Tag Archives: Lovie Smith

For Illinois, Moral Victories Exist

When it comes to college football, success is primarily measured by the amount of games won as well as the number of conference titles and national championships a program has accumulated. The more victories a team has, the easier it is to hire top-notch coaching staffs, lure in gifted athletes, build state-of-the-art facilities and keep fans interested. Yet, winning games is much easier said than done especially for schools that don’t have the same financial resources, talent, experience and championship-rich pedigree as the top dogs. A conference bottom-feeder like Illinois just can’t keep up with the likes of Alabama even if they play a perfect game. 9 out of 10 times, the Fighting Illini get crushed by the Crimson Tide and even in the rare event that its close, the more talented team usually always comes out on top. So if your program rarely wins, has fallen drastically behind other teams and is in the middle of rebuilding, what does success look like?

Initially, it doesn’t look like anything tangible and won’t show in the win column so you need to find satisfaction in the small victories. These victories can be getting a highly-rated recruit and seeing him blossom into a consistent play-maker or putting up a competitive, valiant fight against a superior, highly-ranked foe. They say moral victories don’t exist but for a fledgling operation, you need to find the silver lining and take away positives in order to build confidence and a solid foundation for the future. Other than that you can’t have too many lofty expectations because if you do, chances are they will never be fulfilled and you’ll always be miserable and unsatisfied.

Since 1951, when Illinois last won a national championship according to the Boand selecting body, the Fighting Illini have 23 winning season records, finished in the top three of the Big Ten 16 times, have four conference titles, and six bowl victories. It’s not anything incredible but certainly not the worst ever and shows that Illinois could make an occasional run at a conference title (2001)or a Rose Bowl berth.

Remember in 2005, former Florida head coach Ron Zook was hired and Illinois went 2-9, 0-8 and 2-10, 1-7 in his first two seasons but went 9-3, 6-2 in 2007 including a victory over No. 1-ranked Ohio State and a trip to Pasadena . Then again, it must be stated that the Illini did get mighty fortunate in recruiting in 2006, when one of the Midwest’s top quarterbacks, Isiah “Juice” Williams of Chicago Vocational High School was right in their backyard and had a top-25 class in 2007 highlighted by one of the country’s top receivers in Arrelious Benn.

However, unless the Fighting Illini hit the jackpot again in recruiting soon, it’s going to take some time to turn things around. It’s been 16 years since the Illini won a conference title and I think it be mighty unfair to criticize Lovie Smith if he doesn’t win more games next season especially with what he has to work with. Plus, Smith has had only one true season of recruiting and it will be three more years until Smith actually has a team entirely of players he and his staff recruited.

Now, the one thing Illinois has going for them is they just need four wins to make an official improvement from 2016 and could conceivably win three to six games from a schedule-standpoint. But with the enormous amount of talent leaving an offense and defense that both ranked near the bottom of the conference, I predict things will get worse for the Illini before any improvements, whether measurable or not, will show.

The offense was 109th in total passing yards per game and loses its starting quarterback Wes Lunt, two wide receivers, three linemen and two tight ends. On defense, which ranked 11th in conference for yards allowed per game, it loses its entire starting defensive line, starting middle linebacker and leading tackler, Hardy Nickerson Jr. and two defensive backs.

I hope the Illini faithful have come to terms with reality and accepted this won’t be fixed overnight. The only thing you can hope for is that the team plays competitively and maybe pulls off a couple victories.

Winning games will always be the definition of success and some programs will always have an uphill climb to the top. My advice is to keep expectations low and embrace the drought so that when that turnaround happens, you will feel incredibly satisfied. Cherish those small victories to maintain hope and your sanity and keep up the faith. Sooner or later, those moral victories will translate into real wins and no one will see it coming except those who patiently waited.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Illinois Needs to Make Lovie Smith Happy

Hidden behind ESPN’s Insider Access and well, probably ignored by most except the most die-hard college football fans, an article was published by Adam Rittenberg in which he discussed how big buyout clauses might prevent some schools from firing their coaches. Even if I had Insider access, I probably wouldn’t have read the article since my team is not going to part with Jim Harbaugh until he is buried in the ground. An interesting little tidbit did emerge from the story though in that Lovie Smith is not happy at Illinois.

Now Smith has come out to refute that claim which was rather predictable. What coach is actively going to declare that he’s unhappy with his current position, in his first year, with four games to go? Not one that wants to have a shot at winning another game. Has any coach ever copped to the idea that he’s unhappy with anything other than the current record of a team? If so, I don’t remember it.

It’s possible that Lovie Smith actually isn’t happy at Illinois. Maybe he figured that going from the NFL to the NCAA would be a breeze. Pete Carroll did it and built a dynasty before running back to the NFL to try and create another. Bobby Petrino ditched the Miami Dolphins mid-season to go to Arkansas. Jim Harbaugh did it and turned a garbage Michigan team into a College Football Playoff contender. How hard could it be?

Well, Harbaugh and Petrino walked into schools that were loaded with talent. Illinois wasn’t teed up nicely for Smith when he arrived, having previous gone 5-7 the year before and done so without players that make you go “Why isn’t this team better?”. Illinois hasn’t really been loaded with talent since Ron Zook was there and took them to a Rose Bowl.

So yeah, it’s not as easy as it looks and just maybe, Lovie Smith really is unhappy.

Well Illinois needs to figure out a way to make him happy.

Illinois doesn’t have that “wow” factor when it comes to college football. They don’t have their pick of the recruits or the pick of the coaches. The only other Illinois coach I can name besides Zook is Tim Beckman who got fired right before the 2015 under a slew of allegation. Yes, they play in a Power Five conference but they are more or less a second class citizen there.

