Wednesday, September 30

Passing Is So 2008

Last Saturday, the Oho St Buckeye offense may have set college football back 100 or so years, but did so in impressive fashion, pounding Illinois 30-0. Coach Jim Tressel didn't even pretend like he wanted Terrelle Pryor throwing in the terrible weather, and he didn't have to. OSU ran all over the Illini, to the tune of 236 yards. They probably only needed about 50 of that, as the defense continued to look superb in shutting down Juice Williams and his mates for 60 minutes.

Game Recap

On the opening series, Pryor went 0-2 and the Buckeyes went three-and-out. Little did we know that would be all the passing Ohio St would do for the first half. On the ensuing drive, Illinois was moving the ball down field until Juice was picked off by (who else?) Brian Rolle. This guy is a friggin' stud. Ohio St couldn't capitalize and settled for an Aaron Pettrey 50 yard field goal. Another good Illinois drive ended in a punt, and again Pettrey hit from deep, this one a 46-yarder, making it 6-0 Bucks.

A personal foul penalty against Illinois on OSU's next possession set up the first TD of the game, coming on a Boom Herron run. Both teams traded a couple of punts to end a pretty boring first half. The Fighting Zookers dominated the total yards, but the Buckeyes were up on the score board 13-0.

Thaddeus Gibson sacked Juice to force a fumble to begin the second half, and OSU took advantage this time when Herron ran in his second score of the day. On the next drive, it was Lawrence Wilson's turn to get in on the turnover action when he made a very acrobatic pick. With under 6 minutes to play in the 3rd quarter, Pryor hit Dane Sanzenbacher for his first completion of the game. Sanz caught another pass on the next play that led to another Pettrey FG, 23-0.

The rest of the game was pretty sloppy, weather- and play-wise. TP hooked up with Sanzenbacher late in the game to complete the scoring. Three 4th quarter sacks by the Bucks helped seal the shutout.

Game Notes

Game Ball
Let's just give it to the whole defense. Five sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles, and their second straight shutout. They held Juice Williams to an ugly stat line of 13/25, 77 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs. Even more pitiful were his rushing stats - 15 carries for 18 yards. The 170 total yards that Illinois put up was their lowest output in over three years. It is unbelievable how much talent this unit can lose each year and just keep reloading with more studs.

"It may appear there's more, but they only have one #90 out there."
Those were commentator Ron Franklin's words in the middle of the third quarter, referring to DE Thaddeus Gibson being all over the field. Thad finished with 7 total tackles, two for a loss, and one forced fumble. That line doesn't even do him justice, as Gibson was harassing Williams all day and was responsible for several other big plays that he didn't get credit for.

The Forward What?
Jim Tressel said going into this game that he wanted to rely on the running game, but when he saw the inclement weather, he just said the hell with it and gave up the pass all together. Let me be the first to say: thank you. Ohio St was going to run the ball until Illinois showed that they could stop it, and that moment never came. Brandon Saine got 14 touches! He picked up 93 total yards, good for 6.4 a pop. Give this man the ball! Herron added 75 yards and two touchdowns, Pryor picked up 59 on the ground, and Jordon Hall closed out the game again, finishing with 22 yards.

I'm Sorry, I Thought This Was A Contact Sport?
Next week Ohio St will be without defensive captain Kurt Coleman, who was issued a one-game suspension for his late/helmet-to-helmet hit on Illinois QB Eddie McGee in the 4th quarter of last week's game. While the hit should have been flagged, it certainly did not merit a suspension. See for yourself. This is a huge loss to this defense.

The Second Coming of Nugent?
Aaron Pettrey was 6/6 on his kicks in this game, with FGs good from 50, 47, and 27 yards. While there will never be kicker as celebrated as Mike Nugent in Columbus ( he was in the top 10 on my Favoirte Buckeyes list), Pettrey has got an incredible leg.

Up Next: @ Indiana, 7:00, Big Ten Network
Ohio St finally has their first true road game as they travel to the Hoosier State. Indiana, also 3-1, comes into this contest after coming within two and a half minutes of pulling a major upset last Saturday in Ann Arbor (who is still a whore, by the way). On one hand, Indiana's offense has looked good and, thanks to the aforementioned suspension, Ohio St will not have Kurt Coleman. On the other hand, the Hoosiers haven't won a game in this series since 1988. Don't expect that to change. The 17 point spread sounds about right.
Prediction: Ohio St 34 Indiana 17


Tuesday, September 29

Team FCF at the Great Race

For the second time in as many weeks, FCF deployed assets to the City of Pittsburgh for sports and other shenanigans. This time, it was Nick and I in the Steel City, classing the place up a bit after the G20 to run the Great Race, take in the Buckeye and Brown games, and make sure people understand the difference between yellow and gold.

First up was the Buckeyes' uneventful 30-0 rout of the hapless Illinois Illinish Illini, which I'm sure Figgs will enjoy writing up later this week. We watched at Silky's in Squirrel Hill, where most of the TV's (and the audio) were tuned to the Pitt game. It was a bit disconcerting for the broadcast and fan reaction not to line up with OSU, but we made do, as Pitt managed to squander a late two-touchdown advantage.

We'd intended to go take in a Pirate game (last night's announced attendance: a comically incorrect 35,000), but heavy rain all day scrapped that plan (the mighty Buccos would later blow a lead and lose to the Dodgers) so we watched Penn State's incredible meltdown against Iowa, which featured a blocked punt returned for a TD, an INT, a fumble, another INT, and Joe Paterno dropping his applesauce in the span of about four minutes.

Sunday was the big raceday. Before it started, we both remarked how much easier it is to prepare for a running race versus a triathlon. No bike, no helmet, no numbers to festoon on all your gear, no swim cap, no transition area. Bring a pair of shorts and show up at the start line.

Both of us destroyed the race, needless to say. Not to belittle Nick's work (he did beat me, after all), but his was particularly satisfying for me, as this marked my 7th Great Race, so I had my knee recovery and extensive past history working against me, but I posted a 42:46 for my career-best 10K in Pittsburgh or anywhere else. I bettered my previous Great Race record by nearly two minutes and my best 10K time by over a minute. Fucking crushed it. Now my career-best 10K time features a faster pace than my best 5K time, which is absurd.

The beginning of the Great Race is a little crowded, in the same way Times Square at New Year's Eve is. For some odd reason, 7000 runners don't fit comfortably onto a two-lane city street. So the first mile involves a lot of passing, running on sidewalks, and, if you're Nick, running into girls and breaking their Walkmen.

I was able to stay with Nick through about two miles, but he pulled away and fought to an impressive 41:55 even despite a sidesplitter. Been there, done that, but the time it happened to me, there was a beer stop four miles in to mitigate things. But, hey, that was seven years ago. I'm so old. But I'm not slowing down, damnit, even four months after knee surgery. Anyway, out of 6949 runners, I placed 409th and Nick 336th. The weather was nice temperature-wise, but a light rain at the start got pretty serious by the end. Nevertheless, the racers powered through.

Both participants were representing: Nick with Chief Wahoo and me with my Cleveland Triathlon Club t-shirt. We saw a fellow with a Carson Palmer jersey running and both gave him some respect. I also made sure a vocal roadside Steeler contingent saw the "Cleveland" emblazoned across my chest. Later, it was Browns gear, for a visit with the Pittsburgh Browns Backers. The less said about that game, the better, agreed? Nice to see the PBB crew, especially the Dawgfather, sparse though the crowd was.

The day didn't end on such bad notes though. The Tribe smacked the Orioles 9-0 to complete a three-game sweep and escape the AL cellar. Take that, Baltimore! Then I got home in time to see the Bengals' most excellent comeback win over the Steelers. Take that, Pittsburgh! I'll jump off the Bengal bandwagon after tonight, of course, but that was probably the most fun I'll have watching an orange-clad NFL team from Ohio play this season.

Saturday, September 26

NFL Picks: Week 3

Last week
Andy: 11-5
Figgs: 9-7
Nick: 7-9

Year to date
Andy: 18-14
Figgs: 17-15
Nick: 17-15
Nick's Money Games($): 0-2
Nick's Teaser: 1-1

Sunday games
1:00 pm kickoffs

RAVENS (-13) vs Browns
Andy: We just lost by 21 to a team not even close to as good as the Ravens, in a game not really as close as the final score indicated. The Ravens are the lock of the week. Thus, Browns.
Figgs: Ravens. In some ridiculous NFL rule that no one knows about, the Browns will score negative points in this game.
Nick: Ravens. Gotta stay consistent with my 33-13 pick, although I'd give an appendage to be wrong.

LIONS (+6) vs Redskins
Andy: Nick makes a good point that the Redskins aren't a team to count on to make big covers (9-7 at home to St Louis last week?). The standings make the point that the Lions have lost 19 straight games, not to mention 25 of 26.'s Jeffrey Chadiha makes the point that "even with two defeats, they already seem better than last season." They've lost their two games this season by an average by 16 points. They lost their 16 last year by an average of 15.6 points per contest. Yep, much better. Of course, the Browns are losing by 17.5 per so far in 2009. I don't know why, but I'm going Detroit.
Figgs: Lions. This might be their chance to break the streak.
Nick: Lions, for all the points Andy made.

RAMS (-6.5) vs Packers
Andy: The Pack will straighten out whatever issues Cincy gave them last weekend, whereas the Rams will go back to being the Rams. I think their close call last week says more about Washington than it does St Louis.
Figgs: Pack.
Nick: I really like the Pack this week. This line should be more than a touchdown. ($)

VIKINGS (-6) vs 49ers
Andy: The 49ers are what I want the Browns to be - not especially talented, but playing hard and smart and being competitive. Just not in this game - Vikes. And while I'm here: Michael Crabtree wants Top 5 money. He was drafted 10th. It must be a surreal life for ego and greed to cause you to turn down $20 million guaranteed.
Figgs: Vikes, but I'm also not too confident.
Nick: I'm going to go Vikings here, but I don't love the pick. Mainly, I don't think that Gore will be able to run on the Vikes, and I'm counting on Peterson wearing down the Niners and eventually breaking one.

