First Impressions: Game 12 (@Buffalo)

1. “They Are Who We Thought They Were!”

The title comes from Dennis Green’s famous meltdown— a postgame game speech after losing 24-23 to Chicago on Monday night. Green was furious because:

  • Arizona was leading 23-3, but gave up 21 points
  • The Bears scored those points on two fumble returns for TDs and a punt return for a TD with 3:17 left.
  • Arizona drove down for a game-winning 40-yard field goal… which Neil Rackers missed.
  • The Bears, despite gaining only 38 yards rushing, 130 yards passing (Rex Grossman’s rating for the game was 10.2) and committing six turnovers, improved to 6-0.

Mike Pettine had to be in the same sort of mood after the game. Buffalo averaged 3.5 yards per rush, 5.7 yards per pass and scored only 1 offensive TD.

But they still stomped the Browns 26-10.

2. Browns’ Kryptonite Strikes Again

There isn’t anything I’m going to write this season smarter than the following words… which were posted in the review of game 10 and the again in this game’s preview:

In order to beat Cleveland, a team simply needs to have the following:

  • A front seven with 2-3 Pro Bowl players, so it can stack the line to stop the run, overwhelm the right side on passing plays, and pressure journeyman QB Brian Hoyer into unforced errors.
  • A secondary strong enough to jam the undersized receivers and keep them from getting a clean break in the deep zone. (Skill in coverage optional.)
  • Tall receivers who can outfight Cleveland’s miniature Dawgs (none of the starters are taller than 5’11”) for passes.
  • A strong-armed quarterback who can throw deep balls, even if he isn’t all that accurate or mobile.
  • Offensive linemen beefy enough to not get beaten immediately– just long enough to let the play develop.

You might want to read that part of the game review carefully, because it’s going to be highly relevant over the final four games.

The Bills managed to win without a quarterback with a gun– and with their second-best defensive lineman (Pro Bowl DT Marcell Dareus) missing the entire second half.

3. Do you want cheese with your whine?

Marcell Dareus was the third pick in the 2011 draft. He made the Pro Bowl in 2013, and should have made it in 2012. He is an infinitely better player than TE Gary ‘Clank’ Barnidge and C Nick McDonald combined.

The Bills played the game without RB C.J. Spiller (who gained 933 yards last year, averaging 4.6 a carry). They were missing CB Leodis McKelvis, who started 13 games for them last year, and knocked down 20 passes. Just for comparative purposes, that’s as many “Passes defensed” as Joe Haden had in 2013.

Last spring, Buffalo gave free agent Chris Williams a 4-year, $13.5 million deal to play guard for them. He injured his back and has missed the whole season.

In 2013, the Bills drafted MLB Kiko Alonso in the second round. As a rookie, he had 2 sacks, 4 interceptions, 5 passes defensed, 1 fumbled forced and 2 fumbles recovered. Alsonso blew out his ACL in the off-season and hasn’t played a game this year.

Now what were you going to say about the Browns not being at full strength?

Not to pick on the guy, but Gary Barnidge is 29. In his seven-year career in the NFL, he has started only 32 games– 21 with the Browns. His career totals are:

  • 43 catches on 79 targets
  • 597 yards (13.7 per catch; 7.6 per attempt)
  • 3 career TDs.

If you can’t withstand losing that player, you’re probably looking at 1-15 with him.

Alex Mack is a loss– he’s played five seasons never missed a game and been to the Pro Bowl twice. Poke Cameron is in his fourth year, and has played well in only one of them.

I get that it’s depressing to lose, but let’s not make stupid excuses for why, or pretend that the Browns are the only team affected by injuries. In point of fact, I was rather impressed by how capably Ryan Seymour (who was Seattle’s seventh-round pick in 2013) stepped in.

An organization that can replace not one, but two centers and still get reasonable play is an organization that scouts awfully well.

