’s Mike Shanahan and the soon-to-be-retired (we think) Mike Holmgren, no current coach had his job prior to the new millennium. In any given year, it’s not unusual to see half a dozen teams in the market for a new head coach in January, and a year with double-digit coaching changes is never completely out of the question. This postseason, we’ll likely see at least five changes (Browns, Chiefs, Lions, Raiders, Rams), as it appears that Mike Singletary will likely be installed as the permanent boss in San Francisco. Speculation abounds that Dick Jauron, Eric Mangini, and Wade Phillips are all possibilities for the guillotine as well, so the number of vacancies may grow. Whether If NFL stands for “not for long,” then head coaches are certainly no exception.

The half full approach to all that turnover is that many exiled coaches are given second or even third chances. Recently, retreads have been all the rage. Consider the last eight head coaches to win Super Bowls (no repeats); Mike Shanahan, Dick Vermeil, Brian Billick, Bill Belichick, Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, and Tom Coughlin, respectively. Of the eight, six were on their second stint as a head man, and four of the last five were retreads. So beyond the simple fact that they were given another chance, it’s probably safe to assume that head coaches learn something at each stop they make, and they adjust accordingly to make improvements when they get their next shot.

In addition to that experience, you also get a more tangible, established product when you hire a retread. Someone who’s already been a head coach has a more concrete track record than a first timer. That’s a good thing when you’re hiring a proven winner like a Cowher or a Schottenheimer. If you’re bringing in a Rod Marinelli or a Mike Nolan, not so much. With the majority of retreads, you’ve established a floor and ceiling. While you understand that the guy might not be the second coming of Lombardi, it’s probably a safe assumption that he’s not going to be Bruce Coslet, either.

The problem with trying to hire a coach with a winning track record is that teams tend to retain coaches that win for an extended period of time. Plus, even if winning head coaches are available (see: Cowher, Schottenheimer), they tend to be in high demand, and they command premium dollars. Given that there’s still a very real chance that even an established winner could fail in a new job, it’s a serious financial risk to offer any coach the $8 to $10 million a year that someone like Bill Cowher may receive.

While experience and a proven track record are important factors that tend to tip the scales in a retread’s favor, perhaps the most dynamic to consider is the difference between being a head coach and being a coordinator or position coach. It’s widely accepted that there is no job which serves as a barometer for how successful a US President will be. While Ronald Reagan was a successful governor-turned-President, George W. Bush has by and large been a failure, and Bill Clinton delivered very mixed results.

In the same vein, there is no job in the NFL that serves as an ideal stepping stone to a head coaching position, not even the role of offensive or defensive coordinator. Recently, we’ve seen quality coordinators struggle in the transition to head coach (e.g. Romeo Crennel, Gary Kubiak), while we’ve seen head coaches who never were offensive or defensive coordinators blossom in their first year (e.g. John Harbaugh, Tony Sparano). There must be some reason why a coach succeeds or fails, but it doesn’t appear to be solely based on his previous job description.

That is, perhaps, because the head coach’s function is profoundly different than that of his subordinates. As much as he is a football coach, the head coach is also in a managerial position. Arguably the most important part of a head coach’s job is assembling a quality coaching staff and delegating authority appropriately to those coaches. Most head coaches are not elbows deep in the specifics of the offensive and defensive game plans -- and if they are, then it means a coordinator isn’t doing his job particularly well.

This may help explain why a great coordinator’s specialty is often lost when he takes a head job. For example, how many offensive or defensive “gurus” have been hired, only to see the team struggle with that coach’s respective area of expertise. Examples include Brian Billick with the Ravens’ offense, Eric Mangini with the Jets’ defense, and Marvin Lewis with the Bengals’ defense. It’s not that any of these coaches lost his mojo, but rather that there simply isn’t enough time for a guy to carry out his head coaches duties satisfactorily, while also serving as a surrogate coordinator to the offense or defense. We should also recognize that in many cases bad personnel can trump good coaching, and vice-versa (although this is probably less common).

Evaluation is also a crucial part of a head coach’s job. Both with his subordinates and his players, the coach must be an impartial judge of whether or not a guy is getting the job done. Playing favorites and showing unflinching loyalty (read: Carthon, Maurice) can be a recipe for disaster.

One of the head coach’s most visible roles is that of a motivator. As a motivator, a head coach is responsible for keeping his team focused as a whole and also dealing with players on an individual basis. When dealing with individual players, sometimes a coach has to wear different hats. Some players need some kind encouragement, while others need to have the fear of God put into them, and a coach needs to have good instincts to decide which medicine is best for a particular player. Coaches need to find effective forms of motivation that don’t get stale, but they shouldn’t use the Del Rio wood chopping method if at all possible.

And of course, contemporary coaches also must play the role of a baby sitter. While coaches aren’t with their players 24/7, they still need to establish discipline and a strong work ethic while the players are on the field, in the practice facility, or in the locker room. Furthermore, it must be common knowledge that team rules will be enforced for actions that take place on and (especially in the current NFL climate) off the field, and penalties for infractions should be severe enough that they are an effective deterrent. When a player decides to purify himself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, it can’t be on a boat filled with prostitutes.

Finally, the head coach’s most visible role in on the sidelines as the game day coach. You could argue that this should be the easiest part of the job. Some head coaches may be inclined towards more conservative or aggressive tendencies during the game, and those decisions will always be evaluated at least somewhat subjectively by fans and the media. Through constant communication with his coordinators, the head coach must adjust the game plan accordingly throughout the course of the game. There are also absurdly simple things like clock management and let’s face it, if a coach struggles with clock management with the exception of the occasional gaffe, he never should have been considered for the position in the first place. In other words, a certain coach calling a timeout in a certain 2007 game at a certain ketchup field to decide whether or not to risk another timeout to challenge a certain play…yep, that’s grounds for dismissal.

The majority of these responsibilities are drastically different than what position coaches or even coordinators experience. As a result, it’s easy to see why so many successful coordinators flop when they finally get their chance in the driver’s seat. It’s also easy to see why many head coaches do a better job when they get their second gig. It’s like just about anything else; each successive time you do something, your skills tend to improve. When you were 15 and shaving for the first time, you came out of the bathroom looking like you tried to head butt a porcupine. But as you practice more and more, you become more and more proficient. Head coach is such a unique position that rookie coaches will almost invariably make some serious mistakes that they build on in their next job. With that in mind, going after someone who already has experience in the field makes sense.

But it’s also dangerous to apply a hard and fast rule to the hiring process, such as “we will only hire a coach with head coaching experience.” To do so is to paint with too broad of a brush. There are certainly intriguing coaching candidates out there like Josh McDaniels, Rex Ryan, Jim Schwartz, and Steve Spagnuolo, all of whom have been highly successful coordinators but lack head coaching experience. Likewise, there are guys out there with head coaching experience (the Marty Mornhinwegs of the world) who provided more unintentional humor than the greatest smash hit holiday classic of all time, and should probably be crossed off the list before the search even begins.

The Browns haven’t hired a head coach with previous experience since Nick Skorich in 1971. This, coupled with Cleveland’s recent coaching failures (two pro coordinators and one college head coach with pro coordinator experience) has led many to adopt the stance that the Browns should only hire a head coach who’s experienced in the field. While head coaching experience is a positive for those candidates who possess it, it is nothing more than that. Head coaching experience cannot be viewed as the main qualifier, or perhaps more accurately, the lone disqualifier.

