Sunday, September 20, 2009

Browns Bomb in Denver, 27-6

It is often said that things sometimes have to get worse before they can get better. For the Cleveland Browns they better hope for teo things. One, that the proverb is true and two, that they can’t get much worse then their performance in a 27-6 loss to the Denver Broncos.

In a game that could have been a lot worse if not for two Matt Prater missed field goals, the Browns once again kept it close in the first half only to be manhandled after the second half kickoff. Failing to take advantage of opportunities presented by the Broncos and presenting more than a few to Denver was the story of the game for the beaten and battered Browns.

Cleveland got a gift on the opening kickoff when Peyton Hillis fumbled but was unable to convert the turnover into a touchdown and had to settle for a Phil Dawson field goal. The Broncos, on the other hand, were able to convert an Alex Mack botched snap into a touchdown pass form Kyle Orton to Tony Sheffler.

If the Browns play calling could be described in two words in would be boring and horrible. Once again deciding not to stretch the field, Eric Mangini and Brian Daboll instead attempted utilize a short passing attack. This was rendered ineffective by Brady Quinn’s inefficiencies and the inability of the offensive line to give Quinn time to throw.

After looking decent in two starts in 2008, Quinn has looked overmatched and unable to make plays. Today was no different as he seemed to have little or no cohesiveness with his receivers all game. Tackle John St. Clair did not help things as he yielded four sacks to Denver’s Elvis Dumerville, which set a Broncos franchise record. Once again another game without an offensive touchdown, which makes it seven out of eight games for the Browns.

The Browns defensive performance mirrored than of the first game versus Minnesota. They managed to keep the team in the game in the first half, helped by Prater’s two missed kicks, but derailed as the second half wore on. Whether it is just being worn down by the opposing offense, not having enough playmakers on that side of the ball or just losing faith that the offense will keep you in a game the Browns defense can not seem to put a complete game together.

So it’s 0-2 for the Browns with a trip to Baltimore to face the rugged Ravens and a home tilt versus the much improved Bengals staring them right in the face. If the Browns don’t find some sort of consistency, or more importantly some sort of team identity, in a hurry they are look at an even monger and more brutal season than most predicted.

For the Browns sake they better hope that proverb exist for a reason. Because it will be very difficult to get much worse than they have been in the first two games of the season. And it will be that much more difficult to watch for the Cleveland faithful.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Browns Table: Season Preview

We are back and better than ever!

Welcome to the 2009 edition of The Browns Table, a season-long look at the Cleveland Browns from views of the Browns fans here on Bleacher Report.

We have a special season preview edition of The Browns Table this week. Taking a look at the Browns no longer secret QB situation (Damn you, TO!) along with what we expect on both sides of the ball and where we thing the Browns will finish in 2009.

Thanks to fellow Browns fan Samantha Bunten for her contributions this week and throughout the course of the 2009 NFL season. Anyone willing to participate can contact me by leaving a note on my profile.

As Adam Carolla would say, “Let’s get it on” and let’s talk some Browns football…

Brady Quinn was finally named the starting QB for the Browns. What do you think of the decision and what does he need to do in 2009 to show you he is the QB of the future for the team?

Samantha Bunten:
Quinn was the obvious and correct choice. I agree with the decision, but I don't truly believe he is the quarterback of the future for this team. Quinn will be better than Anderson, but that doesn't mean he will be good. I haven't seen anything out of Quinn that convinces me he can lead this franchise anywhere.

However, nothing would make me happier than to have Quinn prove me wrong. He has the swagger and the mobility to command the position, but he needs to prove he has the ability to make adjustments and to truly be the team's field general, not just the guy taking the snaps.

And speaking of snaps, Mangini hasn't done Quinn any favors by failing to name a starting center for the opener. A relatively inexperienced quarterback needs to establish as much consistency and routine for himself as possible, and that's tough when you don't even know who's going to feed you the ball in a couple of days.

Jeff Smirnoff:
It was the only sane decision. Anyone who didn’t think he was the guy from Day 1 was fooling themselves. Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith, Heath Shuler and many other first round choices got 1-2 seasons to prove themselves (or disprove themselves, I should say) while Quinn has had 3 games, one with a broken finger. The Browns need to know if he is their franchise QB for years to come or if they need to address the position in the off season. Derek Anderson has had a chance to be evaluated and we know his strength and weaknesses and they were still evident in preseason. I think he is a great back-up QB and can still be a starter in the NFL but 2009 is about evaluating Quinn.

The offense failed to score a touchdown in the final six games of 2008. What do you expect from them in 2009 and what position has you most concerned on that side of the ball?

Samantha Bunten:
The offense can only get better, and get better they will. The question is how much better. Feature back Jamal Lewis will be a workhorse as always, but he's well past his prime. I'm excited to see what James Davis can do to bring some youth and energy to the position.

The receiving corps has a huge upside...if any of them can ever hang onto the ball. Robiskie, like Edwards, worries too much about where the hit is coming from to focus on the ball, and Massaquoi spent his whole senior season at Georgia with a mean case of the dropsies. If he can improve upon that though, he looks to be solid at the position and is a huge threat after catching a ball.

What concerns me most...just one position? Ok, ok. I'll go with tight end. The Browns have no stand-outs at this position. Heiden is solid, but not a number one guy. Beyond that, the position is staffed only with mediocre talent like Robert Royal and Martin Rucker.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Consistency. With Quinn at the helm, I expect a lot more sustained drives and a professional looking offense. It will be interesting to see how Brian Daboll works as a first time coordinator. I think the line will gel over the course of the year with Alex Mack and Rex Hadnot and that will help Quinn’s growth. Braylon Edwards and Josh Cribbs can make some plays in the passing game with Mike Furrey being a poor man’s Joe Jurevicius. If Daboll can find a way to work Jamal Lewis, Jerome Harrison and James Davis into the backfield to take the pressure off Quinn it will help the cause.

On defense, there a lot of seasoned veterans and young up and comers but not a lot of impact players. What area of the defense scares you the most heading into 2009?

Samantha Bunten:
Two things about the defense really scare me. The first is that the perpetually troublesome position for the Browns, OLB, is still looking like it will be just as much of an Achilles' heel for the team as it has been in years past.

Wimbley is a great guy and a great teammate, and there is still a chance he can be the guy we thought he would be after watching his rookie season in 2006, but for the most part he underachieves on the field in terms of making sacks and applying pressure. I'm not sold on David Bowens, one of many of Mangini's former "Pet Jets", but youngster Alex Hall may help the pass rush.

The second thing about the defense that scares me is the lack of depth at safety. I like Brodney Poole a lot, and Abram Elam is, for better or for worse, a very similar player to Sean Jones, the guy he will be replacing. The problem is that beyond those two, there's nobody waiting in the wings who I am comfortable sending onto the field on any given Sunday.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Linebacker. The 3-4 defense is all about the front three eating up blockers to allow the linebackers to make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. This requires hard hitting, aggressive ILBs and OLBs who can generate a pass rush. The Browns have no such playmakers at linebacker currently. Maybe Alex Hall can develop. Maybe Kamerion Wimbley can return to his rookie form but those are maybes. D’Qwell Jackson is a solid second ILB but not an impact ILB the Browns sorely need. Until they address the LB core the team’s growth will be stunted.

Which player on the defensive side of the ball most needs to "make the leap" to help the Browns evolve into a competent defense?

Samantha Bunten:
D'Qwell Jackson is the guy who needs to "make the leap", and for once, the Browns may actually get what they need, as Jackson is capable of doing it. Jackson is already a standout at LILB and should only get better.

He's very accurate and misses blocks well. What he needs to improve on is his aggressive play, from forcing more turnovers to performing better in coverage and adapting to the new 3-4 scheme adopted by the defense this season. Jackson has the athleticism and the mental ability to do what he needs to do to make the leap, and hopefully, this will positively impact for the entire defense.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Abram Elam, no doubt. It would help if Alex Hall could develop into an impact OLB or Kamerion Wimbley would revert back to his rookie form but it all rests on Elam. The Browns have needed a leader and hard hitter in the defensive backfield since Brian Russell was not resigned. The 3-4 is all about impact LBs and a smash mouth safety. There are no impact LBs evident as of today but Elam has shown flashes of being able to take control at safety. If he can fill it, its one less huge hole they don’t need to address in the off-season. If not, someone page Taylor Mays of USC.

