Saturday, August 23, 2008

Browns Still Looking for Answers

The Cleveland Browns looked horrible against the New York Giants after an 11 day lay-off. They didn’t look much better Saturday versus the Detroit Lions after a short five day break either. The Browns looked putrid on both sides of the ball failing to the Lion at Ford Field, 26-6. The loss dropped the Browns to 0-3 on the pre-season.

Speaking of threes, the Browns first team offense went three and out on its first three series of the game. After the first quarter, the Lions on led 6-0 but you would not have known that from the stat line. The Lions out-gained Cleveland 114 yard to 18 and held the ball for 11:37 compared the Browns’ 3:23.

Brady Quinn was a pedestrian 14-24 for 106 yards on the afternoon. He did not complete a pass over 16 yards and averages a measly 4.4 yards an attempt. Yes, he was without starters Braylon Edwards and Jamal Lewis but he was harassed all day and did not look cool, calm and collected in his first prolonged action against a first team defense.

He wasn’t the only one harassed as the Browns’ offensive line, one of the team’s perceived strengths, looked average for the second consecutive week. They seemed caught off guard with the Lions aggressive, blitzing defense as Quinn had Lions in his face all day and Jason Wright and Jerome Harrison did not find many holes to run through. Wright finished the day with eight carries for 42 yards but overall the running game was non-existent.

The defense looked as disjointed as the offense especially when missing both starting safeties, Sean Jones and Brodney Pool, outside linebacker Willie McGinest and pass rush specialist Antwaan Peek. They got some early pressure on Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna but we unable to close the deal on many occasions. Kamerion Wimbley was unfortunately in 2007 form and he was “close but no cigar” on Kitna three times in the first two series.

Both Kitna and back-up Dan Orlovsky picked apart the Browns linebackers and defensive backs, seeming dropping throws into open spaces all game long. Five different Detroit receivers had long receptions of 29, 21, 20, 20 and 19 yards respectively. The one time the Browns defense did get pressure they forced Orlovsky into a interception to back-up safety Nick Sorensen.

The only good, if you can call of that, for the defense was the return of Shawn Rogers. Big Baby had five tackles and the Lions’ combined total yardage for those plays was one yard. The Browns defensive line seemed to get good pressure early on but the linebackers were unable to clean-up in the backfield as usual.

This was no more apparent then when Detroit rookie running back Kevin Smith was caught in the backfield, stopped, cut back and scampered 35 yards for a touchdown and a 13-0 Lions’ lead. Even worse, Orlavsky, the quarterback, hustled down field and blocked both Sorensen and Brandon McDonald to allow Smith to vault over the goal line.

In what is supposed to be the final tune-up for the regular season the Browns looked awful flat and way too vanilla once again. Yes, the were missing their starting QB, RB and WR on offense and starting LB, FS and SS on defense but they just look like they are lacking the physical toughness they showed on both sides of the ball in 2007.

The excuse of “it’s only pre-season” will not be applicable in 2 weeks. The final week of the pre-season is normally reserved for those players working to earn those final precious roster spots but the fact that the Browns have not had their entire offensive of defensive units on the field together for more than a series or two is scary.

With the tough start to the regular season, the Browns can ill afford to stumble out of the gate in 2008. They have stumbled, mightily, in the exhibition season so far and have turned their fans’ highly and lofty expectations into grief and concern. They have 14 days to turn up the intensity, get everyone healthy and on the same page if they hope to avoid have 2008 live up to those expectations and temper their fans’ concerns.

The Things I Want to See From the Cleveland Browns in Detroit

10. Is Brady Quinn the real deal?

Derek Anderson is the starting QB for the Cleveland Browns, sorry to break it to you Brady-Maniacs. But I do want to see how he does against a first team defense even without a full compliment of weapons. I was firmly in the Anderson should start no matter what camp when pre-season began but after another big game tank job I am not so sure.

9. Do the Browns have a back-up running back?

Jamal Lewis will not play today. It’s a chance for Jason Wright and Jerome Harrison to showcase their wares. If J-Lew goes down for a few games do the Browns have someone who can step in?

