Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Browns Table: Season Expectations for Cleveland

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.

I would like to thank my fellow Browns fans Dustin Haley, Scott Miles, David Nethers and Michael Taylor for voicing their opinions.

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.

Exhibition football is well behind us and Week 1 of the 2008 NFL is about to get underway. The Browns were off-season media darlings but a sub-par pre-season has tempered the optimism coming from the shores of Lake Erie. We take a look back at the pre-season, the Browns’ final roster and what we expect from the Cleveland Browns in 2008.

Let’s talk Browns football…

The Browns finished the exhibition season at a winless 0-4. The record doesn't mean much but how they played does. They looked lethargic at times and were out-physicaled at others. What concerns, if any, do you have about the Browns performance in the 2008 NFL Pre-Season?

Dustin Haley: I have never put to much emphasis on the preseason, although this years edition has raised only a slight concern of cohesion with the team.

In the ’06 season I watched the Browns begin to play as a team, it was obvious that the “chemistry” of the team was starting to come together, despite the 4-12 record. In ’07, with the emergence of D.A., free agent signings of Jamal Lewis and Eric Steinbach, and the excellent draft we had compounded that effect.

So far in this preseason the team hasn’t looked like the team I’ve seen come together the last couple years, but with the starters never really lining up together how could that even be possible? I’m confident that this will take care of itself, and hopefully this is just history repeating itself, with the last winless preseason the Browns earned a wildcard berth.

Scott Miles: I'm more concerned about the injuries and tough schedule than looking lethargic and out-physicaled. Let's be honest, the only players who care about the pre-season are the second through fourth stringers, some of who are quite possibly playing their final football games ever.

The energy will come when the hitting means something. And if it doesn't, then we're in for a long year.

David Nethers: Inconsistency. I went to the first pre-season game against the Jets and was pleased with how the starting unit played but ended the pre-season with a lot of questions.

Bottom Line for me: too many injuries to make a final judgment.

Pre-season at best is not much of an actual gauge of what you can expect at the start of the regular season so it isn’t time to push the panic button (much of what i wrote in this column applies here:

Honestly we really never got a fair look at the offense with Derek Anderson, Winslow,Cribbs and Lewis hurt, so i reserve judgment there, but the defense leaves me under whelmed.

Jeff Smirnoff: The record is inconsequential but the way they played is. My biggest concern is the fact that the first teams got pushed around by the opposition's first teams. If they had come out and moved the ball somewhat but had drives stall that would be one thing but the total lack of any production, numerous penalties, and the fact that they just looked totally disorganized is.

Michael Taylor: There is some concern, but overall I take the preseason with a grain of salt. I mean, remember how we all felt after the preseason and the week one blasting by the Steelers last season? Romeo was all but fired and people were clamoring for the Quinn era to start already. That season turned alright.

I also think I had heard or read somewhere that the last 10 teams to reach the Super Bowl are like 16-24 in preseason. Definitely less than flattering.

The Browns at 0-4 at the face of it doesn't sound good as we enter the upcoming season, but they will be ok. Assuming the little injury bug stays away and everyone who is banged up now gets healthy.

The injury bug also hit the Browns during exhibition season. Which player are you most concerned about, health wise, and which player do you think is the most indispensable?

Dustin Haley: For obvious reasons I think Daven Holly’s injury has the highest level of concern, as season ending injuries tend to lead to career nagging injuries, but he’s not on the roster.

Brodney Pool has suffered his third concussion in four years. Although he shouldn’t be kept out for too long, if at all, it does concern me he’s prone to this type of injury. Multiple concussions can force early retirement, and the resulting brain damage really can disorient a player. He’s a solid young player, and with our secondary as thin as it is at the moment we need to see a healthy Pool for this and the seasons to come..

I don’t think there really is such a thing as an indispensable player on a 53 man roster. In light of Antwan Peek season ending knee injury, he’s is probably the most expendable, as he is injury prone and his injuries slow him down. He did a good job of rushing the passer last year when he was healthy with four sacks and getting pressure on the QB. Shantee Orr looks to be a viable replacement for him.

Scott Miles: I'm a little concerned about Jamal Lewis, just because you never like to see 29-year old running backs coming down with injuries, especially one that could nag at him like a hamstring pull. I think Jason Wright and Jerome Harrison are good backups, but I'd hate to rely on them for long stretches.

