First Impressions: Game 13 (Indianapolis)

1. The Definitive Word: Since my wife’s prediction was infinitely more accurate than mine, I thought I’d present her opinion first:

“In this game, you have to throw the ball, you have to catch the ball– and you have to kick the ball through the @&$$% uprights!”

Can’t argue with that., honey.

2. The proximate cause: There’s no point to going shopping for a kicker with three games left in the season– especially when you’re not going to win on any tiebreakers. But K Billy Cundiff , whose contract expires at the end of the season, has to be the first guy out the door. Look at his game-by-game results:

  • Two missed field goals in the 23-21 loss to Baltimore.
  • Missed field goals in each of the last 4 games
  • 9-12 from 30-39 yards
  • 5-7 (counting today) on 40-49 yards
  • 1-3 from 50+ yards.

What’s significant about the last bullet is not that he missed a 60-yarder against Atlanta (the other miss was a 50-yarder against Baltimore)– it’s that the Browns don’t even try 50-yarders, because they know Cundiff (80-30 lifetime) will miss them.

It’s not like Cundiff singlehandedly cost the Browns the game– when you lose by one point, everyone is accountable.

But if you are going to play Martyball– control the ball, run over opponents, throw to spots, play great defense, force turnovers, win the close games– you can’t have kicking teams as bad as this. You must have a guy with a strong leg who can kick accurately in cold weather and when the game is on the line.

And as (in chronological order) the Cowboys, Bucs, Packers, Saints, Falcons, Chiefs, Lions, Browns, Ravens, the Washington Boehners, the 49ers, the Jets have learned before this management team, Cundiff isn’t that guy.

A good kicking teams coach can find people who can do this job. Bad ones recycle through people who have proven that they fall short in one or more areas. That’s why the next guy out after Cundiff should be coach Chris Tabor.

3. “Say he can go, Joe”: It is impossible to make a rational argument for Brian Hoyer to keep playing after this performance:

  • The defense scored 14 of the 24 points– and set up another field goal with a turnover.
  • The offense had 15 possessions and only 248 total yards. Its five longest drives were:
    • 9 plays, 77 yards, TD
    • 10 plays, 38 yards, missed field goal
    • 5 plays, 37 yards, interception
    • 5 plays 25 yards, punt
    • 6 plays, 20 yards, punt
  • The team’s longest play was 27 yards, it had only three plays of 20+ yards, and only five plays of 10-19 yards (two of those being runs).
  • offense started three of its 15 possessions inside Colts territory and got only three points:
    • Colts 46, 7:06 left in 1Q: 5 plays, 37 yards– ball lost on interception
    • Colts 38, 14:02 left in 3Q: 3 plays, 7 yards, ball punted away (from the Indianapolis 36, because a 53-yarder is unmakeable)
    • Colts 23, 10:08 left in 4Q: 4 plays, 2 yards, field goal.
  • Hoyer didn’t have acceptable performance in any quarter:
    • First: 3-7 for 35 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT (QB rating of 19.0)
    • Second: 5-10 for 64 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT (rating of 70.4)
    • Third: 2-5 for 7 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT (rating of 47.9)
    • Fourth: 4-9 for 34 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT (rating of 34.9)

And the starts don’t reflect the (by my count) four passes where Hoyer missed an open receiver. (Yes, there were three dropped passes, including Puff Gordon‘s muff late in the game, but he also missed two guys on breaks.)

When the high point of the game is the stretch when the quarterback completes 50% of his passes for 6.4 yards a play, that’s a reason to change quarterbacks.

When your quarterback has only three games left on his contract and you aren’t going to re-sign him, that’s a reason to change quarterbacks.

When you have a player that you traded a #1 and a #3 to get, that’s a reason to change quarterbacks.

All due respect to LT Joe Thomas and SS Donte Whitner, who apparently took the lead on the issue (which makes, sense, their being Pro Bowl players and all(, but this is a game where if the Browns had gotten any amount of competent play from the QB position, they would have won.

They’re going to be asked to toss Hoyer under the bus– which is an entirely reasonable question for the media to pose.

I don’t know how anyone could answer “Yeah, let’s see another game of this.” Even  if (present company included), you don’t like Johnny Football  you don’t expect him to succeed and you think the team will be better off the sooner it puts this infantile fixation with shake-and-bake quarterbacks to rest, it makes sense to change.

