Tag Archives: Steelers

The Browns' Midweek Report, Week 15: Manziel, Midgets, and Making the Playoffs

Well folks, Johnny Manziel is going to make his first NFL start on Sunday at 1:00 pm ET when the Cincinnati Bengals come rolling into town. And I’m not really sure what to expect.

On the one hand, I could see Manziel exploding and leading the Browns to a decisive victory, leading to complaints from our rather ungrateful fan base about how Manziel wasn’t played against the Colts (which, by the way, was the correct decision by Mike Pettine) and how with him we would be much closer to getting into the playoffs. Or Manziel could drop a big deuce, leading to questions about whether the Browns need to consider getting another QB this offseason. Or Manziel could just be mediocre as the Browns defense either wins the game or doesn’t quite do enough to make up for the meh offense it’s been paired with. Honestly I could see any of these three things happening, but I have no idea which to expect. If I was asked to put money on what his performance would be, I would abstain. I’m just much too unsure about what Manziel will actually be capable of doing.

Apparently though, Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis isn’t anywhere close to as uncertain as I am:

In an interview earlier this week, Lewis declared that he didn’t need to bother worrying about who the Browns QB was this weekend, seeing as even if it was Manziel, “you’ve got to go defend the offense, you don’t defend the player…particularly a midget.”

My first reaction to this: “Ha, that’s freaking hilarious!!”

My second reaction to this: “Ohoho, I really hope Manziel makes Lewis eat those words”

My third reaction to this: “Damn, Marvin Lewis is kind of an a**hole. A somewhat funny, somewhat ballsy one, but still an a**hole.”

But then I read a reaction by ESPN The Magazine writer David Fleming on how Lewis’s comment was extremely calculated, and I kind of grew a new bit of respect for the Bengals HC. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still love to see him and his team get absolutely crushed by Manziel and the Browns this weekend, but I am finding that I have to admit that he is a very smart guy. As Fleming puts it:

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is an old defensive coordinator and he knew exactly what he was doing when he trolled [Manziel] on the radio by making fun of his size. He’s a rookie who hasn’t done anything yet except sell a lot of candy bars. NFL defenders are absolutely dying to be the first one to cleanly de-cleat him. So Lewis wants him to have Little Man Complex and feel like he has to prove how tough he is by staying in bounds or taking on a linebacker. Why? Because he knows the odds behind those collisions favor the defense and he’s banking on [Manziel] not being a big enough man to show a little discretion and back down in order to fight another day.

If that was the goal behind his statement, then props to Lewis. That was very well played sir. Hopefully it doesn’t payoff.

And now on to the playoffs:

That loss to the Colts obviously hurt the Browns. Badly. A one point loss is painful to watch, definitely when your team is winning up until the last 30 seconds or so. And definitely when they had numerous opportunities to put the game out of reach. The loss itself knocked the Browns chances of making the playoffs down to about 4.5%, according to stellar statistician Nate Silver and his website FiveThirtyEight. So what exactly needs to happen for the Browns to be in, and who do we all need to root for over the next three weeks?

Well first off, the Browns need to win out. That means victories against the Bengals, Panthers, and Ravens, all of whom are playing for their playoff lives as well. And that would actually put is in a fairly good position to grab the last wildcard spot. Too illustrate this, let me show you the situations of other teams still in the hunt:

Bills (7-6): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: Green Bay, at Oakland, at New England. I would say it is quite realistic to expect them to drop at least two of those. I don’t see them beating Green Bay this weekend, and New England will likely be still playing for home field advantage come Week 17, so I would expect them to probably drop that one as well. On top of that, Oakland has been playing surprisingly well lately, so that game could potentially be close as well. At best, I see them maybe pulling out two wins, but a 9-7 record isn’t going to be good enough to make the playoffs this year, so I think we can pretty much rule them out.

Chargers (8-5): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: Denver, at San Francisco, at Kansas City. The Chargers arguably have the toughest schedule of all the teams remaining in the hunt. However, if they can manage to secure just two wins, they are almost guaranteed the 5th seed in the playoffs, barring the Ravens winning out and the Bengals winning at least two more games, in which case we would likely see every AFC North teams except the Browns in the playoffs. Anyway, I think the Chargers should be able to handle what has looked like a completely defeated 49ers squad. However, the two divisional games will both be tough. The Broncos are the Broncos, and Arrowhead stadium is Arrowhead stadium, not to mention the Chiefs are still playing for the playoffs as well. I’m guessing the Chargers lose this weekend to the Broncos, but top a Chiefs team that has yet to throw a touchdown to a wide receiver. Philip Rivers should be able to outplay Alex Smith handily, and if the Chargers score more than 21 points, this game is probably out of reach for the Chiefs. Expect to see the Chargers playing in January.

Chiefs (7-6): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: Oakland, at Pittsburgh, San Diego. For the Chiefs, the road is rocky. They were unable to beat Oakland earlier this season, although they should easily handle them at home. And then it would really come down to which Pittsburgh team shows up. I’d put my money on the Pittsburgh team of late though, and if that is the case, the Chiefs will most definitely not be able to go into Heinz Field and emerge with a victory. However, if they did, it would come down to their season finale against the Chargers, the winner of which end a rivals season while propelling themselves into the playoffs. If the Chiefs do win their next two, that Week 17 matchup is going to be real real fun to watch.

Texans (7-6): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: at Indianapolis, Baltimore, Jacksonville. They should win their season finale, but the other two will be real fights. A win against the Colts in a stadium where they have never won before seems a tad bit out of reach, despite how well the Texans have been playing of late. As for the Ravens game, both teams will be playing for their playoff lives, and I see the Ravens coming out on top, if only by a touch. Two losses will knock the Texans way out of the picture, so I’m not too worried about them or any potential tiebreaker they would have over the Browns either.

Dolphins (7-6): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: at New England, Minnesota, New York Jets. Their only real obstacle, at least on paper, is the Patriots. If they somehow manage a win in Foxborough, then they suddenly have the easiest path to January football. The Vikings and Jets are both handleable, especially at home. However, with the way the Dolphins have looked the past two weeks, they aren’t going to come close to topping the Pats, which will probably end up putting them on the outside looking in come the end of the season.

