Tuesday, September 30

Pure insanity

I'm sure firejoemorgan.com will get to this one eventually, but check out FJM poster boy Jon Heyman's MVP picks. I mean, from the second you read the title "MVP picks that may surprise you," you just know he has made poor choices and has done so knowingly. Wow.

Editor's note: FJM actually wrote two articles about this piece.

I'm not going to waste a lot of time going through every logical error Heyman makes here, because I don't have forever. But let's hit some highlights:

- Manny Ramirez as NL MVP. Was Ramirez awesome for the Dodgers? Yep, sure was. Did he play less than a third of the season for them? Also yep. I know Heyman fancies himself as an independent, out-of-the-box thinker, but you simply can't give this award to someone who played so little in the league. Manny "easily had the biggest impact?" What? Which brings me to:

- Albert Pujols finishing 5th in Heyman's NL MVP race. Pujols had an OPS+ of 190 for the entire season and Heyman only sees fit to rank him here and mention his batting average. Ahead of him, Heyman has CC Sabathia (we'll get there); Brad Lidge, who is a closer; and Ryan Howard, whose pedestrian 123 OPS+ is his lowest in four years. All three of these are unjustifiable. I know Heyman is giving extra weight to guys whose teams made the playoffs, which is ridiculous because one guy can only do so much on a 25-man team. Exactly how could Pujols have gotten the Cards into the postseason?

- Where's Chipper Jones? Not in Heyman's Top 10, despite a staggering 177 OPS+. Probably the playoff thing again. Jones should have willed his team's pitching staff to perform better.

- Francisco Rodriguez, AL MVP. This is what my post title refers to. This is stupid, stupid, stupid. There are countless players more deserving of this award than Rodriguez. Rich Rodriguez is a better candidate - at least he's not a closer. This man should not write about baseball again until he learns why this selection is wrong, admits publicly that he made a mistake, apologizes to SI and its readers for this error, and promises never to do it again. I know F-Rod is going to get actual MVP and Cy Young votes, and it bothers me as a fan of the game, but this is egregious.

- No A-Rod, anywhere. I know, not his best or most high-profile year, but not in the Top 10? Neither he nor Aubrey Huff (I know, right?), two of the most productive everyday players in the AL, made the list, but two closers did. And real quick: explain to me how Jermaine Dye had a better year than him, or, say, Grady Sizemore? You can't.

- CC 2nd in the NL Cy Young Voting. Yeah, he was tremendous - for half of the season. I do think he should get some consideration as one of the more valuable pitchers, certainly a Top-10 Cy finisher, despite his abbreviated stay in the senior circuit. But he should not place this high based on his half-season in Milwaukee. Sorry, big guy. Heyman is actually right about Santana, but Lidge has no business here and Tim Lincecum should be (at least) second.

- Cliff Lee, AL Cy Young. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Hold on. Beep...beep...beep How can you pick Lee as the league's best pitcher and have F. Rodriguez, who you just named the AL's most valuable PLAYER, as only third, behind Lee and Roy Halladay? This makes no sense. I actually agree with the 1-2 picks here, but how can you possibly square this paradox in your mind? I guarantee Heyman is trying to play some semantic game by over-parsing the word "valuable," I know he is, and it's dumb and patronizing. If Rodriguez was the most valuable player in the American League this year (which he emphatically was not), then he should be awarded the Cy Young as well (which he should not). FJM helpfully published the criteria for voting, which are:

1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
2. Number of games played.
3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.

I wonder how many of these guys who make these silly picks for closers and dudes who played 53 games, and shun guys whose teams missed the playoffs by one game have actually read these guidelines. Every year, guys read way, way too much into the adjective "valuable," even though it says very clearly just what that means right here in the rules: strength of offense and defense. How hard is that? In light of these criteria, Heyman's MVP picks are comically bad.

I'll give Heyman some credit on page 2 - his ROY and managerial picks are acceptable (except maybe Torre), and no one cares about executives. But having all these closers and dudes who didn't play more than a half-season in a league as your top MVP candidates display a striking lack of knowledge about baseball, the kind you'd expect from a guy who wrote an anti-VORP article just last week, as Heyman did.

Please, understand the game better, or stop writing.

Monday, September 29

A Game We Can Actually Be Proud Of!

Ohio St finally looked good for the first time all season on Saturday with a 34-21 win over Minnesota. The game wasn't nearly as close as the score indicates, as OSU led 34-6 in the 4th quarter.

This may come as a shock to you, but it turns out that there actually is an offense in Columbus. I'm sure it is no coincidence that the resurgence of the offense happened to be on the same day that Chris Wells returned to the lineup. Wells is ridiculously good. On his second carry of the game, Beanie busted one to the outside for 28 yards. During this play, myself and several hundred thousand others saw the Heisman candidate that we saw last year. Wells finished with 14 carries for 106 yards, good for 7.6 per carry.

On the play following Wells' 28-yarder, Terrelle Pryor ran 33 yards for the score, making it 7-0 in no time. Pryor and Wells in the backfield together looked unreal. Defenses simply can't game-plan for both of these guys. To go along with Wells' 106 yards, Pryor had 97 on only 8 carries. After a field goal for Minnesota and two from OSU, Brian Robiskie's 8 yard TD catch made it 20-3 Bucks at halftime, essentially ending the game there. No, that wasn't a typo, Robiskie finally returned to his rightful place in the end zone. Robo finished with 8 catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns. That would be great if he could keep up that production. Brian Hartline, however, was still nowhere to be found, catching only one ball.

The Buckeyes picked up right where they left off, starting the second half on another TP touchdown run and a 31 yard Todd Boeckman-to-Robiskie toss. Two meaningless late touchdowns by the Gophers made the score look somewhat close, with Ohio St winning 34-21.

Some random game notes:

-That's 6 straight wins over Minnesota. They're really not any good.

-Marcus Freeman is the best linebacker on the team. Nick has been saying for over a year that he doesn't think Laurinaitis will be that great of a pro because he lacks the sideline-to-sideline speed that guys like AJ Hawk excelled at. I'm really starting to agree with him. It seems every time the Buckeye defense comes up with a big play, it's Freeman that's around the ball, not Laurinaitis.

-We had excellent downfield blocking by the receivers. I noticed it on several occasions that really helped spring big runs for Beanie and Pryor.

-Who are these clowns wearing #7? DB Jermale Hines and WR Lamaar Thomas are both wearing the prestigious #7 and I'm not happy about it. 7 was worn by some of the greatest Bucks of all time (Joey Galloway, Chris Gamble, Ted Ginn) and it should only be worn by special players. #2 (Cris Carter, Mike Doss, Terrelle Pryor/Malcolm Jenkins) is the only other number that compares with 7.

Next up for the men of Scarlet and Grey is a showdown in Camp Randall against the Badgers (8:00, ABC). This game will certainly play a factor in who wins the Big Ten. With a healthy Wells and TP in the backfield, there's no reason why OSU can't run the table and go to Pasadena. This game looks a little easier after Wisconsin lost to that lousy school up north last week. Wisconsin always has a lot of talent and a high ranking to start the year, but always chokes. This one won't be easy, as Camp Randall is one of the toughest places in the nation to play, but I don't see why the Bucks shouldn't move to 2-0 in conference play.


I want your socks

Not often enough do I get to work Weird Al references into my article titles, but the Tribe finishing their season against the two teams lamely named after the hosiery gave me just that opportunity. The Tribe headed into their final 7 games against Boston (4) and Chicago (3) with a chance to spoil both teams' October plans and get themselves to .500, which seemed unthinkable two months ago. Despite a pedestrian 3-4 record, they may have accomplished both goals.

Boston had already all but wrapped up a playoff spot, but harbored aspirations of wresting the AL East title from Tampa Bay heading into the Cleveland series. The Tribe essentially ended that with a narrow 4-3 victory in Game 1 of the series. The Tribe exploited Boston start Josh Beckett's wildness and used some timely hitting to take a 4-1 lead in the 5th, and Zach Jackson, the Raffies, and Jensen Lewis pitched out of enough jams and had to face Kevil Youkilis few enough times to pull out the W. This, coupled with TB's win that night, was basically enough to assure the Rays of the division, though they wouldn't clinch for a few more games.

The Indians lost each of the next two games 5-4, again showing how narrow the difference between a playoff team and non-playoff team can be. Each night they just couldn't scratch together quite enough hits to pull out the game. Cliff Lee suffered a rare loss in the first of the two (he's tired, no doubt), while Fausto Carmona allowed four runs while getting out three batters in his start, extending concern over how he'll perform in 2009.

In the 4th game of the series, the Indians did an excellent job of figuring out what they had planned when they landed in Chicago.

The Tribe rolled into Swirling Garbage Field facing a reeling White Sox team, a club coming fresh off of a three-game sweep of the Twins that vaulted Minnesota into the division lead by 1/2 game after Chicago having led the division for most of the year. After 2005, you have to believe the Tribe and their fans wanted to ruin the White Socks' chances of advancing to the postseason - I sure as hell did. With the Twinkies finishing their season at home against the Royals, you had to think a couple of Tribe wins would do the trick.

Game 1 pitted Tribe rookie Scott Lewis against Chicago ace John Danks. After a couple of early runs on a Ben Francisco solo shot and a Josh Barfield RBI single, Chicago roared back with four in the second off of Lewis via a buffet of home runs and Asdrubal Cabrera errors (at SS - Peralta started this one at 3B). I switched to the Presidential Debate. A Garko home run in the 4th cut it to 4-3.

Cleveland blew the game wide open in the 5th with six runs (I flipped back from the debate), with the big blows being Shin-Soo Choo (of course)'s two-run single and Ryan Garko's grand slam to deep centerfield. How do you like that Ozzie? That made the score 9-4; both teams would add runs as the game played out, but the Indians won comfortably, 11-8. Minnesota lost, keeping them 1/2 game above Chicago.

Thus it again fell to the Tribe to spoil Chicago's hopes, which they once again did with relish. The teams traded solo HR's in the first (Choo and Dye, obviously). As with the previous game, the Tribe put up six in the 5th inning via a bases-clearing double by AsCab, a two-run double from Jamey Carroll, and an RBI single by the completely ridiculous Choo. What a year for that guy! The White Socks managed to cut it to 8-6 via a couple of home runs by Paul Konerko, but the Indians put it away with three RBI singles (Peralta, Martinez, Gutierrez (2 RBI, one of whom was, of course, Choo)) in the 9th for the final 12-6 margin of victory. Once again, Minnesota lost and thus their lead remained at a half game.

