Tag Archives: Antonio Brown

Monday Morning Breeze: The Revolution Will Be Caught One-Handed

[(MOST IMPORTANT NOTE: The Breeze will recap CFB’s Alabama-Clemson National Championship game on Tuesday, so this will be Professional Football-heavy, or College-Deflated, depending how you choose to see the glass re: -imisms) It’s near impossible to miss the unfolding humor in a reality that pits America’s Most Traditionally Revered NFL team against the steaming pile of toxic that has been Daniel Snyder’s Washington Trumps, in D.C., for a wild-card playoff game.

When you add the fact that a prominent Packer player is named “Ha Ha Clinton-Dix” while Hillary stumps for the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination, I mean, clearly Fate’s got a warped thing for the wickedly absurd. So what could prepare us for an NFL Wild-card weekend that lived up to its name? Where Ace Ventura jokes became re-relevant (“laces out”) making my heart gently weep for Minnesota’s Blair Walsh Project, where it seems everyone wants to be like ODB Jr whether it’s receivers vying for his “Best Ever Catch ‘Til Tomorrow” crown, or Vontaze’s Burfict crime-ing for his “Grossest Cheap Shot” frown, where all he does is Russell Wilson Seattle to wins (or perhaps Faith’s wind), while the Bengals missed Double-Deuce Dalton more than the time it takes to restore sore thumbs, Pack Nation slumbers well ’cause Aaron Rodgers remembered how to kinda throw again, some.

To playoff football let’s succumb. Enter to the beating drum of your heart’s hum and maybe find fun…

NFL PLAYOFFS PORTION OF THE PROGRAM

NFL Playoffs Games of the Week (Wild-card Round) Kansas City Chiefs 30 @ Houston Texans 0 So it was, ho hum, on the very first kickoff of the very first ho hum playoff game KNILE DAVIS EXPLODES THROUGH A MASSIVE HOLE AND ho hum RETURNS IT ONE-HUNDRED AND SIX FREAKING YARDS FOR THE TD. Houston was never really close on the majority of this play or for the rest of the game as Kansas City would never relinquish that lead, with the helpful, steady hand of Alex Smith leading the way and the woefully unsteady hand of Bryan Hoyer (4 picks, yikes!) leaving the Texans exposed like a butterfly filet of poor play.

Jon Gruden quote of the day: “JJ Watt’s battling a bad groin injury.” Look, Watt’s an incredible player, but even he can’t fight a Kansas City O-line AND tangle with one of those “bad groin injury” things at the same time.

Pittsburgh Steelers 18 @ Cincinnati Bengals 16 An enchanting, angry contest. Part 1 of “Insane Catches by Incredible Wideouts,” and Vontaze’s Rage. This story told with the help of Vine’s visuality. We’ll start with the uglier portions of the game and finish with the beauty of Martavis’ gorgeous holy-roller TD catch. In all, it seems Andy Dalton will still get blamed for another 1st round exit, even though he wasn’t playing. We begin with one Vontaze Burfict losing his famously hot-tempered mind, producing a near clone of the ODB Jr. cheap-ass headshot, this time on Antonio Brown…

..but “Oh by the way” Burfict was way more egregious, disgusting, with this cheap headshot on Maxx Williams in a previous game versus the Ravens. Careful, it’s disturbing…

https://vine.co/v/iMWPBbFYELr

…and continuing the ugly parade, Pittsburgh ASSISTANT COACH Mike Munchak, yes, a coach, ripping some of Reggie Nelson’s dreads, rightfully pissing him right off…

…but thank all that’s True and Right in the world for Martavis Bryant’s incredible athleticism, focus, and brilliance all on display on this catch in the 3rd quarter, possibly trumping Beckham’s one-handed stab heard ’round the world…

Seattle Seahawks 10 @ Minnesota Vikings 9 This game will forever be remembered (by me) as “The Blair Walsh Project,” but it also included Part 2 of “Incredible Catches by Amazing Wideouts” and one of the more unlikely turning-point plays in recent history. First off, it looked cold as freezer burn in Minn-eh-sot-ah, -3 degrees for much of the game, with breath bursting from the entire stadium’s mouths like 80,000 proud vapers.

