Tag Archives: Baltimore Ravens

Five Late Round Picks I Got My Eye On

The draft itself is only one part of the draft season storyline.

With no real games to watch, football fans go mad and cling to what they can.  The combine, pro days, contract signings and training camp all keep the draft and its players relevant in the offseason.  It’s how we get through the long winter, or summer, in this case.

Now that the 2016 NFL Draft is complete, it’s finally time to hypothesize which players will prove to be great picks for their team.  Early picks are n fun so here’s a list of late round picks whose professional prospects intrigue me for one reason or another:

Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State Buckeyes

Round 3, Pick 22 (85 overall) to the Houston Texans

If it weren’t for J.T. Barrett taking his spot when he was injured, Braxton Miller might not have been drafted at all.  His inaccuracy severely limited his quarterbacking potential in the pros.  Moving to receiver has given his career new life.  Even though he had an underwhelming first season at his new position, there’s still a ton of potential here.  The Texans are awful.  If they’re smart, they’ll find ways to get the ball in Miller’s hands and let him do his thing.

Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia Bulldogs

Round 4, Pick 14 (112 overall) to the New England Patriots

Had the Patriots had a reliable receiver last year, they might’ve been able to sneak by the Broncos in the AFC title game.  Mitchell (great name, by the way) is a guy who can step in and vie for that role.  He’s a possession receiver with great speed and elusiveness.  That’s what you ordered, correct Mr. Brady?  Mitchell has torn an ACL in the past and Georgia didn’t have a good season last fall.  Those are the only reasons he wasn’t taken much sooner.  Oh, and apparently he’s not just a dumb jock, either.

Devontae Booker, RB, Utah Utes

Round 4, Pick 38 (136 overall) to the Denver Broncos

This pick was an absolute steal for the defending Super Bowl champs.  Booker’s stock fell drastically because of a torn meniscus suffered in November.  He says he’s at about 90 percent right now and it sounds like he shouldn’t miss much, if any, of camp.  Booker can catch, he can block, and he’s always running downhill, picking up extra yardage.  He can flourish in Denver if given a real chance to chisel out solid chunks of playing time.

Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State Buckeyes

Round 4, Pick 41 (139 overall) to the Buffalo Bills

With such upside why not see what Cardale can turn into?  It’s not like the Bills know who their quarterback will be in five years.  They’ve tried a lot of different guys lately but none have stuck.  Let Cardale learn from the bench, give him some reps to show what he can do, and maybe he evolves into a somewhat reliable gunslinger.  He’s got two things you can’t teach: superior size (6’5”, 250) and a cannon for an arm.  So, the tools are there, he’s just go to learn how to use them to the best of his ability.  Taking a flyer on Jones was a great move for the Bills.

Keenan Reynolds, RB, Navy Midshipmen

Round 6, Pick 7 (182 overall) to the Baltimore Ravens

That’s right, Kenan Reynolds, the running back now.  The old record-breaking Naval Academy quarterback will be making the sensible transition to running back in the offseason.  This will be quite the experiment.  Reynolds didn’t take any handoffs in college and orchestrating a triple threat attack is a much different task than anything he’ll be asked to do in Baltimore.  Even so, his work ethic is unquestionable and his ability to pick up tough yards is unique.  Nobody’s saying it’ll be easy, but it’s hard to bet against this guy.

Photo Courtesy: Erik Drost / Flickr

The Browns Broke Me

The Browns. They’re something with the potential to be beautiful, if you can see through all of their warts, but it’s important to note how much those warts tend to rub up against weird places on your body, and not in a good way.

The Browns are a solid six, but quickly become a two, or even a generous one, when you learn anything about them. Browns news tends to equal the sight of watching a bar skank eat a piece of cake she found in the trash, while wearing yesterday’s clothes1Or, let’s face it, the clothes she’s been wearing for a couple days or weeks now. and swigging bottom-shelf whiskey at 12:15 on a Wednesday afternoon. The joke is always on them, or me for putting up with it; I’m not sure where I’m going with this just yet. For those of you who are not familiar, the tie-in is with an episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, which for my money, is about the funniest 30 minutes I’ve ever gotten out of a TV show. “The Gang Broke Dee” was the season premiere of Season 9, where the butt of the male cast member’s joke finally gives in to the abuse and gives up on life.

jokesondee

Do the Browns ever abuse you to the point where you don’t care how many new ways they find to aggravate you? Do they leave you wondering why you put so much time and love into them, for this?!? When we have to hear from the peanut gallery about our Clowns or put up with the subtle jabs2No mistaking it, the Browns are worthy of said jabs., doesn’t it make us want to fall asleep with a lit cigarette on a highly flammable couch while we leave the door unlocked in our unsafe neighborhood.

Well, in the case of Sweet Dee Reynolds, the gang intervened. The apathetic response to their snide remarks was crimping their style, and they had to feign ambitious drive for their depressed sidekick to put the fun back in their daily routine. Any un-breaking the Cleveland football Browns is solely about mercy at this point. The gang went in two different directions in helping her out. Her pals encouraged her to exploit the lack of anxiety in her3She was in that sweet spot between suicidal and actually dead. The show claims most comedians really thrive there., to really deliver on stage at a comedy club’s open-mic night. Her brother wanted to go the other way, to find her a decidedly below average steed, to settle for down with.

Dee’s brother Dennis was on the hunt for a select for Dee, who by his own admission would not be very smart or handsome. At this point, if that story arc applies to the Browns “breaking me”, Dennis is going to be pushing Polaroids of middle of the road English Premier League teams4You may not know me, but soccer really isn’t my bag. I looked at the EPL Standings and picked two teams from the middle.  I won’t be taking any follow-up questions on this. like Watford or Stoke City in my face. In all reality, the answer probably is just liking the Cavs, Ohio State, or just deciding to be a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but I need the Browns in my life. It would just be preferable, you know, if they weren’t always breaking me.

Anyway, the open-mic night appears to go well for one Sweet Dee Reynolds, and she is approached by a talent scout. Mind you, he was not a handsome man, and odds are he wasn’t extremely smart, but Dee was willing to bed him to get ahead. When Dennis asked his sister to defend her interest in such a repulsive bedfellow, it became a matter of describing the ways in which I find the Cleveland Browns attractive, with the stipulation of no nostalgia.

“Well, he still has all of his skin.”

The response is, “Well, I hope so,” and that’s where I think my first argument goes to die. Everyone on the 53-man roster, yes, even you Travis Pasztor, is an NFL-caliber player. Well, they’re on an NFL roster, so I hope so, but I feel this is something the general public doesn’t grasp. It’s difficult to land a spot on a roster, and as the Browns have proven for the better part of two decades, it’s even more difficult to win, once you make it. Please, just once, give me Alabama, Oklahoma, or whoever you feel has the best chance to beat a bad NFL team and watch the Browns kick their tails in.

“He has plenty of teeth”
But not all of them?
“No, not all of them”

This is how I feel when I remind people the Browns have players of relevance. A scattered amount of teeth only matches the standards of Obie Trice, and the Browns only have a few fangs that would pass the standards of any dentist that doesn’t treat Will Hill. Joe Thomas is a Hall-of-Famer, a guy that isn’t still at his peak, though he gets it done, and the Browns are better with him than without him, every day of the week and a lot more than twice on Sundays. Joe Haden intrigues me in the same way that Family Guy currently does; I knew I was watching something really nice for a long time, and now it’s not as good, but I have a hard time lowering my expectations and appreciating what’s there. Travis Benjamin is certainly serviceable, but not a guy champions trust to lead their receiving corps.

Then, you look at that defense, and I’m sorry for jumping all over the pop culture universe, but it’s Roger Dorn5This is a reference to the movie Major League, the character is played by Corbin Bernsen. all over the place. You might think you see high-priced talent, but forget about it because it’s only high-priced. Now, don’t get me wrong, Tashaun Gipson is a diamond in the rough, undrafted out of Wyoming and Jon Gruden calls him an “interception machine”. Other critiques Gruden might have about Gipson (or any other player he likes) might sound something along the lines of “Now, that’s a football player! When you see him playing on the football field, you know that you’re watching a football player in the National Football League!”