Steelers (8-5): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: at Atlanta, Kansas City, Cincinnati. Unless they go full Pittsburgh against a sub-mediocre NFC South team, they are in the lead to win the AFC North. They should beat the Chiefs at home, and in a high pressure situation, I don’t expect to Andy Dalton to outplay Ben Roethlisberger. Welcome to the #4 seed in the playoffs, Pittsburgh.

Bengals (8-4-1): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: at Cleveland, Denver, at Pittsburgh. I mean, they are obviously going to lose to the Browns this weekend. And the Denver game is in primetime on Monday night, so there is another loss. And, as I mentioned above, I think the Steelers will win that matchup. The Bengals are going from first place going into Week 15 to last place at the end of the season. Sorry Marv.

Ravens (8-5): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: Jacksonville, at Houston, Cleveland. Again, obviously going to drop that Cleveland game. Other than that, they beat Jacksonville, and probably Houston. Just a note here, if Houston does win this weekend against the Colts, we as Browns fans are rooting for the Ravens against Houston, as painful as that may be. A 10-6 Browns beats the Ravens on tiebreakers, but loses to Texans on tiebreakers.

Overall though, as long as the Browns win out and the Dolphins, Bills, and Texans each drop one, which is very realistic, the Browns are playing in January. And that is pretty damn awesome. So let’s get excited folks. The season isn’t over quite yet.

Prediction: Browns ? – Bengals 20 (as noted above, have no idea what to expect)

11-on-11: The NFL Spoils Spaceballs

So, Lonestar was a prince the whole time. Forget the million spacebucks. That guy in the Winnebago is royalty.

Did I mention there would be spoilers? You’ve had almost 30 years to watch Spaceballs, so I’m not going to feel bad about this. It wasn’t my intention to do a Spaceballs thing, but my hand was forced when a laptop battery died and took two thousand righteous words about this weekend’s NFL action with it. So, today we’re going to bring you the short, short version.

After two tries to knot up Prince Valium and Princess Vespa, the officiant did the nuptials in 30 seconds, “Do you? Do you? Good! You’re married, kiss her!”.

That said, here we go. It’s a turbo edition of the 11-on-11.

Game I Anticipated Most

In a battle of 4-4 teams at the Superdome, the 49ers were clearly more desperate to move to 5-4 than the Saints, who play in the god-awful NFC South. Trying to convince yourself there’d be quality football was like hoping there’d be a hip DJ at the first wedding, the one where the bride-to-be took her Droid of Honor and plotted here intergalactic escape from the altar.

As successful as they’ve been at home, there’s been something fishy about the Saints this season. At first, I thought it was just a matter of pass/fail surrounding their usage of Jimmy Graham, but there’s no question they need to run the ball to keep defenses off balance. The Saints ran the ball efficiently, but made too many mistakes and let Colin Kaepernick survive the ones he made in a 27-24 overtime loss to San Francisco on Sunday.

Thursday is a Good Night to Breathe

“As president of Planet Spaceball, I can assure both you and your viewers that there’s absolutely no air shortage whatsoever. Yes, of course. I’ve heard the same rumor myself. Yes, thanks for calling and not reversing the charges. Bye.”

I do sometimes wonder how many people in the entertainment industry were calling President Skroob collect, but the air shortage was a real thing and no one would be convinced otherwise. After Sunday’s NFL action, this rumor about the Browns owning sole possession of first place in the AFC North began to get legs.

An unfortunate beaming accident caused Andy Dalton’s ass to be put on backwards, and before Snotty could reverse the beam, he’d thrown 3 of his 33 pass attempts into the arms of Browns defenders. Two went to Buster Skrine, as the Browns showed they won’t simply lay down and die without the services of their All-Pro Center. In a game that answered the question, what if Mel Brooks would have cast the red-headed, yellow-eyed bully from A Christmas Story as Colonel Sandurz, the Browns left Cincinnati with a 24-3 victory. Three days later, they found themselves in a place that no Cleveland Brown has been in 19 years, alone in first place.

Comb the Desert

Try as they might, the experts “ain’t found shit” while combing the desert searching for reasons to doubt the Arizona Cardinals. Take away their starting quarterback, no problem. Suspend Darryl Washington, watch Karlos Dansby chase those Cleveland dollars, and lose Darnell Dockett for the year; they’ve got this.

While a loss to the Rams wouldn’t have exactly ended their season, the Cardinals were as cool as the soft drink Pizza The Hutt would consume while eating himself, trailing 14-10 in the 4th quarter on Sunday. Carson Palmer was probably learning that his ACL was torn to shreds, Drew Stanton came off the bench and hit the Pittsburg State rookie John Brown for 48 yards, which was good for another game-winner, Brown’s fourth such victory-clinching catch this season. A few defensive touchdowns made it look better, but the 31-14 final score means a lot less in these parts than the Birds overall record of 9-1.

Keep combing that desert though.

They’ve Gone to Plaid

The Packers 55-17 win over the Chicago Bears just skipped light speed and went straight to Ludicrous Speed. Aaron Rodgers’ 6 touchdown passes in the first half gave the Packers a 42-0 halftime lead, and as ugly as it was, it could have been worse.

Lovie Smith is 1-8 in Tampa Bay. Marc Trestman is 3-6 with the Bears. Bears fans want their old coach back now.

“No, no, no. Go past this. Pass this part. In fact, never play this again.”

– Marc Trestman in the filmroom on Monday…probably a few times

When Will Then Be Now? Soon.

If John Fox could only get his hands on the Super Bowl 49 DVD and look ahead to what awaits him in February, it would be a more efficient use of his time than having to game-plan for the Raiders. I’ll tell you, this would be really exciting to watch, but we’re all fatigued with regular season Denver.

We want to see playoff Denver, not “41-17 over the winless Raiders” Denver. Peyton Manning had 340 yards passing with 5 touchdowns, and a couple of young men with the surname of Thomas filled up the stat sheet once again…yawn.

I Knew It, I’m Surrounded By Assholes

assholesI’m just going to pat myself on the back for resisting the urge to make jokes about Dot’s virgin-alarm on anyone on the Steelers roster. However, they have now lost to the Jets and Tampa Bay this season after falling to Michael Vick and the New Jersey Green Team on Sunday. Of the five teams that play both the struggling Jets and inept Bucs, Pittsburgh will be the only team to lose to both this season.