The Browns have a number of rookies that have a chance to make an impact. Who do you think steps up and becomes a player this season?

Samantha Bunten:
If Alex Mack can own the Center's position and wrest it away - permanently - from Hank Fraley, he could have a huge impact on helping Brady Quinn's game. Mack struggled in camp, but lined up at Center for the final three pre-season games, indicating that Mangini is considering him for the position as much as Fraley. Mangini has stated that he isn't opposed to playing both, but I think for Quinn's sake, it would be far better to be lined up behind the same guy every week. If Mack steps up, he could be that guy.

Massaquoi, as mentioned above, could be an impact receiver if he can hold onto the ball, particularly in heavy traffic. David Veikune was great at getting to the quarterback in college. If he can duplicate that in the NFL, he could be huge.

Jeff Smirnoff:
Kaluka Maiava on special teams and James Davis on offense. Maiava was in on every tackle on special teams. Rookie WRs hardly ever make a huge impact so Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi are out. David Veikune is adjusting to moving NFL OLB from NCAA DE which will take time. Alex Mack will start but offensive lines take time to gel. Davis has a chance to take advantage of a worn down Jamal Lewis and injury prone Jerome Harrison and become and intricate part of the Browns’ offense. The second year in a row that the Browns’ last draft pick is their best.

OK, call your shot. What record do the Browns finish at in 2009 and why?

Samantha Bunten:
I'll say the Browns finish at 5-11, but will be better than their record indicates. The schedule-makers didn't do the Browns any favors this year, just as being in the tough AFC North hurts them by forcing them to play a quarter of their schedule against the likes of Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Their weakest opponents, like Kansas City and Denver, are unfortunately road games. The Browns are going to have to fight hard for every victory this season. Let's hope they're up to the challenge

Jeff Smirnoff:
Until I actually see the Browns punch the Appalachian Inbred and Ratbirds back when they get punched themselves I can not pick them to beat their two historic rivals. Throw in the Bengals being improved if Carson Palmer is healthy and I don’t see more than one win in the division. I see them splitting the other 10 games for a 6-10 record. I think the offense begin to gel under Quinn with the O line and rookies developing but the defense will hold them back until they get playmakers at safety and linebacker. Too many good QBs on the schedule to exploit the defense.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Browns' 2009 Can Not Be Judged by Wins Alone

With the Cavaliers falling short in the NBA play-offs and the Indians’ reverting back to their mid-1980s ineptitude, Cleveland fans are starved for some winning. With the NFL about to kick-off 2009, the Browns don’t look like they are going to change that trend anytime soon but when it comes to this season the Browns can not be judged by their record.

Lacking an identity from the top down since their reincarnations, the Browns’ have been mismanaged by three separate regimes since the Lerner Family was awarded the franchise in 1999. Eric Mangini is the latest to take a chance at rebuilding the once proud franchise after three up an down years at the helm of the New York Jets.

What Mangini lacks in personality and forthrightness he makes up with attention to detail and accountability. The latter is something that has been missing in Cleveland for a long time. While Mangini may or may not be able to generate a wining record in his first year along the shores of Lake Erie how he builds and constructs the team is of much more importance.

Since their return, the Browns have not just played bad football. At times, it would be hard to classify the product on the field as professional football. If Mangini can make the Browns look like a professional football team for 16 weeks, it would be a giant step in the right direction.

Minimal penalties, competent games plans and putting players in a position to succeed are things that have not been seen on the North Coast for the last ten years. These things along with crisp execution and motivation need to be laid as the foundation to establish a consistent winning franchise in the NFL.

While establishing this foundation is key, the wins will not follow quickly in 2009 as the Browns face a serious lack of talent on both sides of the ball. This is why the 2009 campaign can not be judge by the win column. How many players and at what positions are what Mangini’s Browns should be evaluated upon.

ON offense it’s time to turn over the reigns to Brady Quinn and see what he can do. A first round draft pick QB needs at least two seasons to be evaluated properly. Brady Quinn has had 3 games. The likes of Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith and Heath Shuler have gotten more than that.

No offense to Derek Anderson but we have seen what he is and is not capable of. He may be a serviceable NFL QB but the need to evaluate Quinn is paramount to 2009. Because if neither Quinn nor Anderson is the answer then the Browns have a huge hole they need to fill for 2010 and beyond.

The rest of the offense is young and their development must parallel Quinn’s. A number of question need to be answer that will determine the direction of the franchise for 2009 and beyond.

Can James Davis and Jerome Harrison be a formative duo to supplant Jamal Lewis in 201 if not sooner? How will Brian Robiskie and Mohammed Massaquoi develop as compliments to Braylon Edwards? Does Edwards fit into Cleveland’s long term plans and can he realize the enormous potential that rests deep inside.

The Browns also need to develop a cohesive offensive line. The offensive line is always more than the sum of its parts. In 2007, moving Ryan Tucker to guard somehow made The Human Parking Cone, Kevin Shaffer, into a serviceable NFL right tackle. Rookie Alex Mack is thrown into the fire at center with Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach anchoring the left side of the line. How this unit gels will undoubtedly affect the development of the offense as a whole.

The defense is an even bigger cause for concern. Shaun Rogers looks to me the only playmaker on that side of the ball in a defense that desperately needs more. The 3-4 defense demands a hard hitting impact player at ILB. D’Qwell Jackson may be a good second ILB but the Browns will need to find and develop a playmaker.

They also lack the pass rush from the OLB position that Kamerion Wimbley provided in 2006 but has been unable to replicate since. With out that pass rush young CBs like Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald are left on island more often that not for way longer than a DB should have to cover.

The safety position is also a concern as Abe Elam has looked shaky in pre-season and Brodney Pool suffered yet another concussion that may inevitably cut his career short. A rugged, ball-hawking safety needed to lead the defensive backfield and set the tone across the middle. The Browns have no one ready to fill that role.

So they key for the Browns in 2009 is not how many games they win, but how many players they can develop. Because if they can fill a number of personnel voids internally this year it will minimize the areas that they have to focus on in 2010. If they do not have the players in place to fill some of these needs, or they are incapable of developing them, then the Browns face a much steeper mountain than they already do climb back to respectability.

In a city that is starved for sports related success, the words patience, progress and development are not popular ones. But when it comes to the 2009 Cleveland Browns they are the only ones that can be used to accurately gauge if their campaign is a successful one of not, regardless of what the win column says.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Deja Vu Debut

Well that was definitely worth the wait. Ineffective quarterback play. Porous run defense. Inopportune penalties. Bad tackling. Failure to capitalize on opportunities. All were consistent traits of the Romeo Crennel led Cleveland Browns for the past four seasons. Unfortunately for Eric Mangini they were all traits of the Cleveland Browns in his head coaching debut, a 17-0 whitewash at the hands of the Green Bay Packers.

Mangini was brought into Cleveland to instill hard work, discipline and work ethic to a floundering franchise. An actual touchdown would be nice for starters as the Browns failed to find the endzone on offense again after six straight games with the same problem in 2008.

The only difference was that in this game the Browns actually were thought to have two “capable” quarterbacks at their disposal and not placeholders named Ken Dorsey or Bruce Gradkowski. But neither Brady Quinn nor Derek Anderson was able to put points on the board against a Green Bay defense that was using the 3-4 against live competition for the first time.

Quinn started and looked very effective out of the gate hitting crafty veteran Mike Furrey on a couple of third downs during the opening Browns drive to move the chains. Jamal Lewis ran tough as the Browns mixed the run and pass effectively and a well timed end around to Josh Cribbs netted 29 yards, which ws the Browns’ high rushing total for the game.

In the end, Quinn was unable to put any points of the board as he misfired on a third down pass to Cribbs and the Browns has to settle for a 31 yard field goal attempt by Phil Dawson. That kick split the uprights but a holding penalty by Hank Fraley pushed the kick back 10 yards and Dawson pushed the ensuing kick wide right to give the Browns nothing for their troubles.