The rest–Paul Krueger, Craig Robertson, Barkevious Mingo, Tramon Williams–just collect paychecks and add no value. What good is a defense that can’t stop the run, can’t tackle well, and is never in the right place at the right time? The joke is really on me, us, the fans, but we watch, we cheer, and hope we’re still around when it gets better.

landslide

Sweet Dee progressed on the local comedy circuit, to the point where she was opening for local legend Landslide. All you needed to know about Landslide, played magnificently by the guy who played Hewell on Breaking Bad, is that he specialized in fart and diarrhea jokes. Speaking of poop, did you see the cast of characters that John Harbaugh brought into First Energy Stadium for Monday Night Football this week? While the Ravens have done their fair share of cutting the cheese, it was the Browns that were revealed, after their 33-27 loss at home, to be the big, giant ball of flatulence shaped like a professional sports organization.

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For years, while suffering through 4 and 5-win seasons every year, all I asked for was that one big break, that year where they could win 6 games in a season. Last season, it happened, but not in fashion that could be described as glorious or given any semblance of a positive superlative. We don’t live in that dream world where the Ravens are the opening act and the Browns are the headliners; our world is where a promising 7-4 start is the catalyst for disappointment. Our big break is nothing but devastating blow after devastating blow of dysfunction hidden under the guise of moderate success.

Sweet Dee thought she had her break when she got booked on Conan, but it was all for not. Our big break is nothing more than being put in a position to win a game over a lousy team, and the Ravens, like Landslide, are nothing more than garbage men. Meanwhile, the broken Browns fans are left to sit there, eat month-old dumpster-cake, and take the abuse in perpetuity.

References
1 Or, let’s face it, the clothes she’s been wearing for a couple days or weeks now.
2 No mistaking it, the Browns are worthy of said jabs.
3 She was in that sweet spot between suicidal and actually dead. The show claims most comedians really thrive there.
4 You may not know me, but soccer really isn’t my bag. I looked at the EPL Standings and picked two teams from the middle.  I won’t be taking any follow-up questions on this.
5 This is a reference to the movie Major League, the character is played by Corbin Bernsen.

20 Years Later, The Move Still Stings

Do you remember what you were feeling 20 years ago this week? If you’re a Cleveland sports fan, you

 Carlos Baerga #9 of the Cleveland Indians jumps to make a double play as Ryan Klesko of the Atlanda Braves slides into the plate during game six of the World Series at the Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. (Otto Greule Jr. /Allsport)
Carlos Baerga #9 of the Cleveland Indians jumps to make a double play as Ryan Klesko of the Atlanda Braves slides into the plate during game six of the World Series at the Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. (Otto Greule Jr. /Allsport)

probably do.

The Cleveland Indians had just finished putting the finishing touches on one of the most thrilling seasons of professional sports in a generation’s history, although – in typical Cleveland fashion – they broke our hearts when they lost to the Atlanta Braves in the 1995 World Series, 4 games to 2.

Even though the loss stung, the general feeling was that the Indians were built to be contenders for many years and that they not only would get back to the World Series, but they would win it. The ’95 World Series was the first true championship game for any Cleveland team since the Browns lost in the 1969 NFL Championship Game to the Vikings (although the winner did advance to the Super Bowl), so for people my age, it was the first one we ever experienced.

And, man, it was fun.

The World Series came to an end on Saturday, Oct. 28 in Atlanta with a 1-0 loss. With Cleveland still a bit hung over from that experience, things were brewing in Berea – more specifically, a private plane in a Baltimore airport – that would make the World Series a quick afterthought.

A day after that Series loss, the Browns played the Cincinnati Bengals at the old Riverfront Stadium. Head coach Bill Belichick made the controversial decision to bench veteran Vinny Testaverde, who had taken the team to the playoffs in 1994 following an 11-5 regular season, and go with third-round rookie Eric Zeier.

Zeier completed 26-of-46 passes for 310 yards with a touchdown to much-maligned free agent signing Andre Rison – it was Rison’s first touchdown of the season and one of only three he caught that forgettable season. Despite blowing a 26-16 fourth quarter lead, Zeier led the Browns to a game-winning field goal in overtime by Matt Stover for a wild 29-26 win. That win snapped a three-game losing streak and put the Browns at 4-4 – still in contention for a winning season and a playoff berth.

A few days later, Cleveland threw a parade for the Indians, even though they lost the World Series. Cleveland fans descended upon Public Square in droves to celebrate one more time with one of the most-loved teams in the city’s history. In the meantime, while the city toasted the Indians for their first American League pennant in 41 years, their beloved Browns had been signed, sealed and delivered to a town called Baltimore in a private plane on a deserted tarmac just a week before.

The crap was about to hit the fan, and hit it quick.

Cleveland Browns fan holding up sign that reads ART LIED! in stands during game vs Houston Oilers at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Cleveland, OH 11/5/1995 CREDIT: David Liam Kyle (Photo by David Liam Kyle /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
Cleveland Browns fan holding up sign that reads ART LIED! in stands during game vs Houston Oilers at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Cleveland, OH 11/5/1995
CREDIT: David Liam Kyle (Photo by David Liam Kyle /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

As the Browns prepared for a pivotal home game against the Houston Oilers – who, ironically, would also be moving within the next two years to Nashville – rumors began to circulate that the Browns would be moving to Baltimore in the near future. Browns owner Art Modell (may he burn in eternal Hell) was in full denial mode, but as reports out of Baltimore began to come out, the Sunday game suddenly took a somber, if not an angry, tone from the fans.

Modell got his family out of town in the middle of the night and was conspicuous by his absence in that Sunday game, which turned out to be a 37-10 loss. Fans hung banners all over the old Cleveland Stadium denouncing Modell and booed the Browns not just for the hap-hazard play on the field, but for what was happening off it.

That game occurred Sunday, Nov. 5. On Monday, Nov. 6, TV stations broke in with a live report from a parking lot in Baltimore that featured then-mayor Kurt Schmoke, then-Maryland Governor Parris Glendenning and Modell on a makeshift dais announcing that the Cleveland Browns would be known as the “Baltimore Browns” effective the 1996 season.

I’ll never forget watching that news conference at my house. I was a 21-year-old college student and an aspiring sportswriter, and for the first time in my life, my heart was truly broken. I was in denial. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I thought it was a ruse just to get the Sin Tax extension passed in Cuyahoga County, which it did by a landslide the next day.

Cleveland Mayor Mike White, with news cameras in tow, showed up the day after Election Day to the Browns’ Berea headquarters with an agreement in hand containing a new stadium lease with plans on remodeling the existing stadium. Of course, Modell was long gone, but White still delivered the manila envelope to a Browns employee anyway. It made for good TV, but it was a hollow gesture – Modell was gone, and soon, so would the Browns.

White and other Cleveland politicians and ex-Browns athletes urged Browns fans to call, fax and – if it was available since it was relatively new at the time – e-mail NFL headquarters to let them know this move could not happen. I’ll admit to calling the NFL at least once or twice and writing a letter, and some of my friends did as well. Cleveland called and faxed so much that the NFL’s switchboard blew up. The NFL was not prepared for the backlash that occurred from Cleveland fans.

Usually, when an NFL team moves, it is leaving a disinterested fan base behind. Sure, a handful of people

Cleveland Browns Earnest Byner (21) with fans after game vs Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Final home game before move to Baltimore. (Photo by David Liam Kyle /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)
Cleveland Browns Earnest Byner (21) with fans after game vs Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. Final home game before move to Baltimore. (Photo by David Liam Kyle /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

might complain, but for the most part, that community is happy that that team, or that owner, is leaving. While Cleveland’s relationship with Modell had always been a tenuous one ever since the “carpetbagger” (as the Cleveland media called him in the early 60s) from New York showed up out of nowhere as the new owner of the Browns, it wasn’t about him – it was about the team. And Cleveland LOVED its Browns.