While their defense was its usual stout self, Seattle came out slightly resembling a steaming crater of ineptitude on offense. Then the play below happened, which appears to foreshadow more terror for Wilson and the ‘Hawks offense. Except he’s Macklemore uncommonly composed Russ Wilson, even in the face of certain peril, proving once again on this play why he’s so valuable to Mr. Pete Carroll and the ‘Hawks. For a little forced imagination, think of how 99.9% of the time the QB/center shotgun exchange is botched like this it results in, at best, a sack.

Instead, picture this reality where Wilson recovers smoothly, calmly baseball slides, retrieving the ball and springing back up in one swift motion, rolls away from oncoming defenders, looks downfield and fires a strike to a wide-open Tyler Lockett for the game-changing play. Seattle would go on to a TD and huge momentum swing, injecting life into their moribund offense and turning the tides of what was shaping up to be a certain Viking victory.

Yeah, I believe in momentum, F Nate Silver on this topic, and this was a huge swing in a game largely dictated by field position.

…then Adrian Peterson fumbles on the ensuing Viking possession, and SEA recovers with 10:30 left in the 4th.

…oh by the way Doug Baldwin becomes a bent Beckham-like wizard and makes this incredible one-hander…

…although Chase Coffman proves there should be some kinda permit receivers have to earn to attempt one-handed catch, like a driver’s license, ’cause he tries to be like Doug B. but instead makes an interception so easy…

Trailing Seattle 10-9 very late in the 4th quarter, Kyle Rudolph beat Kam Chancellor in man coverage for a huge first down catch (vindication for Chancellor getting away with a clear hold on Rudolph earlier), putting the Vikings in money-FG position for the certain game-winner. It was a kick that 99.6% of the time would’ve been a Blair Walsh layup 3-pointer. In a kinder, gentler reality Walsh nails the kick, the Vikings win, slay the 2-time Super Bowl Seahawks and move on to the next round.

In this harsher, cruel, coooold reality Walsh shanks the kick so badly left of the uprights, like a boomerang that didn’t go where it was supposed to and never came back, allowing America to brush the 8-inch thick dust off every Scott Norwood and Ace Ventura joke no longer forgotten to mankind. I understand Walsh is a professional, paid a ton of money to make that kick. He has to make that kick. But damn, I just feel bad for him.

Green Bay Packers 35 @ Washington Cousins/Trumps 18
This game started with a bizarre “DeSean Jackson scores but doesn’t” on a catch and run where he crossed the goal line near the pylon but crossed too far and stepped first out of bounds while holding the ball back pre-goal line. Green Bay went on to hold Washington to a field goal and early momentum. However, Green Bay’s offense was dormant for much of the first half until Aaron Rodgers started hooking up hardcore with Davante Adams and James Jones (don’t worry, Olivia Munn) and headed into halftime up 17-11 after giving up a safety.

In the second half, the Packers could not cover Washington’s Jordan Reed, who played incredibly (9 catches, 120 yards) with Kirk Cousins putting the Washingtons up 18-17 with a QB run. As the second half wore on though, Green Bay wrested control away, shutting down Washington’s attack, pounding Washington’s D with a steady diet of Lacy and Starks, and squeezing just enough juice out of A-Rod’s recovering air raid to coast comfortably into the next round. Kirk Cousins and the Washingtons were kinda like Leo here, at the Golden Globes: they won their division, had home-field against the Pack, everyone was lauding them for pulling through the RGIII fiasco.

They’re laughing, they’re having a good time, sitting nearer the top than they’ve been in a while. Meanwhile Rodgers and the Pack were like Lady Gaga: they just hadn’t looked like their typically dangerous self after blazing to a 6-0 start to the season before dropping 4 of their next 5 and finishing 2nd in the NFC North.

But oh, never forget about the beautiful power of Aaron Rodgers and the Pack, as they approach laughing Leo/Washington all the way from the forgotten back, shimmering the entire way as they (purposefully?) knock the Snyder’s over-extended elbow out of the way, smirking a triumphant return to the next round with a future full of promise, leaving Leo and the Snyders meekly grimacing in their wake.

https://vine.co/v/iMApWTgWgvL

THIS WEEK’S SIGN SOMETHING’S ASKEW IN THE WORLD

https://vine.co/v/iMm2OdgxwAK

Selfishly Sprayed Tweets Peak at Past Week

Browns Hope to Spoil the Steelers Season

 (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

While most 3-12 teams don’t have many reasons to play hard in week 17, the Browns have plenty of incentive to give their last game of the season everything they have.

