The Browns are facing the Bizzaro Browns this Sunday on the shores of Lake Erie. Why are the Buffalo Bills the Bizzaro Browns? The Browns over the past few weeks (and most of the season) have played teams which they are far superior to talent wise yet struggle to eek out victory after victory. The Bills on paper have very few talented players but play hard and stay in every game. They stand at 7-6, but are a few missed field goals away from 10-3. A win for the Browns puts them in the driver's seat for they play-offs and eliminates the Bills hopes for the post season.
Rookie RB Marshawn Lynch returns from injury this week and if not for Adrian Peterson, he would be the rookie talk of the league. Well, him and Joe Thomas. Lynch appears to be a complete back, equipped with both power and speed, but it remains to be seen how he win react after being out for a few games. Another rookie, QB Trent Edwards, doesn't do anything flashy, but minimizes turnover and runs an efficient game. But the Bills still rank 28th in total offense and average on 173 yards per game passing. But add in the Browns porous secondary and you never know what can happen.
The Bills defense is nothing to write home about either, ranking a meager 30th in the NFL but still two better than the Browns 32nd ranked unit. They give up over 250 yards a game via the pass, a weakness the Browns are hoping to exploit. They don't force opponents to punt much, but when they do, look out for stellar PR Roscoe Parrish, who averages over 17 yards a return.
The formula for the Browns is simple. Take advantage of the the Bills porous pass defense, build a lead and then have Jamal Lewis pound the Bills into submission. This is the formula all good teams use. The Bills CBs are all under 6' tall, something than Braylon and Joe J should exploit. The Bills don't have much of a pass rush and with the way the O-Line has been playing I expect they won't have one on Sunday either. The Browns desperately need to get Kellen Winslow back involved in the game as he has been way to quiet over the past two games. The burden one again falls on DA to make some big plays when they are there, take what the defense gives him when they are not and to eliminate turnovers from the equation. It's been a while since he has been able to do all three in the same game.
On Defense the Browns need to continue to build on their performances over the past few weeks. Keep generating a pass rush, confuse Trent Edwards into rushing his decisions and force some key turnovers. The defense is improving, but it still is a liability and does not have the talent to dominate the game. Todd Grantham needs to keep being aggressive, mixing in some blitzes while disguising coverages to take advantage of the rookie QB. Eric Wright should be back this week so he and the other DBs should be focused on neutralizing WR Lee Evans while lending run support to the LBs. If the D can create enough havoc, they Browns may be able to exploit the Bills below average offense.
This isn't a big game. This isn't a must win. This is a statement game. The Browns have tiptoed, eeked, stolen, stumbled and lucked their way into more than a few victories this year. Most of them over inferior opponents that they struggled to put away. The Browns have yet to truly manhandle an inferior team all year. That time has come. The day is Sunday. The place is Cleveland, Ohio. The recipient is the Buffalo Bills. It's time for the Cleveland Browns to lay the smackdown and make a statement. The statement that they are for real and they are here to stay. I'm not looking for a Black Sunday. I'm looking for a Brown Sunday.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
If there ever was a year that proves that the BCS is a crock of sh*t, 2007 is it. With only 1 Division I, er sorry, Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) undefeated team in Hawaii, two 1-loss teams in Ohio State and Kansas, and a plethora of two loss teams, no two teams distinguished themselves above and beyond the others. With the inordinate number of losses by Top 5 teams to unranked teams it becomes increasingly frustrating to accept the NCAA's unwillingness to scrap the current bowl system and go to a tournament format that they use in Divisions I-AA (er, Football Championship Subdivision, FCS), II and III when parity in the FBS is blatantly obvious.
The excuses of missed classes, difficult travel and the uncertainty of locations are invalid as all the other Divisions deal with it. And these are the smaller schools who actually have student athletes and stricter academic requirements. The excuse of the lesser teams losing out on post-season action are also invalid as the lower Divisions also have single game Bowl Games. Keep the lower level Bowl Games, they are entertaining and a nice reward for the student athletes who sacrifice their time and effort. The excuse of the loss of money to the schools generated by the loss of Bowl Games is also ridiculous as the hype and excitement generated by a playoff should match that of the Bowl System. And if people don't think it would be exciting, please see the FCS this season as 8-3 Delaware, who finished the season 3rd in Division of its Conference, has gotten hot and is playing in the FCS Championship Game. Or better yet, see March Madness.
Forget the talk of a 4, 8 or 12 team playoff field, let's stick with a 16 team model like the FCS. Just for reference Division II has a 24 team field and Division III has a 32 team field. The first round would be played on the higher seeded team's field with the incorporation of the higher Bowls for the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals. To keep it fair to all the Conferences that aren't "BCS worthy", let's include all 11 FBS Divisions, just like March Madness. All Conference Champions get an automatic bid to the tournament. The other 5 "at-large" teams would be chosen by a Selection Committee, just like in March Madness and in the lower Football Divisions. But, let's put in a rule that you can not have more than 2 teams from any 1 conference to be fair to all Conferences. The Selection Committee would then seed the 16 teams just like in the March Madness.
In this demonstration we will use the final 2007 BCS rankings to select the 5 at-large teams and to determine the seeding.
