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.
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.
The Browns are now 2-9 and officially done with the playoffs, many fans have thrown in the
towel and are hoping we tank for a number one pick. I for one think tanking for a better draft pick is disrespectful to the leaders and veterans on the team.
Plus a lot of the teams that look to be a top the draft board, (Tennessee, Dallas, San Diego, Baltimore) are not in the market for QBs. It seems very likely a QB like Paxton Lynch or Jared Goff could be available to us at the 3rd to 5th pick. So now with tanking out of the question here is my plan for the rest of the season.
1. Start Duke Johnson at running back! Isaiah Crowell has been an absolute disaster as a RB. Right now he is last in the NFL among qualified runners in with 2.9 yards per attempt. The advanced stats do not treat him in any better as he last in the NFL in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) and Defense-adjusted Value over Average (DVOA) stats from Football Outsiders. Johnson has done better than Crow in all ares and he deserves to keep moving forward as our starter.
2. Play Austin Davis now but do not be reluctant to hand the keys to Johnny Manziel. Manziel had the job and lost it by lying about his partying. As a twenty year old college kid I sympathize with him a bit. Partying, getting drunk, and listening to Future at the club is quite fun honestly. The only difference is I’m not getting paid 1.8 million dollars to lead a professional football team.
This is the reason that I’d keep Manziel on the bench until Davis shows that he is not the quarterback that gives us the best chance to win. And perhaps Davis is a good quarterback, he seems to have a great attitude and has starting experience with the Rams. Perhaps he can bud into a decent QB with us.
3. Fire Jim O’Neill! We have the highest paid defense in terms of percent of team salary, yet we are the worst at stopping the run and second worst at keeping teams out of the end-zone. After this I would try to get younger guys like Nate Orchard and Ibraheim Campbell into the rotation more to see what kind of value they’ll hold in the future.
In the off-season my main goal would be to figure out if the Browns have a chance to go to the playoffs with either Manziel, Davis, or even McCown. If I don’t think these guys are capable of doing that I’d take a QB in the first round.
It’s still too early to tell which QB would be worth taking as every top guy has some key weaknesses but I’m sure some one will emerge as a top 5 pick. If I feel that one of these guys can take me to the playoffs my number one target is Joey Bosa. Now keep in mind I am not an OSU fan by any means, but I know that Joey Bosa has the capability to boost our run defense and our pass rush. Other options include upgrading our secondary by taking CB/S Jalen Ramsey of FSU or CB Vernon Hargreaves out of Florida. If I don’t feel that Josh Gordon is focused on football Laquon Treadwell would be a great option to help bolster the receiving corps which has been our weakness since Braylon Edwards decided to stink.
In the era of shovel passes, bubble screens, and dink & dunk, it seems as though completion percentage should be an afterthought. So many quarterbacks start their days so perfect, or near-perfection anyway. It’s really no wonder that “video game numbers” have become the standard.
This is what you get from the out-of-town overlay, just statistics, no story. Sure, you’ll see Andy Dalton and Alex Smith missed on just one or two pass attempts early en route to victory, but make sure you don’t read too much into Austin Davis’s 5-of-7 start against the Chiefs.
These amazing performances don’t seem to dazzle these days, even on paper. Ben Roethlisberger threw just nine passes that didn’t land in the hands of a bumble-bee-outfitted receiver on Sunday. Considering the fact he threw six touchdown passes and accrued over 500 yards in the process, you wonder how high the bar will be set in the next couple of years. Andrew Luck threw for 400 yards for the Steelers opponent, in what we’ll likely consider a forgettable performance.
Is any of it even real any more?
Game I Anticipated Most
When you get a non-traditional power like the Arizona Cardinals in a marquee game this late in the season, it sometimes seems forced. That’s not the case with these Cardinals. They really look like they belong. They’re built with a certain edge to them on defense and hold their own when they have the ball. Injuries matter, but Bruce Arians has shown an ability to adapt and overcome. Take all of their positives, tack a bad afternoon in Denver on there, and that’s how Arizona was 5-1 entering play on Sunday.