David Nethers: I’ll answer the second part of the question first. Jamal Lewis is to me the most indispensable. Brodney Pool, Josh Cribbs and Daven Holly would be nice to have back

Joe Jurevicius concerns me because while others seem to be improving his knee problems seem more chronic. But with Edwards, Stallworth and Winslow in the game the team has plenty of wiggle room until Joe is better. Derek Anderson would be a problem without Brady Quinn, AND there's every reason to believe he will be ok.

Jamal is nearer the end of his career than the beginning, you have to question how durable he is, and i just hope his pre-season hamstring problem isn’t a sign of issues that may start creeping up throughout the season.

Jeff Smirnoff: I am most concerned about Josh Cribbs for the simple fact that he has the always unpredictable high ankle sprain. He is such a game changer as far as field position goes if he can not go it is a huge blow. As far as most indispensable it's a tie between Braylon Edwards and Jamal Lewis. They both are such formidable weapons that the defense has to pick their poison. Edwards can stretch the field so long that it forces the D to play back and opens it up for Lewis. But Lewis is such a hard runner who gets better as the game goes on that the D can't cheat back to much.

Michael Taylor: I think the answer to both is Jamal Lewis. If the Browns are going to have any sniff of the success that they enjoyed last season on offense, they need to have the ground game running as efficiently as possible.

His ankle injury worries me a little as a hard runner. He will be cutting on it and if there is any lasting effects of the injury he will not be able to maneuver as well and be more of a straight runner than he already is.

The Browns set their 53 man roster and Practice Squad over the weekend. What were your big surprises of the final cuts and what areas of the team are you uneasy about?

Dustin Haley: I really don’t think there were any huge surprises in the final cuts, but I was taken back a little with the release of David McMillan, although most will disagree. The fifth round draft pick never panned out to make the linebacker rotation, but he was a decent contributor on special teams.

As far as roster cuts are concerned I have a pretty good feeling about the number of players we have at respective positions. If I’m uncomfortable with anything it’s the lack of talent and depth in the defense.

Scott Miles: I wasn't really surprised by any of the final cuts. If anything, I was disappointed that the light bulb never went off in Travis Wilson's head and we didn't really have any choice but to cut him. I thought he could develop into a solid number two behind Braylon when we drafted him but clearly that never happened.

Obviously, even the dumbest of football fans knows that the secondary is a weakness. I don't really have any problems with the starters, and I think Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright are better than people think, but the depth is a concern. How will the defense respond when teams go to three and four wide receiver sets? That will likely be the biggest question mark, and determine the fate of the team.

David Nethers: To me there were not many 'big' surprises in the final cut, but maybe a disappointment or two. I would have liked to see DB Brandon Mitchell make the squad. With the roster the Browns have the Wide Receivers and Tight Ends would have had to turn in stunning performances to stay on the squad. Players like DB David McMillan have been on the team and simply have not contributed much last season.

Brandon Mitchell was signed as a free agent after spending last year off and on with the Houston Texans and, maybe I’m just a homer here, but I kind of hoped the Buckeye would make the squad.

Jeff Smirnoff: Despite my complete detest for him, I was surprised to see Travis Wilson go. I figured that Paul Hubbard would be on the Practice Squad and that Wilson would stick around. Other than that there wasn't anything too shocking. The defensive backfield is an obvious weakness but I actually am uneasy about the O Line depth until Ryan Tucker and Rex Hadnot are healthy. Isaac Sowells and Scott Young don't make my confidence high.

Michael Taylor: I really don't see very many surprises in the final cuts. The one that did stand out was the cut of Travis Wilson who was a third-round pick a few years back. I liked him when they drafted him, but it just never worked out.

As far as uneasiness, I am most worried as most are about the depth of the secondary. If Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright stay healthy along with the solid safety tandem they will be ok, but as soon as the reserves come in on Nickel and Dime packages I and less confident. I did like what I saw from Nick Sorensen during the preseason. He could be a solid backup.

OK. Enough with the fluff. Enough with the hype. Enough with "exhibition football". Coming into Week 1 of the Season, what are your expectations for the Cleveland Browns in 2008?

