Browns Review, Game 1 (@ New York)

Opening Statement

 OK, before everyone completely freaks out and begins tearing each other to shreds, let’s consider a couple of entirely-logical possibilities.

1. That is a genuinely good Jets team. This is not an unreasonable statement. The Jets were clearly starting to tune out Rex Ryan as early as 2012. That’s one of the reasons Mike Pettine cut and run on his mentor at the end of the 2012 season.

In fact, had Rob Chudzynski not lost control of his team in 2013– had Cleveland beaten the 6-8 Jets in week 15, guaranteeing them a losing record– Ryan would have been fired. But owner Woody Johnson decided he couldn’t fire a coach for improving a 6-10 team to 8-8.

Had the Browns won, Chudzynski might have saved his job… meaning that Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi might still be here. That’s a terrifying thought; maybe it’s for the best that they lost.

Rex turned out to be the very same type of coach his dad Buddy was, with the same issues:

  • Constant blustering about how great they would be
  • Refusal to fix mistakes and sloppy play– or eliminate the players making them
  • A fascination with talented loudmouths and willingness to take them on
  • Intolerance of journeymen players who kept quiet and did the work
  • Poor discipline
  • Lack of attention to detail (on offense)
  • Fascination with quarterbacks with terrible fundamentals

You’d think Ryan would be a disciplinarian– he wasn’t. All bark and no bite. After a while, players know they’re going to be part of the same old clown show and they go through the motions.

New GM Mike McCagnan and Coach Todd Bowles weeded out the nonsense. The only players with attitude they have are people who can also play. CB Darrelle Revis isn’t a personality I’d be eager to have on my team… but he has been to 6 Pro Bowls in 9 seasons. CB Antonio Cromartie, same deal (4 Pro Bowls in 10 years).

Rex Ryan wanted a “big-play” receiver, and he brought in first Braylon Edwards (1 Pro Bowl in 8 seasons) and then Percy Harvin (1 out of 6). Those prima donnas gave Ryan all kinds of headaches and virtually no production. And because he had to keep looking past their behavior, they weakened his authority.

Bowles and McCagnan brought in Brandon Marshall. a player who is even more difficult. Marshall is now on his fourth NFL team in ten seasons because he simply will not stop yapping about his salary, his touches, his coordinator, his coach or the fans/city. Over time, teams can’t wait to be rid of him.

But Marshall has been to 5 Pro Bowls in 9 seasons, because he is ungodly gifted. He has 7 seasons of 1,000 yards and 4 with 8 or more TDs. Plus he’s missed only 8 games in 9 years.

There are quarterbacks like Andy Dalton, Brian Hoyer, Kyle Orton, and Ryan Fitzpatrick floating around the league. They aren’t world-beaters, but they will provide you a level of competence and consistency that you won’t get from players like Mark Sanchez or Geno Smith or (last year) 34-year-old Mike Vick. The post-Ryan Jets simply signed one and let him play.

Last year, Ryan had two coordinators with a decade of experience showing they are deficient– Marty Mornhinweg and Dennis Thurman– running his units. Bowles brought in Chan Gailey and Kacy Rogers. Gailey has usually been at least competent; Rogers (who built the defensive lines in first Dallas and then Miami) might be exceptional.

When you add those four players and coaches to a team that already had strong offensive and defensive lines and was already top-10 in rushing, you could have a very strong team. Especially when the coaches are make it clear that they won’t tolerate stupid plays or slacking off and everyone begins giving 100%.

The Jets probably aren’t going very far with Fitzpatrick (and Smith, when he gets healthy) at the controls. But if you think of the 2014 Jets not as a 4-12 team (their actual record) but as an underperforming 6-8 win team, it isn’t hard to see them going 10-6 or higher– maybe even a wild-card win– this year.

In which case, the beating the Browns took will not look as devastating, in hindsight.

There is another scenario.


