Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Browns Table: A Jacksonville Victory and Ratbird Revenge

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 and Eric Lawhead and Michael Taylor for their contributions this week.

The guys and gals give their thoughts on the Kellen Winslow Saga, the Browns win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, an off-season acquisition and the upcoming showdown with the Baltimore Ravens.

Without further ado, let’s talk Browns football…

The Kellen Winslow situation... What are your thoughts? Who do you feel is to blame? Where do he and the Browns go from here?

The Coop:
When the story first broke, I was one of the few people defending the organization. Winslow's comments to the media were completely inappropriate. Regardless of whether Winslow was right in expressing his concern for problems with staph, publicly criticizing the organization is never the right thing to do. (Incidentally, Winslow later stated that his illness had nothing to do with football.) I applauded Phil Savage for his swift decision to suspend Winslow, based solely on his comments.

Now that all of the details have come out and we know that a PR-staffer told Winslow to keep the staph infection quiet, my anger towards Winslow has softened. In light of the obvious error in judgment by the PR group, I was very impressed to hear that Randy Lerner and the rest of the organization took the heat and rescinded the suspension. This was the best resolution to a messy situation, and I do believe Winslow when he says he's "ready to move on."

With the Browns 2-0 without him, Kellen Winslow clearly needs the Browns more than they need him. It will be interesting to see how his contract situation is handled, especially given that he and Braylon Edwards will become free agents at around the same time. I've always thought the Browns would sign Winslow and let Edwards walk, but now that might not be option given the hurt feelings that will probably still linger for years to come.

Eric Lawhead:
I believe that Winslow was wrong for "airing the Browns dirty laundry." I do feel that the Browns were to blame in the feelings that Winslow felt in regards to how the Browns management handled the situation. I would expect my boss, like me or not, to call or visit me in the hospital. The Browns and Winslow need to really sit down, some how without the virus, Winslow calls an agent, and really figure out what is going to happen. The Browns have the upper hand here, they still sign the paychecks. If Winslow wants the big money he feels he deserves with either the Browns or any other team for that matter, he needs to still play and produce and if he keeps getting suspended for running his mouth that isn't going to happen.

Jeff Smirnoff:
The Browns organization as a whole and both parties themselves handled the situation horrible. The Browns come off badly because it appears that they were trying to hide the staph issue when it has been common knowledge for some time that they have had a recent history of infections. If someone in fact asked Kellen Winslow to keep it undisclosed, that is totally unprofessional.

Phil Savage did an awful job of addressing the issue by coming off as defensive and abrasive. He hung Romeo Crennel out to dry by not having a press conference and overreacted by handing out a punishment that did not fit the crime. He deserve a fine but not a game suspension.

Winslow was unprofessional in not attempting to have a sit down with either Savage or Crennel in house. Instead he chose to publicly bash the organization, its leaders and the team (indirectly). He should know by now that this is a business and that no matter how good you are most teams will not baby you.

Michael Taylor:
My mind has been spinning over this whole mess. The more I thought about it, I am madder at the Browns and how they can let this problem grow into such a distraction. I mean, the man had staph and because it has been rampant in the Browns locker room they want to conceal the problem? I understand that Winslow should have came out with this in a better manner, but at the heart of it, I am concerned for why it had to be concealed in the first place. This is a growing problem. Move on, play football, and find a way to fix it.

The Browns topped the Jaguars, 23-17, despite being outgained in almost every offensive category. What did you think of the offense's performance?

The Coop:
They managed the game, and sometimes that's all you need. They played the field position game pretty well. Having no turnovers and no offensive penalties also usually makes up for being outgained by the other team. Anderson looked comfortable in the pocket, distributed the ball well using many different receivers, and Jamal Lewis continues to be a beast.

Still, the Browns need to develop a killer-instinct on offense. Settling for two field goals in the 4th quarter when they had a fantastic opportunity to finish off Jacksonville is good but not great, and they will not get away with this most weeks. Both the play-calling and play-making need to have a sense of urgency that says, "This game is over." Every game they win going forward is going to be a tight one. They've got to learn to put teams away.

Eric Lawhead:
They were playing a very tough defense, and we all knew that going into the game. No matter what the stats are, a win is a win. At the beginning of the season, I had this and the Giants game as losses. It's a great win, against a tough team. Maybe this will spring board them going forward.

Jeff Smirnoff:
The Jaguars don’t look to be as good as they were last year but they are still a quality ball club. Any road win in the NFL is a good one. The offense sputtered a bit in the second half but they were in a groove and efficient in the first half and were able to hold on for a win. A very good effort, but it would have been nice for them to put the game away earlier when they had the chance.

