Tag Archives: Washington Redskins

Monday Morning Breeze: The Revolution Will Be Caught One-Handed

[(MOST IMPORTANT NOTE: The Breeze will recap CFB’s Alabama-Clemson National Championship game on Tuesday, so this will be Professional Football-heavy, or College-Deflated, depending how you choose to see the glass re: -imisms) It’s near impossible to miss the unfolding humor in a reality that pits America’s Most Traditionally Revered NFL team against the steaming pile of toxic that has been Daniel Snyder’s Washington Trumps, in D.C., for a wild-card playoff game.

When you add the fact that a prominent Packer player is named “Ha Ha Clinton-Dix” while Hillary stumps for the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination, I mean, clearly Fate’s got a warped thing for the wickedly absurd. So what could prepare us for an NFL Wild-card weekend that lived up to its name? Where Ace Ventura jokes became re-relevant (“laces out”) making my heart gently weep for Minnesota’s Blair Walsh Project, where it seems everyone wants to be like ODB Jr whether it’s receivers vying for his “Best Ever Catch ‘Til Tomorrow” crown, or Vontaze’s Burfict crime-ing for his “Grossest Cheap Shot” frown, where all he does is Russell Wilson Seattle to wins (or perhaps Faith’s wind), while the Bengals missed Double-Deuce Dalton more than the time it takes to restore sore thumbs, Pack Nation slumbers well ’cause Aaron Rodgers remembered how to kinda throw again, some.

To playoff football let’s succumb. Enter to the beating drum of your heart’s hum and maybe find fun…

NFL PLAYOFFS PORTION OF THE PROGRAM

NFL Playoffs Games of the Week (Wild-card Round) Kansas City Chiefs 30 @ Houston Texans 0 So it was, ho hum, on the very first kickoff of the very first ho hum playoff game KNILE DAVIS EXPLODES THROUGH A MASSIVE HOLE AND ho hum RETURNS IT ONE-HUNDRED AND SIX FREAKING YARDS FOR THE TD. Houston was never really close on the majority of this play or for the rest of the game as Kansas City would never relinquish that lead, with the helpful, steady hand of Alex Smith leading the way and the woefully unsteady hand of Bryan Hoyer (4 picks, yikes!) leaving the Texans exposed like a butterfly filet of poor play.

Jon Gruden quote of the day: “JJ Watt’s battling a bad groin injury.” Look, Watt’s an incredible player, but even he can’t fight a Kansas City O-line AND tangle with one of those “bad groin injury” things at the same time.

Pittsburgh Steelers 18 @ Cincinnati Bengals 16 An enchanting, angry contest. Part 1 of “Insane Catches by Incredible Wideouts,” and Vontaze’s Rage. This story told with the help of Vine’s visuality. We’ll start with the uglier portions of the game and finish with the beauty of Martavis’ gorgeous holy-roller TD catch. In all, it seems Andy Dalton will still get blamed for another 1st round exit, even though he wasn’t playing. We begin with one Vontaze Burfict losing his famously hot-tempered mind, producing a near clone of the ODB Jr. cheap-ass headshot, this time on Antonio Brown…

..but “Oh by the way” Burfict was way more egregious, disgusting, with this cheap headshot on Maxx Williams in a previous game versus the Ravens. Careful, it’s disturbing…

https://vine.co/v/iMWPBbFYELr

…and continuing the ugly parade, Pittsburgh ASSISTANT COACH Mike Munchak, yes, a coach, ripping some of Reggie Nelson’s dreads, rightfully pissing him right off…

…but thank all that’s True and Right in the world for Martavis Bryant’s incredible athleticism, focus, and brilliance all on display on this catch in the 3rd quarter, possibly trumping Beckham’s one-handed stab heard ’round the world…

Seattle Seahawks 10 @ Minnesota Vikings 9 This game will forever be remembered (by me) as “The Blair Walsh Project,” but it also included Part 2 of “Incredible Catches by Amazing Wideouts” and one of the more unlikely turning-point plays in recent history. First off, it looked cold as freezer burn in Minn-eh-sot-ah, -3 degrees for much of the game, with breath bursting from the entire stadium’s mouths like 80,000 proud vapers.

While their defense was its usual stout self, Seattle came out slightly resembling a steaming crater of ineptitude on offense. Then the play below happened, which appears to foreshadow more terror for Wilson and the ‘Hawks offense. Except he’s Macklemore uncommonly composed Russ Wilson, even in the face of certain peril, proving once again on this play why he’s so valuable to Mr. Pete Carroll and the ‘Hawks. For a little forced imagination, think of how 99.9% of the time the QB/center shotgun exchange is botched like this it results in, at best, a sack.

Instead, picture this reality where Wilson recovers smoothly, calmly baseball slides, retrieving the ball and springing back up in one swift motion, rolls away from oncoming defenders, looks downfield and fires a strike to a wide-open Tyler Lockett for the game-changing play. Seattle would go on to a TD and huge momentum swing, injecting life into their moribund offense and turning the tides of what was shaping up to be a certain Viking victory.

Yeah, I believe in momentum, F Nate Silver on this topic, and this was a huge swing in a game largely dictated by field position.

…then Adrian Peterson fumbles on the ensuing Viking possession, and SEA recovers with 10:30 left in the 4th.