First the Browns are going against their biggest rival in a game where they have the chance to keep them out of the playoffs. Second rumors are running rampant that Ray Farmer and or Mike Pettine could get fired, so players will go all out to help their coach, and put more good plays on tape for the potential new staff to look at.

There are some other factors that could keep this game close as the Steelers struggle on the road and they have a porous defense.

When the Browns have the ball:

The Browns are going to need to attack the Steelers through the air as they struggle in pass defense. One player to watch in the Steelers defensive backfield is corner Antwon Blake who is on pace to allow more receiving yards than any corner in Pro Football Focus’ records (since 2007). Odds are even Austin Davis can find ways to exploit this secondary. The Steelers run defense is better than average, so establishing the run could prove challenging. Overall, I feel that the Browns have enough firepower to put 20 or more points against the Steelers. After all Ryan Mallett, Buck Allen, and Kamar Aiken were able to.

When the Steelers have the ball:

The Browns need to get pressure on Ben Roethlisberger if they’re going to have any chance. Tramon Williams and Charles Gaines stand no chance against Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton  and Martavis Bryant if Big Ben has a clean pocket. Last time these two teams played the Browns did a good job limiting DeAngelo Williams to only 54 yards. Perhaps the Browns can duplicate those results.

Prediction:

Steelers look rusty again (as they normally do against lousy opponents) but the Browns give up some late touchdowns and lose in some typical Cleveland Brown-like way.

Steelers 26 Browns 24

Browns Hope To Beat Rival Steelers

It’s Steelers week, the one of the weeks each season we stop thinking about which quarterbacks we should

 Heath Miller #83 of the Pittsburgh Steelers gets wrapped up by Donte Whitner #31 of the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 12, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Heath Miller #83 of the Pittsburgh Steelers gets wrapped up by Donte Whitner #31 of the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 12, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

draft next year and pray the Browns can beat the Steelers and hurt their playoff odds. This year’s contest should be interesting because Ben Roethlisberger and Josh McCown are questionable for the game, which could lead to an unpredictable outcome.

When the Browns have the ball:

Pittsburgh’s defense has been declining in recent years, and this year is no different. They sometimes show the dominance of old like against the Cardinals, but often have major defensive meltdowns like last week when they gave up 35 points against a young but explosive Raider’s attack. Perhaps we can have somewhat similar success.  If McCown starts, the biggest thing the Browns need to do is keep him upright, which could prove difficult with the injury to stud left guard Joel Bitonio.

First round pick Cameron Erving will likely replace him though he didn’t look that great in the Bengals game.  If McCown is healthy he should have no problem slinging against a very poor secondary. Barnidge and Benjamin could have great days. If Manziel plays, as reports seem to indicate, the key is to get the running game going. The Robert Turbin experiment failed so I’m hoping that we can see more of Duke Johnson the runner, since we already have seen enough of the Crow. If we can establish the run we can let Johnny scramble a bit on play action rollouts. Hopefully Johnny can make exciting plays outside the pocket without taking humongous hits in the process. This is another big thing as we don’t want to see Manziel get hurt.

When the Steelers have the ball:

Like usual I expect the opposing team to be able to run all over us. DeAngelo Williams proved to me that he wasn’t washed up like I thought before the season began. He has actually been one of the most dynamic and consistent runners in the game when playing.

In passing situations Landry Jones has proven to be a competent quarterback and an excellent one when throwing to Antonio Brown. Joe Haden and Donte Whitner are still questionable but if they play they will be hungry to stop their longtime rival, Brown.  If Big Ben plays odds are it will only be worse for Cleveland, as Roethlisberger always finds a new way to gouge our defense.

Special Teams:

The Steelers seem to have finally found a kicker that they trust in Chris Boswell who has only missed one field goal all year-long. Like our own Travis Coons he is still untested on long field goals. The Browns do have an edge in punting as Andy Lee has proven himself to be a great punter despite last weeks performance. The Steelers coverage teams seem strong but when you have a good returner like Travis Benjamin anything could happen.

Prediction:

With all of the uncertainty regarding the injured QBs I decided to give four predictions for the price of one!

McCown vs Roethlisberger– 31-24 Steelers- Big Ben is too good to overcome.

McCown vs Landry Jones 27-21 Browns- Really our only shot of winning.

