How to Fix The Browns

Note: A friend who works for a local publication asked me to submit a piece about how to fix the mess. He’s been sitting on it for two weeks.

Since he hasn’t responded to an email and text, here it is.


 

If a task hasn’t been done for a long time, people tend to believe it can’t be done. Fixing the Browns is– up to a point– an exception to the rule.

Knowing what to do isn’t the problem (unless you spell your last name “Haslam”, apparently): Hire people who are qualified to to the job and let them do it. But since the Browns have been losing for nearly two decades– and the owners keep making the problem worse– qualified people won’t come.

Before the Browns can fix the problems, they have to fix the perception that this franchise in the NFL’s answer to Siberia. That will take time. But these 8 steps will set the team on the right path.

Continue reading “How to Fix The Browns”

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Browns’ Preview: Game 12 (@Chargers)

Opponent Preview

To cut right to the chase: No, this is not the Browns best chance to win a game.

  • Yes, the Chargers provided Cleveland’s only win in 2016.
  • The Chargers lost last year, even though they were 5-9 coming in and the Browns were 0-14.
  • The Chargers are 5-6 this year.

But this is not the same team the Browns played a year ago. Not even close.

1. The Chargers started the season with a slew of players hurt. They lost their first four games; they’re 5-2 since. The two losses were 21-13 to New England and 20-17 in overtime at Jacksonville.

Also, their four season-opening losses were by a combined 21 points. Two of the losses were to Kansas City (playing well at the time) and Philly.

2. The Chargers have significantly improved. Last year’s team was 9th in points scored (25.6 per game) and 29th (26.4 per game) in points allowed. This season, the offense has slipped a bit (22.6 points; 15th), but the defense is 6th (18.4 points).

It’s easy to see what happened. New head coach Anthony Lynn fired John Pagano (who was in his 15th unremarkable season with the team), scrapped the drab 3-4 and hired Gus Bradley to put in the 4-3 he installed in Seattle under Pete Carroll.

Bradley looked frightfully inept in Jacksonville— he was 14-48 as head coach. But given how good the Seahawks were in 2011-12, how good the Jaguars’ defense looks this year and the Chargers’ improvement, he grades out as one of the league’s top coordinators.

3. The Chargers will be playing at home, not in Cleveland. Philip Rivers struggles on the road– especially in December. His splits for his career:


W-L
Rating
Y/A
TD-Int
Home 17-10 94.4 7.6 44-21
Road 15-7 86.7 7.1 40-18

Nearly half his road games came playing in domes– or in warm-weather climates (Jacksonville, Tampa, Dallas). I don’t like to produce splits based on only a dozen games (over 11 years) but if I did, Rivers’s totals would be substantially worse than what you see above.

Against the Browns last year, he was 23-46 of 322 yards, with 2 TDs and an INT. The year before– when the game was in California– , he went 23 for 38 for 358 yards, 3 TDs and no picks.


Another difference will be that RB Melvin Gordon is playing. Gordon isn’t that great a player (career average of 3.7 per carry), but he gives the Chargers someone who can take the ball and not get stuffed. Last year, he didn’t play; the Chargers got 34 yards on 19 carries, forcing Rivers to throw 46 times.

Gordon can catch: he’s 38-58 for 273 yards and 4 TDs this year.

WR Keenan Allen (who is 67-107 for 922 yards and 4 scores this year) also didn’t play last year,. It meant Rivers’s top deep threat was Dontrelle Inman. Rivers threw 10 times; Inman caught a Ricardo Louis-like 3.

TE Antonio Gates (8-13 for 94 yards and a score in last year’s game) has pretty much run out of gas. He’s started only two games and caught only 16 passes . But last year’s #2 pick Hunter Henry (31-44 for 420 yards; 3 scores) seems to be developing– if not into a Gate, at least a good player.

The Chargers have also been using RB Austin Ekeler more. In the last three games, he has 22 carries for 97 yards, and is 10-10 on catches for 150 yards.

Their #1 pick, WR Mike Williams has had a wasted rookie season. He’s been healthy enough to play only 6 games, started none and caught only 9 passes. He’s hurt again, meaning Tyrell Williams (27-45 for 440 yards) or Travis Benjamin (23-38 for 375 yards) fill in again.

Defensively, DE Joey Bosa has 10.5 sacks. He missed most of the season last year, but now looks like the player he was reputed to be (Which gives hope about Myles Garrett). DE-LB Melvin Ingram has 8.5 sacks. Corner Casey Hayward had gone to the Pro Bowl last year, but now Trevor Williams looks good too.

Signing FS Tre Boston from Carolina really helped. Boston has a revolutionary approach to playing pass defense. Rather than blast the receiver into next week after he catches the ball, Boston tries to intercept it (he’s done that 4 times) or tip it away (7 times)– or simply run with the receiver and make it difficult for him to catch it.

The one problem the Chargers have– in last week’s game, kicker Nick Novak suffered a back injury. They’re going to try to play him, but he probably isn’t up to any hard kicks. (It’s bad enough that they signed former Brown Travis Coons to the practice squad.)