Cleveland decided there was no point in starting a tired, sore Cliff Lee in an ultimately meaningless game, going with Bryan Bullington, as the White Socks went to Mark Buehrle to halt their 5-game losing streak. The Indians, as usual, opened up a 1-0 lead on an early home run (Peralta), as they did in all three games of this series. This time, however, Chicago got a strong outing from Buehrle, another home run from Konerko, and scratched together a few runs to win the game 5-1. Minny finally beat Kansas City, again leaving the White Socks 1/2 game back. Chicago hosts the Tigers today at 2 pm in a makeup game; win, and they host a one-game playoff for the Central title against Minnesota tomorrow; lose, and see you in Spring Training. It will be interesting to see if the Tigers bother to show up. I don't have a real high opinion of the character and professionalism of Detroit's club.

The playoff matchups are now set, with the exception of the AL Central, whose eventual winner will head to the Trop to take on the American League Eastern Division Champion Tampa Bay Rays (wanted to see what that looked like in print). The Red Socks will travel out west to take on the California Angels in the other series, marking the club's third postseason clash in five years. I can't stand either of these teams. Go Rays!

In the NL, CC Sabathia willed the Brewers into the playoffs with yet another complet-game victory. Milwaukee will make its first postseason appearance since 1982 in Philadelphia to take on the NL East-winning Phillies. The Cubbies will yet again pursue that elusive World Series title, hosting the LA Dodgers (record: 84-78) in the other NL matchup.

I hope to preview the playoffs and make some predictions before they start. Suffice it to say I'm rooting heavily for a Milwaukee-Tampa Bay World Series, if nothing else than to see if any Fox executives have to be institutionalized.

Sunday, September 28

NFL Picks: Week 4

Last Week

Andy: 8-8
Figgs: 6-10
Nick: 7-9

Year to Date
Andy: 26-20-1
Figgs: 21-25-1
Nick: 25-21-1
Nick's Money Picks: 2-1

PANTHERS (-7) vs. Falcons
Andy: Panthers. If ATL got crushed in TB, why shoudn't they in CAR?
Figgs: Atlanta. I'm not gonna call Carolina a quality opponent.
Nick: Panthers. I can't pick the ATL outside of their dome, or against a quality opponent.

CHIEFS (+9.5) vs. Broncos
Andy: Bronkos. These guys can put up points, and KC can give them up at will.
Figgs: Broncos for sure. My God KC is bad.
Nick: Donks. Easy cover. This is a three-score win.

SAINTS (-5) vs. 49ers
Andy: The 49ers have been surprising, but I like the Saints at dome.
Figgs: Saints
Nick: Saints. The Niners will move the ball, but the Saints will move it better.

JETS (-1) vs. Cardinals
Andy: Jets. I don't trust the Cardinals at all, ever, even if they might be better.
Figgs: Favres
Nick: Jets. Tough call here, but I generally don't like Arizona on the road.

TITANS (-3) vs. Vikings
Andy: When will Vegas get on the Tennessee bandwagon?
Figgs: Vikings
Nick: Titans. Another game I probably won't bet, but Minny is on the road and Tennessee looks solid.

BUCS (-1) vs. Packers
Andy: I like the Pack on the road here, eager for revenge.
Figgs: No-Longer-Favres. TB is overrated.
Nick: Packers. Gotta go with the vastly more talented club, particularly when they're getting points.

JAGS (-7) vs. Texans
Andy: Jags. I'd give more points if I had to.
Figgs: Houston. Jax can't run it up on anyone, even if they are the far superior team.
Nick: Jags. Not comfortable with that pick at all.

BENGALS (-3.5) vs. Browns
Andy: I'm picking the Browns every single week - don't we know this by now?
Figgs: Brownies. We can't lost to the Bungals can we?
Nick: Browns. Derek Anderson playing well this week is bad for the Browns in the long run. Thus, he will play well this week.

RAIDERS (+9) vs. Chargers
Andy: Lots of points, but the Chargers are healthy and explosive.
Figgs: San Diego, Super Chargers
Nick: Raiders. If Jamal Williams is out again the Raiders running game will give the Bolts problems.

RAMS (+9) vs. Bills
Andy: Bills. I tried to be nice to the Rams last week and they got mauled again. What a disaster. The key is picking which week they play surprisingly well. I'm betting not this week.
Figgs: Jills. My God STL is bad.
Nick: Bills. I can't pick the Rams on principle. The principle is that they suck.

COWBOYS (-11) vs. Redskins
Andy: The Cowboys are like last year's Patriots, setting lines high and baiting unsuspecting gamblers into riding them. I like the 'Skins to cover.
Figgs: Skins. Boys win by a touchdown.
Nick: Redskins. Not happy with this one, but NFC East games tend to be tight.

BEARS (+3) vs. Eagles
Andy: Eagles, all day long.
Figgs: Philly for sure. NFC East is sick.
Nick: Eagles. Brian Westbrook, I could kiss you.

STEELERS (-5.5) vs. Ravens
Andy: I feel like I've seen these teams before. 5.5 line means Vegas has no idea, and neither do I. Thus, I take the Steelers as the home team.
Figgs: Shitsburgh easy. Ravens are a really untalented 2-0.
Nick: Steelers. Again, a game I don't want to touch because of Pittsburgh's injuries, but they tend to show up in Monday Nighters.

Saturday, September 27

Great quote

"There's no substitute for experience...except for talent [laughs]"

- The Big Ten Network crew on Terrelle Pryor. So true.


Like this quote from Tribe skipper Eric Wedge:

"I don't give a damn who wins between Chicago and Minnesota. I gave a damn what we do."

Often this would seem inauthentic, but given Wedge's straight-ahead personality and the fact that both Minnesota (2004) and Chicago (2005) kept the Tribe out of the postseason, I buy into it. And I like it. I wanted this deal both ways - I wanted to smack up both the Twins and the Socks, and still have Minny advance, and I might just get my wish. Go Tribe.

Not sure where to put this, but RIP Paul Newman. I admire his commitment to charity, and Slap Shot is the greatest hockey movie ever.

Irony is delicious

Friday, September 26


Blog co-founders Nick and Andy will be in the Steel City this Sunday, behind enemy lines, to visit our old cohorts at the stalwart Pittsburgh Browns Backers club. The group meets every Sunday at Peter's Pub in Oakland (by Pitt's campus) to take abuse from random Yinzers and watch the Browns head towards another losing season.

Nick spent one season (2005) as a member of the club, and was present for arguably the most boring stretch of games in PBB history, including lackluster losses to the Texans and Lions. Andy was a member from 2001-2005, experiencing both highs (33-13 over Pittsburgh on Sunday night, the Jacksonville Hail Mary game) and lows (every other single time we played Pittsburgh). Andy was also a Capital District Browns Backer (Albany, Schenectady, Troy, in upstate NY) in 2006-2007 and has fond memories of not-always-fond games.

Wish us luck in our return to the 'Burgh, check out your local Browns Backers chapter for a fun way to spend Sunday afternoon, and GO BROWNS!

Thursday, September 25

That's so Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens organization, in its ongoing and vigilant efforts to rid itself of any semblance of class and dignity whatsoever, is now accusing the Browns of trying to intentionally injure RB Willis McGahee. This is such a Baltimore kind of thing to do - I'm surprised they don't do this every week.

The issue here is not whether or not the Browns actually did this. They may well have. I don't care. The larger issue is that: I hate Baltimore. And they're a bunch of losers.

On an unrelated note, though connected in that it's something an NFL organization does that I don't approve of, at least New England doesn't have to patronizingly list Tom Brady as "probable" or "questionable" on the injury report every week even though he hadn't missed a game since taking over during their first Super Bowl run. "OUT" is so much more definite and honest, don't you think?

Heroes and Zeroes: Week 3

Last weekend’s loss to the Ravens was a vintage “when it rains, it pours” scenario. Reeling after a deflating loss to the rival Steelers, the Browns handed a win to another divisional foe and essentially ended their bleak playoff aspirations. With 13 games to play and a schedule that doesn’t offer any breaks, the Browns’ playoff drought will now extend to six seasons, and I’ll die a little more inside.

This Week’s Zeroes

Five Demerits: Derek Anderson
This is exactly what Browns fans were afraid of; that Derek Anderson was a mirage, and that when faced with any kind of pressure, he would implode. It’s why many - myself included - advocated trading Anderson over the winter while his stock was high. Unless something drastically changes, if the Browns look to move Anderson this off-season they will receive next to nothing. Heck, Anderson’s size 15 shoes have higher trade value than Anderson himself at this point.

Dating back to last season, Anderson has thrown just nine touchdowns against 13 interceptions in his last 8 games. DA looks gun-shy, and if he’s afraid to take shots down the field, then he’s negating his greatest strength. Anderson isn’t going through reads and he’s locking onto one receiver early, making it easy for the defense to figure out where he’s going with the ball, and it’s why these routes keep getting jumped.

After that last interception DA simply sulked alone on the sideline like the dorky kid with braces at a middle school dance who’s afraid to talk to the girls (*cough*, not speaking from personal experience or anything). That kind of attitude isn’t what you need from a team captain. Leadership isn’t exactly DA’s strong suit.

Anderson has a chance to save face and keep his job (Crennel announced he would start) against a lousy Cincinnati defense this week, but I think it’s time for us to get a look at Brady Quinn. Anderson has been given more than a fair look, and with the playoffs out of the picture the Browns need to start evaluating their quarterback position for 2009.

Four Demerits: Braylon Edwards
Edwards just hasn’t looked the same since he injured his foot. Part of his struggles can be linked to Anderson’s, but Edwards clearly hasn’t found his rhythm yet. As long as Donté Stallworth is sidelined, things aren’t going to get any easier for Braylon, as he’ll continue to be the focal point of opposing teams’ secondaries.

Unfortunately, Stallworth’s injury means that the Browns need a competent Edwards more than ever. Without Edwards wreaking havoc in the secondary, the only receiver that opponents really have to account for is Kellen Winslow. Part of me wonders if Edwards’ performance would be enhanced if the Browns made the switch to Brady Quinn, but given Romeo Crennel’s tendency to ride sinking ships in the past (read: Carthon, Maurice), it seems unlikely that we’ll see the Mighty Quinn any time soon.

Edwards has also been called for a slew of stupid penalties in the first three games. No receiver should ever be called for a penalty like a false start or a block in the back, but Edwards’ boneheaded errors keep short-circuiting Cleveland drives. Supposedly Edwards could be benched this week, which will probably just mean he won’t be in the starting lineup. Regardless, Romeo Crennel either has to find a way to get Edwards to focus, or Edwards needs to see less of the field, because there are other receivers on the team who can put up insignificant numbers but can do so penalty-free.