Quite frankly, Lovie Smith might be the best coach that Illinois is going to be able to land until the program turns the corner and starts producing regular winning seasons. I bet even if they threw all sorts of money at him, PJ Fleck wouldn’t leave Western Michigan for the Illini. Maybe an FCS coach might take the leap but how many hot coaching prospects do we hear about coming from there? This is a guy you want to keep around, at least for a bit.

Lovie Smith may not have a lot of college coaching under his belt but the fact that he took a Chicago Bears team to the Super Bowl with an absolutely terrible quarterback says something about him as a coach. He didn’t win, but he got there. He can tell kids that he knows what it takes to get to the ultimate level and they have to believe him. He’s got a credibility that you really can’t deny.

Most importantly though, he wanted to be at Illinois. Someone with actual coaching ability and actual credibility wanted to be at this school even when he knew it was going to be a rebuilding year. Not a lot of coaches want to willingly step into a program that they’re going to have to remake from the ground up. Going in Illinois’ favor is that it’s a lot easier to remake a college team than a pro team. Any pro team that comes calling is going to be an absolute mess which is going to make staying in Champagne look even better.

Illinois needs to pull Lovie Smith aside and figure out if he’s happy and if he’s not, figure out what will make him happy. This program is never going to get off the ground and become what it was in the 50’s if it keeps the revolving door of coaching going.

Might want to keep that checkbook handy.

E-mail Tim at .

Image courtesy Flickr via Creative Commons

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North Carolina Lost to Georgia and will Unsurprisingly Lose to Illinois

Normally when talking smack, one tends to leave their most compelling argument for near the end, or at least saves it for somewhere in the middle when they might need to sway the argument back into their favor. Not me, though, I’m coming out firing with all guns blazing.

Dude. North Carolina.

You lost to Georgia.

Yes, the Georgia Bulldogs. The biggest perennial underachievers in college football this side of Tennessee. You had a lead and you blew it to Georgia. How do you look at yourselves in the morning?

Their quarterback literally only threw the ball 12 times. You and everyone else in America and any other country that follows college football knew they were just going to hand the ball off to Nick Chubb. Georgia may underachieve a lot but damn are they good at handing the ball off. Chubb carried the ball 32 times. You’d think after the first 15 or so carries you might have figured this one out.

Aren’t you guys supposed to be a defensive team? You know, the two-three zone or whatnot?

Oh right, that’s basketball, the sport you’re actually good at.

Look, there’s no debating the fact that you guys are good at hoops. You might even have the best coach in college basketball so stick with that. Stop trying to pretend that you’re a football school. You’re not. Just stop it. Just be good at basketball and be happy with that.

Look at your stats from the Georgia game for further proof.

You’ve got two backs that combined for 152 yards on 16 carries. No, you didn’t read that wrong and I didn’t write it wrong. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 9.5 yards per carry on average. That’s almost first down distance. Nope, let’s not run the ball.

I get it, you fell behind so you had to throw. You know what? You don’t have to throw every down. That’s what Georgia expected you to do. Why not run the ball every now and then? It’s not rocket science. The last three drives comprised 21 plays and out of those, there were only three running plays. And how’d that work out for you?

Maybe I’m being too hard on North Carolina. I mean they are known for their academics.

Oh, oh wait. That’s the bad kind of academic recognition.

And this isn’t even the first time they’ve been investigated for academic issues. I mean, how dumb do you have to be? You got caught cheating once so you do it again? Are the coaches North Carolina graduates too? That might explain some of the play-calling. Maybe instead of pushing athletes to take easier classes, North Carolina should’ve worked to hire some better coaches. Perhaps some that could build a program up a program without the whole fraud thing, perhaps?

Your coach is named after a cool hat. Larry Fedora’s last name is all you’ve got going for you.

The Illinois head coach doesn’t know a lot about cheating, unfortunately. He does know about this little thing called coaching in the Super Bowl. I’m just saying.

Let’s also take a moment to appreciate that Lovie Smith got a Chicago Bears team to the Super Bowl when his quarterback was Rex Grossman. His quarterback this year is Wes Lunt who wasn’t half bad in previous years and has a name like he should be part of the Hunger Games. They also have Cal’s leading tackler from last year as a transfer with Hardy Nickerson who has to moonlight as a professional wrestler with that name.

So come on North Carolina. You lost to Georgia. You can’t read. You’re facing a guy named Hardy Nickerson. Just quit while you’re… well, just quit.

E-mail Tim at [email protected].

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Illinois Fans Need Lovie Smith to be the Next John Mackovic

I know an Illinois football fan. Yes, that’s right, an Illinois football fan, meaning a grand total of one. But I trust him as my go-to source for all things related to Illinois football. And, in the interest of full disclosure, yes, he is a relative.

He and I had a chance to talk and I asked him what the feeling was surrounding new head football coach, Lovie Smith. It seems the consensus is that Smith is expected to do well based on his relationships in the Chicago area. This means one thing. Smith will be expected to successfully recruit the Chicago area.

Recruiting the Chicago area won’t be easy, but it’s believed that Smith has the relationships built to have at least a grain of success. Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State are known commodities for recruits in that area and few, if any, localized schools should be expected to out-recruit those blue blood programs.

Where Smith could find recruiting success in the Chicago area is in the so-called leftovers. Don’t be mistaken, there is no shame in taking the leftovers from the blue bloods of the football world. Big Ten programs like Northwestern, Minnesota and Iowa have supplemented their rosters nicely with these players. Now it’s time for Illinois to do the same.