The fans’ passion and the fact that there was litigation in place that would have blocked a move from happening made the NFL think on its feet and come up with a compromise. That compromise was that Modell could move to Baltimore with the existing coaches, players and front office, but it would be treated like an expansion team with a new nickname and a clean slate. Cleveland would retain the Browns’ nickname, team history, heritage and colors, which would be given to a new franchise within the next three years, provided Cleveland build a new stadium and drop its litigation. It’s the first time that has happened in NFL history, and it hasn’t happened since.

We’re closing in on the 20-year anniversary of that fateful day known simply as “The Move.” And, if you would have told fans back then that not only would the Browns be back, but playing in a new stadium by Lake Erie, we would have been ecstatic.

Of course, if you would have added on that the team was an absolute joke in the NFL – and, by and large, has been ever since the NFL saw fit to grant us an expansion team in 1999 – how excited would you have been about it? My guess is, probably not.

Would you have wanted to fight harder so the franchise wouldn’t leave at all, knowing that the NFL would cut corners in granting the expansion team and with the building of the new stadium? Or that the expansion draft would be full of castoffs and bums? Or that they’d give the franchise to Modell’s former silent partner Al Lerner, who would turn the franchise over to Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark – the latter who was ill-prepared to be an NFL general manager?

It was one bad domino after another from that moment 20 years ago. Add in the fact that the newly-christened Baltimore Ravens would not only reach, but win two Super Bowls during that time span just makes it worse.

Today, the current Browns are 2-6 and are undergoing more turmoil than ever. A new owner is in town from Tennessee, who was promptly indicted on federal charges of embezzlement over rebates to his trucking customers at Pilot/Flying J. That new owner has already fired two coaches, two GMs and two team presidents since he came to town just before the 2011 season and it looks like that list will grow to three coaches and three GMs when it’s all said and done. The continuity is gone and the franchise is in a perpetual state of rebuilding and “five-year plans” that never seem to come to fruition. It always seems like the head coach and GM are never on the same page and they continue to try to put square pegs in round holes when it comes to evaluating and adding talent.

The Browns have hired coaches with NFL experience, college experience, hot-shot coordinators on the offensive and defensive side, brought in the hot-shot GM candidate with the supposed “eye for talent,” brought in the respected former NFL guru to run the show as the team president, and even brought back guys who used to work for the franchise in different capacities before – but nothing has worked. NOTHING!

And, while Modell wound up going bankrupt anyway because he was a shoddy businessman both before and after he left Cleveland and his family wound up losing their beloved franchise that he felt he had to move in order to save, that franchise has been one of the model NFL franchises over the last 15 years. They’ve had one GM and two head coaches since 1999. Do we really need to recount how many of each the Browns have had during that span?

This is why, 20 years later, The Move still stings. It still cuts to the core. It still hurts. It’s also why I will always hate the Baltimore Ravens and why I will argue any chance Modell has to get in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It’s also why I find it funny that Baltimore fans will condescendingly tell Browns fans to “get over it,” but yet they still hate the Colts and the Irsay family and still pine for the days when their football team had white helmets with blue horseshoes on them and not black helmets with a bird.

In the span of one week 20 years ago, Cleveland lost a World Series and a storied NFL franchise, and I don’t think we’ve ever fully recovered from that.

Sure, Cleveland underwent a renaissance of sorts with the building of Jacobs (Progressive) Field and Gund (Quicken Loans) Arena, and the Indians were one of the best franchises in baseball from 1994-2001. But they never could deliver that World Championship, were sold to a local owner in 2000 who ran out of money and have been run on a shoe-string budget ever since – every winning season becomes few and far between while the front office talks about things like “bottom lines” and “Snow Days” instead of wins. Now, they can’t draw fleas despite the fact that they’ve been remotely competitive for the past three seasons, even hosting a Wild Card game in 2013.

The Cavs were an afterthought in the 90s until a set of ping-pong balls bounced their way in 2003 that allowed them to draft local high school sensation LeBron James with the first-overall pick. James took the Cavs to their first NBA Finals in 2007, where they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs, then suffered three straight postseason letdowns before James decided to embarrass the city on national TV by announcing he was signing with Miami Heat. After four miserable years of James winning two NBA titles and finishing the runner-up in two more, he decided to come back to the Cavs last season. Now, suddenly, the Cavs are once again one of the premier teams in the NBA, having reached the NBA Finals last season,  and have the best shot of ending that championship drought that will pass 51 years on Dec. 28.

The Cleveland Browns scoreboard, located behind the dawg pound, dipslays a message thanking the fans after the final home game at Browns Stadium 17 December against the Cininnati Bengals. (Photo credit KIMBERLY BARTH/AFP/Getty Images
The Cleveland Browns scoreboard, located behind the dawg pound, dipslays a message thanking the fans after the final home game at Browns Stadium 17 December against the Cininnati Bengals. (Photo credit KIMBERLY BARTH/AFP/Getty Images

And the Browns … well, that 1995 season that started with such promise – Sports Illustrated and several other national publications predicted that they would win the Super Bowl – wound up being a disaster. They only won one more game after The Move was announced, an emotional 26-10 win over the Bengals in the final game ever played at the old Stadium. Because it was blacked out, I listened to that game on the radio with my late-mother and, after that game ended, we both sobbed.

The final game of that season was held on Christmas Eve in Jacksonville. Almost fittingly, the game was lost on the final play on a Mike Hollis field goal. An expansion team literally kicked the Browns out of the NFL for three years with a 24-21 defeat. Little did we know that the way that ’95 season ended – completed with the last-second heartbreak – would serve as a mere appetizer for the way things have been here since 1999.

Hopefully the next 20 years in Cleveland sports history are better than the past 20 years have been. We can wish and hope, can’t we?

Until next time, remember that Cleveland Rocks and always will!

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.

References
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).

More Than a Friday: It’s a Rap…by De La Soul

I’m back. At least I think I’m all the way back. I like to travel; check that, I love to travel, but there’s no question it takes a lot out of me, both physically and mentally.

Between Phoenix, Charlotte, and Cleveland, my phone spent a lot of time in Airplane Mode last week. As a means of making phone calls or doing any internetty things, the iPhone 6+ is basically a paperweight. Among those things, would be my preferred method of listening to music via streaming, but Google Play decided some songs are stored locally. I have no idea which ones, or what the criteria is for off-line listening, but it sure beats those non-SkyMall magazines. One of the songs that came up, De La Soul’s “Itzsoweeze”, reminded me why it’s on my playlist; it’s fun.

Now, what seems like a lifetime ago, I wrote a Pac-12 weekend recap called “Pac-Raps”, where each game would be tied into lyrics from some 90s rap tune. We’re going to do that again here, sans Pac-12 football.

Great all-dedication
Mos Def affiliation
Adequate representation
This is the phat presentation
De La dedication
Common Sense collaborations
Peace to all of you Haitians
Check it out

Maybe I don’t have the star-power of Mos Def and Common collaborating with me on any More Than A Fan venture, a la the guests on “Stakes Is High” album, but I don’t mind thanking the likes of Kevin Noon, Joe Posnanski, Martin Rickman, Bruce Jacobs, Mark Asher, and countless others for speaking with me at one time or another, as I’ve ventured into this realm.

Of course, my De La dedication is all about the many scribes at More Than A Fan that do what they need to do to keep the lights on in these parts.

If money makes a man strange — we gots to rearrange
So what makes the world go round
If love is against the law — listen I don’t know
Gotta change how it’s goin down

We all know we can’t be consumed by greed, because that paper isn’t going to be there forever, but it’s about fame and glory, or whatever too. Think fame lasts forever? You must not get VH1.

In 2015, we probably think of one primary thing, when we wonder if love against the law, and the Supreme Court has dictated that it’s no longer a violation of law to go there. Instead, I think of defending your dedication to something like, say my beloved Cleveland Browns. I’m asked, why do you settle for such futility? My response is, I love them or I love nothing at all–NFL related, of course.

