First Impressions: Game 8 (Tampa Bay)

1. Relieving the tension. The good news about this game is that it takes all the pressure off Thursday’s game for fans. The Bengals will win, and they’ll do it comfortably.

There’s no way a team that struggled this hard to beat a 1-6 team can compete with a good team.

2. The Pluto quotient. Matter of fact, there’s little reason to worry about the rest of the season. The Browns are looking at 5-11 (games in red are road games):

  • Both the Cincinnati games look out of reach– although the Bengals have been known to let a game or two slip through their fingers.
  • Houston is the same sort of team the Browns are, but are playing better fundamental football.
  • There’s no way the secondary will contain Atlanta. A pass rush could get through the line, but this team doesn’t have one.
  • Buffalo is the same story as Houston– same type of team, executing better.
  • Unless Indianapolis has the playoff spot locked, the Browns aren’t in their league.
  • They shouldn’t beat Carolina.
  • They probably won’t (unless the playoff slot is locked in) beat Baltimore.

Because injuries can juggle the equation, some or all of those projections could change. But it looks like Terry Pluto’s annual goal of 6-10 won’t be met. In the seasonal post-mortem, the losses to Baltimore and Jacksonville will be the culprits.

3. “You’re an idiot!” department. The above being the case, anyone who writes about the Browns “choking” or “slumping”– or Mike Pettine losing the team– deserves to be mocked.

The wins in an NFL schedule are not evenly distributed. In my 2011 season preview, I looked at the schedule and predicted that:

  • Pat Shurmur, after 8-10 games, would be considered one of the NFL’s top young coaches, because the Browns (who had all the easy games early, would have 4-6 wins.
  • The Browns would end the season going 1-5 and people would be calling for his head (I thought they would win the Arizona game, which they certainly could have.).

This isn’t rocket science; we don’t need to see any more. This is a team, that struggles to run the ball and struggles to stop the run. It can pass a little;, but it lets opponents pass more.

They’ll have two first-round picks in the 2015 draft to rebuild the defense. One hopes they will make better use of those picks than they did in 2014.

4. Keep Hope Alive… “But the Browns will have Puff Gordon back for the last six games!!!” Yeah, right, Skippy.

For one thing, Puff still has two weeks to get caught mainlining smack. Second, the chance that he’ll some into the season in game shape and on the same page with the rest of the team is nil.

Puff could serve as a valuable asset by drawing double coverage, leaving his teammates open. We’ll see if he wants to do that.

5. Department of Explainable Outcomes. If you doubt that Puff will struggle, I suggest you look at center Nick McDonald, who got his head handed to him consistently.

This is not terribly surprising, in that Tampa put DT Gerald McCoy (two Pro Bowls and a first-team All-Pro) on top of McDonald and said “Please to eat his face off.” Which he pretty much did.

You want to scream about the backup– who didn’t play the 2013 season and is,  himself, making a comeback from an injury, I direct you to “Gotta Make Boom Booms!!!, whom I’m sure is going just that.

6. He Yam What He Yam. Another reason not to get too worked up about “We could have Puff and Poke back for Atlanta!!!”  is that you’ll still have a veteran backup throwing the ball to them.

Brian Hoyer certainly has cemented his career as an NFL player, but the difference between him and Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Texans or Kyle Orton of the Bills isn’t spacious. He is pretty much what I thought he is. Hoyer takes 60-80% of what the defense gives him, won’t make any great plays, but also won’t kill you with stupid mistakes.

I know he got 300 yards and 2 TDs against them. Everyone does that, as I pointed out in the preview.

A good team wouldn’t start Hoyer if you had a better alternative, but the Browns would be crazy to let him go, assuming they can retain him for a reasonable price. They could do a lot worse… as Jerry Jones is discovering.

7 The Porn Star Triumphs. Having mentioned one failed QB, I might as well pay tribute to the player who beat him on Monday Night Football.

My wife calls Daniel C. McCoy “The Porn Star” because that’s what she feels his name sounds like– and he looks like a guy who could have been in Boogie Nights. In the email I sent after Weeden was drafted, I made the following points:

[I seem like a Colt McCoy fan] only because I think before I act and I weigh and balance information when I think I go through the roof when when morons do moronic things. Everything about McCoy’s career has occurred in a way that makes me weigh him less harshly than others…

It was stupid to try to evaluate McCoy behind a patchwork line, with no receivers and no running back.  In two seasons, the right side of the line was Tony Pashos and John St. Clair at tackle and Shawn Lauvao and Pork Chop Womack at guard. The best receiver he had was Greg Little, who nearly led the NFL in drops. The best back, Peyton Hillis, was not healthy during most of the games he started. Neither of his ofhensive coordinators has proven he is competent– in fact, Brian Daboll appears to be more competent.