Michael Taylor:
I unfortunately was unable to see the game due to a family function, so I cannot comment on the efficiency of the offense. Looking at the stats, it looks like DA again had some problems with his accuracy, but he did not turn the ball over giving the Browns a chance to win a tight game. I still would like to see J-Lew get a few more carries a game.

It seems like every time the Browns face a big game with expectations they come out flat and scattered. It seems when they have nothing to lose they come out and just play good football. What do you attribute this to?

The Coop:
They managed the game, and sometimes that's all you need. They played the field position game pretty well. Having no turnovers and no offensive penalties also usually makes up for being outgained by the other team. Anderson looked comfortable in the pocket, distributed the ball well using many different receivers, and Jamal Lewis continues to be a beast.

Still, the Browns need to develop a killer-instinct on offense. Settling for two field goals in the 4th quarter when they had a fantastic opportunity to finish off Jacksonville is good but not great, and they will not get away with this most weeks. Both the play-calling and play-making need to have a sense of urgency that says, "This game is over." Every game they win going forward is going to be a tight one. They've got to learn to put teams away.

Eric Lawhead:
It's just like most people. When your back is against the wall and everything is stressing you out, a majority of the time you will falter. They need to be able to come into games loose and with little to think about. They weren't picked to win that game nor the Giants game. They played loose and took them down.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Coaching. This is the big issue that I have with the Browns. They have a decent amount of talent. It is the coaching staff’s job to have this team ready to place from the opening kick every week. The defense has overachieved (kudos Mel Tucker) and the offense has been impacted by injuries but every NFL team goes through that. The Browns have enough talent to hang with any team in the league but it is the coaching staff’s failure to have them ready to go each week.

Michael Taylor:
I think that they have played pretty good football since the bye week, even in Washington. That was one of those games that happen, and they played a very tough team. They have rallied after that embarrassing start to the season to prove that they are still competitive. The test will now be if they can bring this momentum home against Baltimore and win to get back to .500.

Shaun Rogers had 9 tackles (all solo), a sack and a blocked field goal versus Jacksonville. He came from Detroit with some baggage and was rewarded with a nice new contract. What are your thoughts on his play to date?

The Coop:
The guy is a monster and a difference-maker. Phil Savage needs to be commended on this acquisition. People thought the Browns were giving up too much to get him, but Leigh Bodden has done nothing for Detroit and he's playing far-better than you could expect a third-round draft pick to play as a rookie (which is also what they gave up to get him).

I don't think it's a reach to say that he is the team's defensive MVP so far this year. He is a major reason why the defense has played better than any of us expected. Sure, they give up big yards, but he's only one (okay, more than one) man, and he makes big plays when the Browns need them. He brings a phyiscality and nastiness that the Browns just haven't had.

And, with his play and good attitude, he has completely erased any concerns about that "baggage." He deserves a lot of credit as professional, but I believe the organization and specifically Romeo Crennel deserve credit for getting 110% out of him every week.

Eric Lawhead:
He's a big man. He does help clog some holes on the defensive line. It's taken some getting used to for him early, but he will continue to grow and help us out a lot. I expect him to make big plays down the stretch and carry that D-Line.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Exceeding expectations. Yes, he is a past Pro Bowl selection but he has been playing without Robarie Smith and Shaun Smith. Corey Williams is still picking up the system. He is doing it with Louis Leonard and Santonio Thomas playing along side with him. Maybe just getting out of Detroit, which is one of the few franchises that has been worth than the Browns, gave him a new lease on his career. He has been motivated and playing hard all season long.

Michael Taylor:
He is a beast! He may be the best acquisition by the Browns since rejoining the league. I can't remember any Brown charging through the line as consistently as he has done.I hated to lose Leigh Bodden, but Rogers is totally worth it.

The Browns screwed the pooch in Baltimore in Week 3. What do they have to do in Week 9 to come out with a win and even their record at 4-4?

The Coop:
Offensively, the Ravens can be thrown on. DA is going to have to step up and make the throws, and the receivers are going to have to catch it. They need to use the pass to set up the run and effectively manage the game. But they must also mix-in some gadgets and wrinkles that keeps Baltimore off balance. I want to see Joshua Cribbs very active in the shotgun, under center, on reverses, whatever, many times. Chud has got to open up the playbook once again.

Defensively, they've got to pressure Flacco. Baltimore's running backs are good, but they are nothing like the RBs the Browns have faced over the last 3 weeks (Brandon Jacobs, Clinton Portis, Fred Taylor / Maurice Jones-Drew). They can give up yards in the run game if they constantly harass Flacco, bringing him to the ground and giving him no throwing lanes.