8. Will someone distinguish themselves as the #3 receiver?

Travis Wilson has a breakout game against the New York Jets and then disappeared last week. It was Syndric Steptoe’s time to shine against the Giants and he may earn a roster spot with that performance. Will one of these two guys continue to cement a place on the squad or will someone else come out of nowhere to snatch it from them?

7. Will the Browns offensive line bounce back from an abysmal performance?

Top to bottom the Browns’ starting offensive line was manhandled for almost the entire time in the Giants game. This is supposed to be one of the best offensive lines in football. Was last week an abomination or does the line still have steps to take to reach an elite level?

6. Will Shawn Rogers play?

I am hearing rumblings that big Shawn will not play at all during pre-season. This is not good for chemistry, setting up the rotation and knocking the rust off. Is there more to his “sore knees” than we have been led to believe?

5. Can the Browns defense generate any semblance of a pass rush?

Willie McGinest seriously needs a Segway to maneuver around the football field these days. Kamerion Wimbley still look to only have one pass rushing move. Antwaan Peek is hurt. Can a David McMillan, Alex Hall or Shawntee Orr step up and take some pressure of Kam-Ram?

4. Will anyone step up in the secondary?

The secondary is so bad they Browns traded a 7th Round draft pick to Miami for Travis Daniels, a player who was going to be cut at the end of camp. He will not play today and neither will Brodney Pool who has his third concussion in three years. Only Sean Jones and Brandon McDonald have looked solid so far. Two solid defensive backs in a passing league is a recipe for disaster.

3. Are the linebackers good at anything?

Despite the additions on the defensive line, the Browns linebacking core has remained steadfast in its progression. Andra Davis is too slow. D’Qwell Jackson in too small. Leon Williams is too dumb. Beau Bell is too injured. The tackling has been better but is still taking place 5-7, if not more, yards past the line of scrimmage. Can any of these guys turn into a quality LB?

2. Can the Browns coaches have the team them ready to play smart football?

It’s not the fact that the Browns lost last week to the Giants, it’s how they did it that is cause for concern. Stupid penalties, blown coverages, missed blocking assignments and even the inability to execute a punt “highlighted” the Browns trip to the Meadowlands last week. These are all mental mistakes that Romeo Crennel and his coaching staff should have the team ready to deal with on a daily basis. With 11 days to prep for last week’s game they were noticeably absent. Even in pre-season, that is inexcusable

1. Can the Browns come out and be physical from the first snap?

The New York Giants punched the Cleveland Browns in the mouth last week and the Cleveland Browns… did nothing. Until the Browns become a physically aggressive team (and a clean one, not a dirty one Andra Davis) they will not be an elite team in the NFL and will not be able to overtake their nemesis, the Pittspuke Stoolers, er, I mean the Pittsburgh Steelers. It starts up front with the offensive and defensive lines and goes from there. The mental side of the game goes hand in hand but if you are not going to be physical in the NFL you are going nowhere fast. Let’s see what the Browns do today when the Detroit Lions punch them in the mouth, or better yet, let’s see if they punch Detroit in the mouth first.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cleveland Browns Suffer a Giant Beatdown on MNF

The new brown pants were horrible, but unfortunately for the Cleveland Browns their performance versus the New York Giants on Monday Night Football was much worse. The Browns first teams on both sides of the ball were abused, beaten and manhandled by the Giants first teamers eventually falling to Big Blue 37-34. It was no where near as close as the score indicates.

The game started off looking good for Cleveland as the Browns defense forced a three and out on the opening series of the game. Derek Anderson guided the Browns offense on a prolonged drive that stalled on the Giants’ 39. Phil Dawson came on and nailed a wind-aided, 56-yard field goal to put the Browns up 3-0, but it was all downhill from there.

The Giants drove down the field effortlessly on the ensuing drive, aided by a 53-yard pass interference penalty on Browns’ defensive back Eric Wright. Wright was then burned for a touchdown in the back corner of the endzone by Eli Manning and Domenik Hixon to put the Giants up, 7-3.