Fell in love with this fish who got caught in my mesh
But yo she burned my scene up like David Koresh
I guess a diamond ain’t nothing but a rock with a name
I guess love ain’t nuttin but emotion and game
It’s a lesson well learned so praise is well due
I’m sendin off from Big I, to Kenny Calhoun

38efddd5a963fd50537371cb7cc3612a68c351c6I could go on and on about the Browns, and how I’m always so twisted emotionally over the reboot, while I can’t let go of my decades-old angst against the original version that planted their flag in Maryland, but what does that accomplish?  I deal with the fact that, more regularly than not, they light up dumpsters like Waco in ’93, but I just flew home to see them win, so no grievances for the team that calls the shores of Lake Erie home, not at the moment.

Let’s take our focus down I-71, to a struggling Ohio State team that still holds the #1 spot in the presently meaningless rankings. When the Browns moved to Baltimore, my focus moved from Sunday to Saturday, and I gave a little more love to John Cooper’s Buckeyes, and they would typically break my heart, in the same style that their former professional counterpart to the Northeast did so often. In 1999, something looking like my first love returned to the scene, but I was still locked in on Saturdays, Na’il Diggs, and Steve Bellisari. Then, they discarded the label-makers that wrote out “COOP” on the headsets, and went with some guys with sleeveless sweaters from Youngstown to right the ship.

The rise of the Scarlet and Grey was fun, but it was not fulfilling on a personal level. Perhaps it would be different if there was a degree with “The Ohio State University” on top hanging on the wall, or even a class schedule or some type of receipt in some drawer, from that school somewhere. It was the same emptiness that I felt when celebrating the Diamondbacks 2001 World Series victory; I didn’t put in my due time with either.

No regrets or anything, just a lesson well-learned. On another note, I have no idea what a “Big I” is, but Kenny Calhoun was all about “The U”, and I don’t need Billy Corben to tell me that. Dove, aka David Jude Jolicoeur, was from Brooklyn with Haitian roots. I didn’t realize it until LeBron James joined the Heat, but Miami is treated as local by those from the West Indies and nearby areas, as regional as Boston is to Maine, I suppose.

And add a reservation for the resident crew
And yo get your bowl cuz we cookin up stew
See them Cubans don’t care what y’all _____s do
Colombians ain’t never ran with your crew
Why you acting all spicy and sheisty
The only Italians you knew was icees, _____s price me

To those who only use social to associate with famous, or Twitter-famous, types, they really need to show some diversity in their conversations. I had someone from back east ask what was going on with the Arizona Coyotes and Glendale a few months back, offered my opinion, and someone stepped in to tell the person to trust only a local Fox Sports reporter has the right information. Talk about something that grinds my gears; my opinion was based off of that reporter’s reports, but someone had to play the role of white knight for a media-type.

I’m sure that reporter, and many others like him, don’t care whether or not they’re included in every conversation about the team they cover. These are close-minded individuals, who shun any idea that doesn’t come from their idols. Much like John Gotti likely never cared or knew who Jay-Z was, a journalist cares very little about how often they’re @’d.

Also, this song wouldn’t have made the cut for Pac-Raps for inclusion of the words blanked out, but you can figure out what those words are. I wish it were a word that would just disappear, but I’m not really welcome to the table where that discussion takes place. Whatever, it is what it is with that.

I’m keepin it clean, like a washing machine
And yo, get your locomotion run into full steam
I’m sending out a greeting to my man Daseem
I got a child so I gotsta get the green, right right

World_Series_Giants_Royals_BaseballIf you’re going to do something, do it right. Let’s not be so naive as to say that MLB did this for the fans; it’s all about the money here, but it coincidentally turned out to be a solid move to add a second wild-card team, expanding their post-season tournament to ten teams. Does one-third of the league belong in the post-season? It depends on who you ask, but it definitely worked for the eventual World Champion Giants a year ago.

One game, and it’s clean. I love the focus it puts on winning your division, in order to avoid a 1-game “do or die” scenario, and I like how many teams are playing meaningful games in late-September. Now, it’s not as clean as a washing machine if the Indians and Tigers have to play a game on October 5th, which may or may not equal the Tribe playing again on Tuesday to play-in to a play-in game, but there’s always a worst case scenario.

Itzsoweezee, it’s gettin hot this year
Itzsoweezee, it’s gettin hot

Summer ended this week, and I couldn’t be more welcoming to the Autumn months. For those that still care about baseball, you’re going to get both New York teams, the Cubs and Dodgers, and some small-market teams that you haven’t seen in the post-season in a while. Add football with its sea-legs beneath it, both on Saturday and Sunday (and sometimes Thursday), to serve as a prelude to Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Karl-Anthony Towns, and D’Angelo Russell beginning their pro careers, and October is a beautiful month on the sports landscape.

They make it to easy to enjoy sports.

I own the deeds to some acres in the West Indies
Where my pops is building residence to house my seed
Now here’s the lead, y’all niggas pray to hot rods and not God
While Versace play you niggas like Yahtzee
Crackin jokes like you Patzi
(When’s the last time you had Happy Days?)
Blazin up your herb to escape the maze, but the problem stays

This is what the track is about, right here. Be you. And that goes for sports fans, just the same. Don’t get caught up in buying jerseys and sneakers. Don’t spend your whole life on the phone or computer. Apple, Samsung, Nike; they’re all taking us for a ride, reducing us to little pink or blue plastic pieces in “The Game of Life”. You missed a Tweet, and didn’t get the breaking news until ten minutes after everyone else? So the hell what!

If you partake in the herb, that’s cool. What? I’m no cop. That isn’t the only escape though; for a lot us, it’s these games, and if they frustrate us, so what! Life can be one problem after another, and when our teams lose or win, we are going to have to wake up to those same problems the next day. We might as well enjoy the time in between.

Think big get it big is my motto
You can go and play your lotto, I’ll be singin like baby won’t you be mine
You’ll be pressin rewind, you can never see mine
Keep your eyes focused, you can’t touch this or quote this
Style is crazy bogus so you can’t try to approach this
Stomp you out like roaches, pullin on my coattail
Like some horses pullin coaches, WHOA your roller coasters
It’s hotter than the temperature that’s cookin in your toasters
While the heat’ll put you deep into hypnosis

All I have to say, is this is a great verse.

Think big.

Live in the moment.

Know what you want on your highlight reel, and replay those moments in your mind.

Itsoweezee, Enola in the area
Itsoweezee, Timbo King’s in the area
Itsoweezee, Maseo’s in the area
Itsoweezee, ninety-six in your area
Itsoweezee, lawd lawd lawd!
Itsoweezee, lawd lawd lawd lawd
Itsoweezee, lawd lawd, for y’all peace
Itsoweezee

Itsoweezee

It all comes full circle. In sports (and My Cousin Vinny), it’s win some, lose some. The champs are all 0-0, once the calendar resets itself to begin the next season. The chumps take their high draft choices and start on equal ground with the team that won it all, but that win was last year’s news.

The time is now, and you can’t worry about last year, last week, and the people that were with you then. You see who stands by you now, and that’s your team.

NASCAR Hoping Kurt Busch Doesn't Make The Chase

Sometimes a gesture of good faith that you really don’t want to take blows up in your face. This could very well be the case with NASCAR when it comes to the decision to allow Kurt Busch to be eligible for the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup should he meet the requirements necessary.

The 36-year-old Busch was suspended indefinitely on the Friday prior to the Daytona 500 (February 20) after the Kent County (Delaware) Family Court commissioner released a finding that shows he believed that Busch did indeed commit an act of domestic abuse against former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll. The court also had earlier in the week issued of a protective order against Busch.

When the Delaware Attorney General decided not to pursue criminal charges against Busch on Thursday, March 5, NASCAR took some time and then reinstated Busch the following Wednesday, ending what effectively was a three-race suspension. When NASCAR announced the end of Busch’s suspension, it did so by also saying that if Busch qualified for a spot in the Chase, he would be permitted into the field.

To qualify for the Chase, a driver has to be one of the 16 drivers with the most wins (or basically at least win one race in the season’s first 26) and be inside the top-30 in the points standings. The other way to qualify is if there are not 16 different winners in the first 26 races, the Chase field is filled out by the drivers with the most points and zero wins. In 2014, that meant finishing in the top-10 in points.