On the other hand, if Rivers is sharp– he went 27-33 for 434 yards and 3 TDs against Dallas in last week’s win– he’ll only be needed for extra points.

Browns Preview

If head coach Hue Jackson had the sense God gave a rabbit, he’d be sitting in the catbird seat, rather than teetering on the brink of getting fired.

The Marx Brothers now have a 1-26 record. When they didn’t even inquire about Jimmy Garoppolo– then told Jackson they would make the A.J. McCarron trade and sabotaged it– it blew their credibility.

Sashi Brown could easily have gotten on top of the situation. He just had to say “We’re eight games away from getting Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, Mason Rudolph or whomever we decide is best. We’re not giving away high picks for someone who just plays out the season.”  When he insisted that he wanted to make a deal– but had forgotten how to do it (the Marx Brothers have made 17 trades to date), he reinforced what people around the league believes:

  • The front office won’t give Jackson the kind of talent he needs to succeed
  • They don’t know what they are doing and never should have been hired
  • However bad Jackson is, the front office  need to go first..

Everyone in the league that I know expects Brown to be fired. Jimmy Haslam is trying to convince Peyton Manning to come in and take over (like John Elway; although that decision no longer looks so smart).

If he does not– and most people think Mannign will be smart enough to wait for a team with a more stable owner– Haslam will bring in a real GM, who will fire Brown, demote Berry to Pro Personnel (or, if he prefers, resign) and tell DePodesta to either sit in an office crunching numbers (he’s been discussing players) or go back to baseball.

Jackson hasn’t burnished his reputation with his coaching decisions, None of the offensive picks has worked out. His clock management has been dreadful, his play-calling has frequently inexplicable. Also, after RG3, Brock Osweiler, Deshone Kizer, Cody “Trust Me” Kessler and Kevin Hogan, it’ll be a while before anyone speaks of Jackson’s skill at grooming quarterbacks.

But most people still believe Jackson deserves a year with a front office that can find talent– that nobody would be significantly better as long as this front office was picking players.

Until CB Joe Haden broke his leg in the Colts game, he was giving the Steelers a very good year. With Jamie Collins down, LB Demario Davis is outplaying everyone Cleveland has left at linebacker.

But, as he did in Oakland, Jackson is letting the losing get to him.

He went 8-8 with the 2011 Raiders, and had an easy argument to be rehired. Oakland was 4-2 when it lost their starting quarterback. Jackson (running the front office after the in-season death of owner Al Davis) gave away a #1 and #2 to get Carson Palmer, but Palmer didn’t play well. Oakland finished 4-6, losing four of the last five games.

After each loss, Jackson showed his frustration, calling out players, coaches, officials, the media and even the dead owner (blaming failed trades on him). At the end of the season, Jackson said he expected to help choose the GM (he wasn’t). After Reggie McKenzie was hired, Jackson said he expected to have final say on player decisions.

By the time McKenzie fired Jackson, even the coach’s supporters admitted the decision was necessary.

The same sort of thing has been happening. All-Pro addict (and occasional receiver) “Puff” Gordon has been practicing. He’s also been seen out late with fellow addict Greg Little at bars. Puff has given interviews where has been spinning exaggerated stories about the number he things he claims to have done– and says he regrets nothing he has done.

Puff and his entourage are also spinning his story as one of the great comebacks– the topic of books and movies. They’re even placed stories claiming that the layoff will not hurt his career, and talking about the new long-term contract he deserves.

Anyone who knows anything about therapy, addiction and recovery realizes Puff isn’t cured. People who have fought and won a battle over a disease that can kill them sound humble and grateful. They don’t brag and boast like Charlie Sheen. Joe Thomas has said the Browns need to be careful. Terry Pluto– who does jail ministry and has heard all this stuff before– is calling Puff on his behavior and saying the Browns need to make him earn what he gets.

Jackson is not only going to start Puff, he’s going to build the game plan around him. Aside from being the worst thing for the player, it’s stupid on two counts:

  • The Chargers allow 4.9 yards per rush and 133.5 yards per game– meaning a game plan featuring The Duck (with Matt Dayes and The Crow spelling him) would exploit a weakness.
  • By telling Gus Bradley what he intends to do, he gives a skillful coordinator a chance to set his game plan

It has also become clear that DE Myles Garrett will be the only successful first round draft pick the team makes. Corey “Hands” Coleman drops passes and has trouble running anything but a fly route. Jackson called him out for his drop in the end zone last week, threatening dire consequences.

What could be worse for a Baylor receiver than playing for the a winless team in a cold-weather city where the division opponents play physical defense, is not clear.

David Njoku is a basket of skills with almost no production. He doesn’t know any NFL pass patterns (Jackson says he’s had to design plays for the rookie) has blown a dozen blocks and has five penalties (with others declined because the play was more damaging).

It’s clear that, assuming Nojku has the work ethic and ability to learn, that it will take 2-3 more years until he can contribute more than the occasional contribution to a highlight film (he’s 24-43 for 258 yards and 3 TD; Seth Devalve has the sae catch stats for 302 yards and 1 TD).

Jackson has said, with Coleman, Njoku and Puff, that he can finally run “his offense.” That doesn’t bode well for the game plan.