The Eagle bring Chip Kelly’s fast-paced Saturday style to the Sunday game. Their offense moves fast and they run a lot of plays. A threat to score every time they have the ball, it’s all about possessions for them. Defense isn’t the first thing you think of with this team, nor should it be. The architecture of Bill Davis’s defensive unit is to stop teams built like the Eagles, a built that is consistent with the new direction of the league. Strong secondary play has netted them a shut out against the Giants. A trip to San Francisco last month netted them their only loss.
The Cardinals out-lasted their brotherly loving opponents by stepping up with the big play. Antonio Cromartie picked off Nick Foles twice at the most inopportune moments for the Eagles. On the ground, Andre Ellington did just enough to set up the big play for Carson Palmer and his receiving corps. His two touchdowns passes each went for 75 yards or better. If Larry Fitzgerald is getting long in the tooth, it didn’t show on his classic Fitz 80-yard catch-and-run to put the Cardinals up 14-7 to break a halftime tie.
After the Eagles added a field goal to take 20-17 lead just inside the two-minute warning, the hero of training camp John Brown ran under a ball that I can only assume was thrown as far as Carson Palmer can throw the pigskin. When it came down in the arms of the rookie from Pittsburg State, it only took a few strides for him to reach the endzone for the game-winning touchdown. Of his 4 scoring catches this season, 3 have been of the game-winning variety. Cardinals win 24-20.
Thursday Is My Garbage Day
You notice you don’t hear too much griping about player safety and the road team being at such a disadvantage in the Thursdy Night tilts, now that a couple of them have been competitive. My trash still gets picked up on Thursday though, so this section will keep its name. Not many teams have belonged on the same field as Peyton Manning’s Broncos this season, but the Chargers promised to be a worthy adversary.
The X-Factor here was our defending champion Sea Chickens. They went into San Diego in Week 2, and left with a 30-21 defeat at the hands of the very legitimate Chargers. The Broncos, on the other hand, have lost just twice in the 2014 calendar year. A week after taking that loss, Seattle hosted Denver in a game much closer than the laughable Super Bowl we all witnessed in February, but still a 26-20 loss for Denver.
On the strength of three Emmanuel Sanders touchdown receptions, the Broncos won 35-21, but the Chargers didn’t play an awful game. They just ran into a buzzsaw in Peyton Manning, who had the convenience of playing at home. Even in a 21-point hole at various points in the game, you never counted out San Diego. The unstoppable passing game that Manning leads sets up the running game.
Forget that Knowshon Moreno is gone and that Montee Ball was not available, the Chargers weren’t honest to the run. Ronnie Hillman gashed them for over 5 yards per carry and Juwan Thompson had two short scoring runs to take the wind out of San Diego’s sails to move to 6-1 on the season.
House of Sea Chicken-East
Speaking of the champs, we generally tend to think their strength resides in their stadium. Opposing fans call it the belly of the beast, but the NFL makes the Sea Chickens play half their games away from Phone Company Field. In Week 8, they may have been lucky to pull one out in Charlotte, but isn’t that always the case when they visit the Panthers?
On Sunday, they treaded water in an early candidate for the week’s Actual Worst Game, but Russell Wilson led his team on a 10-play 80 -yard drive to score the first touchdown of the game with 53 seconds left. The Panthers counted on their kicker Graham Gano for all of their points, outscoring the visitors 9-6, until Wilson hit Luke Willson for the game-winner in the game’s final minute.
For the third time in three years, Seattle won ugly at Carolina. When Steven Hauschka added the extra point after Willson’s touchdown, it was the first one-pointer the Sea Chickens scored in Charlotte since he nailed the conversion after Golden Tate’s third quarter score in 2012. They won that one 16-12 at Bank of America Stadium, edged them 12-7 in 2014, and added the 4-point win on Sunday. If they play in 2015, that one will be played in the Pacific Northwest.
AFC North Pride
While the broadcast maps suggests most of you did get Pittsburgh’s rout of the Colts in your local market, many were denied the second edition of Ravens-Bengals in favor of that field goal fest in Charlotte. You were probably spared the Raiders and Browns if you weren’t local to either of the teams, unless you sought that game out.