Dustin Haley: Expectations. Browns fans are used to playing down that word so as we do not feel let down at the end of the season. My expectations were always the same at the beginning of a season since I can remember -- go out and play your heart out and give me an enjoyable season. That’s all I asked, mostly that’s what I got. I’ve now dropped that mindset I developed as a kid.

The bar is raised this year. I want to make the playoffs, however I do realize it will be a tough road. I have the Browns repeating at 10-6, and winning the division. However I realize the season may end up 9-7 or even 8-8, maybe even 12-4. Ultimately my expectations are for Crennel and Savage to continue what they are doing to build this team. Point being, so long as we are fielding a competitive football team, I’m happy.

Scott Miles: At least nine wins - and a division title. Call it blind faith, call it stupidity, call it what you will - but if the Browns can't get over the Steelers this year, and with both Cincinnati and Baltimore spiraling downwards, then who knows if or when the Browns can win a division title again?

David Nethers: This is always tough,

A lot depends on the health of the players.

Because so much can happen during a season not just to the Browns but to their opponents. On paper the Browns look to have one of the best offenses in the league, with everybody healthy and the defense is stout. But the schedule is tough and you can’t look past even the first game.

Week one may be tough against another of the premier teams this year, Week 2 looks better but with the Steelers at home i have more hope. Ravens and Cincinnati are beatable this year. The Browns could start the season 3-1 before the Bye.

Thet will be rested up for the Giants, a tossup, Redskins and Jacksonville will be ready. Down the line Indianapolis and Philadelphia will be good games.

Bottom line, barring devastating injury losses i think this team may be able to improve on last years record and finish 11-5, Dallas, Giants, Indianapolis, Eagles and Steelers are games that could hurt.

Jeff Smirnoff: I expect them to be competitive and in every game. No blow outs in either direction. The schedule is tough but not as tough as it could be. I fully expect them to beat Cincinnati, Baltimore, Denver, Buffalo, Houston, Tennessee and Washington because they are a better team then those teams, but they have to go out and prove it on the field. I have maintained since the end of 2007 that until they can beat the Steelers they can’t win the AFC North. The two Steeler games will determine if they go 8-8, 9-7 or 10-6. The beat the Steelers once or twice I see them winning the division, they lose twice and I see them missing out on the playoffs.

Michael Taylor: I am probably going to be on the lowside of the projections, as I am always timid to make a generous Browns prediction. I like the potential of this team and think that if the cards fell right that they could win the division and go deep into the playoffs, but realistically I don't see that happening.

This year's schedule is far from the "cupcake" schedule that they enjoyed last season on their way to the 10-6 record. They have some serious opponents in Dallas, NY Giants, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Philadelphia and even Houston and Washington aren't that bad.

If the Browns can win the majority of the divisional games and go lets say 4-2 in those games, I say the Browns are 9-7 and on the edge of playoff contention.

Believe me that I want to say 12-4 and first-round bye in the playoffs, but I just don't see it yet. Although ask me again in about 4 weeks and I may have a different opinion.

Week 1 versus the Dallas Cowboys on National TV on FOX. What are the keys to the Browns starting off 2008 with a win against one of this year's Super Bowl favorites?

Dustin Haley: Dallas is going to be one of the toughest opponents we have this year. We need to come out with our guns blazing, so to speak. I think the Browns are going to need to score early and often against this defense. Jamal Lewis will need to get his touches to wear down the ‘Boys, primarily SS Roy Williams. Blocking DeMarcus Ware is going to be exciting to watch. Thomas is more than capable of handling the job.

Defensively we don’t match up well. Obviously we need to figure out how to cover T.O. If we double team him with a safety that will force us to cover Jason Witten with one of our LB’s, and I’m not too comfortable with that. Tony Romo is an outstanding QB and he’s going to put up good numbers in this game, we need to find a way to pressure him. Or invite Jessica Simpson to the game, as he seems to lose only when one of his girlfriends are in attendance.

Ultimately this game is in the hands of our offense. I figure we will need to score 34+ to win.

Scott Miles: Offense, offense, offense. Then a little more offense on top of that. I'm really not sold on Dallas' defense because they did give up over 20 points per game. That being said, I think their balance on offense can make up for that deficiency.