Anderson fared no better as he led two drives that totaled five official plays. A three and out on the second series of the game and a two play drive that started on the 50 yard line after a Mason Crosby miss of a 60 yard field goal. The three and out was much better than the second series as Anderson was picked after being hit while throwing on the second play of the drive. Even worse, both series took place against the Packers’ second string defense.

Quinn returned on the last series of the half as the Browns ran the two minute drill down 14-0. He used Furrey, Cribbs and new tight end Robert Royal to put the Browns into the Red Zone for a second time. But the results were the same as the Browns were held scoreless once again. Braylon Edwards dropped a touchdown in the back of the endzone on a difficult but catchable ball on Second and Goal. On Third and Goal Quinn scrambled and went back to Edwards but was intercepted by Anthony Smith.

In the end, no light was shed on the quarterback conundrum that the Browns face as Quinn failed to make plays when he needed to and Anderson was not given enough of an opportunity (5 plays) to establish a rhythm. Those hoping for The Brett Ratliff Experience to provide hope were treated to two quarters of skittish play that resulted in three sacks and two interceptions.

Those hanging their hat on the defense being improved under Mangini and Rob Ryan were also left disappointed despite allowing only 17 points. The Green Bay first team offense carved up the Browns’ defense for 14 points in two series with very little effort. In fact, the Green Bay offense held the ball so much in the first half in only allowed Quinn and Anderson two series apiece.

Aaron Rodgers took advantage of Abe Elam on the first drive of the evening. On Third and 10, with the Browns only rushing three, Rodgers surveyed the field with no one open. He scrambled and stepped up in the pocket and that was enough to entice Elam to break towards the line of scrimmage and allow Donald Driver to blow past him. Rodgers hit him in perfect stride for 53 yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

The Packers’ second possession yielded the same result as they methodically marched down the field on a 12 play, 68 yard drive that culminated in a Ryan Grant touchdown and a 14-0 lead. Rodgers picked apart the Browns defense through the air while Grant, Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn ran all over the field on the ground.

In the end the Browns defense conceded 392 yards to the Packers with 230 of them being on the ground. The lack of consistent pressure that was common during the Crennel years was still in place under Ryan and Mangini. Defensive holding penalties and too many men on the field infractions extended both Packers’ touchdown drive in the first quarter.

Ahtyba Rubin and Kendrick Moseley were the only two Browns to stand out on defense providing constant pressure and activity thought the first half. Rookies Coye Fancies and David Veikune were recipients of interceptions from Brian Brohm but those picks only prevented the score from being more lopsided.

In the end the Browns were left with the same questions that seem to have plagued them for the ten years since their reincarnation in 1999. Do they have an NFL quarterback on the roster? Can they effectively stop the run on defense? Do they have impact playmakers on either side of the ball that can change the course of a game? Do they have enough talent on their roster to be competitive in the brutal AFC North?

In fact, the night was symbolized perfectly by the solid, brown pants that they wore for the first time since the pre-season debacle in New York last season. Instead of being ready for prime time, the 2009 Cleveland Browns looked exactly the same as the 2008 model… the same color of their pants. Complete and udder crap.

The Detroit Lions come to the Erie Shore next weekend for pre-season week number two. The Lions went 0-16 last season but anyone who watched the Browns for the last six weeks of 2008 knows that the Lions were not the worst team in the NFL during that time. For Cleveland’s sake they better hope they can change that in the next seven days or its going to be a long 17 weeks in the regular season.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Series Rewind: Indians-Yankees

Most of the time splitting a four game series in New York with the Yankees is cause for celebration for the Cleveland Indians. While the Tribe has many things to be encouraged about after the inaugural series in New Yankee Stadium the thought that they had the chance to christen the new venue by sweeping the Yankees out of their new home has to eat them alive.

The first game of the series featured the last two AL Cy Young award winners in Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia. Unlike some Cleveland fans I wish CC Sabathia no ill will. He resigned here when he was younger and never had any qualms about saying he was going to test the market. That being said, I hope he pitches like crap every time he faces the Tribe.

Both aces labored in and out of trouble all game with Lee somehow scattering seven hits and three walks over six innings while Sabathia surrendered five hits and five walks in only five and third.

After Lee left the game after the sixth with the score tied at one the Indians erupted for nine runs in the top of the seventh off the Yankee bullpen. This included a grand slam by Grady Sizemore and a solo shot my Victor Martinez. The Indians finished off the game with a final score of 10-2.

The struggling Rafael Perez pitched two rough innings, giving up one run while Eric Wedge trotted out Rafael Betancourt to pitch the meaningless ninth. We’ll come back to this point later in Bullpen Management 101.

Game two began what looks to be the rechristening of Yankee Stadium as Coors Field Northeast. The Yankees hit five solos homers en route to a 6-5 victory over the Indians. Anthony Reyes pitched decently but did not make it beyond five innings. Home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi did not help either he or Yankees starter Joba Chamberlain with one of the most inconsistent strike zones I have seen n quite some time.

The Yankees held a 3-2 lead going into the fifth inning but the Tribe managed to plate three in the top of the fifth to take a 5-3 lead. Here is where the Bullpen Management 101 would have been beneficial to Eric Wedge.

Wedge pitched Perez and Betancourt in the 10-2 blow out the day before, therefore neither was available to pitch in the second game. Perez has been horrid so pitching him two innings in a meaningless game made sense. Betancourt has been up and down and is coming off a bad 2008 but why pitch one of your bullpen stalwarts and leave yourself shorthanded for the next game.

Well that is what Wedge did and long man Zack Jackson cam on to pitch the sixth. He lasted 2/3 of an inning (four batters) giving up two hits including a homerun to Robinson Cano to make it 5-4 Indians. Then Joe Smith came on for one batter to end the sixth.

Instead of rolling with Smith in the seventh Wedge went with veteran Vinnie Chulk, who is the last man in the bullpen. Let me repeat. Vinnie Chulk is the last man in the bullpen. Why is he pitching the seventh inning of a 5-4 game? Because Wedge pitched Betancourt the day before instead of Chulk.

Yes, hindsight is 20/20 but Wedge left himself short in the pen on a day he knew he had a starter in Reyes who struggles to get past five or six innings routinely. Chulk promptly gave up a couple of walks and made an error himself to turn a 5-4 lead into a 5-5 tie after seven. Would have Betancourt done better than Chulk? Who knows but the ODDS were that Betancourt would done better than Chulk.

So with the game tied in the bottom of the eight Jensen Lewis came on struck out two and surrendered a pop up to Derek Jeter. Unfortunately, the New Yankee Stadium jet stream turned this routine pop up into the worlds weakest homerun and a 5-5 tie into a 6-5 Yankee lead.

Phil Cuzzi then reared his ugly head again with another inconsistent inning behind the plate as he rang up Mark DeRosa in the bottom of the ninth with two men on and Mariano Rivera on the hill. Not the reason the Indians lost but the poor game called by Cuzzi was extremely noticeable.

If the Tribe was upset with their pissing away a game they came out like gang busters on Saturday on National TV. They drubbed the Bronx Bombers 22-4 behind a 14 run second inning. The Indians belted 25 hits, including six homers, tied a club record with 50 total bases, and set a club record with 52 at-bats in the game.

Asdrubal Cabrera hit a grand slam to highlight the 14 run second and Mark DeRosa continued his hot streak with six RBIs. DeRosa, Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo, Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner also went yard for the Erie Warriors. Fausto Carmona gave up four runs in six innings but looked more consistent than his previous two starts.

Up two games to one, the Indians had a chance to take the first ever series at New Yankee Stadium but the Tribe bullpen would not let that happen. Carl Pavano ignored the Yankee venom and turned in a stellar six inning, four hit, one run performance and left the game with a 3-1 lead.

The Indians failed to capitalize on a bases loaded situated in top of the seventh and Wedge called for the scuffling Perez to start the bottom of the seventh. Two hits and one run later it was 3-2 lead for the Tribe. Jensen Lewis relieved and after getting one out dug in to face pinch hitter Jorge Posada.