What the Browns need is a talented football mind with solid managerial qualities, but unfortunately the hiring of a coach involves a high degree of intangibility, as we’ve established. That intangibility combined with what’s riding on this decision makes the upcoming interview process a daunting task for Randy Lerner, Phil Savage, or whoever else is involved in the hiring decision. They simply can’t afford to wrong again.

Author's note: my "Heroes & Zeroes" column is likely finished for the season. I'm tired of bashing the same handful of guys each week, while heaping praise on anyone who can walk and chew gum simultaneously. Frankly, you're probably tired of reading it.

Tuesday, December 23

Rockets Grounded by Cavs 99-90

The Houston Rockets have been a trouble team for the Cavaliers. Heading into last night's battle, the Rockets had won 6 of 8 overall against the Clevelanders, including 4 of the last 5 meetings at The Q, and 11 straight road games against Eastern Conference opponents. The Rockets are also one of the few teams who have gotten the best of Mike Brown; they were 4-2 against the young coach since he took over in 2005. King James and company were more than happy to buck some of those trends last night.

The Cavs and Rockets mostly traded baskets early on, and the Rockets did a good job keeping the Cavs from running. Daniel Gibson nailed a 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter to break a 23-all tie and give the Cavs a 26-23 advantage heading into the second.

As the second quarter began, a mini-run by the Rockets gave them a 30-28 lead over the home team. A bizarre set of events led to a defensive foul on Zydrunas Ilgauskas away from the ball, a technical foul on Ilgauskas, and an offensive foul on Yao Ming on the subsequent possession.

Yao and Ilgauskas were jostling each other a bit in the post, but it was nothing unusual, and the foul called on Ilgauskas was highly questionable at best. Z obviously took issue with the call, and a few choice words drew the ire of the referee. On the Rockets' next possession, Yao Ming got a little into it with Anderson Varejao
as he jockeyed for position down low. The foul called on Ming was still iffy, but much more legitimate than the penalty charged to Ilgauskas (read: make up call). At any rate, the two clubs went into the half tied at 47, and the Cavs had a close home game on their hands; a rare occurrence thus far in the '08-'09 season.

An offensive foul on Yao Ming within the first minute of the third quarter gave Yao four fouls, forcing him to sit for the rest of the quarter. While Rafer Alston helped the Rockets get a slight lead with some ridiculous 3-pointers, Mo Williams set up LeBron James for a thunderous alley-oop that you're sure to see on SportCenter this morning. As FSN Ohio's video feed died for a few minutes (it figures that it happened as the Cavs were surging), the Cavs went on a 14-4 run to take a 71-64 lead which was capped by a nifty reverse layup by Anderson Varejao. LeBron James put an exclamation point on a 15-point quarter with a 3-pointer at the end of the period, giving the Cavs a 73-66 advantage heading into the fourth.

A pair of early buckets from Varejao and Ilgauskas gave the Cavs a 77-66 lead; their first double-digit lead of the game. Two Mo Williams jumpers (including one 3-pointer) gave the Cavs a 14-point lead with 10 minutes left. But the Rockets refused to fizzle. A 15-2 Houston run -- culminating with a couple of Yao Ming free throws -- pulled the Rockets within a point (86-85) with under 6:00 remaining. Daniel Gibson broke up the run with a much-needed trey. Gibson would add another 3-pointer about a minute later to make the Cleveland lead a healthy 7 with the game clock reading 3:18.

If those clutch bombs from Gibson were the body blows, an Anderson Varejao driving hook shot coupled with two LeBron James foul shots proved to be the knockout punch. By that point, the Cavs had opened up a 9-point lead which would ultimately be their margin of victory. LeBron James emphatically blocked a Yao Ming shot attempt from behind to fire up the crowd in the final seconds, and the Cavs improved to a sterling 24-4.
Final: Cavs 99, Rockets 90

Quick Hits

It's good to be the King.
27 points, 9 boards 5 assists, 3 steals, 1 block. That's just another day at the office for 23. LeBron had 7 turnovers, which is especially worrisome when you consider that the Cavs had just 14 total. But in his defense, it's a little unfair to expect him to have to play in the fourth quarter of these games. In all seriousness though, LeBron James is the kind of star you want to have; the kind who only cares about winning. A small part of me has been worried that at some point LBJ was going to start dominating the ball more, like in past years. That hasn't been the case. The guy is unselfish to the max.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall. The Cavs and Rockets might have been separated at birth. Both teams have quality centers who are terrific shooters. (Yao and Z are both true centers, as the position is somewhat loosely applied to big men these days.) Both teams have a wing player capable of taking over the game at any time, although LeBron is certainly more potent at this point in his career than Tracy McGrady. And both teams emphasize defense. If you're looking for a team that's more similar to the Cavs than the Rockets, you'll be looking for a long time.

A good test. Not unlike the Nuggets, the Rockets are one of the handful of teams that always seem to give the Cavs fits. Not only that, but the Rockets also play a half court style that emphasizes defense; a style which really rears its head in the playoffs. After blowing out so many teams at home, it's good for the Cavaliers' collective psyche to know that they have the ability to win a game grinding things out without tons of easy points in transition.

Western Conference dark horse? Don't be surprised if the Rockets make some noise in the Western playoffs this season. If they can keep Yao, T-Mac, and Artest healthy, this is a team that could challenge the Lakers in a second or third round match up.

Sound far fetched? Consider this: Houston can limit the explosive Lakers' possessions by playing a half court game. Houston allows the fifth fewest points per game and holds opponents to less than 44-percent shooting. Yao Ming is one of the few centers who might be able to push Andrew Bynum around inside, and if Ron Artest hasn't bashed a fan in the head with a Gatorade cooler or quit to make another platinum album by April, he might be able to slow Kobe down enough to keep him from taking over the game. If Tracy McGrady is healthy and his back isn't being held together with duct tape and crazy glue, he's one of the best scorers in the game. A Rockets-over-Lakers upset is not entirely inconceivable.

I don't like Rafer Alston. Maybe it's the grumpy old man in me, but this former street baller has always rubbed me the wrong way. Alston's always willing to talk smack, and he doesn't really want to play defense, but I'm not sure those are good enough reasons to dislike the guy. Oh, now I remember: it's because he always torches the Cavs. Alston came into the game shooting about 38-percent both from the field and from deep, and he was averaging about 12 points per game. So, it makes sense that he blows up by shooting 8/11, 4/7 from beyond the arc, and dropping 20 points. Without Alston, the Rockets aren't in this game. Mike Brown needs to have someone playing inside of Alston's jersey from the opening tip when these two teams meet again at the end of February.

Beyond the box score. Yao Ming recording his fourth foul early in the second half was crucial to the Cavs opening a 7-point lead in the third quarter. Without Yao in the game, the Rockets took too many bad jump shots and had trouble keeping the Cavs off the glass on defense. Yao played less that 23 minutes in the game, and had he logged 6-8 minutes in the third quarter, the Cavs might have been handed their first home loss.

It's how you finish. Beyond the way he's totally changed the offense, I've been very impressed with Mo Williams' ability to finish in transition. Williams might be the best open court finisher besides LeBron that we've seen on this team since James was drafted in 2003. Williams' body control is outstanding, he does a great job shielding defenders from the ball, and he plays much bigger than his 6' 1" stature.