Manziel vs Roethlisberger 34-14 Steelers- I’m just not sold on Johnny being a legitimate starting QB. Especially with the lack of weapons on the offense.

Manziel vs Landry Jones 24- 17 Steelers-Landry Jones seems to have found his groove with Antonio Brown.

More Than A Friday: I’ll Be Nice, Let’s Be Better

Thursday was a difficult day, a day highlighted by senseless loss of life. It was so difficult, in fact, that I considered blowing off the column this week, but that would be taking the tragedies of the day and making it about me. That’s simply not my style. Before I left the office, I learned of the C-130 (aka Sky Pig) that went down in Jalalabad, killing twelve people, but the 12 lives taken there weren’t the focus of conversation on Thursday, nor will it be in the coming weeks.

Look, we’re all fed up, if not fatigued by the stories of mass shootings. The incident in Roseburg, Oregon seems to be just another notch in the bedpost for someone’s agenda, and as much as we, most of us anyway, want to be sensitive to the families of the victims, we all have an angle. Most of us aren’t shy about discussing it. Blame the epidemic that is mental illness or blame the weapons used to obliterate the innocent, if you must, but my thesis here remains the same. Let’s treat each other better, and continue to strive to be worthy of all things we’re blessed with in this life.

I’m not sure what I was planning to publish for Friday, as I attempt to transition to sports in a not so subtle manner, but I’m definitely pivoting towards being nice this morning. I’ll be nicer about Jose Ramirez and how he should have been treated by the Minnesota Twins after violating age-old baseball code, and I’ll even be kind about two of my least favorite teams in all of sport being showcased in the NFL’s prime time event last night.

The Elite Quaterback1The misspelling is intentional.  If you get the joke, great.  If not, please just move on. and The Dog Killer

For very different reasons, I abhor the the football chapters in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, known affectionately by everyone involved with the National Football League as the Steelers and the Ravens. However, when they’re on the same field of play and we have to hear about how wonderful this rivalry is, I despise the sum a lot more than the combined value of its parts.

Generally, I am reminded that I’ve held on to grudges for too long as a Browns fan, and I reluctantly knowledge that to be true. Generally, I also don’t care about the accuracy of any of that; my irrational feeling is my prerogative as a fan. On this day, a day that senseless stole the lives of so many, I was going to put all of that to the side and be nice.

With Ben Roethlisberger out 4-6 weeks, or 2-3 weeks if you consult Dr. Bill Cowher, the Steelers turned to backup quarterback Mike Vick2He doesn’t want to be Michael.  He probably doesn’t want us to remember why he was sent to Leavenworth either.. Now, if I wasn’t being nice, I’d bring (allegedly) sexually assaulted women and tortured canines to the conversation, but I’m being nice. So, before the game, I thought, “Get well, Ben” and “Good luck, Mike”.

These are fellows with families and mothers who love them unconditionally. I would filter those mean things I might want to say about them, if I knew I were in the presence of those families, so I know I’m capable of doing so. On the other sideline, you have the franchise that once existed as the Cleveland Browns. Very few people affiliated with the events that took place in 1996 would be involved in Thursday evening’s match up, so again, I’ll be nice.

Pittsburgh, in addition to missing the services of their quarterback, is also missing their projected starting center, so at 2-1 on the season, they’re thinking about damage control. Vick is there because Bruce Gradkowski isn’t healthy and Landry Jones isn’t good. They were going to run the ball and keep it simple for the ex-con taking snaps from the backup center. They were fortunate enough to start this run with a taxi-squad at home against a winless Baltimore team.

While we argued how valid some of the 3-0 starts were on this week’s Suits and Laterals Podcast, on the flipside of that coin, you could also question the lack of substance behind the Ravens’ 0-3 start. Denver was understandable, Oakland wasn’t, and the letdown against the Bengals was what it was. I’m sure they’re not proud of how they look in the standings, but John Harbaugh isn’t going to lead a squad that gives up that easily.

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The games between these two are usually close, and it usually means quality, but Pittsburgh’s 10-7 halftime lead didn’t represent that in any way. The Steelers defense isn’t very good, but the Ravens offense couldn’t quite exploit that. I’ll admit that Joe Flacco can be everything the Ravens want from their quarterback, but that doesn’t mean he’s that guy all of the time, and he most definitely was not even close to that in the first half. The Steelers, on the hand, were basically in line with the low expectations you’d have had with Vick.

