Browns Preview: Game 12 (NY Giants)

Opponent Preview

If the New York Giants’ season goes the same way it has been, Ben McAdoo of the Giants might be the NFC Coach of the Year. New York is 7-3, and McAdoo is on the verge of accomplishing a feat that is almost impossible: having a non-losing record after being promoted to head coach of a losing team.

I’m not a big fan of naming the “Heir Apparent” head coach. History shows it is usually a mistake. If the coach departed, it was usually because the team was struggling. They were usually struggling for a reason. They probably need someone to give them a fresh perspective– not try to imitate what the last guy was doing, but do it a little better.

There are times when it works– Mike Shanahan taking over for George Seifert following Bill Walsh worked, as did Blanton Collier succeeding Paul Brown. Jason Garrett might on the verge of putting his name on the list.

Usually it is things like Jim Caldwell holding things together in Indianapolis for three years before letting things fall apart. Or Jim Tomsula succeeding Jim Harbaugh– and having the record drop from 8-8 to 5-11 in year one.

Mike Mularkey would normally qualify as a success– Tennessee went 3-13 last year and they’re 5-6 so far. (They might beat Jacksonville and Chicago and get to 7-9, but that’s about all.)

But McAdoo took over a 6-10 team– which had gone 6-10 in 2014 and 7-9 in 2013– and he has already won more games. They could beat the Lions, Eagles, Washington and {SPOILER ALERT} the Browns to end up at 11-5.

That would be very impressive work.

But I need to should qualify the record a bit. Actually, a lot.

1. McAdoo wasn’t Tom Coughlin’s longtime assistant– much less a protege. He had never worked for Coughlin before being hired in 2014, spent only two years in New York before being promoted and was hired specifically to get someone outside. the sphere of influence. He came from Green Bay after the 2013 season, installed Mike McCarthy’s offense and was chosen to step up.

If you wanted to call his stint as offensive coordinator an apprenticeship– or an audition– I wouldn’t disagree.

2. The Giants aren’t even close to being a legitimate 7-3 team. A team that is winning on substance will normally outscore opponents for every win above .500. The Giants should have outscored opponents by 60 points; the differential is four.

If you see something like that, there are only two explanations:

  • They had one or two horrific games where they got blown out 42-14, making the data misleading, by wiping out the gains in every other contest.
  • They’ve won every game by the skin of their teeth and could be a lot worse.

Sure enough, the Giants are 7-2 in games decided by seven points or less, The only convincing result was a 24-10 loss to the Vikings. They beat both Cincinnati and Dallas by one point (don’t be impressed by the 20-19 win over the Cowboys; it was Dak Prescott’s first game.

The Giants lost to Washington by two, beat New Orleans by three, beat Baltimore by four. Philly by five, Chicago by six, and went 1-1 in games decided by a TD (beating the Rams, losing to Green Bay).

When you see a split like that, always assume the correct record should be .500, or +/- a game. With normal luck, the Giants ought to be either 4-5 or 5-4, meaning that they ought to be 5-5 or 4-6. (The record is even less legitimate, given that Ed Hochuli and Jeff Triplette each officiated a game.)

Occasionally, a team will need to “learn to win”, so they’ll have an underwhelming record. Marty Schottenheimer’s 12-4 Browns of 1986 outscored opponents by only 81 points. The 1987 team went 10-5, but had a point differential almost twice as large (151). Usually the team is just lucky and they crash to earth the following year.

The Kardiac Kids who went 11-5 under “Sam the Sham” Rutigliano were only +47. The following year, they were -99 and ended up at 5-11.

So which is it with the Giants? For one thing, the 2015 team was unlucky. They were outscored by only 22 points– which could have produced an 8-8 record– or certainly 7-9. But they went 3-8 in close games– fans and the media always translate that as bad coaching, because “Good teams win the close games.”

This is poppycock. Good teams don’t win the close games, because good teams don’t play close games. They win most of their games decisively (8-14 points) or in blowouts (15+ points). Good teams usually have their worst split in close games.