One caveat to qualifying for the Chase has been that the driver must not only fall in one of the above categories, but must also attempt to qualify for each race unless NASCAR gives them a waiver. Last season, NASCAR gave a waiver to Tony Stewart after he missed three races following the incident that led to the death of Kevin Ward, Jr. Stewart ultimately missed the Chase. This season, NASCAR decided to waive that rule for Brian Vickers after the driver was forced to miss the first two races of the season due to health issues. Vickers has since experienced more health issues that have again forced him out of the car.

And then NASCAR granted that same waiver to Busch.

After missing three races, Busch was 42 points out of 30th-place and was 85 points out of 10th-place if we use 2014 as a measuring stick. To be in the top 16, Busch would need to make up 77 points. That would not be an easy task. And this is something that had to be going through the minds of those in charge at NASCAR.

For NASCAR, it looked like a good gesture. And one that was worth taking.

By waiving the rule about attempting to qualify for all 26 races leading to the Chase and allowing him to take a spot in the Chase should he overcome a huge hole to qualify, NASCAR admitted to an extent that maybe it screwed up and acted too soon in suspending Busch. Even if they didn’t really want to see Busch in the Chase because of the offseason issues, it seemed like a stretch that Busch would be able to make up enough ground to make the Chase, especially within the first few weeks. After all, he hadn’t even been in a car since before the first race of the season.

Making itself look good by offering an olive branch while also figuring that Busch wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the opportunity? Sounded like a win-win for NASCAR.

What the executives at NASCAR didn’t expect was for Busch to go out and finish fifth in his first race back at Phoenix. And they sure didn’t expect Busch to go out the next week and take the pole and finish third at Fontana. All of a sudden, Busch was in 28th-place in the standings after just two races. That would make him Chase eligible if he could just pick up a win.

Oh, that win? Yeah, Busch almost grabbed that in the race at Fontana.

Busch led down the stretch and was headed for victory when a caution flag flew for debris. And then with Busch leading on the green-white-checkered attempt, NASCAR decided not to throw a caution flag when Greg Biffle wrecked behind the lead pack. That was in direct contradiction to what happened in the Daytona 500, when NASCAR threw the caution flag on the green-white-checkered attempt, allowing Joey Logano to find victory lane. After the caution didn’t fly in Fontana, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick passed Busch, who finished third.

While I don’t believe there was a conspiracy in place from NASCAR to keep Busch from winning, I do believe that there were some happy campers in the NASCAR offices. They were able to keep Kurt Busch out of the Chase for at least another week. You have to think that some of the higher ups who make all of the decisions within NASCAR have to fear the thought that Kurt Busch might make the Chase, which would bring his offseason back into the spotlight. And there is no way they wanted to see Busch win in just his second race back with the scab still fresh.

In his third race of the season last week, Busch finished 14th and pushed himself into 24th in the points standings. He sits 21 points clear of the 31st position, giving him enough of a cushion for now to go after the win that would make him Chase eligible.

Busch has to be making the NASCAR executives uneasy by showing that he still has the equipment and the ability to compete at a high level and just possibly enough to pull off a win and crash the Chase party, something NASCAR can’t possibly want to have happen. NASCAR would prefer not to have any distractions during its “playoffs” and would like to avoid a situation where the non-race stories overshadow the actual Chase, unlike what happened in this past season’s NFL playoffs.

If you remember, Ray Rice was a topic of conversation each time the Baltimore Ravens played. And then who could forget the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, which was loaded with stories about deflated footballs and Marshawn Lynch’s treatment of the media. People didn’t bother to talk about the actual game between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots, just the stories and the drama that was happening around the two teams.

If Kurt Busch is able to make the Chase, there is no doubt that the focus of the stories surrounding him would be the suspension and the off-track stuff that has happened. There would be more talk about whether NASCAR was wrong or right in its original suspension and then discussion on if NASCAR was right to reinstate him and allow him to become Chase eligible.

The last thing NASCAR wants is negative attention taking away from their precious Chase format that it feels is finally done correctly (for now). NASCAR would rather stand on a pedestal and tell you everything that is right about the sport and try to sweep the stories that leave a black eye on the sport under the rug. But if Busch makes the Chase, there won’t be a housekeeping crew that is good enough to sweep away the stories that will arise.

As much as NASCAR may not want to admit it, they don’t want Kurt Busch in the Chase. But by giving him the opportunity to be eligible, there may not be anything they can do to stop him.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at ryan.isley@morethanafan.net. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

 

Cleveland Browns Week Seven: The Good, Bad and Ugly

For the Cleveland Browns, last Sunday’s loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars was their worst defeat of the season thus far. Sure, losing to the Baltimore Ravens or the Pittsburgh Steelers in last minute fashion is heartbreaking, but to be embarrassed by (arguably) the worst team in the NFL when you are favored to win on the road is demoralizing. A lot went wrong this past Sunday in Jacksonville, but it wasn’t all bad. Here is the good, the bad and the ugly from last Sunday’s Browns game.

The Good

GipsonYes there was some good in this game, mostly on the defensive side of the ball. For starters, safety Tashaun Gipson intercepted two Blake Bortles passes and is now tied for the league lead in interceptions with four so far this season. Gipson, a player I admittedly wasn’t as high on as others, is proving himself to be a ball-hawking, centerfield type safety. While he does struggle a bit in run support, quarterbacks this season have just a 46.2 QB Rating when throwing into his coverage. Gipson was not alone in the secondary this week either. Despite having an up and down (with more down than up) rookie season, Justin Gilbert turned in a solid performance on Sunday. Gilbert started the game for the Browns and saw 46 of 74 possible defensive snaps, the most for him since week two. He managed to get a hit on Blake Bortles and, while he only saw three passes come into his coverage, just allowed one completion for three yards. Also, despite allowing a touchdown, Buster Skrine turned in a solid performance. He was targeted 12 times throughout the game, limiting the damage to just 6 catches for 70 yards. He also broke up one pass and intercepted another. Overall, this was probably the best the Browns secondary played all season (Joe Haden, paging Joe Haden).

Staying on the defensive side of the ball, Karlos Dansby continued to earn his paycheck. Dansby got to Bortles twice on Sunday, once for a hurry and once for a sack, and managed six stops. Chris Kirksey also played well in limited action (39 snaps), getting a positive grade from Pro Football Focus and leading the team in total tackles on Sunday with nine.

The Bad

The Browns rushing attack only managed 69 total yards on 30 rushing attempts. Ben Tate received the most carries with 16, but only managed 36 rushing yards. Combined, Tate, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West had 28 carries, 62 yards (2.2 yards per carry) and no touchdowns. This was in part due to Jacksonville’s commitment to stop the run and struggles along the offensive line, however there is plenty of blame to heap upon the running backs as they at times missed holes and generally failed to capitalize on what was considered to be a porous run defense in Jacksonville.

While Brian Hoyer was far from good Sunday, his receivers didn’t help matters either. Browns receivers, who had just four dropped passes coming into play Sunday, dropped four on Sunday. Andrew Hawkins, who otherwise had a fairly good day, dropped two passes while Miles Austin and Travis Benjamin each dropped one.

The Ugly

Brian Hoyer, Telvin SmithOffensively, the Browns were a train wreck. For starters, the absence of Alex Mack (out for the season) really showed as the Browns offensive line was generally bullied at the point of attack. Individually, Joe Thomas had a solid game (per usual) and Joel Bitonio wasn’t bad either (getting a barely positive grade from Pro Football Focus), however overall the unit struggled. The right side of the line may as well have been a red carpet to the backfield. Combined Paul McQuistan and Mitchell Schwartz allowed one sack, three QB hits and four QB hurries. The Browns offensive line also failed to consistently run block effectively, which is partly why the ground game suffered.