The AFC North has been strong this season. Part of it is the Browns somewhat pulling their weight, but the schedule is a big aid as well. The division games all promise to be scrappy affairs for Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh, but they’ve all been afforded the luxury of games against all of the teams in the league’s two worst divsions.
Every team in the NFC South has a losing record, while Indianapolis is the only team in the AFC South with a winning record. Having one-win teams like Jacksonville and Tampa Bay pulling up the rear doesn’t help either. On the flip-side, every team in the AFC North currently sports a winning record.
Does Cincinnati have Baltimore’s number? In Week 1, they dominated most of the way, let the Ravens back in the game, and then won it in the end. It was the same story on Sunday in Cincinnati, only a little more scary. It appeared that Baltimore had done it again with an improbable 80-yard game-winning touchdown to Steve Smith Sr., but it was more improbable that the play was executed within the boundaries of the rules. The play was called back and Cincinnati hung on.
In Pittsburgh, the Steelers reminded us that we simply cannot write them off. On a positive note for Ben and company, it’s more than just playing pitch & catch with Antonio Brown. Brown got his, but Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton are emerging as targets for Roethlisberger, as is Le’Veon Bell out of the backfield. For a team written off by their own fans, the Steelers are right in the thick of things at 4-3.
Under no circumstances would I go out of my way to watch the 2014 Lions and Falcons play. Wait, what? Alright NFL, if you’re going to put a game on at 6:30 AM in the west, I’ll wake up for it. The game appeared to be all Atlanta, but still somehow came down to a last-second field goal attempt. This is part of why the AFC South is awful.
Me, I’m no fan of shenanigans when a field goal that will determine the game is imminent. I pay homage to Mike Shannahan for his strategy of calling a timeout a split-second before the ball is snapped, forcing a kicker to try the boot a second time. I call it “Shannahanigans”, but it wasn’t that type of nonsense for the Lions in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Detroit got two tries and needed the second one for their 22-21 comeback win over the Falcons in London. It appeared as though the Falcons would hang on when Matt Prater’s kick sailed wide right from 43, but the Lions were actually rewarded a reprieve by their own penalty. Since delay-of-game is a pre-snap penalty, Atlanta was left with no choice but to hope Prater would miss again from 48. He didn’t.
This lends itself to an argument against the whole idea of the aforementioned shenanigans. Many coaches have gone on record to say they don’t like the strategy. Why give the kicker a practice kick? Doesn’t the first kick just give the kicker a better feel for the task at hand? Sure, we’ve seen kickers whiff on the one that counts, but it seems fate is a better strategy then playing God in this situation. If the rules can’t prevent it, maybe common sense will.
Home Sweet Dome
It’s not just playing inside, Bill Simmons. Losses in Atlanta, Dallas, and Detroit should paint that picture as clearly as the Saints’ 3-0 record in the Superdome. Even a team as hot as the Packers are no match for what New Orleans can do in front of their home crowd.
Drew Brees is special and his performance in Sunday Night’s 44-23 win was no exception, but how about a nod for his supporting cast? Mark Ingram put up a very Trent Richarson-esque 16 yards on 10 carries in the Saints loss to Detroit last week, and his 83 rushing yards against Cleveland stood as his season-best before Sunday. The former Heisman winner ran the ball 24 times for 172 yards, ate up clock, and kept Aaron Rodgers on the sideline long enough to tilt the needle towards the home team on time of possession.
Who’s Whack for Dak
It’s not likely that anyone is going to unseat Marcus Mariota for the meaningless title of consensus #1 in the mocks, but we’re going to change it up each week here. Prescott still has Mississippi State undefeated and ranked #1 in the polls, and he will likely help an NFL team, even if not taken with the top overall selection.
At this point, given their failure to achieve victory, the Raiders are in the driver’s seat to pick at the top. I don’t believe they’re poorly coached by Tony Sparano or poorly quarterbacked by rookie Derek Carr. At this point, they just lack talent in so many areas. They need to uncluster decades of bad football work by Al Davis and rebuild this team.
