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.