So this is going to be a shootout. Last week, when me and a couple of my friends were bored in history class, we did some Week 1 predictions, and I'll stick by mine: Browns 38, Cowboys 35.

David Nethers: 1)No mistakes: It seems cliché but everybody is going to have to be firing on all cylinders. In the Browns favor is the fact that the game is at home, and that for both teams it is the first regular season game so there may still be some issues with timing and penalties.

2) Full recovery: The Browns need as many of their starters as possible to be healthy.

3) Defense, Defense, Defense!!! Dallas will exploit even the smallest of weaknesses on that defense so we need to see better than we did in pre-season particularly in the backfield.

To me both teams are capable of winning the game, but all that means is that each is equally capable of losing it too.

Jeff Smirnoff: Offensive and defensive line play. If the Browns O Line can control DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis and the rest of the Dallas front 7 then it will give DA and the O the opportunity to put points on the board. I see this being a shoot out so the O will need to put up some points. On defense the Browns either need to stop the run, get pressure on the QB or cause turnovers. Three things they were awful at in 2007. If they can get one of those three things in their favor they have a chance.

Michael Taylor: As I said before about Jamal Lewis, running the ball will be key. The Browns will need to keep the Dallas offense off of the field and the Romo/Owens' connections to a minimum. Keeping the game a reasonable 24-20 type game is a necessity as the Cowboys have a solid defense and can score in a hurry.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The Only Thing That Can Save the Cleveland Browns… is Orange

The date was August 18, 2008, a Monday night. The site was the Meadowlands, New Jersey. The dulcet tones of Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen filled the crisp Jersey air along with an assortment of smells that can not be legally described in this public forum.

It may have been exhibition season but it was time for Monday Night Football. It was time for a match-up of two of the NFL’s most historic franchises, the defending NFL Champion New York Giants and the up and coming Cleveland Browns. It was the Browns first close-up with the National TV audience.

Things had been set-up excellently in the week before in Cleveland. Overshadowed by the pseudo un-retirement and subsequent trade to the New York Jets of iconic, Wrangler Jeans wearing quarterback/Madden cover boy/flip-flopper Brett Favre the Browns were once again flying under the radar, even in their own home town.

On the Jets’ opening drive the Browns’ defense, playing without NT Shaun Rogers who was held out of the game as a precaution because he has indulged in “Fourthmeal” one or two times too many, snuffed out a Jets’ QB sneak on 4th and 1. This was after purposely allowing the Jets’ to convert a 3rd and 1 on a fullback dive because they felt bad that Favre was relegated to listening to Gnarls Barkley and Fall Out Boy on the sideline.

The Browns offense came out guns a blazing, firing six and seven yard missiles down the field to get down to the Jets two yard line. Then in a moment reminiscent of the incomparable Bernie J. Kosar drawing a play in the dirt of old Cleveland Municipal Stadium, quarterback Derek Anderson and wide receiver Braylon Edwards conspired to script a play for the ages.

Anderson would deliberately throw the ball as far away from Edwards and as close to the sideline as possible to set up a third down for the outmanned Jets. But as Edwards turned around, while giving his best impersonation of Lee Trevino holding his arms out after he had failed to catch a scared Chubbs Peterson after falling out of the second story window when Happy Gilmore presented him the head of the alligator that bit Chubbs’ hand off, and the ball inadvertently stuck in him left hand for a touchdown.

Thankfully God intervened and caused a massive thunderstorm and an hour delay and the Browns starters were done for the night. The Jets were saved, Brett Favre had cured John Madden’s erectile dysfunction and the Browns were on top of the world…

…until that fateful night August 18, 2008 when a fashion designer, public relations personnel and a marketing director conspired to sabotage the Browns season. Their weapon, brown pants. Not just any brown pants. Solid, bland, poop-brown pants. Yes, I said poop-brown. With solid, poop-brown socks.

Some of the players knew ahead of time, some of them did not. Edwards knew, and to get out of wearing them, he had teammate Donte Stallworth intentionally spike him in running drills after practice so he could miss the rest of pre-season.

The Browns were so physically ill and mentally stressed over the incident they were down 30-3 in just under 16 minutes of play. Penalties, blocked punts, safety and kick off returns for touchdowns occurred effortlessly and the poop-brown pants proved to be Cleveland kryptonite.