…oh by the way Doug Baldwin becomes a bent Beckham-like wizard and makes this incredible one-hander…

…although Chase Coffman proves there should be some kinda permit receivers have to earn to attempt one-handed catch, like a driver’s license, ’cause he tries to be like Doug B. but instead makes an interception so easy…

Trailing Seattle 10-9 very late in the 4th quarter, Kyle Rudolph beat Kam Chancellor in man coverage for a huge first down catch (vindication for Chancellor getting away with a clear hold on Rudolph earlier), putting the Vikings in money-FG position for the certain game-winner. It was a kick that 99.6% of the time would’ve been a Blair Walsh layup 3-pointer. In a kinder, gentler reality Walsh nails the kick, the Vikings win, slay the 2-time Super Bowl Seahawks and move on to the next round.

In this harsher, cruel, coooold reality Walsh shanks the kick so badly left of the uprights, like a boomerang that didn’t go where it was supposed to and never came back, allowing America to brush the 8-inch thick dust off every Scott Norwood and Ace Ventura joke no longer forgotten to mankind. I understand Walsh is a professional, paid a ton of money to make that kick. He has to make that kick. But damn, I just feel bad for him.

Green Bay Packers 35 @ Washington Cousins/Trumps 18
This game started with a bizarre “DeSean Jackson scores but doesn’t” on a catch and run where he crossed the goal line near the pylon but crossed too far and stepped first out of bounds while holding the ball back pre-goal line. Green Bay went on to hold Washington to a field goal and early momentum. However, Green Bay’s offense was dormant for much of the first half until Aaron Rodgers started hooking up hardcore with Davante Adams and James Jones (don’t worry, Olivia Munn) and headed into halftime up 17-11 after giving up a safety.

In the second half, the Packers could not cover Washington’s Jordan Reed, who played incredibly (9 catches, 120 yards) with Kirk Cousins putting the Washingtons up 18-17 with a QB run. As the second half wore on though, Green Bay wrested control away, shutting down Washington’s attack, pounding Washington’s D with a steady diet of Lacy and Starks, and squeezing just enough juice out of A-Rod’s recovering air raid to coast comfortably into the next round. Kirk Cousins and the Washingtons were kinda like Leo here, at the Golden Globes: they won their division, had home-field against the Pack, everyone was lauding them for pulling through the RGIII fiasco.

They’re laughing, they’re having a good time, sitting nearer the top than they’ve been in a while. Meanwhile Rodgers and the Pack were like Lady Gaga: they just hadn’t looked like their typically dangerous self after blazing to a 6-0 start to the season before dropping 4 of their next 5 and finishing 2nd in the NFC North.

But oh, never forget about the beautiful power of Aaron Rodgers and the Pack, as they approach laughing Leo/Washington all the way from the forgotten back, shimmering the entire way as they (purposefully?) knock the Snyder’s over-extended elbow out of the way, smirking a triumphant return to the next round with a future full of promise, leaving Leo and the Snyders meekly grimacing in their wake.

https://vine.co/v/iMApWTgWgvL

THIS WEEK’S SIGN SOMETHING’S ASKEW IN THE WORLD

https://vine.co/v/iMm2OdgxwAK

Selfishly Sprayed Tweets Peak at Past Week

Down By Contact: Sunday Postgame Week 16

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

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

The Players

Chris Green – @cgrn731
Jeff Rich – @byJeffRich

Attention Browns: Feed the Crow

Fans want the Browns to “Feed the Crow.” With Ben Tate gone, there is more room for both Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell to grow and show the coaching staff, the city of Cleveland and the entire NFL just what they can do.

As I wrote last week, I noted that with Josh Gordon coming back, he would help in many more ways than with the ball in his hands. A special talent like that has to be accounted for. That’s why I propose the Browns begin to start truly giving the reigns to Isaiah Crowell and let him run until he pukes.

In the last two games, Isaiah Crowell has played 63% offensive snaps, sporting a 7.73 yards per carry average. This, compared to Terrance West, who has played 26% snaps on offense the last two weeks with a 3,89 YPC. So, it seems the Browns are beginning to trend towards a Crowell takeover. However, in the game against Atlanta, West led with 14 carries and one reception, with Crowell getting twelve carries.

Ben Tate who? Now, I liked Ben Tate as an offseason signing for the Browns and wanted him coming out of Auburn. However, he has been riddled with injuries his entire career and has been ineffective in most games this season—most notably his -9 yards on two carries against the Houston Texans.

To be fair, the running game has been more off than on ever since losing Alex Mack for the season. Also, without Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron on the field, teams have been able to stack the box, taking away the running game and daring Brian Hoyer to defeat them with his inconsistent passing. With Gordon back (and hopefully Cameron soon), the Browns will need to throw less and pound the ground more, with teams loosening their grip of the line of scrimmage.

Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme has been built around a strong ‘X’ receiver (Josh Gordon, Pierre Garcon, Andre Johnson) that opens doors to all other players on offense, namely the running back. In Washington, we saw 6th round pick Alfred Morris reap the benefits and has now made a name for himself, as well as undrafted Arian Foster. Shanahan has been quoted saying he “would love for one of the [Browns running backs] to step it up and separate himself from the others.”

Crow2Well, Kyle, I believe Isaiah has stepped it up. This isn’t to say that Terrance West isn’t a good running back. I believe he is, but Crowell has shown special burst, vision and all around talent that it takes to be a #1 running back in the NFL. He was very impressive against the Falcons—albeit one of the weaker defenses in the NFL. Crowell’s 12 carry 88 yard day was highlighted by his Marshawn Lynch Beastmode-esque 26-yard touchdown in the third quarter, giving Cleveland a 23-14 lead.

With as much as I have stated the return of Josh Gordon will help the running game, the same is true of an effective running game having positive effects for the pass game. Kyle Shanahan seemingly now has a balanced offense.