Posada lifted a fly ball to deep right field that Trevor Crowe had a bead on. He got back to the wall and was met by the outstanding arms of two Yankee fans in the front row. Cuzzi, umpiring second base this time, signaled home run as Wedge came out to argue.

The play went to MLB review and the umpiring crew left the field while replays appeared to show the fans reaching over the wall and making contact with Crowe’s glove in the field of play.

This is the key issue of the play. Whether fan interference occurs is decided by whether (1) the player is reaching into the stands or (2) the fans are reaching into the field. In situation (1) the ball is fair game and a home run. In situation (2) the ball is in the field of play and the batter should be out.

In my humble opinion, it definitely appeared to be situation (2) but the umpires thought otherwise and the play stood, 4-3 Yankees. Once again not something that caused the Indians to lose the game but it definitely didn’t help things. Rafael Betancourt then squashed all hopes of an Indians comeback by relieving Betancourt and allowing three more runs to make it 7-4 Yankees. Ball game.

So while the Tribe did put two whoopings the Yankees and somewhat ruin their opening series the fact that potentially let a sweep of the Bronx Bombers slip away is disconcerting. The offense has begun to wake and the starters have shown signs of life but the bullpen, that was supposedly improved, can’t get the game to lock down closer Kerry Wood to save their life.

The Indians sit at 4-9, 3.5 games behind the Royals, Tigers and White Sox who are at 7-5. The Twins sit a game behind the AL Central leading tri-fecta with a 7-7 record. Even though they could, and I argue should, be 7-6 or 6-7 they have a chance to make up ground this coming week. Their next six games are against the Royals and Twins, all at home.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Series Rewind: Indians-Royals

The Tribe dropped their third series in a row, losing the first two of three to division rival Kansas City. Fausto Carmona started off very rough giving up three runs in the bottom of the first. He rebounded from there to give up only one run the next four innings but that’s where the Indians’ trouble for the first half of the season lie.

Their starting pitcher only went five innings, taxing an already frail bullpen. Carmona tossed 106 pitches in just five innings and was pulled. In this game Rafael Betancourt and Masa Kobayashi were able to hurl three combined innings of scoreless baseball to keep the Tribe in the game. Unfortunately, it was the Indians’ offense that kept them out of it.

Royals’ starter Zack Greinke was good but not great, needing 104 pitches to get through five innings himself. The Indians helped his out by going 4-13 with RISP, with most of those hits in the ninth inning, and starting 12 men on base. Once again failure to get the clutch hit doomed the Tribe.

In game two, the Indians’ bats came up empty again. Tribe starter Carl Pavano improve on his opening performance of 1 IP, 9 ER with a six inning effort in which he yielded four ER. His only real fault was allowing two runs in the bottom of the fifth after the Tribe had tied the game at two in the top of the inning.

The Indians’ bullpen could not jeep the Tribe in this game as after Rafael Perez came on in the 7th inning with a 4-3 deficit. He looked shaky in that inning but manager Eric Wedge sent him out in the 8th and the game derailed. Perez promptly game up a run to widen the gap to 5-3. He then loaded the bases with one out when Wedge finally pulled the plug and called on Vinnie Chulk, who promptly game up a grand slam to Kansas City catcher John Buck. 9-3. Ballgame Royals.

The Indians’ managed to avoid the sweep with a 5-4 victory on Wednesday. Recently promoted Aaron Laffey was solid in his 2009 debut giving up only 2 ER in 5 1/3 innings. He had a 2-0 lead going into the bottom of the sixth but a fielding gaffe by Shin-Soo Choo put runners on second and third instead of first and third.

By overthrowing the cut-off man Choo turned a ground ball double play into a run scoring out and allowed the runner on second to eventually score and tie the game at two. He did redeem himself later in the game, nailing Mark Teahan at second but when a team is scuffling, things like hitting the cut-off man are magnified ten fold.

The Indians broke through for three runs in the 7th to take a 5-2 lead but another managerial head scratcher by Wedge almost cost them the game again. Jensen Lewis worked out of a jamb in the bottom of the sixth, getting the final out of the inning. He then worked a sketchy seventh inning, giving up a run to make the score 5-3.

For the bottom of the eighth, Wedge sent Lewis back into the game after struggling to get through the seventh. Just as he did the night before, sending a struggling Perez back in for a second inning. However, this was Lewis’ third inning he was pitching in which is odd for any reliever who in not the long man or mop up guy. Teahan drilled his single that Choo threw him out at second at and Mike Jacobs immediately followed with a home run to make it 5-4. If SHOULD have been 5-5 if Teahan had not gotten greedy, but thanks to Choo redeeming himself it was only 5-4.

Cue Rafael Betancourt v.2007 for 2/3 of a hitless inning and Kerry Wood for a seven pitch, perfect, 1-2-3 ninth for the save and the Indians hung on to win 5-4 and move to a putrid 2-7 for 2009. It’s nice to have a legit, flame throwing closer. It may make the ninth inning anti-climactic but it’s a nice change of pace.

So the Indians shuffle off to New York for a four game series with the Yankees to christen New Yankee Stadium. The only way the Tribe is going to get back into the swing of things is to start winning series. Three out of four would be ideal but is going to be tough even with the Yankees starting slow.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Series Review: Blue Jays-Indians

Well at least they won one. The Tribe dropped the first two in almost the same fashion they dropped all three to the Rangers to open the season. They got behind early thanks to poor starting pitching and then failed to come through with the clutch hit with runners in scoring position. The ugly numbers:

Game 1 - 1-5 RISP, 11 K, 8 LOB, 1 DP
Game 2 - 1-9 RISP, 9 K, 8 LOB, 2 DP
Game 3 - 2-7 RISP, 11K, 11 LOB, 1 DP
Totals - 4-21 RISP (.190), 31 K, 21 LOB, 4 DP

The strikeouts totals are maddening. The Tribe striking out over 10 times a game is just a killer. Teams are going to make outs but when a third of those outs are completely unproductive it makes it very difficult to win.

Not that advancing runners into scoring position would have mattered with the prestine .190 average with RISP. Add into in that your first two hitters Grady Sizemore (10 K in 25 AB for the season) and Mark DeRosa (11 in 26) are your main culprits it means the table isn't getting set as much as you need either.

Victor Martinez looks to be back to a hitting machine and Travis Hafner is actually showing signs of life despite still look a bit slow on his swing. Shin-soo Choo has started to rake and Rayn Garko has been an OBP machine. If the Tribe can cut down on the strikeouts and improve in the clutch this team will score a boatload of runs in 2009.

The starting pitching remains horrid. Scott Lewis landed himself on the DL with elbow soreness that he has had the last few starts of spring but never said anything about. Aaron Laffey will start in his place on Wednesday.

Cliff Lee had another poor outing giving up four runs in five innings pitched. He did rebound in the last two innings of the start by working out of jams for the first time in a while but had already worked his pitch count over 100.

Anthony Reyes was the first Tribe starter to last over five innings going six strong on Sunday. He gave up four runs but three came after Shin-soo Choo lost a ball in the sun in right field. Still he put the Indians in position to win and beat out the Washington Nationals for last remaining win less team... phew!

The bullpen was very bipolar as Vinnie Chulk looked decent in his Tribe debut and Jensen Lewis bailed the Tribe out of a mess on Sunday to help secure the victory. And what can you say about Kerry Wood? An Indians closer blowing away the side, all via strikeout, in the 9th inning was a sight for sore eyes.

On the other end of the spectrum Rafael Perez now sports a 14.73 ERA with three walks and no strikeouts. Joe Smith and Masa Kobayashi continue to walk opposing batters at an alarming rate and Rafael Betancourt has been so-so at beast in his appearances.