But more than anything else, they need to realize that even with all the adversity they've faced - injuries, inconsistency, people calling for the head coach to be fired, the QB to be benched - the prospects for this season significantly change with a win. At 4-4 they will be tied with the Ravens for 2nd in the AFC North, potentially just 1 game behind Pittsburgh with a Steeler loss at Washington this Monday.

Baltimore is not a better team than the Browns. The Browns need to go out, truly KNOW that they are going to win, and refuse to lose, period.

Eric Lawhead:
Stop the run and hit Joe Flacco. They don't need 50 sacks. They just need to knock him down, or put a hand on his chest every time he drops back to throw. Make him know they are always around him. Make him feel uncomfortable in the pocket and try and get him to make some mistakes. Willis McGahee could gain some yards but they need to limit his yards. They should be fine. After this win, I've got great confidence in the defense and the Anderson, yes Anderson, led offense is starting to come around. Browns 24-10.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Stop the Ravens’ three headed monster on the ground of Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and Le’Ron McClain and make Joe Flacco beat them. Flacco has been better than average for a rookie but his play on the road has been much worse than at home. Baltimore passed way too much in the first meeting and they won’t make that mistake again unless the Browns force their hand.

On offense they have to play their game. Creative play-calling with some shots down the field is key. It is tough to run against the Ravens but Jamal Lewis is always motivated against his former team. If the Browns can get a decent lead at some point it will be difficult for the Ravens to keep pace with them.

Michael Taylor:
I believe that if they come back out with the passion and desire in their eyes that they have of late, that the Browns will win this game. Baltimore as we all know has a stout defense, but the Browns' 'D' has improved since the last meeting and I believe that a big day by Jamal Lewis is in order against that tough run defense. Lewis had a good game averaging 4.7 yards per carry the first meeting, but only had 14 attempts as the Browns had to pass coming from behind.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Browns Jack Jaguars, 23-17

If you were going to use the movie “Major League” to paraphrase the Cleveland Browns last two performances last week versus the Washington Redskins would have used the quote, “These guys ain’t too (expletive) good.” But with the way the Browns’ season has been going, is it any surprise that this week versus the Jacksonville Jaguars, “Who the (expletive) are these guys,” was more fitting as the Browns looked like a major league football team in defeating the Jaguars, 23-17, to improve to 3-4.

It was interesting to see how the game would unfold after the tumultuous week for the Browns as they dealt with the Kellen Winslow saga that unfolded after last week’s loss. Winslow ripped the team for asking him to not disclose that he had a staph infection that occurred during the Browns’ bye week and kept him out of the Week Six game versus the New York Giants.

The Browns suspended him without pay for a week for conduct detrimental to the team, saying that they were only following Winslow’s request for privacy and that he unprofessionally went out of his way to bad mouth the organization.

However, late Saturday night the Browns’ lifted the suspension, but enforced a $25,000 fine for Winslow’s comments, when it was discovered that someone in the Browns’ Public Relation Department has texted him asking to not disclose his illness. But with Winslow in San Diego and unable to practice all week, he was inactive for Sunday’s game.

On their first series, it appeared that the Browns that have been around in most of their losses this season were making another appearance. On 3rd and 1 from their own 34, Derek Anderson ran into Lawrence Vickers while handing off and Vickers was stuffed for no gain and the Browns were forced to punt.

Jacksonville faced a 3rd and 9 from their own 12 yard line on their first series on the game and an old friend reared his ugly head. Dennis Northcutt, former Brown and noted scissors-hands, converted the third down on a 13 yard catch out of the hand from David Garrard. The Jaguars converted another third down when Maurice Jones-Drew swept the right side for three yards on 3rd and 2. But the Browns’ defense stiffened and forced a Jacksonville punt.

With the ball back in their hands, the Browns offense awoke as Anderson took control and drove the team down the field. The Browns got creative as Vickers rumbled with a flat pass for 13 yards. Jamal Lewis then burst up the middle for 19 yards and Vickers followed up with a 10 yard run of his own. Anderson then hit Braylon Edwards and Steve Heiden, starting for Winslow, to put the ball on the Jaguars’ 5 yard line. On third and goal, Anderson found Donte Stallworth in the endzone for a 7-0 advantage.