PATRIOTS (-3) vs Falcons
Andy: Pats. The Falcons' two wins are both at home and the Pats are coming off a stinging loss.
Figgs: Two teams I never pick against, what do I do? The Pats have burned me twice, and the ATL hasn't seemed to let me down in two years. Falcons.
Nick: Falcons. I don't like the Patriots' defense. I'll give it to Michael Turner 35 times and take my chances.

JETS (-2) vs Titans
Andy: I can't pick this solid of a Titan team to go 0-3. Give me the Tennesseans.
Figgs: Titans for the reasons they said.
Nick: Titans. I still think the Titans are good, and the Jets are a young team coming off a big win. I see a let down.

EAGLES (-9.5) vs Chieves
Andy: I'm rolling this entire week on what happened last week. What happened last week? Kansas City lost at home to Oakland in a game where JaMarcus Russell went 7-24 passing. Seven of twenty-four, and they beat the Chieves. I can and will not take the Chieves.
Figgs: Philly.
Nick: Philly still has a good defense and an offense that will move the ball adequately. I'll take them here.

BUCS (+7) vs Giants
Andy: The Giants look strong this year, very strong. The Bucs look like Byron Leftwich is their QB. Yet this is a tough one for me for some odd reason. I'm taking New York.
Figgs: I will not take a team QB'd by Leftwich. G-Men.
Nick: Giants in my favorite game of the week. I got in at -6.5, but I'd take them at -7 too. ($)

TEXANS (-4) vs Jags
Andy: Texans will roll with the momentum from last week's huge win over the Titans, while the Jags are headed nowhere. I like the home cover.
Figgs: I believe I called that Texans win last week. That has nothing to do with this week's pick, but I just don't get too much of a chance to brag here. Oh yeah, this week I like Houston again.
Nick: I like Houston here. Jacksonville does not look good.

4:00 pm kickoffs
SEAHAWKS (+1) vs Bears
Andy: I had the Seahawks before I realized that Seneca Wallace was starting, and now I have the Bears.
Figgs: Bears for sure. I would have guessed this spread around 6.
Nick: Bears, largely because of Wallace. ($)

BILLS (+5) vs Saints
Andy: Rather than explaining my selection here, I have chosen to include a photo of Drew Brees' awesome ESPN file photo hair and will mention that he attended the same college as the legendary John Hawkins, at the same time no less. Saints.
Figgs: NO. The Saints look like one of the best teams in the NFL so far.
Nick: I'll take Buffalo getting 5 at home.

BENGALS (+4.5) vs Steelers
Andy: Fuck it, Bengals.
Figgs: See "Nick"
Nick: Steelers. No comment.

RAIDERS (-2) vs Broncos
Andy: The Broncos sense it: they can go 3-0 without playing anyone good. And they will. This line has moved 3.5 points towards Denver since we posted it.
Figgs: Denver will become the worst 3-0 team ever. They might finish 4-12.
Nick: Broncos, in a very ballsy suicide pool pick.

CHARGERS (-6) vs Dolphins
Andy: This year's Charger squad strikes me as overrated. I'll take the Fish.
Figgs: Miami. This was my toughest pick of the week.
Nick: Chargers, just because the Dolphins aren't very good.

8:20 pm kickoff
CARDINALS (+2.5) vs Colts
Andy: Are we sure this isn't -2.5? Give me the Cards at home. It's my favorite love-hate relationship in NFL ATS-guessing. Do you know what their regular-season point differential was last year? +1. That's it.
Figgs: Colts.
Nick: Gonna go Cards here, though a Colts cover wouldn't shock me.

Monday Night Game
8:30 pm kickoff

COWBOYS (-9) vs Panthers
Andy: Too many points - Carolina.
Figgs: Cats.
Nick: I picked Carolina initially, but after checking some trends and looking at how bad the Panthers have been since last year's playoff meltdown, I just can't see them keeping this in the single digits. I'll take the Cowboys to get their first win in JerryWorld (do we really like this name?). I'll even put my money where my mouth is. ($)

Nick's Teaser: Giants (-1) and Packers (-0.5)

Thursday, September 24

Pryor Rolls in Rout of Rockets

Alliteration aside, Ohio St did not have much trouble defeating Toledo this past Saturday. For what will most likely be the only time all year, the team I was cheering for won in Cleveland Browns Stadium as the Buckeyes stomped Toledo, 38-0. I had the unpleasant task of being in Pittsburgh last weekend, where the game was not televised. So again, this recap will be fairly brief.

Game Recap
OSU got off to a great start when Terrelle Pryor hit Dane Sanzenbacher for a 76-yard touchdown less than two minutes into the game. That was a sign of things to come in this contest. Later in the first, Pryor hooked up with Sanzenbacher again and it was quickly 14-0 Bucks. Boom Herron ran in a score to start the 2nd quarter and Aaron Pettrey ended it by nailing a 47 yard FG. This guy has a hell of a leg.

With the game already out of reach, TP had a TD run in the middle of the 3rd to make it 31-0. After the Buckeye defense continued to completely shut down Aaron Opelt and Toledo, DeVier Posey caught a touchdown pass from Pryor in the 4th to complete the scoring at 38-0. Joe Bauserman came in for the last couple of series to run out the clock.

Game Notes

Game Ball
Hopefully this was finally the breakout game for Terrelle Pryor that we've all been waiting for. He was 17/28 for 262 yards and 3 TDs while rushing 12 times for 110 yards and another score. This was his first 200/100 yard game of his short career. He did, however, throw two more picks, and really needs to start limiting his mistakes.

Run, Run, Run
Ohio St had no trouble running up and down the field on the Rockets. TP had the aforementioned 110 yards, Herron led the team in carries with 15 for 42 yards and a touchdown, Brandon Saine (Yes, that Brandon Saine from the beginning of the season - apparently Tressel realized that he was still on the team after all) had 9 rushes for 45 yards, and a pleasant surprise was Freshman Jordan Hall. It was mostly garbage time, but he ran the ball 7 times for 44 yards, good for 6.3 per carry. It looks like they're going to redshirt top recruit Jamaal Berry (although the decision doesn't have to be made yet) so we could see more of Hall as the season progresses.

Spreading It Around
Pryor hit seven different targets, with Sanzenbacher leading the way, grabbing 5 balls for 126 yards and 2 TDs. It is very important to have a lot of depth here because of the lack of a true star.

What Kind of Name is Opelt Anyway?
Toledo QB Aaron Opelt came into this game leading the nation in total yards per game with 437. The Buckeyes held him to a mere 197 yards passing and negative 16 yards rushing, sacking him twice. This defense has looked very good so far, especially considering what they lost from last year's squad.

As I mentioned earlier, I was in Pittsburgh this weekend and attended the Pitt game, and I have some thoughts. First of all, it is ridiculous that a major college program does not have their own field. They have buses that take students from campus to Heinz field which makes it relatively convenient, but not quite as convenient as WALKING DOWN THE ROAD. This might not have bothered me as much if I didn't have to sit in those awful seats. Nick once nailed the description of this color, as the color your urine is the morning after a night of heavy drinking. Regardless of what type of yellow we call it, we can all agree that it certainly is not "gold." I got in an argument with an unintelligent Steeler fan at the game about the colors. I simply told him to look on the field. Navy and Pitt were both sporting obviously gold helmets. I asked him to tell me how that is the same color as what he is sitting on. He replied that "There are different shades of gold." Unbelievable. Lastly, another moron yelled at me for wearing my OSU jersey. It was game day, so obviously I had to rock my A.J. jersey, just as I have for years. However, I was wearing a Pitt hat and clearly rooting for the Panthers, so get off my nuts. It's not like I was wearing WVU or the opponents gear. I got some comments throughout the day, as I expected, but they were good natured. This clown was seriously pissed, so I drunkenly responded with a "Blow me you fucking asshole."

Up Next: vs. Illinois, 3:30, ABC
The Illini come to The Horseshoe to begin conference play. The last time Illinois came to Columbus, they shocked then-#1 Ohio St with a 28-21 upset. Playmaking WR Arrelious Benn suffered an injury two weeks ago and hasn't played since, but is expected to make his return this week. With or without him, I think OSU carries the momentum in from last week and takes care of the Fighting Zookers.
Prediction: Ohio St 31 Illinois 16


Go for it!

I'd like to highlight this fascinating piece of research from Advanced Football Stats regarding 4th down decision-making. Outstanding work.

The message is clear: coaches don't attempt 4th down conversions nearly enough. The reasoning is equally clear: they're motivated by risk aversion and job insecurity. These things are well-known, but this author does a terrific job of marshaling the numbers to explain them neatly and powerfully.

Wednesday, September 23

Ten Points: Browns/Broncos

1. Same old song and dance.
This game felt eerily reminiscent of the loss to Minnesota during the opener. We'd seen this movie before; the defense hangs tough for two or three quarters, but eventually atrophies due to a total lack of support from the offense.

The difference this time around was that the Broncos were a team that many - myself included - thought the Browns would beat, or at least give a competitive game. Kyle Orton and friends had other ideas. In fact, the Browns were lucky that they only lost by 21, as Denver kicker Matt Prater missed a pair of field goals.