The only argument you can make for Hoyer is “They have Cincinnati coming up next week, and he’s 2-0 lifetime against them.” And assuming that the guy who beat them 17-6 last year and 24-3 this year will show up next week is as much wishful thinking as analysis.

4. The Smurfs. One of the reasons more people were open is that Puff Gordon (2-7 for 15 yards– seeming, once again, uninterested in the outcome) played fewer snaps and Taylor Gabriel (2-4 for 16 yards, Andrew Hawkins (4-7 for 38 yards) and Travis Benjamin (1-5 for 27 yards).

I won’t have snaps until tomorrow, but it was clear that Puff wasn’t playing as high a percentage. As well it should be, since Coach Mike Pettine claims that tjis team is based on competition.

The heading is based on something Indy Coach Chuck Pagano said to the broadcast team. Which, since they’re all short, makes sense.

I don’t see Benjamin as a player, but Gabriel and Hawkins certainly can help the #1 pick that the Browns should spend on a receiver. Hopefully they can get another in free agency or with the picks they trade some sucker franchise for Puff. 

Yup, you heard that– out the door. Watching his demeanor… knowing that Puff hates cold weather… knowing his contract is up at the end of 2015… given the likelihood of him getting arrested of suspended again… If the Browns don’t package him, they’re insane.

5. Not to be crass, but… By my count, the Colts dropped eight passes:

  • 3 for Reggie Wayne (1-8 for 5 yards; he looked very old)
  • 2 for Coby Fleener (5-10 for 56 yards)
  • 1 for Hakeem Nicks (0-2 and looking like he has zero idea how this offense works)
  • 2 forT.Y. Hilton (10 catches for 150 yards and 2 TDs, but he used 19 touches)

A word about Hilton’s results. Yeah, he had great fantasy league stats, but the Colts ran 76 offensive plays. His 19 touches meant that he consumed a full 25% of the game

The analogy that applies is the NBA player who scores 34 points by going 13-35 from the field. It’s not as good as it looks

Both RBs– Dan Herron and Trent Richardson– blew blitz pickups. Richardson’s miss on SS Jim Leonhard on 3rd and 10 form the Cleveland 43 was especially damaging– that cost Baltimore (who was trailing 24-19) 11 yards and took them out of field goal range.

There were at least two plays where QB Andrew Luck threw incomplete when he had plenty of running room– including the miss to Nicks from the Cleveland 12 with 1:25 left.

I was surprised that Indy called only 15 runs and had Luck drop back 58 times (in five cases, he ran). They ran only 5 times in the first quarter:

  • Herron had 3 carries for 12 yards (4.0 a carry).
  • Riochardson had one of his best starts ever– 2 carries for 5 yards.

You’re facing a team in the bottom 10 in rushing and you throw 11 times and run 5– and then abandon the run? Indy threw 11 passes in the second quarter and ran only twice– both keepers by Luck. If the opponent doesn’t have to worry about you running a whole section of your playbook, it gets a lot easier to defend you.

All that noted, the Cleveland defense still held the #1 offense to 27 points (they elected not to kick twice, so…)– nearly a TD below its average. It scored 14 points and also handed the offense the ball on the Colts 38 and 23 (which it only turned into a field goal).

It was a hell of a performance, even if they couldn’t quite pull it off.

5. Random notes. A lot of things occur to me during the game, and I usually forget to mention them. So let me do a core dump:

A. Dear God, was it nice to enjoy the Fox telecast experience again. Both play-by-play guy Kevin Burkhardt and analyst (and former Pro Bowl safety) John Lynch observed and commented shrewdly– and didn’t fixate on a few players and incessantly try to shoehorn the game into their “storyline.”

The camera work was creative and often prescient– it gave great looks at key plays. Having halftime hosts who speak intelligently– who discuss the game, offer opinions (not cliches and alpha male crap) and support them– is also a blessing.

Half the time the idiots on CBS don’t even mention the game it’s halftime at. And none of them has a functioning brain stem.

B. I’d never seen a game called by referee Clete Blakeman before. If I see him call another game like that, he’ll be my favorite refs. That was an excellent performance.

The only point where I disagreed was Dan Herron’s dive– it looked like a first down from the original angle, but it’s debatable (my wife, who wears reading glassed but not trifocals, disagreed).

The Fox crew mentioned that Blakeman’s crew calls fewer penalties than any other crew, which might be a problem. I didn’t see any missed calls… but those teams play pretty clean. I’d have to see what they do with a game between two guys who screw up all the time to endorse them.