But hey they finally won one, and even at 1-5, only sit 2.5 games behind the 4-3 Detroit Tigers. A seven game road trip to Kansas City and having the honor of opening up New Yankee Stadium await them this week. Anything less than a 4-3 trip may leave them in an April hole that they are all too familiar with under Eric Wedge.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Series Rewind: Indians-Rangers

The Texas Rangers wiped the floor with the Indians in Arlington, Texas to kick off 2009. Three games, three losses for the Erie Warriors: 9-1, 8-5 and 12-8. Yup, that’s 9.7 runs/game allowed. Easy to do when your starters rattle off the following gems:

Cliff Lee: 5 IP, 10 H, 7 R/ER, 1 HR, 0 HBP, 1 BB, 5K, 12.60 ERA
Fausto Carmona: 5 IP, 7 H, 6 R/ER, 1 HR, 1 HBP, 2 BB, 4 K, 10.80 ERA
Carl Pavano: 1 IP, 6 H, 9 R/ER, 2 HR, 0 HBP, 3 BB, 1 K, 81.00 ERA

With 22 earned runs in 11 innings that is a cumulative 18.00 ERA by the starting staff. It’s tough to win when you are behind by 6 or more runs after three innings gentlemen, and I use that term loosely. Scott Lewis the bar has been set low for the home opener, my friend, god speed.

The offense slowly got itself together after looking putrid versus Kevin Millwood on Monday. The actually had a few extra base hits on Wednesday before jacking five homeruns on Thursday. It is difficult, however, to win a game when you are playing catch up after just a few innings.

A few feathers for some caps and some guys who need to be scalped.

· Masa Kobayahi – 2 Scoreless IP, 1 H, 1 BB in 2 appearances. No alternative lifestyle adult movie appearances. I don’t know which was more unlikely.
· Joe Smith – An easy scoreless inning of relief. Nice Tribe debut.
· Zach Jackson – Showing why he won the long relief spot in the pen.
· Victor Martinez – 5-12 with a long HR. Power slowly coming back but still a hitter.
· Travis Hafner – You hit the ball fair over the wall on a fly. It’s a start I guess.
· Trevor Crowe – Looked smooth in RF despite taking an 0-5 collar at the plate.
· Grady Sizemore – Two 2-R HR on Thursday. Three of his four this in the series were XBH.
· Asdrubal Cabrera – 2-2, 2 BB, 2 R, 1 RBUI on Thursday after looking overmatched the first two games.

· Starting pitching – See above. Special recognition for Carl Pavano for getting the Tribe down 5-0 after 14 pitches. FOURTEEN F’N PITCHES!!!
· Hitting with RISP – 1-4 on Monday. 1-16 on Wednesday. 1-5 on Thursday. That’s 3-25 overall. A sparkling .120 clip. Not good.
· Grady Sizemore – He led of each game with a strikeout. Table setting 101 says this is poor form. Six Ks in 14 ABs is also way too high.
· Jensen Lewis, Rafael Perez, Rafael Betancourt – You all pitched pretty well but you all gave up a home run in one of your appearances. Shame!
· Kerry Wood – Struck out the side but looked shaky giving up 2 hits, a walk and a run.
· Mark DeRosa – 0-12 collar for the series with 5 Ks. No a good debut. Hopefully the friendly confines of Progressive Field lead you to many hits.
· Travis Hafner – He still looks over matched to me despite the HR.

The Indians return home to Progressive Field for a 3 game set with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Tribe is 0-3, 2 GB Kansas City in the AL Central. Toronto is 3-1 and leads the AL East by ½ game over Baltimore and Tampa Bay.

A bad start for the Indians but keep this in mind… the last time the Tribe started 0-3 was 1996 and they won the AL Central that season.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Texas Baseball Masacre

Well the only way to go is up. The Tribe got rolled by the Texas Rangers 9-1 getting outplayed in all aspects of the game. Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee came off a brutal spring with an even worse opening day performance: 5 IP, 10 H, 6 R/ER, 1 monster HR to Hank Blaylock.

He got hit in his pitching arm in the 2nd and promptly gave up 4 runs with two outs for a 4-0 Texas lead. He went unscathed in the 3rd and 4th before Blaylock's jack in the 7th. He couldn't spot his fastball and most of his stuff was up in the the zone and against the potent Rangers, that is a recipe for disaster.

Cliff Lee's worst game last year was at Texas where he gave up 6 runs in 5 innings. He had a 6.17 ERA versus Texas last year. He had a 6.42 lifetime ERA versus Texas coming into today's game and it just went up. He historically struggles versus Texas. But let's see how he does on Saturday versus Doc Halladay and the Blue Jays before going ballistic.

I was more disappointed in the Indians managing only 5 hits and a walk versus the Rangers. Kevin Millwood was brilliant but other than a Shin-soo Choo liner in the 7th none of them were hard shots. I expect nothing from Travis Hafner until I see something that looks like Travis Hafner and a slap hit to left is not Travis Hafner.

He got into a number of 0-2 counts and those rarely turn out well. He did battle but produced an easy, inning ending double play with runners on first and third in the 3rd. I will say he actually looks a bit athletic after his weight loss. He scored the only run on a wild pitch that I don't think he scores on at his previous weight. But the Indians need the Pronk version of Travis Hafner not the slap-hitting version.

One game but a crappy one at that. Fausto Carmona looks to rebound from an awful, injuried plagued 2008 on Wednesday. New day, new ballgame. Go Tribe.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Tribe Looks to Rebound in '09

The Cleveland Indians stumbled to a disappointing 81-81 record in 2008 after an ALCS appearance in 2007. Injuries on offense decimated the Tribe in the first half of 2008 and forced the trade of veterans CC Sabathia and Casey Blake for prospects. The Indians’ 2008 bullpen rivaled their infamous “Bullpen from Hell” of the 1980’s as they did everything in their power to torture Tribe fans on a nightly basis.

But as the Cleveland Indians’ 2009 campaign gets sets to begin there is cause for optimism along the shores of Lake Erie. Despite those injuries on offense the Indians scored the seventh most runs in MLB with 805 and led all of MLB with 379 runs in the second half.

The offense should be as good, if not better, than last year with a healthy Victor Martinez, the heart and soul of the ball club. Infielders Ryan Garko and Asdrubal Cabrera came into Spring Training in shape and focused. Shortshtop Jhonny Peralta looks to build off of a 40 double, 20 homerun season while Grady Sizemore looks for an encore to a 30 homerun, 30 steal campaign.

The wild card is DH Travis Hafner. Can he return to his 2004 to 2006 form where he averaged 34 homers, 38 doubles, 111 RBI and hit well over .300? A nagging shoulder injury led to a substandard 2007 and a disastrous 2008 that saw Hafner hit .197 with little or no power. If he even returns to 75% of his previous form the Indians’ offense could be one of the elite in 2009.

General Manager Mark Shapiro was aggressive in the off-season in addressing the Tribe’s much maligned bullpen. Shapiro inked bona fide closer Kerry Wood to provide stability to the Indians’ weak link in 2008. Submarine reliever Joe Smith was also acquired via a three team trade to help provide an established hierarchy in the bullpen.

With Wood penciled in for the ninth inning it allows Rafael Perez, Jensen Lewis and Smith settle into their set-up roles in the 7th and 8th innings. Rafael Betancourt could work his way back into the back end of the bullpen after a horrendous 2008. After a dominant 2007 Betancourt was lit up for 11 homeruns and a 5.07 ERA in 2008. The Indians also have a wave of arms waiting in the minor leagues in case of injury or performance issues.

The starting pitching, which has been the stalwart of the Indians during the past few years, is now the main cause for concern. Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee is coming off a 22-3 season with a sterling 2.54 ERA. That may me too much to expect in 2009 but you could put Lee down for 15-16 a year prior to his poor 2007.

But after Lee there are a bunch of question marks. Is the real Fausto Carmona the 19 game winner of 2007 of the wild throwing, emotional wreck of 2008? Having Martinez back behind the plate for his starts may prove to be the calming influence he needs. Carmona responded by having an excellent spring.

Carl Pavano, Scott Lewis and Anthony Reyes round out the Tribe’s starting rotation to start the season. Pavano looks to rebound from four injury riddled years with the New York Yankees. Reyes brings his own injury concerns after arriving in 2008 from the St. Louis Cardinals. Lewis was a late 2008 surprise going 4-0 in four September starts for the Indians but was roughed up in the Arizona spring after winning the job.