This has not been a fun team to watch. I've come away from both of these games feeling like Rocky Balboa after the first Clubber Lang fight. A friend of mine asked me if I thought the Browns were the worst team in the league right now, and I had to think hard. We could beat Detroit, right? Maybe St. Louis or Kansas City? The fact that we can't answer that question with any certainty is pretty disheartening.

2. Patience, grasshoppers.
For the second week in a row, fan morale is pretty low, and that shouldn't come as a shock. The nature of these second half blowouts tends to leave a bitter aftertaste. But to see so many fans writing off Brady Quinn and/or Eric Mangini is a surprise, and it's also borderline laughable.

I'll rarely criticize fellow Browns fans because as we all know, there aren't any bandwagoners among us at present. (I think the bandwagon was sold for scrap around the third week of the '08 season.) But there are three things that we all need to accept.

First, Brady Quinn needs to play all 16 games. Finding a competent quarterback is probably the toughest thing to do in the NFL, and if you want to argue that Derek Anderson is a better player than Brady Quinn right now, I can respect the argument even if I disagree. But Quinn was arguably the best quarterback in college football less than three years ago, and was viewed by most as the best quarterback prospect in the 2007 draft. This guy needs to get his shot, especially in what's going to be, sadly, a largely meaningless season. We need to see if Quinn's worth keeping, or if it's time to go back to drawing board at the quarterback position.

Second, this is a lousy football team that isn't going to win very many games. Before the season, I thought this team was more talented than the 4-12 they posted last season, and you could have talked me into them winning as few as five games and as many as nine. At least for the time being, it looks like I overestimated their abilities. This could be a tough season, but we have to ride it out and look for some purpose. We need to evaluate Brady Quinn, see Eric Mangini instill some discipline into this organization, and hopefully let some of the younger players experience their growing pains. This won't be fun on a week-to-week basis, but it's the hand we've been dealt.

Third, we all need to accept that we won't be able to pass full judgment on Eric Mangini for at least one, and probably two or three more seasons. Mangini needs time to bring in the players that fit his system, and also to tinker with his coaching staff. It can't be ignored that Mangini is currently hamstrung not only by a roster that isn't particularly talented, but by some ridiculous contracts handed out by Phil Savage that will continue to muck up the Browns' salary cap situation for the next couple of years.

3. About those pants...
I'm by no means a purveyor of cool, but those brown pants look atrocious. Those need to head for the backs of the players' lockers and stay there. It's absurd that we have to suffer through watching games with those brown pants, while the snazzy orange pants stay retired. Is there anyone who actually doesn't like the orange pants? Just say 'no' and we'll move on.

4. Grading Brady.
It was another rough outing for our apparently not-so-fearless leader. Eighteen completions on 31 attempts for 161 yards, a pick, and a lousy rating of 58.7. Ouch. Quinn also lost a fumble (that actually wasn't his fault, and we'll get into that later), and was sacked four times by Elvis Dumervil, as the Broncos really teed off with their pass rush in the second half.

The main thing that has bothered me about Quinn so far has been his tentativeness to throw downfield. Is it a hangover from the quarterback competition that has left him afraid he'll be hooked if he makes a mistake? That seems unlikely, as Quinn threw downfield more during the pre-season.

What we need to know is if guys aren't getting open downfield, or if Quinn is simply gunshy. It's tough to tell from watching the game on television, but as with most questions of this nature, it's probably some combination of the two. At any rate, Quinn needs to take some shots or he may lose his job by being too cautious.

The pass protection went to hell in the second half, but Quinn had time in the first half, as the Browns didn't release the tight end very much to bolster the blocking. Unfortunately, Quinn was just hanging onto the ball too long.

The lack of depth at receiver was evident once again, as the second leading receiver was running back Jerome Harrison. Josh Cribbs was third with 5 catches for just 22 yards.

On the bright side (there's a bright side?), Quinn is finally hooking up with Braylon Edwards, who had 6 catches for 92 yards. Quinn's mobility has also kept him from several sacks that Derek Anderson simply wouldn't have escaped.

Brady certainly has his work cut out for him with a very tough Ravens defense this week, so don't expect a huge rebound. If Quinn can just look decisive, stretch the field a little more, and minimize his mistakes, I'll live with it against the vaunted Baltimore D.

5. Mack attack!
Brady Quinn has had a tough start to his season, and Alex Mack hasn't helped him out much. Mack was overwhelmed several times in the Vikings game, and although his pass protection seemed better this week, he still hasn't figured out the Rubik's Cube that is the shotgun snap.

I mentioned Brady Quinn's fumble earlier, and it was completely Mack's fault. Mack had another lousy shotgun snap that didn't reach Quinn, so apparently that's still a problem. I really don't see how. It's one thing if you're asking the guy to fill in at long snapper, but a college center should be able to consistently execute a shotgun snap.

The inside running hasn't been great either, and at least some of the blame has to fall on Mack's shoulders. Hopefully the first round pick is just experiencing a learning curve, and wasn't simply an overrated prospect.

6. Take Cribbs to the grave.
The Josh Cribbs as a receiver experiment needs to end. Josh Cribbs is a good football player, but he's simply not an NFL wide receiver.

Against Denver, Cribbs ran a couple of third down patterns short of the stick, one of which could have easily been a first down had Cribbs run his pattern one yard longer. Cribbs' hands are good, but they aren't great, and he doesn't have the ability to stretch the field that you need out of a starting receiver.

Don't believe me? During the young season, Cribbs has 7 catches for 32 yards. Less than five yards per catch doesn't cut it at any receiver spot, let alone as a starter.

To make matters worse, he's taking playing time away from rookies Mohammed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie. Robiskie didn't even dress last week!

Regardless of whether or not they're ready, Robiskie or Massaquoi (probably Massaquoi) needs to start opposite Braylon Edwards. Neither rookie is polished yet, but at least they know how to play receiver better than Cribbs, and they should be more capable of running deep patterns to at least pose a threat to the defense. Maybe they can force the defense to balance its coverage instead of sagging over towards Braylon Edwards.

Josh Cribbs is a terrific special teams player. Cribbs is one of the games elite return men, he's terrific in punt and kickoff coverage, and he's probably good for a few trick plays each game, but a starting receiver he is not.

If the Browns are set on keeping Cribbs in the offensive game plan, I'd suggest some wide receiver or even running back screens, and having him throw the ball from the quarterback position. If Cribbs is on offense, the goal shoul be to get him the ball in space to let him create extra yardage. Trying to turn Cribbs into a starting wideout is the football equivalent of sticking a square peg in a round hole.

7. Excommunicate Saint Clair.
John St. Clair has been an unmitigated disaster for the Browns at right tackle. St. Clair was signed to replace Kevin Shaffer, but he's been doing a great impression of both Shaffer and a turnstile during the first two weeks. Elvis Dumervil played Chris Brown to St. Clair's Rihanna in the second half of last Sunday's game.

St. Clair will likely improve as the season wears on, because let's face it, he can't get much worse. But for being one of Mangini's biggest signings in the off-season, he's not reflecting well on his boss. I wondered during the draft, and I still wonder if taking a tackle (I'm talking about you, Eben Britton and Phil Loadholt) with one of the second round picks might have been the right move.

8. It's easy: stay away from Eazy-E.
Eric Wright has matured into a very solid starting cornerback. Brandon McDonald? Not so much. If I were running an opposing offense, I'd go after McDonald early and often.

It's easy to see why Football Outsiders ranked the Browns as the worst team at covering number two receivers, because watching B-Mac chase after these guys is like watching Ronald McDonald try to run down the Hamburglar. McDonald is best suited to a nickel role, and the Browns need to add a new starter to complement Eric Wright in the off-season.

9. Keep Lewis outside.
It might be somewhat counterintuitive, but Jamal Lewis just might be the Browns' least effective inside runner. Lewis has looked tentative running between the tackles, and he's getting ankle-tackled much more easily than I ever remember. Odd as it sounds, Jerome Harrison or James Davis (when healthy) are better options inside because they hit the seam harder.

Lewis can still be an important part of the team, but I'd like to see him get the ball more on pitch and stretch plays to the outside when he can build up a head of steam. If that actually happens, I'll be completely shocked.

10. Up next: at Baltimore Ravens, 1:05
The Browns opened 13-point dogs (and rising) and are a layup pick for suicide pools everywhere. I'm nothing if not an optimist, but I think we see things get ugly this week. Well, they're ugly already, so I guess we'll just see more of the same.

The Ravens match up well with the Browns. They boast a more balanced offense now that Joe Flacco is in his second year, and they still have a solid running attack. Their defense is as blitz-happy as ever, and should be able to take away many of the short and intermediate patterns that Brady Quinn likes.

And the Browns running on the Ravens? That's about as likely as Will Ferrell running a marathon. Wait, that actually happened? At any rate, the point is that the Browns won't be able to run consistently.

The Browns have been blown out the first two weeks by a couple of teams that I don't think are of Baltimore's caliber, and one of those games was at home. Things won't be pretty this week in Maryland.

Prediction: Ravens 33, Browns 13

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Downtown Report: Midweek Edition

Only one other person will get the inside joke in the title, but it makes me laugh, and that's all that matters in the end. With the Indians floundering towards the finish, the Browns positioning themselves for a terrible season, and the Cavaliers, I don't know, practicing, I think it's a good time for me to fill the void with a few sports thoughts.

- I loved, loved, loved reading about Michael Jordan's Basketball Hall of Fame acceptance speech. His talk was uniformly criticized as petty, selfish, and mean-spirited, in contrast to the heartfelt, gracious words from John Stockton, David Robinson, Jerry Sloan, and that woman who got in. Apparently, Jordan just spent the entire time ripping on people, slamming anyone who he ever beat or who ever slighted him in his career. Perfect for a legendarily unclassy guy.