So the combination is… one, two, three, four, five?

This is the section where we usually discuss who might end up with the top pick next May, and the reality is the top five picks might not help the 0-9 Raiders going forward. Maybe they need the change of scenery that Los Angeles can provide, but maybe Mark Davis should change the combination on his luggage before the migration to Southern California.

There Goes The Planet

This is our worst game of the week award, and it goes to the NFC South. What an epic battle between Tampa Bay and Atlanta! The final was 27-17; do you even care who won?

If advanced apes rode into Raymond James Stadium on horseback on Sunday for their first taste of the NFL, I think they’d turn around and contemplate a return to living like primates.

 

Dirty Laundry Award

“Thank you for pressing the self-destruct button”

Bears…11 penalties…163 yards. Green Bay ran the ball 32 times for 132 yards on Sunday night; even at a clip of 4.1 yards per carry, they were better off letting the Bears self-destruct at Lambeau.

For the Degenerates

“Careful you idiot! I said across her nose, not up it!”

The Eagles are giving Carolina a touchdown with the standard extra point at home on Monday Night Football. Let Cam and company have those points, Philly will make a statement tonight. The 48.5 Over/Under is tricky, but the Panthers will find the end zone a few times in defeat to help everyone playing the over.

Random, Perhaps Unimportant

So, there was this interception by Miami’s Brent Grimes in Detroit…

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Brokeback Romo isn’t just a tasteless slur for people who don’t like the Cowboys any more. With his vertebrae somewhat intact, the Dallas starter wowed a British audience with 3 touchdown passes in the team’s win over Jacksonville in London.

Hey! Those are the guys that stole our uniforms!
To be fair, the Titans stopped wearing the old Oilers uniforms after a few seasons in Nashville and the Ravens never wore orange and brown in any official capacity, but Nashville and Baltimore take NFL teams that didn’t belong to them in the 90s. The used-to-be-Browns beat the used-to-be-Oilers in Baltimore on Sunday, while the used-to-be-Baltimore-Colts and replacement Oilers took the week off.

Before I go, I want to really pay a compliment to Mel Brooks for making this more than a spoof, giving mock-Chewbacca and mock-3PO some real personality of their own with John Candy as Barf and Joan Rivers as Dot Matrix. They were ancillary sidekick figures, but both late actors held their own in this flick. There’s a loose comparison to be made between those two and the Chiefs and Bills. Neither team is going to steal the show, but they sure could play spoiler, or even make a brief run of their own. Both were 5-3 entering play in Buffalo on Sunday, but the gap between 6-3 and 5-4 right now might be the difference between being in or being out in January. The Chiefs put themselves in a good position with a 17-13 road victory.

dotbarf
“The ring is bupkis! I found it in a Cracker Jack box!”
I never saw the Sea Chickens as a heel. They struggled a bit early, but you’d have a tough time convincing me of any Super Bowl hangover. It’s tough to win in a league where no one really knows anything, and even if it took Seattle catching a break in their schedule with Carolina, Oakland, and the Giants, they still have their eye on the prize. They trail the 8-1 Cardinals by two games in the NFC West standings, but have two shots at the Cardinals in their last six games, so they still control their own destiny in the division. It’s going to be a fun couple of weeks, so stay tuned out west.

Finally, today (November 10th) is the United States Marine Corps’ 239th birthday. The whole deal started at Tun Tavern on this date in 1775, in the city that hosts Monday Night Football tonight. Let’s see if ESPN pays homage on their telecast. Either way, happy birthday Marines and Semper Fi.

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My Cleveland Sports Weekend v5

Dear Diary,

This weekend has been INSANE! And really, it’s been more than just a weekend since the party got started last Thursday night!

Thursday – under the bright lights of the national stage, the Browns traveled down to Cincinnati for what has turned into a key game this season. No one gave us a chance to win – not the national media and certainly very fe"Gary Barnidge"w of our own hometown fans, but I believed. Call me crazy (you crazy girl!) but I just knew that if the running game could get back on track, we could win this thing. Let’s face it, Bengals QB Andy Dalton does NOT do well in big situations and it turns out that last Thursday was one of those bad nights for the Scut Farkas look-alike! All three of our running backs got TDs and the defense played like their hair was on fire the whole game. THE WHOLE GAME! Two interceptions for Craig Roberston and light’s out, shut down defense from everyone else. It almost makes me cry, I’m so proud of these guys. No Jordan Cameron. No Josh Gordon. Just amazing clutch catches from guys like Gary Barnidge! Holy Crap again – how good will this team get when those guys return? The leadership and the attitude changes I’ve seen this season give me real hope that we aren’t just holding the top spot in the AFC North for a short time. This is the New Browns. We are holding this spot until someone takes it away…. we are NOT giving it away like seasons gone by. As a fan who has been through some brutal seasons, I’m starting to learn to enjoy the wins, to look forward to games, and to not “wait for them to blow it.” Yippee!

Friday was a bit mellow with the high school playoffs starting. I really don’t have any dogs in that fight but I did feel bad that Lorain County’s own Elyria High pulled St. Ignatius and got destroyed. Those boys had a great season and should still be very proud of all they accomplished.

Now, Saturday night rolls around and – not gonna lie – I didn’t watch the first half of the OSU vs Michigan State game. I was still rolling on the high left from a Browns “Victory Friday” and I just didn’t think I could take watching the Buckeyes get ripped apart by one of the best defenses in all of college football. Well, the hubby texted me at half-time and said “PUT THE GAME ON DAMMIT!” So…. I tuned in for the second half and HOLY CRAP ON A STICK the Buckeyes were WINNING! It was an amazing thing to watch those last two quarters as the guys on the line just kept pounding away at Sparty and really made people take notice. The improvement this team has shown since that terrible loss to Virginia Tech is incredible. Just when everyone had us written off – BAM – they put on a show like that and, in my opinion, proved to the world that they could hold their own with any team.