4. That’s more like it

A week ago, I scoffed at the notion that Puff Gordon would make a major contribution. His made that comment look foolish.

This week was closer to what I expected: 7 catches on 13 targets for 75 yards, no scores– a number of patterns where either he or Brian Hoyer weren’t on the same page.

I’d be tempted to blame Puff for all of the plays– it’s a new offensive system; he hasn’t played in it for 10 games> But Hoyer played so poorly (18-30 for 192 yards and 2 awful INTs; game score 51) that I balk at assuming that he was in the right to any degree yesterday.

The taunting penalty… part of that was that Jerome Boger feels unfulfilled if the game goes two plays without a penalty call. Boger’s crew leads the league in phantom calls or ticky-tack infractions. It’s a slap week when his game doesn’t have the most penalties called (there were 16 for 121 yards today).

But that play– coupled with the missed connections– and factoring in the interview where he complained about his teammates… it’s a reminder of why I wanted to trade Puff last year and would be delighted to shop him this off-season. A good player doesn’t cause this much chaos.

5. Johnny Football’s Reign of Era Begins

It has been long past time for the Browns to use the player they gave up a #1 and #3 pick to take. But probably not for any of the reasons most people think.

1. Hoyer’s contract expires at the end of the year. It would be grossly irresponsible to make a contract decision– keep or dump– without seeing how well (if at all) Johnny Football can play.

2. Rookies need to play full games– against opponents who are trying. In his postgame presser, Mike Pettine tried to point out the obvious (1:31):

“You gotta be careful sometimes, at the end of games, where you’re getting softer coverages or a little bit more predictable defenses…”

Precisely. It was 20-3; there was 12:01 left in the game. Johnny Football was 3-4 for 54 yards– with two scrambles for 13 yards.  Hooooooodley DOOOOO!!!!!

After he scored with 8:54 left– and he did his little gesture– Buffalo went 64 yards on 10 plays, burning 5:15 off the clock and kicking a field goal to make it 23-10

When he got the ball back, he went 1-2 for four yards, then mishandled the snap (because he was watching the Bills do a late shift) and fumbled the ball at the 2 for a Buffalo touchdown.

Of course it was a touchdown. I thought so, both analysts thought so, Mike Carey (the outstanding former ref who analyzes these calls) thought it was a fumble. Only Jerome Boger thought it wasn’t, and what does he know?

The only thing positive about Boger is that he is consistent. He doesn’t make bad calls and then try to even them up, as Jeff Triplette, Terry McAulaay or Ed Hochuli do.

the inhabitants of Channel 19’s Insane Asylum were too busy grunting and flinging their own poop to pay attention to the former players pointing out that that drive– where Buffalo was trying– was just as significant as the drive where he scored a TD. . But they were right– as was the coach.

The only way to see if Johnny Football can play– he threw two balls that were nearly picked off– is to watch him in game conditions.

3. There’s nothing to be gained from watching more Brian Hoyer. Maybe the league has caught up to him (or Kyle Shanahan’s offense). Maybe he’s been worn down from the pounding he’s been taking. Maybe he’s cracking under pressure (he is playing for a contract).

But, for whatever reason, he’s played badly in the last four games.

The only reason not to make the switch is because “The Browns can still make the playoffs.” They can’t. Or, more precisely, they aren’t going to, unless the AFC North teams crater.

Yeah, there’s a chance the other teams might screw up:

  • Cincinnati beat Tampa by only one point (14-13), in a game where Andy Dalton threw three interceptions. (It was on the road, but Tampa is 2-9)
  • Baltimore lost to San Diego (34-33) at home, because the defense couldn’t stop Philip Rivers.
  • Pittsburgh lost 35-32 to New Orleans– also at home– because neither team could play defense.

But thw Browns can’t run well, It can’t stop the run. It lacks talent at the skill positions. It has little pass rush. Its kicking teams are atrocious. If it got in, it would be humiliated.

Well, we’ll talk about that later on.


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