Three Demerits: Romeo Crennel
I feel like this column is starting to beat a dead horse; bashing Anderson, Crennel, and Edwards week in and week out. If that’s the case, then I apologize, but they are the most culpable for the team’s early struggles.

Ah, Romeo, what are we going to do with you? (Well, Phil’s going to fire you at the end of the season, for one.) The lack of passion, lack of preparation, and absence of a noticeable game plan have become overlying themes of Crennel’s tenure, and this latest disappointment only reinforced those maxims.

Crennel announced midweek that Derek Anderson will remain the starter, and one can’t help but wonder what DA will have to do to get benched. Some form of manslaughter, perhaps? Crennel is bypassing a major opportunity to give the fan base some hope - and maybe give himself some breathing room - by leaving Brady Quinn on the bench.

Two Demerits: Steve Beuerlein
Beuerlein must have some sort of running bet with Rich Gannon on who can use the most clichés during a broadcast. So far, I’d imagine the competition’s pretty close. Nobody expects the color commentator for a lousy game to be Howard Cosell, but c’mon Steve, how about a little effort?

Every other sentence out of Beuerlein’s mouth began with “in the NFL,” and his analysis wouldn’t have cut the mustard on a closed circuit high school broadcast, let alone at the professional level. I know CBS and FOX like to put former players in the booth to add some on-field perspective, but here’s a newsflash: just because a guy was a quarterback doesn’t mean he’s all that bright. Hell, did you ever listen to the nonsense that Sean Salisbury used to spew? Watching an ugly loss is bad enough, but listening to Beuerlein’s mindless drivel for three hours is enough to make me want to jump out of a plane sans parachute.

One Demerit: Mel Tucker
For the second consecutive week the defense played alright, but we should have seen a much more complex and confusing scheme from Mel Tucker considering that the Ravens were starting rookie Joe Flacco. Tons of movement and lots of blitzes from unexpected places; that’s what I thought we’d see. But even though the Browns intercepted two Flacco passes in the first half, they showed him a pretty basic package. We haven’t seen enough of Tucker to pass judgment on him, and maybe we never will. After all, he may prove to be as much of a lame duck as Crennel.

This Week’s Heroes

Five Gold Stars: Jamal Lewis
Lewis criticized the coaching staff for not committing to the running game, and rightfully so. In spite of some quality running by Lewis against Dallas and Baltimore, the Browns only got him 13 carries and 12 carries, respectively.

Against both Baltimore and Dallas, Lewis averaged nearly five yards per carry, and with Derek Anderson struggling to get anything going, the Browns need to ride Lewis now more than ever. The Bengals have been gouged by the running game this year, allowing 229 yards against the Ravens and 177 yards against the Titans. If the Browns are smart, they’d look to pound Lewis and Jerome Harrison early and often against their interstate rival.

Four Gold Stars: Ed Hochuli
Referee Ed Hochuli didn’t do anything extraordinary last Sunday, and by all accounts he called a good game. What impressed me about Hochuli was the way he reacted to his huge blown call in the Denver/San Diego game two weeks ago.

It’s awfully tough for someone in a position of authority to admit a mistake, just ask any MLB umpire. But Hochuli essentially admitted he screwed up after they reviewed the call. Furthermore, Hochuli received scads of angry email from Chargers fans who felt he’d stolen the game from them. Instead of responding angrily (the wrong move) or simply ignoring the emails (what you’d expect), Hochuli chose to respond and basically issue the fans a mea culpa.

Hochuli sent the following response to several emailers, “Affecting the outcome of a game is a devastating feeling. Officials strive for perfection – I failed miserably.” That’s a stand up guy, and he’s got my respect.

Although it was a bad call, it wasn’t really Hochuli’s fault. Replay is in place to overturn bad calls like this, but because Hochuli had blown the whistle to indicate a dead ball, the play could not be reviewed. In this case Hochuli didn’t let the NFL down, the NFL let him down.

Three Gold Stars: Jerome Harrison
Harrison got just one touch on Sunday, but he made the most of it, scoring the Browns’ lone touchdown on a 19-yard screen pass. I said it last week, and I’ll say it again: it’s totally inexcusable that the Browns aren’t at least getting Harrison a half dozen touches or so each week.

Harrison has made a pretty strong case for more playing time. After delivering yet another solid preseason, Harrison may have the team’s two most exciting plays of the year under his belt. Even more impressive is the fact that he’s made those two plays on just three total touches. I don’t care if he can block worth a lick or not (and with how little he plays, does anyone really know?), the Browns have to find a way to get Jerome Harrison on the field.

Two Gold Stars: Lawrence Vickers
Lawrence Vickers remains one of the Browns’ unsung heroes, and one of the Phil Savage’s biggest day two draft successes. A sixth round choice in 2006, Vickers is one of the better fullbacks in the league; a solid blocker who can hold his own either running the ball or catching a pass out of the backfield.

Vickers had a notable 16-yard reception to move the chains against Baltimore, and he moves very well for a 250-pound back whose primary responsibility is blocking. Especially after watching Terrelle Smith try to catch the ball for a few years, I wouldn’t mind seeing Vickers snag a handful of receptions every game.

One Gold Star: Joshua Cribbs
Speaking of people who need to see the ball more, weren’t we promised five or six trick plays for Josh Cribbs every game, a la Antwaan Randle El? Maybe Rob Chudzinski is being cautious with Cribbs, who’s still recovering from that high ankle sprain, but considering how stagnant the offense has looked, a few trick plays would be a welcome respite from the Derek Anderson laser beam incompletion.

Cribbs still appears to be less than 100 percent on kickoff returns, but he looked more like a receiver on Sunday than he ever has before. One long second half incompletion stands out, as Cribbs had torched his defender but Derek Anderson overthrew him. Some have been critical of Cribbs’ route-running, but it’s easy to forget that this guy was playing quarterback at Kent State not too long ago. Maybe the light is starting to come on for JC. With Donté Stallworth out until God knows when and Braylon Edwards doing some soul searching, any contribution from Cribbs would be a big plus for the offense.

Up Next: At Cincinnati, Paul Browns Stadium, 1:00

Welcome to the battle for the 2008 AFC North cellar. As bad as the Browns have looked, the Bengals have given them a run for their money. The Bengals have had trouble protecting Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson has averaged less than 30 yards per game, and Chris Perry remains their starting running back. Yeah, it’s bad.

With Houshmanzadeh and Johnson out there the Bengals will have some passing success against the Browns; they always do. The question is whether or not Derek Anderson can get his head screwed on straight.

Cinannati is bad enough defensively that I’m banking on Derek Anderson playing just well enough that Romeo Crennel won’t have to take his job away, further pissing off and alienating the fan base. Look for the Browns to run the football early and often to take pressure off of Anderson. Thirty-plus carries for the Browns would not be at all surprising. I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I’m picking the Browns to win again. We have to be better than the Bengals, right?

The Browns will limp into the bye week at 1-3.

Prediction: Browns 23, Bengals 20

Tuesday, September 23

Quick Tribe notes

Suspensions were handed down after Gary Sheffield's 19th nervous breakdown on Friday night, and they are as follows:

Carmona 6 games
Martinez 3 games
Cabrera 3 games

Sheffield 4 games

This is insane. The whole thing was Sheffield's fault. A fairer allotment would have been Indians 0 games, Sheffield 16 games. He goes and picks the fight, and Fausto is out more games than him? Huh? And Fausto won - can't it at least be like Blades of Steel where the fight winner gets the puck? I know he got more because he's a starting pitcher, but I don't see why any at all. No idea what sort of warped logic MLB uses to decide these things.

What a pathetic on-field celebration the red socks executed after buying another trip to the playoffs. They jumped around and all that, but could anyone really have been excited about it? I mean, they won the World Series last year and everyone knew they were going to get in easily this year. I frankly don't see how either player or fan could muster any interest in this.

So the Tribe win streak ends at 7, but have you considered what it takes to win that many straight? The Indians (79-78) are roughly a .500 club, and played some good and some bad teams in their streak, right around .500, and baseball is a .500 kinda game. If we ignore momentum and confidence (not because they aren't relevant, but because I can't quantify them), and treat each game as a 50/50 proposition (not a bad approximation), the odds of even a modest 7-game streak are 27, or 1 in 128. That's impressive! The Tribe's 10-game winning streak: 1 in 1040! Han Solo says "never tell me the odds," but he'd have to be impressed by that, especially the kind of cobbled-together crew the Indians did it with.

And just for fun, the Oakland A's 20-game win streak in 2002 had a probability of just over one in a million, keeping those same assumptions. Now that's a win streak.

Non-Conference Play Could Not Have Ended Sooner

Due to the higher ups at State College's "Hooters" being retarded, I was unable to watch the Ohio St-Troy showdown this past weekend. Although there were 5 zillion TVs throughout the establishment, I was declined after asking to put OSU on a single television. So I can't form too much of an opinion on this game.

Two things obviously stick out (after watching highlights and reading box scores - thanks Penn St) from this game:
1.) 14-10 in the 4th quarter? Really?? Against Troy? Are we honestly not good?
2.) Terrelle Pryor got 99% of the snaps?

Starting with the first point: this isn't good. What is the matter with this team? Why are we not putting up more points? Guys, it was Troy. You should have had 14 points in the first three minutes, not three quarters. Going into the 4th, the Trojans had more total yards and more first downs. The Penn St and Wisconsin games are starting to look pretty bleak.

Continuing with the surprising news, TP was not only the starter in this game, but Boeckman only took two snaps and threw one pass. This really came as a shock to me. After Boeckman threw said pass straight into the ground, he was booed by the smallest crown at Ohio Stadium in six years. This upsets me. I realize that everyone loves Pryor, and it's obvious that he needs to play almost all of the time, but there's no need to embarrass the man that was All-Big Ten and led your team to the National Championship game last season. It's bad enough for the poor guy that he lost his starting job as a fifth-year senior after a stellar season, he doesn't need to hear it from the fans. I digress, back to Pryor. It seems he looked good; 10/16 for 139 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT, 14 carries for 66 yards. This guy could be that something special that everyone saw in high school. When your expectations are as high as TP's are, it's very difficult to live up to them. He's on his way to doing that.

