Tag Archives: Jacksonville Jaguars

What Tampa Bay is Getting with Dirk Koetter, If He’s Named The Buccaneers Head Coach

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t the only team to the play fast and loose with their head coaching position, but the Glazers have certainly made some eyebrow-raising moves since winning the Super Bowl with Jon Gruden thirteen years ago. It began with Gruden, currently ESPN’s color analyst for Monday Night Football, being shown the door after consecutive 9-7 seasons, and there’s been a folly of errors with the Bucs top job, including the questionable dismissal of Lovie Smith earlier this week.

The team’s improvement to 6-10, from 2-14 in Smith’s first season, apparently wasn’t enough, so the core of Gerald McCoy, Jameis Winston, and Mike Evans will get their marching orders from a new leader when mini-camps and OTAs begin later this year. We’ve heard rumors from the ridiculous to the absolutely reasonable, so you can rule out Alabama head coach Nick Saban, but there are other candidates not named Dirk Koetter interviewing for a job they like won’t be offered when it’s all said and done.

Say what you will about the Rooney Rule, I personally understand the spirit behind it, but I don’t feel the mandate for a minority candidate interview fulfills its purpose, nor do I feel its necessary, given how much we’ve evolved since Art Shell was hired in 19891Shell was the second African American Head Coach in professional football history, and the first since Fritz Pollard stopped coaching the Chicago Black Hawks in 1928. It’s difficult to put a name to this, and I don’t care to insult the man, but with Koetter being the in-house favorite, we’re going to label Arizona offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin as the Rooney Rule candidate.

It isn’t fair to Goodwin, available to interview during the Cardinals’ bye week, but all parties involved can get something out of this. Best case scenario, speaking to supporters of the Rooney Rule, Goodwin blows them away, and gets the job. Under this scenario, Koetter walks, which is something of a wash, because Goodwin will certainly want to be the architect of the offense, in his first steps away from the shadow of Bruce Arians, aka “The Quarterback Whisperer”. Bottom line: This is an interview Goodwin deserves, but many will see it as a farce, and only the ones in the room will ever really have a feel for how legitimate the process is.

Until Cam Newton started to make Riverboat Ron Rivera’s offense tick, the strength of Carolina’s game is what you see when the Panthers don’t have the football. Sean McDermott has been coordinating that defensive unit since 2011. Give him credit for knowing how to utilize Luke Kuchely, and how to disrupt in the trenches, his defense is the reason they sit on the 1-line in the NFC as we enter the playoffs. He’s a candidate, but he’d have his work cut out for him with the 7th-worst scoring defense in the game, and that was in Year 2 of Lovie Smith.2This is more about personnel. Gerald McCoy is great, but he doesn’t play around a lot of great talent…not yet.

I could get hit by a bus, but I’ll probably be home for dinner.

Barring a very genuine surprise, the former Arizona State head coach will be promoted by the Tampa Bay brass from Offensive Coordinator to Head Coach very soon, but they have to complete the process. Honestly, what does it hurt to talk to viable candidates, even when you’re 99% of the direction you want to go? In Jacksonville, Atlanta, and now Tampa Bay, Dirk Koetter has received a lot of praise for the way he calls an offensive game for whoever was featured on the Jaguars offense from 2007 to 2011, for Matt Ryan, and for the very talented Jameis Winston.

One area of concern remains; there’s a big difference between being the Skipper and the First mate. The Glazer family, Jason Licht, and everyone involved with this rumored decision to put Koetter in charge of the show are willing to make a leap that no has dared to attempt since failing to elevate the Arizona State over six seasons3Koetter was 40-34, and impossibly bad in the state of California against the four conference rivals who reside there.. Koetter put a few players in the NFL, most notably Terrell Suggs and Zach Miller, but the Sun Devil football program never could conquer the Pac-10 on his watch.

He may be another Norv Turner, a guy who is brilliant until he gets the big whistle and a challenge flag, but I have to commend the Buccaneers commitment to stability for Jameis Winston, even if you might want to denigrate them for pink-slipping Smith after two seasons, and just one with the services of Winston. After all, you usually hear about the head coach/quarterback tandem more than the chemistry between the signal caller and the OC.

You might hear conversations about Brady and Weis, McDaniels, and O’Brien, but none of them roll off the tongue like Brady & Belichick or Belichick & Brady do. Things tend to change over time. Maybe under the guidance of Jack Del Rio and Mike Smith, he understands the head coaching role better now, as well as the NFL game. There’s a precedent for that with the aforementioned Belichick. He didn’t get it done with the Browns, spent more time with Bill Parcells, and quickly took the Patriots to the promised land with his first second chance. I might believe Josh McDaniels was on the verge of that, but he’s got some work to do if he ends up in Nashville.