2. You can’t rebuild on the fly. The notion that the Browns were going to look good was a fantasy at best. Here is the proposition the Browns asked everyoneg to accept:

A. We will subtract the following components from the 2014 team:

  • Our offensive coordinator (Kyle Shanahan)
  • Our starting quarterback (Brian Hoyer)
  • Our leading rusher (Terrance West)
  • Three of the top five receivers in catches: Miles Austin (#2), “Poke” Cameron (#4) and “Puff” Gordon (#5), all of whom had made the Pro Bowl in their careers.

B. We will replace them with the following ingredients:

  • An offensive coordinator (John DeFilippo) who has never coordinated an offense at any level
  • Josh McCown, a 36-year-old quarterback with an unbroken history of failure
  • Duke Johnson, a rookie runner with a history of injuries– including two he suffered in training camp
  • Two receivers (Brian Hartline, Dwayne Bowe) who had made the Pro Bowl but had also been cashiered by their old teams for ineffectiveness and were not signed by better teams.
  • A tight end (Rob Housler) who had also been told “Go ‘way boy– ya bother me” by his old team, but had not made the Pro Bowl

C. Rather than work them extensively in training camp, we will play them sparingly or not at all. Part of this will be due to injuries (which we will not express any concern about), but much of it simply due to choice.

Just to make things more interesting, we will bring in Terrelle Pryor, a wide receiver who has never actually received, and Robert Turbin, a running back expected to miss between 25-40% of the regular season.

D. We will play well-disciplined, error-free football from the opening kickoff of game #1.

Does that sound likely? Of course not. What, exactly, would a rational person figure would happen when that team faces a quality opponent that is ready to play– and then suffers an injury that puts a quarterback who also didn’t play in pre-season into the game?

Probably not anything good– and that’s exactly what happened:

  • The quarterbacks were sacked 3 times– 2 of which produced fumbles.
  • The offense lost 3 fumbles, all of which cost them points:
    • McCown’s swandive into the turf cost them a chance to kick a field goal.
    • The first fumble by Johnny Manziel gave the Jets the ball on the Cleveland 9, which set up the score that made it 31-10
  • Manziel’s interception that was returned to the Cleveland 18, setting up the score that made it 21-10
  • 8 offensive penalties for 70 yards

Those aren’t the official totals, because I removed the defense’s fumble and penalties.

I don’t believe in playing counterfactuals– the charade where we imagine (a) the Browns didn’t make any mistakes and (b) the opponent (who was coasting) couldn’t have scored more than it did. We don’t know how much the Browns would have scored if they played mistake-free football or whether the Jets could have gotten 31 points without any help.

But if we add 3 points to the Browns’ total and subtract 14 from the Jets, we have a 17-13 loss… exactly the outcome I predicted.

So perhaps the game we saw was a case of two teams at different stages of readiness. We could hope Bowe, Turbin, plus TE E.J. Bibbs, (who was also inactive) will soon contribute. And assume that Johnson just had a slow game against a very tough rushing defense (in 2014, it was fifth in total yards allowed and sixth in rushing average).

Probably many of the errors will go away with more work. Remember, Alex Mack was penalized twice– but he was coming back from an injury where missed most of last season.


Do I believe all of that? No. But none of those statements are entirely false, either. Saying, for example, “The game would have been totally different if Josh McCown hadn’t gotten hurt” would produce gales of laughter to anyone who watched him play in Arizona, Detroit, Oakland, Miami, Carolina, San Francisco, Chicago and Tampa Bay.

But his injury did force a recovering alcoholic with tendonitis to take over at 14:15 of the second quarter


Obviously another theory is that the Browns really suck, and are heading towards a 2-14 season or worse. The probability of that went up dramatically when Marcus Mariota looked like Otto Graham, Jr. in the Titans’ first game. It was only against Tampa Bay, but it was still 42-14 and he maxed out his rating.

I’ll take questions now.

The Browns should cut Joe Haden,
then beat him with a shovel and–

OK, caller, I think we get your general drift here.

I’m probably less of a Joe Haden fan than 75% of the populace. I thought he was underrated in 2010-11, properly valued in 2012 and then overrated the last two years. His best seasons were his first three, when he played the run well and made it very difficult to catch passes.

