Browns Review: Game 15 (@Kansas City)

Note: This piece was finished Wednesday morning at around 10 AM. Because I don’t have a deadline, I always let a finished piece sit for a few hours (or longer), to let me come back, see if I spot anything I want to remove, revise or enhance.

In light of what has happened, I could revise this. But I’ll let it stand and deal with the topical stuff separately.

Opening Statement

I’d like to begin with an announcement. At the beginning of every post, Delay Of Game will designate a Mike Pettine Leadership Award Captain for the post. Following in the tradition established by the Future Former Coach of the Browns– who picked WR Dwayne Bowe as one of the players to go out for the coin toss at the Chiefs game– DoG will designate one or more people (current Browns, former Browns, celebrities or fictional characters) who best embody the spirit of the piece.

Our captains for this post are Jim Daniell, Armonty Bryant and De’Ante Saunders. Jim Daniell was the two-way tackle and former Ohio State star who served as co-captain of the 1946 Browns. Just before the AAFC championship game in December, Daniell was arrested following an altercation with Cleveland police. Daniell was booked on public intoxication. Paul Brown cut him, saying that the team captain had “a special obligation to be exemplary in his behavior.”

Bryant and Saunders, you can read about. (Saunders finally has been released.)

There are two forms of fantasy football that are highly popular around this time of year. One is the “football pool on steroids” that people play with their friends or at the office– or, in states whose Attorney General is asleep at the switch, for money online. The other form is played by bad teams and their followers,using the following rules:

  1. Study the wreckage of a depressing result, looking for positive elements.
  2. Put those elements into the best possible context, using any degree of hindsight or logical fallacies needed to make them seem good.
  3. Ignore or downplay the negative elements, even if they’re inextricably entwined with the positives.

Nate Ulrich presents an excellent example in this piece entitled “Running game has rhythm, but it took too long to find”.

Here are the facts. The Browns have played 15 games of the season. Going into the game, they were 30th in rushing attempts, 28th in rushing average and 29th in both rushing yards and rushing TDs.

Those rankings are substantially lower than their 2014 results (6th in attempts, 4th in TDs, 17th in yards) in every category except rushing average (which was also 28th). In the 15 games:

  • In 9 of the 15 games, Cleveland gained under 100 rushing yards. In three games, they gained less than 40 yards.
  • In 11 of the 15 games, they averaged under 4.0 yards a carry. In three games, they averaged less than 3.0 yards.
  • In 11 of the 15 games, they five first downs rushing or less.
  • In 11 of the 15 games, they did not score a rushing touchdown.

But two weeks ago, the Browns gained 230 yards on 41 carries (a 5.6 average) with 2 rushing TDs against San Francisco. In case you haven’t been paying attention to the 49ers, they have now lost 5 of their last 6 games.

Last week the Browns gained 94 yards against Seattle, had only 5 first downs rushing and did not score a touchdown. But they did gain 5.5 yards per rush.

Sunday, the Browns gained 232 yards on 36 carries (with 13 rushing first downs and one TD) against the Chiefs. Based on this evidence, Ulrich (and others–admittedly I’m singling him out) concludes:

“The Browns proved they have figured out how to excel in the running game on a consistent basis under first-year offensive coordinator John DeFilippo.”

To what does he attribute this?

“I feel we are committing to the run,” said Browns running back Isaiah Crowell, who rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries (5.5 average).”

Aside from the obvious inanity– they just decided to do it and then did it– the speaker is a a back who got 16 carries claiming the team committed to the run. Do we have any specifics as to how this happened, or was it just the power of positive thinking?

Coach Mike Pettine conceded as much last week when he said, “I think it took us a while to figure out who we were from a staff standpoint, figuring out where we were schematically.”

I’m not clear what that means. One reading is that it took Flipper most of the season to figure out which chapter of the playbook he put the running plays in. Or it took 12 games to figure out which ones worked.

That last possibility seems plausible, since the Browns have run less than 20 times a game (which is counting the quarterback scrambling) in 6 of the 15 games.

Another possibility is that Pettine is throwing former line coach Andy Moeller under the bus. Moeller is the drunken horndog who came to Cleveland after getting fired by the Ravens. After news about his assult (or attempted rape; the details aren’t clear) broke, pressure forced Pettine to let him go.

It really takes craven behavior to get Terry Pluto to snark at you. It’s something like neglecting your responsibilities as a mother to the point where Lassie (not dingoes) steals your baby.