If any of these jobs were easy or “good”, there probably wouldn’t be vacancies, so they’re all difficult undertakings. Keep in mind, there are no exclusive rights to Koetter’s service, despite the Bucs being his current employer. He’s talking to San Francisco and perhaps Philadelphia, but probably isn’t the favorite to land either of those jobs. The move makes sense, and honestly, Goodwin and McDermott are logical targets, but potentially giving Jameis Winston the same voice for the foreseeable future carries a value that can’t be matched. Sun Devil fans won’t believe they’re watching the same guy when they see the pewter, orange, and red on their screen on Sundays.

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1. Shell was the second African American Head Coach in professional football history, and the first since Fritz Pollard stopped coaching the Chicago Black Hawks in 1928.
2. This is more about personnel. Gerald McCoy is great, but he doesn’t play around a lot of great talent…not yet.
3. Koetter was 40-34, and impossibly bad in the state of California against the four conference rivals who reside there.

The Sad Decline of the Indianapolis Colts Continues

It’s been a long time since we’ve heard the words “Super Bowl” and “Colts” in the same sentence. Looks like it’s going to be a lot longer before we hear it again.

The Houston Texans came into Lucas Oil Stadium and wrested the division lead away from the Colts by virtue of a 16-10 triumph on Sunday afternoon. The Texans (7-7) now hold a one-game lead over Indianapolis, who fell to 6-8 with two games remaining in the regular season.

For the third straight week, the Colts held an early lead before imploding. After trailing 10-0 in the first half, Houston scored 16 consecutive points to win their first ever game in Indianapolis (the Texans were 0-13 coming into this contest). The Colts had an unprecedented 16-game winning streak within the division snapped last week against Jacksonville; now they’ve lost two in a row against the AFC South.

The quarterback matchup in this game was not exactly one for the ages: backup QB Matt Hasselbeck going for Indianapolis, while Houston had to play their third-string signal caller, T.J. Yates. Neither quarterback played particularly well, and when Yates went down with a non-contact knee injury after scrambling late in the second quarter, things looked even worse for the Texans.

Enter Brandon Weeden, the former starting QB in Cleveland, but currently number four on the depth chart in Houston. Weeden was the hero in this one, coming off the bench to go 11-for-18 for 105 yards and a touchdown after Yates’ injury. Most importantly, Houston scored all 16 of their points with Weeden at the helm, as he gave the Texans the shot in the arm they needed after falling behind early 10-0.

The Colts offense was anemic, gaining a paltry 190 yards for the game. QB Matt Hasselbeck had a tough day in more ways than one, going 17-for-30 for only 147 yards, and feeling pressure and taking hits from the Texans’ defense all afternoon. Indianapolis RB Frank Gore ran hard, but had nowhere to go, averaging 2.8 yards on 16 carries.

Aside from Brandon Weeden’s heroics, Houston didn’t exactly light it up either. The Texans’ running game was mostly held in check, other than Alfred Blue’s 41-yard run in the second quarter, which didn’t actually lead to any points for Houston.

The turnover battle was even, but the Colts only lost fumble was a very costly one. Indianapolis was driving late in the fourth quarter, trailing 13-10, when WR Griff Whalen took a short pass from Hasselbeck and coughed it up after a good hit by Houston CB Johnathan Joseph…this effectively ended the Colts’ hopes.

Indianapolis did get the ball back one more time, only to have Matt Hasselbeck throw a deep interception on the first play of the drive when he “misinterpreted the angle” WR Donte Moncrief took on his route.

The last three minutes of this game continued what has been a pattern of late with the Colts – key moment, key mistake(s).

Now that the AFC South lead has vanished and a playoff berth is becoming unlikely, what do we make of the 2015 version of the Indianapolis Colts? It would be easy to blame this disappointing season on injuries, particularly when your star quarterback has missed significant time on the field…but that’s not why this team has underachieved.

It all starts with a flawed roster, a fact that was previously covered up by QB Andrew Luck’s emergence as an NFL star. Even he could not continue to perform at a high level with a struggling offensive line in front of him. Colts GM Ryan Grigson chose not to address the offensive line to any large degree in the offseason, and it’s coming back to haunt the team now. In general, Grigson has just had far too many “misses” in the draft and in free agency, and they’ve led Indianapolis to where they are now.

Another key issue is coaching. Chuck Pagano, the Colts’ head coach, has not proven to be a top-flight coach in either game preparation or motivation. Consistent errors such as penalties and turnovers, especially at crucial times, are the mark of a poorly-coached team. As the season has worn on, the team is also playing with less and less desire and enthusiasm.