The 2015 Giants finished #6 in points scored (26.3 per game) and 30th in points allowed (27.6). That has almost flipped. McAdoo promoted quarterback coach Mike Sullivan to coordinator– something he probably shouldn’t have done. Sullivan wasn’t a former Green Bay coach who knew how to run McCarthy’s offense– he was a longtime Giants assistant, who left to spend 2012 and 2013 as coordinator in Tampa Bay, where the Bucs were 13th and then 30th in points.

Sullivan doesn’t look like he understands the offense; the Giants are down to 22nd (20.4 a game, down 5.9 points). Some people have tried to spin it as “They’re getting into a groove after a slow start”, but it’s just not correct. The Giants have won their last five games, but they’ve scored 27, 17, 28, 21 and 22 points.

The problem weapons. A year ago RBs Rashard Jennings (863 yards, 3.3 per carry) and Shane Vereen (4.3 per rush; 59 catches for 494 yards) were each contributing– something like the Browns hoped Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson would. This year, Vereen went on injured reserve after game three and Jennings (who’s 31) hit the wall.

Rookie Paul Perkins has caught some passes and looked OK in spots (four games where he averaged 4.0 yards a carry, on a handful of tries), but it got to the point where the Giants signed former Brown and Buc Bobby Rainey.

A year ago, WR Reuben Randle caught 57 passes for 797 yards and 8 TDs, while missing meetings, running poor routes and complaining about not getting enough touches. The Giants (who already have Odell Beckham causing distractions), told him to take a hike. The decision can be justified in one respect– the Eagles (who signed Randle) cut him, and he hasn’t been able to catch on with any other team.

The catch is that Sterling Shepard– their #2 pick in 2016– hasn’t entirely replaced. him. The Giants brought back 30-year-old Victor Cruz (whose last good game was the Super Bowl win), they’ve thrown to Jennings, Rainey and Perkins. But it has been messy, and Eli Manning’s production is down (though he’s also 35).

Luckily the defense has gotten way better– up to 11th, or 20.0 points allowed per game. It’s never looked as impressive as it did since Steve Spagnuolo left to become head coach of the Rams in 2009. In 2015, Coughlin hired Spagnuolo back; McAdoo kept him.

Spagnuolo is one of those guys who believes that the best defense is a good offense; if he isn’t blitzing a couple of guys on every play, he gets depressed. A year ago, Jason Pierre-Paul missed eight games, so it didn’t work so well– the Giants had only 23 sacks and opposing QBs torched them pretty effectively (95.9 rating, 7.7 yards per pass, 31-15 TD-INT ratio).

This year Spagnuolo has everyone healthy, and the Giants signed DE Olivier Vernon from Miami. They already have 18 sacks, and opposing quarterbacks haven’t been able to do much. Their rating is nearly 20 points lower (76.1), they’ve getting a full yard less per pass (6.7) and they’ve thrown only 9 TDs– while the Giants have intercepted 10.

If the Giants had a good secondary, the defense might be even stronger.

If this scouting report sounds pretty similar to the Steelers, you get a cookie. The Giants don’t have Le’Veon Bell; they play better run defense than Pittsburgh. But basically it’s a Hall-of-Fame QB throwing to a talented receiver and a defense trying to press the opponent into errors.

Not a hopeful thought, since Team Runaway Train lost by 15 points, even though Josh McCown didn’t enter the game until the last play of the third quarter.

Browns Preview

When Hue Jackson was hired, his admirers stressed that he was a players’ coach. His players liked Jackson and enjoyed playing for him.

Which, to me, is a terrible flaw. Great NFL coaches have come from both sides of the ball, from every position, from both the college ranks and the pros, used all sorts of schemes and have ranged from taciturn to loquacious. They had only one common characteristic: they were all tyrants that their players, almost without exception, loathed.

A friend make the following point about Vince Lombardi. “The only guys who liked playing for him were Jerry Kramer and Bart Starr. And their fathers were both miserable sons-of-bitches who beat hell out of them.”