Here’s another insight from Ulrich:

Perhaps the Browns (3-12) would have won more games if they had worked out the kinks earlier.

I feel privileged to be able to read this wisdom for free. Any other ideas?

Quarterback Johnny Manziel’s mobility aids the running game, too.

“It helps because you have to account for Johnny on the reads and stuff like that,” Crowell said. “It gives us time to make reads and hit the correct holes.”

At least we have something approaching a rational statement. But actual insight comes from Big Money:

“I don’t think we had shown some of those looks on the zone-read stuff that we had this year,” Manziel said. “So [the Chiefs] were really aggressive, and I think the key to opening up the run game with me was to have our initial run game with our backs get going.”

Bingo. The Browns did something the Chiefs hadn’t seen.

It’s not just Johnny Relapse starting– it’s the forced revamp of the offense caused by a string of injuries. WR Andrew Hawkins was last seen in game 9. In the 12th game of the season, they lost LG Joel Bitonio and FB Malcolm Johnson. In game 13, WR Brian Hartline got hurt. In game 14, RG John Greco went down for the rest of the year.

The Browns rejiggered their formations and plays (Taylor Gabriel has seen his playing time drop; TE Jim Dray’s time has risen.) And, odd as this might sound, it helps to add a quarterback who ran 10-15 times a game against high-level opposition in college, as opposed to Josh McCown or Austin Davis.

There are three reasons that no one should take this data seriously.

1. It takes 2-4 games for opponents to catch onto what an opponent is doing and stop it. Much of what teams call “game planning” is just guessing what an opponent will do, then trying to think of some way to stop it.

The first time you try something the opponent is likely to get caught by surprise. Defenses have gotten so insanely complex that if a team hasn’t practiced something the week before a game, they probably can’t adapt on the fly.

The second or third opponents will have seen you do it, but not know if you plan to try it again. They might or might not be ready. Once an opponent sees you do something repeatedly, they expect it– and that’s when you see opponents doing things designed to stop you.

2. The Browns were facing an undermanned opponent. Kansas City was missing not one but two Pro Bowl linebackers. Tamba Hali has made the Pro Bowl four times; Justin Houston three times. Could it be that Dee Ford and Frank Zombo weren’t as skilled at defense as those two men?

3. Better running was offset by worse passing. I gotta give Big Money credit. He came close– entirely in passing– to identifying another reason not to get excited about improved running:

“I just missed too many throws,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I put it exactly where I wanted today. Luckily, we were in it because of the run game because I didn’t do enough job in the pass game.”

Pleasing as the improved running was, the quarterback’s 108 yards rushing were more than offset by his going 13-32 for 136 yards. A week ago, the Browns averaged 5.5 yards per carry against Seattle– and the quarterback went 19-32 for 161 yards, with a TD and an INT.

If that’s the kind of passing attack they have to live with in order to run well, they’ll still lose 75% of their games.

“But what if they can–?” And that’s the fantasy football element. You can’t assume the Browns will be able to combine:

  • The running game they displayed against San Francisco or Kansas City,
  • The quarterback play they got in the Pittsburgh game,
  • The run defense from the second half of the Chiefs, and
  • The pass defense from the Titans game.

It’s very rare– even in Cleveland– for a team to stink out the joint in every component of the game. To imagine that you can build on it is lunacy.

Another fallacy– because it happened late in the season, it proves the team is finally coming together. It’s a theory which can’t be disproven because the season ends before it can be tested.

In 2011, Eric Mangini’s first season, the Browns started 1-11 and then won their last four games. The “The team is buying into his philosophy” meme got circulated and it bought Mangini another season. The 2012 Browns emphatically disproved the notion than any rebuilding had begun, by going 5-11 again

If you try to construct a theory ex post facto (after the fact) to explain a chain of events, life will always supply events you can use to support it. You can say “The Browns are running well because C Alex Mack is finally recovered from his 2014 injury. Remember, the Browns stopped running well after Mack got injured last season.”

You could say “The Browns have been running well because Austin Pasztor is at guard. He knows how to run-block better than Joel Bitonio.” If you want, you can point to Cameron Erving replacing John Greco– in two of the three games, he’s been playing right guard.

But the real test of a theory is predictive value. It’s easy to explain an event that has already happened. It is much harder to predict what will occur– or to continue doing something when people expect it.