Most importantly, however, the Buckeyes proved to their FANS that we weren’t just being homers. It’s really hard to have to justify your program and the schedule to non-believers. We can’t help who they play, we can’t help the blowout Bosawins, we just have to deal with the teams that are put on the schedule. But I think many fans were like me, a bit skeptical of what this team could really do when faced with a quality opponent. Now, it cracks me up to hear the national guys down play the win, especially after listening to them all last week talk about Michigan State’s defense and how great it is. Well. I guess JT Barrett has risen in some folks estimation because he and Ezekiel Elliott put on a display of how to beat an great defense! Plus Joey Bosa definitely showed QB Connor Cook what “Pressure” looked like! I kinda felt back for Cook, being from Hinckley, OH. Kinda. But just because he reminds me a bit of Brian Hoyer. The kid has skills, just hope we didn’t shake his confidence up too much. O-H!

I’d like to say Sunday was fairly boring without a Browns game but that would be a lie. The next best thing to a Browns win is a Steelers loss… and they lost to the J-E-T-S! I don’t think it gets any better than that!

Until next time, diary, enjoy the wins and pray the losses are few and far between!

Respectfully Submitted,
Cleveland Kate

Bridging the Gap: The (Not So) Midweek Report, Week 9

After last week’s 22-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Browns have a shot at sharing first place in the AFC North with the Pittsburgh Steelers by the end of tonight. So that’s pretty awesome, definitely considering we are now past the halfway point of the season. But, although that all looks great, I have a few problems with this, primarily that this isn’t going to happen. I mean I am praying that I am wrong. I would give anything to be wrong. But it isn’t going to happen, and here’s why:

Our offense is shot. We all knew that Alex Mack was a big part of our team’s success, but I don’t think that any of us really realized that he was quite this important. The first week after Mack’s departure from the field, the Browns put up 69 yards on 30 carries, which many people attributed to the fact that we just weren’t used to playing sans Mack. The next week, the Browns put up 39 yards on 25 carries, but that was sort of ok and sort of excusable because it was Nick McDonald’s first day on the job, so of course there was going to be a lack of chemistry between McDonald and Hoyer and McDonald and the rest of the line. And then Week 3 AM (After Mack) rolled around, and the Browns still ran for a measly 50 yards on 28 carries. Sure, I guess you can say rushing production has trended up in the past two weeks, but it is hard not to do so when your base number is 39 yards. I’m going to come out and say that the Browns have no running game anymore. Given that Kyle Shanahan uses an offense based on the run and Brian Hoyer operates best in the passing game when using the play action, I would say that it is pretty safe to say that without a running game, we have no functional offense anymore. And without an offense, it is much more difficult to score points. And, as many commentators and analysts make sure to point out every week, it is very difficult to win games when you don’t score points. Thus, realistically, the Browns have very little chance of coming out on top tonight.

Now, I want to make one thing very clear here. Despite the fact that our offense is failing and sputtering, benching Hoyer in favor of Johnny Manziel would be the worst thing we could possibly do. Or actually benching Joe Thomas just for the hell of it would probably be the worst thing to do, but benching Hoyer would be a close second. The point is that both of those ideas are ludicrous. Ever since the Jacksonville loss, there have been increasing calls for Johnny Football. I don’t want to be rude, but if you think that, you either have no idea what you are talking about, or are simply an idiot. One of Manziel’s biggest problems has been that, when given time in the pocket, he hasn’t been able to quickly make his way through his progressions before he tucks the ball, breaks the pocket, and tries to scramble or improvise. If he were to be put in a situation where he isn’t given time in the pocket, this problem would just be perpetuated. We already have no run game, so I don’t really believe that it would be that good of an idea to completely destroy our passing game as well. But hey, that is just me. Maybe I am wrong here. It’s just that to me it seems much more logical to keep in the game a player who is more comfortable under pressure, who has been working with his pass-catchers for a longer time, and who already has rapport and a connection with one of the most talented receivers in the NFL, one who will be returning in two weeks. Manziel is just not practical. And I don’t think he will be at any point this season, barring injury to Hoyer. So, to those of you calling for him, please just stop. I don’t think anyone appreciates what you’re doing.

Anyway, as for tonight, I believe it is going to be rough. I have been trying to come up with arguments to the contrary, but I am just not finding any. Jeremy Hill and Mohamed Sanu are two of the hottest players in the game right now. A.J. Green is back in the lineup. The Browns rush defense is giving up over 140 yards per game. The Browns secondary has been playing better, but they are still giving up 250 yards per game. If the Browns want to keep this game close, their run defense will need to have their best game of the season, and the secondary will have to create at least a couple of turnovers that give the Browns great starting field position. If the Browns can somehow overcome the problems that will be created by Domata Peko and Geno Atkins playing over McDonald, then they should keep it close. But then again, that is a lot of ifs. Hopefully the Browns pull it all together to capture what would be a huge win, but realistically I think it is safer to expect a repeat of Jacksonville. So make sure to have your beer ready, cause you might be needing a lot of it.

Prediction: Bengals 34 – Browns 10

Bridging the Gap: The Midweek Report, Week 6

I have to say, that was an amazing feeling. I have a friend from Pittsburgh (I know, I know, I’m crazy. But hey, everyone has at least one major character flaw) who had been talking shit about that game all the week before. Or actually scratch that; she had been talking shit about how badly the Steelers dominate the Browns for the whole damn season. And as much as I wanted to say “No, you’re wrong, you have no right to say that,” I just couldn’t. I mean let’s face it: it is the truth. Prior to Sunday, their quarterback held a 17-1 record against the Browns. That is the definition of domination. But that history just made Sunday all the sweeter. My friend’s face went through a beautiful progression as the game wore on. At first there was excitement as the Steelers put together a nice 10-play drive to put points on the board first. Then there was annoyance as a wide open Jordan Cameron helped pave the way for Isaiah Crowell to score his fourth touchdown of the year to put the Browns on top. That progressed into agitation as Cameron again brought in a deep pass, and then anger as Ben Tate helped the Browns score their 3rd touchdown of the day. Coming out of halftime, worry had crept into her face, and as the third quarter continued without a Pittsburgh score, she became more and more distraught. Midway through the fourth, she just couldn’t take it anymore, packing up her stuff and leaving before the end of the game to save herself the embarrassment of having to view the final score with a batch of Browns fans. Now, I know that one isn’t supposed to view anger and distress in a person and garner pleasure from it, but those emotions are the most beautiful thing a Browns fan can see on a Pittsburgh face during Steelers week. It’s on par with watching a sunrise from a mountain peak in Colorado during the summer; there just aren’t many things like it.