Other random notes: Hartline and Robiskie seem to be back to their big-play form, as Hartline had touchdowns of 39 and 16 yards and Robiskie caught a 38 yard TD. While this is good, the fact that these were 3/4s of their catches is not. Only 4 catches between these two? Not exactly All-Conference numbers. Also: 0 catches for Ray Small, another guy that seems to be in Tressel's doghouse. Dan Herron did much better this week, rushing for 94 yards on 20 carries. Again, Brandon Saine was rarely seen, getting only 4 carries.

Sorry about the lack of report for this game, but it didn't seem like too exciting of a game anyway. Blame Penn St, those bastards. Conference play begins this weekend as Minnesota comes to The Shoe (Noon, Big Ten Network). Projected by most to be in the bottom half of the Big Ten, the Gophers are 4-0 on a very weak non-conference schedule. OSU will probably be about a touchdown favorite, God knows why. Here's to getting back on track this week.


Sunday, September 21

The rest of the story

Since I already wrote about the fabulous game 1 of the Indians-Tigers series, I may as well give JHH the weekend off and finish it out.

The Tribe busted out the brooms for the second straight series, running their win streak to six and moving above .500 (78-77) for the first time since early May with a trio of weekend wins over the suddenly hapless Tigers. Game 1 is recapped in my previous article, so let's go to Saturday's contest.

Game two featured Jeremy Sowers against Detroit's Justin Verlander, who the Indians have owned this season. Tonight was no exception. Sowers struggled early, getting into james in the first and second frames but only surrendering a single run and cruising through the 3rd through 6th innings. The Indians scratched together single tallies in the 1st and 2nd - Jamey Carroll was hit with a pitch (Hey Shef, notice how he didn't attack anyone or yell or make an ass out of himself?) and later scored on a groundout, while Kelly Shoppach doubled and scored on a Verlander balk.

Shin-Soo Choo gave the Indians a bit of cushion with a two-run single in the 4th. Choo's OPS this month is 1.266. Wrap your brain around that. Curtis Granderson cut the lead to 4-3 with a two-run shot off of Rafael Perez in the 7th, but the Tribe answered right back on Asdrubal Cabrera's two-run single to extend the margin to 6-3. Jensen Lewis brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Magglio Ordoñez, but retired the Tiger slugger on a weak grounder to preserve the W.

Sunday's game, featuring a matchup between Dontrelle Willis and Indians rookie surprise Scott Lewis, was essentially decided in the first inning. The Tigers got two men in scoring position against Lewis, but Enemy of Society Gary Sheffield struck out to end the threat. I LOVED watching him walk back to the dugout as Indians fans stood and cheered. Beautiful, beautiful stuff. Then in the bottom half, Willis proved to be his own worst enemy, walking three batters and seeing them all come around on a three-run triple from Ryan Garko (yes, you read that right) that Ordoñez eventually got around to chasing. That was really it, though the two clubs played eight more innings just to keep up appearances.

The Tigers did get single runs in the 2nd and 3rd to close the gap, ending Lewis' career 15-inning scoreless streak. However, the Tribe once again came right back, putting across three in the 4th and two in the 5th to make it 8-2 and essentially erase all doubts. Andy Marte had a 2-run single in the 3rd, Cabrera added an RBI single later that ining, with the 5th inning runs arriving via Victor Martinez's RBI double and a Garko sac fly. The final score was 10-5; it is of little consequence how the other five runs came across. Look it up if you're that interested.

The Tribe look to close the season in style and continue their winning ways with a four-game set in Boston and a three-game series in Chicago to end the year. Boston's already secured a spot, but I'd love to see the Indians spoil Chicago's postseason aspirations. Go Tribe!

NFL Picks: Week 3

Starting this week, I'm going to be highlighting the game's that I'll actually be betting on in green. I'll be denoting such games as "Nick's money games" in our standings starting next week so that you guys can give me a hard time about how lousy I'm doing, or I can rub your noses in my success.


Last Week
Andy: 8-6-1
Figgs: 8-6-1
Nick: 8-6-1

Year to Date
Andy: 18-12-1
Figgs: 15-15-1
Nick: 18-12-1

It's a dead heat between Andy and me through two weeks, and Figgs is close behind. Interesting trend: we're pretty strong through two weeks on the games we pick unanimously; our record thus far is 8-5-1. You can take FCF to the bank.

FALCONS (-6.5) vs. Chiefs
Andy: Falcons. Herm Edwards himself is worth -3.
Figgs: Falcons
Nick: Falcons

BILLS (-9.5) vs. Raiders
Andy: Raiders. It's not cold yet.
Figgs: Bills
Nick: Bills

TITANS (-4.5) vs. Texans
Andy: Love the Titties
Figgs: Titans
Nick: Titans

GIANTS (-13) vs. Bengals
Andy: I've got the Bengals at -13.5. They're playing for a lot, NY is not. Cincy will cover this.
Figgs: Giants
Nick: Giants

REDSKINS (-3) vs. Cardinals
Andy: This is a weird game, I would never bet on it. 'Skins.
Figgs: Cardinals
Nick: Cards

PATRIOTS (-13) vs. Dolphins
Andy: Pats. Big spread, big cover.
Figgs: Patriots
Nick: Patriots

BEARS (-3) vs. Buccanneers
Andy: Bucs. Only because the other day was national Talk Like a Pirate Day.
Figgs: Bucs
Nick: Bucs

VIKINGS (-3) vs. Panthers
Andy: Gus Frerotte? Sir Purr scoffs at you. Panthers.
Figgs: Vikings
Nick: Vikings

SEAHAWKS (-9.5) vs. Rams
Andy: Rams. They're awful, but jobs are at risk.
Figgs: Rams
Nick: Seahawks

49ERS (-4.5) vs. Lions
Andy: The Niners stink, but nothing is worse than the Lions this year. I was hanging with Detroit fans tonight and even they have lost the faith.
Figgs: Lions
Nick: Niners

BRONCOS (-5.5) vs. Saints
Andy: Broncos
Figgs: Broncos
Nick: Broncos

EAGLES (-3) vs. Steelers
Andy: Steelers (sigh)
Figgs: Eagles
Nick: Steelers

COLTS (-4.5) vs. Jaguars
Andy: rrr. Hate picking this. Colts.
Figgs: Colts
Nick: Colts

RAVENS (-2.5) vs. Browns
Andy: Browns, and if I had green font available here, I'd be there. LOVE the Browns at this line.
Figgs: Browns
Nick: Browns

PACKERS (+3) vs. Cowboys
Andy: 'Boys. Come and get 'em.
Figgs: Cowboys
Nick: Cowboys

CHARGERS (-10) vs. Jets
Andy: Jets
Figgs: Jets
Nick: Jets

This looks like a rough week for picking, and with the exceptions of my money games, I don't have a real feel for any of these games. Don't be surprised to see us put up some lousy numbers this week.

Saturday, September 20

Instant replay in full effizect

MLB's instant replay made its first overruling this evening, awarding the TuBerculosis Devil Rays' Carlos Pena a three-run home run after initially only granting him a double. Sure, it happened in a rout (11-1 Rays, take that Boston), but I love that they got it right. It took 4:10 - to me, that's worth every second.

I also now have a major new respect for Minnesota Twin manager Ron Gardenhire, whose club was hurt by the (correct) ruling and is facing serious playoff elimination, at least until the Indians boost his club into the AL Central title by sweeping the ChiSox next week. (Would you want to face the Tribe right now?) Anyway, Gardenhire on the call:

"The whole thing is getting it right. They got it right. That's all we care about."

I'm so happy. Thank you, Ron Gardenhire. Remember: this call went against his team. I enjoy that kind of sportsmanship and now definitely want to see him and his team make the postseason ahead of Crazy Ozzie and his Black Sox.

Beautiful night at the ballpark

I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Indians' 6-5 victory over the Detroit Tigers this evening, a game that represents everything a ballpark experience can and should be. This was a night where everything was perfect, and I couldn't even see the part where Gary Sheffield's nose was bleeding.

Editor's note: As lovely of an evening as I had, this still does not represent my peak MLB in-person experience. It's second. First will be another post.

September 19, 2008 was a beautiful day weather-wise in the city of Cleveland, OH. High around 70 degrees, slightly cool but undeniably pleasant. Days like this are why I look forward to September and October every year - it was absolutely perfect outside.

My friend Greg and I walked over to the ballpark (if I've not rubbed that in enough this year, I live less than half a mile from Progressive Field) armed with a $40 voucher for Mezzanine seats gifted to us by a coworker who got them by spending a mint in the Indians Team Shop. The ticket guy told us they were out of Mezzanine seats but could offer us Upper Box. What the hell do I care, it's in the park and it's free, right?

We were placed in Section 553, Row X. Yep, Planet X, the very last row, all the way at the very top. Really, dude? There are over 8000 unsold tickets and we get the absolute nosebleeds? My sister Lance was sitting in right field so I called her and she and Bucko could definitely see us way up high. Yet Greg and I came to appreciate the joys of Row X - a bird's-eye view of the field, a nice breeze, freedom to stand up whenever, and the ability to form menacing "X"'s by crossing our arms Carl Krauser-style. Row X rules.

I brought along a mechanical pencil and purchased a game scorecard and kept a nice little book during the game. It's amazing how much easier it was than my days keeping score in Pittsburgh, where the home team played NL rules and the pitcher always ended up batting 3rd by the end and also I was usually drunk. The Progressive Field scorcard is well laid out, except there's not a good mechanism for writing in substitutions and the diamond outline is too heavy.

Shin-Soo Choo put the good guys on the board in the first by just destroying a home run to left field. This just in: Big League Choo is GOOD. Statistically, he is the best hitter on the team (using rate stats) and is quickly becoming a fan favorite. The dude has a .924 OPS, a rocket arm, and a killer nickname. What's not to like about the BLC?

Miguel Cabrera put the Motor City Kitties up 2-1 with a home run that may or may not still be flying. Wow, he put a charge into that. Fausto Carmona was pitching well, but, you know, Miguel Cabrera will do that from time to time.

Grady Sizemore evened the score at 2-2 with his 33rd blast of the year. Armando "Not Andres" Galarraga was pitching well, but, you know, Grady Sizemore will do that from time to time.