The pants were so bad players started faking injuries just to get off National TV. Josh Cribbs feigned the dreaded “high ankle sprain” on a kick-off after he saw his reflection in one of the ESPN TV cameras. Jamal Lewis pulled up lame with a hamstring injury in order to save face. Derek Anderson took it a step further and asked the offensive line to forget to block Osi Umenyiora so he could be concussed so he didn’t even remember wearing the brown pants.

The Browns crumbled under the weight of the public backlash over the fashion faux pa of the brown pants. They fell to 0-4 in the pre-season, looking absolutely dreadful in the process. All looked lost for this once rising team…

…but fret not Cleveland Browns fans. There is one thing that could save this season. In one of life’s great ironies the only thing that can save the Browns season… is orange.

Yes, the only thing that can cripple the chaotic karma that the poop-brown pants generated is the orange pants that graced Cleveland in the late 70’s and early 80’s and made a few cameos in the early 2000’s.

Think about it, the orange pants that were synonymous with the Brian Sipe led Kardiac Kids merging with the most exciting team the Browns have fielded since their reincarnation. The beautiful, bright orange pantaloons with the brown and orange stripes.

Something thing to be proud of that matches the most brilliantly simple and beautiful helmet in the game. Not plain, poop-brown pants that make the uniform look like Neapolitan ice cream with orange sorbet replacing the strawberry flavor. Orange pants, dammit!

But only with the white, road uniform. A brown jersey is beautiful, but only with white pants. We don’t need to go back to the 70’s completely, we only need to assimilate a portion of what was good then and make it good now, unless…

Unless, in a moment of brilliance, the orange pants are combined with the Browns alternate orange, jerseys to create the ultimate in sports oxymorons, the Cleveland Browns clad completely in orange.

The competition would be stunned. The NFL experts would be floored. Kevin Shaffer would actually look like a human parking cone instead of just playing like one on the field of play. Five words: fat guys in all orange.

There is still hope for 2008 Browns fans. It doesn’t hinge on the offensive line’s health, poor linebacker play or an inexperienced secondary. It’s doesn’t hinge of yonger players stepping up and developing or coaching decisions or protocol. It all hinges on one thing… orange pants. Orange F’N pants.

The only thing more guaranteed is that if Steely McBeam were to quit his job and become a civil servant that his occupation of choice would be manhole inspector.

Orange pants. It’s so crazy, it just might work.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Cliff Lee Wins 20, Makes 1974 Irrelevant

CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona got to 19 wins apiece at the end of the 2007 MLB season for the Cleveland Indians, but neither got a chance to go for win number 20. Brandon Webb has had two chances in 2008 to reach that milestone but was unable to seal the deal.

For Cleveland’s Cliff Lee win number 20 was never in doubt as he cruised to a 5-0 complete game, shut-out victory over the AL Central leading Chicago White Sox. With the win, Lee became the Indians’ first 20 game winner in 34 years when Gaylord Perry went 21-13 for the Erie Warriors in 1974. It may have not been 1948, the last time the Indians won the World Series, but at least the team got to check off one year in an otherwise disappointing 2008.

Lee gave up back to back singles to Orlando Cabrera and A. J. Pierzynski to start the game but worked out of trouble with the help of an unassisted double play by second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera. He followed that up by retiring 21 batters in a row before Paul Konerko singled with one out in the eighth inning.

The only threat the White Sox were really able to muster were singles by Joe Crede and Cabrera to start the ninth. But Lee hunkered down and got Pierzynski to fly out left field before getting AL home run leader Carlos Quentin to ground into a game ending double play. In a matter of 2 hours and 26 minutes and 109 pitches the number 1974 was made obscure in Cleveland Sports history.

Early on, one had to wonder if the Indians’ up and down offense would be able to put up enough runs against Chicago’s high powered offense. After Shin-Soo Choo plated the Tribe’s first run in the second with a single off Konerko’s glove, the Indians had runners on first and third with no outs. But the next three hitters were unable to get the ball out fo the infield and had to be content with a 1-0 lead.