Actual Worst Game
Hard to go in any direction other than Oakland-Cleveland here. It was an ugly game all around that the Browns made more aesthetically pleasing on the scoreboard with a pair of 4th quarter touchdowns, but this was basically a field goal struggle for three quarters. Nobody wants to pay to see Janikowski v. Cundiff.
The same could be said for the Hauscka v. Gano game in Carolina, but struggling to find the endzone against Seattle is a different animal than what took place in Cleveland.
Dirty Laundry Award
Usually, this honor is bestowed on a team, but Walt Anderson’s crew really earned it this week, with Philadelphia and Arizona each being penalized more than any team in the league on Sunday. 11 flags on the Eagles awarded the Cardinals 103 penalty yards. Arizona gave their visitors 95 yards on 10 infractions.
For the Degenerates
The Cowboys look like world-beaters. The Redskins look inept in every phase of the game, but everyone is focused on the quarterback position. With Colt McCoy starting for Washington, it’s no wonder they’re a 9 and a half point dog on the road. Ordinarily, I might suggest throwing out everything you know and anticipating a close game. Not tonight.
Don’t expect the visiting team to do much in the way of scoring points, but anticipate them turning the ball over. This is what McCoy does. Even if the Cowboys are firing on all cylinders, total points should stay under 50. There is an added element for Browns fans here with Tony Romo’s understudy being Brandon Weeden. If I were to predict a battle of Cleveland cast-offs here, I’d take the Redskins and the points, and also bet the farm on the under.
Random, Perhaps Unimportant
Peyton Manning wasn’t all smiles after Denver’s big division win over San Diego. He took exception to the actions of his scoreboard operator, who apparently amped up the crowd at the wrong moment(s). The expectation of the home crowd when Manning is on the field is complete and utter silence. He voiced his frustration through the media, which some people didn’t care to hear. I’m left to wonder if he’s tried to quietly voice this internally previously and became the grease-seeking squeaky wheel after it continued.
Nice one-armed grab and run by Theo Riddick in the final minute of Detroit’s win over Atlanta in London. He corralled the overthrown ball from Matt Stafford with his extended left arm and hustled to the Falcons 41, just outside of field goal range.
Sammy Watkins made the most of his three catches (for 157 yards) in Buffalo’s 43-23 win over the Jets on Sunday, but 84 yards is a long way to run to be denied a touchdown. Finish the play, and then you can celebrate.
On the flip-side of the near-perfect quarterback efficiency we’ve seen early in games so far, Geno Smith more than deserved to be benched with a line that read 2-for-8 with 5 yards passing. Good luck, Michael Vick.
These Jack-in-the-Box commercials don’t even pretend to market their product to the non-stoner.
I’m a little inspired by Denard Robinson’s first 11 carries for 90 yards against the Dolphins. I’m back to earth about his final 7 carries for 18 yards in the Jaguars 27-13 loss.
We can stop talking about how much better the Bears are away from Soldier Field, where they own an 0-3 home record. They stuck on the road Sunday, losing 51-23 to New England.
The Patriots scored three times in 57 seconds in the second quarter of their blowout win over the Bears. With a 17-7 lead, Tom Brady hooked up with Rob Gronkowski from two yards out, just inside the two-minute warning. Jay Cutler and the Bears offense killed just 41 seconds on a three-and-out, before Julian Edelman’s punt return put the Patriots back in businss at the Chicago 9. Brady got his fourth touchdown pass on the next play from scrimmage, and New England scored again on the Bears’ next offenseive play when Ray Ninkovich did the scoop and score on a Cutler fumble.
Rest in peace, Martha Miles and Oscar Taveras. The mother of LSU head coach Les Miles passed away on Friday. On Saturday night, an emotional Miles led his team past #3 Ole Miss at home. Taveras, a 22 year-old prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, and his girlfriend were killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic this weekend. Taveras never had much more than a cup of coffee at the big league level, but had a bright future with the club. So young, so tragic.
Next week’s slate includes Cardinals at Cowboys, Broncos at Patriots, and Ravens at Steelers. Until we get there, enjoy the week ahead.
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