Hey guys, you know, maybe pitch around Cabrera? 4-2 Tigers. Then the fun starts. After retiring Matt Joyce on a groundout, Carmona plunked Gary Sheffield on the elbow. Sheffield is 39 years old, has been in the major leagues for 21 years, and has been hit by 132 pitches, yet still has the maturity of a third-grader. He thus decides to walk to first base at a pace of roughly one step per hour, stare down Carmona the whole way, and carry his bat all the way to first base like he was at tryouts for the World Dickhead Cricket League. Gary, get over yourself. You weren't the batter after the home run. You stink. Your OPS+ is 87. No one likes you or even cares anymore. We didn't want you on first base. If the Indians were really trying to send a message, they would have hit one of your teammates who is actually still capable of getting on base. You were already on the night 0-2 and looked bad doing it. You may have heard me heckling you from Row X every time you screwed up. You were fast in RBI Baseball 2 in 1989, but since then not so much. I know you haven't alleged racism against someone in like a month, but GET OVER YOURSELF. For fun, read ESPN's recap of the game, featuring post-game insanity from Sheffield. I love the "three strikes you're out" part even though Carmona has only hit him twice. Fausto has 69 walks in 113 innings this season - he's not exactly pinpoint, and there's no way you can convince me he wanted to put a dude that inept on base in a 4-2 game. Sheffield is totally insane. Victor brought this up well, and Wedge I think was smart to try to keep out of it. Like he says, why piss off the refs? Even in IM's I make friends with the officials and don't criticize their bad calls because I know it's human nature to react negatively to this.

OK, I'm on a bit of a digression. I think Wedge's refusal to criticize here is intelligent. Tomorrow, the umpires won't hold any rancor against Wedge and the Tribe - if anything, they'll feel positively towards them because Wedge took the high road. He's been criticized in the past for not being fiery, not getting thrown out enough, but I think that's tremendously stupid. Talk to the officials, let them know what you think, work it out like men, and go back and coach your team. Why throw your hat and kick dirt and get ejected? Yeah, every once in a while you need to lash out, but getting thrown out more than once or twice a year erodes one's credibility. I liek Wedge's approach, and I think it gives us a slight edge going forward.

ANYWAY, Carmona throws over to first base once Sheffield is on, which Crazy Gary takes as a personal affront. Look, the dude stole 22 bases last year and has swiped 7 this year despite rarely ever being on base. Pitchers do this. And you know what, even if it's only semi-legit, it's funny. Well, little Gary didn't like it, yelled at Carmona to throw to the plate (not your decision), Fausto yelled back, and Gar-Gar thought he'd go pick a fight. We all know what happened after that - Carmona made Gretzky's head bleed, Victor wanted more action (or not, so says Sheffield), and some people got ejected. Kind of a fun brawl, as brawls go. The fans liked it. I have two lingering questions:

1) Why eject Carmona? How should he have responded? This, to me, seems like self-defense. If you charge the mound, does the pitcher automatically get tossed? Why not, when you face an ace pitcher, start a bad player, have him lead off, and attack the pitcher? What happens? I'm exaggerating, but this whole thing is on jerk-off Sheffield. Carmona will likely be suspended one start. My question: why?

2) Why wasn't Sheffield out? You can't just vacate a base like that. Sure Shoppach threw out his replacement (and reached base in the 9th, leading to the tying run), but that should have been out #2. I watched the replay and never saw Sheffield call time out. Cannot figure this out.

Los Tigres added a run later on to make it 5-2, and the stage was once again set for the BLC in the Tribe's half of the 8th. Sizemore doubled down the left field line with two out, and Wedge put Francisco in for Dellucci (7 innings too late). BenFran walked, and BLC smashed a Casey Fossum offering into the right-center field stands to tie the game at 5. I've never seen Progressive Field so loud. Beautiful. I hope Sheffield watched it on TV. I hope he watched the slow-motion replay. I hope he's seen the replay of him getting his head punched as many times as I have.

Top of the 9th, tie ball game, Tribe brings out Betancourt and Perez. At the same time. OK, that's lie, but it would have been awesome and fucking confusing for the hitters. RB got a K and a groundout, and Perez whiffed the only batter he faced. The ballpark was electric. Super-exciting. You'd have thought it was the playoffs. I, personally, was pretty jacked up. Let's win this thing, eh?

After the aforementioned Shoppach hit by pitch (hey Sheffield, notice how he managed not to make a total ass out of himself?) and was replaced by Josh Barfield, Travis Hafner quickly struck out and Ryan Garko was summoned as a pinch hitter (8 innings too late) for Michael Aubrey, who was celebrating his 16th birthday today. Garko lined the first pitch he saw into right to put runners at the corners with 1 out. Jamey Carroll (who entered the game in the 7th as a pinch hitter for Andy Marte, 6 innings too late) lifed a drive over the head of a drawn-in Magglio Ordoñez in right, and the Tribe had themselves a 6-5 victory. What a ball game!

THEN, it was fireworks night! All your favorite '80's tunes, like "Beat It," "Jessie's Girl," "Livin' on a Prayer," and so on, plus big explosions in the sky. Gary Sheffield hates "Jessie's Girl."

THEN, we went to Scorcher's! Talk about a night at the ballpark. I even beat Bucko at the punching game. Truly a magical evening.

Friday, September 19

I guess it's time to move on...

I've been putting off a recap of the Ohio St-USC game for obvious reasons. But I suppose I have an obligation to at least form some sort of analysis.

Ouch. How's that for an analysis? The Bucks actually got off to a decent start, and took the lead on a Pretorius field goal with about 3 min left in the first. Defensive struggles usually help the underdog, so I was getting more and more optimistic during those first 12 min of game play. Unfortunately, the next 48 min ended all hopes of optimism for the rest of the season.

SC ended the first quarter on Sanchez's first of a dozen TD tosses in the game. The second quarter started the same way as the first ended, Maualuga had a pick six, we couldn't move the ball, yada yada yada. The SoCo shots started flowing in the third quarter in an attempt to drown my sorrow, and the rest of the game was thankfully kinda cloudy. Onto the individual performances that we're all trying to forget...

Todd Boeckman looked...how do I put this delicately...awful? terrible? embarrassing? I think I'll go with embarrassing. 14/21, 84 yards, 0 TD's, 2 INT's. Again I say, ouch. For the second consecutive week Brian's Robiskie and Hartline seemed invisible. I don't know if they're not getting open, QB's aren't looking their way (doubtful), or maybe a little bit of both. But either way, they need to start combining for more than 6 catches per game.

No surprises here: the running game was non-existent without Chris Wells. Herron rushed for 51 yards, Saine for 10, and Mo Wells for a whopping -2. Why isn't Brandon Saine getting more touches? He must be in Tressel's dog house or something. Saine showed a lot of explosiveness last season; 2 carries and 1 reception is certainly not enough action for this guy.

If you looked really hard, ignored the scoreboard, and then looked even harder, you may have seen a glimpse of a bright spot in this game. Not surprisingly, it was Terrelle Pryor. He went 7/9 for 52 yards and carried the ball 11 times for 40 yards. No, these stats are certainly not jaw-dropping, but if you watched him you had to be impressed. Nick sent me a text during the game describing TP as "smooth." I thought that was a really good adjective. He doesn't seem to run hard, it's just like he's gliding. Very reminiscent of a guy some Buckeye fans may remember, Ted Ginn. (Please do yourself a favor and watch this clip. Some of his moves are unreal. I watch this literally two or three times a week.) I'm still a Todd Boeckman supporter (although not as much after this performance) but I definitely do agree that Pryor needs his snaps. I would still like to see him in the backfield with Boeckman or in the slot, but Tressel seems reluctant to open up the playbook.

Enough about this game, it's time to move on. The dream of another National Championship appearance is over (possibly not a bad thing). Now it's time to set our sights on winning the Big Ten and heading to Pasadena. As bad as we looked, this is still a very reasonable goal. The Big Ten looks pretty week, and if Wells ever comes back this is still a very stacked team.

Next up is the Troy Trojans of the mighty Sunbelt conference (Noon, Big Ten Network). This should be one last tune up before conference play starts, but then again that's what I thought about Ohio. Wells has been ruled out yet again. Tressel said that TP will get 50% of the snaps, but a starter has not yet been named.


Heroes and Zeroes: Week 2

Two deflating wins were not what fans had in mind for the start of the Browns' season. But here we are, sitting at 0-2, buried in a two-game hole behind Pittsburgh and staring down the barrel of what could prove to be the most anticlimactic season since 1995. To say that the sails have been sapped of their wind is an understatement.

Although we've been well-conditioned of late, losing to Pittsburgh never gets any easier, particularly in a game that easily could have been ours. What's more painful: losing close or sufferring a blowout? When it comes to the Steelers, it all feels about the same.

This Week's Zeroes

Five Demerits: Romeo Crennel
Romeo Crennel has basically run his course in Cleveland. It's been more than three years, and the guy still can't handle the most menial coaching tasks like clock management.

Hey Romeo, when you're going to call a timeout, you should do it right after the play; you shouldn't wait 8-10 seconds. No, I'm not kidding or anything. I know it's a little confusing, but when you're trying to save time in the game, you want to stop the clock earlier rather than later.

The Browns have mishandled snaps in consecutive games. That's coaching. An illegal procedure call on a freaking onside kick? Again, coaching. This team is consistently underprepared and their execution is poor. Did you watch the sidelines at all on Sunday? Mike Tomlin was constantly talking to his guys; giving them pointers and getting their feedback on what was and wan't working. When's the last time you saw Crennel do anything but stand stoicly on the sideline? It's a football game, Romeo, not a tea party! You need to get fired up once in awhile, and you need to communicate with your players during the game.

And about that fourth quarter field goal... C'mon Romeo, it's wet and windy, your offense hasn't moved the ball consistently all day, and you're up against a tough Pittsburgh defense. Furthermore, if you're stopped on fourth down, you still leave the Steelers with lousy field position. Plus, in those weather conditions, a 38-yard field goal is anything but a lock, even for Dawso-matic. Once again, Romeo was caught playing not to lose, and it's why he'll never be a winner in Cleveland. Romeo must go.

Four Demerits: Derek Anderson
If I were a musician I'd write a love song about Derek Anderson, because as much as I love his arm and his pocket presence, he just keeps teasing me and breaking my heart. I'm not ready for a clean break yet, but I'm starting to have my doubts about whether or not the two of us have a future. I want to love you, Derek, but I won't let you yo-yo with my heart forever.

We can't blame this performance on the weather, and let's not sugarcoat it: DA sucked. Anderson's answer to the weather was to simply throw the ball harder, which didn't make his already laser-like passes any easier for his receivers to catch. Once again Anderson is not going through his reads, and often seems to just be looking for one or two receivers.

I can live with the long interception that Anderson threw, but the pick he threw at the end of the first half was inexcusable. One of my biggest fears with DA is that he may not be a very cerebral fellow, and that intereption at the end of the first half only reinforced my opinion. With only eight seconds left in the half and no timeouts, Anderson had to be aware that there were a few things he couldn't do; he couldn't (a) run, (b) take a sack, (c) throw short of the end zone, (d) run a play that lasted eight seconds, or (e) force a ball into coverage, risking an interception. Unfortunately, DA chose option E.