The effort against the 49ers came out of the blue– the way the San Francisco has played since then was taken much of the shine off it.

The Browns made what seemed like a noble effort against Seattle. Given the game the Seahawks just played (they were beaten 23-17 by St. Louis, with Case Keenum under center), it doesn’t look nearly as impressive.

The Chiefs game has some pleasing elements… but it came against an opponent who was undermanned, and might have been underestimating them. (The Chiefs, to a man, feel the outcome was due to their poor play, and not any skill shown by the Browns.)

But this week we can put the question to the test. The Browns finish against the Steelers. Pittsburgh just lost to Baltimore, with Ryan Mallett playing his first game for the Ravens. The loss puts Pittsburgh one game out of the Wild Card slot. They have to win– and then they need help.

If the Browns run for 200 yards against the Steelers? If they put up a good effort? If they don’t get flayed by Ben Roethlisberger? Then we can all be impressed at their progress.

Until then, not losing as badly as the Vegas spread suggested doesn’t even count in horseshoes.

Questions?

Did you see enough to decide whether Johnny Manziel should be the quarterback next year?

I’d seen enough a month ago, Johnny Relapse absolutely should not be the quarterback. The new GM should trade him ASAP.

After he nearly won the game? Why?

Because, as he correctly pointed out, he lost the game. He went 13-32 for 136 yards and an interception. That interception came with the score 10-3 and the ball on the Kansas City 40. He threw a terrible pass that CB Marcus Peters simply stepped in front of. That cost the Browns a chance to tie the game.

He missed TE Gary Barnidge on several throws. Again, as he himself noted, one miss came on the second play of the game, with lots of running room in front of Barnidge. If you believe in momentum, maybe that changes the whole game.

He has a bunch of misses last week as well.

And he also had a lot of dropped passes last week.

That’s true. And if we’re trying to explain why the Browns struggle to score points, their deficient receiving corps would be the first thing I’d mention. Here’s who lined up at receiver in the Chiefs game:

  • Darius Jennings (61 of the 68 snaps)
  • Travis Benjamin (48 snaps)
  • Bowe (31 snaps)
  • Gabriel (26)
  • Marlon Moore (10, due to his concussion)

Obviously this limits your options.

But that wasn’t the question. It was “Do you think the Browns can win with this quarterback?” The answer to that question is “No.”  And the weak personnel isn’t the reason the quarterback doesn’t square his shoulders, so his sternum (the bone all the ribs connect to) is pointing directly at the receiver. Doing that improves accuracy.

When they shoulders are squared, the arm can go over the top of the shoulders, not across the body. That gives the ball greater velocity– which helps on a cold, windy day.

If the shoulders are square, the hips and feet almost certainly have to be (otherwise the quarterback would have to have his body twisted at the waist). If the hips are square, it means the quarterback can step toward the target and follow through, which means they throw harder and more accurately.

If you don’t do that, you’re throwing with your shoulder and elbow, with your body working against you. It’s the wrong way to throw.

And you’re qualified to discuss this because?

Because I’ve read the book Phil Simms wrote about playing quarterback. Jerry Rhome spent 25 years coaching quarterbacks; I have his book (but not the companion DVD). There are videos, there are websites– hey, if you just watch enough good players, you notice this stuff.

Actually you don’t even have to watch good players– you can simply watch Johnny Relapse and listen to the TV analysts:

  • Simms commented on this stuff in the Bengals game.
  • Dan Fouts mentioned it when he called the Steelers’ game.
  • Brady Quinn got on him during the San Francisco game.
  • Rich Gannon mentioned it against the Chiefs.

Other analysts have pointed it out, but those four were quarterbacks. Trent Green will be working Sunday’s game; I’m sure he’ll mention the problems as they occur.

But didn’t Brett Favre–

Yes. If you’re trying to plead Johnny Relapse’s case, Favre is your best-case scenario. Not only did he have flawed mechanics, but he drank a lot.

Favre was certainly a fine player. I loved having him on my fantasy team, because he did all the things that help you. All his flaws– the interceptions (and pick-sixes), the sacks and fumbles, the low yards per pass– didn’t reduce his points.

But Favre had a 13-11 career record in the playoffs. Due to his durability, he holds many records, but his career rating is 86.0, he threw 1.5 TDs for every interception (good is 2-1) and averaged 7.1 yards per pass. Aaron Rodgers is also 1-1 in Super Bowls, and he’s done that with a weaker team.