A big difference.
Going into the Houston game, the Cavs had the best point differential in the NBA, averaging 13.2 points per game better than their opponents. Boston is the only other team in the double-digits. Although they're scoring about 102 PPG, the Cavs are also holding opponents to about 89 PPG, and 42-percent shooting. If history has taught us anything, it's that defense wins in the NBA Playoffs, and if the Cavs can carry this defensive intensity into the postseason, they've got to like their chances.

DiGiorno Pizza ® Austin Carr Quote of the Game. "Anderson playin' around, playin' around, time runnin' down...takes a nice walk through the tulips for a baby hook shot, and it's good, in The Q." ...Tulips? Where does he come up with this stuff? Why not daffodils, daisies, or roses? What type of flowers would AC recommend giving to a young lady? So many questions -- Austin and I really need to split a DiGiorno, down a few beers, and straighten some of this out.

Up Next: 12/25, Washington Wizards, Quicken Loans Arena, 8:00
You know David Stern and friends thought this match up was pretty boss when they put it on the schedule. The Cavs have booted the Wizards from the playoffs three years straight, there's bad blood between the Cavs and the Wizards, LeBron James is the game's biggest star, Gilbert Arenas is a lightning rod, and both teams should be competitive, right? Well, the Cavs have kept up their end of the bargain. The Wizards? Eh, not so much.

Washington has just 4 wins, and is duking it out with Oklahoma City and Minnesota in the race for the most ping pong balls. Coach Terrence Howard, er, Eddie Jordan has been canned. The Wiz are allowing over 102 points per game. And Gilbert Arenas hasn't even seen the floor, as he's still nursing his surgically repaired left knee. But DC's still got the White House going for it, which is nice...

After your family's finished carving up a Christmas ham, tune in to watch the Cavs carve up the Wizards.

Sunday, December 21

NFL Picks: Week 16

Wow. Look at those records last week. Congrats to Figgs, posting a big W with a 5-9-2 performance. Nothing to see here, folks.

Last Week
Andy: 4-10-2
Figgs: 5-9-2
Nick: 4-10-2
Nick's Money Picks: 0-1

Year To Date
Andy: 119-97-7
Figgs: 93-110-7
Nick: 110-106-7
Nick's Money Picks: 21-21

Thursday Night

JAGUARS (+6) vs. Colts
Andy: Colts
Figgs: The Jags blow, and the Colts are good. This is easy, right? Indy.
Nick: Colts. The Colts have been solid ATS on the road, while the Jags have sucked ATS at home. The Colts are getting healthy, they need to win this game badly to lock up a playoff spot, and the Jags have nothing to play for. Book it.

Saturday Night

COWBOYS (-5.5) vs. Ravens
Andy: Dallas is on a roll. Who knew how important Romo was to this club? I'll take them here in the final game at Texas Stadium.
Figgs: Cowboys.
Nick: Cowboys. I wish this spread was a little lower, but Baltimore's not winning this game.

Sunday Games

TITANS (+2) vs. Steelers
Andy: The Steelers frighten me right now, and Tennessee isn't steamrolling people like they once were.
Figgs: Titans.
Steelers. Tennessee's two best defensive linemen are out, so they're going to have to blitz to get pressure. Kerry Collins has not played good football the last two weeks, and Pittsburgh's defense can take away Tennessee's running game.

CHIEFS (+3.5) vs. Dolphins
Andy: Dolphins. I expected a bigger line.
Figgs: Fish.
Nick: Dolphins, but I'm still not sold on Miami.

PATRIOTS (-8.5) vs. Cardinals
Andy: Arizona is tailspinning and not a good road/cold weather team. They have no chance to win here, none, so I'll lay the points with NE.
Figgs: Pats.
Nick: Patriots. The Cards are pretenders, plus they're packing it in till the playoffs. New England has to have this game.

BROWNS (-2.5) vs. Bengals
Andy: Yeah, Browns football! We're favored here? Really? Have our games been blacked out in Vegas?
Figgs: Browns.
Bengals. I don't think we can win with Ken Dorsey at quarterback.

BUCS (-3.5) vs. Chargers
Andy: TB. I just don't like this San Diago team for some reason.
Figgs: Tampa.
Nick: Chargers. I think Tampa's offense may have been exposed the last two weeks.

REDSKINS (+4.5) vs. Eagles
Andy: I'm so off of Washington right now. Philly should roll here.
Figgs: Iggles.
Nick: Eagles. My favorite game on the board. Philly has to have this game, Washington isn't very good, and the Eagles are rolling.

RAMS (+5.5) vs 49ers
Andy: I hate picking the NFC West Garbage Game of the Week every damn week. Give me SF.
Figgs: San Fran.
Nick: Niners. San Francisco's been playing good football for over a month now. They better hire Singletary.

VIKINGS (-3.5) vs. Falcons
Andy: Interesting game here featuring Atlanta, my favorite random team of the season. Hell, let's stick with the ATL.
Figgs: Vikes.
Nick: Falcons. One of the Williams boys is out on the Vikings' D-line, and I'm not even close to sold on Tarvaris Jackson.

LIONS (+7) vs. Saints
Andy: This is the end of the line for Detroit, because they will not win in Lambeau next week. However, Drew Brees might pass for 600 yards against this awful DET secondary. 'Aints.
Figgs: New Orleans.
Saints. Detroit's come this far, and for Jim Rome's sake, I hope they can go the distance.

SEAHAWKS (+3.5) vs. Jets
Andy: 'Hawks. They've been pretty competitive, and the Jets are shaky.
Figgs: Jetropolitans.
Nick: Seattle. I'm pretty much done picking the Jets.

RAIDERS (+7.5) vs. Texans
Andy: Houston, defying all odds, has played some pretty good football of late, even on the road. I like them in this one.
Figgs: Texans.
Nick: Texans (-7). Houston looks like the hot second half team this year, and they'll keep rolling against the hapless Raiders. Matt Schaub is for real.

BRONCOS (-6) vs. Bills
Andy: Pretty obvious stay-away game here, but I think the Bills are sunk.
Figgs: Donks.
Nick: Broncos. It's not that I believe in the Donks, it's that I don't believe in the Bills.

GIANTS (-3) vs. Panthers
Andy: Solid matchup. I'll take Carolina.
Figgs: Giants.
Giants. One of the closest games on the board. If Jacobs is out, I might change this pick.

Monday Night

BEARS (-4) vs. Packers
Andy: Bears, though I can't offer a good reason why.
Figgs: Da Bears.
Bears. Like Tom Petty, Green Bay is free falling.

Thursday, December 18

Heroes & Zeroes: Week 16

"A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits." -Richard M. Nixon

I've recently been reading a book about President Nixon. Our 37th President was a fascinating man who tends to be presented to my generation in a one-dimensional fashion, fairly or unfairly. A brilliant man, Nixon was haunted by personal demons that ultimately led to his demise. He was also a veritable gold mine for tremendous quotes.