I would also add that it’s important for Smith to renew Illinois’ recruiting success in East St. Louis. As Illinois continued to struggle over the years, Missouri and Gary Pinkel began to find a niche in East St. Louis. If Smith is going to succeed at Illinois, it may well depend in part to how successful Barry Odom is as Gary Pinkel’s replacement. Dana Howard went to Illinois to play for former head coach John Mackovic. These days a player from East St. Louis of his caliber would be more likely to play for Missouri.

This leads to the ultimate question that I asked my relative about Smith and the potential that he brings to Illinois. And that question is this – Smith is the best Illinois football coaching hire since…?

The answer was just as I thought it would be with the answer being John Mackovic.

Illinois is not known for consistent football success. They have a decent season every once in awhile and then go back to sleep. This isn’t just my opinion. It’s also the opinion of my Illinois fan relative. And it’s been far to long since they’ve had that glimmer of success.

Mackovic went 30-16-1 at Illinois and this was in large part because he could flat out recruit. You know what they say, “X’s and O’s are great, but it’s really about the Jimmies and Joes.” And Mackovic had tons of Jimmies and Joes.

Since Mackovic left in 1991, his five successors have gone a combined 112-170-2. In that time not a single coach left Illinois with a winning record. Now Smith has given the Illinois fans a level of hope that many haven’t had since Mackovic was hired.

Half the battle in recruiting is winning over the fans. These are the people that recruits will see wearing Illinois football gear around town and talking about Illinois football. And the fans are the reason that I’m inclined to trust the hope that has been placed in Smith since many of these fans are also fans of the Chicago Bears. The Bears are the team that Smith spent nine seasons coaching, so many of the Illinois fans know his demeanor, they know his style, they know his expectations. These same fans also remember the success that Mackovic had after arriving in Champaign from the NFL.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

 

 

Big Ten Links: You’ll Never Convince me to pay Student-Athletes

Things are looking up for Maryland. In what many would have considered an off-season disaster, head coach DJ Durkin turned a potential negative into quick positive. Last week, I wrote about Maryland defensive coordinator Scott Shafer leaving the staff after such a short time and how quickly Durkin hired Kentucky’s Andy Buh to fill the position. Not only did Durkin hire a new defensive coordinator in short shrift, he picked up verbal commits from three impressive recruits.

What’s the ceiling at Illinois? Lovie Smith is a man of change. From the NFL to college. From early morning practices to late-afternoon workouts. From being part of the NFL contract process to dealing with high school coaches and recruits. While I have no doubts about Smith’s ability to coach, ultimately what will define his tenure at Illinois is his ability to win. Six years at $21 million dollars is a lot of money, which he’ll easily return to the university within three years, but how high can the Illini go in the Big Ten? As a charter member of the Big Ten and second largest university (Minnestoa) in the West Division, expectations should be high. The only other team that’s been consistently good since the conference went to two divisions in 2011 has been Wisconsin. With Smith’s hire, there’s literally no reason Smith and the Illini shouldn’t compete for the division title every season.

Wisconsin, why so cheap? I guess I understand Wisconsin is successful in the West Division of the Big Ten despite paying what seems to be the least amount of money for football coaches. I guess that shows – excuse me Cleveland Indians fans – that a ‘team’ can act like a small market team and still be successful even if it’s going to cause a bunch of turnover every season. I still have tons of respect for Wisconsin chancellor Rebecca Blank for saying Michigan and Ohio State are overpaying their coaches. For the record, I agree 100 percent those dudes are overpaid. As well as Nick Saban. But to totally contradict what I just said, Wisconsin needs to step its game up. While they can hang their hat on Big Ten championship game and Rose Bowl appearances, how many of those have translated to wins? I’m sure coaching turnover has something to do with it.

You have until Friday to order Hawkeye’s season tickets. I can say I won’t be placing an order for season tickets, but based on last year’s success and the outlook for 2016, I expect Iowa to sell a lot more home tickets. Two items of note – 1. Iowa State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska visit Kinnick Stadium this fall. 2. There isn’t a chance in hell Iowa repeats what it did last season. I’d love to be wrong about that.

Jim Harbaugh: the next great commence speaker. “I’m not a football guy, but I know a great educator when I see one, and he always impressed me as a great educator and great leader.” Says Jim Vail president of New Jersey’s Paramus Catholic school where Jim Harbaugh will give the commencement speech this spring. I guess if the NCAA is going to ban satellite camps because of you, then you have to take your message around the country in a few other different ways. One way is to promote yourself and Michigan at commencement speeches. The NCAA had to approve this appearance, so I wonder if Harbaugh will be allowed to wear anything with the Block M on it or if he’ll have to submit his speech beforehand to make sure it doesn’t contain any recruiting subterfuge?

I don’t believe anyone understands NCAA graduate transfer rules. Here’s a smart podcast from our friends at Hammer & Rails as they try to tackle the transfer rule and how it relates to Boilermaker hoopster Kendall Stephens. Later in the episode, there’s a deep penetrating discussion about Tyler Summit, who apparently good at penetration, but bad on picking the people he penetrates.

Big Ten coaches aren’t and shouldn’t be united on camp ban. I think a lot of times we expect coaches from conferences to be a united front. Typically, their wishes are passed up the chain-of-command to university presidents through athletic directors and that’s how things become ‘law’ in college sports. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz doesn’t want satellite camps because he wants them to take place on campus. That’s a novel concept. Coaches like Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh (#duh) are in favor of these camps with varying degrees of restrictions. Is it surprising all the coaches aren’t on the same page? No. Is it surprising to publicly see all the coaches aren’t on the same page? Absolutely.

For the record, I was against the camps before I was for the camps. I’m against the camps in the way that Harbaugh used them as a means to take his kids from their spring break for a glorified recruiting trip. Now that I know many kids who aren’t going to play at the Michigan’s or Ohio State’s of the world are so affected by the change I’m against it. I’m never for taking scholarship opportunities from deserving student-athletes and if this means kids don’t have the chance to go exposure camps then this is bad for the sport.