Let’s go back to Kyle’s time in Washington one more time to illustrate what a balanced Kyle Shanahan offense brings. In 2012, Alfred Morris rushed for 1,613 yards on 335 attempts while Pierre Garcon caught 68 balls for 633 yards in 10 games (foot injury). Then, in 2013, a healthy Pierre Garcon caught 133 passes for 1,346 yards while Morris rushed for 1,275 yards on 276 carries. Pairing Shanahan with a bonafide ‘X’ receiver and a true #1 running back has proven to yield positive results.

Crow1

The big difference between Washington and Cleveland is, while Washington was effective on offense in 2013, it was their defense that let them down time and time again. That has not been the case for the 2014 Cleveland Browns.

The Browns have found their #1 running back in a Kyle Shanahan offense that just welcomed back the reigning receiving yard champion. I think it is time for the coaching staff to officially feed the Crow and for us, as Browns fans, to buckle up. It is going to be one hell of a ride the last five games of the season.

The Browns next game will prove to be a difficult one, with the Bills defense playing very solid football, terrorizing opposing offenses.

Feed the Crow. Go Browns.

The Midweek Preview: Preseason Week 2

So unfortunately folks, we have to wait all the way until Monday to see Manziel make his first NFL start. However, the good news for those of you like me who are currently outside of the Cleveland area is that the game will be nationally televised on ESPN (with kickoff scheduled for 8 pm ET), meaning that we won’t have to sit on our computers watching an extremely poor and fairly pixelated online stream of the game. So yay for that.

Anyway, here are a few little things that I will be looking for this week when Manziel and the Browns take on OC Kyle Shanahan’s old team in the Redskins:

– Johnny Manziel: While he saw significant action last week against the Lions, much of his time on the field was spent with the disgustingly porous second-team offensive line “attempting” to block for him. So, although he did put up 63 yards on 7/11 passing while also racking up 27 yards on the ground, I don’t really feel that we fans got a good feel for what he could do. Some of the things he’s been needing to work on going into this season include standing confidently in the pocket and going through his progressions before bolting, and he didn’t have as much of an opportunity to do that against the Lions as the pocket was regularly collapsing quite quickly. It will be interesting to see how Manziel reacts when he is given the time to stand in the pocket. Although I expect him to scramble early a few times during his time on the field, it will be nice to see whether he looks comfortable when he doesn’t tuck and run early.

– Terrance West: The past couple of weeks I’ve been reading about how West is going to be one of the breakout stars this year at the running back position for fantasy football. Last saturday, he didn’t live up to that expectation. Or even anywhere close to it. He ran for 22 yards on 10 carries with a long of 10 yards. Although he had a couple of nice looking runs, especially at the beginning of his time on the field, he just did not look that good to me. He threw down a couple of really nice little jukes to make defenders miss, but then he started to keep trying that. And it just wasn’t this working. This week I’m hoping to see him ground and pound a little more and put that size of his to use running through defenders, definitely against smaller corners on the outside.

– Inside Linebacker: This will be a very interesting and fun positional battle throughout the year, not only the preseason. Craig Robertson started the game and made a couple of great plays in run defense. He also looked much improved in coverage, which was something he struggled with at times last season. But then rookie Christian Kirksey came in. And he played great too. His coverage skills were phenomenal for a rookie inside linebacker, and while he didn’t make as many plays in the ground game as Robertson, he didn’t make any real big mistakes either. Look for both of them to keep putting together very respectable performances.

– Brian Hoyer: He too looked solid against the Lions, although he looked a bit shaky to start the game, especially on throws more than 10 yards or so downfield, as he consistently sent those sailing over the receiver’s head. I expect him to bounce back this week and show much better control on his longer throws, definitely as he will be seeing the field some against second-teamers.

– Special Teams: While there was good and bad in this area, it was mainly bad. The first kickoff honestly made me want to cry. That was really just not the way a team wants to start their season. Except for the Lions. They would’ve been pleased. But yeah, the Browns’ kickoff coverage did not look all that competent, neither on the first kickoff nor the second. Hopefully it will be different this week though. On the good side however, congratulations to Marlon Moore on earning himself another few days or weeks in a Browns’ uniform with that kick return to start the second half.

– Tackling: There were way too many missed tackles, especially among the first-teamers. A defense as talented as the Browns should be made to miss so easily. Wrapping up a player is arguably the most important part of defense, and the Browns were not able to do it. Hopefully they worked a lot on it this past week of practice so that we don’t have to experience that again against the Redskins. And speaking of missed tackles…

– Pierre Desir: Awful game. Just a terrible way to start an NFL career. Now, I still really like Desir and think he is talented, but everybody who was critical of his lack of experience playing “real” competition was proven correct. He was missing tackles all over the field as well as having problems staying with receivers in coverage. However, he has a strong work ethic, and I expect him to bounce back well this week as he showed flashes of excellence during the game against the Lions.

– Armonty Bryant: Wow. Just wow. Although solid last year, he looks like he has made big strides this offseason, and he had a hell of a game. He was consistently disrupting the quarterback, and I look forward to see him continue to that throughout the rest of the year.

– Contain: Another area the defense struggled on was containing at the line of scrimmage. There were a couple times where outside linebackers shirked their duties by overpursuing counters, leaving the running back with loads of room to run. We will need to see improvement in that area this week.

And that is more or less it. I’m really looking forward to being able to watch the game in HD this week. Anyway, I will leave you with this:

Player That Most Impressed Me This Week: TE Marqueis Gray

Should Jordan Cameron suffer a serious injury this year, it appears that the Browns will have a capable backup to step up in his place.

Player That I Am Waving Goodbye To: WR Jonathan Krause

Players who are battling for a last spot on the roster but are unaware and get hit in the knee by a very-well thrown ball while having space to run up the field don’t tend to win the battle for that spot.

