Sunday, December 28, 2008

Steelers Put Browns Out of Their Misery, 31-0

The outcome was never in doubt. Whether or not the Browns would set records of futility were. The Browns were shutout in consecutive games for the first time in franchise history courtesy of a 31-0 beat down at the hands of the AFC North Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Browns also managed to set an NFL record by going 24 full quarters without an offensive touchdown. The last time they scored was in the fourth quarter of the Monday night game versus the Buffalo Bills. That game was on November 17th.

The Browns managed to keep the game close in the first quarter and a half but their only chance to put points on the board went wide left with Phil Dawson’s 53-yeard field goal attempt on their opening possession. The vaunted Heinz Field winds took the ball from the right goal post past the left one.

The Steelers drove into the red zone on their ensuing possession but Sean Jones intercepted Ben Roethlisberger inside the Cleveland 10 yard line to keep the game scoreless.

Both teams traded punts back and forth until Willie Parker broke a 43-yard sweep to the right and handed Pittsburgh a 7-0 lead that was never threatened. It was Parker’s longest run in what has been a disappointing season for the Steelers’ rushing attack.

Pittsburgh received a scare on their next possession when Roethlisberger was hit while rolling out by Willie McGinest and D’Qwell Jackson. Roethlisberger was on the ground for over 15 minutes as medical personnel treated him. He was carted off the field, into an ambulance and to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a concussion.

It was the only scare the Browns put into the Steelers all afternoon.

Byron Leftwich took over on the drive and led the Steelers into a 3rd and Goal from the Browns’ 8. In a microcosm of their defense for 2008, four Browns whiffed on the less than mobile Leftwich and he waddled into the end zone for a 14-0 Steeler advantage right before halftime.

The second half was just as putrid for the pitiful Browns as a Tyrone Carter interception set up a Jeff Reed field goal. Gary Russell then powered in from three yards to finish off a drive that was met with little resistance from the Browns defense. Browns’ quarterback Bruce Gradkowski was intercepted for a second time, again by Carter, who returned it to the house for the 31-0 final.

The Browns only managed 126 yards of total offense while Willie Parker had 116 on the ground by himself. Gradkowski was only 5 of 16 for 18 yards and the two interceptions. If this was a test to see if he could be the Browns’ back up in 2009, he failed spectacularly.

Head coach Romeo Crennel’s was the only one who outdid his performance. Crennel fell to 0-8 versus Pittsburgh making his the only full time Browns coach in franchise history to have never beaten the Steelers. Crennel is expected to be relieved of his duties tomorrow.

The only bright spot for the Browns was running back Jamal Lewis who ran for 94 yards on 23 carries. That gave Lewis 1,003 yards on the season, the first Browns running back to have consecutive 1,000-yard season since Greg Pruitt.

For the rest of the Browns and their fans it was a fitting end to a miserable season. A season the 1999 expansion Browns would even be embarrassed by.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Browns Table: The Battle of Woe-HIO

Welcome to The Browns Table, a season-long look at the 2008 season for the Cleveland Browns from the point of view of the Browns fans here on Bleacher Report.

This discussion is not just meant for the contributing Browns fans. Please feel free to comment on any of the questions or any of our answers below.

We welcome any comments and an open discussion about the Browns below. If you would like a seat at the table leave me a note on my profile and we will try and get you in the rotation.

As always thanks to Browns fans The Coop, Dustin Haley and Michael Taylor for their contributions this week.

The guys and gals debate what losing to the Bengals means, the upcoming game against the Appalachian Inbred and how a Browns-Lions match-up would end up.

Put another log on the fire and let’s talk Browns football…

The Browns lost to the Bengals, 14-0. Are you more surprised they lost or are you more surprised how they lost?

The Coop:
Ironically, I’m more surprised they lost. The way they lost was basically a microcosm of the entire season: boring play-calling, inept offensive execution featuring pathetic QB play, costly turnovers and penalties, and an inability to stop the run. What is surprising about that?

But to seemingly lack the pride, intensity, focus, and desire to beat a miserable team like the Bengals? That caught me off guard. I knew the offense would sputter, but to produce absolutely nothing when, theoretically, the Browns are a more talented team, well, that’s just embarrassing.

Do you realize that opposing defenses have scored three touchdowns since the Browns’ offense last scored one itself? Talk about pathetic.

Dustin Haley:
Coming into the game I knew the variables, so I wasn’t expecting much offensively. Dorsey will always struggle and throw interceptions. Defensively this season we have struggled against the run. So I wasn’t taken back with Benson’s 171 yards. Amazingly he didn’t score. I knew this game would be an ugly one. So the word surprised really isn’t applicable for me.

Jeff Smirnoff:
I am not surprised they lost but am surprised they got shut out. If you throw out the interception for the touchdown, the Browns’ defense only gave up seven points. Yes, Cedric Benson ran for 171 yards but the Browns were able to keep the Bengals off the scoreboard sans one drive.

I cannot believe that the offensive game plan did not involve every sort of play they had for Josh Cribbs, Jerome Harrison, Jason Wright and Jamal Lewis. With the wind so severe, and Ken Dorsey at the helm, it was pointless to try and pass. Open up the playbook, change the pace of the game with all your playmakers and you have a chance. Once again a game plan without any designs on winning the game.

Michael Taylor:
Neither, the Bengals no matter their record have played better in recent weeks. The Browns on the other hand have been a complete and utter disaster beyond imagination no matter the personnel situation. No offensive touchdowns in five straights weeks! Enough said.

Ken Dorsey is now questionable for the season finale with a concussion. That is three quarterbacks that have gotten hurt this season. Joe Thomas made the Pro Bowl but what so you think of the offensive line’s performance in 2008?

The Coop:
I’d say it’s been very, very mediocre. As much as people want to blame Jamal Lewis’ age and “happy feet” for the sub par running game, the main reason for Lewis dancing around in the backfield is because the holes simply haven’t been there.

But why is that? Ultimately, I believe the offensive line, along with Jamal Lewis, has suffered tremendously due to the ineffective quarterback play and horrendous play calling. Because of these factors, defenses can stack the box against the Browns, play much more aggressively, and stop just about anything.

In the passing game, the Browns have given up only 22 sacks this year (less than 1.5 / game), which is 7th best in the NFL. That’s pretty darn good.

And while we’re at it, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Browns have missed Ryan Tucker for most of the year. Tucker has been called the team’s best offensive lineman by coaches and members of the front office, so while it’s not an excuse for their performance, it’s also a huge loss that cannot be overlooked.

Dustin Haley:
It is amazing isn’t it? The effect that one, almost mediocre, player can have on a single unit. Missing Ryan Tucker has been huge this season. He solidified the right side of the line and really opened up what we could do offensively, compared to our ability now.

The right side of the line needs revamped. Hadnot is neither quick nor agile, and Schaffer may be better suited as an interior lineman. Either could serve as a quality backup lineman for depth, but both should be removed from the first unit and replaced.

Joe Thomas making the Pro Bowl is a great feat considering what he has had to deal with this season. Some say he’s regressed, but it’s obvious it has had more to do with coaching. Defenses overload him with blitzes and the coaches have been expecting him to engage an end first, and then bounce out to the appropriate pass rusher, not an easy task for even the most experienced tackle.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Thomas has been solid but has not played as well as he did in 2007. Eric Steinbach has been injured most of the season and it has shown in his performance. Hank Fraley and Kevin Shaffer have played very poorly for stretches after having one of their best years in 2007. Rex Hadnot is serviceable but a big drop off from Ryan Tucker. The Browns need to develop some young depth at center and tackle to help transition some youth into the offensive line. I wrote about topic this last week.

Michael Taylor:
I don't think it is as bad as many out it out to be. Looking up sacks allowed, the Browns are seventh in the league with just 21 allowed. That is a far cry from the near 50 that seemed to happen on a yearly basis just a few years back. I also believe that the yards per carry average has taken a bit of a hit from Jamal Lewis' career regression. He is slower and does not have a run past 29 yards this season, but congratulations are in order for hitting the 10,000-yard career mark in rushing Sunday. The offensive line is not the problem of this team. Injuries happen, its part of the game. It's just unfortunate that all three quarterbacks went down.

Word came out after the game that Shaun Smith and Brady Quinn got into a physical altercation on Wednesday that culminated with Smith hitting Quinn in the face with a barbell weight. Smith was inactive while Quinn was absent from the sidelines Sunday. What does this incident tell you about the current state of the Browns?

The Coop:
In reality, this doesn’t tell us anything about the Browns that we don’t already know. There is clear frustration in the locker room, which has been growing all season long, and this isn’t even the first rumor of a fight that we’ve heard about this season. The only reason this one is getting such attention is because it involves Quinn.

I do find it interesting that two guys who haven’t contributed anything in weeks are getting into it with one another. Having played a little football in college, I can assure you that fights between teammates are fairly commonplace - although I'll grant you I never saw anyone hit another guy with a barbell weight.

It’s noteworthy that Smith (whom I’ve always respected) is the “mystery player” that Josh Cribbs and Jamal Lewis were referring to when they spoke of the team “quitting” during the Denver game.