What a difference in outlook from Week 1 to now. The Indianapolis Colts were a trendy pick to win the AFC Championship this season, now, they’ll have to finish strong and hope for some help just to barely make the playoffs – in a weak division. Unless something spectacular (and unexpected) happens, some heads are going to roll when this train wreck of a season is over.

Indianapolis Colts Crash and Burn in the Sunshine State

Opportunity was knocking for the Indianapolis Colts as they headed south to play Jacksonville this past Sunday afternoon. The Colts, despite their struggles, were in first place in the AFC South. They came into the game carrying a 16-game winning streak within the division. A victory against the 4-8 Jaguars would go a long way toward securing a playoff berth for The Horseshoe.

With all this at stake, and a “winnable” game in front of them, you would expect a quality team to take advantage of a scenario such as this. Instead, the Colts took a promising start and turned it into an avalanche as they fell 51-16 to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The way this game unfolded was eerily similar to that of last week’s debacle against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In that game, Indianapolis led 10-6 late in the first half, but were outscored 39-0 the rest of the way. Against the Jaguars, Indianapolis held a 13-3 lead late in the first half when Jags DE Andre Branch stripped QB Matt Hasselbeck of the ball, recovered the ensuing fumble and coasted 49 yards for a touchdown. After falling behind by 10 points, Jacksonville outscored the Colts 48-3 from that point forward.

How bad were the Colts in this contest? Let me count the ways. The Colts allowed the aforementioned fumble return touchdown. They allowed a 73-yard punt return touchdown to the Jaguars’ Rashad Greene. They gave up 154 rushing yards, allowing a gaudy 5.3 yards-per-carry average. QB Blake Bortles threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions in a very effective performance.

Some of Indianapolis’ offensive numbers actually looked pretty good (they were only outgained 380-322 yards on the day), but this was a case where the yardage gained did not turn into points on the scoreboard. Every time the Colts drove down the field, they were eventually stopped. Every time Jacksonville drove down the field, they found paydirt.

The bottom line to all this is very simple: good teams make plays in the crucial moments, and find ways to win. The last two weeks, Indianapolis had late first half leads, and when “crunch time” was upon them, they wilted. Badly.

Around midseason, the two most disappointing teams in the NFL were arguably Seattle and Indianapolis, both preseason Super Bowl favorites, both sitting at 4-5. The Seahawks have proven they are a legitimate contender in recent seasons, so what have they done since that 4-5 start? They have gone 4-0, winning the last two in blowout fashion. In short, they’re on a roll.

The Colts, on the other hand, have lost their last two games by identical 35-point margins. This is not what contenders do, honestly, this isn’t even what decent teams do.

The Colts are still in the thick of the race for the AFC South Title after New England defeated Houston on Sunday night. But, does this really mean anything in the big picture?

The Colts are a mess right now, and trending very much in the wrong direction…they’ve basically hit rock bottom these last two weeks when the division race was just starting to heat up. We can talk about the offensive line problems, the fact that QB Matt Hasselbeck is starting to come back down to earth, a defense that can’t get much pressure on the quarterback and is giving up big plays at an alarming rate, and so on.

But, the real concern here has to do with intangibles. The players are not showing much fight or will to win, and the coaching staff seem to be losing their players at a critical point in the season…the players simply aren’t responding to head coach Chuck Pagano on any level right now.

Another “important” game looms next Sunday, when the Houston Texans visit Lucas Oil Stadium. There’s no sugarcoating it, everyone in the Colts organization from management to coaches to players need a serious gut check. Things like heart, resolve and commitment are necessary for a team to make the playoffs and be a contender once they get there. The Indianapolis Colts are showing a disturbing lack of these key ingredients, and they will go nowhere without them.

Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers: a Postmortem

For the Indianapolis Colts, this past Sunday began with good news…they saw their two closest division rivals, Houston and Jacksonville, go down to defeat. The Texans fell in Buffalo 30-21, while the Jags lost a 42-39 shootout in Tennessee.

The good news continued as their game against the Steelers commenced, when Pittsburgh’s Jacoby Jones fumbled the opening kickoff, giving Indianapolis the ball at the Pittsburgh 11-yard line. Then, there was, well…the rest of the game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers sliced and diced Indianapolis en route to a 45-10 drubbing on Sunday night. The Colts were able to hang tough for most of the first half, holding a 10-6 lead late in the period. But from that point forward, the Steelers completely dominated play.

Pittsburgh (7-5) will likely need to earn a Wild Card berth to advance to the playoffs, and the way they played in this game, they absolutely looked the part of a playoff team. The Colts (6-6), by virtue of playing in the AFC South, continue to hold the division lead, despite this forgettable performance.