The Chief Wahoo Debate: Should He Stay or Should He Go?

The talk of nixing Chief Wahoo has reached an all-time high. Could this be the end of the beloved Chief?

 

 

There has been an uptick in talk the last couple of weeks with regard to the place that Chief Wahoo holds as mascot of the Cleveland Indians. The hot button issue of racist sports team logos is more pronounced on a national stage in places like Washington, D.C., but that doesn’t mean that Cleveland is immune to the talk. Recently the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Editorial board released a collective message that they felt it was time for the Indians and the Chief to part ways. Since that time, the Cleveland sports media has been in a tizzy arguing over the validity of the comments calling the Chief caricature racist in addition to question that sits at the center of this debate:

 

Should the Indians ditch the Chief in favor of the Block C logo or should they continue to use and market Chief Wahoo?

 

I personally feel that Chief Wahoo transcends any issues of race, color, or creed. When I look at the him, I don’t see a stereotypical caricature of a Native American. I see my first Indians game. I see the crisp grass of the outfield and the freshly raked dirt of the infield. I smell hotdogs, fireworks, and beer. Chief Wahoo isn’t a symbol of my team as much as he is a reminder of all the good things that accompany Indians baseball. As Indians fans, we do not define ourselves by the caricature of Chief Wahoo nor do we use it to mock a culture. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. We hold the Chief dear to our hearts. He is a rallying cry as we root on the Tribe. When we’re asked “who are you?” the response is a finger pointed to the Chief on the front of the hat accompanied by the words “I’m a Cleveland Indian.”

 

Having said that, I don’t deny the fact that Chief Wahoo is, inherently, a racist caricature — He is overtly racist! Denying that is asinine and ignorant. In the times that we live in, it’s probably good that the Indians are moving towards the block C logo. I don’t feel weird wearing him in public. I think if there was a real issue with the Chief, I and others would feel awkward wearing clothing with his visage. The complete opposite is true though. We embrace our logo and wear it proudly. He is a symbol of unity and strength among a community of baseball fans that have been let down more than any other franchise save the Cubs. With all of the hubbub around the Redskins’ logo problems (Dan Snyder is the real problem in Washington, not the logo), the Indians are just a casualty of association. Our logo just happens to be next in line for the throne of “Most Racist” so, naturally, the talk always seems to surround the Indians at some point in or around the season.

 

What has really surprised me through this logo question has been the lack of coverage by ESPN. For once in my life, I’m actually happy that ESPN isn’t paying attention to Cleveland with respect to Chief Wahoo. Like a locker room situation, it should be handled in-house by those who have skin in the game. In Cleveland’s situation, there are three groups involved:

 

 

1. The Organization

2. The Media

3. The Fans.

 

The Organization has been stuck in the middle thus far. While it is actively moving away from Chief Wahoo by utilizing the “Block C” logo more and more over the past 3-4 years. The Media has been split right down the middle. The Cleveland radio circuit has been decidedly against the logo change. I drive to and from Akron every day for school and I get to catch Kylie & Booms in the morning on 92.3 in addition Bull & The Fox in the afternoon. Over the past few weeks, when they have spoken on the issue of the logo change, Kevin, Chuck, Adam, and Dustin have all denounced the change, denounced those who want the change, and basically ripped to shreds the idea of the change. The Cleveland press however, has been neutral if not for the change. On February 28th, the Cleveland Plain Dealer Editorial Board released a collective statement calling for the end of the “racist caricature”. Other than that, the Cleveland press has let the issue simmer with an occasional blurb or two coming to the surface. In conversations with Indians fans at the University of Akron, there is an understanding that eventually, the logo has to change. At the same time, many fans indicated to me that it feels like the “PC culture” is coming in and stealing a symbol of their youth. Some of the opinions expressed regarding what Chief Wahoo means to fans almost directly matched those that I professed at the beginning of this article.

 

Overall, I would say that there is recognition across Northeast Ohio that Chief Wahoo will eventually have to be replaced for good. However, the process that the Indians are implementing now to replace Chief Wahoo with the “Block C” logo is something that works. Over the past few years, the Indians organization has done a very good job at slowly pulling the “Chief Wahoo rug” out from under the fans so that we don’t even notice. The Block C logo is almost analogous to Chief Wahoo now. If the organization continues to push it and other marketing plows in place of the Chief, I can see them completely disassociating with Chief Wahoo in two years with little to no consequence from the fans or the media. This is possible due to the slow and meticulous way in which they dissociated themselves. I imagine the Indians’ front office looks at like quitting smoking slowly and methodically rather than going cold turkey and shocking the body.

 

In closing, I don’t welcome the change of Chief Wahoo, but I understand the necessity for it. I’m a die-hard Tribe fan and I hate change. When you take away my Chief, you take away my childhood and what makes up some of my better memories from it. I hate that he has to go, I really do. At the same time, if one kid gets made fun of in reference to Chief Wahoo or his appearance, then I would feel terrible. Nobody should have to experience racism in the 21st century, especially because of a sports logo. I abhor any racist sentiment and thus, I sadly think it is time to see the Chief bid adieu.

Cleveland Browns Carousel: More Than A Fling?

All I wanted for my birthday was a full and finalized Cleveland Browns coaching staff.

The Browns, as is their habit of getting a fan’s hopes up, then remembering they don’t really give a bulldog’s backside about winning, then realizing that they should probably try and appease the people with the butts that they have to put in the seats, have half-wrapped an already-used package for me, and included a card that said, “Happy New Year, 2002 / 2007”.