That quote that we led off with summarizes that Monday nighter in the City of Brotherly Love better than I ever could: these Browns have finally failed in earnest, for they have officially quit. Sure, there are a handful of guys who are still giving it their all, but they are overshadowed by the vast majority of the roster who have clearly resigned themselves to phoning in the last three games so they can lick their wounds after the finale on December 28th. The Eagles out-gained the Browns 418 yards to 196. Shakespeare himself could not have penned a story more tragic than that of the 2008 Cleveland Browns.

This Week's Zeroes

Five Demerits: Ken Dorsey
In Tennessee, Dorsey was something of a non-factor. That doesn't cut it at the quarterback position, particularly on a team that's already mediocre on its best day. But in Philadelphia, Dorsey stunk up the joint worse than a week-old cheese steak. KD threw a pair of interceptions, including a pick-six to Asante Samuel that was reminiscent of Derek Anderson's screen pass to Terrell Suggs back on November 2nd.

It would be interesting to hear Rob Chudzinski talk about why Josh Cribbs isn't being used more at quarterback, because there's really no reason to have Dorsey under center. Dorsey can't stretch the field, he isn't a threat to run, and he's not particularly accurate. We know he's a bright guy; when his Miami Hurricanes lost to Ohio State in the 2001 BCS title game, Dorsey and OSU quarterback Craig Krenzel had enough degrees between the two of them to start their own school. But if you don't have at least some degree of NFL talent, brains alone don't make you good enough to play on Sunday. There are plenty of smart guys who know their football forwards and backwards but don't strap on a helmet, and we call these gentlemen "coaches."That's probably the title Dorsey ought to be given.

Four Demerits: Darnell Dinkins
Darnell Dinkins is a serviceable special teams player, but he's not a starting tight end. While he's fairly jacked and can lay out a solid block, the guy simply does not have great hands. Dinkins gave us yet another example of this when he dropped a potential touchdown in the first quarter that could have stopped the offense's "no TDs" streak.

Dinkins is a good blocker in more ways than one, as his presence is keeping Martin Rucker off the field. God only knows why this is the case, but Romeo Crennel works in mysterious ways. As long as Dinkins is upright, he'll probably continue to steal valuable reps from the rookie tight end.

Three Demerits: Mel Tucker
Prior to this contest, Tucker deserved some credit for keeping the defense from quitting entirely. Sure, they would get worn down and eventually break like in the Titans game, but at least the effort was there. This time around, not even the effort was present.

Philadelphia marched down the field on the game's opening drive, and deflated any morale that the Browns had left. But hey, if I were in their position, watching the offense reduced to three-and-outs or turnovers, I might be inclined to pack it in, too.

Two Demerits: Phil Savage
My gut is starting to tell me that Phil Savage will join Romeo Crennel in the unemployment line. It's been four years, and this season's conclusion is playing out in an eerily similar fashion to its 2004 counterpart, right before the Savage era began. While the roster is more talented than it was in '04, the franchise doesn't have any direction and they certainly haven't taken a quantum leap forward from a personnel perspective.

Even the first round of the draft, where you simply have to get production, has been spotty for Savage. Kamerion Wimbley is dangerously close to bust status. Braylon Edwards, though talented, has been extremely inconsistent and also a headache off the field. Joe Thomas is a cornerstone player, and the jury's still out on Brady Quinn. Certainly, you could do worse, and we lived with such stupidity for a number of years. But unless we're judging Savage's draft record strictly against his predecessors, it simply isn't very impressive.

Add to the discussion that Savage's administrative performance as a general manager has been even poorer, and Randy Lerner will have to strongly consider sacking Savage. Savage just doesn't seem to have the people skills or the political savvy to be a general manager, and he's shown it time and again by how he deals with his colleagues in the front office, the media, players, and even fans. The guy is a good scout, and probably nothing more.

These soul-crushing losses are doing nothing to help Savage's case, and if I were in charge, I'd show him the door. Gun to my head, I think Lerner gives Savage his walking papers.

One Demerit: ESPN/MNF
After barely missing the playoffs and exhibiting an explosive offense the Browns were identified as one of the league's "sexy" teams, and the schedule reflects that. By scheduling the Browns for five prime time games, including three on Monday night, the NFL showed that they were expecting big things from the Browns. They couldn't have been more wrong.

Although the Browns won two of their three Monday night games, they were so bad early on that they had little chance of making the playoffs by the time October rolled around. That, combined with the fact that they just haven't been very entertaining to watch equals bad news for the networks who had to broadcast them nationally.

It's been obvious for a few years now that ESPN got the short end of the stick in the prime time television deal because they don't have the option to schedule "flex games" late in the season like NBC. Instead, ESPN is stuck watching the Jaguars roll over against the Texans, or seeing the Browns get slaughtered in Philly. It's so hard to predict what's going to happen over the course of an NFL season that a game which looks intriguing when the schedule's released could very well be a real clunker come November or December.
Over/under on how many prime time games the Browns get next year: 0.5

Over/under on how many years the Browns are black balled from MNF: 3.5

This Week's Heroes

Five Gold Stars: Brandon McDonald
Brandon McDonald came out of nowhere to contribute in limited action last season, and it's clear now that his success wasn't beginner's luck. McDonald was one of the few bright spots for the Browns on Monday night, as he grabbed two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. B-Mac also notched six solo tackles.

There aren't many players on this defense who are legitimate NFL starters; Eric Wright, Sean Jones, Shaun Rogers, and possibly D'Qwell Jackson and Brodney Pool. McDonald appears to be recovering from his mid-season lull, and he's close to making that list. Ideally, Mac's probably your nickel back (arguably the worst popular rock band of all-time, by the way), but he's passable as a starter. The key for the Browns is to shore up the depth behind McDonald and Wright. In other words, the third and fourth corners for 2009 can't be named Terry Cousin and Travis Daniels.

Four Gold Stars: Shaun Rogers
There are plenty of reasons to dog Phil Savage for the way the team has underperformed, and there are plenty of reasons to fire Phil Savage. Shaun Rogers isn't one of them.

Rogers played another solid game, but he also aggravated his shoulder injury during the game. In a meaningless game this late in the season, it would have been perfectly understandable if Rogers had simply watched the rest of the game from the locker room. But for a guy who came to town with a reputation for taking plays off and quitting on his teammates, Rogers showed tremendous commitment by coming back in and finishing the game.

This also seems like an appropriate time to give Shaun Rogers a tip of the cap for making the 2009 Pro Bowl. The Pro Bowl is probably the most meaningless of all the meaningless all-star games, but it's still nice to see Rogers receive recognition for such a terrific season. Hopefully this accolade will help fuel Rogers' fire and he can carry this momentum into next season.

Three Gold Stars: Browns Fans
How do we put up with this team? Why do we put up with this team? The Browns are like a significant other that cheats on you, stands you up, and yo-yo's with your heart, but for whatever reason you just can't bring yourself to break it off.

Honestly, the level of mediocrity that we've had to deal with since 1999 is only trumped by the Detroit Lions. It's sickening. Even a blind squirrel is supposed to find a nut once in awhile, right? We might as well approach game days as character building sessions, because that's what they really are. If you can sit through all 16 Browns games, you can take an emotional beating with the best of them.

We've suffered through four years of Savage/Crennel, and that team's likely to be disbanded. Randy Lerner needs to get it right this time. In fact, I expect that if this coach/GM combo doesn't work out, we'll see Randy Lerner sell the team. Maybe that's what needs to happen. You can say what you want about the Browns being put behind the eight ball from day one, about the owner's role with the team, about Al Lerner's role in the Browns' move and the Browns' rebirth, or about the Browns' unbelievably bad luck, but the common denominator through all the losing is...the Lerner family. It is what it is.