Last season, Pittsburgh handed Indianapolis a resounding defeat as QB Ben Roethlisberger threw for 522 yards and six touchdowns. Big Ben didn’t generate the same kind of numbers in the rematch, but that’s deceptive, to say the least. Roethlisberger was brilliant again, going 24-for-39 for 364 yards and four touchdowns.

Indianapolis played some zone coverage early in the game in an attempt to slow down the Steelers passing game, but it didn’t work. When they went back to man-to-man, you guessed it: that didn’t work either. The Colts had no answer for anything Big Ben and his offense wanted to do on this night.

To add insult to injury, RB DeAngelo Williams was just as effective against the Indianapolis defense, gaining 134 yards on 26 carries. Let’s not forget, Williams is filling in for injured starter Le’Veon Bell…it’s nice to have quality depth, isn’t it?

Did anything go well for the Colts in this contest? Not really. Their offense was almost as inept as their defense, although RB Frank Gore had a solid outing, given that there was very little room to run against a tough Pittsburgh rushing defense.

Indianapolis’ offensive line couldn’t buy any time for QB Matt Hasselbeck to find his receivers, which was key for both teams – Pittsburgh’s defense against the pass has been poor most of this season, so that was the Colts’ best chance to compete in this game, and they could never get untracked due to the poor protection up front.

The Steelers certainly look the part of a playoff contender, but where does this leave the Colts? Actually, this hapless showing doesn’t change much for this team. They are still battling to fend off Houston (and perhaps Jacksonville) for the division crown, still sitting in first place, in fact. So, Indianapolis is still in position to make a run at the playoffs.

The more important question may be: if the Colts do win the division, can they make any noise once they get to the playoffs?

The overall talent on the roster, particularly if QB Andrew Luck returns and plays to his potential, says yes. But upon closer examination, Indianapolis just has too many holes to be a solid Super Bowl contender. The offensive line has been shuffled around all season in the hopes of finding an effective combination, but they have mostly been a liability. One of the team’s big offseason acquisitions, WR Andre Johnson, has been invisible in this offense. The defense has shown promise at times, but injuries and inconsistent play have left them searching for answers as well.

A healthy and effective Andrew Luck can cover up a lot of deficiencies, but his ability to get healthy or play effectively are very much in question right now. It seems that Indianapolis has played with fire for years now, counting on their young quarterback to make everything “right.” What we are seeing now is what happens when the many weaknesses this team has are no longer being disguised by one dynamic player.

The Colts may very well end up winning the AFC South and playing in the postseason. However, unless a lot of things come together for this group at just the right time, they won’t be playing in January for very long.

Down By Contact: Sunday Postgame Week 16

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Chris Green and Jeff Rich are back once again to wrap up all of the early week and Sunday afternoon action in the National Football League.  Before the sun rose on Sunday morning in the east, the Lions knew they were in and the Browns knew they were out.  The Saints, Falcons, and Panthers all knew what they needed to do in their pursuit of an NFC South division title, and Bears fans would need to embrace the end of the Jay Cutler Era in Chicago.

The Vikings game in Miami probably flew under the RADAR a little bit, but proved to be one of the more thrilling games of the week.  The Jets and Patriots are on opposite ends of the terrible/great spectrum, but that never seems to mean anything when they face off.  Joe Flacco did his best Derek Anderson impression.  The Steelers end their playoff drought, and our most promising game of the day in North Texas ended up being a dud for the casual fan, but a great day for Steelers fans.

The Players

Chris Green – @cgrn731
Jeff Rich – @byJeffRich

Seeking a Friend for the Worst NFL Game Ever

If you were watching the NFL Network, it was right there at the top of your screen, counting down and tormenting you. In all fairness, some of the players families and a few sad souls in Northern Florida and the state of Tennessee might legitimately be looking forward to this mess, but I can’t say I’m acquainted with any of them. Of course, I’m nothing if not human, so I pity everyone that’s obligated to watch the Titans and Jaguars on Thursday, unless they’re doing so from one of the poolside cabanas at Everbank Stadium. Then again, it’s mid-December and it’s going to be around 56 degrees at kickoff in Jacksonville, so I feel sorry for them, but I mostly just feel sorry for myself.

If I’m forced to sell this game to the public, and keep in mind that I’m not, I don’t know where to start. Both teams are 2-12, and you’d say both teams would be in tank mode, if only Jacksonville didn’t have a somewhat promising future with Blake Bortles and less of a need for Oregon’s Marcus Mariota to save the day. Only the Bears have allowed more points this season than the Titans, and no team has scored fewer than the Jaguars, so something has to give.