As to the actual play during the game, there really isn’t much for me to complain and be critical about. Sure, penalties are still a problem, as the Browns racked up 6 for 60 yards on Sunday, but this is an improvement over last week, and they have been steadily improving in that area throughout the season. I was especially pleased with Joe Haden in this category, as he finally went a game without a holding or pass interference call. Hopefully he is able to do it again this week against Jacksonville. They don’t really have any receivers that should seriously challenge him, and so he should be able to manage to play tight without having to grab at receivers.

The other area I was a bit disappointed with was the fumbles. Isaiah Crowell coughed it up twice, and Brian Hoyer put it on the ground once as well. Luckily the Browns only lost one, and they have managed to only turnover the ball twice this season, but I would like to see that streak of very few turnovers continue. As solid as Brian Hoyer and the Browns’ offense is, they are not the type that is able to make a lot of big plays, at least until Josh Gordon comes back. As such, protecting the pigskin is even more important as it allows the Browns to keep up their methodical running offense and not have to rush the ball and force the pass offense.

But I mean other than fumbles and penalties, the Browns played a very good game of football. Sure, Hoyer only completed 8 passes, but many of them were big plays, and honestly, with Ben Tate and Isaiah Crowell combining for 36 carries and 155 yards, he really didn’t need to do more. I would happily let Hoyer complete only eight passes a game if it translates to 31 points and win. I would take that any and every week. To add to that, the defense started showing flashes of playing at the level they were expected to prior to the season despite being extremely short-handed. Although they did bend some, they were able to stand strong when it mattered, which is really all that a good defense needs to do consistently.

I’m expecting more of the same this week. The Jaguars are a very consistent team. Unfortunately for their fans though, this consistency comes in the form of always being one of the last teams to pick up a win. Unless the Browns digress a few hundred light years, they should be able to easily handle Jacksonville. If they play like they have against the Steelers this year (minus the first half of week 1) or as they did against the Saints or in the second half in Nashville, this week will be less of a competition than the last. However, somewhere in my gut is telling me that this is going to be a lot closer than that. Blake Bortles is going to put up many more yards than he should against our defense, and our offense is going to take a while to get going. Luckily though, the Browns won’t play poorly enough to lose, just enough to get us fans a little worried:

Prediction: Browns 27 – Jaguars 17

Browns Overcome Injuries – Embarrass Steelers

Validation. The rematch between Pittsburgh and Cleveland did not disappoint Browns fans as the good guys win 31-10, proving to all critics that Cleveland is here and the league should take notice.

The game on Sunday was the first time this season we have seen both the offense and defense play a full four quarters. While there were a few hiccups the first couple of drives for Brian Hoyer and the offense, a deep play action pass to Jordan Cameron that went for 42 yards seemed to open up the floodgates.

Once again, the offensive play calling was dominated by the running backs, with Ben Tate rushing 25 times for 78 yards and two scores and Isaiah Crowell running for 77 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Terrance West was a surprise healthy scratch for the game.

-5344ab007f5c3d23With the Browns finding so much success with the run, that left Hoyer with only 17 passing attempts—completing a meager 8 of them. While a 47% completion percentage leaves much to be desired, Brian Hoyer’s shortest completion of the day was to Jordan Cameron for 9 yards towards the end of the third quarter. Hoyer’s longest pass also went Cameron’s way on a perfectly thrown 51 yard bomb for a touchdown in the 2nd quarter.

Something we aren’t used to this year is the team holding a convincing lead. The Browns defense came through in a big way, holding the Roethlisberger and the Steelers to a field goal until a garbage time touchdown to Lance Moore with about 2:45 left in the game. The Browns held the Steelers to 10 points while forcing five QB hits and two sacks. Buster Skrine also collected an interception after a John Hughes pass deflection.

What is most impressive about the success of the defense is they were without three key defensive linemen in Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin and Billy Winn. Not only that, but Armonty Bryant went down in the second quarter with a knee injury—what we now know is a torn right ACL which will unfortunately end his season. The importance of the depth of the defensive line cannot be overstated. With Bryant’s promising season being cut short, its next man up once again.

The offense was not spared from the injury bug, as Alex Mack suffered a fractured fibula and could also be done for the season (undetermined at time of writing this article). Joe Thomas admitted he became emotional after the injury to his fellow Pro Bowl teammate. One positive that came from this injury is the offense was not stunted because of Mack’s departure. John Greco moved over to center and Paul McQuistan came off the bench to replace Greco at right guard. The loss of Mack is a huge concern going forward, as the Browns have relied on the success of the running game this season.
Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns

The camaraderie shown by the entire Browns team to Alex Mack shows why they have found success this year compared to others. Despite not having a quote “superstar” on the field this year, they have come together and have played as a team. The heart is there. While they haven’t played perfect football, they pick each other up and fight for each other. Joe Haden and Paul Kruger, who both were very questionable to play, suited up to take on the division rival. Haden ended up making a highlight pass defense on Antonio Brown, soaring over Brown in the end zone, knocking the ball away.

It is fantastic to have won against the Steelers, but it is time to look forward. In the next three weeks, the Browns will be traveling to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars, then it is home against the Raiders and Buccaneers—a combined record of 1-16 between the three teams. The only win from these teams is when Tampa Bay traveled to Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers 27-24 in week four. The Jaguars nearly won week five as well as this past week. The opponents? Pittsburgh and Tennessee, the Browns’ last two games that vaulted them from a 1-2 record to 3-2.

While it is fun to look ahead to the next three opponents, dreaming of a 6-2 record, the Browns need to focus on this week against the Jaguars. Playoff teams beat teams they are supposed to beat. By all accounts, the Browns are supposed to beat Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay. Cleveland can’t play down to their opponent. They’ll need to build off their momentum heading into Cincinnati for the week 10 Thursday night game.