Two Gold Stars: Donovan McNabb
I'm still not convinced that the Eagles' resurgence is for real, but I'm starting to come around. Getting benched may have been the best thing that ever happened to Donovan; he's looked totally reinvigorated during the last three games. McNabb was 26/35 passing for for 290 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

McNabb's a goofy player, because there are times when he looks like a top five quarterback, and times he looks like he's on his way out. Philadelphia's going to have make some big decisions this off-season, starting with Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid. I know that McNabb's been around for awhile and has yet to win a title in Philadelphia, but considering how rare quality quarterbacks are in this league -- we Browns fans can certainly attest to that-- I'd have a tough time getting rid of a guy who's already proven to be a solid signal caller.

One Gold Star: Phil Dawson
Phil Dawson didn't do anything extraordinary in Philadelphia (FG, XP), but he'll be joining teammates Shaun Rogers, Joe Thomas, and fellow alternate Josh Cribbs in Honolulu this February for the Pro Bowl. Dawson probably would have been voted in as a starter, but he's missed a few awfully questionable field goals in the last month or so. With a career-high 30 field goals this season, Dawson certainly deserves recognition. Ironically, his career year has been fueled by the Browns' offensive struggles, particularly in the red zone.

Although he's always been accurate, Dawson has added 6-8 yards to his range over the last two seasons or so, vaulting him into the ranks of the best kickers in the league. Plus, his incredible field goals against Baltimore (the Dawson Bar Game) and Buffalo (the Snow Game) have granted him a near cult status with Browns fans.

Up Next: 12/21, Cincinnati Bengals, 1:00, Cleveland Browns Stadium
It's what we've all been waiting for: Dorsey/Fitzpatrick in a duel of high-powered offenses! If anyone who isn't a fan of these two clubs gets stuck watching this game, I feel sorry for them. This could be the last win of the Romeo Crennel era, and it would be nice to get to five wins to drop down a couple of draft spots (the money paid in the top five is completely insane). I'd suggest that the Browns win one for Chromeo, but I'm not sure whether the catatonic Crennel ever knows who's winning or losing when he's on the sideline.

Prediction: Browns 19, Bengals 17

Wednesday, December 17

Buckeye Round Up


As expected, Malcolm Jenkins took home the Thorpe Award last week, given to the Nation's best defensive back. He was also named first team All-American. Malcolm is quickly becoming one of my favorite Buckeyes of all-time. Teams simply don't throw his way. He also has a knack for big plays, blocking two punts and picking off four passes this year. When he decided to return for his senior year after being projected to be a top 20 pick in the draft last year, most people were surprised and said it was a bad choice. He managed to increase his draft status after the '08 season, and now seems to be a sure fire top ten pick. I got wood with just the mere thought of him being in Cleveland next year.

Big ups to James Laurinaitis as well, as he became only the second person in college football history to be named to the All-American team three times. When he made the team last year, he followed in the footsteps of fellow superstar Buck linebackers A.J. Hawk and Chris Spielman by becoming a two-time All-American. Not only did Laurinaitis fill the giant shoes left for him at the real Linebacker U, but he outgrew them.

These are two of the best defensive players in OSU history. It was great to watch them over the past few years, and I hope they excel at the next level.


Ohio St has been a pleasant surprise on the hardwood this season, currently on pace to go 30-0. Unbeaten in their first six games this season, OSU has beaten such quality opponents as Miami, Notre Dame, and Butler. At the time Ohio St beat them, Miami and Notre Dame were ranked 22 and 7, respectively.

Evan Turner showed flashes of brilliance last season, but was very inconsistent. This year he has really responded to being the "go-to guy," leading the team in points (16.2), rebounds (7.3), assists (3.3), and steals (3.2). He's also shooting 50% from beyond the arc. This guy could be a superstar, as he is only a sophomore.

Dallas Lauderdale has also been a huge (literally) reason for this team's success, mostly on the defensive end. He reminds me a lot of Greg Oden on defense. He certainly isn't as polished offensively as Oden, but he is a beast down low, having several monstrous Oden-like blocks this year (4.7 per game). Lauderdale's solid performance has allowed the Buckeyes to bring freshman B.J. Mullens along slowly. Mullens averages 16 minutes a game, with an increasing role as each game goes on.

Obviously, six games is far too soon to determine how this team will finish, but it's always great to get off to a good start.


Tuesday, December 16

The title of my all-time least favorite Brown is there for the taking

Ball-dropper extraordinaire Braylon Edwards after whatever it was the Browns did on Monday night:

"It is what it is ... I've learned since being here that I'm very unappreciated. Not by the organization, just in the eyes of the fans and the city. Since Day One, I've been a marked man coming from Michigan. It's just gone that way."

Cry me a fucking river, Braylon. Catch the ball and no one cares where you're from. Remember last year when you were actually a good player and everyone thought you were great? I didn't see much unappreciation there. Can you really not see that all the fans want is for the players to play hard and play well, and that in 2008 you have done neither? It's really that simple.

This is absolutely pathetic, a top-caliber athlete trying to pass off public disappointment over him squandering his talent because he can't catch a football as inter-state bias. You think national columnists like Bill Simmons make fun of you because of that horrible university where you played amateur football? You think the NFL's stats bureau adds extra drops to your stats because they're Buckeye fans? (Actually, they wouldn't anyway because it would crash their system).

This year, Edwards has performed poorly and repeatedly shown an inability to accept his mistakes, with this comment being the most glaring example. Sure, I can see where it's upsetting to Edwards how his season and the Browns' has gone, but lashing out at the fans because they don't care for his weak effort is absolutely the wrong approach. What a franchise this is.

Monday, December 15

4 am Browns excitement!

I'm currently in Norway, and for whatever reason my internal clock decided I should be wide awake at 4 am. I thought I was pretty well on local time, but apparently not. Anyway, I thought, "hey, it's 10 pm in the US - let's see how the Browns are doing!"

17-3 at half, perfect. Also, I just turned on GameCast to see this inspiring sequence:

1st and 10: J. Lewis rush up the middle for 1 yd.
2nd and 9: K. Dorsey pass incomplete to C. Ali
3rd and 9: K. Dorsey pass incomplete
4th and 9: D. Zastudil punts 35 yards to End Zone

Yeah, I think a week away from this team is working out pretty well for me. This'll let me get the batteries recharged for the big Battle of Ohio next week! I'm goin' to bed.

Saturday, December 13

NFL picks: Week 15

A late rally gave Andy a 9-7 mark for Week 14 while the other two fellows struggled with an unpredictable week. Only three weeks remain in the 2008 regular season slate; it will take some kind of Festivus miracle for Nick to claim the top spot.

Last Week
Andy: 9-7
Figgs: 5-11
Nick: 6-10
Nick's Money Picks: 3-3

Year to Date
Andy: 115-87-5
Figgs: 88-99-5
Nick: 106-96-5
Nick's Money Picks: 21-20

Thursday game

DA BEARS (-3) vs 'Aints
Andy: The Bears have been solid of late, and I think they'll be imposing on a Thursday night in the cold against a dome team. As much as I like the Saints this year, let's go with Chicago.
Figgs: I was originally thinking Saints, but Andy makes some good points. But on the other hand, considering how much better I am at this than Andy, I'll stick with NO.
Nick: Bears. The Saints blow on the road, and it's going to be cold tonight.