No, Cardale, you shouldn’t be paid to play college football. You’re crazy if you thought I’d ignore this one. Cardale took to Twitter yesterday to voice his excitement at the prospect of being able to earn an income for playing football. I’m excited for Cardale and all the other student-athletes who will be drafted or signed later this month by NFL teams. It’s the culmination of years of hard work by the athletes, parents and coaches. The reward for missing summers with friends, tailgating before college football games, and spending Thanksgiving with dudes you probably don’t like. That said, I’m still a firm believer that playing college football is equivalent of an unpaid internship for student-athletes who gain on the job experience while earning and opportunity to play at the next level.

In fairness to Cardale, I do think his time at Ohio State has been nothing but a benefit and learning experience for him. I don’t know if last season worked out the way he wanted it to, but since his ‘we ain’t come to play SCHOOL’ tweet several years age, he certainly has appeared to have matured as a young man.

Isn’t that what going to college is all about – growing and learning? Even if you have to sacrifice in the near term to be successful in the long term?

E-Mail Damien at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @damienbowman.

Photo: Phil Roeder/Flickr.

Firing the Coach in March? Josh Whitman Starts Illinois AD Career with a Bang

Waking up on an early March Saturday morning, Bill Cubit was probably excited about the possibilities of his Illinois football team with spring practice coming up. Where could he improve his team, after a 5-7 2015 finish, enough to make it to a bowl game in 2016? Cubit had plenty of reason for hope. After a tumultuous off-season for the program, Cubit made it through unscathed as the interim coach and even signed a new two-year deal to officially be the football team’s head coach. Well the Fighting Illini might make a bowl game this upcoming season, but it won’t be under Cubit’s watch. Cubit was fired Saturday on new AD Josh Whitman’s first day on the job and swiftly replaced by former Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith.

On the surface, the timing of the move seems questionable at best. It happened days before spring practice was set to begin. Not exactly a smooth start for a program that has had little success in recent memory. It was also rumored that there were recruits either on campus or set to be on campus in the coming days. Whitman sure did his best to show the kids what the college football world is really like right off the bat didn’t he? As far as the players currently on the team, they didn’t seem pleased that they didn’t find out directly from the new AD. When you step back and look at all this from Whitman’s point of view however, I think he probably made the best move that he could. Cubit isn’t a big name and he’s not an up-and-comer in the coaching ranks. There’s little evidence that he could have taken the Illini to the next level, or any level really. As the new AD, was Whitman supposed to sit around and waste a year with a head coach he knew he was set to get rid of at the end of the year anyway? He probably feels as a young AD he needs to prove himself as quickly as possible and in the college football world, guys don’t get unlimited time to make that happen.

As far as the state of the current team, I understand the players being upset they didn’t hear about it from Whitman. Is it possible he could have scheduled meetings with the players and Bill Cubit back-to-back? Sure, but he had to tell someone first. It would have been just as unfair to Cubit as it was the players if Whitman had told the team first and they took to twitter (college athletes would never do that right?) resulting in Cubit finding out before Whitman had a chance to tell him. And is it a bit inconvenient for a change in coach so close to spring practice? Definitely. In the long run though, it will be more beneficial for the program to have this extra time with a coach who should be there for at least three or four years as opposed to having one uninterrupted year with a coach who is sure to be gone after the year anyway.

Aside from Whitman wanting to bring someone in who is “his guy”, there were other reasons to let Cubit go. Prior to the 2015 season, Cubit was offensive coordinator for previous Illinois coach Tim Beckman. Shortly before last year, Beckman was fired for allegations of player abuse mostly centered around treatment of players with injuries. Cubit also was implicated by the same player, but ultimately cleared of wrongdoing. The allegations were also far less numerous and serious as the ones claimed against Beckman. On the other hand, the situation left the athletic department in complete disarray and the football program a mess. Left to lead the team out of this was a guy who was very close, and originally implicated, in said mess. In the future, teams competing with the Illini for recruits could bring this up with Cubit as coach and say, “Can you be sure injured player mistreatment still isn’t going on?” It’s understandable for the new AD to want to cut ties completely to the mess that ultimately landed him his job there.

However odd the timing of this move may be, both in terms of Whitman’s short reign as AD to this point as well as the football team in general, no one will blink an eye if new coach Lovie Smith can bring success to a program that has seen little of it recently. But is Smith the right guy to get that done? That’s what makes this whole situation more interesting. It’s not as if Whitman let Cubit go and had a slam dunk hire waiting in the wings. Sure Lovie Smith is a big name, and one that certainly resonates in the state of Illinois, but he hasn’t been in the college game in over two decades and has never even been a college football coordinator, let alone a head coach. How will he feel about year-round recruiting trips? Can he learn quickly to press the right buttons with college kids, buttons that are surely different than the ones he need to press for professionals getting paid millions? Whitman is banking his early career on it and on Smith’s reputation. It’s easy to say ‘Hey, Lovie Smith coached the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl, come play for the Fighting Illini’. It’s less easy when you remember the kids Smith will be recruiting were under 10 years old when the Bears went to that Super Bowl, and these kids have grown up in an era where people don’t feel obligated to root for the hometown team. Will it matter in some cases? Sure, but it won’t make up for nearly enough if Lovie can’t handle the other aforementioned questions. Besides, it’s not like Illinois is a hotbed for recruiting talent.

On Smith’s side will be Illinois’ expectations, or lack thereof. The Illini have made just five bowl games this century, so the bar has been set low. If Smith can get them to bowl games consistently, or have a random nine-win season during his first contract, it should be enough to get him a second one. Ultimately if Smith is a good college coach, this shouldn’t be a problem considering he gets to coach in one of the worst divisions in the nation, the Big Ten West.