The White Sox handed them a run in the third on a throwing error by pitcher Clayton Richard and a Ben Francisco single to make the score 2-0 Indians. With two outs in the fourth inning Franklin Gutierrez, Kelly Shoppach and Cabrera hit consecutive doubles to make the score 4-0.

The Tribe had a chance to break it open in the sixth as Choo singled, Gutierrez walked and Shoppach sacrificed them over to second and third. But the Indians offense was unable to come through, stranding both men in scoring position after getting them there with one out. There were able to add an insurance run in the eighth on a Cabrera sacrifice fly. It should have been more after loading the bases with no one out, but in the end it didn’t matter.

Cliff Lee was in control from the outset and the game was never really in doubt. It was just like any other Lee start in 2008. He didn’t do anything special or spectacular, he just commanded his fastball in the strike zone and kept hitters off balance with his breaking pitches. He got ahead early and often and made the White Sox hitters try to adapt to him, which has been futile for most teams that face Lee in 2008.

It may not have been 1948 for the Indians, or 1964 for Cleveland Browns fans, but on Labor Day 2008 Cliff Lee made 1974 a footnote in Cleveland history. The Indians have their first 20 game winner since then. Lee has been one of the few bright spots in this disappointing 2008 for the Indians and give Tribe fans a reason to watch.

So what’s left for a Tribe fan to watch now… Why to see Cliff Lee go for 25, of course!

Cleveland Browns 2008 Final Record Prediction

So it’s that time again. The best time of the year… football season. With the NCAA starting up this past weekend and the NFL kicking off 2008 on Thursday, anticipation has not been higher in Cleveland since the late 1980s. It is a season full of expectations for the Browns but they do have a daunting task ahead of them.

The have on of the league’s toughest schedules as they must face the potent AFC South and NFC East. Both divisions produced three play-off teams in 2007. They also must face their nemesis, the hated Pittsburgh Steelers, on the shores of Lake Erie in primetime Week 2 and again in Week 17 in Pittsburgh.

This following a lackluster pre-season where they looked disjointed and unorganized and they first teams rarely played together as a complete unit. Injuries, although minor, managed to disrupt any sort of flow as Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards and Jamal Lewis all missed significant time in camp.

The defense has looked just like last year’s version, giving away rushing yards like they were candy, failing to get any sort of pass rushing and generating no turnover whatsoever. Even special teams ace Josh Cribbs has come down with the dreaded “high ankle sprain” and his status for the start of the season remains in doubt.

With all that said, how will the 2008 season play out? Here’s how I see it going:

Week 1 Dallas
The Cowboys, not the Steelers, were the Browns chief rivals prior to the merger in 1970 so it’s only fitting they open up the campaign in 2008 with both teams having high expectations. I think the game will be closer than many will think but I see the Cowboys taking advantage of the Browns’ sluggish pre-season and weak secondary for a Dallas win. LOSS

Week 2 Pittsburgh
This is where the season hinges. Week 2. Versus the Appalachian Inbred. At night. On National TV. The Browns have narrowed the talent gap with the Steelers but the mental hurdle remains. Can they believe they can beat the Steelers and finally make a statement? I think they can, but I don’t know… ???

Week 3 at Baltimore
The Browns have always matched-up well against the Ravens. I see the Ravens still not having their QB situation sorted out and the aging Ravens defense can be made vulnerable. The Browns will be able to score, the Ratbirds will not. WIN

Week 4 at Cincinnati
Mike Brown continues to tarnish his father’s great legacy. I see the Browns amped up for revenge on their misstep in The ‘Nati in 2007 in another high octane offensive shoot-out. WIN

Week 5 BYE

Week 6 New York Giants
Monday night, after a bye versus the defending Super Bowl Champs. The Browns caved under the bright lights in exhibition season but I don’t see them doing that again. It will be closer than pre-season but I see the Giants out-muscling the Browns for the win. LOSS

Week 7 at Washington
The Skins have a new coach, new offense and play in a rough division. The Browns have dominated the series with Washington to the tune of 33-9-1, including 16-36-1 in DC. I see that trend continuing. WIN

Week 8 at Jacksonville
A carbon copy of the Giants game. I don’t see the Browns folding but the Jaguars are just more physical up front and will control the tempo of the game. LOSS

