Browns Preview: Game 9 (Dallas)

Opponent Preview

If the NFL ever holds an “Art Modell Look-alike Contest”, Jerry Jones should win in a walkway. Jones isn’t just looking for the attention that owning a team– especially one in Dallas– provides. Like Art always did, Jones wants to be known as the brains behind the operation– the guy making the deals.

That need is part of the reason he fired coach Tom Landry, GM Tex Schramm and personnel chief Gil Brandt as soon as he took over. (The other is that they’d gone 7-9, 7-8 and 3-13 in the past three seasons.) Jones made a great decision by hiring his former teammate at Arkansas, Jimmy Johnson, to serve as coach and GM. But when Jones thought Johnson was getting too much credit– and not listening to his advice enough– he fired Johnson. (Johnson would be the Paul Brown moment.)

Jones’s next coach– another ex-Razorback, Barry Switzer– was more that willing to let Jones run the front office (Switzer never cared for drudgery; he let his staff do that). Switzer even managed to get another championship out of the team. But nobody gave those two egomaniancs credit– they just assigned it, by proxy to Johnson.

Just like the 49ers who won a second consecutive Super Bowl are credited mostly to Bill Walsh– not George Seifert, Mike Holmgren, Carmen Policy or Eddie DeBartolo.

But as Johnson’s players aged and the bad draft picks piled up, the team went from 12 wins to 12 wins to 10 wins to 6. Johnson got full credit for that.

And for the last 19 years, Jerry Jones has been trying to win it all– while he ran the front office. It hasn’t gone terribly well:

  • Chan Gailey got him an 18-14 record, two wild card berths and two losses. But Jones thought the team was underachieving, fired Gailey and promoted his defensive coordinator.
  • Dave Campo proved the team wasn’t underachieving, by going 5-11 in three consecutive seasons.
  • Going 15-33 humbled Jones enough to let Bill Parcells (on his quest to prove he could be a great GM) run the show. Parcells, if you believe the media, pulled off one of the greatest coaching jobs in history. The record (34-30, two losses in the wild card game) shows otherwise.
  • The next brainstorm was Wade Phillips. That wasn’t a terrible idea. Phillips is a superlative assistant who doesn’t quite have what it takes to run the show. But to his credit, he knows it. He let Jones run the front office, hired Jason Garrett (from Nick Saban’s Miami staff) to run the offense and paid attention to the defense.

That worked for a while– 13-3, then 9-7 and then 11-5. Dallas made the playoffs twice and actually won a playoff game. But Parcells’s team began to age– and the rot caused by Phillips’s lack of attention to detail took hold. Phillips got fired in 2010 for going 1-7.

Since then it has been Jason Garrett, for better or worse. In my opinion, mostly better. Through 2015, the Cowboys had only gone 45-43, with one playoff trip and three 8-8 records. But a lot of that is due to Tony Romo.

Romo is one of those superstars I’d never want on my team. He’s won 39 games and lost only 27 under Garrett, with a rating of 98.5, an above-average 7.7 yards per pass and a terrific 127-55 TD/INT ratio.

But he’s missed 22 games during Garrett’s tenure– the Cowboys are 6-16 without him.

And, while I try to pay as little attention to Dallas as humanly possible, I’d guess the storyline for another 22 games was “Can Romo play?” “Will he play?” and “How will he play if he does play?” After every loss– or underwhelming win– there’s always talk about whether whatever ouchie he had was hurting him.

Last season the Cowboys went 4-12, which breaks down as:

  • 3-1 with Romo
  • 0-2 with Kellen Moore (think “lefthanded poor man’s Colt McCoy”)
  • 1-6 with Matt Cassel, and, believe it or not,
  • 0-2 with Browns’ reject Brandon Weeden.

My attitude towards Romo is “I have a team to run.” Accidents happen, but if I can’t count on you, year in and year out– if I need to have a backup who can step in at a moment’s notice and carry the team in your place– I’d just as soon not have you.

Romo turned 36 in April– and he got hurt again. And then Moore, got hurt. Then the silly stuff started. The Cowboys needed a veteran backup– who would they get?

At one point, it got so silly that people were writing that Jones would acquire Josh McCown.

The one positive thing I will say about Jones– he’s not completely dumb. He’s arrogant and he makes a lot of mistakes– some of them repeatedly. But I will say this for him:

  • Jones prefers offense, but he’s smart enough to understand that he needs a defense
  • He has always kept at least one genuinely good running back on the team– sometimes so many that the team has had trouble figuring out who he should play
  • Whenever a problem child quarterback whose alma mater is located in Texas wins 8 games, people link him to the Cowboys. But Jones didn’t bite on Vince Young, Robert Griffin, Ryan Tannehill, Colt McCoy or Johnny Manziel. He did sign Weeden, but only after the quarterbacks he had wre hurt.