In the end, new AD Josh Whitman wanted to bring in someone who was “his guy”, just as new coaches like to bring in their own quarterback and new NFL GMs like to bring in a hand-picked NFL coach. The only thing different here is that Whitman didn’t start his job until March and didn’t have the luxury of getting his pick during the normal coaching carousel. Rather than sitting on his hands for a year, Whitman decided to go against the grain. His connections to Lovie Smith surely made making the decision easier, he’ll just have to hope it doesn’t end up costing him his own job down the road.

Photo courtesy

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.

Monday Night Football, Where 5-8 Doesn't Add Up

Some things just don’t add up. Sure, after Monday night’s contest at Soldier Field, the Bears, Saints, and everyone else in the NFL had played 14 games, but the logic with numbers stops there. In New Orleans and wherever else Saints fans might reside, they watched their 5-8 team on Monday Night Football, with the hopes their beloved Saints would jump the 5-8-1 Panthers for the division lead in the NFC South. Meanwhile, the hometown crowd just hoped Jay Cutler and the 5-8 Bears wouldn’t embarass their city on national television.

Cutler hasn’t been much of a favorite with the home crowd, or any crowd, except maybe the Green Bay crowds, since being traded to the Windy City in 2009. Under Lovie Smith, he was just expected to be better than Rex Grossman or whatever other void has lined up under center for the Bears this century. In other words, he just needed to do enough to let the defense win them ball games. Now, enter offensive-minded Marc Trestman, add Cutler’s favorite weapon from his Denver days, plus a big physical receiver, and the role has changed. Nobody was asking for leadership from the Vanderbilt product, just good quarterback play and an attitude that reflects the opposite of what you might consider a douchebag.

The Bears haven’t gotten that, but they also haven’t had a losing season, since going 7-9 in Cutler’s first year with the team. It’s for that reason and possibly a legitimate fear of not being able to upgrade the position that a decision was made to commit to Cutler for the next seven years after his contract expired at the end of last season. It didn’t take long for what we assume would be buyer’s remorse to kick in with Cutler’s play in 2014, even if mitigated by key injuries in his supporting cast. The Bears wear their 5-8 with shame, while their fans look to the NHL, NBA, and Major League Baseball chapters in town for some sports salvation.

Meanwhile, the Saints are far enough removed from both their World Championship run of 2009 and the scandal that plagued in 2012 that they have both expired as factors for the 2014 Saints. They did, however, still enter their Monday Night game with an identical 5-8 record to the Bears, who are, by every definition of the word, broken. However, hope springs eternal in the Bayou, as there hasn’t been a more perfect year than this to be medicore, or even slow, out of the gate in the NFC South. Entering play on Monday, the division was a collective 17-37 in the Win-Loss Column.

There’s no criteria to flex out of Monday Night football, but if there was, this was the one to kick to the curb. Maybe someone could have sold you on the idea that the Saints weren’t as bad as their sub-500 record might have suggested, but it’s countered by Chicago is probably worse than their 5 wins might insinuate. The Bears might have stolen a few and New Orleans probably gave a few away, but the bottom line is, you are what your record is. Come to think of it, both of these teams were ranked in the bottom 5 of many pertinent defensive categories across the National Football League. You expect teams like this to lose more games than they’ve won, but somehow the Saints still control their own destiny to host a playoff game.

It only took two plays from scrimmage from each team to demonstrate to anyone who has dismissed either participant in Monday’s game that they’ve done so with merit. Cutler’s first pass was ridiculously incomplete, and in a “I should probably tell everyone I was throwing the ball away, only I wasn’t throwing it away” kind of way. His second pass was picked off. The Saints didn’t fare much better. After a nice run to move the chains, Drew Brees hit his tight end, Jimmy Graham for another first down, inside the 10, but didn’t protect the football and the Bears defense had quickly bailed Cutler out for his first mistake of the night.

The two teams stalemated for 15 minutes, but the Saints opened up the scoring in the second quarter, and eventually took us to the fourth quarter with, really, a less than impressive 24-0 lead. The Bears did salvage some points to go through the motions, but ultimately looked exactly as sloppy as you might have expected in a 31-15 defeat. There’s out-of-order, there’s dysfunctional, and then there’s the 2014 Chicago Bears. They host the Detroit Lions next week, and you can expect to see some empty seats. You can also expect a lot of talk about eating eight figures in guaranteed money that Bears ownership might decide to eat just to rid themselves of another six years of the headaches that #6 brings to the table and the locker room.

It’s a different story for Sean Payton‘s team, going forward. As tough as the sledding has been for the Saints, they know that they’re in the playoffs with wins at home against Atlanta, and in Week 17 at Tampa Bay. They won’t even need the win over the Bucs if the Browns beat Carolina and they hold serve against the Falcons, but it gets a little messier with a loss to Atlanta, who also controls their own destiny at 5-9. If the Saints do win their last two games against their division rivals, they would finish 8-8, like a handful of division champions before them, and it’s a non-story.

If the Saints lose in Week 16 or 17, we’d have our second playoff team with a losing regular season record ever, whether it’s a 7-9 team or the 7-8-1 Panthers. On the bright side for the NFC South, at least the Saints know all too well that a team with a losing record isn’t doomed to be one and done in the postseason. In 2010, the 11-5 Saints visited the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks as the top Wild Card team in the NFC, and left the emerald city with a 41-36 defeat, which prematurely began their off-season.