Week 9 Baltimore
The only thing that may change for the Ravens is the QB but not the final result. WIN

Week 10 Denver
A Thursday night home game after a Sunday home game. Tough but not insurmountable. The Broncos have been mediocre since the retirement of John Elway and Terrell Davis and I do not see them being a better team than the Browns. WIN

Week 11 at Buffalo
Buffalo is a tough place to play, but this game falls in mid-November and not late December. The Bills are much improved but I don’t see them pulling out this game. WIN

Week 12 Houston
A third straight improved team, a third straight team the Browns are better than. I see this game playing out just like it did in 2007, the Browns being comfortably ahead all game but the Texans hanging around until the end. WIN

Week 13 Indianapolis
A true litmus test for the Browns. Similar to the Patriots game last year when the Browns hung tough, but New England was just better. The Browns have a little ship on their should since the Colts tanked Week 17 last year, but right now, Indianapolis is just better. LOSS

Week 14 at Tennessee
The old, Klingon proverb goes, “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” They may not be able to get revenge on the Colts but I see them taking down the Titans. Vince Young will not be able to exploit the Browns secondary and I see Kamerion Wimbley or Sean Jones spying him all game. WIN

Week 15 at Philadelphia
The Browns have dominated the series going 31-14-1 versus the Eagles but haven’t won since they were reincarnated in 1999. Philly is a difficult place to play and I see Donovan McNabb haunting us for taking Tim Couch instead of him. LOSS

Week 16 Cincinnati
Week 16 in 2007, the Browns blew their play-off chances by laying a stink pickle in Cincinnati. I see some week 16 redemption in 2008. WIN

Week 17 at Pittsburgh
No mater how Week 2 plays out, Pittsburgh is a tough place to play and always has been for the Browns. They haven’t won there since 2003 and haven’t swept the season series since 1988. LOSS

So that puts the Browns at 9-7 or 10-6 depending on the outcome of Week 2 versus the Steelers. I see the Steelers at 9-7 or 8-8 depending on the outcome of that same game due to them having to play New England and San Diego instead of Buffalo and Denver.

If the Steelers win Week 2, I see the Browns and Steelers both finishing 9-7 with the Steelers winning both head to head contests and therefore the tiebreaker. If the Browns win Week 2, I see them finishing at 10-6 and finally claiming their first division title since 1989.

To quote the Nature Boy Ric Flair, “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man,” and until the Browns can knock off the Steelers they will be regulated to second citizen status in the AFC North. Browns fans think they can do it, but it’s up to the Browns themselves to prove it to us, the league, the media and most importantly, themselves.

Enigmatic Indians Swept Away by Lowly Mariners

Everything was set up perfectly for the Indians to extend their ten game winning streak. They were coming home after back to back sweeps of the Rangers and Tigers in Texas and Detroit, respectively. This followed taking two of three from the powerful Los Angeles Angels and sweeping the Kansas City Royals at home.

They were getting arguably their best player, Victor Martinez, back in the line-up after a couple of months on the disabled list. The ten game winning streak had pulled them to within two games of .500 at 65-67 and they looked crisp, focused and hungry in each game.

But they ran into the buzz saw that is the Seattle Rangers, the team with the worst record in the American League and the Mariners swept them out of Progressive Field in a three game series. Sadly, it was some of the same disturbing trends that got the Tribe into the sub-.500 hole that got them swept by the American League’s bottom dwellers.

During their ten game tear, the Indians scored 73 runs (7.3 runs/game) and consistently came through in the clutch and with runners in scoring position. In the three game series with the Mariners they scored only nine runs total and hit an abysmal 3 for 29 as a team with runners in scoring position. In all three games, the Tribe was able to getting runners in scoring position with less than two out late in the game, but were unable to cash in enough to make it count.

In game one Friday, the failure to come through in the clutch wasted four scoreless innings by the Indians’ bullpen who picked up started Jeremy Sowers who existed after five innings of three run ball. The motley crew of Juan Rincon, Brendan Donnelly and Eddie Mujica held Seattle to one hit and one walk over those four innings.