The more I’ve thought about wasting three hours of a Thursday night with this thing, the more I think about the final minutes I’ll spend on my death bed, wondering why I didn’t make better use of my healthy years. I know, if I were to watch this one, I’d be watching it alone. Seriously, how do I convince someone to spend the time with me, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, and Tracy Wolfson…on a Thursday?

I’ve thought about women. I’ve thought about beer. I’ve thought about “making it interesting”. I’ve joked, as comedian Larry Miller did long before me, that the female presence dictated where I went and how long I’ve stayed places in the past, but what female is going to spend any night within a week of Christmas watching the tandem of Ken Whisenhunt and Chas Whitehurst on a Thirsty Thursday?

Aside from Blake Bortles partner, I’m not sure these are the type of ladies with whom you’d want to share their company. Unless your beer is laced with the type of substance that turns Allen Hurns into a rejuvenate Keanan McCardell, literally every gin-joint from Chula Vista to Fairport, Maine is a better option. And, have as much fun as you’d like with the wagers in this one; the home team is favored by a field goal and the over/under is 40, but I’m not sure any amount of money is going to be a worthwhile return on the 180 minutes or so of your time. Unless, “trick-shot quarterback”, yes that’s a thing, Alex Tanney gets on the field, the NFL Network will bring as much interesting content as three hours of dead air.

Still, I find myself facing the Family Circus Dilemma from the movie “Go”, admittedly a guilty pleasure of mine.

“Okay. You sit down and read your paper, and you’re enjoying your entire two-page comics spread. Right? And then there’s the Family fucking Circus, bottom right-hand corner, just waiting to suck.”

-Timothy Olyphant (as Todd Gaines in Go)

So, the game is on National TV, as if that means something. There might be alternatives. Big Bang Theory is running a repeat from December, so that’s out. The NBA is featuring Oklahoma City and Golden State, so that’s got some promise. Ditto for the Habs and Ducks on the ice, but these are sports that play 82-game seasons and start their post-seasons in about four months. This is my last chance to see a meaningful professional football game until after Labor Day. Alright, I most definitely could not type that last sentence with a straight face, but the bottom line is that I can’t not watch this game.

CraigsListTitansJags

You Can't Replace Alex Mack with Tim Tebow

Injuries are a fact of life in the NFL. Some players can be replaced easier than others, and it goes farther than just one’s physical abilities. The Cleveland Browns have recently been put in this type of predicament. Alex Mack is out for the year with a broken tibia, and he will clearly be missed. You simply cannot replace an All-Pro center like Mack with just anyone.

In some cases, an understudy can produce stunning results when called upon, but that doesn’t appear to be the fortune for Cleveland’s football team. When Mack initially went down in the second quarter of the Browns 31-10 win over Pittsburgh on October 12th, it appeared all was well. John Greco moved over from guard to replace the void left at center and former Sea Chicken Paul McQuistan took Greco’s spot at right guard. If there was a drop-off, it was negligible and it didn’t slow down the Browns running game that day.

The Browns survived the Steelers without Mack for half the game, but things got hairy in Jacksonville (Photo: Ohio.com)

Pittsburgh did not have the luxury of game-planning for an offense without Cleveland’s 2009 first round pick snapping the football. Since starting on Day 1 as a rookie, he hadn’t missed a snap over the course of his 85-game career. Seriously, the dude even had an appendectomy in 2011 and he was back on the field against the Oakland Raiders 13 days later. Of course, that’s a testament to his toughness, but there’s more to what the Browns are missing right now than thick skin.

It’s easy to mistakenly label a good football player as one with football intelligence. That just isn’t how it works. There are players that remember things, and they get by. The players that learn the game and so many of its variables possess a tangible thing called “football intelligence”. No one on the planet exists on the same plane as Peyton Manning in this realm.

This Manning kid always has his nose in a book. This was Read A Book on a Bench Day in Knoxville.

Sure, he’s probably a giant dork that sees everything pre-snap in 1s and 0s, and then converts to hexidecimal when the ball is in his hand. My theory is that he sees things faster than they’re actually happening, that real time for the rest of us is presented to him as slow motion. It’s a subtle difference, like the difference between a split-second and a well enunciated One Mississippi. It might be the difference between a yellow jacket in Canton and a short career.

However, we might be missing out on some that top the list of the game’s most football intelligent characters because they didn’t play the quarterback position. Edge rushers know how to get to the quarterback. Linebackers see and hear what’s about to come at them, as if they were in the offensive huddle. Ball-hawking safeties just know how to put themselves in the right place at the right time. That’s all football intelligence, but you need to have the talent to do it.