But to get to 6-2, you must first attain 4-2.

Go Browns.

11-on-11: A Blank Slate in the NFL

There’s something to be said for a fresh start. No baggage, no preconceived notions, just what you see is what you get.

As I prepare to take on the NFL on a weekly basis once again, I will be doing so with a few tech toys to assist me, not the least of which would be my iPad. So many songs, so many memories, and so many pictures, including screenshots to freeze football games at one moment in time, all gone. My friend and pro-Apple guy Dan suggested I restore everything from “The Cloud”. Well, I don’t trust the cloud; we saw how Lando did Han when he put his faith in Cloud City’s head honcho, and I don’t do well enough in the cold to take risks like that. So, everything is gone, but I see it as a purge of the clutter and I’m happy to have a clean slate.

After a 1-2 start, Aaron Rodgers told the fans to R-E-L-A-X and the Packers have climbed back into the thick of things in the NFC North (photo credit: Miami Herald)

Six weeks into the NFL’s 2014 season, a look around the league would reveal plenty of organizations that would love to just reboot what’s happened to them this fall and go back to August, maybe even May if you’re a draft geek. The thing is, there’s still time, with 11 weeks of regular season football remaining, to bounce back. That might not be the case if you’re Jacksonville, Oakland, or Tampa Bay with a combined record of 1-16, but for others with an uphill climb ahead of them, say hello to the sherpa before you head for the summit.

What I Anticipated Most

Not everyone can play in the game of the week, we get that. We need someone to play Jacksonville and Oakland every week, but I don’t early await the kickoff of those games. Division match-ups always come with a bit of appeal, even in Nashville, where the Titans would host the laughable Jaguars of Jacksonville in an AFC South contest. However, there’s a bit more appeal in Buffalo, where the upstart Bills battled Brady and company for first place in the AFC East, the Browns looked to defeat Ben Roethlisberger for just the second time in his 11-year career, the Vikings hosted the Lions, and our night-cap on Sunday featured the Giants in Philly.

I went with the game under the lights in the City of Brotherly Love. The Eagles have played very well at home and entered the weekend with the league’s #2 offense. The G-Men decided to play a six-game pre-season, but have taken three straight, all by double digits, since coming out of the gate at 0-2. It was all a matter of which Giants team would show up.

Victor Cruz will miss some time with a torn patellar tendon, suffered in the Giants 27-0 loss in Philadelphia on Sunday night (photo credit: USA Today)

Let’s just say, “Bad Giants,” and be done with it. These guys are going to be without Victor Cruz now, and it doesn’t get any easier. The Eagles knew they needed this, since Dallas didn’t let the 12th man take them down in the Northwest, and their 27-0 victory in the Northeast was a statement on Sunday. Something we should not understate, the up-in-the-air status of Darren Sproles means a lot to the value of the stock of one Shady McCoy, and also to the interest of Philadelphia being legitimate contenders in the NFC.

Thursday Is My Garbage Day

It’s the same everywhere. Friday morning, you turn on the radio and the voice you hear is frustrated with yet another lopsided affair in the NFL. Suddenly, there’s too much NFL and we don’t need it every night of the week. It’s not fair to the away team and they aren’t cognizant of player safety.

Maybe there’s some merit to all of that, but it’s only “My Garbage Day” because that’s the day the city sends the trucks to my neighborhood to haul away our weekly refuse. With Peyton Manning gone for rockier mountain pastures, Colts at Texans promised a little more intrigue, given how up everyone was on Houston’s 3-2 start. If there was any one hope for this game, it would be to buck the trend of dreadful Thursday Night Football.

Andrew Luck and the Colts didn’t come prepared to oblige, going up 24-0 in the first quarter and leading the locals into a countdown to the Astros Opening Day in 2015. They didn’t put this one on ice until D’Qwell Jackson fell on a Ryan Fitzpartick fumble just inside the two-minute warning to give the visitors from Indianapolis the 33-28 victory and a 4-2 record on the season. Jackson was not the only former Cleveland Brown with a 4th quarter takeaway on Thursday night. On the Texans previous possession, with the Colts up by 5, Houston receiver Andre Johnson basically caused his own fumble in the midst of a catch-and-run, arguably close to field goal range, which former Brown Mike Adams picked up.

The play was subject to review, so we got to hear Jim Nantz excitedly talk about making a football move and CBS officiating consultant Mike Carey was damn sure it would be overturned. It was not, but it’s always fun to hear the conviction in their voices when they’re sure they’re right. One thing that they might be right about is that this game featured two MVP candidates. We saw a lot of them too, considering Andrew Luck and his Colts’ offense dominated time of possession, but even in defeat, Texans defensive lineman JJ Watt is a force to be reckoned with. In victory, Luck got to be the hero, completing 25 passes for a big chunk of yards and trio of scores, but it was Luck and rookie center Jonotthan Harrison’s unforced error on the shotgun snap that gave us the highlight of the night…for Watt.

If the voters want to get cute with the award, look for JJ Watt to get some serious consideration for the MVP. Last night’s was his third touchdown of the season, and perhaps the most impressive because he followed fat-man protocol, falling on the ball, but since he was untouched, he propped himself up and galloped 40 yards to paydirt, which made it a 1 possession game early in the fourth quarter. You know a lineman is special when the play-by-play knows he’s going for his third touchdown before he even crosses the goal line. Watt sacked Andrew Luck twice, doubling his season total in the category to 4 thru 6 games.

House of Sea Chicken

It is the belly of the beast, a structure of loudness where the Seahawks simply don’t make a habit of losing. Before the Cowboys took care of business in Seattle on Sunday, the defending World Champs had only dropped one contest in two-plus seasons in their own house.

How about Rolando McClain’s interception of  last pass attempt to put the game on ice for the Cowboys? McClain, the #8 overall pick in the 2010 draft did his share of winning for Nick Saban at Alabama, but it’s been some pretty tough sledding for the former Crimson Tide linebacker since he was initially drafted by the Raiders.

McClain has twice retired from the game, though he is only 25 years old. He once cited a fear of being the next Aaron Hernandez as a reason to walk away from the game, but the Cowboys took a chance on his comeback. Even if there’s nothing after this for McClain, a moment like that is good to see if I’m a fan of his.