Anderson has so much potential that we shouldn't be giving up on him, not even close. But if he keeps playing such lousy football, then Brady Quinn might get his shot sooner than we think.

Three Demerits: Braylon Edwards
Game number two was largely the same as game number one for Braylon; he was virtually non-existent, and when the ball came his way he had butter fingers. Edwards is arguably the best player on the team and perhaps the team's most valuable player. As long as Donté Stallworth is out of commission it's even more important that the Browns get a big contribution from Edwards, and had Edwards delivered a big catch or two, the Browns could be 1-1 right now.

Part of Edwards' struggles can be chalked up to the weather, to DA's struggles, and to seeing a ton of double coverage, but at the end of the day his problems may be largely a residual effect of the time he missed with that cut foot. Let's hope that this is the week when Braylon gets it all turned around, because the Browns desperately need their stud receiver to start acting like one.

Two Demerits:
Rob Chudzinski
Chud has raised a few eyebrows during the first two weeks with some questionable play calling. The flipside is that had those plays worked, Chud would be having the "genius" label tossed in his direction quite liberally.

The inclement weather significantly hindered the Browns' vertical passing attack, but Chud never seemed to fully adjust and adopt a "dink and dunk" attack. Short passes are obviously not Derek Anderson's strength, but the Browns probably should have at least given this strategy a shot considering how tough it must have been to catch Derek Anderson's speeding bullets when they were affected by the wind for 25 yards.

One Demerit: Hines Ward
I don't like to get too worked up about players' celebrations as long as their all in good fun, but Ward's celebration after his second quarter touchdown was openly disrespectful to the Browns and their fans. After scoring, Ward went to the back of the endzone and wiped his feet like the turf was a doormat, claerly indicating that he thought the Browns were the Steelers' doormat.

That was pretty bold considering that Pittsburgh only leading by one score, but it didn't make it any less disrespectful. Celebrating and having fun is one thing, but showing up the opposing team and their fans is bush league, and it's not something you'd expect from a guy who frequently has that "one of the nicest guys in the league" label attached to him.

Actually, I have a very different image of Hines Ward: he's a cheap shot. Pundits rave about his blocking, but nobody chastises Ward for his shady blocks on players far away from the play and some of his blind side blocks. I'm all for receivers blocking, but using blocking as an excuse to get a free shot at someone isn't cool. Hines Ward might be smiling all of the time, but he's a total punk in my book.

This Week's Heroes

Five Gold Stars: Kellen Winslow
Kellen Winslow was the only Browns receiver who made a big impact on Sunday. Winslow caught seven balls, while the rest of the team grabbed just 11. The tipped ball that Winslow grabbed while being covered by Troy Polamalu in the fourth quarter was one of the greatest catches I've ever seen him make.

He's said some abrasive things from time to time, but you have to love Kellen Winslow. In spite of all those injuries, Winslow straps it on every Sunday and grabs passes like a Hoover with those giant paws of his. The guy is as intense as anyone in the league and unlike many of these Browns, he really appears to care whether or not the team is succeeding. You can say what you want about Winslow, but he's one of the few guys who seems to take losses just as hard as the fans. In today's "it's a business" NFL, that's a rare thing.

Four Gold Stars: Shaun Rogers
I can't believe I ever doubted the Shaun Rogers trade. The Big Baby was a total beast against the Steelers, taking on and frequently blowing up multiple blockers. Recording five tackles and a sack, Rogers lived the Pittsburgh backfield, and he made Sunday's game pretty stressful for Ben Roethlisberger.

Conservatively listed at 350 pounds, Rogers is kind of like Ted Washington...except he can move. Guys that big should not be able to move that fast. The defensive line as a whole looked much better against Pittsburgh, and hopefully they continue to gel as the season progresses. As for the Big Baby, as long as he doesn't suffer a major injury, I wouldn't be surprised to see him in Honolulu in February.

Three Gold Stars: Ike

Note: I'm not trying to make light of the hurricane or the destruction it left in its wake down in Texas. Please don't send me emails suggesting that I am.

I'm not sure if what we saw at Cleveland Browns Stadium was actually the remnants of Hurricane Ike or not, but considering the extreme wind and rain that the whole region experienced, it's fair to say that Ike had some effect. As miserable as those conditions must have been to play in, they were a huge equalizer for the Browns.

With Donté Stallworth still sidelined with a mysterious random injury, the Steelers' receiving corps had the Browns overmatched both in depth and explosiveness. The lousy weather was exactly what the Browns needed to slow down the Steelers' speedy receivers, particularly Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington. Holmes still finished with five catches for 94 yards, but considering how he's absolutely gouged the Browns for big plays and touchdowns in the past, those totals were acceptable. Nate Washington wasn't even in the box score.

Two Gold Stars: Phil Dawson
What can you say about Phil Dawson? Considering the murmurs about his leg strength during last summer's training camp, it's amazing how he's silenced his critics over the last year or so. Dawson has expanded his range up to about 50 yards, he's as accurate as ever, and there may not be a better bad weather kicker in the league. He's our guy, he's the last remaining expansion Brown, and I wouldn't trade Phil Dawson for any kicker in the league.

Dawson added to his bad weather resumé on Sunday, nailing two field goals in the swirling wind and rain. Those field goals weren't as amazing as Dawson's pair of kicks during the Snow Game against Buffalo, but they were still pretty impressive. As long as he doesn't grumble too much about his contract, Phil can consider himself solidly on my good side.

One Gold Star: Jerome Harrison
What's it going to take to get Jerome Harrison some consistent touches? He doesn't have to split carries with Jamal Lewis, but the guy clearly deserves a solid 4-6 touches per game, and maybe more if he's successful. Harrison only had one catch for 23 yards, but his 23-yard scamper was one of the most exciting bits of running that we've seen from a Browns running back years.

Harrison is fast, shifty, and appears more muscular than he has been in past years. There's a chance that this guy could come out of nowhere to become the Browns' featured back in the next couple of years, a la Willie Parker. Jamal Lewis isn't getting any younger, and giving a few of his carries to the youthful Harrison will not only keep Lewis fresher and reduce his chances of injury, but it will also give the Browns a chance to evaluate Harrison to decide whether or not they will need to sign or draft another running back in the near future.

Up Next: At Baltimore, 4:15, M&T Bank Stadium ("nice name...not")

The Browns have another divisional game lined up this week, although it's against a slightly softer opponent. Baltimore was hurricaned out last week in Houston, so they should be pretty fresh, but unfortunately for them they'll still be sporting the same lackluster roster.

Look for the Browns to come after rookie signal caller Joe Flacco early and often, look for the Browns offense to finally get off the shnide, and here's hoping that Donté Stallworth will finally make his regular season Browns debut.

Prediction: Browns 24, Ravens 13

Thursday, September 18

Take that, Twinkies

Get out your brooms, my friends.

Yeah, so we haven't recapped a Tribe series in over a week. Did you really want to read about that awesome split with the Orioles, or getting crushed 3 out of 4 by the Royals? No, you'd much rather read about Los Indios kicking the Minnesota Twins around Progressive Field. Much more fun. I LOVED this series.

I have to admit, I have somewhat mixed feelings about this series. Of course, the Indians winning is always Priority #1, and beating a Central Division rival like the Twins is always welcome, even if the loss of Torii Hunter has made the Twins far less whiny and annoying than in the past. On the other hand, I'd rather see Minnesota in the postseason than the Black Sox. I guess we'll just have to do the same thing to Chicago in the season's final series and snatch that AL Central crown off of Ozzie Guillen's insane head.

Game 1 faced off Indians newcomer Scott Lewis against the Twins' Kevin Slowey, and Lewis dazzled for the second straight outing. Following his impressive eight scoreless inning debut, Lewis ran his streak to 14 by holding Minny in check for 2/3 of the game. Slowey (here's a fun game: think of a worse name for a pitcher) pitched well but was victimized by the longball. As has been the Tribe's MO lately, they scored all three runs via home runs. Kelly Shoppach's 4th inning blast (his 21st!) put the Indians on the board, while Shin-Soo Choo's 11th came in the next inning, plating Grady Sizemore and putting the Indians up 3-0. Rafaels Betancourt and Perez cruised through the 7th and 8th respectively, the closer gave up a run but got the save, and all of a sudden it was 2007 for a night. Final score: 3-1 Tribe.

Game 2 was a wild one: 21 runs, 27 hits, 5 errors, and the Twins leaving roughly 75 men on base. Minnesota took an early 1-0 lead off of Indians starter Zach Jackson, still searching for his first win. Jackson settled down, blanking the Twins over the next three frames. Meanwhile, the Tribe offense came alive with four runs in each of the 2nd and 3rd innings to take a commanding 8-1 lead. The Tribe attack was spearheaded by Ryan Garko, who smacked a three-run home run and a sacrifice fly for half of the club's RBI over this explosion. They had a big chance to blow it extra-super-wide open, but Franklin Gutierrez struck out with the bases loaded in the 3rd to end that threat. While the Tribe was building their lead, the cameras flipped to Jackson in the dugout. Oddly, he looked really distraught, with a towel over his head and his head in his hands. It was almost as if he could see the immediate future, the part where he was going to hand six of the seven runs back to the Twins before the end of the 6th. Granted, he had some help from Juan Rincon, who relieved Jackson and immediately gave up a 2-run single to bring the score to 8-7. Things could have been worse, but Rich Rundles ("Rich Grundles") got Justin Morneau with the bases loaded to hold it there.

The teams alternated squandering scoring opportunities in the 7th. Brendan Donnelly (ERA now 9.00, but lucky to be there), loaded the bases with an assortment of pitches not in the strike zone (Indian pitchers walked nine on the night) but was fortunate to get a lineout double play to third to escape trouble. Jhonny Peralta led off the Tribe half of the inning with a triple and stayed there until it was time for him to walk over and play shortstop. Rafael Betancourt came out for the 8th and managed to walk FOUR batters and allow two hits and two runs as Minnesota forged ahead 9-8. It was positively Jorge Julio-esque.

Grady Sizemore quickly tied things up in the Indians' 8th with a solo shot off the foul pole in right. As soon as he hit it, both he and I thought: if it's fair, it's gone, and indeed it was both, knotting it up at 9-9. Jensen Lewis then pitched two strong innings for Cleveland, while the Tribe was retired in order in their 9th and 10th. As for the 11th, you'd normally favor Minnesota in a Joe Nathan-Tom Mastny pitching duel, but Mastny kept the Twins off the board while Nathan ran into the Tribe's hitting machine. After a Gutierrez leadoff single, a Ben Francisco sac bunt, and a Peralta walk, Victor Martinez took Nathan long for a three-run shot and a walkoff 12-9 victory for the Wahoos.