And Favre is the best-case scenario. Many players who drank and had mechanical flaws failed as quarterbacks (Ryan Leaf and Todd Marinovich, to name two.)

In the last two weeks, Johnny Relapse is 32-64 for 297 yards, with a TD and 2 INTs. That’s a 55.3 rating– Spergon Wynn’s rating was 58.5 for his career.

Plus he’s a drunk. We’ve got more footage. What more do you need?

And you’d just dump him?

I’d try to trade him. Based on some of his plays, he’ll certainly attract interest. The Seahawks couldn’t get to him; the Chiefs have a ferocious pass rush and he ran all over them. Someone will find his ability attractive and offer something.

But I would get Johnny Relapse out of here now. I’ll make this very simple.

1. The Browns could easily replace him. Cleveland can (unless someone trades with the Titans for their #1 overall pick) have their pick of quarterbacks in the draft.

If they don’t want to draft a player, they can go after Sam Bradford or Kirk Cousins (who are unrestricted free agents).

Also, every off-season 3-5 teams want to dump their starter, because (a) he’s too old, (b) he makes too much money, (c) he doesn’t fit their new coach’s scheme, (d) he hasn’t met their insane expectations, or (e) they want to tear down and rebuild and need picks.

Matthew Stafford and Ryan Tannehill are likely to go on the market. So is Colin Kaepernick, if you like rehabs. There is even a rumor about Andrew Luck, if you offer enough.

2. He’ll never have a better opportunity. The Browns, because they’ve burned a #1 and #3– and have waited for him for two years– are the only team who are eager to see Johnny Relapse succeed.

At least for the moment, they have an owner, GM and coach who enable his behavior, and teammates willing to tolerate– even endorse– him. They hired an offensive coordinator to design a scheme for him, a quarterback coach who has worked with him and signed a veteran placeholder who agreed not to stand in his way.

If Johnny Relapse goes to any other team, all those things vanish. Unless he goes to one of the 11 teams didn’t pick before the Browns took him, he’ll be joining a team who might have dinged him for his height, his fundamentals or his attitude. He’ll have to compete for a job. The less it cost to get him, the more willing the team will be to apply a zero-tolerance policy and dump him.

With all that at stake, he still can’t stop drinking and acting up.

But he’s made–

I’m not done. Let me ask you a question: What do you think he’ll do after it’s too late to do anything?

Once the free agent quarterbacks are signed, the blockbuster deals have been made and the draft picks have been taken, the Browns are stuck with him. Do you expect him to slow down– or put pedal to the metal? Especially with Puff maybe coming back as his wingman.

If the Browns keep him, they have a small chance of seeing this work, and an overwhelming likelihood that it goes south.

And that’s before opposing defenses begin deconstructing the tape on him.

Teams have tried to stop Johnny Manziel for years.

And NFL teams have. This season he’s 2-4 with a 79.4 rating, a 7-5 TD-INT ratio and 6.7 yards per pass. It’s better than his rookie year, but not anything you can win with.

Also, Texas A&M went 5-6 in games against nationally-ranked teams. Louisiana State, to name one team, had no problem figuring him out.

Do you have anything else for me?

What happened on defense in the second half?

The Chiefs hit the wall. That’s not an extraordinarily talented offense. They had to rebuild their running game on the fly; TE Travis Kelce was playing hurt. QB Alex Smith and WR Jeremy Maclin are good players, but they aren’t Otto Graham and Dante Lavelli– they can’t win a game for you.

Gannon, calling the game, described Alex Smith’s passing tree as “Maclin, then Kelce, then he takes off.” That’s pretty close to the truth. The Browns just decided to stop those two guys and then say “Beat us with everyone else.” Because Andy Reid never fills his team with weapons, Kansas City couldn’t.

Plus, Kansas City has gotten a lot of short fields, due to a defense that has collected 41 sacks and forced 28 turnovers. 6 of their 42 touchdowns have come on returns. They get a lead, they come after the quarterback and capitalize on mistakes.

That was good– the Browns didn’t make any.

They made one– the interception. And the Chiefs were missing two Pro Bowl linebackers.

Did the game make you feel better about Pettine?

They had another field goal blocked; nobody really understands why Travis Coons is still on the team. They had another Balinese Fire and Boat Drill with the clock. What do you think?

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