Despite being under some pressure, Brian Hoyer easily had the worst start of his career. Pressure was present, however only on 14 of his 44 drop backs. Hoyer was just 2/11 for 14 yards and an interception when under pressure. While statistically he hasn’t been great while under pressure all year (58 dropbacks under pressure this season, going just 16/49) Hoyer was obviously struggling more than usual. Even when he wasn’t under pressure (30 of his 44 dropbacks were pressure free) he still only completed 46.7% of his passes. Hoyer was also inaccurate, beyond just going 16/41 on the day. His passes were off target, most notably missing a wide open Jordan Cameron in the end zone from four yards out. He hasn’t been the most accurate passer all year anyway (completing just over 60% of his passes entering play), however Sunday was far and away his worst showing.

Browns special teams, and notably the return game, has been very underwhelming this season. That trend continued Sunday, however if Special Teams was just simply bland that would’ve been fine in hindsight. With the game still in the balance, Jordan Poyer went back to receive a punt with 6:12 left to play in the game. This could’ve/should’ve setup another Brian Hoyer game winning drive. What happened was pretty much the exact opposite. Poyer backed up to receive the ball on the two yard line. This alone should make anybody scratch their heads. With the ball looking to be extremely close to the end zone, why not let it bounce and (more than likely) go into the end zone for a touchback? Why fair catch the ball on the two yard line? Not only does Poyer stupidly call for the fair catch, the ball then bounces off of his facemask and is recovered by the Jaguars. On the very next play the Jags score a touchdown. If you aren’t going to be an electric retuner (Poyer isn’t) at least be a smart one. Poyar was neither.

In Conclusion

While overall the game on Sunday was a nightmare for the Browns, there were a handful of bright spots. Up to this point the Browns have (generally) played fairly well. Looking ahead, the Browns have two winnable games against the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If the Browns can make this past Sunday the exception instead of the rule, all will be forgiven. If not, well we all know what that means.

Cleveland Sports Week in Review 9/15-9/21

A week in Cleveland sports at times can be unlike anything else. There are days where if you are out of the loop even for a couple of hours you can miss a big story or development. From a Monday to Friday the collective pulse and emotion of the city can go from overly optimistic/joyous to doom and gloom/we’re not going to take any more of this. Things in Cleveland sports can and do change by the day. How can you keep up? Fear no more! Here is the More Than a Fan Cleveland sports week in review.

Cleveland Indians

Winners of five of their last seven games, the Indians currently find themselves 3.5 games back of the Kansas City Royals for the second AL Wild Card spot. After getting swept by the division leading Detroit Tigers, the Indians responded by winning a series against Houston (taking three out of four) and the Minnesota Twins (taking two out of three). This was done in large part to some excellent pitching. Over the last seven days the pitching staff has boasted an impressive 2.01 ERA, while the offense has struggled (Indians batting just .248 as a team during this stretch). Leading the Tribe offensively has been (you guessed it) Michael Brantley. Over the last seven games Brantley has a batting average of .419 with one home run, three RBI and four runs scored. Yan Gomes has also been productive, hitting .269 over the last seven games with two home runs, nine RBI and three runs scored. On the other side of the ball, Corey Kluber has continued his Cy Young award caliber season. In their last seven games Kluber has made two starts for the Tribe. During that time (15 innings pitched) he has struck out 28 batters, has a 1.50 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP while batters are hitting just .237 off of him. Carlos Carrasco has also made one start for the Tribe this past week, and he’s continued his somewhat unlikely second half resurgence. In his last start (September 17th against Houston) Carrasco didn’t allow a run and only gave up two hits in nine innings while walking one battery and striking out twelve. Cody Allen has continued to be reliable in relief for the Indians. He’s made three appearances over the last seven games (3.1 innings pitched) and has allowed just one earned run on three hits while striking out six batters. Unfortunately for Allen, that one run allowed resulted in a blown save.

Looking ahead: The Indians have an extremely important series against the Kansas City Royals, starting with a unique double header tonight. The Indians and Royals will play the remainder of a weather postponed game from 8/31, a game in which Cleveland was winning 4-2 with Kansas City coming to bat in the bottom of the ninth when bad weather struck, before the start of the scheduled game today. Should Cleveland finish off that game and sweep the rest of the three game series they would be in the driver’s seat for the last AL Wild Card spot.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns dropped a heartbreaker to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, losing by a score of 23-21. Despite the team playing well enough to win on Sunday (maybe not well enough to win every week) Cleveland’s defense was the largest reason for Sunday’s loss. Many will point to (and rightly so) the 32 completion to Steve Smith late in the fourth quarter who was being covered by Joe Haden as the games defining moment. Haden, who by all accounts hasn’t really lived up to the contract extension he signed this offseason, will be the first to tell you he has to make a play on that ball. He’d also be right. If Joe Haden wants to be considered one of the top defense backs in the league those are the types of plays he cannot give up. However, don’t fool yourself into thinking this was all Haden’s fault. Considering the timing of the play, yes that one completion that he allowed ended up being a defining moment in the game. But the Browns defense as a whole was unimpressive all afternoon. The front seven was unable to sack Joe Flacco once and the run defense was pitiful, allowing 91 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries to Lorenzo Taliaferro (who got the start with Ray Rice’s suspension and Bernard Pierce’s thigh injury) and also allowing Justin Forsett to rush for 63 yards on 11 carries. The Browns defense was also flagged twice for too many men on the field.

The poor play of the defense doesn’t excuse the offense either. While Brian Hoyer and the offense did manage three 80 yard scoring drives (all three touchdowns) they also failed to put the game away in the fourth quarter with multiple chances. In the fourth quarter Cleveland’s four drives yielded 65 yards (including a 4 play -2 yard drive) with two missed field goals (one blocked) and two punts. Their final two drives of the game resulted in punts and totaled six yards on six plays.

In off the field news, Josh Gordon officially had his indefinite suspension for a failed drug test reduced to ten games. This means that Gordon will be available for the team’s final six games of the season, doesn’t have to apply to play again next season and (under the new agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA) is allowed to be around the team during his suspension.

Looking ahead: The Browns have a bye week this coming week.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers signed free agent power forward Lou Amundson. The 6’9” eight year veteran appeared in 18 games for the New Orleans Pelicans and one game for the Chicago Bulls last season. Amundson averages 3.6 points and 3.5 rebounds a game (averaging 12.6 minutes per game) for his career. He and Cavs GM David Griffin were both in Phoenix from 2008-2010.

LeBron James will once again tower over downtown Cleveland, literally. The City of Cleveland approved a Nike sponsored banner of LeBron James to once again hang from the Sherwin Williams building.

Goodell’s Key’s To the Game: Survive and Advance

First, let me say this; I don’t support, condone, whatever domestic violence. People in families get into arguments all the time, but spitting and punching each other isn’t the way to solve it. All of us gotten into some type of disagreement with others in our house at some point, and handling it is always a question of contention among many people.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been under serious pressure since the video of the Ray Rice incident became public Monday. Since that time, the Associated Press discovered that the video had indeed been delivered to NFL offices. Many assume that Goodell has seen the video, and some are giving him the benefit of the doubt. The truth is, none of us really know if he’s seen the video. Goodell has made it well known that he hasn’t seen the video. I’m not sure if you believe him, but I do.

Many of you, which means most, have decided that Roger Goodell needs to resign. I don’t believe that’s necessary. I think Goodell has enough goodwill built up with his bosses, who are the owners, and their sponsors to where he can survive this public relations disaster.

Goodell, Rice, and the Baltimore Ravens front office likely operated under the assumption the video would never leak. Had this been two or three years ago, that probably would have been a smart bet. In 2014, when TMZ is the new Deadspin, it wasn’t a smart bet.

Today is Thursday. The NFL, thankfully, has a game tonight. Except tonight’s game features the Baltimore Ravens. I don’t expect to see Goodell in Baltimore or anywhere else for the next few weeks, but if he can survive this storm through Sunday, he’ll be able to advance to next week.