It’s funny how we talk about trends early in the year, as soon as Week 2 or 3 sometimes, and how doomed a 1-2 team might look when stacked against teams of the same record historically. You might think a Week 15 battle of 5-8 would spell doom a little more boldly, and for the Bears it does. In this case, the winner is sitting pretty, and 6-8 equals 14 games just the same, but it just doesn’t add up. I’m not sure it ever will.

11-on-11: TJ Ward Puts Dolphins on Ice as Broncos Bounce Back At Home

Ten years ago, Terrell Ray Ward had finally overcome his high school’s depth issues, but suffered a knee injury his senior season at the acclaimed De La Salle High School in Northern California. These days, we know him as TJ Ward, the Pro-Bowler, an integral part of the Denver Bronocos success, and the days of walking on at Mike Belotti’s Oregon program are long forgotten. On Sunday evening in Denver, he called off the Dolphins bid for the upset, despite a valiant effort on Miami’s part, with a late interception of Ryan Tannehill.

We’re going to change the format around here a little bit. Instead of being touch and go on just about every game played between Thursday and Sunday night, our focus will be on a single game each week, but I’ll drop a little bit of insight on what I see out of the corner of my eyes throughout the league. This week, we’re in The Rockies with the #1 crew from CBS and 76,987 paying customers for the Dolphins 39-36 road defeat.

Who is TJ Ward, and What Does He Do?

To be as good as the Denver Broncos have been, there has to be a little more to your defense than luck and reliance on the offense to do the lion’s share of the work. There’s a good feeling you have to have with Jack Del Rio running your defense, provided he’s not also your head coach. They have Terrance Knighton up front to disrupt the run game, which is a Miami strength, and pass-rushing options even after Von Miller, which is frustrating to third-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The secondary isn’t all the way just yet, but they’re coming along pretty well after signing TJ Ward away from the Browns last off-season.

Ward is accustomed to having talent around him, and while Denver might not have a headliner like Joe Haden to join him in the seconary, but you couldn’t ask for more from Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby in his rookie season at the corner positon. Having watched Ward closely in Cleveland, you knew that he could keep his head on a swivel, find his target, and let it rip. Unfortunately, “letting it rip” the way Ward did early in his career drew penalties and fines, but over the last two seasons he’s channeled it in a good way.

He’s reacting better and identifying run/pass in the pre-snap moments better, which makes him a good run-stopper without getting beat over the top. He has two interceptions this season, and Sunday’s canceled the threat of Miami snatching victory from the grips of a 32-28 deficit with three and a half minutes to play. It was a first down play, and Tannehill had enough clock that there was no critical sense of urgency, meaning Miami still had options on the ground, but tried to go to Jarvis Landry on back-to-back plays and he tried to force it. Harris Jr had him covered well enough to force a deflection into No Man’s Land, where TJ Ward was serving as governor on Sunday afternoon.

Ward has transitioned from head-hunter to ball-hawk, which doesn’t mean he’s at all hesitant to make the pads audibly crack. In 2013, he got his first pick-six, and he nearly got touchdown #2 of his 5-year career in this one. Ward cut it all the way back across the field, after swiping the ball at the Miami 45, and he got as far as the 8 before being shoved out of bounds. To give Peyton Manning and that offense a 1st and Goal at the 8 is basically a guaranteed touchdown, two plays later Manning and Wes Welker obliged with a short touchdown pass. In four plays, Denver went from trailing by three to nursing a two-possession lead, thanks in large part to their newly acquired safety Ward.

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Ward Giveth, Ward Almost Taketh Away

So, you just got a key takeaway, one that allegedly put this game on ice for your team. Whether victory seems inevitable or not, you have to play all sixty minutes. We understand that these pass defenders are playing with the deck stacked against them. The play that draws a pass interference is almost as much of a necessary evil as actual completed passes in this day and age, but you still never want to hear your name called.

In Miami’s last-ditch effort to get two scores inside of the two-minute warning, they went for two to close the margin to three points, and Ward gave them two cracks at it. It’s probably important to mention that 35 of the 84 yards Miami went on their final offensive possession were courtesy of unnecessary roughness and pass interference calls on Malik Jackson and Omar Bolden, but it was yielding a second attempt at the conversion try that made the nightmare of a collapse slightly more realistic. Ward laid Landry out for one of those “the official can’t find his flag quick enough to throw it violently” flags, giving the Dolphins an easier chance to extend the game if they were fortunate enough to snag the onside kick.

Kickers Are Weird

Look, I’m of the mindset that if you have 53 players on your active roster, they all better damn well be football players. Kickers are very important to this game and are, perhaps, a little under-appreciated in the grand scheme. That said, I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that they’re a bit off. However, sometimes the bizarre things they do are worth noting, so let’s make sure the onside kick attempt from Miami’s Caleb Sturgis was notable.

The concept is simple, but the execution is difficult when it comes to onside kicks. Boot a ground-ball ten yards or draw the hands of a player on the receiving team player to make contact with it before the threshold, and hope one of your 11 guys ends up with possession of the ball. There is only so much trickeration you can attempt, especially now that the no-fun police say you can’t really overload one side of the tee or another with too many players. Sturgis put his right foot behind his right leg as he approached the ball, as if to kick it left, but the misdirection fooled no one and Denver running back CJ Anderson recovered it with ease.

CJ Anderson Is Short for Cortrelle Javon Anderson

With his performance today, CJ Anderson has done just enough to make me interested enough to view his Wikipedia page, only to be disappointed when I saw how desolate his bio was when I got there.

He made up to 7 people miss on his 51-yard catch and run in Oakland two weeks ago for his first career touchdown, but was more than just a highlight against the Dolphins, without Montee Ball or Ronnie Hillman available. He combined with Jawan Thompson for 200 yards on 32 carries, but it was the second-year player from Cal that put the offense on his back and showed some brilliance in the game’s final minute.