I guess if I’m trying to look for the silver lining, and Smith really is the player who teammates thought quit, I would be happy if Quinn confronted him, as it seems to be further establishing him as a team leader. And just look at the fight between Carolina’s Steve Smith and Ken Lucas and what it did for their team.

Dustin Haley:
Doesn’t tell me anything I don’t already know. It’s been painfully obvious there are problems within the organization. This incident is just another chapter in the saga that is the 2008 Cleveland Browns.

If the reports of this incident are true, then Shaun Smith should be sent walking immediately. In all fairness both sides should be investigated, but hitting someone, a potential franchise quarterback nonetheless, with a barbell weight is inexcusable whether in defense or retaliation. In my opinion, Shaun Smith has been a cancer to the team anyhow, as this is not the first time he has had off field issues.

Jeff Smirnoff:
It tells me that the coaching staff, and this regime in general, has lost the team. Why is a guy, Smith, who has under performed and has been injured most of the year taunting a second year quarterback who is on injured reserve. Quinn also deserves criticism for not walking away. It just shows how undisciplined the entire team is and how the current regime has lost them.

Michael Taylor:
Wow. I hadn't heard this rumor yet. I'll have to watch the "Red Zone" on STO to see if Smith makes his regular appearance alongside Mary Cabot and Andre Knott. What a joke this season has become. This actually would usually be a shocking event, but after the 2008 Browns, nothing will surprise me anymore. The whole organization down needs to take a step back and reassess what the (bleep) is going on. They are completely in disarray with no leadership to calm the rough waters. I'm not just talking player leadership or coaches. This has to be deeper with the rampant situations that appear weekly now.

The Browns’ season mercifully ends in Pittsburgh this week. Pittsburgh has nothing to play for as they are locked into the second seed in the AFC. I think we all know that despite that we are looking at the 11th consecutive loss to the Appalachian Inbred. How bad is it going to be?

The Coop:
I know you had to ask it, but this question just makes me sick. With the Steelers having clinched a playoff bye, their starters will barely break a sweat before being pulled. Sadly, the Steelers’ backups are probably just as good as the Browns starters, and definitely better than the Browns’ own backups. I expect the Steelers to systematically destroy the Browns much like Tennessee and Cincinnati each did. The question you have to ask is, would a Browns victory over the Steelers make you feel any less awful about the Browns’ 2008 season?

Dustin Haley:
With the likelihood that Gradkowski will be helming the signal calling position this week, it’s going to be bad. Like, two shutouts in a row bad. We will rely on our defense to create turnovers and score points. The bad news is the Steelers will probably go 75% to 80% run in play calling. They’ll be looking to grind out the game with minimal effort and risk to their players.

Jeff Smirnoff:
It is going to be bad. It may not be the Christmas Eve Massacre (41-0) bad but the Browns will be shut out unless the get a defensive or special teams return deep into Steelers territory or a touchdown. Even if Pittsburgh plays their back-ups the entire game they still would win. The Steelers players know how much this game means to their Inbred fan base and will play hard. The Browns just want to go home.

Michael Taylor:
I don't know and frankly don't even care. I honestly have not sat down to watch a Browns game since the Houston debacle in November. You could see it then that this team was finished. I just lost the desire to put an effort into rooting for this team this season if they were not putting in the effort to play it out. As a side note to this I did catch part of yesterdays game, and once again heard an announcer pointing out how poorly Braylon Edwards is running routes.

This may make me a poor fan, but I have had it. I will still root for and love this team in the future, but until they show me something that resembles an effort to become a respectable franchise I will care a lot less. Now we know what Bengals fans have been going through for 20 years! Bring on Opening Day baseball!

Theoretical question of the week: If the Browns played the 0-15 Detroit Lions this weekend, would the Browns win?

The Coop:
Yes, the Browns would win 2-0 when Dan Orlovsky inexplicably runs out of the end zone in overtime. In an ironic twist of fate, Romeo Crennel is instantly fired and Orlovsky is given a contract extension by Lions' management.

Dustin Haley:
At Detroit, yes. In Cleveland, no. I say this based on the lone fact that the home team’s lackluster performance would be booed out of the game by halftime.

Jeff Smirnoff:
No, the Lions would. The team is incapable of moving the ball let alone scoring a touchdown against anyone. The Lions could at least find the redzone and put up some points. It would be close but right now the Lions could beat the Browns.

Michael Taylor:
Four or five weeks ago yes, but right now no way!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hines Ward Gets Lit Up, Defenses Rejoice

A picture is truly worth 1,000 words.

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward was leveled by Tennessee Titans defensive back Courtland Finnegan in the Titans' 31-14 victory Sunday in Nashville.

Ward who is one of the most intense, hardest working and physical players in the NFL also has a reputation of being one of the dirtiest. He is, by far, the best blocking wide receiver in the league but his propensity to specialize in the clean, blind side hit often draws the ire of opposing defenders. So much so the Baltimore Ravens allegedly (they did) put out a bounty of him for their second contest of the season.

While Ward is a great receiver and excellent role model off the field, some of his action on it are questionable. While he may not be the team distraction like Terrell Owens or Randy Moss have been or even a "look at me" player like Chad Johnson or LenDale White, Ward does do something that is just as classless. He taunts.

It is often hidden or dismissed because of the giant smile that is always on his face, but his disrespect for opposing teams and players is a reality. Whether celebrating the clean hit that broke the jaw of Cincinnati Bengals' linebacker Keith Rivers or any other hit he connects on the taunting is there.

He has mocked Ray Lewis' entrance dance after scoring a touchdown against the Ravens. He has mocked the "Fly Eagles Fly" fight song of Philadelphia after scoring in the city of Brotherly Love. He has wiped his feet like a dog in the direction of the Dawg Pound in Cleveland.

He may be a great player but please don't let that shroud the fact that he is also one who shows no sportsmanship.

So for one play, he got what was coming to him. Hopefully there will be many more to follow. Then may his taunting and unsportsmanlike antics will finally cease.

Bengals Make Browns Roll Over and Play Dead, 14-0

"Worst season I've ever played in," Browns running back Jamal Lewis.

That could be the understatement of the century as the visiting Cincinnati Bengals shutout the Cleveland Browns 14-0 in windy Cleveland Browns Stadium. With the victory in the 71st battle of Ohio, the Bengals took the all-time series lead 36-35. The Bengals recorded their first shutout since holding the Browns scoreless on November 26, 2006, also the last time the Browns were shutout.

The game was basically over after two offensive series. The Bengals received the opening kick-off and drove to midfield before their drive stalled. On the Browns’ ensuing possession, third string quarterback Ken Dorsey hit Leon Hall in the left flat for a 50 yard touchdown. Unfortunately for the Browns, Hall plays corner back for the Bengals.

Hall torched Dorsey and wide receiver Braylon Edwards all night long, intercepting him three times total. The high winds off of Lake Erie bothered Dorsey just as much as he completed a respectable 10-17 passes, but only for 68 yards, the longest 15 yards to Edwards, and the three costly interceptions.

Cincinnati’s Ryan Fitzpatrick struggled with the wind as well, but the Bengals’ game plan had him only throwing nine passes for the entire game. He completed five for 55 yards, including a perfectly thrown corner route to Chris Henry. Henry beat Browns’ cornerback Eric Wright in the middle of the second quarter for the insurmountable 14-0 lead.

With the 14 point cushion and the Browns’ failure to score an offensive touchdown in the previous four games, the Bengals turned to running back Cedric Benson. Benson rushed a career high 38 times for 171 yards as the Cincinnati simply played keep away and ate up the game clock for most of the final two and a half quarters.

The Browns failed to score an offensive touchdown for the fifth consecutive game and got another quarterback hurt in the process. Dorsey, playing because of season-ending injuries to Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, suffered a mild concussion and injured ribs late in the fourth quarter

Enter recently signed QB Bruce Gradkowski, who may have to start the season finale in his hometown of Pittsburgh against the Steelers. Gradkowski was an unimpressive 2-5 for eight yards and an interception. Bengals linebacker Brandon Johnson tipped and intercepted Gradkowski’s second pass on the second to last drive of the game.

Jamal Lewis finished with 76 yards on 16 carries to become the 24th player in NFL history to rush for 10,000 career yards. Lewis came in needing 63 yards to eclipse the mark and achieved the milestone on an eight-yard burst in the third quarter. It was the lone highlight for the Browns on an otherwise frigid day.

The Bengals can actually pass the Browns for third place in the AFC North with a victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Cincinnati and a Browns’ loss in Week 17.

The Browns’ travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers in Week 17 where they will legitimately looking at the possibility of a sixth consecutive game without and offensive touchdown and a second consecutive shutout. The Steelers have beaten the Browns ten consecutive times and, on paper, should have no problem making it eleven, even if they rest their starters for most of the afternoon.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Browns-Bengals: Breakdown of the NFL's Must-See Game of Week 16

The juggernaut Cleveland Browns (4-10) host the Cinderella darlings of the NFL, the Cincinnati Bengals (2-11-1), in the 71st battle of Ohio this Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Those who thought that the epic battle that these two teams waged in Week Two when both teams were 0-3 couldn’t be outdone have to be kicking themselves.