It can actually work the other way around. It’s up to the coaches to find ways to make talent compensate for the absence of football intelligence. You’ll hear a couple of things from the consensus on this subject.

First, there are no bad football players in the National Football League. The evaluation process is too complicated for things to be overlooked. This is a league that is so much more about the Xs and Os than the Brian and Joes. Players will always be somewhat hit and miss, it’s a tough game, but it all comes down to coaching. Part of that is finding the right personnel.

Mangini like drafting a center high. It’s an important position on the football field.

The offensive line needs their brainiac too. Former Browns head coach Eric Mangini earned his “Mangenius” nickname under Bill Belichick’s charge. His brilliance never translated to wins, but there were honestly mitigating factors that went into that. At each of his head coaching stops, he left a necessary building block behind. It was Nick Mangold in New York and Alex Mack in Cleveland, both franchise centers were taken late in the first round of the draft.

First round status doesn’t guarantee anyone anything. I use Tim Tebow as an example, because I specifically remember thinking how wrong people were. They’d say his work ethic would put him on another level and his football intelligence would carry him. Now, I am all for giving Saint Timmy a sincere golf clap for his effort, if only that was all it took. Now that he’s out of the game at the age of 27, I can tell Tebow is a smart man, but that doesn’t mean he’s ever been heavy on football intelligence.

Tebow had a special set of physical skills that allowed Urban Meyer to build an offense that took advantage of what he could do without over-working his noggin. He took what was given to him, and it was enough to make him one of the best College Football players ever.

The NFL just had a standard he wasn’t capable of reaching. In 2011, John Fox and Mike McCoy modified or dumbed down their offense enough for him to take over for Kyle Orton, who was 1-4 as the starter. That’s a move you can make because the gimmick of Tebow justified the downgrade in skill. The Broncos coaching staff pulled it off, and they even won a playoff game. Keep in mind, they were replacing Kyle Orton, not Peyton Manning.

alg-peyton-manning-tebow-jpg
To the tune of the Nationwide jingle: “I can’t wait to take your job”

There’s nothing Mike Pettine would like more than to get by with a serviceable backup, but Jacksonville attacked the vulnerability. There was no way to stop it. In reality the Browns took a hit at two places on the offensive line, so we’re not overlooking the plunge taken at Greco’s now back-filled spot at guard. They weren’t physically outclassed on the whole, but they were just lost on who goes where and when.

If you recall the late season magic Denver had with Tebow, it’s likely you give a lot of credit to defense and special teams for that. They definitely had to conceal their quarterback, and they really did get away with it when they weren’t playing the Patriots.

Though the Browns weren’t playing anything reminiscent of Patriots without Mack, they’re unable to conceal their center position. The one who snaps the ball is more important to their offense and offensive line than the guy who was lined up a couple of spots over for every snap, all 5,189 of them. That guy at left tackle is Joe Thomas, and smart people think he’s bound for the Hall of Fame.

There’s nothing overpowering about either of the Browns best linemen. Football smarts and flawless technique make Mack and Thomas special.

We’ll wait a couple of years before we start talking about Mack’s candidacy for Canton, but it’s understood that his value is very near that of Joe Thomas. Thomas and the Browns have a couple more bad teams ahead on the schedule, convenient for them in figuring out how to plug an obvious leak. Otherwise, a promising 3-2 start could all be for not. It look as though damage controls with putting Greco back on the right side and seeing if Nick McDonald. His one NFL start at the center position is one more than Greco had before the game in North Florida last week, but he probably isn’t the second coming.

Cleveland might need a miracle to thrive without their clever center, and we’re doubting even Tebow can shit a miracle of this magnitude.

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.

London Games Slight NFL Fans in America

We don’t need the NFL in London. The NFL wants London and the rest of the globe, for the sake of the almighty dollar, or should I say Euro? It seemed innocent enough in the beginning, an occasional exhibition every couple of years, but now we’re playing games that count, and if we take it any farther, it will only get worse.

For the fans, players, and coaches, it’s just a giant pain in the ass. I don’t care who you are, seven hours is a long damn time to be on an airplane, even if the thought of crashing into unknown parts of the Atlantic doesn’t absolutely petrify you. Then, you have to think about the price tag. I don’t know about the average fan, but I don’t think I love football enough to spend $1100 just to spend a week or weekend in the constant drizzle of the land our forefathers once abandoned.