I've made it clear in the past that I don't care for Jordan, and it bugs me that he's not regarded as more of a nemesis than he is by fans of, well, every team except for Chicago and that there's still this ongoing lovefest happening for him. Everyone gives him a free pass on any criticism just because he was super-good at basketball - I'm enjoying a bit of schadenfreude because he let his true colors fly and embarrassed himself at his HOF induction.

- Speaking of players embarrassing themselves, how about Milton Bradley? What a guy! Now he's been suspended for the rest of the season by the Cubs after trashing the organization and their fans in a local newspaper. I wonder how many of these incidents it will take for Bradley to realize that he's the problem. Seriously, how many teams do you have to be kicked off of a team to think, "hey, maybe it's me"?

- Go ahead, Michael Crabtree, keep holding out. The 49ers are 2-0 without you! I hope he misses the whole year and loses millions. I have no respect whatsoever for players who hold out, and I love to see it backfiring on them, as it usually does in the long term.

- Rooting for the Cavaliers is going to be difficult this season, but not in the same way that it is for the Browns or Indians. Those teams are tough to support because of how soul-crushingly bad they are; the Cavs fall on the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of ability. The tough part will be trying to maintain some patience over a long season. We already know they're going to win a lot of games and get a high seed in the East, and at least make the conference semis. After where we got last year, I know fans are ready to fast-forward ahead to that point and go for it again, but we'll just have to wait. I feel kinda like Cartman waiting to get a Nintendo Wii, only it's not cold enough outside yet to freeze myself.

- According to an ESPN story, a lockout of the NBA's referees by the owners is "imminent." The story had this to say:
But their training camp is scheduled to begin Sunday in New Jersey, and McMorris said the 57 current referees would not attend if they do not have an agreement in principle to replace the labor agreement that expired Sept. 1.
Oh no! What will the NBA do without its awesome referees??? Help us!

- I've realized something this year: baseball is now my fourth-favorite sport. It wasn't always this way, but now it is. Don't get me wrong: I'm still a die-hard Indians fan, I still love going to major and minor league games, and I think it's a wonderful, terrific game. But it's simply been eclipsed for me by the other games I enjoy. This dawned on me as I reflected on how I approach each sports' playoff season. Football has to be my #1 now. I watch the Browns every week no matter how bad they are, try to catch the other NFL games, watch the Buckeyes every week, and absolutely try not to miss an NFL playoff game. The last time I saw a baseball playoff game was 2007, when the Indians made it to the ALCS.

Same goes for basketball - the NBA playoffs and NCAA tournament are must-see sports, even if I don't have a horse in the race. Granted, it's been easier with the Cavaliers in contention, but even without them I'm very into the NBA playoffs.

I don't feel like rewriting those two sentences only with slighty different phrasing, so just read them again and put hockey terms in, OK?

So, baseball, don't take it too hard - I still think you're a great game, and I always will. You're just not quite on the same level as the other guys anymore. Look on the bright side - you're a hell of a lot better than soccer!

Monday, September 21

Akron Aeros: 2009 Eastern League Champions

Congratulations to the Akron Aeros, who won their series 3-1 from the Connecticut Defenders to claim the 2009 Eastern League Title. This is the Aeros' 3rd championship in the past 7 years, as the team also prevailed in 2003 and 2005, and has appeared in 5 straight ELCS's.

Congrats to the Aeros. Hopefully this will translate into some major-league success for our Indians before long.

Saturday, September 19

NFL Picks: Week 2

Am I happy about the cheap covers handed to Tennessee (Ward's fumble) and Washington (meaningless late TD) that cost me a successful week? Nope. I think I went all year without a losing week, or maybe once, and now I'm off to a 7-9 start. But there are lots of games yet to be predicted.

Last week/year to date
Andy: 7-9
Figgs: 8-8
Nick: 10-6
Nick's Money Games: 0-2
Nick's Teaser: 1-0

Sunday games

BRONCOS (-3) vs Browns
Andy: I know the point of this game isn't to pick the Browns every week, and I know I could pick their opponent in a situation where I really didn't think the Browns were going to win or cover. Nevertheless, Browns.
Figgs: I wanted to pick against the Browns each week, but this spread is just begging for me to take Cleveland. This will be one of our three wins.
Nick: Browns. We win this game outright.

FALCONS (-6.5) vs Panthers
Andy: I think I'll keep riding the Falcon express here. Bill Simmons made this case that the Panthers are going to win because...I don't know, because Jake Delhomme had two really bad games in a row. Weird argument. ATL.
Figgs: I kind of like the Panthers here, but I can't go against the ATL. I'm with ya Andy.
Nick: Panthers. This is alot of points for a team that was really good last year and runs the ball alot. I'd pick the Falcons if I had a few more points.

LIONS (+9.5) vs Vikings
Andy: If the Vikings can beat the Browns by 14 (in a game that could easily have been more of a blowout), surely they can dispatch the Lions by that amount.
Figgs: Vikes.
Nick: Ready for this? Lions. Detroit played them close in both games last season.

PACKERS (-9.5) vs Bengals
Andy: The Bengals' performance last week give me no reason to trust in them. Nevertheless, Bengals.
Figgs: Pack.
Nick: Eh, really don't like this game. Gimme the Pack, just because I have no faith in the Bengals' pass protection.

TITANS (-6.5) vs Texans
Andy: Texans. I don't know if they will win, though it's possible, but I think they'll keep this one close.
Figgs: Texans. They might win this, J-Figg upset special of the week.
Nick: Titans. Houston's just not a good road team, although it wouldn't shock me if they beat the spread.

CHIEVES (-3) vs Raiders
Andy: I'd say that only Browns-Broncos features this level of ineptitude this week, and this one might still come out on top. KC, I suppose. I feel sorry for people who have to watch this contest. Instead of blacking out games that don't sell out locally (a ridiculous policy), the NFL should look into blacking out games like this with no redeeming social value.
Figgs: I agree with Andy on everything he said, except for the pick. Raiders.
Nick: Raiders. Oakland outplayed San Diego on Monday night.

JETS (+4) vs Pats
Andy: Jets. I thought they came out strong last week and they're highly motivated to knock off their rivals here. Even if they don't, I see it being close.
Figgs: Pats by multiple touchdowns.
Nick: Jets. Wouldn't surprise me if the Jets win outright.

EAGLES (-1) vs Saints
Andy: I'm on the Saints bandwagon, that's all there is to it. OK, there's also Donovan McNabb's injury to it.
Figgs: If Garcia started it'd be close. With Kobb? Saints.
Nick: Saints. Changed this one Sunday morning because Kolb is starting.

REDSKINS (-10) vs Rams
Andy: Week 8. That's when the Rams and Lions play to see which one will pick up the W among the 32 games the two teams play this year. Oh, you want to know about this game? Well, I'm certainly not taking the Rams until I see some legitimate reason to.
Figgs: Skins.
Nick: I'll give the 10, even though the Skins are hardly an offensive juggernaut.

JAGS (-3) vs Cards
Andy: Jags. I had a brief fling with the Cards, and now they're back to their rightful place as that team who can't win on the road. It was fun, though, Arizona.
Figgs: Cards win.
Nick: Jags. I've been very forthright with my feelings that the Cards will fall back to earth.

BUFFALOES (-4.5) vs Bucs
Andy: No way would I bet this one in real life. But, since Buffalo is home and played a strong game against a good team on the road last week, whereas Tampa Bay is visiting and got mauled by Dallas at home, I'm taking the Buffaloes.
Figgs: Ballsy call Burns in the suicide, but I'm also taking the Bills.
Nick: Buffalo. Considered taking the Bills in a teaser here, and I'm trying to make a sneaky pick this week with the Bills in my suicide pool.

49ERS (-1) vs Seahawks
Andy: Can San Francisco win this division? Quite possibly. I think they're going to start the year 2-0 in the NFC West. A better question: can a 6-win team win the NFC West?
Figgs: This division blows. I guess Seattle.
Nick: Tough one. I'll go Niners because they're a pretty good home team and Seattle is worse on the road. They're also worse when they don't play the Rams.

BEARS (+3) vs Steelers
Andy: Jay Cutler throws 4 INTs against Green Bay and I'm supposed to back him against Pittsburgh? No thanks. As much as my dislike for the Steelers is swelling, I don't envision them dropping this one.
Figgs: I didn't want to take shitsburgh all year, but the reason in me has to here.
Nick: I had a paragraph written up talking myself into the Bears and deleted it. Steelers, although I'll gladly sacrifice a loss here if it costs the Steelers a game.

CHARGERS (-3) vs Ravens
Andy: I'm simply frightened by this Raven team. What will we be getting from them next week? 13? I think they establish themselves as a top AFC contender with a W here, as I establish myself as someone who just threw up in his mouth.
Figgs: San Diego, super Chargers.
Nick: Love the Ravens getting three here. Like Andy said, they look pretty tough.

COWBOYS (-3) vs Giants
Andy: What's the over/under on punts hitting the scoreboard? This is a tough one to pick - does Dallas' new ballpark give them an edge here? Nah, I'll take the points.
Figgs: I'm with Nick, Giants for sure.
Nick: Giants. If I were setting the lines, I would flip it over to Giants -3.

Monday Game

DOLPHINS (+3) vs Colts
Andy: Colts, for sure. Miami seems like a team without a plan, and I'm a person who knows teams without plans.
Figgs: Colts.
Nick: I'm all about second-guessing myself this week, and I'm going to do it one more time and take the Fish here. Home teams usually come to play on Monday night, and it seems like the public money is coming in overwhelmingly on the Colts.

Nick's Teaser: Titans (-0.5) and Giants (+9)

Friday, September 18

A week of sports disappointment

That sucked.