The Browns were unable to mount anything on their next drive and safety Mike Adams incurred a 15-yard kick interference penalty to give the Giants excellent field position at the Browns’ 49. After a 15-yard personal foul by Andra Davis, Manning and Hixon hooked up again, at the expense of Wright once more, for another touchdown and a 14-3 Giants lead.

The Browns’ first team continued to look embarrassingly bad as they failed to move the ball on their next two possessions. Backed up in their own end and forced to punt, they incurred a 5-yard false start penalty. This resulted in punter Dave Zastudil not having a full 15 yards to punt and former Brown Reuben Droughns pushed reserve, rookie running back Travis Thomas into Zastudil’s leg, blocking the punt out of the endzone for a safety and a 16-3 Giants advantage.

One might not have thought it could have gotten worse for the Browns’ but on the ensuing free kick Hixon struck again for Big Blue returning the kick to the house, his third touchdown of the first quarter, to push the score to 23-7 at the end of the first quarter.

How bad was the quarter for the Browns? Aside from the 23-7 deficit, they had accumulated six penalties for 98 yards and only 26 yards of offense on 16 plays. Wright was being burnt left and right by Manning while Anderson showed signs of skittishness against the Giants’ pressure defense.

Syndric Steptoe returned the ensuing kickoff to the Giants’ 9 to show some signs of life for the brown and orange but Jamal Lewis fumbled on the 2 yard line and Eric Butler returned the fumble for a touchdown and before you could blink it was 30-7 Giants with 14:05 left in the first half. The Browns had allowed 30 points in less than 16 minutes of football.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, the next time Derek Anderson dropped back to pass, Giants’ DE Osi Umenyiora pancaked him to the ground and knocked him out of the game with a concussion. The Browns’ first team offensive line looked completely overmatched all night against the reigning Super Bowl Champion’s defense. By the middle of the second quarter the Browns had run 23 plays and on had 23 yards of offense to show for them.

The Browns’ defense fared no better getting run over time and time again but the Giants’ physical offensive line. At times the Browns looked more interested in pushing and shoving after the whistle that actually tackling the Giants ball carriers. Only 14 of the 30 points were scored on the Browns first string defense but at no point during the game did they generate any sort of pass rush or stop the run on a consistent basis.

The Browns back-ups actually provided most of the highlights for the team as they managed to play hard despite the score and turn a 30-7 joke into a 37-34 final. Brady Quinn looked sharp, against the Giants’ second team defense, as he lead the team down for a pair of touchdowns on the evening.

He was agile in the pocket and made a few big plays with his arm. He seemed to make a concerted effort to throw the ball down field more including forcing a deep ball that should have been intercepted but was somehow wrangled away from the Giants’ defender by Steptoe for a 44-yard touchdown.

Steptoe his second consecutive brilliant game as he added a 40-yard kickoff return to the 90-yard return he had earlier to go along with two touchdowns on offense. He scored on a 9-yard backwards pass for the Browns’ first touchdown of the night and followed it up with the amazing grab from Quinn.

Jerome Harrison also had another great pre-season game running with purpose including a breathtaking 23-yard scamper at, around and trough the Giants’ defense. I will give Eric Wright credit as well, despite being burnt badly and often he did have a short memory, as cornerbacks should, and returned a tipped pass for a touchdown late in the second quarter. He had a bad game but didn’t pout let it show, he just kept playing.

You know it’s a long night when third string QB Ken Dorsey lights it up going 9-11 for 143 yards and a touchdown to rookie Lance Leggett. The cerebral Dorsey led the Browns on two scoring drives culminating in 10 points. Yes, it was against the Giants’ scrubs but Dorsey looked absolutely horrid versus the Jets last week so it was a positive in an otherwise dismal night.

What can we draw from this performance by the Browns? First and foremost, their defense still has miles to come before it can be effective. They need to get Shawn Rogers healthy so they can accurately evaluate the defense as a whole. The young secondary is going to struggle, especially on the outside, and they need a strong force upfront to offset that. They also need to find some sort of pass rush as it has been non-existent in both exhibition games.

On offense, it would not surprise me to see Anderson miss the next pre-season game as it is Saturday at Detroit after a Monday night game. A super short week, and even with a mild concussion I doubt they would clear him to play in the pre-season.