The Indians also have depth sitting in AAA Columbus if one of the previous three starters struggles. Aaron Laffey was the Scott Lewis of 2007 and is looking to rebound from an injury filled 2008. Jeremy Sowers was the Laffey of 2006 and has struggled mightily in the majors since the start of 2007. David Huff has torn up each and every level of the minors and looks to be primed and ready if and when the Indians call. Zach Jackson starts the season as the long reliever but odds of him starting a game at some point are good.

Tons of questions for the 2009 Tribe but there are a plethora of options for answers to those questions. Manager Eric Wedge has the versatility in the field to mix and match line-up which always seems to be his MO. The season may hinge on Wedge’s ability to keep his bullpen fresh while dealing with a lot of uncertainty in the rotation.

If Wedge can effectively use the bullpen and not wear out the back end, a la Perez and Betancourt in 2007, the Indians should be able to stay in more games than not with their offense. Wedge will also have to be aggressive in addressing and shortcomings in the shaky starting rotation. If one the starters can not perform Wedge and Shapiro can not hesitate to make a change.

The Indians face a brutal start to 2009 with ten of their first 13 games away from Progressive Field. They also play the powerful Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays 21 times in the first two months of the season. The Indians have been notorious slow starters throughout Wedge’s tenure. The only season they started out well was in 2007… the only season they have made the play-offs under Wedge.

There are a lot of questions and some adversity to face at the start of the 2009 season for the Cleveland Indians. That shouldn’t damper the Indians’ outlook for the new season. They are healthy, hungry and looking for redemption from a bad end to 2007 and a sub par 2008. They just need something to bring in all together…

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Suck it, Matt Stover!

The Baltimore Sun is reporting that the Ravens and kicker Matt Stover have parted ways and Stover will not be returning to Baltimore in 2009.

Matt Stover is a great guy (I actually hope he hooks on somewhere) and a good kicker but pardon me when I say, "Suck it, Matt Stover!"

Why the angst? Why the excitement over a 41 year old kicker being released? Well, for the educated Browns fan it is simple.

Stover was the last Ravens player on their roster to play for the original incarnation of the Cleveland Browns in 1995. The last one. For what seems like the last five years.

Annoyingly every CBS Sports announcer, I am looking squarely at you Dick Enberg, loved to bring up this fact once a game, if not more, whenever Stover took the field to kick-off, attempt a field goal or extra point. It's been thirteen seasons since the transgression took place but it seemed like every time I turned on a game, that fact was brought up.

No longer. And it is refreshing. Vinny Interceptaverde moved on years ago. Earnest Byner was forgiven and was inducted into the Cleveland Browns Legends Hall of Fame. Many other has long since left the Eastern Shore. Yes, Benedict Ozzie is still in Baltimore but I will give him props for only signing Browns gear despite working for the Ratbirds.

But the last on the field connection is gone. The franchises have their own separate lineage and history. Sorry Matt Stover but suck it long and suck it hard. I don't know of anything else that could make me happier right now...

... unless YOU KNOW WHO were to bite it.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Browns Deploy the Soldier to Tampa Bay

The first act of the Cleveland Browns Eric Mangini / George Kokinis regime wasn’t a peace summit with Shaun Rogers. It wasn’t a declaration of a starting quarterback named Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson. It was a minor surprise, the shipping out of Kellen Winslow II to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for undisclosed draft choices.

The common consensus has the Browns receiving a 2009 2nd Round draft choice and a 2010 5th Round draft choice from Tampa Bay for Winslow. If this information is accurate it would be almost identical to what the New Orleans Saints traded to the New York Giants for Jeremy Shockey last off-season. Anything less in return for Winslow would be a disappointing proposition.

Winslow, when healthy, can be one of the premier receiving tight ends in the NFL. Back to back seasons of 89 catches in 2006 and 2007 are not easily attained by a tight end. He also would seem to be a perfect fit for a young quarterback, especially Quinn, who will be running the New England Patriots style offense that offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is rumored to run in 2009.

No one can question Winslow’s intensity and effort between the lines on each Sunday. Love him or hate him the guys busts his ass for 60 plus minutes each and every game he plays in.

However, Winslow does have his detriments as well. The number of injuries he has sustained over his short career has left him with a shorter shelf life for his career. He struggles in 2008 with getting separation from opposing defenders and has often been criticized for poor route running.

He can also show up a teammate from time to time on the field as well. No matter what he says he also wanted another huge payday, because of his shortened career, which is the only reason players switch to agent Drew Rosenhaus mid-contract.

But the revelation is not that Winslow was traded, what he was traded for or if the trade is a good or bad move. The revelation is what the move signifies.

Right now, no matter whom the Browns draft with the choices they received, the Browns are not as good of a team as they were with Winslow. Whether the move was made because of Winslow’s attitude, his desire for more money or to maximize his trade value the Browns lose one of their main offensive weapons plain and simple.

The only reason this move is made is with the future of the team in mind. It says that the Mangini / Kokinis regime is looking past the 2009 season for long term stability and success. It also says that they do not feel that their chances for success in the 2009 season itself are great as the team is weaker without the presence of Winslow. It may be addition by subtraction off the field but on the field the Browns are not as good of a football team today as they were yesterday.

Whether the move is the right move will not be known until after the 2009 season, or beyond. But it is the first tip of the hand by Mangini and Kokinis. They are looking toward the long term success of the franchise and to build the core of the team via the draft. Whether or not they can actually do it will depend on the strategy they deploy next.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

No Trade News is Good Trade News

The NBA Trading Deadline passed on Thursday without the Cavs making a move. While many are disappointed in GM Danny Ferry’s failure to make any sort of a trade with the rumored offers out there Ferry made the right move by standing pat.

While there will not be any new blood entering the equation the eminent return of Delonte West can provide the spark that a trade might have otherwise brought. West has missed the last 16 games and counting, including both losses to the Lakers, and was playing the best basketball of his career before injury.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas has also missed 16 games this season and is still being bothered by a sore ankle and foot at times. Reserve guard Tarence Kinsey was finally starting to get some quality minutes before he missed seven games with an ankle sprain.

Sasha Pavlovic is also out indefinitely with a sprained ankle and Daniel Gibson has had what can only be referred to as a horrible season and that is being kind. Ben Wallace’s touch football injury that may keep him out for a few games is the latest injury issue to befall the Cavs.

Despite all the injury issues the Cavs still sit at 42-11 with a 15 game lead in the Central Division over the Pistons. They are one half game behind the Celtics for the best record in the East and 2 ½ games in front of the Magic. While the Cavs are getting healthy the Celtics and Magic have been dealt injuries to Kevin Garnett and Jameer Nelson, respectively. The opportunity to seize the number one seed in the Eastern Conference play-offs has presented itself.

Yes, Wally Szczerbiak’s expiring contract was a big chip they had to play, but would the cost have been worth it?

If they would have shipped him off to Phoenix for Shaquille O’Neal it would have left them with a dearth of big men and short in the backcourt, especially with the aforementioned injuries. It also would have put them in a salary cap conundrum for the next two years with Anderson Varejao up for free agency after this season. LeBron James is eligible in 2010… in case you didn’t know that.

Everyone cried about not trading Szczerbiak for Marcus Camby, but the Clippers did not make him available. The same goes for the Suns’ Amare Stoudamire. He was taking off the trading block after Terry Porter was fired as head coach. Richard Jefferson may have been a nice fit, but Milwaukee already did the Cavs a huge favor by delivering Mo Williams on a silver platter in the off-season.

Szczerbiak may be a role player but his presence has been valuable especially with the injuries that occurred in the first half of the season. He may not be winning games for the Cavs on a nightly basis but he is contributing and the Cavs do benefit from his expiring contract after this season.

For what was being offered by other teams, Danny Ferry made the right move by standing pat and not taking a deal that would handcuff the team. It may not be the most popular or glamorous move but if the Cavs seize the opportunities laid of in front of them everyone will forget the lack of activity in February.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cuts, Cuts, Cuts... Browns Release Seven

Cuts, cuts, cuts. I love cuts. The Cleveland Browns trimmed some dead weigh yesterday releasing seven players on the first day permissible by NFL rules. No one of real consequence but some familiar names nonetheless.