Successful head coaches bully and threaten players to push them to do more than they are capable of doing. They demand perfection, reluctantly settle for excellence and rule by fear, with threats of benching or waivers. Players respected them– felt the coach knew more than anyone else. But they didn’t like them.

A coach who doesn’t do that has players walk all over him. We saw that this week, as players on possibly the happiest 0-11 team in NFL history felt comfortable sounding off.

  • Robert Griffin– who doesn’t understand that he might be on his last NFL roster– predicts he will still be a star.
  • Joe Haden admits he isn’t having a great season, but proclaims that he is still the best corner in the league.
  • Josh McCown expresses confidence in the team and its chance to turn things around.

Journeyman Chris Kirksey talks up the defense; underachiever Danny Shelton glories in his accomplishments. The five receivers taken in the draft– all different degrees of busts– seem happy. The number of rookies on the team means that over one-third of the roster doesn’t know anything different.

Like Sasho Marx– the smirking incompetent who has steered the team toward record-breaking incompetence and can’t detect any bad decisions— everyone is comfortable with the status quo.

It’s only players like Jamie Collins, Andrew Hawkins, Joe Thomas and Terrelle Pryor– who’ve played on good teams and understand what it takes to be successful– who seem sour. And Jackson’s comments indicate that he seems to view them as the problem.

Because the Browns are playing a New York team for the second time this year, the club is getting a little more scrutiny than normal. A front office staffer that I normally have to reach out to, called to ask me why McCown was starting, given his last two performances “If they’re looking for a placeholder to get to the bye week, wouldn’t Hogan make more sense? He’s likely to play anyway, and the reps would help him more.”

When I threw up my hands, he said “They aren’t seriously thinking of going into 2017 with Griffin and McCown, are they?”

Beats me. The front office, I am told, don’t just believe they won’t go 0-16– they think they will win three of the last five games and be able to declare a 3-13 record, despite major renovations, as sufficient progress.

How they will get there, I don’t know.

Game Preview

When you’re facing a team hasn’t been able to win a single game by more then seven points, obviously you have a chance.

The Giants haven’t played an especially tough schedule– according to the strength of schedule system Pro Football Reference uses, the Browns have played the toughest schedule in the NFL. That’s another factor.

The Giants are coming off five straight wins and might believe they are better than they are. The Browns have lost 14 straight games and might want to address that.

The Giants have allowed only 13 sacks (they allow sacks on only 3.0% of their pass attempts), but injuries have made them a bit thin on the offensive line. They have a deficient running game and a coordinator who isn’t shining. This means they could be vulnerable to a strong pass rush. Also the Browns do have a number of players who were high picks and have shown some pass rush ability.

The game is at home, where the turf will negate the Giants’ superior team speed somewhat. The weather won’t be good.

But all these things were true last week, and the Browns still lost. The Giants aren’t as good an offense as the Steelers, but they’re the same type of offense. If they don’t sack Eli Manning, he’ll throw a bunch of passes to Odell Beckham– and anyone else who gets open (which will probably be many people),

Had the Steelers not made a glaring mental mistake, they would have scored 25 points. There’s no reason to think the Giants will be worse.

Cleveland hasn’t run the ball well since game seven– and the majority of that yardage came from a quarterback. The running backs haven’t been a factor since week four.

The Browns have allowed more sacks than any other team. They have a scrub quarterback who holds the ball too long and doesn’t take care of it. Unless something changes, he’ll throw 40+ passes– unless he gets injured again.

The Giants have scoffed at Terrelle Pryor’s production; both Ray Horton and the Browns have said they hope to injure Manning. It should be a very chippy game, with a lot of penalties, where things could get out of control unless the refs ride herd on the teams. The Browns, having fewer veterans, are likely to make more mistakes in that type of game.

Game Prediction

The Giants have averaged 24 points a game over the last three weeks– the Browns have scored 26 points total in that time. This might change depending on the number of turnovers and penalties, but let’s say Giants 24, Browns 10.


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