The last few, he’s started believing his press clippings and things have slipped.

Haden is a good– not great– pass defender who struggles with players who are significantly bigger than he is.  Marshall is exactly the king of player who gives him trouble– six inches taller, 40 pounds heavier, much greater reach and a nasty, competitive disposition that you saw when he ripped the ball out of Tashaun Gipson’s hands.

Haden had been running his mouth about how he thinks he plays best against taller receivers. Maybe he should shut up.

But he didn’t singlehandedly cost the Browns the game. Nor would a perfect game by Haden have prevented a loss.

But he didn’t cover Marshall–

Who had 6 catches– on 9 targets– for 62 yards and a score. That’s a good day, but it wouldn’t make him the star of anyone’s fantasy league team.

Anyway, why single Haden out? Nobody covered Chris Owusu, an undrafted free agent from Stanford, who has been in the league four years. He had 4 catches for 55 yards. And the Jets only threw to him 6 times, so he could have had a much bigger day.

Eric Decker had the ball thrown to him only 3 times. He caught it twice, gained 37 yards (18.5 a catch) and scored a TD too.

Look, the only Jet receiver who didn’t have a good day was TE Kellen Davis, who missed the only ball thrown to him When Fitzpatrick has a 95.7 rating, your pass defense stunk out the joint.

The Browns had no sacks. They hit the quarterback twice and hurried his throw maybe 3 times

The only positive they had: they tipped the ball away 4 times and picked it once.

Which they immediately gave away–

A fact I am sure young Mr. Gipson is acutely aware of. I wasn’t happy to see that happen– you could argue it was the play that swing the momentum.

But there is a chance that the play will be a lesson to a 23-year-old who has started only 30 games in his career– less than two seasons. If he never lets that happen to him again– because he carries that memory for the rest of his career– it will mean the game served some purpose.

Whereas everyone else getting their asses handed to them when the Jets ran the ball didn’t produce any object lessons.

How could they look that bad
when they spent three high picks on defense?

Well, the first reason is that neither #2 pick Nate Orchard not #3 pick Xavier Cooper was active on Sunday. The roster move was a tacit admission of something I’ve said since the draft review: neither draft pick played good run defense in college and they won’t do it in the NFL.

Another reason is that both LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson and C Nick Mangold have been to Pro Bowls and LG James Carpenter (signed from Seattle),  RG Breno Giacomini (who came from Green Bay) and RT Willie Colon (migrated from Pittsburgh) are all skilled professionals. Rex Ryan did believe in running the ball; Carpenter is the only new arrival.

Also, Ryan rotated his backs. That’s why most people haven’t heard of Chris Ivory; he only gained 829 yards a year ago, because he only had 198 carries. Last season he was splitting carries with the remains of Chris Johnson, with Bilal Powell as the #3 man.

New management let Johnson (who still thinks he could get 2,000 yards if he had the right situation) go, and will let Ivory and Powell do the work. Yesterday, Ivory averaged 4.6 yards on 20 carries; Powell averaged 5.2 yards on 12.

But what happened?

What do you mean “What happened?” The Browns are to run defense what NBC is to dramatic TV; did you really think Danny Shelton and Randy Starks would singlehandedly vault then NFL’s worst run defense into the top 10?

As long as the Browns have Desmond Bryant starting at one end, he’s gonna get blown off the ball. Starks is 32 and he doesn’t have enough gas left in the tank to dominate a good lineman.

A team that starts Meowkevious Mingo at linebacker will watch him get steamrollered. He’s a busted pick, whose only role will be as a coverage linebacker. He made a great tip that broke up a possible touchdown yesterday, but you can’t play him in a base defense against a team that can run.

Paul Kruger is a situational pass rusher– a guy that can make sacks if the line has to double-team the top threats.

The really bad news– it’s kinda hard to tell, because the Jets really are good at running the ball– is that Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby might be done. I’d prefer to wait on that pronouncement until I see a team that can’t run as well… but they both had bad games yesterday, and they’re both at the age where players start retiring or getting cut.