This “lovely” package comes to me after the Browns ran former head coach Rob Chudzinski out on a rail, a move I found ridiculously knee-jerk and largely unfair. Yes, Chud “steered” the Browns to a 4-12 record in 2013. A kitten could’ve probably done that on pure cuteness and threat of tiny claws.

Browns' Kitten Coach
Thankfully this didn’t come to pass, but it would’ve been cute… (Image credit to sportspickle.com)

However, I feel like Chud, Norv Turner, and Ray Horton were on the border of something decent. Not good, but decent. I mean, there were very few true blow-out losses in the ’13 season, and the team was in several games they probably shouldn’t have been in. To say that we were dealing with a fluid situation at quarterback and running back is being Mother Theresa and Pope Francis levels of kind. The defense was overall well above average, but was gassed near the end of the season as the secondary was a bit of an issue (also another understatement from watching some of the games). Six Browns went to and played in the Fantasy Football Bowl, and they did quite well. There were several bright spots on this team throughout the year, but not enough consistency.

The front office solved that issue by blowing up the whole of the coaching staff, ensuring that the lack of consistency continued.

Bravo, Stooges. Bravo.

But even in the bleakness that is considered the norm of Cleveland sports, we try to put the past behind us, and look towards the future. Well, unless your name is Art Modell, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, John Elway…

Anyway, we look towards the future, and the name we’ve finally come to is Mike Pettine. Pettine, a defensive mind from the New York Jets and (most recently) the Buffalo Bills, looks like one of those guys that you just don’t want to mess with. The Twitter was alight with comparisons to one WWE wrestler:

Or another:

Or a slash-fic wet dream of the combination of the two:

I myself likened him to Jesse “The Body” Ventura of gubernatorial old, before he went completely conspiracy crazy.

"The Body" Didn't Mess Around...
Tell me to say “Barkevious Mingo” one more time… “The Body” dares you… (Image courtesy of prowrestling.wikia.com)

 

The Browns press conference to announce Pettine’s hiring was, of course, the talk around town, even up til now. The man who said that he “wasn’t trying to win press conferences” said all the right things. The man who wasn’t comfortable being in the limelight made himself comfortable by talking about the talent the team has, talking about needing to “get a little bloody” in the AFC North, and talking about how the team has to be held accountable and start bucking the losing attitude that seems to have invaded the locker room (and possibly spelled doom for Chud after the team ‘gave up’ last season).

On the surface, I was simply happy that the Browns finally got a guy… Any guy… To fill the role so that this monstrosity of rebuilding could begin.

Again.

However, diving a little deeper into the presser (which I sadly didn’t see live), I’m liking what Pettine is saying. Yes, I know as Browns fans we’ve heard the good song-and-dance before, but there’s something a little different about this one. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s not an “Ohio guy”; several of our former coaches had some sort of past connections to the team, and that might have allowed them some latitude in their minds. There’s also the fact that Pettine is coming out of a defensive system in Buffalo that was actually pretty good in 2013. Talent-wise, I feel the Browns are as good or a bit better than the Buffalo staff was, which bodes well for a Browns defense that was (as I mentioned previously) a good squad. Pettine’s hire, along with pivotal pieces he brought with him from his Buffalo staff (including the Browns’ new DC Jim O’Neil), gives me the feeling like the defense is set up for an improved year next year. So long as the secondary gets addressed, either by scheme or personnel changes, there’s a lot of hope for avoiding some of the last-chance victories our opponents had like last year.

The big piece to the puzzle, unsolved until Saturday, was the offensive coordinator. The offense last year was, in a word, rubbish. There was no consistency, going through several quarterbacks and a stable of runners in 16 games. There was also the matter of the majority of the receiving corps underachieving horribly, with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron the only real threats. Now we have Kyle Shanahan, formerly of the Washington Redskins, onboard as our OC.

I am a supreme fan of this hire. While some of the ‘pundits’ were questioning how well the interview with Shanahan went, Pettine and the Browns front office apparently saw enough good to bring Shanahan onboard. The big thing on this is that we might finally get some stability in the quarterback position, though the name might not be known right now. The leader in the clubhouse (at least someone already on our roster) would likely be Brian Hoyer, who seems to be recovering decently from ACL surgery. However, the likelihood everyone seems to be leaning towards is the drafting of Johnny Manziel with the first of the Browns’ two first-round draft picks. With either man at the helm, the Browns under Shanahan get the good, mobile quarterback that was part of the success the Redskins under Shanahan and with RG3 in command.

There’s also the matter of running backs, which have been a particular weakness for this team. McGahee is definitely not the answer going forward, nor do I feel that Ogbonnaya is the first choice. I think Fozzy Whittaker is an intriguing choice moving forward, but I feel (and others are thinking) that, once again the Browns will be drafting a running back early. Seems to be a repeat of recent years, but… This time I think we’ve got some people that might actually have some plans, some know-how on the who and what for doing it their way, and doing it well.

So am I happy with my birthday present?

The packaging and toys look pretty in the box.

Too bad assembly won’t happen until Training Camp.

Why Helmet-to-Helmet Rules Exist and Why You Don’t Care

Last week in college football there were at least three players ejected under the NCAA’s new targeting rule, and at least as many helmet-to-helmet penalties flagged

in the NFL. These are important rules for both players and the

sanctioning bodies at both levels of football. The NCAA and NFL are both driven by money, as are the players. The players want to make as much as humanly possible (which I support) and the owners and NCAA want to spend as little as possible (which I support).

Here’s the fundamental problem: both sides cannot win. In their zeal to reduce the amount of concussion-like injuries in the NFL, the league turned itself into what many call the ‘No Fun League.’ Teasing names aside, at the end of the day the change is best for the players, but not the fans. Allow me to expand on this – as fans, we generally only care about two things: wins/losses and fantasy sports. For the most part, fans feel no direct impact on whether a player is injured or concussed, and the only real impact we feel is if a player isn’t playing because of injury or suspension.