The series stands tied at 35 wins apiece. Who stands to take the lead in this back and forth series? Let’s break it down by position.


Carson Palmer has had his ups and downs since his horrific knee injury in the 2005 playoffs but still has to be considered in the upper tier of NFL quarterbacks. Brady Quinn has the college pedigree, hype, and looks to be a superstar in this league.

They both...What? They aren’t playing? Neither one? Really? What’s the deal?

Is Carson filming those sexually suggestive hot dog adds this weekend? Partying with Matt Leinart, maybe?

And where is Quinn? Pimping Myoplex and Subway sandwiches? At a wedding dancing to “YMCA” by the Village People again?

Oh, they're both injured, fine. Then who is...

Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ken Dorsey?!? Are you f’n kidding me? No, seriously, these guys are STARTING? Sweet lord.

Normally you would take the guy from “Tha U” over the guy from Harvard, but Fitzpatrick is actually athletic where as Dorsey makes Bernie Kosar look like Michael Flatley.

Advantage: BENGALS


Jamal Lewis versus Cedric Benson. The former is nearing 10,000 career rushing yards as he looks old and slow. The later is a former first-round bust that had his first production game in over two years last week.

Tough call.

Well, Lewis got busted for dealing crack a few years back and had to serve hard time. Benson likes to get over-served and has a hard time driving afterwards.

Advantage: BROWNS


Braylon Edwards is sad because nobody likes him because he is from Michigan. Chad Johnson is sad because he would have had to buy 10,000 jerseys if he wanted to change his name to Chad Ocho Cinco.

T. J. Houshmandzadeh is banged up and so is Kellen Winslow. But Winslow is a soldier! But at least Houshmandzadeh is playing.

This may come down to Chris Henry versus Donte Stallworth—a dream matchup that no one could ever imagine. Who do you go with here? The guy with the rap sheet longer than most Christmas lists or the guy who thinks his brain is inhabited by a Martian.

I got it. Oregon State alum Derek Anderson says go with my fellow alumni Johnson and Houshmandzadeh over Edwards. Why, because Anderson hates Michigan, too? No, because they don’t drop the football when it is thrown to them.

Advantage: BENGALS


The Browns have a guy, Kevin Shaffer, who I call “The Human Parking Cone” (HPC) because putting a parking cone at right tackle would do just as good of a job. Rex Hadnot has a beard. Hank Fraley is fat. Joe Thomas is better that Levi Jones. But Browns NT Shaun Rogers might eat Bengals center Eric Ghiaciuc.

Advantage: BROWNS


Did I mention Sean Rogers might eat Eric Ghiaciuc? Carson Palmer said that Shaun Smith looks like the hamburglar when he wore the Bengals’ striped uniform, which is awesome! I’m stopping right there. I’ve seen enough.

Advantage: BROWNS


I don’t know who plays LB for Cincinnati, but I do know that other than D’Qwell Jackson no other LBs play for Cleveland.

Advantage: BENGALS


Michigan alum Leon Hall is playing corner for the Bengals. Browns fans don’t like him… because he plays for the Bengals. Former Brown Chris Crocker returns to Cleveland for the first time since being traded.

Brandon McDonald set a team record for most interception yards in a game and the greatest back flip into the end zone when you team is still down by 20 points. You stay classy, B-Mac!

Advantage: BENGALS


Shayne Graham has red hair. Phil Dawson might be the best player on the Browns and he’s the freaking kicker. Plus his wife is hot, can sing the national anthem, and was a cheerleader at the University of Texas.

Dave Zastudil is having knee problems and the Browns’ apparently have a “secret punter” on call in case he can not punt. Please God let it be Scott Player and his awesome 50-year-old man porno-mustache!

Oh wait, Josh Cribbs, duh.

Advantage: BROWNS


Marvin Lewis has floundered at the helm of the Bengals but owner Mike Brown isn’t going to fire him in this economy. Plus, he is just trying to ruin his father’s name more than the Browns are currently trying to do.

Browns fans are just happy that Romeo Crennel remembers to wear pants on the sidelines, let alone make decisions on challenges, field goals, and personnel. Would it surprise you to see Romeo enjoying a nice, cool mojito and about four pizzas on the sidelines on Sunday?

It’s as if he is Leslie Nielsen as Lt. Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun...

“The attempt on Nordberg's life left me shaken and disturbed, and all the questions kept coming up over and over again, like bubbles in a case of club soda. Who was this character in the hospital? And why was he trying to kill Nordberg? And for whom?

"Did Ludwig lie to me? I didn't have any proof, but somehow, I didn't entirely trust him either. Why was the 'I Luv You' not listed in Ludwig's records? And if it was, did he know about it? And if he didn't, who did? And where the hell was I?”

But more like...

The attempt on Nordberg's life left me shaken and disturbed, and all the questions kept coming up over and over again, like bubbles in a case of club soda. Who was this staph infection in the hospital?

And why was he trying to kill Kellen Winslow? And for whom? Did Phil Savage lie to me? I didn't have any proof, but somehow, I didn't entirely trust him either. Why was the 'Brady Quinn' not listed in my roster records? And if he was, did I know about it? And if I didn't, who did? And where the hell was I?

Advantage: PUSH

Well, shoot I have no clue about this one folks. That is how colossal this matchup of two NFL titans is. It truly is the proverbial irresistible force versus the immovable object. But something has to got to give in the 71st Battle of Ohio...well unless they tie.

Are the Cleveland Browns' RB Answers Already in Cleveland?

As the Browns stumble towards the finish in 2008, many personnel questions are up in the air for 2009. Who is going to play linebacker other than D’Qwell Jackson? Should strong safety Sean Jones resign? Can Joe Jurevicius come back from a seventh knee surgery? The Browns have some talent but they also have some awfully large gaps to fill.

One position that is also often talked about is running back. Workhorse Jamal Lewis will hit the dreaded 30-year-old mark for running backs in 2009. It has looked like that unwritten guideline for running backs is holding true with him as well as this year he has been a step slow to holes, lacks an initial burst off the snap and often tip-toes to line instead of hitting it full bore.

His stat lines from 2007 and 2008 also tell a similar tale:

2007 – 298 Rushes, 1,304 Yards, 4.4 Average, 9 TD (16 games)
2008 - 240 Rushes, 832 Yards, 3.5 Average, 4 TD (through 14 games)

Lewis, the coaching staff, and GM Phil Savage all say that Lewis has been battling through a number of nagging injuries all season. While it is noble that Lewis is playing hurt through this dismal Browns season, the signs of deterioration cannot be ignored.

The knee-jerk reaction is to go out and grab a Knowshon Moreno type in the first round of the 2009 draft or pick up a young, free agent—a la Michael Bush—to fill the hole.

However, the Browns have many more significant holes to fill, especially on defense, which they desperately need to address on draft day. Also, when Michael Bush is one of the headlines in the crop of free agent running backs, that crop is not deep at all.

One intriguing possibility is a three-headed monster.

Lewis, while having a lot of wear on his tires, can be effective in certain situations if used properly. See Jerome Bettis’ final few years in Pittsburgh as a reference. Think 15 to 20 touches a game with a focus on short yardage and wearing the opposing defense down when it counts.

Mix in a little Jerome Harrison. Now, Harrison may be somewhat undersized, but that has been said about many running backs before him. The quick, shifty, scat-back can come in and take the hand-off off the edge and can break it at any time. He also can be a weapon in the short passing and screen game, something that the bigger Lewis often struggles with.

The final piece of the puzzle is Josh Cribbs. Yes, Cribbs is one of the best special-teams players and returners in the NFL and the Browns can not afford to lose him there. However, he has such big play ability he warrants around ten touches a game.

While currently classified as a receiver, Cribbs was a quarterback at Kent State. Many pro scouts actually saw him as a running back at the next level, not a wide receiver. As a receiver, Cribbs has had a minimal impact on the Browns. His route running is not crisp and he seems to struggle without the ball in his hands right away.

However, the few glimpses we have seen of Cribbs in the “Flash Package” have shown he is more than capable as an NFL runner. Using him in the role of a “third-down back” gets him the ball in his hands right away and he would not be a liability in pass blocking as he has already proven his toughness on special teams.

So while the Browns have plenty of holes to fill in the 2009 off season they just may have the pieces in place to fill the running back void already. It may take a little bit of chicanery and a pinch of tomfoolery, but that’s what good organizations do to win football games.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Browns-Bengals: A Brief History of a Rivalry Ruined

It once was a rivalry of great pride for the state of Ohio and both cities. Cleveland, situated on Lake Erie in the northeast, Cincinnati situated on the Ohio River in the southwest.

Both teams’ initials matching those of their common founder Paul Brown. Both teams’ using orange as a secondary color as homage to Brown’s beloved Massillon Tigers.

The Bengals came into existence when Brown was fired from the team that bore his name by Art Modell. Brown responded by founding the Bengals shortly thereafter in 1968 and an instant rivalry was born, founded on the hatred between the two men. The rivalry hit its peak in the 1980s when both teams were perennially battling for play-off positioning.