What else do you wanna know?

What do we do at quarterback?

We? As Tonto once said to the Lone Ranger when they were surrounded by Apaches, “What you mean we, white man?” I didn’t sign “Swan Dive” McCown; I accept no responsibility for him.

What you do is all you can do. You signed the jabronie to be your starter, so if the NFL clears him to play, you have to let him start, He had, by Josh McCown’s standards, a good game:

  • The Browns weren’t behind when he was pulled
  • He wasn’t intercepted
  • His weekly fumble (he has 55 in 70 games) was ill-timed, but it didn’t cost the Browns any points. New York got the ball on the 20 and the drive stalled

Pulling your starter after one game is like holding a press conference and announcing that you have no clue about what you’re doing. (And, yes, I know Chris Palmer once did that.)

Would it have made a difference
if McCown had stayed in the game?

I doubt it. McCown was 17-32 going into the game; the rap on him is that he always finds a way to lose. He was playing kinda badly– 6.1 yards per pass– and the Jets hadn’t starting bringing the heat yet. I’m pretty sure McCown would masterminded a defeat.

Personally, I was delighted to get a chance to see what Manziel could do in a situation where there was no pressure on him. He hadn’t taken any snaps with the first team– hadn’t played in nearly a month.

Nobody thought he was gonna play; a lot of players would have looked less prepared and played less well than he did.

You think he played well?

I said “a lot of players would have played less well.” Manziel played extremely well in the first half. He had two first downs called back due to penalties on Isaiah Crowell and Joel Bitonio.

If you remove his 54-yarder to Travis Benjamin, he still went 3-5 for 39 yards– nearly 8.0 a pass.

He didn’t get happy feet until the Jets realized that they could crash the pocket without worrying about the running game.

Things got pretty dire in the third quarter (20.1 rating, 23 yards passing). But even then, he sort of recovered his poise.

He went 6-12 for 66 yards in the fourth quarter. Not a great performance (5.5 yards a pass) and admittedly in garbage time, but McCown or Brandon Weeden wouldn’t have been able to complete 50% after what happened in the third quarter.

He looked overwhelmed to me

Well, that’s likely to happen when everyone involved in the game realizes that you can’t run the ball. Browns running backs had:

  • 18 yards on 6 carries in the first quarter (3.0 per carry)
  • 17 yards on 8 carries in the second (2.2 per carry)
  • 9 yards on 5 carries in the third (1.8 per carry)
  • 2 yards on 1 carry in the fourth (you can do the math on that, right?)

45 yards on 20 carries? They did better with Trent Richardson and Willis McGahee. They were very nearly outgained by Terrance West, playing in his first game as a Titan (12 carries for 41 yards).

There’s no excuse for that. None. If that’s the best they can play, they’ll do the Cool Millen.

Do you think Duke Johnson was hurt?

If he was hurting, then why did he get 31 snaps? Put Shaun Draughn (6 snaps and 1 carry) in. Or play one of the other running backs.

You know they were shorthanded, Geoff

And whose fault was that? The Browns.

  • They decided spend a #3 last season on a scrub linebacker, meaning they passed up Tre Mason of Auburn
  • They traded a #4 and a #6 pick to get back into the third and then blew it on West, instead of Jerick McKinnon or Andre Williams
  • They decided to trade West away at the end of pre-season
  • They decided to keep more defensive backs than the Indians have short relievers
  • They decided to keep four tight ends– none of whom can block or catch
  • They decided to use waivers to get a running back they knew couldn’t play right away
  • They decided to spend a #3 pick in this year’s draft on a running back with a history of injuries
  • They decided not to sign another veteran back.

Bla-de-bla-de-bla… I don’t care. The story of this season could very well be the following phrase:

The Browns thought they could get away with [….] and they were wrong.

OK, I’m done with this game. There was no component of this game that did not stink for Cleveland, and they need to apply a lot of deodorant between now and Sunday, or they’re going to be 0-2.

There aren’t many teams in the NFL you can beat playing the way they did. Only two of them are left on this schedule.

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