Jacksonville answered on the very next series behind the legs of Garrard and the hands of Matt Jones. On a 3rd and 10 from the Jaguars’ 37, Garrard busted the pocket for a 24 yard scramble after D’Qwell Jackson whiffed on an easy sack. This after Garrard had already converted a 3rd and 2 earlier in the drive. Jones caught two passes on the drive and would end the afternoon with eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown. That put Garrard into position to find Reggie Williams in the endzone for the tying score after a 13 play, 74 yard drive.

But the Browns would not roll over and showed some intestinal fortitude. After being stopped short on 3rd and 2 from their own 46, the Browns faced a 4th and 1. Romeo Crennel roll the dice and won, as Derek Anderson faked an hand off and rolled right and found a wide open Heiden. Heiden rumbled 51 yards down to the Jaguars’ 2 yard line when Jamal Lewis rammed the ball in for a touchdown and 14-7 Browns lead.

The Jaguars faced a 4th and 1 of their on the ensuing possession, but Shaun Rogers (9 tackles, all solo, 1 sack, one blocked FG) stuffed Greg Jones and the Browns took possession at their own 37. Anderson hit Edwards for 43 yards but the drive stalled and Cleveland had to settle for a Phil Dawson 32 yard field goal and a 17-7 halftime lead.

Garrard and the Jaguars wasted no time in the second half as they passed the ball effortlessly on the opening drive. Williams, Matt Jones and Mercedes Lewis all got in on the action as Jacksovilee drove to the Brwons’ 10 when they faced a 4th and 1. Jones-Drew took the pitch swept right and converted as he outran the Cleveland Defense. Garrard hit Jones from eight yards out on the next play to cut the margin to 17-14.

Jacksonville looked poised to tie the score at 17 when Josh Scobee trotted out to attempt a 38 yard chip shot field goal. But Rodgers busted through the line, blocked the kick and recovered the football keep the Browns lead at 3. But it was short-lived as on their next possession, Scobee connected on a 53 yard field goal to knot the game at 17.

The Browns then pounded Jamal Lewis four straight times for two first downs but faced a 3rd and 7 from their own 46 yard line. Anderson hit Syndric Steptoe on a perfectly timed crossing pattern and it was off to the races. With the help of a Braylon Edwards block, Steptoe jetted 53 yard down the sideline only to be forced out at the 1 by Reggie Nelson.

It looked as if the Browns’ lost a golden opportunity as they were unable to score a touchdown and had to settle for a 20 yard Dawson field goal and a 20-17 lead. But on the ensuing kickoff, rookie Beau Bell forced Brian Witherspoon to fumble and Josh Cribbs recovered on the Jacksonville 25. But the Browns were unable to gain a single yard on the drive. Dawson added a 42 yard field goal to push the lead to six, 23-17.

Both teams then traded three and outs before the Jaguars took over at their own 30 with 1:51 remaining with no timeouts. Garrard hit Northcutt for 12 yards but Browns’ safety Brodney Pool answered with a sack on the next play. Jacksonville converted a 4th and 3 with 27 seconds left but was pushed back 15 yards after a late hit by tackle Tony Pashos.

Matt Jones hauled it a pass in the middle of the field in Jaguars territory but broke a tackle and ran 35 yards, dragging two Cleveland defenders with him, and got out of bounds at the Browns’ 26 with 16 seconds left. Garrard misfired to Jerry Porter before lofting a pass to Matt Jones in the back, left corner of the endzone.

It bounced off his hands twice and Nick Sorenson came in to apply the hit and the ball bounced off his helmet incomplete with one second remaining. One second and one incompletion later, the Browns found themselves sitting at 3-4 with a 23-17 victory.

The Browns won for the third time in the last four games and did not commit a turnover for the third consecutive game. Add to that the fact that they only had one accepted penalty for 15 yards and held Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor to 29 and 24 yards, respectively, and there were a lot of positives to take from the game.

Jacksonville outgained the Browns, 380 to 327, and also held the ball for 35:05 to the Browns’ 24:55. The Jaguars ran 71 plays to the Browns 51, had 23 first downs to the Browns’ 15 and they converted 11-20 third downs compared to 3-12 for Cleveland. But in the end, the Browns led 23-17 on the scoreboard and that is all that matters.

The Browns head home for a stretch of four homes games in five weeks. The start that off with a rematch with the hated Baltimore Ravens (4-3), fresh off a 29-10 thumping of the hapless Oakland Raiders. It is a prime opportunity for Cleveland to make up some ground in the AFC North as the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) fell to the New York Giants today.

The Ravens beat the Browns, 28-10, in Week Three at Baltimore and the Browns would love nothing more than to even the score. But with the way this Browns season continues to unfold, who knows what to expect next Sunday on the shore of Lake Erie.