The rivalry began to deteriorate in the 1990s when Paul Brown’s sons, led by Mike, took over the day to day operations of the team. The Bengals embarked on a downward spiral that they still have not come out of today. Their focus on money, namely not spending it, has held them back and makes them a laughingstock of an organization.

Of all the NFL franchises, they put the least amount of money into college and free agent scouting. This has resulted in an inordinate amount of off the field transgressions by their players.

It also handcuffs them in the front office as the fail to make personnel changes in the coaching and management offices in fear of having to pay salaries in full while also paying those who would take over.

This resulted in a 52-108 record in the 1990s and a 54-74 record from 200 to 2007. The Bengals only made two play-off appearances in that time, 1990 and 2005.

While the Browns feasted on the Bengals in the 1990s, that dominance was short lived. Not because of action on the field but those off it.

Modell ran his businesses into the ground financially and faced personal bankruptcy. To avoid it, Modell moved the Browns franchise from Cleveland to Baltimore after the 1995 season. The city of Cleveland fought to keep the name, history and colors of the team while Modell was in essence granted a new team and clean slate in Baltimore.

Cleveland waited for three years for the Browns to return in 1999, but the expansion form of the Browns look nothing like its glorious history. Dealt a bad hand by the NFL who awarded ownership to Al Lerner with little time to prep for 1999 the Browns suffered their worst seasons in team history in 1999 and 2000.

Lerner passed away and his son, Randy, took over the reigns. The Browns have had three regimes in the ten years the team has been under their watch and has produced only two winning seasons (2002, 2007) and one play-off appearance (2007) under their watch.

In five of the last six seasons, the Browns have accumulated ten or more losses. It is, by far, the worst ten year span in team history. The team faces a fourth possible “reboot” under the Lerner Family after the team fell from 10-6 last year to 4-10 this season.

The teams have met 70 times, with each franchise winning 35. Fitting for two teams that share the same state and the same founder. Disappointing, in that both teams have tarnished the image and legacy of that man, Paul Brown, by running their franchises into the ground both on the field and off it.

Until Mike Brown and Randy Lerner figure out how to turn their respective teams around, the Bengals and the Browns will continue to flounder, and a once proud rivalry will continue to be ruined.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Browns Table: Monday Night Masochism

Welcome to The Browns Table, a season-long look at the 2008 season for the Cleveland Browns from the point of view of the Browns fans here on Bleacher Report.

This discussion is not just meant for the contributing Browns fans. Please feel free to comment on any of the questions or any of our answers below.

We welcome any comments and an open discussion about the Browns below. If you would like a seat at the table leave me a note on my profile and we will try and get you in the rotation.

As always thanks to Browns fans John Arend and Samantha Bunten for their contributions this week.

The guys and gals touch on the Browns’ offensive woes, Braylon Scissor-Hands, Sean Jones’ future, Phil Dawson’s legacy and the upcoming “Battle of Ohio.”.

It may be painful, but let’s talk Browns football…

The offense has been struggling all season and continues to do so under third string QB Ken Dorsey. Do you see this team putting up an offensive touchdown in the final two games?

John Arend:
There are only two situations I foresee the offense scoring a touchdown in the remaining games. First, if they can get a rhythm going against the Bengals horrid defense, they might be able to play with some confidence and actually find the endzone. Second, if Romeo finally just says "screw it" and puts in players like Rucker, Steptoe, Cribbs, et al as starters and sends a message to the real first string team. This might make them think they actually have to work to keep their jobs.

Samantha Bunten:
If I recall correctly, the last time the Browns scored an offensive touchdown was in week 11 against the Bills. That was a very, very long time ago. Playing the odds (and considering they have Cincinnati coming next), you have to assume they'll get one more before their 2008 season mercifully comes to a close. I think it pretty much sums up how our season has gone: we're all sitting here wondering if the Browns can score just one single touchdown in the next two weeks, giving them a grand total of touchdown, during the last 6 games of the season. Yikes.

Jeff Smirnoff:
They have a shot versus Cincinnati but no way in Pittsburgh. I honestly don’t seeing them putting into the endzone in either game. I expect Phil Dawson to be very, very busy kicking field goals.

Braylon Edwards caught the ball all night, including a couple of great grabs. Why do you think he has struggled all season?

John Arend:
I'm hearing a tune in my head right now. You know, the beat Vanilla Ice stole for "Ice Ice Baby" That's right, "Under Pressure." I have a feeling Braylon Edwards heard this song all season until it didn't matter if the team won or lost. Go back and look at all of his drops... Now go back and look at all of his catches... I'm willing to bet that it’s a pretty clear split between crucial and unimportant downs.

Samantha Bunten:
If Edwards could ever get his head and his hands on the field at the same time for a few weeks in a row, he would probably be fine. Edwards has the talent, I'm just not sure he has the drive or the willingness to fine tune his fundamentals to ever be consistently successful. Edwards needs to get over his fear of getting hit. He needs to concentrate, clean up his footwork, and most importantly, follow through on each play from beginning to end. Edwards can't hold onto the ball because his mind is already halfway down the field with it before he's made the catch. Until he can sync up his brain and his hands in the exact moment he's posed to make the grab, he will continue to look lazy, arrogant, and inept.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Lack of focus, weak mental character and the heel injury in camp. The injury just totally put him out of sync and off to a bad start. Then when he struggled because he has trouble dealing with adversity he struggled. He was unable to get focused on a week to week basis and it has shown in his up and down performances. He’s always going to drop a few balls but the staggering numbers this season are do to it being in his head. If he can become mentally tough I can see his drops decreasing significantly.

The defense struggled but Sean Jones and Brandon McDonald came up with big interceptions. Sean Jones is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year. Do you feel the Browns need to make resigning him a priority?

John Arend:
This is a tough one... From a strictly leadership standpoint, I want him on the team to keep things consistent. From a talent standpoint, I'd love to keep him because he's best we've got. From an injury standpoint, I just he's playing at 100% if we do bring him back.

Samantha Bunten:
This team has so many problems that it is difficult to focus in on how much priority to place on one guy, at least at this point. Still, they have to start somewhere, and Jones has been a solid member of our defense, one of the few who consistently performed well. I would like to keep Jones around, but this will depend largely on what his demands are and what the team proposes to do after assessing what ALL of our needs are, and which are most pressing, during the off-season.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Over the previous tow seasons I thought Jones would develop into the impact safety (a la Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu) the Browns need. But after the beginning of the year when he had elective knee surgery while they were 0-3 and said he did it because he was a free agent after the year I began doubting that. If he stays for a reasonable deal, keep him. If he just wants to break the bank and take the money and run, let him go.

Phil Dawson broke the Browns’ single season record for field goals against Philadelphia. That obviously speaks volumes about the offense’s struggles. What does it tell you about Dawson?

John Arend:
Nothing we don't already know. His best season was obviously last year, because of the clutch kicks he made, however he seems to have more power in his leg this season. He set his career long this season, but he also missed a few kicks that some considered "chip-shots". I like Dawson he goes out and does his job. Maybe the rest of the team could learn something from him.

Samantha Bunten:
It tells us Dawson is the only guy on the team who is doing his job. Mostly though, as stated in the question, it tells us about the horrendous offense. I don't think anyone needed Dawson to set a record to realize that the Browns offense is about as bad as it gets, but numbers like these do an excellent job of providing quantitative proof that the offensive game is in shambles.

Jeff Smirnoff:
He is the most underrated kicker in the NFL right now. He is the fifth most accurate kicker in NFL history. He might be the great pure kicker in Browns’ history in terms of clutch-ness and consistency. I have said it before, he is the best player the Browns have had since their reincarnation and would be a Pro Bowler if he did not play with the Browns.

The Browns play Cincinnati in the final home game of the season. The Bengals are only 2-11-1 but are coming off a win versus Washington. Who do you have in the Battle of Ohio?

John Arend:
The battle of Ohio will be the battle of back-ups. This is funny because I also have a sinking feeling that it will be a high scoring affair. Not because the offenses involved will magically become spectacular, but because the defenses are horrible. Shoot-outs have occured twice in the past five years when these two teams meet. Each time the home team has won. So in keeping with the trend, I pick the Browns to come out on top and secure the all-important third place AFC North spot.

Samantha Bunten:
I predict a 12-12 tie. 4 field goals a piece.

Jeff Smirnoff:
I hate to say it but I have to go with the Bengals. They can actually score points on offense while the Browns can not. Their defense is just as bad as ours but has been playing well recently. With Dorsey under center I don’t see us exploiting any of their weaknesses. I see a 16-12 snooze-fest.

Eagles Beat Down Browns, 30-10

In an outcome that surprised no one the Cleveland Browns fell to the far superior Philadelphia Eagles, 30-10, on Monday Night Football. The Eagles outclassed the Browns from the opening drive and only their futility in the red zone and propensity for turnovers kept the score closer than it should have been.

The Eagles drove effortlessly down the field on their opening possession for a touchdown as Donovan McNabb converted two third downs on the drive. The first to Jason Avant for 21 yards and the second when he hit Kevin Curtis for the touchdown on a fade route in the right corner of the endzone and a 7-0 advantage.