If anything, that will give them a chance to evaluate Quinn against a starting defense, even if it is the Lions, something he has yet to face in his young career. Anderson still is, and should be, the starter but they might as well make the best of an injury situation. But that won’t stop the fans and media from drumming up another quarterback controversy.

More disheartening is the performance of the first team offensive line. Yes, they were playing against one of the best defensive lines in football but he Browns’ offensive line is supposed to be one of the best as well. They got completely dominated for a quarter and a half and were unable to move down the field except for the opening drive of the game. Their only touchdown drive came against the Giants’ second team defense.

It’s a very short week to get things sorted out to play Detroit but that’s the hand they’ve been dealt. They did sustain injuries, Anderson and Brodney Pool suffered minor concussions, Josh Cribbs rolled an ankle and was in a walking boot and Leon Williams hurt is neck. Hopefully they all will all be ready to go sooner than later, but I doubt we see any of them versus the Lions.

The game was a cruel wake-up call for the Browns as they do not look like anything close to the “prime-time players” that their schedule suggests. It was a complete and total embarrassment in all facets of the game. They better use this experience as a wake up call or they may be doomed to sink faster that the Titanic.

In fact, their performance was so awful that it overshadowed the ghastly brown pants they wore for the first time. Memo to Browns Management, don’t even bring those wretched brown pants out again. Memo to Romeo Crennel and the Browns’ coaching staff, don’t ever put that embarrassing of a performance together on National TV if you want to stick around.

Training camp finally got exciting for the Cleveland Browns in 2008. Unfortunately, it took a complete flop on Monday Night Football to do so.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Is Brown Beautiful? Cleveland Browns to Wear Brown Pants

Cleveland Browns fans haven’t had a lot to be happy about since their reincarnation in 1999 but one thing that always causes uproar is proposed changes to the Browns uniform. It all starts with the classic logo-less, orange helmet with brown and orange strips. They remain the only NFL franchise with a logo-less helmet.

The facemask was originally grey but was changed to white in the 1960s until last season when they reverted back to the classic grey facemask. They also went back to wearing black shoes for the first time since the 1950s after wearing white shoes since 1960.

It is those team colors, brown and orange, that have defined the Browns from their inception in 1946 as they are the only franchise to utilize brown as their primary color and only one of four; along with Chicago, Cincinnati and Miami; using orange as a secondary color.

They wore “alternate” orange jerseys for a one game a year in 2002-2005 but the reception was lukewarm at best. They replaced that look with a throwback to the late 1950’s uniforms with their brown jersey remaining intact but with numerals and a single white stripe on the helmet.

Both the Browns’ home brown and away white jerseys have always sported the brown, orange and white stripe combo on the sleeves that have been there since 1960. This stripe combo was also features on the team’s socks until 1995. When they returned in 1999, they switched to a solid brown sock that they current wear at home and on the road.

For the first time in their existence, the Browns will test out a “major” uniform change in an exhibition game on Monday Night Football.

The Browns have exclusively worn white pants with orange and brown stripes. They wore orange pants from 1975 until 1983, after which they reverted back to white. They have continued to wear white pants since then except for special occasions when they wear orange.

On Monday, with their away white jerseys, the Browns will sport solid, brown pants without stripes for the first time in their existence. It may seem mundane to the casual fan but to a lifelong Browns fan it is borderline unfathomable. How this look with pan out in New York will be interesting.

Their name may be the Browns, but the orange pants harken back to the days of the Brian Sipe led Kardiac Kids and were incredibly popular. The classic white pants are a part of their heritage that often gets forgotten as many NFL fans forget the pre-1970 merger days of which the Browns were a dominant player.

To me the classic home uniform with the orange helmet, brown jersey and white pants is one of the classics in the game. Personally, I love the orange pants with the away white jerseys, even though it runs contrary to the name Browns, but the classic “all whites” are simple yet effective as well. On first thought, brown pants don’t really sound like a good look to me, but it is just one die-hard’s opinion.

If anything it is another interesting item in this 2008 season of intrigue for the Cleveland Browns… or just something for Browns purists to bitch about.

So what so you think? Are brown pants beautiful? Only time will tell!