Sunday games

DIRTY BIRDS (-3) vs Buccos
Andy: Buccaneers. Yeargh!
Figgs: I don't what what brought on my love for the Falcons this year, but I'm sticking with em.
Nick: Falcons. Did you see the Bucs try stop the run on Monday night?

TEAM THAT I HATE IN BALTIMORE (-1) vs Team That I Hate in Pittsburgh
Andy: There are no winners in this game. Steelers, I guess.
Figgs: Can I pick a 0-0 tie? I'll go Ravens, just cause I hate the other one a little bit more.
Nick: Baltimore. I heard a good rule this week: pick Pittsburgh against teams with a lousy pass rush, pick against Pittsburgh when they're playing teams with a good pass rush. I'll bite.

SEX PANTHERS (-7.5) vs Donks
Andy: 60% of the time, Carolina wins every time.
Figgs: Panthers win, but not by that much. Denver.
Nick: Carolina. I hate that half point, but the Panthers' running game is sick right now.

BUNGLES (+6.5) vs 'Skins
Andy: The 'Nati hasn't been even vaguely competitive of late. Washington is skidding, but I like them to cover this.
Figgs: Skins.
Nick: Redskins. I liked Cincy to cover the number earlier this year, but I'm jumping ship.

Andy: I'll take Nashville over the city they relocated from.
Figgs: Titans.
Nick: Titans. A few good games from Houston are feeding this line. Tennessee by double-digits.

HOOSIERS (-17) vs One of the Worst Teams the NFL Has Ever Witnessed
Andy: If Indy beat Cincy by 32 last week, why shouldn't they beat Detroit by more than that this week? Colts.
Figgs: I'll go with the Lions, just because I have a huge man crush on Daunte. Is he even still Q'ing this team?
Nick: Colts. Screw the big three, Congress should bail out the Lions.

JAGONS (+1) vs Peckers
Andy: Pack. I'm so over Jacksonville.
Figgs: Pack.
Nick: Packers. The Jags quit months ago.

CHIEVES (+5) vs Bolts
Andy: Ah, the 5-point line, Vegas' version of throwing their arms up and saying WTF? KC has been a friend to me this year but I like SD here.
Figgs: Chargers.
Nick: I'll take games I'd never bet for 500, Alex. Bolts.

FISH (-6.5) vs Gold Diggers
Andy: Miami. You convinced me, Dolphins, now keep it going.
Figgs: Miami.
Nick: Miami, though the Niners are coming on under Singletary. His ass must be a sight to behold.

J!E!T!S! JETS! JETS! JETS! (-7) vs Buffaloes
Andy: The battle of: who can let me down more. I simply cannot take Buffalo anymore.
Figgs: I could go either way, so just to be different, Jills.
Nick: Jets. I really like teasing this game with the Pats.

LAMBS (+1) vs Sea Chickens
Andy: Seattle. I'm drunk.
Figgs: Seattle.
Nick: Shehawks. Seneca Wallace has some weird mojo working right now.

PHOENIXES (-3) vs Purple People Eaters
Andy: 'Zona. Still drunk. Hey Figgs, take the opposite team so I can win!
Figgs: Of course I'm taking the Vikes.
Nick: Arizona. Gus Frerotte is out, and he was their starter. Not a good week for Minny.

Andy: I still think New England's non-cover last week was weird, and to prove it, I'm taking them again.
Figgs: Pats.
Nick: Patriots. This isn't a game that Belichick's boys will lose.

Sunday night

AMERICA'S TEAM (-3) vs G-Men
Andy: Giants, I guess. This should be a good game to watch.
Figgs: NY is getting points? Giants.
Nick: Giants. How is NY getting points in this one.

Monday night

IGGLES (-14) vs Clowns
Andy: If you look at the talent between these teams, there's no reason why the line should be this gigantic, and that is the story of Cleveland's 2008 campaign. Browns.
Figgs: Browns. It's a Monday night, so we might win.
Nick: Eagles. Do I really have to watch this game?

Around The Bases

Forgive the short Kerry Wood signing coverage. However, barring a physical surprise we'll have a new closer in 2009 and he has never pitched for an AL team. We can only hope that by not offering Wood arbitration that the Cubs organization has brought down upon themselves another curse to last another hundred years, maybe longer.

Let's see what the 31 year-old Kerry did last season, shall we. ERA+ of 137. Not too shabby. No Brian Fuentes (168) or K-Rod (198), but ahead of our other option, 41-year-old Trevor Hoffman at 101.

I hear Kerry was at the All-Star game in NY in his first ever year of closing. He saved 34 games while striking out 84 while pitching 66.3 innings over 65 games. I guess the shock here is the Tribe got a guy like Wood in the free agent market. Yes, Shapiro’s tight-wad scrap heap signings are usually nothing to get excited about, but this is big news. The deal is alleged to be for two years with a third year team option, and while I haven't seen any real particulars on the money side, I suspect the deal for two years comes under $20 million. From all the post-season talk this is what Wedge wanted, a real big-time closer. I can only imagine how crazy it is to not know or trust who will be pitching the ninth inning for a manager. They usually have enough to worry about, and handing over the ball to a question mark isn't what I would call comforting. That, and losing games in the ninth is probably one of the most demoralizing things a team can experience over 162 games. All that said, I like Jensen Lewis and his passion for closing was evident. However I'm probably romanticizing him a little because he's "one of our guys." But obviously if Wood can come in here and slam the door in the ninth then maybe Wedge can get his Circle of Trust up and running and all will once again be right with innings seven through nine.

In other news, the Tribe traded Gutierrez in a 34-team, 190-player deal. OK, sure, it was only three teams and 12 players. Once again the three amigos of the Mets, Mariners, and Indians GM's got together to make a trade. Shapiro has a good history with Minaya in NY (thanks for Lee and Grady!) and the Mariners organization hasn't been too bad to us either (who did we trade for Asdrubal again?). So we lose Gutierrez and gain a right-handed reliever Joe Smith (get a real name!) and young (22 year old) middle infielder Luis Valbuena.

Gutierrez was a great asset to this team with his amazing defense and his ability to player center. Sure he no hit curve ball, but guys who can play center are a rare commodity in this league right now. While you may be saying our outfield looked a little crowded and we shouldn't sweat the loss of Franklin I would point out the bullpen wasn't hurting for occupants either. Let's take a roll call, Wood (hopefully soon), Lewis, Perez, Betancourt, and Kobayashi are already almost guaranteed spots but now add Smith and don't forget prospects John Meloan, Adam Miller and Jeff Stevens. Yes, once again Shapiro’s efforts of turning over a bullpen chalk a block full of arms and letting the coaching staff sort them out is in full effect. Smith is a submarine pitcher which is cool when it works and so I hope he works out. That and we all know Wedge only uses three guys regularly with a fourth tossed in for garbage duty.

Finally, the Rule 5 draft has come and gone without a Tribe player being taken and without the Indians taking anyone else's. This is not unlike that old lady who looks through all your stuff at a garage sale only to walk away empty handed. However, it would appear Shapiro is happy with this conclusion as he gets to keep all his precious players that he couldn't protect.