The Browns came into the game without scoring a touchdown on their opening drive for 20 consecutive games. They made it 21 in a row, but were able to put a Phil Dawson field goal on the board, a single season Browns record thirtieth, for a 7-3 ballgame. It should have been 7-7, but Darnell Dinkins dropped a sure touchdown on 3rd and Goal on a perfectly timed crossing pattern.

The Eagles then took control from that point forward and were only held back by turnovers and inefficiency in the red zone. McNabb converted two more third down on the Eagles’ second drive but failed to convert a third inside the Browns ten and Philadelphia had to settle for a David Akers field goal and 10-3 lead.

The Browns were unable to answer and Philadelphia took over and drove down the field. On 3rd and Goal from the Browns’ 8, receiver DeSean Jackson line-up in the shotgun formation, bluffed a drawn and under threw a pass that would have been a sure touchdown. Browns safety Sean Jones made an amazing, diving interception and prevent the Eagles from opening up a bigger lead.

But not to worry for the Eagles, as Ken Dorsey paid them back and then some as he threw an interception right into the arms of Asante Samuel. Samuel then dashed down the sideline for a touchdown that put the Eagles up 17-3.

After another Browns punt, Philadelphia once again marched into Cleveland territory and beyond. McNabb just picked apart the Browns defense with no threat of a pass rush to worry about. The Eagles faced a 2nd and Goal at the Browns’ 1 after Brian Wstbrook was stopped short of the goal line.

With nine seconds left in the half and no timeouts remaining, McNabb threw a quick pass to the left that Browns’ corner Brandon McDonald leapt up an snared one-handed, and raced down the sideline. Westbrook however hustled and caught him inside the five yard line to prevent the score. In the end it was the longest interception return not for a touchdown, 98 yards, in NFL history.

The score may have only been 17-3 but the first half stats showed how lopsided the game really was. The Eagles ran 39 plays to the Browns’ 22. Twenty-three of Philadelphia’s plays were in Browns’ territory compared to only five for Cleveland. The Eagles possessed the ball for just under 20 minutes compared to ten for the Browns.

The second half was no different that the first as the Browns were unable to generate anything on offense while the Eagles continued to drive without resistance but stall inside the 20. They put up two Akers field goals on their first two drives and added a touchdown when McNabb found Greg Lewis after another Dorsey interception.

The Browns added a gift touchdown late when Eagles’ back-up QB Kevin Kolb’s pass found McDonald and he wiggled his way 24 yards for a touchdown. Down 30-3 at that point McDonald took the classy rout into the endzone by doing a somersault into the endzone to cap the scoring for the night. It was the Browns first touchdown in a month.

Other than the interception, there were not a lot of positives for the Browns other than Dawson’s field goal record. Braylon Edwards has his third good game of the season, all on Monday night, posting a five catch night for 102 yards, and no drops. Shaun Rogers was a beast once again, despite leaving briefly after reaggravating a shoulder injury that has plagued him all season.

The Romeo Crennel led Browns have their third 10 loss season in four years, and now must face the 2-11-1 Bengals who knocked off the Washington Redskins Sunday. This was supposed to be an easy win, even for the Browns, but now it looks like the Browns will have their work cut out for them this coming Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Browns O Line Underachieving in 2008

The Cleveland Browns sit at 4-9 staring down the barrel of a Monday night beatdown at the hands of the resurgent Philadelphia Eagles. Last year’s season of dreams has turned into a season of nightmares for fans on the Erie Shore. Many things have contributed to the Browns crash and burn in 2008.

It starts at the top with owner Randy Lerner’s hands-off approach while failing to put together an organization hierarchy capable of sustaining a winning atmosphere. Hand in hand with that, General Manager Phil Savage’s failure to define a direction and identity for the football team is just as culpable.

I have already rambled ad nauseam about Romeo Crennel’s shortcoming as a head coach. Derek Anderson’s meteoric drop to earth is just as responsible as the balls that Braylon Edwards drops on a weekly basis.

The Donte Stallworth signing, a defense that can not generate pressure on the opposing quarterback and the lack of an impact linebacker are also huge factor into this miserable Cleveland Browns season.

One factor that has been overlooked is the performance of the Browns’ offensive line throughout the season. After third string quarterback Ken Dorsey got the crap beat out of him against the Tennessee Titans last week it because obvious that this has been a sub-par year for the guys on the front line.

Losing Ryan Tucker to hip surgery early in the off-season started the problems. While not the premier name on the offensive line, Tucker may just be the glue that holds the unit together. A tackle most of his career, Tucker played right guard last year during the Browns’ offensive resurgence.

Tucker missed all of camp, the first four games of the year before playing in game five against the New York Giants. Unfortunately, he was lost for the season after one game due to a knee injury.

This put free agent signee Rex Hadnot and The Human Parking Cone (HPC) Kevin Shaffer as the right side of the Browns line. Both are road grader type of players and both have struggled mightily against the athletic defenses the Browns have faced this season. Hadnot is serviceable but is a step below Tucker in terms of performance.

HPC played left tackle two years ago and almost single handedly killed Charlie Frye in 2006. He was moved to right tackle when Joe Thomas was drafted in 2007 and performed well on the right side of the line. However, in 2008 the Shaffer has devolved into the HPC once again creating another issue for a sputtering offense.

The road graders on the right side of the line are contrasted by the finesse of the left side of the line, Thomas and Eric Steinbach. While physical, Thomas and Steinbach are much more athletic and excel in pass blocking and running plays that put them on the edge or in the open field. This creates some play-calling conundrums, and trends, as the Browns are handcuffed on which plays they can run to each side of the line.

Tying the two sides together is center Hank Fraley who saved the Browns in 2006 when they lost four centers in pre-season and training camp in rapid succession. Fraley was a crafty veteran acquired from the Eagles who has played very well in his two years in Cleveland.

2008 has been a different story as opposing defense have routinely blitzed up the middle with success. Fraley seems to have lost a step or is just have a very poor season. In either case, this has caused Dorsey, and Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn before him, to spend a lot of time under duress this year.

While their problems run much, much deeper the Browns can not ignore the drop in performance of their offensive line in 2008. In may not be the sole, or large, part of their disappointing record but it should not be ignored.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Donte Stallworth Fined for Unnecessary Roughness... Really!

The NFL announced on Friday that Browns wide receiver Donte' Stallworth was fined $5,000, for unnecessary roughness, on an interception when he speared an opponent with his helmet.

Let me repeat that.

Donte' Stallworth was fined $5,000, also for unnecessary roughness.

The Donte' Stallworth who stepped on Braylon Edwards’ heel gashing Edwards and requiring him to need stitches… and almost came to tears talking about it? That Donte' Stallworth?

The Donte' Stallworth who missed the first four games of the regular season because he tweaked his hamstring in a walk-thru the day before the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys? That Donte' Stallworth?

The Donte' Stallworth who came up lame in warm-ups before the pivotal Week 9 game against the hated Baltimore Ravens? That Donte' Stallworth?

The Donte' Stallworth who believes his brain is inhabited by a Martian by the name of Nicco? That Donte' Stallworth?

The Donte' Stallworth who signed a seven year, $35 million contract with the Browns this off-season? The one who has produced a whopping 14 receptions for 141 yards and a lone touchdown? The one who has only played a full 16 game season in three of his seven seasons in the league? That Donte' Stallworth?

Dear NFL, I know you are trying to crack down on player conduct and unsportsmanlike play on the field but come on. Donte' Stallworth is, has and always will be soft.

If you are going to fine him for being unnecessarily rough than please fine the Browns for signing him and please fine the fans for having to watch him. Because fining Donte' Stallworth for unnecessary roughness may be the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard of.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Could Cassel End Up in Cleveland?

With both Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson currently on Injured Reserve for the west of the season the Cleveland Browns are currently knee deep in the Ken Dorsey Experience for the last four games of the season.

The only thing to look forward to in 2008 for the Browns on the quarterback front is an appearance by the Polish Hammer Bruce Gradkowski.

With Anderson’s performance in 2008 showing that he may have been a “one hit wonder” in 2007 and Quinn only having four NFL games and three NFL starts under his belt the Browns 2009 quarterback situation is as murky as ever.

Do they bring both Anderson and Quinn back for another open competition? Probably not since Browns fans celebrated Anderson’s season ending injury against the Indianapolis Colts. (Honestly people, calling for Ken Dorsey is NOT a good idea.)

Head Coach Romeo Crennel has declared Brady Quinn his starter for 2009. Um… one problem there, big guy, you aren’t going to be coaching the team in 2009. So it is probably not a good idea for The Mighty Quinn to celebrate your endorsement.

Does this mean that Quinn is incapable or handling starting NFL quarterback duties? No, absolutely not. There just isn’t enough game data to say that he is capable due to his injury.

But is there a scenario that Browns fans are overlooking despite it being a possibility? Could Matt Cassel end up captaining the Browns offensive ship in 2009?

Could it happen? Yes. What are the odds? Slim.