By "that," I mean this entire past week in sports, beginning with Hines Ward's fumble in Pittsburgh's Thursday night 13-10 opening-game victory and ending with...well, it hasn't ended yet.

Why that particular moment for the beginning? Because it epitomized the pain that the Steelers have caused me over the years, though it stabbed me in the back instead of the front, like usual. See, when Ward was headed towards the end zone, I was mad because I knew Pittsburgh would win, but at least my pick (Steelers -6) would have been right. Nick points out that Ward wouldn't have scored, fine, but they would've on the next play. They always do. Nevertheless, I was elated when he coughed it up - I'm happy to be wrong if it means the Steelers lose! Plus, I loved watching Ward walk dejectedly off the field. Loved it. I was feeling good.

Then they won 13-10 in overtime. They win, I don't cover - it's like two losses. Urgh.

Watched some Indians baseball tonight, a 2-1 defeat in 12 innings to the mighty KC Royals. This one featured the game-winning run thrown out at home trying to score from second on a Jhonny Peralta single in two separate innings. The second time (11th inning, Brantley running, 2 outs) was a reasonable decision; the first one (9th inning, Cabrera running, 1 out, DeJesus had the ball before he even hit 3rd) was just horrible.

However, I just discovered that, in high school football, New Phila won 58-7 and Dover lost a double-overtime heartbreaker, 22-21. Hey, things aren't all bad! I guess I shoulda gone home for the weekend and shut off the TV, huh?

But back to the bad times.

First, I had to watch Michigan come from behind to stun Notre Dame in a game during which I penned an article about how much I hate Michigan. I simply cannot stand watching them win, even when nominally it's in my best interest. This was mildly deflating.

Then I got about 5 kg of salt poured into the wound by Ohio State's 18-15 crushing defeat to USC. A good night at the bar, including some serious Lobster Zone action and a guy complaining loudly about the Indians having traded "two Cy Young muthafuckas," was spoiled rotten by that one.

If you look through the archives or have talked to me about sports, you know that I'm very reluctant to blame coaches for teams' success or failure. Well, this time, I think Jim Tressel was seriously outcoached by Pete Carroll, in terms of play-calling, clock management, and field position decisions.

This does not, however, mean that I'm calling for Tressel's ouster or anything. He has my full support, though I see areas where he may be able to improve. I've read with some sadness about all the critical e-mails and such he's been receiving - can't we step back for a minute and reflect on all the success the eight-year Tressel era has brought to the program? 7-1 against Michigan, 6 BCS appearances, 1 title? I don't think he managed this game well, but geez, let's relax. I liked the way Tressel addressed his more vocal critics:

"When I read some of them I feel terrible for them because there's no way they're happy. They've got to be some of the most unhappy people in the world, and I feel bad because we just made them less happy, and I hate to be a part of making someone less happy. I mean, they're already miserable."

Admittedly, I was pretty stung after the loss, but I never even thought about criticizing Tressel personally for it! After a viewing of Anchorman and a night's sleep, I was pretty much over it.

This was, clearly, an equilibrium that the Browns could not and would not leave alone. As with the steeler, Tribe, wolferine, and Buckeye games, I got the rug pulled out from under me again today, and this time got some sunburn to go with it.

Around 2:30, things were looking good in Francisland. I'd had a fine morning of tailgating with two of my crews, and was in perfect game shape. The sun was shining, the air was electric, the beer line was short, and the Browns led 13-10 at half.

Around 4:00, Francisland became a wasteland. The Browns nosedived and ended up absorbing a 34-20 pasting. I had a mild incident with the beer lady. Someone I know ended up being (unnecessarily) arrested, a situation that ended up costing me a few hours because I am, at times, a responsible invididual. Not a fun end to the day.

The beer lady incident was annoying. It's worth pointing out here that I was being very responsible today and was in very good control of myself. When I made my second trip to the stand, I had no shirt and was joking with her about carding me a second time. The other guy behind the counter made a crack about how they card everyone with no shirt, which I thought was funny. She mentioned "we do accept tips," which I find incredibly patronizing, but I did tip her for their friendliness. The next time back, I get carded again, now for the 3rd time. Come on. I said, "really, don't you remember last time, when we were joking about this?" and still got ID'd. The guy said you never know when someone might be watching, but didn't listen when I pointed out that I was way over 21 and that it would be fairly easy to explain to anyone that I'd already been there and built a rapport with them. Nope. Then she has the nerve to remind me again, "we do accept tips." I told her, "I know, you told me last time." Bye.

Anyway, that game was lousy.

I'd heard rumors that the Indians were still playing baseball, and that they'd gone 1-1 since Friday's debacle. I tuned in this evening to watch the Indians bullpen turn a 3-0 lead into a 6-3 loss.

I'd heard rumors that the Indians were still playing baseball, so I tuned in this evening to watch the Indians turn a 3-1 lead into a 5-4 loss.

I'd heard rumors that the Indians were still playing baseball, so I checked the Major League Baseball scoreboard and saw they'd incurred a 7-3 loss.

Thursday, September 17

Buckeyes Drop Nail-Biter to SC

You know how when John does an Indian series recap and complains because he doesn't feel like doing it because the Tribe blows? Now I know exactly how he feels. Forgive me if I don't put a lot of effort into this one.

The frustration continues to mount for Buckeye and Big Ten fans in general as they cannot get that "can't win the big game" monkey off of their back after Ohio St was defeated by USC last Saturday 18-15. Let's make no mistake about it, Ohio St had this game won and blew it. You simply cannot completely dominate a great team in the first half and only end up tied. Ugh, let's just get this over with.

Game Recap

Terrelle Pryor started the game the worst way possible with an interception that was returned to the Buckeye 3 yard line. Three plays later Stafon Johnson ran it in for the Trojans to put them up 7-0 three minutes into the game. I think Buckeye fans around the nation joined me in thinking, "Here we go again." That was not the case, however, as SC didn't do much else for the rest of the half. Ohio St responded by riding Dan Herron six times on an eight-play drive, the big play coming on a Pryor to Dane Sanzenbacher 56 yard completion. Boom scored from two yards out to tie the game. Two USC three-and-outs later, Pryor led another good drive down to the 1 yard line, but after the drive stalled Tressel decided to kick the short field goal instead of going for the throat as Aaron Pettrey made it 10-7 Bucks.

USC moved the ball much better than OSU in the second quarter but made some critical mistakes. Ross Homan picked off a Matt Barkley pass in OSU territory and Trojan kicker Jordan Congdan ended another drive by missing a 44 yard FG. OSU promptly went three-and-out and Congdon tied the game as time expired in the first half.

Punting from their own end zone at the beginning of the third quarter, USC snapped the ball over the punter's head, resulting in a safety that put OSU back on top 12-10. Brandon Saine caught two big passes on the ensuing drive that led to another Pettrey FG, making it 15-10 Buckeyes. Neither offense moved the ball after that until SC took over from their own 14 with 7:30 to play in the game. Barkley led a drive "that will forever go down in Southern California lore" (gimme a fucking break). The true freshman, who did absolutely nothing the entire game, took the Trojans 86 yards in just over six minutes as Stafon Johnson scored for the second time giving USC the lead. After completing the two-point conversion, OSU trailed 18-15 with 1:05 to go. This is Pryor's chance to prove himself, right? He's going to go down and win the game, right? TP was called for intentional grounding on the first play and threw an incompletion on 4th and 10 to end the game. It was a 4 play, 0 yard drive that lasted 37 seconds. Epic comeback, Pryor. Ohio St loses (again), 18-15.

Game Notes

Game Ball
The game ball was set on fire immediately after the game because no one deserved it. Neither QB threw for 200 yards, and the highest RB total was a staggering 60 yards. Ew.

Some SoCal bastard snuck into Jim Tressel's office and ripped out the option play and any play involving Brandon Saine out of the playbook. That seems to be the only explanation of why OSU didn't use them. Saine had 1 carry for 2 yards. ONE CARRY!! Unbelievable.

Pryor Needs To Grow Up
That is all.

Play Calling
A lot of people are livid about Tressel's decision to go for three in the first half when OSU had it 4th and goal from the one. While I would have gone for it, this is Tressel ball. That's what he does, live with it.

I don't care to write anymore because I'm gonna throw up if I keep thinking about this game.

Next Game: vs. Toledo @ Cleveland Browns Stadium, 12:00, ESPN360
ESPN360? Are you kidding me? This game apparently doesn't even deserve the Big Ten Network, and I will have to miss my first Ohio St game in I don't even know how long as it will not be televised. We'll see how Ohio St bounces back against a Toledo team that put up 54 in an upset over Colorado last week.
Prediction: Ohio St 33 Toledo 19


Wednesday, September 16

Ten Points: Browns/Vikings

1. Rough day for Brady Quinn.
Sunday's game felt like the true start of the Brady Quinn era, and it didn't play out as most of us had hoped. There's no need to sugarcoat it: Brady Quinn had a rough outing. Quinn struggled to find a rhythm and was often erratic, although he didn't get very good protection and suffered from some questionable play calling.

Quinn finally got the Browns into the end zone on a late scoring drive when he hooked up with Robert Royal. Braylon Edwards had what appeared to be a touchdown catch in the second quarter, but the replay revealed that he went out of bounds and didn't re-establish himself in bounds, negating the catch. Quinn's pass to Edwards on the deep sideline pattern was under-thrown.