Westminster_fog_-_London_-_UK
It’s a beautiful day for football (and very little else) in London

You don’t bring sand to the beach, just like you don’t open a second restaurant in a new part of town to feed your existing clientele, so grievances to the NFL from its American fans about travel restrictions will likely fall on deaf ears. Roger Goodell and company will just as soon tell you to keep your money, save it for premium NFL exhibition action in your hometown next August. They’ve already got their hands firmly on our wallets. Next up for the NFL is the European Man Purses and all the riches that come along with them.

It’s such an untapped market. Think about it, we can take a group that drools and goes mad over soccer, and sell them on something similar, but a lot more interesting and fun to watch. I’ve never actually been to that part of the world, but based on the cultural lessons I’ve learned from watching the movie Snatch, you’d have to think that adding violence and a finite clock to the game they already love could only be plusses.

The locals across the pond love it. The first “real” game was played there in 2007, and it sold out in a matter of hours, a full nine months before it was played. It didn’t matter who played, 81,176 gathered for the inaugural game that featured Cleo Lemon and the Miami Dolphins against that season’s eventual Super Bowl Champs, the Giants. Champs or not, it didn’t much matter that this one lacked quality, the Giants held off Miami’s late rally to win a 13-10 slopfest in less than ideal conditions. The league scheduled one game a year there thru 2012; a second game was added last season, and we’ll get three this season.

It’s difficult to argue that it’s only a novelty, given the International Series steady attendance in its 8-year run. Wembley Stadium’s capacity for American Football, and you know it pains me to have to make that distinction, is approximately 86,000, and they’ve come close to reaching that in eight of the nine games played there so far. There was a noticeable drop-off in 2011 for Bears v. Bucs, but it bounced back for the Patriots and Rams in the 2012 edition of the series.

The Patriots are a big draw there, and who’d have thunk it? Old England likes New England. The Patriots, or maybe expatriates in this case, have played in the only two games that drew over 84,000 to the pitch, I mean gridiron, with lopsided victories over Tampa Bay in 2009 and St. Louis in 2012. The Rams, on the other hand, were supposed to volunteer to play a home game over there in three consecutive seasons, but had a change of heart before their game with Brady and the gang two years ago.

The league is trying to create some consistency, sending the same teams repeatedly for brand recognition, and they’re targeting anyone dumb enough to give up a home game. With the Rams wise to the scam, Jacksonville was the league’s next target, so the Brits get to see someone smear the Jaguars every fall for three years, unless they can convince the league to put the Browns on the other sideline in 2015.

Maybe Jacksonville fans don’t care about giving up a true home game every year, but I sure would if I was a season ticket holder. Arizona season ticket holders expressed dismay when they lost a home game to Mexico City in 2005. Maybe Jacksonville is different, because do you really need to watch more than seven games a year from your poolside cabana?

Jaguars 2014 Cabana
Nothing says North Florida like T-Shirts and Jorts in the pool at a football stadium

Well, the end game here is obvious and the tale of the tape says it all. We’ve gone from one, to two, to three games in as many years, which means the NFL likes it. For them to like it, it has to be profitable, so let’s deduce that it is. What’s the future here? We’ve heard London Super Bowl and we’ve heard about re-locating a franchise there, and those options sound more logistically sound than the current process of interrupting a season for off-shore neutral-site games.

If it’s just going to continue on its current path of sending teams there for a neutral site game, with someone forfeiting a home game, how long before we expand on three? I suppose it could become a weekly event, but the built-in post-London bye week would make that a bit of a challenge. Even if the whole thing evolved from three games to eight, that would be similar to having a home team without the burden of full-priced August games that don’t count.

Worse than giving up a home game, some proud city of fans could lose its team to this gimmick. I’ve been down that road and time doesn’t heal those wounds, not in the short period of 18 years in my case. And, if they want to put one team there, they could very well make a case for two. With a push for the NFL to return to Los Angeles, perhaps also to the power of two, fans of teams without new stadiums or deep roots in the community may find themselves without a team to root for on Sundays in 2015.

From not having a team at all, to having the best team, the Super Bowl seems to be the most realistic evolution of the London process. This would have the smallest impact on Joe Sixpack and the typical American football fan. Regular people can’t afford to attend the Super Bowl or the accompanying hoopla, so who really cares if they’re not going to Miami or they’re not going to London. The bottom line, they’re not going. The VIPs might have to drop an extra $500-$1000 on airfare, but they’re good for it. As for the rest of us, the highest bidder will be airing a London Super Bowl at 6:37 PM on that first Sunday in February, so we’re good too.

The Dolphins 38-14 win over Oakland at Wembley Stadium last month was the first of three to be played there in 2014, including this Sunday’s tilt between Atlanta and Detroit, which kicks off at 9:30 AM in the east.