Bell: Expanding helmet rule could be NFL’s next step

The owners in the NFL and administrators in the NCAA have a much bigger stake in the game than we do. No, I won’t say the owners have all the liability, but honestly they have most of it. The game cannot be played without the players, but it also cannot be played without the owners who finance the teams we watch or the stadiums we sit in. For the record, I don’t have an extra $2 billion dollars laying around to buy an NFL franchise.

What everything boils down to is the owners want to make money and protect their investments. In fact, their investments are really no different than your retirement account, except for the fact that they’re a lot larger.

Players, on the other hand, want to play and they aren’t interested in protecting themselves, but they should be. One can only play football so long before life kicks in. The average NFL career is less than seven years. What about college football players who never make it to the NFL? What’s their post-football career outlook?

I’m not suggesting players stop playing football, because for some that simply isn’t an option, but consider this: after you play football, what are you going to do with your life? Owners won’t care about you unless you’re suing them, and fans will forget about you six months after you leave school or retire.

Uni Watch: Impact of helmet policy

As fans, we live in the here and now, but owners and NCAA administrators have to think about the long-term effects of how violent football has become. If that fundamentally changes the way football is played, so be it.

What would you think of football if one of your sons, brothers, or husbands had played football only to retire and not remember his name in 10 or 15 years? At that point is his playing career more important than his life?

The easy answer is no, and the rules aren’t going to revert back to where they were 10 years ago. That’s a continuing adjustment for fans. Game officials will rightly err on the side of caution to protect players from themselves.

The simple fact is that fans have no skin in the game, other than maybe a few hundred dollars here or there, while owners are gambling with billions and players are risking their lives. Think about that the next time a player is ejected or fined for helmet-to-helmet contact.

Don't Rush an Injury

Washington’s Robert Griffin III is a talented quarterback and athlete, one who is fun to watch on Sunday afternoons, but I fear for his long-term future in the NFL for reasons that have nothing to do with his on-field performance.

Last season, Griffin sprained his knee in a Week 14 victory vs. the Baltimore Ravens, and then suffered a more serious injury to his knee; he tore his Lateral Collateral Ligament more in Washington’s playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks. As a spectator to the sport it was hard to see someone with his athletic ability go down and suffer an injury like that. He didn’t give up or let his injury define his career, instead he let it define his character.

I never enjoy, nor do I wish for, an athlete to sustain an injury because, depending on the severity, rehabilitating can be a difficult and lengthy process.

In Washington’s opening game of the season versus the Eagles, RGIII looked to be limping and was not running in the same fashion as he did during his rookie season. I fear that because of his competitive nature, he did not take enough time to completely heal from his knee injury.
I understand that for a player like Griffin, it must difficult to be injured and not be able to contribute to your team. But I would hate to see any athlete, especially one as talented as RGIII, rush back and jeopardize his career because he was not completely healed.
As a fan, I would much rather see him take his time rehabbing his injury and not come back until he is fully ready so that he can be a true competitor. I want to be able to watch a healthy RGIII play, as he is a versatile and exciting player. Plus, the threat of him running is what makes him a standout, compared to other quarterbacks.

Even though he plays another sport, another athlete that seemed to have rushed back after he tore his ACL a year and a half ago is Derrick Rose. Both Rose and Griffin are the leaders of the teams, the face of the franchise and the ones who were just beginning their careers when injuries struck. He got injured in the playoffs of the 2011-2012 season and was out for the entire 2012-2013 season. It was hard to watch Rose, a very promising star and the new “franchise athlete” of the Bulls. I think Rose was overworked though. I think he was the top performer for the Bulls. Do I think that is why he got injured? No, when he was playing he looked like he had jumped off his leg wrong. Seeing a guy like Rose go down sucked. It sucked for the fans, for him and for the Bulls. He was their leader and they needed him. At the same time they relied on him too much that in his absence they didn’t have a solid backup. The Bulls weren’t terrible without him, but they weren’t as good as they were when Rose was playing. With basketball just around the corner Rose says he is fully healthy and ready to come back to play. Do I think he is? Absolutely. He has had plenty of time to rest and really rehab his knee to get over this injury. I want to see Rose come back and just flourish.

In this case, I believe he just needed more time to completely heal.
The decision to return to the field should not fall solely on the player, however; the coaches need to do a better job of determining when a player is ready to return. As a coach it is partially their responsibility to protect their players. They need to make sure that when talking to the athlete and the doctor that they come to an intelligent conclusion of when it is the right time for them to return to action.
Professional leagues are working to improve player safety – especially in the NFL and its recent focus on concussions – but there are other injuries just as serious that players try to play though. How could anyone forget the 2004 ALCS with Kurt Schilling and his bloody ankle? Luckily not as many athletes do play through injuries because of the advancements in technology and the steps to make it safer.
There has been a lot of research that has gone into concussions and the league is trying to make it safer by the type of hits that players are allowed to make. Also when a player is on the ground (NFL) and they have to take a “medical timeout” that player has to sit out for one play for assurance. The NFL realizes that there are problems with athletes and injuries and are trying ot do their part to make it safer.
While it is understandable that RGIII and Rose would both want to return to help their teams – even if they are not 100 percent healthy – ultimately I think they need to consider what is in their best long-term interests and put their health before their team.

Note: I think everyone would agree that it would be nice if anytime someone is injured they can take as long as they want to get healthy but, sadly, that’s not the reality of professional sports. RG3 may have pushed it a bit, but Rose got a chance to take his time and really rehab his injury.