In addition to his lone touchdown pass, Quinn threw one interception, along with several passes that were strong candidates to be picked off. In fairness, Quinn's interception was the result of miscommunication with Edwards, whom Quinn thought was going to break outside. When Edwards broke inside, Minnesota's Cedric Griffin had an easy pick. There's no way to know whether it was Quinn or Edwards who was wrong, but either way there's no excuse for that kind of discrepancy during the regular season. Quinn's timing and communication problems can probably be partially attributed to splitting first team reps with Derek Anderson, and that's the risk you run with such a lengthy quarterback competition.

2. What about Brian (Daboll)?
It was just one game, but his play calling didn't do much to win me over. The early game plan seemed designed to keep pressure off of Brady Quinn, but it probably kept the Browns from building an early lead, so one could argue that it actually put more pressure on Quinn during the following quarters.

There were two early calls on 3rd-and-long (a shovel pass and a running back draw, both to James Davis) that were absolutely gutless. I understand wanting to put Brady Quinn in positive situations, but that's not always how things go in the NFL. You have to test a young quarterback to see how he handles adversity, too. Third-and-long isn't a bizarre occurrence. It's one thing if you're playing noodle-armed Ken Dorsey back there, but Quinn is a capable player, and Mangini must think so because he chose him to start. Give the guy a shot!

The running game didn't seem particularly creative; we saw lots of mundane dives into the line, and Jamal Lewis is still too tentative looking for seams. Daboll needs to mix up the running plays and show more runs to the outside to keep the defense honest. And after seeing screen after screen in the pre-season, they seemed oddly rare in the opener.

One final comment on the offensive play-calling: Josh Cribbs needs to throw the ball. If Cribbs only runs the ball when he's on the field for the Wildcat, defenses are going to get wise and stuff the box. There at least needs to be some shadow of a threat that Cribbs will throw, or he's going become less and less effective running out of the backfield.

3. Thanks for showing up, Braylon.
Once again, calling Braylon Edwards "uninspired" might be putting it lightly. Edwards only had one catch (to be fair, he had that touchdown called back), and wasn't exactly giving maximum effort on his blocks or on plays when he was less likely to get the ball. Particularly annoying were his two inexcusable penalties; a false start and a block in the back.

In Braylon's defense, he was seeing plenty of double coverage, but that doesn't explain the lackluster effort. All summer I kept harping on the fact that Edwards would kick things up a notch when the season rolled around and he was playing for his contract, but maybe I was wrong. Get it together Braylon! "It's go time!"

4. Rob Ryan's a keeper.
It looks like we finally have a defensive coordinator who's willing to bring some heat on opposing quarterbacks! Ryan wasn't afraid to get creative with his blitzes, including several blitzes from the safety position. The blitzes weren't always effective, but that's the risk you run when you don't have great personnel.

Even with that in mind, I love the concept. Beating a good quarterback without pressure is almost impossible. It's difficult to cover for more than five or six seconds when you're dealing with good DBs, but when you have a dicey group like those on the Browns, you have to get creative finding ways to pressure the quarterback. Romeo Crennel's defenses drove me nuts with the way they just sat back and let quarterbacks pick them apart. As far as I'm concerned, Rob Ryan can be our DC as long as he wants the job.

5. The defense: a pleasant surprise.
Like I mentioned earlier, the Browns were able to get some pressure on Brett Favre with various aggressive blitz packages, and they managed to record four sacks. If you just looked at the box score, you'd think the Browns' defense was thrashed, but that really wasn't the case.

The defense hung tough for more than a half, until they eventually wore down and Adrian Peterson had his way with them. The end result is hardly satisfactory, but there were some good things to take away from the defense's performance, first and foremost the tackling. We saw better tackling than we've seen from a Browns team in years. That's not to say that guys didn't get beat every now and then, but even when they did we saw a little bit of extra effort to grab the ball carrier's leg and trip him up, or at least make him change direction and slow down so another defender could grab him.

After just one week, at least we know how well this defense is capable of playing. Now it's just a matter of doing it for a full game. The offense can help the defense out by keeping them off the field for awhile, too. The Browns lost the time of possession battle by almost seven minutes, and the defense was definitely sucking wind in the second half, contributing to their collapse.

6. Big Baby, ready to roll.
Apparently Shaun Rogers wasn't feeling the effects of any rust or lingering effects of his mysterious pre-season injury (read: he was never really hurt in the first place), because he made four tackles and recorded a sack. As we've come to expect, Rogers made life tough for Minnesota's interior line.

Considering the drama Rogers tried to concoct with Mangini over the winter (I, among others, called it), this is a great sign. It's nice to get one right now and then.

7. Abram Elam, playmaker.
Abram Elam didn't look very good in the pre-season, and in fact he was burned a couple of times. But Eric Mangini must have felt a little vindicated by Elam's excellent play on Sunday.

Elam made a very heads up play to grab the opening kickoff when Minnesota attempted a goofy squib/onside kick. He also added a sack on one of the aforementioned safety blitzes, and led the team in tackles with seven. It is less than ideal to see a safety lead your team in tackles, but at least Elam had a good game. Given the way the Browns crashed and burned in the second half, I'll take it.

8. "You know that I could USE somebody!"
My group and I heard that Kings of Leon song approximately 27 times between tailgating and driving home, and it became a running joke. The Browns could use somebody too, namely a number two receiver.

I wasn't very complimentary of Braylon Edwards, but even when he's not on his game his mere presence is a threat that the defense has to respect. But when there's nobody on the other side of Edwards, he's going to see too many double teams to have a productive game, and that's what happened in the opener. Josh Cribbs and Mike Furrey combined for 6 catches for 38 yards. That's fine if you're platooning those two as the slot option, but the Browns need to put somebody opposite Edwards who's a legitimate threat, and who (hopefully) can take some of the heat off Edwards. (Mo Massaquoi, I'm talking to you.)

9. We need some perspective.
Considering how the Browns crashed and burned in the second half, we naturally left this game feeling pretty down. That said, the Browns are not as lousy as they played in the second half. The flip side is that they probably aren't as good as the first half score would indicate, either.

Minnesota has a strong club again this season, and their strengths (running game, defensive line) matched up well against the Browns' weak run defense, questionable offensive line, and inexperienced quarterback. Full disclosure: I had myself psyched up that the Browns could win this game based mostly on the "any given Sunday" concept that's often true in the NFL. But if I had been an objective outsider, I would have bet heavily against the Browns, due to the way the Vikings' strengths took advantage of their weaknesses, and because the Vikings are simply a much more talented team this season.

10. Up Next: at Denver Broncos, 4:15
There aren't going to be lots of games this year when the Browns are equal to or superior to their opponents, talent-wise. In my estimation, this is one of those weeks, and the Browns need to take full advantage.

I expect to see a heavy dose of Jamal Lewis this week, as Lewis was quietly effective against the Vikings. If James Davis has totally recovered from his head injury (car crash), he should look better this time out. Champ Bailey will provide a serious challenge for Brady Quinn and Braylon Edwards, and it will be interesting to see if one of the other receivers will step up and make an impact.

Because week three pits the Browns against the Ravens (in Baltimore), this game becomes crucial to maintain fan and player morale. If they win this game, then there's a pretty solid chance that the Browns could open 2-2, as they have the Bengals (home) in week 4. But lose to the Donks, and you're staring down the barrel of 0-3 with tons of pressure to win that fourth game against the 'Nati.

Three words have me picking the underdog Browns for the win: Kyle freaking Orton.

Prediction: Browns 20, Broncos 16

Sunday, September 13

NFL Picks: Week 1

We're back!

2008 Regular Season
Andy: 136-111-8
Figgs: 109-125-8
Nick: 125-122-8

(Nick: That won't happen again, I assure you.)

2008 Playoffs
Andy: 6-5
Figgs: 4-7
Nick: 6-5

Thursday game

STEELERS (-6) vs Titans
Andy: Home game, defending champs, NFL opener, night game. I can't see the Titans covering this. I can't wait to pick against Pittsburgh (-10) in week 6, but not today.
Figgs: Titans. There's no way I can pick Pittsburgh this early in the year.
Nick: Titans. This is too many points for a team that put the smackdown on the Steelers late last season. That said, I threw $20 on it and immediately regretted it. The Steelers will find a way to hose me.

Sunday games

FALCONS (-4) vs Dolphins
Andy: Figgs and I cashed in by riding the ATL all of last season, and I think I'll keep doing so here.
Figgs: ATL
Nick: Falcons. The Dolphins are bitches.

PANTHERS (+1) vs Eagles
Andy: The Eagles seem too trendy in this game, so I'm taking the Cats.
Figgs: Eagles
Nick: Eagles. Jake Delhomme is a total nancy.

BROWNS (+4) vs Vikings
Figgs: Browns
Nick: Browns. "In any fight, it's the guy who's willing to die, who's gonna win that inch!"

COLTS (-7) vs Jags
Andy: The most predictable line of the week, and in fact exactly what I think will happen. Jax was so lame towards the end last year that I can't take them here.
Figgs: Colts
Nick: Jags. Gimme points, these game are always close.

BUCS (-5.5) vs Cowboys
Andy: I can't tell you one single thing about the Buccaneers team this year. 'Boys.
Figgs: Cowboys
Nick: Cowboys, mostly because Letwich throws from the full windup.

RAVENS (-13) vs Chieves
Andy: Baltimore's defensive score will help them cover this.
Figgs: Ravens
Nick: Ratbirds. I hate myself.

BENGALS (-4.5) vs Broncos
Andy: I have a weird vibe that the Bungles will be competitive this year with a revitalized Palmer/Ochocinco hookup.
Figgs: Broncos
Nick: Natti. The Donks blow.

TEXANS (-4.5) vs Jets
Andy: I'm waffling on this uninspiring matchup between two teams looking right down the barrel of 8-8. Jets, I guess.
Figgs: Texans
Nick: Texans. I'm owning Andy this year.