The unfamiliar names were punter Mike Dragosavich, kicker Jason Reda and offensive lineman Eric Young. Young spent the entire year on the non-football injury list after being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee.

Dragosavich and Reda have the misfortune of playing positions manned by two of the toughest players on the football team. The Browns have the misfortune of having those positions being punter and kicker, respectively. Sad but true for the Brown and Orange.

Linebacker Antwan Peek was also jettisoned after two injury plagued season in Cleveland. Peek missed the entire 2008 season with a torn patellar tendon he suffered right before the season began.

He had four sacks in an injury plagued 2007 and hopes were high that he and Kamerion Wimbley could provided the pass rush the Browns have been lacking since Wimbley’s rookie year in 2006. We all know how that turned out in 2008.

Cornerback Terry Cousin was also jettisoned to the chagrin of Browns opponents everywhere. He may be a crafty veteran but the Browns were torched over the middle of the field in almost every game this season. That falls right on the nickel cornerback and anyone who watched the Browns at all this season saw Cousin get abused over the middle on a weekly basis.

But the two big names, if you can call them that, were signal callers Ken Dorsey and Bruce Gradkowski. The zero offensive touchdowns might have something to do with the decision. Dorsey’s 0 to 7 touchdowns to interceptions ratio and Gradkowski’s 2.8 QB rating might also have something to do with it. I am not a stat guy but those numbers can not be ignored.

Dorsey was only around to mentor Brady Quinn plain and simple. People forget he was released before the 2007 season and was only resigned after the Browns traded away Charlie Frye after less than one half of football. Once Dorsey actually had to play significant time his lack of arm strength and NFL ability were exposed.

His release signifies that the new regime values his roster spot for someone who can actually play and not a glorified coach in waiting. This no knock on Dorsey, I am sure he brought a good mind to the table, but we all know the beating that quarterbacks take in the league and all too often a third stringer is required to take some significant snaps in the NFL. 2008 was proof positive that you can not afford to have Ken Dorsey take significant snaps in the NFL.

Gradkowski comes as no surprise either. The Browns picked him up in the last quarter of the season. The fact that no other team picked him up on a flier prior to that is telling in itself. The previous regime signed him to a two year deal in hopes he could back up in the future but his performance, even with him being pressed into duty quickly, showed he could not.

The moves tell me that if, and they should, the Browns trade Derek Anderson they will be in the market for a reliable, proven back-up quarterback. Someone who will fill the mentor role to Brady Quinn that Dorsey had while at the same time being a legitimate option to play should Quinn get hurt.

So nothing of great note but news nonetheless. Now when Anderson or Kellen Winslow get traded things might perk up a little bit. But until then… Dorsey, Gradkowski… CUT!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Thank God it's Over...

Thank the lord. The NFL season is over, finally.

Not only did the Browns devolve from 10-6 to 4-12 but we had to witness the Steelers take home NFL Championship number six and an AFC Championship Game where they faced off against the Ravens. We should be thanking our lucky stars that we at least have the Bengals… what’s that? We finished behind them, too? F@#$.

The only thing we can really hang our hats on is that many are asking questions about the Appalachian Inbred title once again. Where was the clipping call on James Harrison’s Pick Six to end the first half? Did he even get into the endzone? Why didn’t Santonio Holmes get a personal foul for using the ball as a prop after his tippy toe TD? Why wasn’t the last play reviewed? It looked like a fumble but why not make sure? Was James Farrior’s 15 yard penalty for his Dwayne Rudd impersonation part of it?

I’ll channel by inner Lt. Frank Drebin one more time just for shits and grins [time stamp 6:30 to 7:07]…

“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?”

Bottom line they still won the game and made plays when they had to. But after number five was shrouded with some referee controversy in of itself and numbers one through four have always had a steroid cloud around them, number six doesn’t seem totally clean either. But they should be saluted. Being a Browns fan the proper way to salute them is to extend your right arm and extend your middle finger. To paraphrase Ron Burgundy, “GO F@#$ yourself, Pittsburgh.”

So now we can worry about the more important things like the painting over of murals, the lack of any witty repartee from the head coach and soccer in England. These are what are really important in the NFL. Not the need for an impact draft with only four selections. Not the fact that the owner hired the head coach before the GM. Not the fact that we have no President of Football Operations. We painted a wall. “We can build on this!” as Herm Edwards would say.

No offense to Joe Thomas, Shaun Rogers or Ryan Pontbriand but it’s over. Have fun in Hawaii boys, don’t get injured but thank God this stink pickle of a 2008 NFL season is complete.

I can now relax and focus on the fun prospects for the spring. First off, the Cavs’ quest for an NBA Title and LeBron’s drive for an MVP trophy. The way the team actually enjoys playing together is magnificent to watch and they are all very likable characters unlike that Appalachian Inbred team (and fanbase). If they can lock up home court over the Celtics and Magic their odds of making our dreams come true in June and July are increased dramatically. The excitement builds with each game the Wine and Gold tip off.

The Tribe breaks camp with just as many questions as there are about Super Bowl XLIII. Is Travis Hafner going to be anywhere near to himself, circa 2004-2006? Can Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona anchor a shaky starting rotation? Can Masa Kobayashi be effective in his second MLB season? By effective I mean not appear in any alternative lifestyle Japanese adult films again.

Will Asdrubal Cabrera give me reason to text people with “AS-MAN! AS-MAN! AS-MAN!” on a routine basis? How the hell is this whole first base/catcher/designated hitter platoon thing going to work out? Will Kerry Wood, Mark DeRosa, Joe Smith and (gulp) Carl Pavano be key pieces to the Indians’ puzzle?

I have a very weird feeling about the Indians in 2009. Like a good weird. I can’t explain it. It isn’t like in 2007 when I thought they had a shot or in 2008 when I thought they’d win it all. It’s different, but I can’t put my finger on it. But I do know on thing, it’s a hell of a lot better than I felt 24 hours ago when it was still the NFL season. Thank the heavens that it is over.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Fear and Loathing in Cleveland

Its mid-January in Cleveland and the Cavs are off to their best start in franchise history, pushing towards a potential first seed in the Eastern Conference. LeBron James is looking like the clear cut NBA MVP due to an elevated intensity on the defensive end and a willingness to play offense without controlling the basketball. Mike Browns has opened up the offense, without sacrificing his trademark defense first philosophy, by turning over some of it to assistant John Kuester.

Across the country, he Indians are just under a month from taking the field at their new spring training complex in Goodyear, Arizona hoping that the namesake of their new home is an understatement of what they will accomplish in 2009. For the maybe first time ever the Dolan Family opened their pocketbooks despite a crumbling economy. Mark Shapiro took advantage by being aggressive and creative after an off-season of sitting on his hands in 2008 blew up in his face.

While I love the rosy prospects for both the Cavs and the Tribe in 2009 I find myself fearing and loathing the Browns at so many levels it shrouds my excitement for everything else Cleveland sports related. Right or wrong, the Browns are the team that is associated with and defines the city. LeBron may be able to chance that in the very near future, but for now when one thinks Cleveland, the Browns come to mind.

I love the fact that Randy Lerner does not want to sell the Browns and I appreciate that he does not want to be the face of the franchise. However, it scares me to death that he is so introverted that he can not even speak in front of a camera for ten minutes to explain his rational behind hiring a head coach. It is embarrassing when Team President Mike Keenan, who has been around for about a year, has to introduce himself at a press conference before he introduces the head coach.

I appreciate that Lerner seemingly found “his guy” in Eric Mangini and that he values a coach more than a General Manager even though it is an ass backwards approach to me. But I wonder what Lerner would have done if Mangini had not come available after Bill Cowher and Scott Pioli became unviable options.