Brandon Weeden Will Breakout in 2013

On Monday, I started a series that focused on the Browns and, specifically, statistical analysis that could help to clear things up for next season.

The series of statistical analysis continues today with a look at Brandon Weeden throw by throw. No, literally.

Dennis Manaloff, does an UNBELIEVABLE job every week of the Browns season of creating a chart grading every Brandon Weeden pass. This chart covers everything from the amount of pass rush, to the formation, to the quality of the throw. It is thanks to him that I was able to do this research and put this article together.

Thanks to Mr. Manaloff, I was able to analyze literally each and every one  of Brandon Weeden’s throws.

In Manaloff’s weekly “Brandon Weeden Report Card”,  there was analysis that looks a little something like this.

I knew this existed, so I used it to my advantage.

I knew that Mr. Manaloff, incredibly, graded each and every throw on a scale of 1-5. A “one”, in more cases than not, was an obviously thrown interception, a “two” was an inaccurate throw, a “three” was your run-of-the-mill pitch and catch, a “four” was a very accurate and well thrown ball, and a “five” was your perfect, on the money, strike.

As you can imagine, there weren’t all that many ones or all that many fives. Instead, the range was essentially from two to four, for the most part.

Brandon Weeden
One of Browns QB Brandon Weeden’s many faces.

On top of dissecting the quality of each throw, the great Manaloff inserted into their chart whether the throw was from under center or from the shotgun.

Using these two incredibly useful tools, I was able to start my analysis.

Mr. Manaloff again made it easy for me, as they had a search tool to look through each throw from a certain category. I simply pressed the shotgun button and “BOOM!” there was every shotgun throw that Weeden made for the entire season, graded and explained.

There were five pages of fifty throws, so I added the ratings from each throw together, divided them by 50 and my results were as follows:

Throw Rating from Shotgun

3.045 average rating on first 50 throws.

3.0 average rating on second 50 throws.

2.8 average rating on third 50 throws.

3.175 average rating on fourth 50 throws.

2.926 average rating on fifth 50 throws.

2.989 average rating on 250 attempts from the shotgun.

Of 517 attempts, Weeden was in the shotgun 250 times. 48% of the time, Weeden was in the shotgun.

So, you can see most of Weeden’s throws from the shotgun were just around average. Obviously there were good and there were bad, but for a shotgun throw, I’ll take average all day. Average in the shotgun is analogous to below average under center, keep that in mind…

Unfortunately, under center wasn’t so easy to analyze. I tried to click the “under center” button to sort through every under center throw, but it wouldn’t work. Instead, I went game by game and manually counted the number of under center throws, added up the grades, and divided the sum of the grades by the number of throws in that game. The results were as follows:

Throw Rating from Under Center:

2.72 against Philadelphia

3.368 against Cincinnati

2.708 against Buffalo

2.925 against Baltimore

2.933 against New York

3.23 against Cincinnati

3.117 against Indianapolis

3.0 against San Diego

2.64 against Baltimore

2.63 against Dallas

2.78 against Pittsburgh

3.14 against Oakland

3.071 against Kansas City

2.4 against Washington

2.75 against Denver

2.894 average rating on 267 attempts from under center.

Of 517 attempts, Weeden was under center 267 times. 52% of the time, Weeden was under center.

With more attempts, Weeden was still .1 under his average from the shotgun. While it doesn’t seem like a huge difference, with 267 attempts, .1 percent is much larger than you think.

Throws from under center are generally shorter, easier throws. The number of quality throws under center should be much higher than that of the shotgun throws, but not in Weeden’s case. Weeden is much better throwing from the shotgun, regardless of the risky and down-field throws that come with the formation.

He was clearly uncomfortable at times under center, allowing for below average throw after below average throw. Weeden was a “square peg” trying to fit into the offense of Pat Shurmur that was a “round hole”. For as bad a fit as it was, Weeden didn’t do a bad job. All things considered, Weeden was hurt by Shurmur’s offense, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it should have been, because Weeden is a good and coachable quarterback.

This season, however, Weeden is going to be one of the better second-year quarterbacks, all in thanks to Rob Chudzinski.

Rob Chudzinski is the anti-Shurmur. Aggressive, smart, and willing to fit his system to his players strengths, rather than having them fit into a specific set of parameters. Chudzinski also happens to be a great offensive mind who believes in a shotgun-based, down-field passing game. It is just a tremendously helpful coincidence that Chudzinski and Weeden’s old coach, Dana Holgorsen, share the same philosophies when it comes to offense: pass a lot, and pass from the shotgun.

With a comfortable Weeden, a down-field system, and more overall talent, the sky is the limit for Brandon. I’m expecting big things from him this year. If he can’t thrive in this system, I would be completely on board with drafting a quarterback in next year’s QB-heavy draft. I am fully confident, however, that Weeden is going to blow people away with his performance.

I’ll put it this way: you don’t put Carlos Santana as your leadoff hitter or Dion Waiters as your center, just like you don’t put Brandon Weeden under the center for more than 40% of his passes. He’s never been there before, so why try to change him now? Especially when he isn’t going to be in the league as long as most rookies, thanks to his age.

Imagine what will happen with a more experienced Weeden, a better offensive line, a better Trent Richardson, and a down-field, shotgun-based offensive passing system. Weeden will be marginally better than he was last season.

Again, thanks to Dennis Manaloff of Cleveland.com and the Plain Dealer for helping me, unintentionally, with my analysis. @dmansworld474 did an absolutely incredible job.