If the Browns were to pursue Cassel they should want to exploit the fact that he has flourished in the New England Patriots system. There are no guarantees that he would fit into the Browns’ current system. Besides, Crennel will not be back so odds are his coordinators may not be back as well.

Throw in the fact that current Browns GM Phil Savage may be on his way out as well and the stage could (key word could) be set for Cassel to be a target. Here’s how…

There have been rumors circulating that current Patriots GM Scott Pioli could be itching to bolt New England to get out from underneath the shadow of Pats’ Czar Bill Belichick. If this were to occur Pioli would undoubtedly want to bring in a head coach he was familiar with. Perhaps the Pats’ offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels?

McDaniels is one the young, up and coming coordinators in the league and in recent years those fitting that mold (Mike Tomlin, Sean Payton, John Harbaugh, etc.) have had success when teaming with an experienced GM such as Pioli.

If they were to team up in Cleveland you would have to think they would make a play for Cassel and they are as familiar with him as he is with them. He has shown that he can flourish in their system after Tom Brady was lost for the season.

Once again, could it happen? Yes. What are the odds? Slim.

But it is another scenario that could play out in an 2008-2009 off-season for the Cleveland Browns that should be much more interesting that their 2008 regular season.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Browns Table: A Titan Sruggle

Welcome to The Browns Table, a season-long look at the 2008 season for the Cleveland Browns from the point of view of the Browns fans here on Bleacher Report.

This discussion is not just meant for the contributing Browns fans. Please feel free to comment on any of the questions or any of our answers below.

We welcome any comments and an open discussion about the Browns below. If you would like a seat at the table leave me a note on my profile and we will try and get you in the rotation.

As always thanks to Browns fans the Dawgfather, Dustin Haley, Eric Lawhead for their contributions this week.

The Browns lost to the Tennessee Titans, which wasn’t surprising, but the guys look for some positives from the game… if there are any. They also debate the futures of a few players, personnel needs for 2009 and if it is OK to root against your team.

The Browns fought as long as they could but still came up short against the Titans. Are there any positives the Browns can take from this contest?

The Dawgfather:
That we need to reassess this WHOLE franchise from top to bottom! we have receivers who cant' catch, an o-line that can't block! and QB's who can't throw, in ALL my years of watching the Browns I have NEVER seen such a pathetic and impotent performance than what I saw on Sunday it was like watching 1999 all over again.

Dustin Haley:
There was not anything spectacular from the game for which we should build on for the season, but if not anything, the Browns found out exactly who has heart and whose here to win.

It was good to see that we have a backup QB that isn't out there going through the motions and he's going to give all he's got to win. He by no means had a great game, but I admire Dorsey for his determination. Obviously Cribbs has the most heart on the team, and looks to be stepping up as a team leader. Braylon has had a terrible season, but he's still competing, let's not give up on him yet. Defensively D'Qwell had a spectacular game and Shaun Rodgers was stellar as usual.

Eric Lawhead:
Another QB didn't get hurt for the rest of the season.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Not much. Romeo Crennel just keeps digging his grave deeper and deeper each week with his game management. I will give Ken Dorsey some credit for hanging in there while getting the crap beat out of him while Rob Chudzinski called for him to pass 43 times against the Titans defense. It’s also good to see Josh Cribbs, D’Qwell Jackson and Shaun Rogers busting their asses on every play even though there is not much to play for. Other than those things and Phil Dawson being a good kicker, there isn’t much left to take from the game.

Jamal Lewis has looked old and slow the past few weeks. Do you think he is a viable starting NFL running back for 2009?

The Dawgfather:
No, and not only because he has looked old and slow, it is because he IS old and slow he is about to hit 30 in August, and in the NFL that is like being put out to pasture, he can help this team in other areas, but he is way past his prime now and I think he is done as a RB.

Dustin Haley:
Starting? Yes. Feature? No. Before the season started I, like many, defended Jamal against critics who thought Jamal would decline this season. I did so with good reason. He was coming of a stellar year and had not shown any signs of regression, in fact he seemed to get better as the season wore on. Also many reports that he had reported to camp the lightest and in the best shape of his professional career, combine that with his work ethic it seemed he poised to have another great season.

I believe that Jamal's decline this year has less to do with his age than his running style. It doesn't seem to me that Jamal has slowed any; he never had exceptional speed to begin with. However he seems to have turned from a downhill runner to a more timid runner; he's become easy to bring down. All this doesn't mean he can't be an effective runner with the proper complimentary back.

Eric Lawhead:
No, they need to get rid of him and let the Harrison era begin. They should also spend a late round draft pick on a running back and build towards the future. With Quinn being the future behind center, they need someone to help him.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Yes, but his tank is nearly empty. I think he can be productive, in a role, for one more season. He should get 15 to 20 carries a game but the days of him carrying the full load are over. Whether it is Jerome Harrison, Josh Cribbs or someone else Lewis should split carries with a faster, more athletic back in 2009. I am thinking a la Jerome Bettis late in his career.

D'Qwell Jackson. He has had a decent year. Do you see him as a key member of the Browns defense in the future?

The Dawgfather:
Yeah, and I also feel it maybe time to look at letting some of the younger players on the field like Hall and Bell, you know players who can actually TACKLE, it would not surprise me when the new coach decides to cut Davis and maybe even Wimbley who is now offically a bust in my eyes.

Dustin Haley:
Yes. D'Qwell may not be you're classic prototypical linebacker, but in this day and age size isn't everything in the NFL. Today's linebackers are not on the field to just stop the run, but are now responsible for many areas of defense. When offenses tout players like Kellen Winslow, Dallas Clark, and Jason Witten you’re at a disadvantage if you don't have a versatile linebacker to cover them. D'Qwell has not just defended the run but has also covered tight ends and receivers very well.

D'Qwell has shown he has a great nose for the ball. He hasn't always been the first to the ball this year, but with our lackluster tackling he's typically the one cleaning up. He may not be an impact linebacker, but with a better supporting cast, Jackson would prove to be a cornerstone on any defense.

Eric Lawhead:
Sure, anyone who can have a decent year on a defense that is this bad, should be looked at to only get better down the road. They need a lot of help on defense and need to make the alright players into better players, and they can do that with Jackson.

Jeff Smirnoff:
I am torn. He has been very active this year, a lot more active than previous years. He has started to make a play here and there but not at the rate that an impact ILB in a 3-4 needs to. He seems to be very athletic and decently fast but he is so undersized for an ILB in the NFL I wonder if he can truly have be the impact player the Browns desperately need him to be. I can see him being the second ILB in the 3-4 if they had a monster ILB next to him and a pass rush at OLB but without those he doesn’t cut the mustard.

What are the Browns' most pressing positional needs in the off season?

The Dawgfather:
Number one with a bullet, LB - do I really need to go into why we have the WORST LB's corps in the league? Second is RB - Harrison and Wright are nice change of pace backs, but I don't see starting tailback, feature back status in them, it wouldn't surprise me to see the browns take a RB with the first pick. Third DB, please see number one. Fourth, WR. Edwards has lost confidence in himself and Stallworth is a joke. We need a true #1 receiver who can challenge Braylon or help him because Steptoe is too short, Sanders is average and we need some depth, missing JJ really hurt us this year.

Dustin Haley:
As the roster stands right now, and the Browns keep the 3-4 defense I feel that the most pressing position we need to look for in free agency is a replacement for Andre Davis. Andre has given us many years of solid play but it's time for the team and him to part ways. I'm against drafting a linebacker because we already have pretty young core at the position, and we will need a starting caliber player with playing experience.

In the draft I would like to see us go after a half back, preferably with the first pick. As we have talked about Jamal is no longer a feature back, Jason Wright is a solid blocking back but not a great runner, and Jerome Harrison, while exciting, is not an every down back. I feel that there are many potential quality backs that may declare for this draft and we should be able to come away with a nice complimentary back to what we have.

Eric Lawhead:
Defense, defense, defense. They have the tools on offense and Quinn can only get better. They need to draft with their first three picks defensive players, especially in the secondary ans possibly a linebacker as well. Besides the defense, they need to look for a new coach, and Marty isn't the answer. (Bill Cowher, anyone?)

Jeff Smirnoff:
First and foremost is linebacker. Whether they run the 3-4 or the 4-3 is irrelevant at this point in time. Right now, only maybe D’Qwell Jackson could qualify as an NFL right now and even that is debatable. After linebacker they need to focus on secondary depth, finding a running back to eventually take over for Jamal Lewis, wide receiver depth and cultivating some young offensive linemen.

Philosophy Question: The Browns have been out of play-off contention for some time now. Are you rooting for them to lose to get a better draft pick or is that sacrilege?

The Dawgfather:
Not at all, as long as we beat Pittsburgh, everything is gravy.

Dustin Haley:
No. Never. I expect a win every game. The draft is a somewhat of a crapshoot anyway, but if your scouts know what to look for and do their job correctly, you’re going to come out of the draft with a player your looking for, regardless of pick.

Eric Lawhead:
I'm never one for sand-bagging it. They should play out the rest of the season and be spoilers to the other teams. They could really screw up the AFC North with a week 17 win at Pittsburgh. That would look nice to attract Cowher, huh?