Time for some sweep. Sweep, my friends. Cliff Lee on the hill. Win. 23-2.

Oh, complications - minnesota twinkies. You think you're going to win this game? You are not. Sure, those dorks took an early 2-0 lead, but the Tribe erased it via solo shots from Jhonny Peralta and, yes...drumroll please...Travis Hafner. Right before Hafner's shot, I was facing a 3-pin spare at the local bowling alley. I saw Haf's blast, pumped the fist, and hit the spare. Then I won a straight-up CMU water bottle for my skillz.

The power surge made it 2-2 Tribe. Then Shin-Soo Choo does his thing, and it's 4-2 Tribe after a 2-run double. This man can flat hit. Choo is a 2009 Indian.

So the Phifer comes out to chase his improbable 23rd win. However, it was not to be on this night - Clifton put runners on 2nd and 3rd with 0 out, and Tribe skipper Eric Wedge came out for a conference with our boy. I give credit to Wedge here - he spoke his case and let Lee stay out there. I believe this to be a combination of factors. One, you're a sinking ship with a bright light. Why the hell not let Cliffy try for #23? Plus: our bullpen is awful.

Didn't work out - Cliff got a sac fly and KRS-One hit a crappy little ground ball single. Fart, 4-4. Nice try, Cliff. You'll have to settle for the greatest single-season pithing performance by an Indian in my lifetime.

So what do the Tribe do then? Score 2 in the 8th and win, of course. Thanks, Jhonny, and thanks, Victor. 6-4 Tribe, see you later Twinkies, have a nice flight back to that horrible stadium of yours. Go Tribe.

I'd love to see the Indians just kick the tar out of the Black Sox in the last weekend of the season, and sneak Minny into the playoffs. Before that, we'll welcome Detroit to town. We'll see how the reeling Tigers respond to the beat-down the Indians handed them last time the two clubs played. GO TRIBE!

Monday, September 15

Checking in

Hey, FCF readers, I've been on the road and haven't been contributing a lot to the old blog here. On the other hand, the sports teams we cover here haven't been contributing a lot to my general well-being, so I guess we're even. A few thoughts:

Ohio St.
The Ohio State Buckeyes would like to welcome the Troy Trojans to Ohio Stadium this Saturday!

When was the last time you can remember a football team playing two consecutive teams with the same mascot? How about that? Michigan is 1-2! Michigan sucks! Can you tell I'm trying to avoid talking about something? Let's move along!

Next up: the Ravens!

No, no, I can't shirk all of my football duties just because we had a pretty rough weekend here in the Buckeye State. Go back.

Eager to cap off the worst football weekend since the last time Michigan beat OSU (the Browns also lost to Pittsburgh that weekend with this writer in attendance), the Browns came out and promptly lost their 58th straight game to the Steelers. Ugh. The only good part about this game was the karaoke performance of "Alive" I executed in Bigalke's bar in Milwaukee, WI while still seated and watching the game. I was stuck in Brew City overnight thanks to the windy conditions in Cleveland (you may have seen this on TV).

There's little to say about that game that's any different from what I said last weekend. In fact, I should start a column devoted to a bad FG decision coach Crennel makes each game. This one wasn't quite as egregious as the one from the first game, as one can at least construct a plausible win scenario from the 10-6 deficit with 4 minutes remaining, but it's still weak game management. The main problem I had was how the Browns weren't really treating it as a four-down situation with their offensive approach, and even seemed a little surprised when faced with a 4th-and-7 situation. Again, I'm puzzled at how the coaching staff's focus doesn't seem to be on endgame-winning strategy, week in and week out.

And Braylon Edwards can't catch the ball.

A split with Baltimore and losing 3-of-4 to Kansas City doesn't lend itself to a whole lot of analysis, and behind as I am in other areas of life and writing, forget about it.

The only real question is: will I go to an alumni event at the local bowling alley/bar, or will I head down to see Cliff Lee try for his improbable 23rd win? Bear in mind that I attended Carnegie Mellon University and that this event will thus consist entirely of men.

3 years, $13 million for Delonte West seems pretty reasonable to me. We have TWO point guards now! TWO!

New Philadelphia Quakers
Hey, why not finish on a high note? A 54-0 win over Claymont, improving the club to 4-0 on the campaign, sounds like a fun night at the old stadium to me. I think we won 4 games in my last two years of high school combined. Dover, meanwhile, is a pedestrian 3-1 on the year, and is still made up of a bunch of people who have to live in Dover.

Sunday, September 14

NFL Picks: Week 2

CHIEFS (-3.5) vs. Raiders
Andy: Chiefs
Figgs: Raiders
Nick: Raiders

BENGALS (-1) vs. Titans
Andy: Titans
Figgs: Titans
Nick: Titans

VIKINGS (+1.5) vs. Colts
Andy: Colts
Figgs: Colts
Nick: Vikings

REDSKINS (Even) vs. Saints
Andy: Saints
Figgs: Saints
Nick: Saints

LIONS (+3) vs. Packers
Andy: Packers
Figgs: Packers
Nick: Packers

PANTHERS (-3) vs. Bears
Andy: Panthers
Figgs: Panthers
Nick: Panthers

RAMS (+8.5) vs. Giants
Andy: Giants
Figgs: Rams
Nick: Giants

JAGUARS (-5) vs. Bills
Andy: Jags
Figgs: Jaguars
Nick: Bills

BUCCANEERS (-7) vs. Falcons
Andy: Falcons
Figgs: Falcons
Nick: Falcons

SEAHAWKS (-7) vs. 49ers
Andy: Seahawks
Figgs: Niners
Nick: Seahawks

CARDINALS (-6) vs. Dolphins
Andy: Dolphins
Figgs: Cardinals
Nick: Cards

JETS (Even) vs. Patriots
Andy: Patriots
Figgs: Patriots
Nick: Pats

BRONCOS (+1) vs. Chargers
Andy: Broncos
Figgs: Chargers
Nick: Chargers

BROWNS (+6) vs. Steelers
Andy: Browns
Figgs: Steelers
Nick: Browns

COWBOYS (-7) vs. Eagles
Andy: Eagles
Figgs: Eagles
Nick: Cowboys

Friday, September 12

A Must-Win Game?

The “must-win game” is one of the most overused clichés in sports, and it’s a phrase that I don’t care for. No game is a “must-win” until a team is facing mathematical elimination. Even with that in mind, this Sunday’s meeting with the Steelers has unusually high stakes for the Cleveland Browns, particularly for what is manifestly, only a week two game.

Obviously, if the Browns fall to the Steelers they will put themselves in a huge hole. They would be down two games to the Steelers, at least one game to the Ravens, and either tied or behind the woeful Bengals. And before someone throws out the “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” cliché, it should be noted that how you start plays a huge role in where you finish.

Unfortunately, the schedule does not favor the Browns if they lose this game. Although they will have lost to a pair of quality teams in Dallas and Pittsburgh, both of those losses would be at Cleveland Stadium, leaving only six remaining home games. For a Browns team that went 7-1 at home and just 3-5 on the road last season, that’s bad news. Plus, the remainder of the schedule is going to be much more formidable than it was last year. Beyond their four contests against Baltimore and Cincinnati, and possibly the Houston game, it’s tough to circle any surefire wins on the Browns’ schedule.

Speaking of the Bengals and Ravens, the Browns can’t expect much help from those two clubs. If you caught any of the Bengals/Ravens game over the weekend, I don’t have to tell you that both teams are pretty lousy. That’s a positive for the Browns because it means they should be able to pencil in four victories as long as they don’t lay an egg, but the downside is that it’s extremely unlikely that either the Bengals or Ravens will be capable of stealing a game from Pittsburgh. Furthermore, the Steelers are typically one of the best in the league at winning the games that they should win. If the Browns are hoping for either of those teams to help knock the Steelers down a peg, they’d better not hold their collective breath.

If you’re still not convinced of this game’s importance, where do you think the Browns play their season finale on December 28th? You guessed it: Pittsburgh PA, on the ketchup field, in front of almost 70,000 fans with almost 10,000 full sets of teeth. If you like the Browns’ odds in that one, well, I’d like to make a few wagers with you this weekend.

One can’t help but think that the Steelers are inside the head of the whole Cleveland Browns organization, and for good reason. Pittsburgh has won their last nine match ups with the Browns, and the Browns haven’t defeated the Stillers since the 33-13 Sunday night game in Pittsburgh, which was probably Tim Couch’s finest hour. During this ridiculous streak, the Browns have been blown out like in last year’s opener, and during the infamous 2005 Christmas Eve game. Perhaps more painful have been the games that the Browns let slip through their fingers, like their second meeting with the Steelers last season, when Ben Roethlisberger sent them packing almost single-handedly. There have been several games when the Browns have seemingly invented ways to lose, and you’d better believe that those choke jobs will be on the team’s mind come Sunday.

In the end, it’s that history and the Steelers’ recent dominance that makes the Browns’ task all the more daunting. Suffering another blowout, or even a close loss after laying down like they did in the opener would be very disheartening for the Browns, but up the ante by losing such a game to their most bitter rival, and the defeat could cripple them for the rest of the season. On the other hand, if the Browns can pull off an upset it could reenergize their beleaguered clubhouse and instead leave the Steelers swimming in self doubt. So to revisit our original question: is this a must-win game? No, not on paper anyway. But for an organization that’s sweating bullets and a fan base on the brink of revolution, it’s as close as it gets.

Thursday, September 11

Heroes and Zeroes: Week 1

Most fans didn't expect the Browns to beat the Cowboys last Sunday. They didn't expect to see the Clevelanders get embarrassed, either. The final score of 28-10 isn't at all indicative of the total thrashing the Browns absorbed. Make no mistake: the Cowboys took the Brownies out behind the woodshed, and it's a beating the home club will not soon forget.

In hindsight, the exhibition season now seems like it was an excellent barometer of the team's progress. The loss served as further evidence that the linebackers and secondary are not up to snuff, that the first team offense needs more reps together in order to gel, and that the Browns aren't yet ready to break into the upper echelon of the league. If this team needed a wake up call, this was it.

Note: For those new to this column, we highlight five positive performances ("heroes," who are awarded gold stars), and five negative performances ("zeroes," who are awarded demerits) each week. It's kind of like those sticker charts that teachers use in kindergarten...