The Steelers had this game in hand; all they needed to do was close. And, they’re the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s what they tend to do when they play from ahead. Vick notwithstanding, they have Antonio Brown to pick up the slack, and Le’Veon Bell isn’t a bad second option, especially when you want to shorten the game by keeping the clock moving.

Vick to Brown occurred a few times, but it was never effective or efficient. It was Bell that got the touches, the yards, and the Fantasy Football points, but he didn’t get the ball in the end. If I recall correctly, the Steelers had five opportunities to finish off their division rivals and failed to do so. Now, even though I was trying to be nice, there was a little bit of anxious giddiness to me when I considered an 0-4 start for the Ravens. And, when the Steelers failed to use Bell in short yardage on 3rd and 4th down, it bothered me as a football fan. After Josh Scobee missed a second field goal, each promised to make life difficult for Flacco and company on Thursday, I was stuck in nice-mode and forgot how much joy I usually take in Pittsburgh failure.

Even before Ravens kicker Justin Tucker hit from 42 yards in the final seconds of regulation, I felt that Pittsburgh deserved to lose a game, though they controlled everything about it for so long. When Tucker hit from 52, after a questionable 4th down call by Mike Tomlin, who refused to go to Bell on 4th and 1 (or trust Josh Scobee3Scobee, the Steelers’ third kicker since the start of the pre-season, missed two kicks in the game’s final three minutes of regulation.to kick a 50-yard field goal), I felt justice had been served.

I wasn’t content that a team I’ve spent my entire life disliking lost. I just felt Football Team A was punished for screwing the pooch, a fine example of the universe evening itself out.

Everyone Loves Showboating, Everyone Except Me

The Indians and Twins played 18 innings of baseball on Wednesday, with both teams running out of time to grab a playoff spot. In dropping the matinee 7-1, Cleveland gave Houston a chance to effectively end the Indians season, regardless of what happened in Game 2 of the double-header at Progressive Field. In the eighth inning of a game the Twins trailed 7-1, the Minnesota skipper opted to walk Jason Kipnis to get to Jose Ramirez.

Ramirez responded by pulling a Ricky Nolasco pitch over the right-field wall for a 3-run jack, a ball that sailed all of 331 feet into the Cleveland night. After hitting his sixth home run of the year, the Indians utility infielder admired it for longer than he should have, and then he flipped his bat towards the visitors’ dugout. I know that things change, and that few understand the etiquette involved here, but you really can’t do that.

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This isn’t a participation trophy thing; it’s more about respect for the game, and when you get over on a pitcher for one of those 4-base hit, your feat and the scoreboard have done all the talking that needs to take place. I never saw Bob Gibson pitch and couldn’t quote any of his stats to you, but I know that he was notorious for not tolerating that shit. I mean, you could do it, but at a cost, as Gibson would put the next pitch he threw you into your rib cage. That was the fee for patting yourself on the back, and everyone seemed to be on the same page with that. And hey, I’m actually down with that arrangement.

These days, everyone seems to want to make excuses for the grand-standing. Now, athletes allegedly come from different cultures and don’t understand unwritten rules. I, on the other hand, like that some things are kept off the books, and don’t need everything to be so literal. I’m all about hashing shit out like men, and I don’t say that like some fake tough guy. Short of the whole “snitches get stitches” thing, I like the idea of settling things face-to-face without calling the police over every stinkin’ neighborly dispute, and in baseball, I like when the game polices itself.

Since the home run and subsequent bat flip occurred late in Wednesday night’s contest, Paul Molitor and the Twins could only verbalize their dissatisfaction with Ramirez. To their credit, Terry Francona offered no justification and basically apologized on his player’s behalf. Among the baseball people involved, the only ones who have opinions that matter, the Twins gripe had weight to it. No, Ramirez didn’t kill a guy, as whiners and defenders of bat flips so annoyingly pointed out, but he was in the wrong with it. He even offered an apology.

His manager even put him in a place to take his medicine, batting him lead-off in the final meeting between the two teams on Thursday. I saw this one going down one way, and it went like this. If the Twins opted to get their pound of flesh from Ramirez, it had to happen on the first pitch, it couldn’t be at the batter’s head, and you don’t get a Mulligan if you miss. As Tribe color man Rick Manning predicted, the Twins put a priority on winning a ballgame over the fireworks that come with the unwritten rules. Fair enough, they’re in a playoff race and don’t need to lose a starter in the first inning of a game over something silly.