He’d already run for 151 yards and found paydirt once, the initial go-ahead score, on 26 carries, but he got cerebral with his final touch of the game. It was also his longest run, going for 26 yard before he gave himself up in the interest of getting the clock to 0. Anderson had the first down his team needed to close the playbook and run the only play diagrammed for victory formation, Peyton Manning drops to a knee. It was a nice follow-up to recovering the onside kick, not sure how often you’ll see that from your featured running back, and put a bow around the gift of a day he gave his offense.

No Julius, No Problem

Sudden-superstar tight end Julius Thomas was a scratch for today’s game with a bad ankle, which is a shame. He’s hauled in 12 touchdowns in ten games this season, and the Broncos were 7-0 when Manning targeted him at least 5 times in a game. In the games against Seattle, New England, and St. Louis, he looked for the small forward-turned-tight end four times or less, and Denver won less than one of those games. Today, he’d have some familiarity in Jacob Tamme and the seldom-used Virgil Green to supplement Thomas’s out of this world production in the offense.

As it went, he threw in Tamme’s direction twice. One didn’t count, but it would have been a touchdown if not for a penalty on Demayrius Thomas. The other was for a loss; that’s what we see on the stat sheet and it tell us the tight ends didn’t factor into the outcome of this one. Coincidentally, it was Demaryius Thomas who got the six after negating Tamme’s glory. To let my praise of Anderson carry over into another blurb, he had a huge 21-yard pick-up on 4th and 2 to set up this touchdown, which got the Broncos as close as 28-25 early in the fourth quarter.

Burse-Snatching

This 39-36 game only feature four punts, and three of them came off the foot of Brandon Fields of the Dolphins. On the receiving end of those punts was Isaiah Burse, who combined for 12 yards on those 3 returns, so we’re probably going to say something bad about the Broncos punt returner here. Well, he fumbled, with his team already down in the second half. Damien Williams stripped him of the football and John Denney landed on the football. Three plays later, Tannehill and Landry hooked up for six. They scored after a reprieve from the officials on what appeared to be a Von Miller interception to bail Burse out of trouble, but Ward was called for holding and Miami was able to convert the second chance into an 11-point lead.

Another special teams gaffe worth mentioning is the missed Brandon McManus attempt from 33 yards away that infuriated Manny Ramirez on the Broncos sideline. It came 13 plays after the Broncos received the second half with a drive that stalled at the Dolphins’ 15, when Jelani Jenkins sacked Manning on 3rd and 1. In addition to the sack, the second-year man from Florida led all Dolphin defenders with 9 solo tackles.

Harmless Fumbling

As devastating as Ward’s late interception was, some serious self-destruction on the visitors’ part ended up not hurting Miami at all. On a 10 play, 5 minute drive in the second quarter, Brandon Gibson and Rishard Matthews combined for three fumbles. Gibson actually dropped both out of bounds on short receptions, but Matthews put the ball on the turf in play right before the 2-minute warning, but Lamar Miller recovered the ball 3 yards further down the field at the Broncos’ 10. Tannehill hooked up with Mike Wallace on the next play to put Miami up 21-10.

Setting the Tone Early

There’s a serious difference between being on pace to do something and carrying out that pace. Based on the first half numbers, it would shock someone that didn’t watch the second halff, that Miami didn’t have 100-yard receiver or runner on the day. In fact, after a fast start, the Broncos figured Lamar Miller out. He finished the day with 59 yards on 12 carries after getting about 50 in the first half alone. Obviously the 21-10 2nd quarter lead didn’t translate to a big win for the Fins over the AFC’s best team, or at least the one with the best record. The Dolphins took the Opening Kickoff and used the running game and short passes to draw first blood and take the crowd out of the game. Again, there’s a difference between setting the tone and actually riding that them out. Daniel Thomas ran the ball well when he touched it, it’s a wonder Joe Philbin didn’t go to him more.

Possession is Nine Tenths

The Broncos score quickly in the present tense, so you shouldn’t let that time of possession number tell you anything, but the Broncos held the ball for about 35 minutes, giving them about a ten minute edge in time their defense got to rest. Today was the first time Manning took on the Dolphins as a Bronco, but he saw them plenty as an Indianapolis Colt, and you might surprised to hear he’s just 6-7 against them in his career. With the Colts, he was just 2-7 in his career before they moved out of their division to the newly-formed NFC South in 2003. The last time he saw them, on a Monday night in 2009, he had less than 15 minutes of game clock time to work with a hot night in Miami, but still left with 27-23 victory there.  He now has four straight wins against the mammals from South Beach.

Monday Is For Degenerates

This week, our degenerate gamblers are blessed with not just one, but two games to recover from taking the Cardinals and the points in Seattle or whatever wage-losing wager didn’t work out for them. We’ll start with the standard product, which features the Ravens traveling to Bayou Country to take on the Saints. Caesars says the Saints are giving three and setting the point mark at 50. Now, the Ravens are a sub-par team on the road and they’re even worse against the spread this season, but I just can’t see the Ravens losing this game straight up. I am taking the Ravens and I think it’s enough of a shootout to think 51 is likely. Even in a vacuum, I think I’d be excited to see how this AFC North is going to play out. Who is going to be the next to lose and when?

Our bonus game is in Detroit, which doesn’t mean anything to Buffalo who is displaced from their natural home game, since they aren’t very good in Buffalo anyways. The bonus is they’re playing the Jets on a fast track. Buffalo is decent away from their home digs, maybe more business-like and the Jets don’t really pose any type of a threat. They cover 2 and a half, but this game doesn’t really sell itself as a game that’s going to feature more than 42. Enjoy it in select markets and on Sunday Ticket, while the rest of us suffer through Flacco versus Brees in that monopolized national space.