This Week's "Zeroes"

Five Demerits: Braylon Edwards
You shouldn't expect too much criticism to go Edwards' this season, but he deserves some serious heat for his performance last week. Edwards, who racked up 16 touchdowns and nearly 1,300 yards last season, was held to just 2 catches for 14 yards. That's not the way to start a bid for your second consecutive Pro Bowl appearance.

While that meager total almost made Braylon a complete non-factor, we must also consider that he was targeted nine times and had somewhere in the neighborhood of four drops. And the drops were at crucial junctures, short-circuiting some early drives that could have kept the Browns in the game. Allen Iverson was wrong - practice does matter, and Edwards hardly practiced at all in the last month or so, due to the deep cut on his foot that he suffered while running barefoot during a practice in early August.

Sure, Donte Stallworth stepped on Edwards' foot, but if Braylon wants to play the blame game he needs to look in the mirror. Running around barefoot when dozens of other guys are wearing cleats is an awful idea, especially when the bad mojo of Donte Stallworth, random injury generator, is in the house. The time that Edwards missed compromised the terrific chemistry that he had with Derek Anderson last season, and here's hoping that the pair can restore the magic before the Stillers roll into town.

Four Demerits: LeBron James
We all remember when LBJ wore his Bankees hat to The Jake during the playoffs last season. LeBron probably thought he was being cute, but all he managed to do was annoy a good number of the folks who pay to watch him play. But hey, the guy didn't grow up a Cleveland fan, and when you pull for the Bulls, Cowboys, and Yankees, you're hardly a "die hard," so most Cavs fans were willing to grant him a mulligan.

Then this happened. ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME, LEBRON? Cowboys shirt? Check. Yankees hat? Check. On the Dallas sideline hugging Terrell Owens and Ms. Pacman? Check, check.

During the MLB playoffs last year, I was the first one to shrug off the Yankees cap and admit that I'd let it all go when LeBron's playing basketball again, but this was just plain bush league. (And for the record, when the Cavs are playing again in two months I'll probably let it all go, again.)

Dude, wearing the gear is one thing, but hugging guys on the Dallas sideline? That's going too far. It's tough to read that as anything but blatant disrespect for the Browns, their fans, and the whole city, and that's not cool. LeBron, maybe you are a Cowboys fan, but wouldn't it bug you a little bit if Braylon Edwards and Joe Thomas showed up at The Q decked out in Celtics paraphernalia? It probably would. C'mon LBJ, the fans love you here, try to be a little smarter when you head out to support the local teams. You can start by, you know, actually supporting the local teams.

Three Demerits: Romeo Crennel
There isn't much to be said about Romeo that hasn't already been said, but I'll give it a shot. Why do Crennel's Browns consistently get their clocks cleaned by good teams? Browns fans are usually realistic, and we don't expect a win every Sunday. What we do expect is something that resembles preparation, and we don't expect to be totally embarrassed. This was Crennel's fourth straight kickoff Sunday at home, and his team has lost all four games, including three by double-digits. Somebody send coach Walrus the memo: whatever he's doing, it ain't workin'.

The Browns didn't look like a team that believed they could beat the Cowboys. Both Troy Aikman and Tony Grossi commented that the Browns seemed to be treating this game as a fifth exhibition game, a game that they didn't have any business winning. Not to get too deep into psycho-babble, but when you believe you're going to lose, more often than not...you lose. The coach should be held accountable for the attitude in that locker room, and he needs to get those guys thinking like winners. If the Browns go into this Sunday's clash with their rust belt rivals with the same outlook, expect a repeat performance of the Dallas game.

And about that field goal in the fourth quarter... With a little more than 10:00 left in the game and his team down 21 points, Romeo Crennel chose to kick a field goal from the Dallas 17-yard line instead of going the first down on 4th-and-3. This was tantamount to a white flag, and it prompted thousands of Browns fans to simultaneously throw their remote controls across their living rooms.

Seriously Romeo, what were you thinking? Does 28-10 really look that much different than 28-7? Did you have money on both teams going over 35? I could understand the call if the Browns had a rookie kicker or long snapper and wanted to get those guys some work, but Pontbriand and Dawson are vets. The word on the street is that owner Randy Lerner flipped out when Romeo elected to kick, and you can't blame him. When later asked about the field goal, Crennel said he'd do it all over again. That, Browns fans, is troubling.

Two Demerits: Donte Stallworth
Stallworth was a late scratch after "tweaking" his groin in warm ups. There is a rumor circulating that Stallworth was actually hurt on Saturday, but the Browns waited a day to disclose the injury to force the Cowboys to game plan for him. Regardless, Stallworth is now on the injury report with a quadriceps problem, and he didn't practice on Wednesday. It's unclear whether or not Stallworth will make his Browns debut this week against the Steelers.

This is exactly why the Stallworth signing made me nervous, especially given the Browns' lack of quality depth at wide receiver. If there was an NFL player who's on the injury report more than Larry Hughes, this might be the guy. Stallworth has only missed 12 games in his 6 year career, but he's one of those guys that always seems to be injured, and always leaves you guessing as to whether or not he'll play. If last week is any indication, the Browns really need him on the field to direct some of the defense's attention away from Braylon Edwards.

One Demerit: Derek Anderson
This loss wasn't Derek Anderson's fault, not even close. But Anderson turned his excellent start into a very mediocre overall showing, once again struggling with the short passes that plagued him last season. DA started 7-for-9, but finished just 11-of-24 for 114 yards.

Anderson went almost 30 minutes without a completion. As I mentioned above, part of that was Braylon Edwards' is fault, but going nearly two quarters without a complete pass just isn't getting it done. DA also developed some happy feet in the second half, which is strange for a guy who isn't particularly fleet of foot. He should not make that a habit. I still think that Anderson can have a big year, and that he might be the Browns' long-term solution at quarterback, but this game was clearly not the start he envisioned for the '08 season.

This Week's "Heroes"

Five Gold Stars: Jamal Lewis
What a difference a year makes. Before last season Jamal Lewis looked like a worn out retread, and now he looks like a stud. And what a difference new clothes can make. Lewis was once one of the most hated athletes in Cleveland, and now he's a fan favorite. Jamal is an easy guy to root for; he's a hard worker, he leads by example, he plays with a ton of heart, and many in the national media are still counting him out by assuming that he's simply too old to be effective. As skeptical as I was about Lewis last summer, I'm now one of his biggest fans.

Lewis was one of the few Browns who showed up with the intention of playing football last week, and he picked up 62 yards on just 13 carries against a tough Dallas defense. That included an inspired 24-yard run on the final play of the third quarter. While most of the Browns were thinking about the showers, Lewis was concentrating on giving the Cowboys' defenders a few more bruises to wake up to on Monday morning. Jamal, you've earned my respect, and I look forward to another season of watching you bulldoze defenders.

Four Gold Stars: Shaun Rogers
Although the Browns had trouble pressuring the quarterback, it wasn't Shaun Rogers' fault. Unlike Corey Williams, Rogers looked as good as advertised, giving multiple Cowboys' linemen problems and occasionally harassing Tony Romo. If Rogers can maintain a clean bill of health, I expect him to have a big year. As bad as the defense looked, it appears that the Browns may have finally found that elusive nose tackle who will allow them to run the 3-4 defense properly. Now, about those linebackers...

Three Gold Stars: Kellen Winslow
It's no surprise that Kellen Winslow came to play on Sunday, he always does. Before the ensuing rout, Winslow was putting together a nice game, hauling in four of his five catches during the Browns' first two drives, and he scored the Browns' lone touchdown. Winslow was targeted just six times, but given his effectiveness in the opener and the fact that Donte Stallworth may once again be on the sidelines, expect Derek Anderson to look for Winslow much more against the Steelers this week.

Two Gold Stars: Offensive Line
The banged up line performed admirably against a stiff Dallas pass rush, allowing only one sack If you only looked at the box score, you might guess that because the Browns only put up 10 points, the line struggled. That wasn't the case.

Thomas, Steinbach, and company managed to keep Derek Anderson upright for most of the game, and they were also able to open up some holes for Jamal Lewis. The ineffectiveness of Braylon Edwards, the defense, and to some degree, Derek Anderson were what lost this game, not the line's play. Hopefully Ryan Tucker and Rex Hadnot can return soon, because Seth McKinney did struggle at times. McKinney is an adequate starter, but the Browns ideally want him to be their sixth or seventh lineman.

One Gold Star: Mel Tucker
Considering how poorly the defense played, this may seem like an odd choice. However, Tucker's halftime adjustments were impressive, and Tucker's predecessor, Todd Grantham, routinely had problems making adjustments.

During the first half the Browns were crowding the line of scrimmage when they were blitzing, and the Cowboys were matching up effectively enough to nullify the pass rush even when the Browns blitzed with six or seven guys. In the second half, Tucker had the linebackers and DBs back off the line, which served two purposes. One, the Browns didn't telegraph their blitzes as much, and two, the Cowboys were unable to successfully match up with the Browns' blitzers, leading to more pressure on Romo. The strategy appeared to be somewhat successful, at least until the Cleveland defense was completely gassed as a result of the offense's impotence. It will be interesting to see how Tucker's schemes develop during the remainder of the season.

Up Next: Pittsburgh, 8:15, Cleveland Browns Stadium
Things aren't getting any easier, and on Sunday night we get the main event. Browns, Steelers, and close to 100,000 fans down town with a seething for all things black and gold. (Did I say gold? I meant "urine yellow.")

Both Sean Jones and Brodney Pool will be sitting this one out, which means that Mike Adams and Nick Sorenson will be starting. Yikes. But honestly, this feels like a game that the Browns will have a good chance to win. The Browns are still a much better team at home than on the road, and I look for them to be highly motivated after last week's debacle. These guys are going to be angry, they're going to want redemption, and seeing the boys from Pittsburgh on the opposite sideline will simply up the ante.

Ben Roethlisberger is expected to play even though he has a sore shoulder, but hopefully that can put the scent of blood in the water for the Browns' defense. Also, the Steelers are a very mortal 6-10 away from ketchup field during the last two seasons. So the Browns have that going for them, which is nice.

Edwards and Winslow need to have big games for the Browns. The defense needs to step up and at least slow down the Steelers, starting with former Buckeye Santonio Holmes, who has gouged them in the past. And for the love of all things holy, don't let Roethlisberger roll out to his right! This is going to be a high scoring affair, but I'm not ready to bury the Browns just yet.

Prediction: Browns 30, Steelers 27