Rookie Mistakes

Speaking of the Raiders, it looked like they might actually get it done on Sunday, but looks can be deceiving. This is a franchise that hasn’t held anything sustainable in the way of quarterback play since Rich Gannon was on the payroll. They’ve tried every which way to fill the void; Carson Palmer was coerced out of retirement, Terrelle Pryor came to them via the always-reliable Supplemental Draft, and Matt Flynn was the hot-handed back-up available via trade from Seattle in 2013.

Once upon a time, the Raiders spent the #1 overall pick on a guy named JaMarcus Russell, and we were quick to find out it would wouldn’t go well. Plenty of time has passed, as has long-time organizational patriarch Al Davis, since 2007, and by 2014, it was finally time to try drafting another guy. Derek Carr did not go in the first round, but at #36 overall, many will classify him among the top quarterbacks taken last May. Arguably, Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles, who put up decent numbers in the Jags’ 16-14 loss to the Titans, was at the head of the rookie class before play on Sunday, but Carr’s 4 touchdowns at home against the Chargers were something of a statement.

Don’t tell anyone, but the San Diego Chargers are 5-1 with a win over Seattle in their back pocket. There might be something real going on there.

Departure of the Mack

Alex Mack gives the Cleveland crowd the thumbs up as he is carted off the field in the Browns 31-10 win over Pittsburgh. (photo credit: Bleacher Report)

Browns fans couldn’t have been too happy to witness a dreadful first quarter, one that saw the home team down 3-0, a score that could have, quite frankly been worse. The Browns figured it out, a couple of 2nd quarter touchdowns gave them a 21-3 halftime lead that would hold for the better part of the second half and go final at 31-10. It was Cleveland second win over the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger’s 20 career starts against them.

If there’s any gloom to be found in Cleveland, after a win over their rivals, it resides in the scene of Pro-Bowl center Alex Mack being carted off the field after a broken leg. Mack hadn’t missed a snap in his 85 career starts for the Browns, before being injured on rushing playing in the second quarter. In an act that demonstrated the leadership role Mack plays on this team, many of the defensive leaders came to Mack’s side as he was being carted away. That’s a moment that might create an identity for the Browns and give further meaning to Mike Pettine’s “Play Like a Brown” motto.

I’m In Town To Play The Dolphins, You Dumb-Ass

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XBCJajAF4w

I don’t care if the Farrelly Brothers dropped subtle little clues throughout There’s Something About Mary, but Brett Favre had no business making that cameo.  Also, since I figure the Packers are in town to play the Dolphins about once every eight years, I figured I’d check the annals of modern football history to see what’s happened since Mary Jensen rejected Pack-Man for the stalker from Rhode Island.

In the Packers most recent visit to Miami, Favre led the Packers past the Joey Harrington-led ‘Fins by a count of 34-24.  In the only other contest between the two in South Florida, Jay Fiedler led the home team past the visitors from Wisconsin 28-20 in 2000.  On Sunday, the visiting Packers won for just the second time ever in Miami, with their dramatic come-from-behind 27-24 victory.

Who Wants the Gurley Man?

An early candidate for Sunday’s worst game would have been Baltimore’s record-setting performance in Tampa Bay on Sunday. How this Buccaneers team won in Pittsburgh is beyond me, but they are worse than their winless counterparts and time should reveal that. Given the latest news on Todd Gurley and the league’s overall tendency not to jump at running backs early in the draft of late, you probably shouldn’t slot the Georgia running back in that top draft slot, but my money is on Tampa Bay assuming that position. It was 35-10 with 14 minutes left in the second quarter, and went to 48-17 at the gun, thanks to the Ravens taking their foot off the gas early. Even if the Ravens are good, and their 4-2 record suggests they might be, that wasn’t an acceptable first half of football in South Florida.

Actual Worst Game

There was a game that involved the Jaguars and the Titans, one where Charlie Whitehurst was a starting quarterback, and that wasn’t bad enough to get the week’s worst game honor. There is a need to discriminate, as we don’t take too kindly to games that fail to produce a winner in these parts. Though both teams in Sunday’s Panthers-Bengals match-up knocked home token opening-drive of OT field goals, they stalemated the remainder of the extra period and wrecked the standings in their respective divisions with a 37-37 tie. Cincinnati kicker Mike Nugent could have salvaged it on the final play of overtime from 36 yards out, but he shanked it.  Congrats to the Carolina Panthers and Cincinnati Bengals for playing the week’s Actual Worst Game, edging out some stiff competition.

I’ll bet you Bengals fans won’t be too happy with him on Monday.

Dirty Laundry Award

Cardinals Head Coach Bruce Arians said on Friday that he honestly had no idea who his starting quarterback would be Sunday. Our Sunday afternoon broadcast on FOX, called very well by Dick Stockton and Brady Quinn, by the way, revealed that Day 1 starter Carson Palmer would be the man in Arizona’s 30-20 over Washington in Glendale, Arizona. The game wasn’t the slam dunk for the Cardinals that many might have expected against the struggling Redskins, who came to the desert with a 1-4 record.

Of course, the Cardinals didn’t make it easy on themselves, committing a league-high 14 penalties and surrendering 108 yards in the process. Kirk Cousins and the Washington offense were awarded 5 of their 21 first downs by way of penalty, so that is something the Cardinals are going to want to avoid doing in the future.

For the Degenerates

Somewhere in the hype for how great the NFC West is, we allowed ourselves to get really excited about St. Louis. No one wants to deny the personnel is there, and like the 49er teams of four or five years ago, there just need to do some things for the talent to translate to victories on the field. The Rams aren’t there yet, not with this bunch. San Francisco is giving 3 and a half, but even though the Rams have been known to play better on the prime time stage, I’m taking the Niners and the OVER, which is 44 on the site I’m using.

Random, Perhaps Even Unimportant

Anyone want to argue this isn’t a passing league any more? With 10 carries for 26 yards, Fred Jackson was the game’s leading rusher in Buffalo’s 37-22 loss to New England.