It’s my belief that the umpires respect that code, and no ejection would have taken place. I’m not sure that Jeff Kellogg’s crew would act that way, but it’s my personal opinion that they should have and probably would have. Where I disagree with Manning, is with the suggestion that the Twins get theirs down the road. Nope. There’s a statute of limitations on the mitigating circumstance of “he threw the first punch”, and it expired when Tyler Duffey went down and away with his first pitch to Ramirez.

It was okay to do nothing in that situation on the field. I’m not sure many will disagree, regardless of how they feel about bat flips. So, let’s bring this thing full-circle, and remember that doing nothing is the wrong way to react to Thursday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College.

That includes bitching about nothing being done. There’s a group in Washington that can do something to initiate change. We all have the ability to vote for or against at least one of them. Next month or next year, before you blindly cast a vote for or against any of them because of a letter by their name4Letters like (R) or (D)., take the time to understand what they plan to do, and if you don’t know, ask them. This is our country, as in yours and mine, make sure your represented…if you care, that is.

   [ + ]

1. The misspelling is intentional.  If you get the joke, great.  If not, please just move on.
2. He doesn’t want to be Michael.  He probably doesn’t want us to remember why he was sent to Leavenworth either.
3. Scobee, the Steelers’ third kicker since the start of the pre-season, missed two kicks in the game’s final three minutes of regulation.
4. Letters like (R) or (D).

Browns: Who Should Return Punts?

The Cleveland Browns have played themselves to a 6-3 record, but it has not always looked pretty. There have definitely been high and low wrinkles to this season—some that can be changed mid-season, some cannot. One of the changes that could (and should) be addressed is the role of the punt returner, averaging 3.2 yards per return for lowest average in the league.

The punt returning position has been a revolving door, depending on situation and coaching decision. Whether the answer is currently on the roster or if Ray Farmer needs to seek outside help, this switch needs to be done as soon as possible, in my opinion. I can’t sit and watch Jordan Poyer bounce a kick off of his face at the two yard line, giving Jacksonville the ball and control of momentum again. I’m not a fan of having Jim Leonhard back deep, just because he can catch the ball. As evidenced in the game vs. Cincinnati, he’s not very good with running with the ball after the catch. He looked scared and he also coughed up a fumble, allowing the Bengals to score their only three points of the game.

"I've made a huge mistake" - Jordan Poyer
Jordan Poyer: “I’ve made a huge mistake”

There are a couple of options currently on the Browns roster that I’d like to see returning punts. First, the obvious one, Travis Benjamin. Benjamin muffed a punt earlier in the year and was benched in favor of Poyer and has yet to regain the job. I’m not sure if this is because he has a bigger role in the pass game, or if the coaches just don’t trust him back there. Maybe they’re right for not trusting him after the muff and a fumble. At any rate, Benjamin is a game-changer in the return game when he holds on to the ball with his breakaway speed. The Steelers aren’t afraid to utilize arguably their best player to return punts, so why not Benjamin, a role player in the pass offense? Also, with Josh Gordon coming back after this upcoming game, the Browns will not be as receiver-needy, even though I have liked what I have seen from Benjamin in as a wide receiver this year.

Another player that could fill the role currently on the roster is Justin Gilbert. Gilbert returned kickoffs at Oklahoma State and should be considered to fill the punt returner role in Cleveland. In his collegiate career, Gilbert returned six kicks for touchdowns and ran a 4.37 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine. While he only attempted eight punt returns (in 2010), Gilbert should definitely be in the discussion to take over PR duties. An excuse that he was taken 8th overall isn’t a good excuse to be afraid he will get hurt receiving punts (see again: Brown, Antonio). Tony Grossi loves reminding everyone that Gilbert did not receive punts in college, only kicks, but these two positions are not mutually exclusive for a player.

One last name that should be in the conversation and possibly at the top of the list, is the current kick returner, Marlon Moore. Moore has shown great burst and reasonably good decision making in the return game. Giving someone like him more opportunities in the open field with the ball in his hands could help you win the battle of field position. He hasn’t helped much on offense, so I’d like to see him have a fair shot with punt return duties.