Jeff Smirnoff:
I never root for the Browns to lose. I am one who believes you always play to win no matter what. I can not actively root for my team to lose. I honestly can not see the Browns beating anyone on the schedule other than Cincinnati and even that is not a given.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Titans Beat Up Browns

The players, for the most part, played hard for four quarters but the same can not be said about the coaching staff as the Cleveland Browns fell to 4-9 with a 28-9 drubbing at the hands of the 12-1 Tennessee Titans. The Titans outclassed the Browns is virtually every phase of the game as they methodically wore down the Browns defense to the tune of 390 total yards, 235 on the ground.

The Browns came into the game as the only team int he NFL not to score a touchdown on their opening drive in 2008. They looked as if they might actually break that string as Ken Dorsey drove them into Titans' territory. But a dropped pass, this time by Donte Stallworth, on third down made them settle for a Phil Dawson field goal and a 3-0 lead to start the contest.

An acrobatic interception by D'Qwell Jackson gave the Browns the ball back at the Titans' 25 and an opportunity to put Tennessee in an early hole. But the offense could only manage two yards on three plays and had to settle for a 6-0 lead courtesy of Dawson's leg.

Kerry Collins took the ensuing possession and led the Titans down the field on a nine play drive to answer. Mixing in both Chris Johnson and LenDale White the Titans faced a 3rd and 1 at the Browns' 28. Shaun Rogers and Andra Davis stuffed White for no gain but Titans' coach Jeff Fisher wanted nothing to do with field goals.

On 4th and 1, Fisher called for a play action pass to the left flat. Fullback Ahmad Hall caught the Collins toss and rumbled 28 yards for the go ahead touchdown. The Rod Bironas extra point made it 7-6 Tennessee and the Titans took control from there.

On their last drive of the half, the Titans once again went nine plays for a score. Running at will, and the beneficiary of a Corey Williams 15 yard roughing the passer foul, the Titans effortlessly drove into Browns' territory. LenDale White stuffed it into the endzone for a 14-6 Titan advantage with just over two minutes left in the half.

For Browns fans hoping for some late second quarter magic there would be none. The Browns had only scored nine points total in the last two minutes of the first half for the entire year. They did nothing to better that statistic and went into halftime trailing by eight. In fact, Chris Johnson had outgained the entire Browns team in yards 87-77 in the first half.

The Browns forced a Tennessee three and out to start the third quarter but Ken Dorsey was intercepted on the Browns subsequent possession. Collins responded by hitting Justin Gage in the endzone for a 21-6 lead midway through the third.

The Browns tried to fight back forcing White to fumble and intercepting Collins for a second time, again by D'Qwell Jackson. But the inept Browns offense could do nothing as the Titans defense smothered the run all day.

Jamal Lewis managed only seven yards on seven carries and Jerome Harrision gained two yards on two carries. In fact, as a team, the Browns only gained 35 yards on 19 attempts.

This put the onus to win the game on Dorsey which is not a position for him, or the Browns, to succeed. He gave it his all and played with a lot of guts as the Titans pressured him and hit him all day. But the longest completion he could manage was a 25 yard slant that was more the product of Braylon Edwards' legs than Dorsey's arm.

While the players seemed to play with heart and effort one has to ask if Romeo Crennel was doing the same. Down by 15 early in the fourth quarter he called for a third Phil Dawson field goal rather that go for in on 4th down. The points made the margin 12 which meant he still needed two touchdowns to win the game.

With that 12 point deficit later in the period, Crennel called for a punt on 4th and less than one from Browns' territory. The move did nothing to attempt to win the game and was gutless, quite frankly. Josh Cribbs finally threw out of the "Flash Package" and hit Braylon Edwards for 50 yards, but Edwards was ruled out of bounds.

Replays showed Edwards may have gotten his feet in bounds but Crennel chose not to challenge. Down 19 points at that juncture, what did the Browns have to lose by challenging? One timeout at the most if they did challenge. A lot of respect if they didn't. They didn't.

Crennel did however decide to call timeout on the Titans last drive of the game with the clock running on 4th and 1 from inside the Browns ten yard line. Once again, it accomplished nothing as the Titans were only attempting to run out the clock and not score.

The Browns did hold and prevent a late touchdown to keep the score more respectable, if you can call a 19 point loss that. But after three straight games without a touchdown and a head coach who still doesn't get it, the Browns organization isn't something that generates much respect in anyone's eyes.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Division I Football Play-Off is Just Too Easy

When the Football Championship Subdivision (Division I-AA), Division II and Division III can all do it, there is no excuse that the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I) can not. The excuses are just that, excuses, as a Division I play-off is just too simple to ignore.

This play-off can be instituted while keeping the lower level bowls intact for teams that do not qualify for the tournament. The lower divisions of college football have a few bowl games in addition to their play-off and there is no reason that the FBS Division I can not do it either. Heck, even NCAA basketball has the NIT for teams that were quite good enough for the NCAA tournament but still had good season regardless.

The higher tier bowls could rotate on a yearly basis and be used as the host sights for the latter rounds of the tournament. Please spare me the travel arrangement and class schedule arguments. Once again if the lower level divisions can do it and make it work, so can the bigger budget Division I.

Many have suggested it before but in order to make it fair, keep it interesting and give everyone a chance, the play-off has to include 16 teams. This would include the 11 conference champions and five “at-large” selections.

How the “at-large” selections are made could be via the polls, some sort of comprehensive ranking like the BCS or via a committee like the NCAA basketball tournament uses. For this argument we will use the BCS rankings.

These 16 teams would then be ranked from one to 16 and an be matched up in a single elimination tournament with the first round at the higher seed’s home field with the next three rounds at the corresponding bowl sites that rotate on a yearly basis:

First Round – Lower Seed’s Home Field
Second Round – Capital One Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Liberty Bowl, Orange Bowl
Semi-Finals – Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl
Championship Game – Fiesta Bowl

This would not diminish the regular season or make it less exciting. Tell that to Oregon State who would have blown an automatic bid because of losing to state rival Oregon. Or to Ball State and Tulsa who blew their only chance to qualify by losing to Buffalo and ECU in the MAC and Conference USA Championships Game, respectively.

Win your conference and you are in. Play well at the end of the year and you have a change for an at-large spot, something the 2007 Georgia Bulldogs could have used to prove their doubters wrong.

So in 2008 here is how your NCAA Division I Football Play-Off would lay out:

11 Conference Champions – Automatic Qualifier
ACC – Virginia Tech Hokies
Big East – Cincinnati Bearcats
Big Ten – Penn State Nittany Lions
Big Twelve – Oklahoma Sooners
Conference USA – East Carolina Pirates
MAC – Buffalo Bulls
Mountain West – Utah Utes
Pacific Ten – USC Trojans
SEC – Florida Gators
Sun Belt – Troy Trojans
WAC – Boise State Broncos

5 At-Large Bids (highest BCS ranking of non-conference champions)
Texas Longhorns
Alabama Crimson Tide
Texas Tech Red Raiders
Ohio State Buckeyes
TCU Horned Frogs

The little guys like TCU, Utah and Boise State get a chance to prove that they can play with the big boys. The Big Twelve three way tie debacle still existing but all three teams; Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech; get into the play-offs. And of the six “BCS” conferences, only the ACC sends a representative with more than two losses. Only the crème de la crème, gentlemen.

So (again using the BCS rankings) the following first round match-ups would occur.
#16 Troy at #1 Florida
#9 Boise State at #8 Penn State

#12 Cincinnati at #5 USC
#13 Virginia Tech at #4 Alabama

#11 TCU at #6 Utah
#14 East Carolina at #3 Texas

#10 Ohio State at #7 Texas Tech
#15 Buffalo at #2 Oklahoma

Other than the 1/16 and maybe the 2/15 match-up is there a game that isn’t interesting?

Boise State leaving the “smurf turf” to face a “white out” in Happy Valley. Beamer Ball versus the Florida spread offense. A Mountain West rematch between TCU and Utah. A southern shoot-out with East Carolina facing Texas. A contrast in styles as Ohio State takes on Texas Tech.

The second round would be just as interesting. Possible second round match-ups of Florida/Penn State, USC/Alabama, Utah/Texas and Ohio State/Oklahoma. Who wouldn’t want to see any of those games instead of two 6-6 teams matching up in a low budget bowl?

It is just too easy and too incredible to ignore. So grow a pair and get on board Big Ten and PAC 10. Stop holding things up BCS Bowl chairmen. Stop trying to sell me a Clemson versus Notre Dame Gator Bowl as something I want to see. In a time of change it’s time for a change in Division I college football. The fans are too smart to think what we have now is legit.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Browns Table: Indianapolis Ineptitude

Welcome to The Browns Table, a season-long look at the 2008 season for the Cleveland Browns from the point of view of the Browns fans here on Bleacher Report.

This discussion is not just meant for the contributing Browns fans. Please feel free to comment on any of the questions or any of our answers below.

We welcome any comments and an open discussion about the Browns below. If you would like a seat at the table leave me a note on my profile and we will try and get you in the rotation.