Having a kicker that is reliable is so critical, as some teams have learned in this first part of the season, but the Cardinals are having no such problem. In his rookie season out of Clemson, Arizona kicker Chandler Catanzano has been true on all 14 of his attempts to start his career, including 3 makes to give his team a comfortable cushion against Washington in a 10-point win.

Three points and 212 yards of total offense is all you’re going to be able to hope for in Minnesota, if the best you’re going to do in the ground game is Jerick McKinnon’s 11 carries for 40 yards.  Norv Turner isn’t doing his rookie quarterback any favors running the ball just 18 times in the Vikings 17-3 defeat at home against Detroit.

Funny that Aaron Rodgers would get away with the “fake spike” play to Davaunte Adams to set up the game-winning touchdown for a 27-24 win in Miami.  It was Miami quarterback Dan Marino who made that very trickery famous.

There might be some things to knock about the Denver Broncos this season, but it certainly can’t be depth on offense, despite the departures of Knowshon Moreno and Eric Decker.  In their 31-17 win over the Jets on Sunday, the usual suspects did their work, but Ronnie Hillman doesn’t often jump off the stat sheet, except he does when he runs for 100 yards like he did in New Jersey.

Looking ahead to Week 7, I think we’re back to garbage on Thursday night.  Barring anything crazy, the Patriots should take it to the Jets in Foxboro, as Tom Brady will continue to prove one bad Monday Night Football does not equal diminishing a skill-set.  I think the Chiefs go to San Diego ready to play against the quietly good Chargers in the CBS late game next Sunday.

Obviously, the big deal game is in prime time on Sunday night, where it belongs, and San Francisco at Denver should be a treat.  One thought that strikes first when I see that one on the schedule is that it will mean a lot more for the 49ers than the Broncos.  The Broncos know they’re playing for January, and as long as they take care of the AFC West head-to-head, then these inter-conference games don’t carry a lot of weight.  That’s not true for the Niners, who need every win they can get in what promises to be a tight division race in the NFC West.

 

Bridging the Gap: The Midweek Report, Week 5

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

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

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

Other players that impressed me Sunday included:

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

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

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

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

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

And, as much as I hate to admit it…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And lastly, but certainly not least…

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

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

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

Browns 27 – Steelers 24

Bridging the Gap: The Midweek Report, Week 4

I walk into a bar. It’s the middle of August and the Browns are on their way to a second consecutive 1 point loss against Washington after having fallen to Detroit the week before. A random man walks up and sits in the seat next to me. After ordering something to drink, he glances over to me and then starts talking:

“In about 5 weeks or so, when your beloved Browns enter their annoyingly early bye week, they will be at the bottom of the AFC North.”

“Thanks for that,” I reply. “Unfortunately that wouldn’t surprise me that much.”

As I get up to head to the bathroom, he grabs my arm. “Wait, I’m not done. Despite being where you expect them to be, they won’t be there how you expect them to be. That highly anticipated defense that is supposedly going to be one of the top units in the league? Yeah, it will be dead last. That’s right, that means ranked 32 out of 32 teams. That’s behind the lowly Jaguars and the consistently crappy Cowboys. But there is light at the end of the tunnel for you; you know that motley group of players you are audaciously referring to as ‘receivers’, that injury-prone backfield, and that hopeless situation at field general that makes up your offense? Well that unit will be ranked third in the NFL.”

I looked at him like he was crazy. I mean how else could you look at someone who claims something like that going into this season. That all sounds like complete and utter bullshit after following the Browns throughout the summer and the preseason. There was not a snowball’s chance in hell of that happening…

And yet here we are. After three weeks of this young season, the Browns offense has been eating up yards like a Tom Brady-led Patriots squad while the defense has been giving up yards like a team facing Peyton Manning and his high-powered Broncos offense week-in week-out. And then there is me, sitting here on my couch at home utterly confused by basically every aspect of this year’s season so far. Although back in April I had expectations that Brian Hoyer would play this well, after a mediocre training camp and preseason, all those hopes had gone away. Meanwhile, I had expected an incredibly stingy defense with the addition of the playmaking Karlos Dansby to what was already a strong front seven as well as the addition of rookie Justin Gilbert to a very solid secondary. And although Dansby has been playing well, the secondary (other than Tashaun Gipson) has been utterly disappointing and the front seven have failed to be more than mediocre. So, the question becomes, will this continue for the rest of the season?

The obvious answer here is no. Although this offensive unit is most definitely better than expected and has the returns of Jordan Cameron, Ben Tate, and Josh Gordon to look forward to, it is going to regress some. It is by no means an elite unit, although it has the potential to finish the season ranked among the middle of the pack. By contrast, I fully expect the defense to improve its play and live up to preseason expectations a bit more than it has so far. Joe Haden has struggled so far. Now that isn’t to say that he has been playing poorly, but he hasn’t been playing at the level we fans are used to seeing him at. And I suspect that this is due to the rule changes in regards to contact after five yards. Haden is a fairly physical cornerback in coverage, so he is still adjusting to these rule changes. He has been called for a myriad of penalties so far this year, especially during the preseason. To try and avoid these penalties he has been having to play a bit further off receivers, which has been giving them a bit more space to get the ball. As the season wears on I fully expect Haden to finish adjusting to the rule changes and return to his Pro Bowl form of last year. And as Haden returns to the form, so will the defense. Haden being back to normal will give the defensive line more time to reach the quarterback, and the defense as a whole will become close to what they were expected to be prior to the beginning of the season.

So now that roughly a quarter of the season is done and over with, where will the Browns be come midseason?

Honestly, I could see them being second in this division. The Bengals look too good to stop at this point, and I fully expect them to still top the division come Week 10. However, the Browns could easily pass the Ravens and the Steelers in the standings between now and then. The Browns have a phenomenally weak schedule over the next month or so, facing, in order, the Titans, the Steelers, the Jaguars, the Raiders, and the Bucs. The Steelers game will be tight, simply because it always is. But the Jaguars and Raiders should be easily manageable, as should the Bucs if Lovie Smith continues to be unable to get them on track. As for the Titans this weekend, it is most definitely winnable. Our ground game should go to town on a relatively weak run defense, and with an extra week to prepare for a low-tier offense, our defense should be able to prove that it can be considered an elite unit.

Prediction: Browns 31 – Titans 10