There are a few names that aren’t on the current 53-man roster that could also be considered. Now, I know Ray Farmer, when asked about signing Josh Cribbs to return kicks, replied, “Who do I want to let go to sign Josh Cribbs?” Now, I don’t think this was Farmer taking a shot on Josh and his talents, but more of an affirmation of the current talent on the team. While Farmer’s quote basically shuts down the idea of signing a player just to return kicks, it is not out of the realm of possibility to turn to outside help.

We are all familiar with Josh Cribbs, so we won’t delve too deep with stats. Cribbs, now 31 years of age, was released by the raiders in August 2013 after a poor showing in preseason. He was the picked up by the Jets in October of 2013 and was put on injured reserve after a shoulder injury not even two months later. Before being released from the Browns, he had noticeably lost a step or two. I will always be a Josh Cribbs fan (and the Browns are 6-0 this season when I wear my Cribbs jersey on gameday), I don’t think he’s the answer, unfortunately, but I’d love to be proved wrong on this one.

MarianiMarc Mariani was drafted by the Titans in 2010 and went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie out of Montana. Mariani broke his leg in the preseason of 2012, missing the entire year—he was just released by the Titans this past August. In the two seasons he played with the Titans, he returned two punts for touchdowns and averaged 11.2 yards per return. While he hasn’t played since 2011 due to injuries, the Browns could take a look to Mariani to help as an experienced returner who has had success in the NFL.

Broncos v PanthersAnother player the Browns should consider signing is return specialist Trindon Holliday. Holliday was just waived from the Buccaneers on October 31 of this year due to a hamstring issue. If healthy, the Browns may look his way to fill the current need. Holliday returned punts for touchdowns in in 2012 and 2013 on the Broncos, one in each year. He has a career 9.3 yards per return and is 28 years of age. The former LSU track star posted a 4.34 40-yard dash in the 2010 combine. Halliday is also the first player in NFL history with a punt return for a TD and kick return for a TD in the same postseason game.

BanksOne last name I’d like to mention is 26 year old Brandon Banks, who formerly played for Washington, now in the CFL. Banks will not help on offense, as Mike Shanahan hoped he would evolve into a better receiver, but he has game-breaking potential returning punts. While he averaged 11.3 yards per return in 2010, he regressed in 2011 and again in 2012 with 9.1 yards/return and 6.8 yards/return, respectively, giving him a 9.4 yard per return average in his NFL career. However, he has bounced his average back up this year to 10.3 yards per return on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It is my understanding an NFL team may buy out a contracted player from the CFL, so this is not out of the realm of possibility.

With the Browns offense being so up and down this year, the importance of a good return game should not be overlooked. It seems the coaching staff having Jim Leonard returning punts is due to other players’ errors, coupled with his ability to catch the ball. But as I mentioned before, he looked scared once he realized he had to run after the catch. It has a feel of playing to not lose, rather than playing to win.

Travis Benjamin, Justin Gilbert and Marlon Moore are all viable options that could give the Browns a playmaker back to receive the ball that are currently on the roster. Ray Farmer could have been genuine (probably not), but to imply there isn’t one expendable player on the Browns 53-man roster to sign a return specialist is kind of silly. Good for him for showing he believes in his current team, but a good General Manager should always be looking to upgrade his team. I’d personally prefer giving Benjamin another shot with support from the coaching staff, boosting his confidence.

You can’t fix many things on a football team mid-season, but placing a competent speedster back to return punts is something the Browns can, and should do. Whether that person is currently on the team or not, it’s time to make the switch (again).

Go Browns.

Bridging the Gap: The Midweek Report, Week 5

In an apparent battle to be the losing side on Sunday, the Browns ended up losing to the Titans. But in doing so, they won, if that makes sense. What I am trying to say is that both teams looked pretty god awful at times on Sunday in Nashville. However, the Titans managed to do a much better job than the Browns at throwing away the game, leaving room for the Browns to score 26 points unanswered and set the NFL road record for largest comeback victory.