Elite TEAMS win Super Bowls, not elite Quarterbacks

The matchup for Super Bowl XLVII (That’s 47, I had to look up the roman numerals) is now set.  The Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers successfully navigated the AFC and NFC respectively, to wind up in New Orleans, Louisiana, where they will decide who will be crowned NFL Champion for 2012-13.

There are some significant storylines which will get a lot of play over the two weeks leading up to the game.  The Harbaugh brothers coaching against one another; and the end of the Ray Lewis era are the two which will get most of the headlines.  There is however another storyline which likely won’t get much coverage; and it has to do with the quarterbacks.

I’m sure we’ll know everything there is to know about Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick by the time the game kicks off on Super Bowl Sunday.  The aspect that won’t get much focus is that neither one of these quarterbacks are elite.  That’s right, one of these two quarterbacks will win a Super Bowl, and neither one of them is elite. 

I have long stood by the premise that you don’t absolutely have to have an elite QB in the NFL to win the Super Bowl.  Does it help to have an elite QB?  Sure it does.  Having an all-world signal-caller running your offense eliminates some major question marks.  It also covers up a lot of deficiencies.  Can you win without an elite quarterback?  Yes you can. 

Teams sell out every year to try and get that guy.  You see it over and over on draft day; some team will reach in the first round to grab a QB who isn’t worth the stretch.  Meanwhile, those same teams could be filling in gaps all over their roster by picking the best players available; and actually building the foundation of a great team.

Look at the list of quarterbacks who have won Super Bowls and many of them are all-pro caliber.  But there are some glaring examples of supreme mediocrity under center.  How about Brad Johnson for the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers?  Or Trent Dilfer for the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.  What about theWashington Redskins?  The Skins won in ’87 behind Doug Williams and ’91 with Mark Rypien.  Let’s not forget Jeff Hostetler for the 1990 New York Giants? 

The aforementioned Bucs, Ravens, Giants, and going back even further to the 1985 Chicago Bears; dismantled the opposition with ferocious defense.  The Bears had Jim McMahon.  He’s a shining example of why you don’t need a star at QB to win it all.  That guy was atrocious.  When you have Walter Payton, and one of the best defenses of all-time, it doesn’t matter.

I’m sure I’ll take flak for this example, but even Kurt Warner can be thrown in to this group.  Many people believe he was elite.  His true identity was a pretty good starting NFL QB, who had an excellent grasp of the Rams offense in 1999; and a ton of playmakers around him.  I’d argue that at least half of the starting QB’s in the league in ’99 would’ve won with that St. Louis Rams team.  As Warner showed with a not so good New York Giants team just a couple season later; on his own, Warner was just another guy.

Any of those guys on an average to below average NFL team, would’ve been downright bad.  Put in the proper situation, with protection, a running game, and good defense; and suddenly they’re Super Bowl Champions.  Both Rypien and Hostetler beat a Hall of Fame quarterback in Jim Kelly to get their rings.

John Elway is one of the best QB’s ever to play in the NFL.  For years he carried a pedestrian Denver Broncos team to the Super Bowl, only to lose badly.  It wasn’t until they brought in a stud running back like Terrell Davis, upgraded his receiving corps, and put some semblance of a defense on the field, before he could grab a couple of rings.

Let’s take a look at the two Super Bowl participants.  I’m sure the media will try and sell us that Joe Flacco is on the verge of stardom.  Maybe he is? I can’t say for certain.  I tend to believe that you can tell if a player is elite right away.  Flacco has not shown that, and I don’t believe he will ever be elite.  Is he good?  Sure he is.  He’s an above average, starting NFL quarterback; and that’s all you need. 

How about Colin Kaepernick?  Given how young he is, there is certainly a chance he becomes an all-time great player.  I highly doubt it though.  Now, I have a tendency to dislike QB’s that are heavily reliant upon their legs to make plays.  That’s fine if you can do that, but ultimately in the NFL, you do need to be able to throw the ball.  Kaepernick may never be elite, but he can sling it enough to win a championship.  The Falcons made him do it Sunday.  He only ran for 21 yards.  With time to throw, he made the plays necessary to win.

The reason one of these average QB’s will win a Super Bowl is simple; they are surrounded by great players.  Both the Ravens and 49ers have solid football players on both sides of the ball.  Each of these teams can run the football.  Each of these teams can protect the quarterback.  And each of these teams finish tackles and hit harder than their opponents.

Baltimore and San Francisco went about building their teams in different ways.  The Ravens have sustained success while trying to find the right guy to man the QB position.  They never did reach, or dump half of their draft picks to get their quarterback.  By plugging in quality players all over the field, they’ve remained competitive year in and year out. 

The 49ers had to endure a period of struggle, prior to finding success in the last few seasons.  All the while, they began to add to the core of the team which is now on the precipice of a title.  The Niners did select Alex Smith #1 overall, but he wasn’t really a reach.  He was supposed to be picked that high, he simply didn’t pan out.  By staying the course, and making good draft selections each season, San Fran has grown into a Super Bowl caliber team.

Now, I’m not suggesting that any organization with a star at quarterback should dump them.  Having an all-pro QB puts your team ahead of the curve, and maybe just a few pieces away from being in the Super Bowl.  If you end up with the #1 pick in the draft, you take Andrew Luck like the Indianapolis Colts did this past year.  What I am suggesting, is that if your organization is patient, makes sharp evaluations, and puts talent on the roster; you can win championships without a stud at quarterback. 

Every few years we actually get a surprise MVP of the Super Bowl.  Without a golden boy running the show for either team, this may be one of those years.  It’s refreshing to see that either the Ravens or 49ers will be rewarded for winning as a team, in what is arguably, the ultimate team game.