So there you have it. Well except for the kind of non-news that Shoppach was offered a contract for 2009 due to the fact he is arbitration-eligible. And yes this allows me and a lot of other Indians writers to point out the Tribe haven't gone to arbitration with a player since 1991's Greg Swindell, who I believe I have a good 20 1988 baseball cards featuring.

Friday, December 12

Heroes & Zeroes: Week 14

Apparently Romeo Crennel isn't content to simply watch his tenure die; he wants to build his coffin and pound the nails in himself. The Browns held the lead for much of the first half, but this game went according to plan. Without several big breaks, the Browns weren't going to win this game. Tennessee was too solid on defense, and the Browns had too little offense to hang for all four quarters. If you'd written a game summary half an hour before the game, you probably wouldn't have been far from reality.

This Week's Zeroes

Five Demerits: Jamal Lewis

Seven carries for seven yards. It's no secret that Lewis has been wearing down the last few weeks, but that's ridiculous. Lewis' standard stumble into the line for two yards has become stunningly predictable. The running game is so much more predictable when Lewis is in there because of his physical limitations. He's lost a step, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

The real question now is whether or not Jamal Lewis has a role on this team in 2009. I'm not sure. Lewis hauled in $6.5 million this year, and should be scheduled to bank a similar figure next season. If there's a viable option to replace Lewis either in free agency or the draft, he should be cut.

Ideally, I'd like to see Jerome Harrison paired with a power back in a plowshare. Out of the unrestricted free agents, Brandon Jacobs seems an obvious choice, but he'll likely be too expensive. A cheaper guy who intrigues me is Correll Buckhalter in Philadelphia. Buckhalter shouldn't be too expensive, and although he's 30, he only has 459 career carries, so he should have plenty of tread left on his tires. Although Buckhalter's battled injury problems in the past, his price tag should make him a fairly low-risk signing. Still, the best option is probably to look for a value pick at RB in the middle rounds of the draft.

Four Demerits: Ken Dorsey
It's almost tough to be upset with the way Ken Dorsey played because it's what we were expecting. Dorsey's a number three quarterback for a reason. But let's face the fact: Ken Dorsey doesn't have an NFL arm. When fans are seriously asking themselves whether or not they can out throw the quarterback, then you've got trouble in River City. This guy is basically a coach wearing a helmet, so let's end the charade, make him a coach already and suit up a third quarterback who can actually throw a 20-yard pass. Bruce Gradkowski probably isn't even backup material, but I'd rather get a look at him than watch Dorsey serve up more wounded ducks.

Three Demerits: Romeo Crennel
When the "neutral" commentators (Don Criqui and Dan Fouts, in this case) are openly criticizing your coaching and management, it's safe to say that things have gotten bad. Don Criqui deserves some credit for praising Browns fans and referencing Browns Backers clubs, while also bashing the way this team is run. You can't blame these guys -- you wouldn't want to call these games with a flat, lifeless Browns team out there either.

There's a part of me that keeps expecting the Browns to upset a team down the stretch to "win one for the gipper." Then I come to my senses, and remember that in this case, the gipper has about as much charisma as Keanu Reeves.

Coincidentally, Reeves' new flick is a remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Speaking of planets not moving, have you watched Romeo Crennel coach a game? Fat joke: check.

Two Demerits: Rob Chudzinski
Chud's not getting off of the naughty list until Jerome Harrison gets double-digit touches in a game. Period.

One Demerit: Vince Young
Remember when the Texans should have drafted Vince Young or Reggie Bush instead of Mario Williams? That argument's now a moot point. Young is healthy again, but we won't see him barring an injury to the venerable Kerry Collins. And one can't help but wonder what Young's future in Tennessee will be.

Remember when we had to endure ESPN's talking heads (yes, I mean you: Sean Salisbury) explain how "all Vince Young does is win games"? Well, it turns out that Tennessee was winning in spite of Vince Young. Yep, a guy with a career passer rating of 68.6 isn't a "winner," he's a backup QB who's being carried by a quality team and an excellent coaching staff. Just look at how the Titans have excelled with Collins, the embodiment of a game manager at this point in his career, under center. It turns out the scouting reports were right: Vince Young is a great athlete, but maybe not an NFL quarterback.

This Week's Heroes

Five Dog Bones: D'Qwell Jackson
It was a career day for NyQuil, who made 12 tackles and grabbed a pair of interceptions. Jackson's a vexing fellow. He'll have solid games, but he never wows you with anything he does. I think he'd be a solid player if he were teamed up with competent LBs. Still, the guy just doesn't pass the eyeball test. He's listed at 240 pounds. Really? Maybe sopping wet. If Jackson could add 15-20 pounds of muscle onto his frame, I'd be much more comfortable with him, but for now I think we can at least all agree that he's far from the problem with this defense.

Four Dog Bones: Josh Cribbs
Cribbs playing quarterback was basically the only reason for Browns fans to tune into this game. And as cool as it was, there are several things the Browns should have done differently.

Number one, Cribbs needs to be under center more often. Ken Dorsey is just wasting space back there, so why not at least threaten the defense with a play maker? Two, Cribbs' play fakes are totally wasted. Cribbs usually runs the ball, and nobody's going to buy that he's handing off. In fact, Cribbs' fakes are probably just costing him that first step he needs to gain big chunks of yardage. That needs to be cut out altogether. Three, Cribbs has to throw more. He can't be worse than Dorsey, and Cribbs needs to throw to at least keep the defense a little bit honest to loosen things up for the running game around the line of scrimmage.

Three Dog Bones: Jeff Fisher
Raise your hand if you thought the Titans were going to oust the Colts to win their division. Okay, now raise your hand if you thought Tennessee was going to make the playoffs at all. In fact, when you consider the pre-season popularity of the Jaguars and Houston's "sleeper" status with some, it's safe to assume that quite a few prognosticators had the Titans bound for the AFC South's cellar.

Jeff Fisher isn't the league's longest-tenured coach by accident. Fisher always seems to maximize his team's potential, and this year is no different. The Titans aren't a super team like last year's New England club or a team loaded with Pro Bowlers like Dallas. But what they lack in flash, the Titans make up for in discipline and fundamentals. That's a direct reflection of Fisher, and it's something the Browns have been sorely lacking.

Two Dog Bones: Syndric Steptoe
Steptoe added four more catches to his season totals, and he's quietly made 19 catches for 182 yards this season. Those aren't big numbers, but for a second year player who was a seventh round pick, that's not too shabby. Steptoe certainly has been a more consistent contributor than Don't Play -- excuse me, Donte Stallworth. Steptoe's an example of the type of solid depth players the Browns typically have trouble finding, and he'll have a place on this team in 2009.

One Dog Bone: Kerry Collins
Kerry Collins is an easy guy to cheer for. Collins has definitely been through the fires, whether it was alcoholism, rehab, or controversy for using racial slurs. But Collins fought back to lead the Giants to the 2001 Super Bowl, and he appears primed for another Super Bowl run with the Titans. In a way, Collins embodies what makes this Titans team so good. He's not a flashy player, but he plays within himself, he knows the game, and he's fundamentally sound. With Kerry Collins at quarterback, the Titans aren't going to beat themselves. They're definitely beatable, but you'll need to bring your A-game all day, and you'll probably need a break or two as well.