Which is why he allowed the talk about McCown to circulate, but never did anything. By the third exhibition game, word out of Dallas was that the Cowboys would start the season with their fourth-round pick in 2016, Dak Prescott.

Smart move. Prescott has a rating of 99.6, an excellent 8.0 yards per pass and a phenomenal 9-2 TD-INT ratio. The word on him was that he wouldn’t stay in the pocket– at the first sign of trouble, he’d run.

He had 536 carries for 2,521 yards and 41 scores at Mississippi State, so you can see how that rumor got started.

But in seven games, Prescott has run just 27 times– many of them being kneels.

It’s helped to have #1 pick Ezekiel Elliott (159 carries for 799 yards and 5 scores) around too. People say that you shouldn’t draft running backs high. Jones, correctly, hasn’t paid any attention to it. You shouldn’t spend high picks on players like Trent Richardson.  But if a guy can play, you take him. Dallas also signed Alfred Morris, who used to be a top back under Mike Shanahan in Washington. That hasn’t worked at all.

At receiver, they’ve been trying to figure out who Prescott prefers. The winner, at least at the moment, is 5’8″ Cole Beasley (37 catches on 46 targets, 443 yards and 3 scores). TE Jason Whitten is 34, but still able to contribute (30-45 for 290 yards) and a score.

I feel that Whitten should be cut, so that his backup (Geoff Swain; 4 catches for 54 yards) can play more. As Mike Holmgren said, “Call it a hunch.”

Dallas still has Terrance Williams and Dez Bryant, but offensive coordinator Scott Linehan isn’t trying to force Prescott to use them. Beasley and Brice Butler (10-22 for 116 yards and 2 scores) are getting as much time as Williams (22-336-1) or Bryant (15-263-2). Nobody is complaining too loudly. Everyone seems happy to be 6-1 and mindful of the rookie.

Which means that Dallas is averaging 26.9 points (seventh in the league).  Since they’re jumping out to early leads, Rod Marinelli’s defense can do what Marinelli likes to do most– rain hell on the passer. They’re allowing 18.6 points a game (though they will miss CB Morris Claiborne).

Opponent Preview

Here’s a fun stat. This season, 10.6% of offensive drives have ended
with a turnover. The best in the league is Minnesota (19.0%); the worst
is Jacksonville (4.9%). Cleveland has forced turnovers on only 7.4% of an
opponent’s possessions– fifth-worst in the league. Two of the defenses below them have played the Browns this season (Tennessee, 7.0%; Miami, 7.2%).

It was very good news to learn that Josh McCown will sit– there is absolutely no reason to ever start an injury-prone, 37-year-old player. Hopefully Cody “Trust Me” Kessler is healthy and not being rushed back. (There’s no way to know with a concussion.)

It could be a good thing to get #1 pick Corey Coleman back. We don’t know if he is healthy or whether he likes to run the routes that Kessler throws (which people call “chemistry”). Since Coleman likes to run deep along the sidelines– and Kessler’s arm is weak– I don’t know if that will prove to be true.

The Browns also used #5 pick Spencer Drango at guard for 17 snaps. #3 pick Shon Coleman saw three plays as a blocking tight end. It’s better than what they have been doing (sitting).

Running backs Isaiah Crowell (524 yards; 4.9 per carry) and Duke Johnson (211 yards, 5.0) haven’t receded into the pack yet. They haven’t been consistently reliable– but they ain’t Chris Ogbonnaya or Willis McGahee, either.

The question is whether Cleveland’s offense (19.8 points a game, 25th) can keep up with the Dallas offense. Or, whether Ray Horton’s defense (29.8 points a game, 30th) can stop the Cowboys.

Game Preview

The answers to the previous two questions are (respectively) “No” and “No”.

Dallas scored 19 points in game one– Prescott’s debut. Since then,
they have scored 24 point once– and between 27 and 31 points every
week. They have played three comparable teams:

  • Washington: Dallas scored 27 and allowed 23 in game 2. The Browns lost 30-21.
  • Cincinnati: Dallas won 28-16; Cleveland lost 31-17.
  • Philadelphia: Dallas won 29-23; Cleveland lost 29-10

Game Prediction

How does Dallas 42, Browns 21 sound? Unless Dallas is overconfident or the Browns have an exorcism, Cleveland has no real chance.


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