Survive and advance

That term doesn’t only apply to March Madness, but applies to corporate leadership as well. Many have said and tweeted that Goodell needs to lead, and not consult with public relations people before making decision. The reality is, consulting with people is exactly what ALL leaders do. They take advice from many of their trusted advisors, take a look at the tea leaves and make decisions. Sometimes those decisions aren’t right. In retrospect, Goodell should have suspended Ray Rice for more than two games, but if he really hadn’t seen the video, what could he have gone on?

The Ravens and the league spoke with Rice, and based on everything we know, Rice was very detailed in his explanation for what happened. So detailed, in fact, that the Ravens admit that what he said is almost exactly what we saw on the video tape.

So, why the outrage?

The outrage is simple, people don’t get nearly as upset about things they don’t see. When Rice and his then-fiance had a presser months ago, the domestic violent people – correctly, I might add – suggested that she was protecting Rice. The rest of us thought maybe it wasn’t as bad as we heard it was. Then we saw the tape, and everything changed.

So, if you were in Goodell’s place what would you have done? Is two games enough of a suspension? Probably not. Is a lifetime banishment the way to go, of course not. Men and women are involved in domestic situations every day in this country. If each of those people were fired from their jobs and told they could never work again, where would this country be?

So again, I ask, what would you do if you were Goodell?

Does Roger Need To Go?

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So bad at her last two jobs she deserves another high profile job.

Roger Goodell will no doubt be reprimanded for his poor decision by his corporate overlords, just like the rest of us are when we make mistakes. That punishment, to the detriment of the public, won’t be publicized, but if it’s taking part of his $35 million dollar salary, or reducing the use of the league jet, or making him drive himself around, don’t think he won’t be punished. Do you really thing termination is the solution for all missteps by leaders? I certainly don’t.

If Goodell is removed and you insert someone else, how do you know they wouldn’t have made a worse decision? Who’s a good replacement for Goodell? Condoleeza Rice? Based on what? Many say she helped take America into a war based on terrible intelligence, and now you want her to replace a guy who forgot to hit the play button on his in-office VCR?

Oh. OK.

The solution to this problem isn’t easy, but I know this, no matter if Goodell stays or goes, the overwhelming majority of you will be watching on Sunday. Your football Sundays are the most important 16 days of your lives. There’s nothing wrong with that, but as long as Goodell survives until Sunday, I expect he’ll advance through this crisis and move on to the next one.

What do you think? Should Roger Goodell resign? If so, who’s a great replacement? Leave a comment below or e-mail me at damien@morethanafan.net.

Photos: Flickr

Fantasy Football and the AFC North

AFC North

The AFC North is one of the more interesting divisions in the NFL, considering all four teams should remain relatively competitive. All four teams bring above average defenses to the table, and given the weather that the Midwest sees in winter – especially Northeast Ohio – it should make for some ugly football games. It will not all be ugly though, so let’s go ahead and comb through this division and see what each of these teams offers from a fantasy perspective.

Baltimore Ravens

Joe Flacco

Joe Flacco – Even though Joe Flacco is praised for being a Super Bowl Champion quarterback, he has never really put up much in the way of numbers. When the Ravens are winning they are playing sound all-world caliber defense, running the football, and using that to set up their passing game. Flacco is coming off of a season in which he posted a 73.1 QB rating and threw three more interceptions than TDs. He reportedly has made some fundamental changes in his mechanics in an effort to become more efficient. Now Flacco has never missed a game coming into his seventh year in the NFL and although the Ravens have helped him out a bit with the addition of Steve Smith it is hard for me to get too excited about a guy who has never throw for over 4000 yards in six seasons, and has seen sub-60% completion percentages the past three years, even if he does have a Super Bowl ring.

Ray Rice/Bernard Pierce – This backfield could prove to be very ugly in 2014. With Rice being suspended for the first two games, Bernard Pierce figures to start those games with Justin Forsett mixing in as a COP back, and it is up to Pierce to prove he is capable of being the Raven’s featured back the rest of the season. That seems pretty ambitious considering Pierce averaged 2.9 yards per carry last year on 152 totes. Now the implementation of new OC Gary Kubiak’s one-cut zone-blocking running attack could prove to work in Pierces favor as that style of offense seems to suit him better as he is indeed a one cut downhill runner. The system doesn’t however seem to be Ray Rice’s cup of tea as he operates better in space and is a jump-cut machine which can convolute a zone-blocking scheme. For my money I will take Bernard Pierce’s 2.9 2013 YPC over Ray Rice’s 3.1 as he has the fresher legs and is a much better fit for the new system making him a borderline RB2/3 if he can use the first two games to take control of the Raven’s feature back job.

Torrey SmithTorrey Smith seemed primed for a breakout year last year and he didn’t completely disappoint, although a lot of us who drafted him as a WR1 couldn’t have been too thrilled with his 65-1128-4 2013 line. The fact is that Smith ran a whole lot of low-percentage routes last year and being the only real weapon Baltimore’s WR corps had to offer, making the Steve Smith acquisition a plus for him so defenses aren’t so honed in on stopping Torrey. He eclipsed the 100 yard mark for a game only twice last year, but with Gary Kubiak’s X receiver-friendly offense coming to town, Torrey Smith will play a more versatile role within the offense and should see a whole lot of targets. With Smith’s ADP still in the 6th round, he could prove to be one of the top value picks of 2014.

Steve Smith – In 2013, as top dog in Carolina, Smith was only able to muster up 64 catches and 4 TDs while he averaged a career-low 11.6 yards per reception. At 35 years old Smith has managed to stay relatively healthy as he hasn’t played in less than 14 games in a season since he missed all of 2004, but the fact remains Smith’s game is definitely declining sharply. Though Smith’s competitiveness and toughness should rub off on his teammates thus making the Raven’s a better football team, I do not foresee him having the same impact on fantasy teams, making Smith a WR5/6 for me.

Dennis Pitta – I am a big Dennis Pitta fan. He played in only 4 games last year as he spent most of 2013 on the I.R. with a hip issue, but he says he feels 100%. Just like with Torrey Smith and his X receiver position, Kubiak’s offense is very TE-friendly also, as we saw Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels both be monster parts of what the Texan’s tried to do offensively under Kubiak. Pitta, also like Smith, will be used in a number of ways including in the slot and out of the backfield at times. He is a great talent and the volume should be there this year for Pitta. He should spend 2014 competing with Torrey Smith for the Raven’s team lead in targets, receptions and receiving TDs making him a steal at his current ADP and a high-upside TE1.

Cincinnati Bengals

Andy Dalton – Ugh. I have always struggled within myself to fight the feelings I have for NFL football players as people, and not let it affect my fantasy drafts. Andy Dalton is just one of the guys I cannot stand to even look at for too long before he just inexplicably pisses me off. Dalton just inked a shiny new 6 year $96M contract and is coming off of his best year as he completed 62% of his passes for 4296 yards and 33 TDs. I firmly believe that if Dalton and his stupid red hair didn’t have A.J. Green to throw the football to – his ENTIRE pro career – he would be in the Blaine Gabbert conversation by now. But the fact remains he DOES have Green which keeps him as a high-end QB2, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Giovani Bernard – Gio’s fantasy stock has been up and down this summer as he was anointed the Bengal’s starting running back and seemed to be a lock for 300 touches in Hue Jackson’s extremely run-heavy offense until people got a look at rookie Jeremy Hill’s skills and predictions surfaced of him siphoning 10-15 carries per game from Gio, including goal-line work. Although not terribly efficient in 2013 at 4.06 YPC, Gio has taken every first-team snap throughout Cincinnati’s preseason – in all scenarios – and with plenty of totes to go around, Gio is still a candidate for 300 touches in my mind making him a second or third round RB2 with RB1 potential.

Jeremy Hill/Benjarvus Green-Ellis – Amazingly “The Law firm” is still in the conversation with talented rookie Jeremy Hill to play second-fiddle to Giovani Bernard as the “big back” in Cincinnati’s offense. Green-Ellis, 29 years old and now dealing with a hip, averaged a paltry 3.4 YPC as he trudged his way to 756 yards on 220 carries in 2013 and offers zilch in the passing game. Before the injury Green-Ellis was running with the twos in preseason and Hill with the threes. That will change come the regular season as Hill should have a bit of stand-alone value as he could see those 10-15 carries per game and vulture some TDs, but for me his real value is him being Gio’s unequivocal handcuff.