As always thanks to Browns fans Samantha Bunten and The Coop for their contributions this week.

The guys and gals review another disappointing performance by the Browns’ offense, discuss the RB and QB situations and weigh in on the latest Browns controversy in soap opera land. Let’s talk Browns football.

Another game, another touchdown-less performance. Romeo Crennel said the gameplan "worked" even though they lost. What did you think of the offensive gameplan?

Samantha Bunten:
What gameplan? Seriously, the only way I would say this alleged gameplan worked is if the purpose was to eat up possession time without actually accomplishing anything. Crennel is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, so to speak. I understand the need for the head coach to remain positive, but maybe it's time we just call a spade a spade and acknowledge that absolutely nothing the Browns do is working.

The Coop:
If I strain my eyes really hard, I can maybe see Romeo's point. The Browns moved the sticks won the time-of-possession battle, thereby keeping the normally-explosive Colts offense off the field.

But to say the gameplan "worked" is really a stretch. I mean, they scored 6 points on two field goals for crying out loud. In fact, other than the first two drives, they really only threatened to score one other time, and that resulted in a missed field goal.

Once again, the play-calling was way too predictable. Just because they wanted to establish the run doesn’t mean they should have ran it eight times in a row or on virtually every early-down situation.

And then when they decided to throw, almost everything was underneath. They hardly took any shots down the field, and the entire offense suffered as a result. With no downfield threats, Indy’s defense was able to play the run more aggressively and force the Browns to make plays, which we all know has been a challenge this year.

Jeff Smirnoff:
The premise was sound against a strong Colts offense. Posses the ball and minimize the Colts’ opportunities. That being said, to just posses the ball without being aggressive once you were sustaining a drive and not taking chances gives you no opportunity to win. Once the Browns got into Colts territory the offense became so conservative they were lucky to even get field goal attempts. The basis of the strategy was sound but the way they went about it was unbelievable.

Jamal Lewis asked for the ball and got it 24 times. He only gained 77 yards (3.2 average), however. How do you think Lewis should be used for the rest of this season and beyond?

Samantha Bunten:
While I acknowledge that Lewis was spectacularly unproductive on Sunday, I'm not sure we should be picking on him individually any more than anyone else. I'm glad he asked for the ball. It's nice to see someone on this squad is still willing to show some initiative even as the team continues to implode. Overall, what I might take from this is proof that Lewis needs some better blocking to assist him. He put up good numbers for the Browns last year, and I think he can do it again.

The Coop:
I will say this: running the ball is the only chance the Browns have of winning. Ken Dorsey isn’t going to beat anyone with his arm. So, for the remainder of 2008, the Browns have to pound Jamal when they can and then use Harrison and Wright more for a change-of-pace.

Lewis is a vital component of the Browns and needs to be treated as such going forward. People who want to get rid of Lewis because they think he is too old or think he’s lost a step are ignoring some very important facts and are not looking at the situation objectively.

Even in the last two games, Lewis has shown burst and power, ripping off some nice runs and also fighting for tough yards. Isn’t it possible that predictable play-calling and the absence of a downfield passing game might have something to do with his inability to dominate?

Jeff Smirnoff:
He should start and get 15-20 carries a game but not at the expense of getting Jerome Harrison and Josh Cribbs some touches on offense. Lewis is slowing down but he can still be an effective back if used properly. Harrison and Cribbs can keep the defense off balance, and are explosive runners, so getting them more involved will take the focus off of Lewis and hopes open up the power running game some.

Derek Anderson is now out for the season with a sprained MCL. What are the ramifications of having both Brady Quinn and Anderson out for the season?

Samantha Bunten:
Quinn and Anderson were both largely ineffective in their respective stints at the helm. Thus, I doubt losing both will really hurt the Browns all that much. I hate to challenge the universe's sense of irony by asking, "what could be worse?", but really, could things really be any more of a mess with Dorsey as the Browns QB?

The Browns season is over anyway, so even if Dorsey were to cost us a game or two, it won't make much difference overall. The one thing that makes this such a disappointment is that we did not get a chance to see if Quinn, finally given a series of consecutive starts, could step up and be the guy he was supposed to be when we drafted him. As per usual, we wait till next year.

The Coop:
Well, obviously, the injuries are troubling because no one knows how they will handle the rehab and recovery. I’d think Quinn would be okay because it doesn’t seem as serious, but the injury is on his throwing hand and who knows if it will limit his throwing ability. For Anderson, it’s much scarier because knee injuries are just never good. And the guy wasn’t mobile to begin with.

Quinn will be mainly hurt by not being able to gain valuable actual-game experience. There’s no substitution for facing “live bullets.” Allowing him to start the last half of the season would have given him a good foundation to build on heading into 2009. Now, he’s practically still a rookie.

As for Anderson, the bigger impact may be felt by the Browns as an organization. He now has virtually no trade value, because no one will want “damaged goods.” So, although I generally like DA, the Browns’ are more or less stuck with him until he plays out his contract or is released.

Jeff Smirnoff:
For Brady Quinn it is five games lost against quality opponents that you can accurately evaluate him for the future. Now you are forced to evaluate him based on three games, one healthy, and ten plays last year. Not a large data sample.

For Derek Anderson it is an opportunity lost to prove his worth to another team, prove to the Browns that he can still be their quarterback or increase his trade value. Now not only has he had a poor 2008 but he is also damaged goods without an opportunity to get back out there and show he is healthy.

Cue the Ken Dorsey Experience. Dorsey gets the start at QB for the rest of the year with Josh Cribbs serving as back-up. How should the Browns approach the QB position for the last 4 games?

Samantha Bunten:
It is a shame Winslow is injured - it would have been interesting to see if Dorsey and Winslow could rekindle some of the chemistry that made them a solid combination during their days at the University of Miami. That aside, I'm not sure this situation merits a change in approach to the position. The Browns have not had the luxury of relying on the strength of their quarterback all season, so they are used to having to look for other ways to succeed. Also, signing Gradkowski was a smart move - if anything happens to Dorsey, I don't really want to see Cribbs in the QB slot.

The Coop:
We now know that Bruce Gradkowski will be the backup. Thank goodness for that. The notion of Josh Cribbs playing QB is really silly. Cribbs in one of my favorite players, but the guy has no NFL experience at QB and hasn’t taken any reps in practice, nor has he been involved in quarterback meetings in Berea. How could anyone expect him to run the offense? Furthermore, putting him at QB takes away the Browns' best special teams player – offensively AND defensively – and reduces their options at the already-thin wideout position.

Dorsey deserves to finish the season as the starter because he knows the offense better than anyone on the roster. There’s a reason he’s a third-stringer, but the Browns weren’t exactly lighting up with the other two guys, so the Browns should just run him out there and hope for the best. Bet he wishes his first start as a Brown was coming against Denver (like Quinn) or Cincinnati (like Anderson) and not Tennessee!

Jeff Smirnoff:
Ken Dorsey should be the quarterback with a healthy dose of Josh Cribbs in the “Flash Package” as the Browns call it. You can not expect a guy, who already has to know all his special teams assignments and receiver routes, to come in and learn the entire playbook for a QB perspective in four weeks. Not going to happen. It also will decrease his effectiveness on special teams.

Dorsey is not going to light it up but at least he is a veteran who has some starting experience, albeit three seasons ago. Use Cribbs to keep the defense off balance but don’t expect him to come in and play quarterback in a standard capacity in any way, shape or form.

Controversy of the Week: Some of the faithful at Cleveland Browns Stadium cheered Derek Anderson's injury. Your thoughts on the fans taking their angst out on DA?

Samantha Bunten:
It is never, NEVER acceptable fan behavior to cheer for an injury to a member of your own team. Ever. I find this sort of behavior classless, disloyal, and flat out despicable. It reminds me of fans applauding when Tim Couch got a concussion a few years ago. I hated Couch as much as anyone, but I don't think a good fan should ever delight in an injury to a member of his team.

The Coop:
There’s no question that cheering because a player is injured is classless and disgusting.

But the thing that bothers me the most about this incident is that it’s just another occurrence in an all-too-familiar series of contemptible behavior by Browns fans. Since coming back in ’99, Browns fans have managed to cheer injuries to not one but two quarterbacks, litter the field with beer bottles and other debris, enter into email confrontations with members of the front office, and even run onto the field during a game.

I’ve always believed the Browns have the best, most loyal and passionate fans of any professional sports franchise. My friends, family and other bloggers here on B/R reaffirm those thoughts frequently. But when there are a couple of losers who act in these deplorable ways, it’s impossible for anyone else to see how great the majority of Browns fans truly are, and it personally embarrasses me.

Jeff Smirnoff:
I was at the game. It wasn’t all or most of the fans doing it but that doesn’t make it right at all. To boo any player when they are injured is just classless. I understand the fans are upset and frustrated at the Browns performance this season but that doesn’t give you Card Blanche to celebrate the injury to someone, let alone your own team.

It’s always the few people who do it that give the rest of the people a bad name but it doesn’t change the fact that it just is the wrong thing to do. Very disappointing indeed.