And what if the Ravens’ George Kokinis decides to stay in Baltimore? I have no faith that Lerner has even considered that situation. It looks like the Browns only fallback options are Shack Harris who resigned from the Jacksonville Jaguars GM post after free agent signings of Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence blew up in his face and he was unable to get first round draft choice Derrick Harvey into camp on time. Former Broncos GM Ted Sundquist is begging Lerner for an interview which does nothing to sooth my fears.

I even have concerns about Eric Mangini, who I actually am intrigued by, as the head coach of the Browns. I may not like they way that Lerner went about selecting Mangini but I do think the scrutiny of the New York market and three years of actual head coaching experience will benefit him.

It does scare me that while coaches in their second go round do experience success many of them, like Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin, either took time off from football or went back to the coordinator ranks before their next head coaching gig. The 14 days off that Mangini had between being fired by the Jets and hired by the Browns makes me worry how much he could really learn from his mistakes in that short time.

So instead of celebrating the success of the Cavs or analyzing the potential of the Indians I find myself worrying about the Browns when they should be an afterthought in my mind. Fearing that an organization has failed to learn from its worst decade of football in franchise history and loathing the fact that we may be looking at another decade of the same.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

2009 Cleveland Browns Cut List - Receivers & Tight Ends

Wide Receivers

12 Syndric Steptoe, WR

You are just too small to be an effective every down or third receiver. You are incapable of blocking down field because of your size and it impacts the game negatively. You are a great return man but with Josh Cribbs here you will be forever blocked behind him. We need an actual third receiver who is capable to do it all. CUT!

17 Braylon Edwards, WR

Everything is in your brain. No one thinks anything less of you because you are from Meatchicken. Grow up. You have been pampered and coddled and I honestly think your head can not process this and does not have any idea on how to react. If you can get you brain sorted out you have a chance to be one of the greatest receivers in the franchise’s history, if you want to. We need your deep threat to open up the running game and make this a potent offense. Get you head out of you ass and man up. You are better that this. KEEP.

18 Donte Stallworth, WR

I have seen Kevin Johnson. I have seen Quincy Morgan. I have seen Dennis Northcutt. I have seen Andre Davis. I have seen Travis Wilson. You by far take the cake. You may be a worse free agent signing that Andre Rison. You are everything that is wrong with this franchise. You are soft, babied and put yourself before the team. You show no heart or soul in your play on the field. When it is time to lay it on the line you fold like a house of cards. If you are on this roster next season it would be a disgrace. CUT!

80 Kellen Winslow, TE

I love your heart and dedication on the field. The fact you play through pain on a daily basis is admirable. But I think the veil has been lifted on your true being. Yes, the staph infection cover-up was not you fault and put you in a bad position but the way you handled it was just as poor as Phil Savage. Despite your hard play and effort on the field I think that you only do it to benefit yourself off the field. You know your time is limited because of all your ailments and I think your first priority is to capitalize monetarily on that. The team comes second. I think it is time to move on and you need to be traded. CUT!

82 Steve Heiden, TE

If you removed Phil Dawson, you are the best player the Browns have had since their reincarnation in 1999. Your knee needs to heal quickly I think you will need to fill in for Winslow in 2009, and not because he is injured. KEEP.

84 Joe Jurevicius, WR

Seven surgeries on the same knee in under a calendar year is not good. I just hope you are able to make it through life without any effects from it. If you can make it back onto the football field it is a bonus. KEEP.

86 Martin Rucker, TE

Most NFL scouting departments don’t think very highly of you. The Browns don’t know what they have in you because the lame duck coaching staff would not play you. I hope this gives you a giant chip on your shoulder. KEEP.

87 Darnell Dinkins, TE

You still are the ugliest mo-fo on the entire team but that is not enough this year. I am tired of seeing your countless penalties on special teams and you dropping of passes over the middle. CUT!

89 Paul Hubbard, WR

You have the size to play in the NFL but could not get activated for a single game. I will attribute it to coaching ineptitude and not you being the second coming of Travis Wilson. KEEP.

2009 Cleveland Browns Cut List - Offensive Line

Offensive Linemen

61 Isaac Sowells, T/G

We need young offensive linemen but you’ve only see action on offense in one game in three years. Time to see what you are made of. KEEP.

62 Lennie Friedman, G/C

Let’s get it out of the way… I always laugh when I hear this name. I think of the scene in “Major League” when the construction workers are going over the Tribe’s roster after Spring Training. “Willie Hayes, Ricky Vaughn, Lennie Friedman… who the F@#$ are these guys?” You also are in the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame which is outstanding. But I hear that LeBron-ukkah is sweeping the nation and that does not bode well. In all seriousness, you missed all year with a neck injury and I hope you experience no ill effects from it but it’s time for a youth movement on the offensive line. Mazel tov, my good man. CUT!

65 Eric Steinbach, G

You played injured most of the year and it showed. I think that impacted Joe Thomas’ play as well. We need you at 100% next season. KEEP.

66 Hank Fraley, C

Your play definitely decline this season. How many times were the Browns vulnerable to the blitz up the middle? Way too much. We need a solid year out of you next season while we groom a successor. KEEP.

68 Seth McKinney, G/C

I normally love a fat, red haired guy since they are few and far between but your play didn’t inspire me. Last year we were better off with Ryan Tucker and this year you couldn’t beat out Rex Hadnot. CUT!

70 Rex Hadnot, G

You are a road grader and I don’t mean that in a good way. You lack the athleticism a guard needs and combined with Kevin Shaffer you create a polar opposite right side of the line to the left side. Shaffer’s play also suffered with you in there and that has to say something. You weren’t awful but just weren’t good either. CUT!

72 Ryan Tucker, G/T

Two years ago you went off the deep end. Last year returned in the form of “The Tuckster” after a four game suspension for saying your prayers and taking your (illegal) vitamins. This year you started one game and the Browns rolled the defending champs. You are getting up there in age but you are valuable and make Kevin Shaffer look serviceable. KEEP.

73 Joe Thomas, T

You had a down year but you faced a much tougher list of opposing defenses. I will chalk it up to an adjustment period. You still had enough respect from your peers to be voted to the Pro Bowl which counts for something. You will anchor the line for a decade or more. KEEP.

77 Kevin Shaffer, T

After 2006 I wrote, “The Human Parking Cone (HPC) has been returned to the department of Public Works. You almost single handedly got Derek Anderson killed… I thought Chris Hovan killed him. But I got to see Ken Dorsey play. Thanks douche-bag!” Well after a stellar 2007 guess what? You DID single handedly get Derek Anderson killed. I DID to see Ken Dorsey play. Thanks douche-bag!” HPC you defied the oods last year but this year you came back to earth. You may look like The Warlord from the Powers of Pain tag team back in the 1980s WWE but that is not enough. It time we H-P-C ya. CUT!

2009 Cleveland Browns Cut List - Defensive Line

Defensive Linemen

71 Ahtyba Rubin, DL
You actually made a few plays here and there once you got some PT at the end of the year. A true nose tackle is hard to find and we need someone to spell Big Baby from time to time. Sad that only our sixth and seventh round draft choice were effective this season. KEEP.

91 Shaun Smith, DL
Carson Palmer called you the Hamburglar. Brady Quinn said you have a small penis. Some of your teammates insinuated you quit at mid season. You trash talk relentlessly which is fine but when you factor in that you came from the Bengals who love to keep malcontents and then chose not to re-sign you tells me maybe you are not that good. There is only one fate for you and your tiny penis. CUT!

92 Shaun Rogers, DL
Keep the weight within reason and stay motivated. DO that and you will be the best interior lineman the Browns have had in a long, long time. KEEP.

93 Louis Leonard, DL
You give it your all but you have zero effect on the game. Teams double team Rogers and you need to make plays or string it out. You did neither on a consistent basis. CUT!

97 Santonio Thomas, DL
See Leonard, Louis. CUT!

98 Robaire Smith, DL
Losing you early in the year was a huge blow. Big men with Achilles injuries have a difficult time recovering from them due to the weight placed on the heel. I hope you can recover, we need you. KEEP.

99 Corey Williams, DL
You look like the classic case of the square peg (not Sarah Jessica Parker) in the round hole. You were injured early in the year and struggled since. Regardless we need to see how you do with another season under your belt. KEEP.