It’s like putting me in a room with a couple of candles for lighting, handing me a laptop configured to display Chinese, and asking me to write about ballet. The conditions have more impact on the outcome than the talent of the participants.

In his last start for Cleveland, Hillis and Josh Cribbs were his backs, Little and Mohammed Massaquoi his receivers, Ben Watson his tight end and Jason Pinkston, Tony Pashos and Shaun Lauvao made up 60% of his line.

Lauvao is starting in Washington. Watson has 29 catches for 293 yards in his last two years in New Orleans. Hillis is 21-91 with the Giants; Little is 4-7 for 55 yards with the Bengals. Everyone else is out of the league.

Over and over, during his tenure, I wrote that I wasn’t sure if McCoy was the answer at quarterback, but he was, without doubt, not even close to their biggest problem.  

His primary issues are that he’s short and he doesn’t have the arm strength that you want. But he knows the plays, he’s competitive as all get-out and players believe in him. He’s a good fit for the West Coast Offense, where he won’t have to make many deep throws, and he’d actually help Jay Gruden’s offense more than RG3 would.

That last is more of a comment on Gruden’s willingness to be flexible and Griffin’s suitability for a structured offense than McCoy’s talent. He’s in the Hoyer-Orton-Fitzpatrick tier.

8. The backfield. One of the most bewildering elements of the season is the coach’s staff’s desire to keep limiting its options. As I said in the Oakland review, one of the reasons the Browns keep having trouble running the ball is because the keep seeing the backfield situation as

  • Ben Tate and Isaiah Crowell, or
  • Tate and Terrance West

I find this somewhat bewildering, given that Tate has had exactly one good game this year. His performance today (10 carries for 3 yards) continues the downward slide.

I get wanting to see what West can do– he is their #3 pick, after all. I get that Tate is the most proven player (he had run for 942 yards and 771, both with a rushing average over 4.6 per carry). I also get that Crowell has fumbled twice and lost it once.

But the guy is second on the team in yards and first in rushing average– and you’re not using him? Is it really not possible to rotate backs?

9. The defense. I get the feeling I won’t do a review, so I might as well try to fill in the blanks.

Bobby Rainey gained 87 yards on 19 carries; It’s nice that he went 15-80 in the first have and only gained 7 yards on 4 carries in the second half. It’s disturbing that he had a good first half.

Mike Evans (7-11 for 124 yards and 2 TDs) gutted the defense; Vincent Jackson (6-12 for 86 yards) has slipped, but he still had a good day.

Some of it is the fault of the secondary– specifically #1 pick Justin Gilbert and #4 pick Pierre Desir. Except for Jadeveon Clowney, who has been hurt most of the year, Gilbert is by far the biggest bust in the top 10 picks. Desir isn’t playing.

It’s disturbing to see Buster Skrine (who should be a slot corner) and K’Waun Williams ( an undrafted free agent) getting so much time.

Some of it is the fault of the defensive line, where only Billy Winn has played well. he’s the only guy I ever see making plays.

The linebackers don’t help much. Karlos Dansby and Jabaal Sheard  both make a bunch of plays, but Craig Robertson and Meowkevious Mingo are nonentities, and #3 pick Chris Kirksey looks like he’s on his way to being Robertson.

Donte Whitner has been pretty close (he’s losing a step) to being everything they could have asked for, but Joe Haden has been a colossal waste of money.

With the two veterans, the MVP of the defense is Tashaun Gipson— who looks to be turning into the sort of playmaking safety the team hasn’t had in ages.

10. The Mundane Teams. When the punt got blocked, a friend messaged me to say “You’ve gotta give the special teams credit for that!!!”

Really? Why? Tampa blows blocking assignments and I have to give credit to the opponent who takes advantage of it? I’m glad Winn and Robertson did their jobs, but isn’t blocking what they’re supposed to do?

Same point about the 4 stuffed runs and the 2 sacks. I don’t know if you noticed this, but Tampa had Oneil Cousins playing left tackle. Yes, that Oneil Cousins.

Now how good do you feel about the defensive front?

We’ll see what else I can see on a tape review or after reading what other people say, but don’t expect a lot before Thursday. The Browns struggled to beat a 1-6 team that didn’t play a particularly good game… hard to get too worked up about that.

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