As much as I would like to say that they did, I’m not sure the Browns necessarily deserved that victory. Their defense once again looked terrible, and their offense took forever to get going. But first, before elaborating on that, let me focus on the good:

First off, we won, which at the end of the day is the thing that matters most. So points there. Second off, our offense, once it finally did get going, looked really really good. Ben Tate looked awesome, effectively silencing everybody who was saying that he will lose the starting job to the rookies by the end of the season by putting up 123 yards on 22 carries for a very solid 5.6 yards per carry. On top of that both of the rookies still looked good in the limited action they saw, and the team combined for 175 yards on 36 carries. Brian Hoyer played a solid game once the 3 minute mark in the second quarter came and went, racking up 292 yards and 3 touchdowns in the air with a completion rate of 56.8%. He did however throw his first interception in 187 pass attempts (+/- 2 attempts), so that was kind of a bummer, definitely because it came in the fourth quarter, although it could be argued that the Browns probably would’ve had to punt the ball the next play anyway, so the deep interception actually saved them a few seconds of clock time. Regardless, I was still pretty bummed to see the streak end. Oh well, I guess he will just have to start another. Let’s hope that he can top the last streak.

Other players that impressed me Sunday included:

– Undrafted rookie WR Taylor Gabriel, who brought in 4 receptions for 95 yards

– Undrafted rookie CB K’Waun Williams, who came in for benched rookie Justin Gilbert and proceeded to rack up 6 solo tackles, one pass defensed, and one sack

– DE Armonty Bryant, who also amassed 6 tackles, including one sack, and also happens to be one of my favorite Browns players

– LB Karlos Dansby, who was consistently in the right place at the right time, or at least was more so than other Browns defenders

– WR Travis Benjamin, but only in the fourth quarter as a receiver bringing in two huge touchdown grabs

And, as much as I hate to admit it…

– K Billy Cundiff, who managed to not miss a field goal all game. And he even made one that was longer than 40 yards!!!! So I was pleasantly surprised by that. I do have to say though that I was very bummed when the Browns didn’t swoop in to sign recently-released Broncos kicker Matt Prater. I am still praying for the day the Browns decide to sign a real kicker.

And that is about it for what impressed me. Despite getting the W, the Browns still looked like a lower-tier NFL team. They did manage to only get called for 7 penalties this week, so that was good, or at least better. But honestly, we got lucky as hell. The football gods were on our side. First with Travis Benjamin inexcusably muffing a punt that was recovered by Tennessee but then called back because Michael Huff thought it would be fun to run 25 yards down the field while out of bounds, and then with a would-be-drive-killing fourth quarter interception that was called back due to a questionable illegal contact penalty. I mean that’s a lot more luck than one team deserves in a single game, definitely when they played as poorly as we did in the first half. The defense once again looked more full of holes than swiss cheese, and the offense took much too long to get going. That being said, here are some of the players that I was especially disappointed with this weekend:

– CB Joe Haden, who has still not been able to shake the penalty bug. I’ll say it once again, the defense cannot be good until Haden is back to his 2013 form…

– CB and first round draft pick Justin Gilbert, who got benched and replaced by an undrafted rookie who had 5 tackles all season heading into the game

– CB and special teams specialist Johnson Bademosi, who was called for penalties on two consecutive kickoff returns

– WR Andrew Hawkins, who had a shabby 3 catches for only 26 yards despite being targeted 9 times, more than any other player on the team

– WR Travis Benjamin. I know I mentioned it above, but again muffing that punt is inexcusable. There is no other way to phrase it. With Jordan Poyer showing the ability to return punts, I don’t want to see Benjamin back there again this season.

And lastly, but certainly not least…

– Cleveland Browns coaches and management, who did not sign kicker Matt Prater to replace the consistently disappointing and almost completely untrustworthy Billy Cundiff.

So, what am I looking for this week against the Steelers?

Well, first off, I don’t think we will start off the game like we did against them Week 1 (if we do, we will no doubt lose again). Instead, I’m expecting us to continue riding the momentum we had at the end of the Titans game and start off similar to how we did against the Saints. I don’t expect the defense to hold up that well against a talented Steelers offense, but I think they will be able to make enough stops to give the Browns a good chance at winning. Joe Haden will probably rack up a couple of penalties while defending Antonio Brown though. As for the offense, the run game hasn’t failed us yet, and I don’t expect it to soon. I’m looking forward to another big day from Ben Tate as well as another solid performance from Brian Hoyer. I think that this is a very winnable game for the Browns, definitely given it is at home. However, looking at previous results this season, it would be ludicrous a spread of greater than two or three points, so here is Sunday’s final score:

Browns 27 – Steelers 24