SAINTS (-13) vs Lions
Andy: I'd give 30 here if I had to.
Figgs: Saints
Nick: Saints. That is all.

CARDINALS (-6) vs 49ers
Andy: My off-season rust showed in my line prediction here, as I guessed the NFC champs would be favored by 13. I guess I have to take them, huh?
Figgs: Cards
Nick: Cards. I'll crush Andy in this just like triathlons. Editor's note: By that, you mean, you'll wear a funnier outfit while making your picks?

SEAHAWKS (-9) vs Rams
Andy: The Rams will get better as the season progresses, but they're not ready for this early trip to Qwest.
Figgs: Rams
Nick: Shehawks. The Rams are one of the worst teams in football.

GIANTS (-6.5) vs Redskins
Andy: This could be a good game. I like New Jersey NFC by 7.
Figgs: Redskins
Nick: Redskins. Too many points.

PACKERS (-3.5) vs Bears
Andy: I'm sold on the Pack this year.
Figgs: Bears
Nick: GO! PACK! GO!

Monday Games

PATS (-10.5) vs Bills
Andy: Belichick usually loves winning games by 3 points, but he seems to relish kicking around the Buffaloes, so I'll give these points.
Figgs: Patriots
Nick: Too easy. Pats. ($)

RAIDERS (-9) vs Chargers
Andy: LA head coach Tom Cable's career head coaching experience: University of Idaho, 2000-2003. That's it. He's punched out more assistants than he has coached NFL games. I'll be taking the Chargers.
Figgs: Chargers
Nick: Bolts. Over and over again. ($)

Nick's Teaser: 2-teamer with the Ravens (-6.5) and Seahawks (-2.5).

(Note: Every week, I'm going to pick a 2-or-3-team teaser, just for fun. Two-team teasers are 6-pointers, three-team teasers are 10-pointers.)

Saturday, September 12

Random Michigan-bashing

Hey, why not? It's more fun than writing about the Indians.

- I'm sort of torn as I watch today's Notre Dame - Michigan tilt. I really don't care for either team, yet there's no way both can lose that I'm aware of. For the sake of Ohio State and the Big Ten, it seems rational that I should pull for the Wolverines. On the other hand, even though I dislike the Irish for several reasons, I absolutely hate the school up north. The competition for my least favorite sports team overall has only three legitimate contenders, and the Steelers and Ravens sort of siphon votes from one another, leaving only these morons from the oddly-named town of Ann Arbor.

- Touchdown Irish!! Rational behavior isn't always the order of the day, and I'm flat-out rooting for Notre Dame here. I can't be something I'm not, and the stunned, disappointed faces of Michigan fans are almost as good as Hines Ward's dejected expression walking off the field after his fumble at the end of Thursday's game. I'm willing to sacrifice some small measure of conference prestige to indulge my joy at the defeat of an archrival. Go Notre Dame!

- One fan in the stands was sporting a "Beat Ohio State" t-shirt. In what?

- Michigan's QB is named "Tate Forcier." Not much I need to add to that, except that it reads "T. Forcier" on the back of his uniform, meaning there must be another Forcier on the roster. I'm already spending too much time on this article to look it up.

- The turning point for me today may have been Michigan's first touchdown, which prompted the playing of their awful fight song, arrogantly titled "The Victors." Even substituting the dirty words in my brain (I actually don't even know any of the real ones), I can't listen to it. Notre Dame, on the other hand, has a totally boss fight song. Any tune that figures into the plot of Airplane! is good with me.

- On a slightly tangential note, it's a good thing the Penn State band doesn't have to pay royalties every time they play "Seven Nation Army," because they would owe Jack White roughly the school's entire endowment.

- What is this supposed to be at Michigan Stadium, a yellow-out? Is it even really called Michigan Stadium (editor's note: yes)? I pretty much only hear it called "The Big House," which is staggeringly uncreative. According to Wikipedia, it's also referred to as "The Carnegie Hall of All Sports" and is also known as "the House that Yost built." I have now three sub-points to this bullet:
a) No one calls it "The Carnegie Hall of All Sports." No one. Ever.
b) No one calls it "The House That Yost Built." No one. Ever.
c) Maybe this explains why they stuck with the "Big House." Michigan doesn't do creativity.

- They don't do defense, either, not in this half anyway. This is a pretty entertaining game, as it turns out.

- I like the sort of unfair double-standards that sports fanaticism allows one to apply. Check it out:
1) "Michigan Stadium" is a stupid, unclever name for a stadium hosting one of sports' most pathetic teams.
2) "Ohio Stadium" is a simple, classy, traditional name befitting a fine university and football team with a rich tradition.

- Last week, I saw fans with a banner reading "In Rod We Trust." What, exactly, is it about coach Rich Rodriguez that you find trustworthy? The offseason practice scandal? His unethical and acrimonious departure from West Virginia? Or do you simply trust that he'll lead the team back to prominence, based entirely on last year's 3-9 mark?

- Ha ha, "last year's 3-9 mark." Ha!

- Michigan's last two graduating classes of football players (assuming they actually graduate) both left the school having posted career 0-4 marks against Ohio State. So will the next two. That's a beautiful thing. A someone who watched every one of the 1988-2000 contests, during which OSU posted an abysmal 2-10-1 record against their archrivals (a youthful Francis attended the tie and at least one of the losses), this is a long time coming. As Marsellus Wallace would say, I ain't through with you by a damn sight.

- One thing I left out of my piece on the Aeros from a few days ago was that the guy who was working the Ohio Brewing tap sported a Michigan cap, and seemed to have no grasp whatsoever of the idea that I would give him US currency in exchange for the beer. If I wasn't so ethical, I might have walked away with a coupla free beers. It's like the hat sucks out your brainpower, like getting a Metroid stuck on your head.

- In other news involving college football being played by teams from the state of Michigan: come on, Michigan State. I have none of the qualms rooting for you that I do with the other Big TenEleven school in your state, and you lose to Central Michigan? The same Central Michigan that I hate because of their insistence that they own the rights to the acronym "CMU" even though Carnegie Mellon is a much finer institution, we have the website, and you can't actually own a fucking acronym? That Central Michigan? Ugh.

- Do I like Bob Greise openly rooting against the Buckeyes because his son went to the school up north? Nope, I sure don't. My Dad has also made it clear that he does not care for "Greasy Bob"'s perspective.

- Wikipedia also lists Michigan as having 11 "Claimed National Championships," which is an interesting bit of wordplay. It makes one suspect that they're trying to get their hands on titles that aren't actually theirs. I recall reading something to this effect once, and frankly, the idea of them doing this is so consistent with my view of the school that I'm going to accept it as fact uncritically, without researching it.

Go Bucks.

Friday, September 11

Aeros fever!

I had the pleasure last evening of attending game two of the Eastern League Divisional Series, where the Indians' AA affiliate, the Akron Aeros, defeated the Reading Phillies 6-2 to take a commanding 2-0 lead in their best-of-5 series. A couple of notes on the game:

- Reading is an affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies, and are exceptionally creatively named: the Reading Phillies. Their uniforms list them as the "R-Phils," which has no ring to it whatsoever. Furthermore, when you consider that "Phillies" is one of the lamest team names in all of pro sports, couldn't Reading have spent five minutes thinking of a better name. How about "Reading Railroaders"? There, I spent 30 seconds and thought of something way better than "R-Phils." I'm going to call them the Railroaders for the rest of this article.

- Canal Park is a beautiful stadium, even nicer than my low-res picture at right indicates. Really a lot nicer than Huntington Park, the new home of the AAA Columbus Clippers. Plus, all seats are just $10! We were only 4 rows behind the Railroader dugout, which meant easy heckling of improbably-named Reading catcher Tuffy Gosewisch.

It turned out to be Thirsty Thursday, as the club was offering 12-oz beers for $1 through the third inning. It was good beer too - the Ohio Brewing Company was there with their wares, including the Ohio Fest beer that won the People's Choice Award at last weekend's Cleveland Oktoberfest, as well as the coveted Best Beer Andy Francis Tried All Night Award at the same event.

I attended the game with my buddy Fanuc, and needless to say, we discovered this promotion immediately after the 3rd inning. Oh well.

- It was nice to get an opportunity to see some of the Tribesmen of the future get some action. Jeanmar Gomez, the Eastern League pitcher of the year, pitched 6+ strong innings, losing a shutout bid only at the end. I also got a look at Lonnie Chisenhall (3-3 on the game), Beau Mills, and, of course, Eastern League MVP Carlos Santana.

- Neither team did anything offensively through 3 1/2 innings, until Santana absolutely unloaded on a pitch from Railroader starter Yohan Flande. Crushed. It was still rising when it cleared the wall. I lost sight of it. The writeup I read on claims it landed in the canal beyond left field, but I'm not convinced it ever landed. Goodness. Apparently, concerns over Santana's communication skills are keeping him from the Majors for now. I don't care if the guy speaks only Klingon - let's have him up to Progressive Field for a few games. We already have like six catchers on our roster - what's one more? DH him for all I care. Tell me you wouldn't rather see him take a few whacks over Hafner for a couple of games.

- The Aeros have a guy in uniform (no number) whose name is listed as "BATMAN" and who sports a Batman belt buckle and retrieves the visitors' bats, often twirling them through his legs (the bats, not the visitors). He's a bit of an entertainer, both intentionally and unintentionally. Everytime I saw him, I thought of the Batdad from the Little League episode of South Park.

- Excellent work was done by Aeros in-game host Calvin Funkhouser, a fellow New Philadelphia High graduate. Thought I'd put that out there. At right is a photo of Calvin and his crew leading the fans in a rendition of "YMCA."