A.J. Green – Green has been a model of consistency since entering the NFL in 2011 as he has posted three straight 1000 yard seasons and reeled in 7, 11 and 11 TDs in years 2011, 2012, and 2013 respectively. At 6’ 4” 207 pounds and in possession of some of the greatest ball-skills I have ever seen, Green is a master of taking lemons and making lemonade as he has been bailing out Andy Dalton, grabbing up his off-time, off-target wobblers his whole career. Though he remains an elite top-5 fantasy WR in all formats, I believe if Green had a half-way competent QB throwing him the football we are jockeying him and Calvin Johnson for the rights to best WR in the NFL. He is that talented.

Tyler Eifert/Jermaine Gresham – I was once very high on Jermaine Gresham as he has always had the physical tools to be an elite move tight end in the NFL, he just never panned out and I am not sure he ever got a real chance to prove it and definitely won’t now with the Bengals spending a 2013 first-round pick on Tyler Eifert. Eifert averaged 11.4 yard per reception last year in limited duty and remains the only Cincinnati TE even close to my fantasy radar. With Marvin Jones out until at least week 5, Eifert figures to occupy the slot in his absence thus running more routes and hanging on to a bit of TE2 relevance.

Cleveland Browns

Brian Hoyer / Johnny Manziel – This QB competition has been the epicenter of the sports world most of the summer and it concluded after the Brown’s second preseason game with Brian Hoyer being named the starter. Hoyer wasn’t exactly lighting it up in up in the preseason and completed an ugly 59.4%of his passes in 2 and ¼ games for the Browns last season though he did produce a 5:3 TD to interception ratio. With Josh Gordon’s seemingly imminent season-long suspension on the horizon, a glaring lack of talent at the position behind Gordon, limited experience in 5 year-long NFL career and a run-heavy base offensive philosophy, Hoyer will be a bottom-of-the-barrel QB2. Now if Brian Hoyer loses his started job, whether it be from injury or ineffectiveness, Manziel’s fantasy outlook is far more promising, mainly because of the legs. Running QBs are like gold in fantasy football and even though ideally Cleveland would like to see Johnny play more from the pocket, he is a rookie and his instincts to run are going to take over at times until the Browns can break him of that. For now Hoyer is the guy in Cleveland but if JFF is thrust into the gig he could potentially provide some serious 2012 RGIII like production, making him worth taking a late round flier on and stashing him.

Ben Tate / Terrance West – Although the Browns plan to run the ball a whole lot, giving ample opportunity for both of the lead backs in Cleveland, Ben Tate is still the clear-cut fantasy choice in this backfield. Tate is likely to see 20+ carries per game as they are committed to running the rock and has averaged 4.75 YPC through two preseason games. The issue with Tate is his injury history as he had a lot of trouble staying healthy as a backup in Houston, making rookie Terrance West an interesting guy considering he should see around 10 carries per game weekly and if Tate were to miss any time, would become an absolute bell cow and flirt with RB1 status.
Josh Gordon – Unfortunately with a lot of unknowns regarding the situation, there really isn’t a whole lot to say about the 2013 NFL receiving leader. If Gordon were not facing a potentially year-long suspension he would be one of the first 5 WRs of the board but since he is, he is merely a guy you should just avoid altogether or roll the dice and take a mid to late round flier on the tremendously talented young wideout. Though he could turn out to be a wasted pick, I’m growing more and more fond of the idea of taking the risk and hoping to be able to insert the elite WR in your lineup half way through the season. That could prove to be huge for your fantasy team down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Andrew Hawkins – Hawkins played in only 8 games with Cincinnati last year and showed pretty well – considering his QB – as he averaged 16.6 yards per reception and scored twice. Now healthy, and figuring to be the top dog of the Josh Gordon-less WR corps, the shifty jitterbug could prove to have some nice value as a 12th or 13th round flier as he figures to see a bunch of targets as Brian Hoyer looks to get rid of the ball quick and Hawkins will a lot of the time serve as Hoyer’s hot read. Though he is much more valuable in PPR leagues as 75-80 receptions seems to be a real possibility if he can stay healthy, Hawkins definitely offers some sleeper appeal in standard leagues.

Jordan Cameron – Another former basketball player playing NFL football, Jordan Cameron broke out last season with an 80-917-7 line in 2013. Cameron stated the 2013 season off red hot as he reeled in 30 receptions for 360 yards and 4 TDs through the first four games of the season and although still productive week to week, tailed off a bit as the season wore on. Cameron should prove to be a great value in the 5th round as he promises to be a target-monster in the Browns offense remains devoid of a whole lot of talent from a pass-catching standpoint.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Roethlisberger – Even though as a Browns fan I am supposed to hate this guy, I just cannot help but admire him as I believe he is one of the toughest players in the NFL considering all the injuries he has played though in his career, and the fact that he has played well through them. Roethlisberger attempted a career high 584 passes last year, a product of both Todd Haley’s pass-heavy attack with new no-huddle and up-tempo notes, and that the Steelers defense wasn’t so Steelers-like as they ranked in the middle of the road in a lot of defensive statistics in 2013. I think Big Ben could be in store for his best statistical season in his career with the Steelers young O-line promising to be more cohesive, a strong running-game, and a healthy security blanket of a TE Heath Miller, allowing me to finally put Roethlisberger in the low-end QB1 conversation confidently.

Antonio Brown – After finishing 2nd in the NFL last year in both receptions and receiving yards, there really isn’t a whole lot not to like about this crafty 5’10” 186 pound 26 year old. Brown averaged 93.7 yards per games in 2013 and caught 8 TDs. Now locked in as the clear-cut number one option and focal point in this offense that promises to air it out a lot of the time, Brown is a top 10 WR and offers tremendous value in the 3rd round. He is a WR1.

Le’Veon Bell /LeGarrette Blount – These two stoners are going to make up what I believe is going to prove to be an impressive rushing attack for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2014. Although Bell has a whole bunch of miles on his legs after eating week in and week out at MSU and averaged only 3.5 YPC on 244 totes in 2013, I think Bell is guy a lot of people are foolishly starting to write off given is recent legal issues and loss of work to LeGarrette Blount. Bell offers a lot value in the passing game to Blount’s zero in an up-tempo pass-happy offense, though rookie Dri Archer figures to dip into that a bit, if Bells slips to you in the 3rd round I think you would be a fool not to take advantage of it. Don’t sleep on LeGarrette Blount either as he seems to be finding his way in the NFL a bit, and people forget that Blount projected as a first-round draft pick until he punched that dude from Boise State’s lights out. Blount figures to play 1B to Bell’s 1A and get some goal-line work as well, making him Bell’s handcuff and a week to week RB3 whereas Bell remains a borderline RB1/2 in my eyes as we are unlikely to see their recent legal transgressions affect their 2014 fantasy outlook considering we probably won’t hear a ruling from the league as far as punishment until 2015.

Markus Wheaton – Although at times this preseason he as appeared out of sync with QB Ben Roethlisberger, Wheaton has whole lot of talent and will open up the Steelers season as a starter opposite Antonio Brown, he is still just very raw. Starting in an offense that allowed Emmanuel Sanders to put up a line of 67-740-6 in 2013, I see no reason why the more talented Wheaton cannot eclipse those numbers as he remains one of the top boom-or-bust fantasy sleepers in the NFL this year.
Heath Miller – Coming off of a season in which he posted career lows in both yards per reception (10.2) and TDs (1), Heath Miller is healthy again and I think ready to return to 2012 form where he posted career highs in both receiving yards (816) and TDs (8). Miller is a guy that Big Ben looks for in all kinds of different scenarios as he knows Miller is a pretty good bet to bail him out of any dicey situation. Although not explosive at all and now 31 years old, Miller has a clear chemistry with Roethlisberger and should see the volume of targets to put him back on the low-end TE1 radar.