So based on the 2007 Final BCS Standings you would have:
#1 Ohio State (Big Ten)
#2 LSU (SEC)
#3 Virginia Tech (ACC)
#4 Oklahoma (Big 12)
#5 Georgia (At-Large)
#6 Missouri (At-Large)
#7 USC (PAC 10)
#8 West Virgina (Big East)
#9 Hawaii (WAC)
#10 Arizona State (At-Large)
#11 Illinois (At-Large)
#12 Boston College (At-Large)
#13 BYU (Mountain West)
#14 UCF (Conference USA)
#15 Central Michigan (MAC)
#16 Florida Atlantic (Sun Belt)
Kansas and Florida lose out despite being higher in the BCS Standings because they would be the 3rd team from their conference in the tournament. This is just a rule I am making out of preference, not a necessity.
So the first round of the bracket would look as follows:
#16 Florida Atlantic @ #1 Ohio State
#9 Hawaii @ #8 West Virginia
#12 Boston College @ #5 Georgia
#14 UCF @ #3 Virginia Tech
#11 Illinois @ #6 Missouri
#13 BYU @ #4 Oklahona
#10 Arizona State @ #7 USC
#15 Central Michigan @ #2 LSU
With the exception of the 1-16 and 2-15 games all are compelling games. This has to be better that what we have now. For the following rounds you would use the following bowls with the Championship game rotating between the Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar Bowls as it does now. You can even rotate the second tier Bowls in the Quarterfinals each year.
Quarterfinals: Citrus (Cap One), Cotton, Orange, Peach (Chic-Fil-A)
Semifinals: Fiesta, Rose
Would be travel be a little bit of a pain in the butt, yes, but college football arguably has a larger following than the NFL. But these games would attract a sizable crowd regardless where held. Fans and alumni would come. This would produce plenty of money to be SHARED with all the school and all the conferences. It seems like a simple solution to a simple problem.
Unless greed and money gets in the way... just like it is now.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
They never make it easy but the Browns topped the New York Jets at the Meadowlands, 24-18, to improve to 8-5 on the 2007 season. That win combined with the Tennessee Titans' loss to San Diego puts the Browns in sole possession of the final playoff spot in the AFC. It also puts the Browns in control of their own destiny. If they win out over the last 3 games of the season, they will secure their first playoff birth since 2002. One more victory also ensures them of their first winning season since 2002, a proposition that looked grim after Opening weekend. At worst the Browns are assured of a non-losing season at 8-8... (insert Carnegie Mellon Football joke here).
The difference in this game was Jamal Lewis. Looking healthy and hungry, J-Lew once again ran with authority and power as he physically wore down the Jets Defense. His 31 yard run at the end of the 4th Quarter, where he broke a minimum 5 tackles, helped close a game that looked in great peril after it appeared the Browns Defense was going to break at the end of the game one more time. The offensive line manhandled the Jets while piling up 152 yards rushing, at a 5.2 yard per carry clip, and yielded no sacks again. Oh yes, and no false starts in an away game. Well played Joe T, Steiny, Fat Hank, Tuck and HPC. Well played, indeed.
Derek Anderson was solid, yet unspectacular, as he suffered another dumb 1st Quarter interception and started slowly, again. The Browns did not score until 1:15 left in the 2nd Quarter due to a number of stalled drives and missed opportunities. Also disconcerting was that once it started to rain in the 4th Quarter Anderson seemed to have trouble making a play and looked bad on a critical drive where the Browns needed to run time off the clock. Anderson went 0-2 with 2 bad throws and the Browns went 3 and Out and let the Jets back into the game. But a win is a win and DA did throw 2 perfect balls on TD passes to Jamal Lewis and Braylon Edwards.
The Defense did a great job, for their standards, overall on the day but once again faded down the stretch to keep things interesting. They tallied 4 sacks on the day, including a sack/forced fumble combo by Kamerion Wimbley and a cameo by West Texas A&M's own Chaun Thompson. Brandon McDonald played another solid game and added an interception. At this point of the season he looks much better than Daven Holly, who gave up a number of key catches on the day. Sean Jones made a key play picking off a pass in the endzone after Anderson's 1st Quarter interception to prevent New York from getting on the board first. The Jets were only 2-12 on 3rd Down and 2-2 on 4th down, including a couple of obvious QB sneaks that the Browns Defense should have been prepared for. Overall the Jets actually out gained the Browns 387-337.
Some other good nuggets... Only 4 Browns penalties for 29 yards. Phil Dawson muscling up to drill a 49 yard field goal. The appearance of Josh Cribbs both in the passing and running game. Good use of Jason Wright and Jerome Harrison in order to keep Jamal Lewis fresh. Steve Heiden finally seeing a few balls thrown his way. D'Qwell Jackson with double digit tackles once again. Leon Williams with 1 1/2 sacks. The Browns special teams neutralizing dangerous KR Leon Washington.
Some things to improve on... Joe J and K2 both with key drops. Daven Holly leading with 11 tackles, which tells you just how rough his day was. Two touchbacks on punt by Dave Zastudil. Bad punt coverage by the Browns special teams. The continued infatuation with Lawrence Vickers on 3rd Down, although they did convert both times. Kellen Winslow being silent most of the game.
So the Browns come home to face the 7-6 Buffalo Bills. It is basically an elimination game for the Bills. If the Browns win they have a 2 game advantage over Buffalo with 2 games to play and the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Bills are surging behind rookie QB Trent Edwards who has developed a bond with WR Lee Evans. Rookie stud RB Marshawn Lynch has been injured but may be back for the Bills. If he is look out. The Bills have played a ton of close games this season, just like the Browns, but have come up on the short end of the stick most of the time. So I fully expect another heart stopper. But the game is at home and the Browns have thrived there in 2007 winning 5 in a row. Meaningful football in Cleveland in December... it's been a while. It's great to have it back.