- Poor work was done by whomever is in charge of the Aeros' stats and publications. The two-page game program was apparently typeset using Gutenberg's original printing press, and bizarrely used 2008 stats for all of the players instead of 2009 stats, so you had no idea how well the players performed this year, which seems like the kind of thing someone reading stats might want to know. I could have made a far superior version using Excel and in a couple of hours. Aeros staff, you have my contact info. I'm willing to do this pro bono.

- Making things worse was the scoreboard display, which inexplicably presented the players' 2009 playoff statistics rather than their regular-season stats. This is the second game of the playoffs! Did they do the same thing for Game 1? Telling me that a guy is batting .250 for the postseason is in no way interesting. I get it, he went 1-4 yesterday. How about his 400 regular-season at-bats? Any news on that? Every reliever who came in got their face on the scoreboard next to a bunch of zeroes in literally every category, simply because they didn't pitch last night. This is in no way useful information. Please, Aero management, use the regular-season numbers so we can learn something!

- This is especially puzzling considering that Akron is a habitual playoff-qualifying team, so they should know better. This a winning club! Assuming they can knock off the Railroaders in one of the next three contests, they will reach their 6th Eastern League Championship series in the past 7 years. That's an impressive run. The team claimed titles in 2003 and 2005; hopefully they can add another Eastern League trophy to their mantle to sit next to their 2009 EL Southern Division regular-season crown.

Go Aeros!

Good ol' Texas thrashin'

Here are the Indians' starting pitchers' lines for the three "games" recently completed at Progressive Field against the Texas Rangers:

Carrasco: 5 IP, 5 ER, 8 H, 3 BB
Laffey: 3 1/3 IP, 6 ER, 12 H, 1 BB
Carmona: 2/3 IP, 5 ER, 6 H, 1 BB

Look at how much efficienter our starters got as the series went on! It was like a game of Name That Tune; I can give up 5+ earned runs in...3 1/3 innings! I can do it in just 2/3 inning!

Our hitters pulled a similar trick, becoming increasingly efficient at recording outs as the series went along:

Game 1:9 runs on 16 hits
Game 2:5 runs on 7 hits
Game 3:0 runs on 6 hits

Now that's making some outs!

Also: we got swept. Giving up 11, 10, and 10 runs is no kinda way to win three games. Hopefully we can hold the Royals to <10 once or twice this weekend.

Tuesday, September 8

Buckeyes Survive Opening Day Scare

Unfortunately, I had to work during Ohio St's season opener this past Saturday against Navy. So imagine my surprise when my text updates said that this one came down to the wire. Originally I was pretty worried that the game was this close, especially going into next weekend's showdown against USC. However, after I watched the game in its entirety, I feel much better. Ohio St drastically outplayed Navy for 54 minutes. A couple of mistakes from the Buckeyes and big plays from Navy in the game's closing minutes led the Midshipmen to within a two-point conversion from tying the game. Thanks to LB Brian Rolle's pick-two the Bucks won their 31st straight home opener.

Game Recap
Ohio St dominated the first half, outgaining Navy 226-120 and taking a 13-point lead into the break. On the game's first possession, OSU drove right down the field, ending in a 38 yard touchdown pass from Terrelle Pryor to Dane Sanzenbacher. Ohio St's defense looked confused against Navy's rare triple-option attack on their first drive. Navy responded by going 80 yards on a seven minute drive, resulting in a Ricky Dobbs 16-yard TD run to tie the game at 7. That would be about all the Middies would do in the first half, as the next 20 minutes were dominated by the Buckeyes.

Pryor led the Bucks on another good drive, this one capped off by an Aaron Pettrey FG. After a couple of punts, Thaddeus Gibson sacked Dobbs and forced a fumble. With a short field to work with, OSU had another good drive and TP ran it in the end zone to give Ohio St a 17-7 lead. Joe Bauserman gave Pryor a break on the next series and led Ohio St to another FG, making the halftime score 20-7.

The third quarter was basically only one series, that being Navy's 15 play, 99 yard drive that lasted over eight and a half minutes. Anderson Russell made a great play to down a punt at the Midshipmen 1 yard line, but Ricky Dobbs had a great drive running and throwing the ball, and hit Marcus Curry for a TD to cut the lead to 20-14. Russell got beat in a big way by Curry on the touchdown.

Pettrey showed off his incredible range by drilling a 52 yard FG to begin the 4th quarter, putting the Bucks up by nine. Two plays later, Buckeye defensive captain Kurt Coleman forced a fumble in Navy territory, leading to a touchdown run by Boom Herron. Pettrey, who minutes ago was good from over 50, missed the extra point, 29-14 Buckeyes. With under 10 minutes to play in the game, Coleman made an extraordinary interception that seemingly sealed the victory. Not quite.

On a 4th and 2 from inside the 20, Ohio St elected to go for it and Herron was stuffed, turning the ball over on downs. The very next play, Anderson Russell fell victim to Marcus Curry yet again, this one to the tune of 85 yards to put the Academy right back in the game, 29-21. With four minutes to play, Pryor made his first mistake of the game, overthrowing Sanzenbacher and leading to an INT. Starting at the OSU 32, Dobbs only needed three plays to rush into the end zone and come within a two-point conversion from tying the game. In a completely unexpected move, Navy got away from the triple option, and instead decided to spread it out four-wide for the conversion try. Dobbs looked far more confused than the Buckeye defense did, as he threw it to no one in particular and was picked off by Brian Rolle. Thaddeus Gibson landed an excellent block on the only guy that had a shot at getting Rolle, and he took it back 101 yards to the house for two points the other way. Ohio St runs out the clock and survives an early scare, winning 31-27.

Game Notes

Game Ball
Goes to Terrelle Pryor. TP looked good running and throwing the ball, going 14-21 for 174 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT through the air, and rushing it 6 times for 30 yards and another touchdown. His best plays might not look so good in the stat sheet: a 4 yard run, a 6 yard run, a 7 yard pass, and an incomplete pass, but on these four plays he showed excellent elusiveness to escape multiple Midshipmen defenders and avoid the sack. Seven different Buckeyes caught a pass, with the running backs being the favorite targets (4 grabs for 29 yards for Herron and 2 for 21 for Brandon Saine). Duron Carter, true freshman and son of Buckeye great Cris Carter, grabbed 3 balls for 21 yards. He was also open two more times where Pryor missed him. It's great to see him getting a lot of reps early on.

On a Rolle
As I mentioned in my Buckeye Preview, the OSU linebackers were very inexperienced, especially when Tyler Moeller went down for the year. Moeller's injury moved Austin Spitler from middle to strong side, and opened the door for Brian Rolle to start in the middle. After week one that looks like a blessing in disguise. Rolle seemed to be all over the field against Navy, especially in the first half. Then of course he came up with the big play that may have saved the Buckeye season with his interception and return for two points.

The Joe Bauserman Experiment
In a very odd move, Tressel sat an un-injured Pryor for the last drive of the first half in favor of Joe Bauserman. Bauserman is a redshirt sophomore with virtually no experience. The only thing I can come up with is that Tressell wanted to get the young QB some reps just in case (knock on wood) anything should happen to TP. It seemed like a strange time to do it, but Bauserman led a good drive that resulted in three points. He never really looked down field, but did a good job throwing swing passes to his running backs and finished 3/5 for 36 yards.

Offensive Line Struggles
The OL didn't look awful against Navy, but it was certainly the team's weakest link in the game. Dan Herron looked mediocre (17 carries, 72 yards, 1 TD, 4.2 YPC), and I think it was mostly due to the poor play of the o-line. Brandon Saine looked more explosive than Herron, with 9 carries for 53 yards, racking up 5.9 per carry. While these stats look pretty solid, most of their yards came on the option where Navy defenders we're more worried about focusing on Pryor. When OSU tried to slam it up the gut, they were often stuffed. In my opinion this is the biggest concern heading into next week's matchup with SC.

Speaking of the Option...
Ohio St used the option offense quite a few times in this game, and it was effective. Pryor looked as if he might have been a little worried about getting hit and pitching the ball a little too early, but in his defense Navy was focusing almost solely on him so the RB's had some room to work with. I really like this look as Pryor and Saine can both fly and could give defenses fits. Last year this play probably wouldn't have worked against the Trojans, but Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews aren't back there this year. Expect to see a lot of this next week.

Mika Vick
That is what was written on the eye black of Terrelle Pryor. Michael Vick was a favorite of Pryor's growing up, and TP recently openly expressed his happiness for Vick being back in the league at a press conference. That's all well and good, but the eye black? Really? Could you at least write smaller and get his full name on there? I hope these don't stick around all year.

Pre-game Respect
With the controversy surrounding the pre-game ritual of opponents shaking hands, Jim Tressel showed a lot of class last week when not only did the Buckeyes and Midshipmen meet at mid field to shake hands, but for the first time in Horseshoe history both teams ran out of the same tunnel at the same time. Brutus led the way with an OSU flag with a Navy player right by his side with the American flag. A classy move by Tressel and Ohio St.

Next Game: vs. USC, 8:00, ESPN
One of the best games of the year comes in the middle of September this year. Last year in Los Angeles, USC won in a rout; this year the game is in Columbus. True freshman Matt Barkley will lead the Trojans into the Shoe for the first test in his young career. The key to the game will be limiting mistakes. Even though Pryor had a good game against Navy, he made one big mistake that almost cost his team the game. It may only take one against SC. Scorchers will be rocking, as Nick and I will join our fellow blogger Andy in Cleveland for this one as we prepare for the Browns' home opener. I could see the game going either way, and I really hope I'm wrong with this pick.
Prediction: USC 36 Ohio St 31


(AP Photo/Terry Gilliam)