With the Super Bowl being the least of our concerns, NFL fans back in the homeland should be concerned with the league’s growing interest in Europe. One year, it’s a home game. The next, it’s the entire home team. Given that we’ve shown no strength as fans in turning our back on Goodell or his faction, I’m sure there’s no concern about abandoning anyone as he looks to grow his customer base.

He knows that his bread and butter on this side of pond will always be exactly how he wants them to be, without shame and ready to throw money at his product.

The Cleveland Browns: A Tragicomedy

The Cleveland Browns traveled to Jacksonville, but I’m not sure if they were prepared to play football. There were very few bright spots in this game for the Browns; so needless to say, it was very painful to watch this outing.

Before I get too far, credit needs to be given where credit is due—the coaching staff for the Jaguars just flat-out coached circles around the Browns. Jacksonville’s defensive line is one of the most underrated in the NFL. Pair that with the loss of Alex Mack, it was a recipe for disaster, as the offensive line looked lost and tired for most of the game. The Jaguars also effectively attacked on the ground, knowing the Browns rush defense is one of the worst in the league, with a defensive line marred with injuries. Former Michigan Wolverine Denard Robinson ended the day with 127 yards on the ground and one TD.

In my previous articles, I praised Kyle Shanahan for establishing the run, as it set up the entire offense. Well, Jacksonville made the Browns one-dimensional, taking away the running game and making Brian Hoyer beat them with his arm. Cleveland rushed 30 times for 69 yards. I repeat—the Cleveland Browns, as a team, rushed for only 69 yards on 30 attempts. That is a pitiful 2.3 yards per attempt. There were more than a few play-action pass plays that the defense bit on, but only a couple came with a completed pass.

The passing game was frustrating as well. Receivers were dropping balls, but we can only blame them for the few passes that Brian Hoyer actually hit them on target. Once again, Hoyer overthrew passes, underthrew passes, passes behind receivers—you name it, it happened. Most frustrating to me was the pass to a wide open Jordan Cameron in the end zone that sailed over the 6’5” TE’s head from the four yard line.

To be fair, I cannot blame every erratic pass on Hoyer. The o-line was simply over-matched and the QB was pressured more than a few times. However, Brian Hoyer had more than enough time on (roughly) half of his throws, but just could not deliver the ball properly. It is an ongoing issue that will have him looking over his shoulder for Johnny Manziel until the rookie finally supplants him once and for all. I’m not saying it is an inevitability, but I believe Hoyer will have a much shorter leash going forward after this performance. Missing open receivers will get you benched, you cannot blow that many opportunities in the NFL.

Maybe Brian was distracted all week by the false reports regarding his contract and future with the Browns that the local media ran with all week? Whether it affected his preparation and play or not, Hoyer is a professional athlete—he needs to put these things out of his mind and focus on the game. Completing just 16 of 41 attempts (39% completion) is just not going to win you games.

GipsonDo you remember that bright spot I mentioned at the beginning of the article? That came in the form of three interceptions—Buster Skrine collected one as Tashaun Gipson stole two away from Blake Bortles. While the picks were great, the offense failed to capitalize on them. As a matter of fact, both of Gipson’s interceptions gave the Browns offense the ball deep in their opponent’s territory at the 17 and 33 yard line, respectively.

Now for the cherry on top. The Browns defense forces a three and out with about 6:15 left to play in the game. The score is 6-10, advantage Jacksonville, but the momentum shift was palpable, especially for every Browns fan that had watched the previous five games. The Jaguars kick. Jordan Poyer, puzzlingly, attempts to field the punt at the two yard line as it bounces off of his face, Jacksonville recovers. This was the turning point, folks. Denard Robinson scores a touchdown the very next play and the game may as well be over. Why couldn’t Poyer just let the ball go for a touchback? You simply do not attempt to field a punt from your own two yard line. There were many frustrating moments throughout the entire game, but this was the biggest bonehead play of the day.

There are many factors that lead the Browns to a 24-6 loss, each of them more maddening than the last. As I mentioned in my previous article, if Cleveland wants to be taken seriously as a legitimate playoff contender, they will have to win against the teams they are “supposed” to beat. That being said, they gave a winless team their first victory. The real test is how will this team bounce back from a devastating loss like this? Another winless team is coming to your home stadium, take care of business from the opening snap and take out all your frustrations on the Raiders. Play as a team. Play angry. Show this fan base and the rest of the NFL what kind of team you are.

But what kind of team are the Browns, exactly? Did Cleveland play down to their opponent? Or is this the real Browns? That is a question many Browns fans are asking themselves and each other. I, for one, believe the Browns are much better than what they had showed us on Sunday, injuries or none. I hope they show us they are able succeed sooner rather than later.