C. The reason more holding and pass interference calls were made late in the game is that the Cleveland pass defense was getting tired. Your legs start to slow, you grab more. As Vince Lombardi used to say, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Cowards isn’t the right word, but his point– when you’re tired, you make more mistakes– is 100% correct.

D. Indy doesn’t have a great front seven… but if I had to list an offensive MVP, it would be C Ryan Seymour. That’s an awfully good performance for a guy who was a #7 pick last year, was not the starting center at Vamderbilt (he played guard and tackle, but filled in at center) and was making his first NFL start.

Defensive star of the game, with all due respect to CBs Joe Haden and Buster Skrine, was either LB Craig Robertson or FS Jim Leonhard, It’s the first time I’ve ever seen  Robertson not make a single error about where to go and what to do. It would be worth letting Karlos Dansby come back slowly to see if he can do that again.

And, while I always hate to praise the undersized white guy (it’s a bias we all have– we identify with people who look like us), Leonhard has delivered an amazing amount of production for a guy who has little or no physical ability. You plug him into one of the safety spots, your defense simply works better.

Kicking teams star would be Marlon Moore, who downed a punt at the Indy 1 in the third quarter and nearly made the play of the game.

With 12:38 left to go in the game, and the score 21-19, the Browns were forced to punt from their 37 after Hoyer put together a masterful 5-play, 17-yard drive.

Moore, the outside man, blew by Josh Gordy, hammered Josh Cribbs at the 11 and forced a fumble.

He might have recovered it if Gordy– who didn’t quit on the play after he was beaten– hadn’t raced back and smothered the ball.

E. Note that by my offensive star and the two defensive stars are subs– demonstrating the value of a front office and coaching staff that can build depth. One of the stories of this team, at season’s end, will be the number of lost player-games it was able to withstand.

You can, if you try very hard, convince yourself that the Browns would be 10-3 if Alex Mack, Poke Cameron, Puff Gordon, et al… were available. That’s not how life in the NFL works, of course, but some people imagine that it will happen.

What’s impressive is seeing that the Browns don’t have to fold up shop if they lose a frontline player– that they can hang in there and compete. If this were The Three Stooges or Shurmurball, the Browns would have lost at least two more games due purely to inability to handle normal in-season events.

I was trying to think of the last time the team was able to produce a player like K’Waun Williams and I had to go back to Daven Holly and the Phil Savage era to find one.

F. Nice non-challenge by Pagano on the dubious 3-yard catch to Hawkins in the fourth quarter. I thought Hawkins juggled the ball, but he decided not to challenge.

The Browns missed on third down anyway– and when he needed his challenge 13 plays later (when Puff let the ball his the ground trying to pull in another rotten throw by Hoyer), he had it.

G. Stupid coaching decision of the game was Pettine calling the time out with 36 second left.

My opinion about calling timeouts is based (I hate to admit this) on the coaching philosophy of Robert Montgomery Knight. Knight, who chose players for their intelligence and self-discipline (and masochism) drilled his teams relentlessly on end-of-game situations.

Knight’s view– which makes absolute sense– is that if time is short and everyone is panicking, the team that is more intelligent and better-prepared has the advantage. Think of the situation:

  • The Colts are behind 24-19
  • There are 36 seconds left
  • The ball is at the 3, after a successful Fourth-&-1 play.
  • They’ve used two of their three time outs.

Which team is more likely to be hyper? Who’s more likely to make the mental mistake?

By calling time out, Pettine let the Colts collect themselves– and they scored on the next play. He also, inexcusably, left the Colts their last time out if something blew up.

Bad, bad move– as the game events quickly illustrated.

H. The Browns were charged with a time out with 19 seconds left due to an NFL rule that was prompted by shennanigans in the 1970’s or 80’s.

When teams ran out of time outs, players would fake injuries to stop the clock. To end that, the NFL passed a rule that said any injury to a player would cost his team a time out. If the team is out of time outs, the referees will run 10 seconds off the clock.

The only exception is if the player was injured due to a penalty on the opponent.

I. Paul Kruger didn’t hit Luck with his helmet, but he did hit Luck in the head. Your right to see the Browns win does not supersede Luck’s right to about brain injury from preventable blows.

Gotta go look at the tape and check the in-game data. See you (hopefully) Tuesday or Wednesday.

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