Up Next: 12/15, at Philadelphia, Lincoln Financial Field, 8;30
I have a hard time believing this defense can stop Brian Westbrook. Expect Philly to really dial up the blitzing on Ken Dorsey, and expect a lopsided Cleveland loss. Can we end this season and sort out the front office and coaching staff already?

Prediction: Eagles 27, Browns 10

Wednesday, December 10

Indians sign Wood

Editor's note: John actually wrote this, not Andy

MLB.com is reporting the Indians have reached an agreement with Kerry Wood on a two-year deal, worth around $20 million.

Wood was my choice if we needed to sign a closer. The funny thing about it is that the front office thought that Orlando Hudson at second was probably too big a risk due to his wrist injury. However, when I think of Kerry Wood, I think injury. Nevertheless, I thought Wood was our best bet. Trevor Hoffman I thought was a little old, and Brian Fuentes was probably too expensive. So what do you think?

I don't have any details on how much money we ponied up because heck I'm writing this story on a blackberry. I do expect this is the biggest news we'll have in Cleveland this offseason. I could be wrong.

Tuesday, December 9

Grab your goofy shoes and a case of Budweiser, we're going bowling!

The college football bowl schedule was announced this past weekend, and Ohio St is heading to a familiar place to face a familiar foe. On January 5, the Bucks will head to Glendale, Arizona to take on the Texas Longhorns in the Fiesta Bowl. This is OSU's fourth Fiesta Bowl appearance since 2003. In '03, the Buckeyes had one of the greatest upsets in National Championship history, beating a heavily favored Miami team in double OT. Ohio St came back to Glendale to beat Kansas St in '03 and roll Notre Dame in '05.

This is Ohio St's fourth consecutive BCS game, and sixth in the past seven seasons. Let's talk about how ridiculous this is. I think people are overlooking how much of a powerhouse this program has been in the last decade because of the eggs they laid in the last two National Championship games. The one non-BCS game in the last seven years was a 33-7 beatdown of Oklahoma St in the Alamo Bowl in Ted Ginn's coming out party.

Ohio St's opponent in this year's Fiesta Bowl will be Texas. Jim Tressel and Mack Brown are not strangers, as their teams met in 2005 and 2006. The '05 game was a heartbreaker for the Bucks, as Texas won 25-22 on a last minute touchdown from a pre-suicidal Vince Young to Limas Sweed. I remember, I was there. OSU got revenge the next year, beating the 'Horns in Texas, 24-7.

This matchup should be a good one, as Texas' high-powered offense goes up against Ohio St's shutdown defense. I was really happy when I saw that Texas was going to be our opponent. I think it should be a really good game, and one I think the Bucks can definitely win. It would be great to see Malcolm Jenkins and his fellow seniors go out on top, and even better to take the first step in erasing the memory of the last two bowl games.


Monday, December 8

Check yourself before you wreck yourself

I was listening to the post-game radio show after the Cavs won their 8th straight game (all by 12 or more points) on Saturday night, and couldn't help but notice the overwhelmingly positive bent of the calls to the show. This is bound to happen when a team sports a 17-3 mark. Everyone was talking in effusive terms about how well the team is playing, how great the chemistry is, and unflinchingly talking of championship dreams at the quarter pole.

Well, not me. I'm furious at the Cavaliers. Why? Because their games are super-boring, that's why. They start off basically every game up 11-2, take a 12-point lead by the end of the first quarter, go up 20 by half, 25 by the end of the 3rd, and populate the entire 4th quarter with dudes you've never heard of. Where's the entertainment value in that? Where's the drama? So, instead of mindlessly praising the Cavaliers for the best start in franchise history and their absurd +13.3 point differential, I'm here to give the Cavaliers each individually a stern talking to, so that they can straighten themselves out and so that I can actually watch an entire game.

LeBron James
Let's start at the top, shall we? Look at you, LeBron, you're having a weak year - per-game scoring is down from last year by 3.5, assists down 0.7, rebounds down 0.8...gee, could it be because you never play in the 4th quarter? You do know these games are 48 minutes long, right? For someone who used to call himself "Mr. 4th Quarter," you sure do a lot of lounging around with a towel on your head during crunch time. I want the leader of this team to be, you know, playing basketball when it counts, rather than joking around with the rest of the starting five and watching Tarence Kinsey and co. mop up another blowout. Step it up, man.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Sure, big Z, I'm sure you're very proud of being second among all NBA centers in efficiency rating (11th among all players) and being the best-shooting big man around, but that's not championship stuff, nor is the odd fact that you can somehow shoot 3's now. You suffer from the classic European focus on production and numbers instead of intangibles like "grit" that sportswriters like to harp on. If you were tougher, maybe you'd be the Cavs' all-time leading rebounder instead of merely 2nd, trailing by 4. Here's the main point: no matter how effective you've been this year, and trust me, you've been outstanding, you look kind of awkward at times, and that counts for a lot in the eyes of people who don't understand basketball.

Mo Williams
Everybody likes a winner, Mo, and your arrival has coincided with the Cavs winning a lot of basketball games, so you're naturally getting quite a bit of credit. But seriously, stop trying to be good at ball-handling, passing, and scoring - back in my day, we had different people to do each of those things, and we liked it that way.

Ben Wallace
Defensive intensity. Huh. If you can't make yourself any more menacing than this, you're going to have to settle for merely first-team all-NBA defense instead of Defensive Player of the Year. And as we all know, DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS, completely independent of the other components of basketball.

Delonte West
Yeah, we know you're shooting .485 from the field, .435 from three, and .800 from the line, but you're only 6'3"! Everyone knows that's too small for a shooting guard.

Daniel Gibson
Same thing I said for Delonte, only with both lower shooting numbers and height.

Anderson Varejao
Fourth-wall-breaking digression: even in a totally tongue-in-cheek piece like this, I can't find anything to give Varejao grief about. He's just been awesome this year. Did you see him knock down six straight mid-range jumpers the other night? Are you kidding me?

Eric Snow
OUT (Left Knee)

Wally Szczerbiak
Wally, Wally, Wally...perhaps you aren't aware of your expiring contract and how eminently tradeable that makes you? If you don't stop playing so well within the team dynamic and knocking down your shots, you're going to force us to make a decision about whether you're a valuable piece of the team instead of simply a trade chip. Why complicate things?

JJ Hickson
Hey, rookie! I see you have some defensive tenacity, great athleticism, and burgeoning offensive skills. But who needs that? Seriously, if there's one truism in professional basketball, it is this: quality big men are exceptionally easy to find, particularly late in drafts.

Tarence Kinsey, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Pavlovic, and Lorenzen Wright
You gentlemen are certainly playing a lot more than you expected, eh? Bet you thought the '08-09 Cavs would be a nice vacation and a steady paycheck for you - show up, practice against the stars, and enjoy the ride. Think again, muchachos. You're going to end up logging more minutes than LeBron and company if this sort of basketball keeps up.

Fans, I criticize because I care. I'm concerned about this 17-3, First-Place Cavalier basketball team, and I think the players need to be reminded about their performance. This season has been highly disappointing from the standpoint of close games and dynamic finishes, instead focusing almost entirely on stockpiling easy victories and keeping key players fresh for a long playoff run. What's the fun in that? :)