On Saturday, they wasted a brilliant seven inning, seven hit, one run performance by starter Anthony Reyes who looks like the change of scenery from Saint Louis to Cleveland has done him well. The Tribe did rally in the 9th against Mariners’ closer J. J Putz but closer Jensen Lewis was unable to close the door in the 10th inning and the Tribe bats could not come through in the home half of the tenth.

Sunday, they were able to overcome a poor start by Zach Jackson with their Jeckel and Hyde bullpen one again putting up four scoreless frames on the board. This time it was Masa Kobayashi, Rincon and Rafael Perez performing the deed, allowing only one walk and no hits. But once again the offense could not come through late and the Tribe was left to wonder what happened.

That is the beauty of baseball. You never know what is going to happen. With the Indians riding high you never would have given the Mariners a chance to win the series let alone sweep it, but they did. In this enigmatic 2008 for Cleveland, you just have to shake your head and laugh.

It doesn’t diminish the fact that this club; after jettisoning CC Sabathia, Casey Blake, Paul Byrd and countless other veterans; was able to pull off ten in a row against teams not named the Seattle Mariners. Not many contending teams can pull off that long of a streak in a season.

So they need to regroup as the AL Central Division leading Chicago White Sox come into town on Labor Day. But the day after former Indian Jim Thome hit his 536th home run to tie Mickey Mantle for 14th all-time, it is the Indians who are looking for history as Cliff Lee guns for his 20th victory of the season.

It will be Lee's first attempt to win his 20th game, something no Indian has done since Gaylord Perry in 1974. He will have to do it against one of the American League’s most powerful line-ups as the White Sox lead all of Major League Baseball in home runs.

After being swept by the worst team in the American League who knows what will happen to the Indians today? Hopefully for the Progressive Field faithful and Cliff Lee, it will be back to the Indians of the ten game winning streak and not the Indians of the last three games.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Browns Roster Moves Call Savage’s Draft Record into Question

By cutting the ties with failed draft choices Travis Wilson and David McMillan this weekend the Cleveland Browns acknowledged that they made some mistakes on draft day. You have to commend that as many teams continually carry players who they drafted and release superior players that are undrafted or free agents.

However, it does call into question Browns’ General Manager Phil Savage’s track record in the later rounds of the NFL draft since his hiring after the 2004 season.

Savage’s third through seventh round selections from 2005-2007 are as follows:

3rd Round – QB Charlie Frye – Traded after 1 game in 2007. 3rd string QB with Seattle
4th Round – DB Antonio Perkins – Released in mid-2006. Out of football.
5th Round – LB David McMillan – Released Saturday.
6th Round – LB Nick Speegle – Released after 2006. Out of football.
6th Round – DL Andrew Hoffman – Released after 1 year on the Practice Squad.
7th Round – OL Jonathan Dunn – Released after 1 year on Injured Reserve.

3rd Round – WR Travis Wilson – Released Saturday.
4th Round – LB Leon Williams – Back-up LB.
4th Round – OL Isaac Sowells – Back-up OL. Plated in 1 game in 2 years.
5th Round – RB Jerome Harrison – Back-up RB.
5th Round – DB DeMario Minter – Released by Arizona Saturday.
6th Round – FB Lawrence Vickers – Starting FB.
6th Round – DT Babatunde Oshinowo – Released by Washington Saturday.
7th Round – DB Justin Hamilton – Released in 2006. Back-up DB with Washington.

5th Round – DB Brandon McDonald – Starting CB.
6th Round – DL Melila Purcell – Released Saturday.
7th Round – DL Chase Pittman – Released Saturday.
7th Round – WR Syndric Steptoe – Back-up WR after 1 year on Practice Squad.

Now the NFL is a crap shoot, even in Round 1, but the great GMs earn their keep by finding those gems in the later rounds of the NFL Draft. Phil Savage may have found some gems in Vickers and McDonald but it’s hard to find and other studs on his draft list.

In the NFL, with its brilliance promoting parity and a level playing field, finding these late round sleepers not only gives you depth but also money underneath the salary cap to sign those critical free agents in the off-season.

One can not argue that Phil Savage has done a helluva job in turning around the Browns’ direction, or lack there of, after taking over in 2004. But one can also not argue that if some of these late round selections would have panned out, especially in the defensive backfield and linebacking core, that the Browns may be in a more enviable position heading into 2008 than they are now.