Random Thoughts Around the League and Elsewhere

Oakland won the other night. For shame, Kansas City, for shame.

A time might come where we have to discuss things like the clock management debacle between Mike Pettine and Mike Smith in Atlanta on Sunday. Pettine chose to take the Browns timeouts into the half with him, and attempted the same impossible field goal twice, even after Smith gave him a reprieve, where it was revealed Cundiff doesn’t have that distance on a shank nullified by a Falcons timeout. The Falcons had no business beating the Browns or even winning that game, but no excuse for not running the clock all the way down and letting Matt Bryant win the game with less than 44 seconds left.

Josh Huff started the Eagles scoring against Tennessee in the highest scoring game of the week with a 107-yard return on the opening kickoff. It might start to feel unfair of Chip Kelly can get the type of athletes he had at Oregon, such as Huff, to join him in Philadelphia.

Every time I looked at the Jaguars-Colts game, I had the broadcast showing me a former Cleveland Brown. One minute, D’Qwell Jackson is making a play, and my eyes could have been fooling me, but I saw both Trent Richardson and Joshua Cribbs cross the goal line with the football in their hands. It didn’t look like the Colts absolutely controlled the game with their division rivals, which makes you glad that game control is a factor that matters in the NFL.

Lovie Smith returned to Soldier Field as the head coach of a pretty lousy Tampa Bay team. His team looked inspired out of the gate, while the Bears looked the same unenthusiastic, flat team in the beginning. The only thing that would have been better than a Smith victory there would have been if he signed Brian Urlacher to a 1-game deal for this game, so his last appearance at Soldier Field would have been in that nasty Bucs uni. Too cruel or too soon? Bears spoil Lovie’s homecoming in this one, 21-13.

I think and I’ve thought a lot of things about the Arizona Cardinals this season, but the main thing is that I’m believing they could be the first to play on their home field in the Super Bowl and I think they can win that game. You know what I didn’t think they would do? I didn’t think they’d play a desperate Seattle team in the House of SeaChicken and come away with a victory. They’re a match-up problem for the Cardinals, which is really unfortunate for a team that needs to count on their ability to pull a rabbit out of their hat from time to time. The magic just isn’t there, not without Larry Fitzgerald in the mix. Maybe they’ll find that in their rematch with the defending champs in Glendale, but it will take more than luck if the offense is as stagnant as it was on Sunday.

Eli Manning to Odell Beckham Jr. for six points. Let’s not get caught up on making this the best thing we’ve ever seen. It was amazing. If you didn’t see the play, go find it. It just seemed to defy some basic principles of physics.

Let’s not forget the Giants lost, and the Cowboys continue to win. Tony Romo might be fun to poke fun at, but he’s leaving less room for criticism. If he and DeMarco Murray stay healthy, Dallas is one of those teams that might spoil the prospect of a home game for a certain team in the desert.

Lastly, on a personal note, Thanksgiving is coming up on Thursday and I want to say I’m thankful for everyone I have in my life. I often underestimate how blessed I am to have all that I have and love in this life. Stay healthy and safe, however you spend the upcoming week.

OBB Presents Rapid React: Browns 22 Buccaneers 17

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Orange and Brown Breakdown and Rapid React: RSS (audio)iTunes (audio)StitcherTuneIn

As ugly as it may look sometimes, there’s something about Brian Hoyer throwing the ball back across the field for big chunks of yards that catches opposing secondaries off guard and it isn’t always pretty. Hoyer hit Taylor Gabriel for 34 yards and a score on the second play of that nature on Sunday to clinch the 22-17 victory over Tampa Bay at First Energy Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Not pretty, but acceptable. That’s how the Browns have operated to date in 2014, whether they’re playing down to the level of their competition or not. We had our eyes on four things as the Browns improved to 5-3 at the halfway point in the season. In their third game without Alex Mack, will the offensive line improvise and improve? How will the undersized players in the Cleveland secondar handle the big, physical Tampa Bay receivers? Since there’s been a massive void in the return game this year, can the Browns win the field position game? Finally, Brian Hoyer has been challenged, what do we think at the halfway point?

Offensive Line

It looked bad early and mediocre late, but never good. Nick McDonald is not cutting the mustard in relief of Alex Mack, but there are few other options. You could see him being pushed around by Gerald McCoy and Akeem Spence in the first half, and you can see how ugly it is on the stat sheet anytime you want. A running team has to be better than 1.8 yards per carry.

Bucs’ Physical Receivers

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I think the actual scoreboard reveals this to be a victory for the Browns. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson both check-in at about 6’5″ 230 pounds, setting up difficult match-ups for sub-six-footers Buster Skrine and Joe Haden, which showed. Evans had his first multi-touchdown game as a pro, hauling in two scoring grabs among his 7 catches for 124 yards on the day. Jackson had 6 catches for 86 yards, but there wasn’t much more available to Mike Glennon than that, which meant something in the end.

Field Position

There was nothing conventional about how the Browns survived the fact they don’t return kickoffs well and they don’t return punts at all, but they were still fine on special teams. They blocked field goals and punts, got turnovers when they needed them, and managed to get Spencer Lanning out of the shadow of his goalposts. The offense did their defensive counterparts few favors, but they were still five points better on the scoreboard in the end.

Brian Hoyer

Didn’t play well, but he played well enough to win. Cost the team six on the first throwback to Ben Tate on a play that should have allowed him to walk in the endzone, but it was over-thrown and his running back had to tip-toe the sidelines just to complete the reception. He threw too many balls to the middle of the field behind his receivers, but still did enough to get them in the endzone twice on the day, and stepped up when it counted. The calls for Manziel aren’t coming with justification, but they might someday soon, and that won’t be a good day for the Browns.