The biggest disappointment is Jabrill Peppers. Coleman and Njoku have a future as role players, but Peppers, so farm hasn’t shown he can do anything productive. He bites on run-fakes on play-action passes, but doesn’t seal the edge on the real thing. A free safety with no interceptions and two pass breakups in nine starts is useless.

Worst of all Peppers had been incapable of grasping a simple concept– that either:

  1. Pulling at the ballcarrier’s hands, or
  2. Punching at the ball

Is infinitely more effective that running 20 yards across the field and hitting him in the upper body and hoping you don’t score a head-hit.

Jackson’s postgame temper-tantrum– claiming (in effect) that other teams get to hit people in the head and claiming that league officials owe him a few dozen calls– was only overshadowed by his refusal to back away from his initial stance.

Jackson has also said that he wants more authority over player personnel– the same thing that got him fired in Oakland.

Hue Jackson, very clearly, is going into the bunker. Four more losses– and a few more incidents– will have everyone agreeing that the Browns need to make a change, if only to relieve Jackson of the strain.

Game Preview

The Charger game plan is elemental. They run Gordon about 40% of the time (over 60% on first down) and ask Rivers to get whatever yardage he failed to ot get. On second and third downs, they line up 4-5 guys and let him pick who’s open.

Against the Browns, this is usually the tight ends and the running backs– the players the linebackers cover. Gordon, Henry, Ekeler and Gates should do much of the damage. Allen should get most of the longballs; if Jason McCourty (who looks like he blew a tire last week) isn’t playing better, he’ll do significant damage.

I don’t expect Gordon to run well. But I didn’t expect Cincinnati to run well, and they got 159 yards. It might be Joe Joe Mixon coming of age, or it might be the defense tiring out. Cleveland has won the time of possession battle only five times this year– and never controlled the ball for even 35 minutes.

The defense is mostly new– not used to playing 16 games a year– and they’re 0-11. With Collins, Emmanuel Ogbah and Jamie Meder out, they’re missing people. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the last five opponents all run the ball well.

The Browns’ game plan is demented. DeShone Kizer is leading the league in interception (14), is tied for fourth in fumbles lost and gets sacked an above-average number of times. He’s looked better in recent weeks because the Browns have tried to run the ball more, have asked him to throw shorter passes and kept people in to block.

This week they’re going to ride the returning Puff Gordon to victory by airing it out. The following analytic– that the 2014 Browns went 1-5 after Puff returned, and dogged out the season– doesn’t seem to enter anyone’s minds.

The notion that the Browns will pressure Rivers into mistakes– while usually a solid plan– hasn’t been working. The Chargers signed LT Russell Okung, put #3 pick Dan Feeney beside him and saw second-year C Spencer Pulley develop. Rivers has taken only 12 sacks this year (the fewest he’s had in a season has been 22). Maybe as a result, he has only 7 interceptions (he lead the league in picks in both 2014 and 2016) and has lost only one fumble.

They’re missing a starter and maybe Garrett can do something. But the last team to get more than one sack was Denver in week 5. The last four opponents– Dallas, Buffalo, Jacksonville and New England– got a total of two.

Unless Hue Jackson is playing a huge psych game– where he uses Puff as a decoy and chews up the run defense– it’s hard to see any way Cleveland wins. Best I got is that the Chargers are 3-3 on the road but only 2-4 in their new home.

Game Prediction

What does a team that beat Buffalo 54-24 and Dallas 28-6 (in Dallas, on Thanksgiving) do to an 0-11 team that beat them last year? Probably bad things.

Game Score: Chargers 31, Browns 15

Browns Preview: Game 9 (@Detroit)

Opponent Preview

The Detroit Lions exist to remind the world that “Get a franchise quarterback” is not all– or even most of the secret to winning a Super Bowl. QB Matthew Stafford is in his ninth season, and he is as gifted a quarterback as anyone else in the league (Yes, that includes Tom Brady). But Stafford is 55-62 as a starter, with an 87.3 lifetime rating and only one Pro Bowl season, because winning a Super Bowl also requires suck things as:

  • A defense. Since 2009, Detroit has finished (in descending order) 3rd, 13th, 15th, 19th, 20th, 23rd (twice) 27th and 32nd. That’s one good defense above-average twice.
  • An offensive line. Stafford has been sacked 268 times in 117 games. He missed 13 games one year when he got hammered.
  • A running game. The Lions have had six different backs lead then in rushing in nine seasons. Only two players have gained more than 798 yards.
  • A receiving corps. Meaning “Someone beside Calvin Johnson getting triple-teamed”. The #2 and #3 receivers in the Stafford era have caught:
    • 2009: 417 yards (WR Bryant Johnson) and 415 (RB Kevin Smith)
    • 2010: 722 yards (TE Brandon Pettigrew) and 625 (WR Nate Burleson)
    • 2011: 777 (Pettigrew) and 757 (Burleson)
    • 2012: 567 (Pettigrew) and 504 (TE Tony Schieffer)
    • 2013: 547 (RB Joque Bell) and 506 (RB Reggie Bush, who also gained 1,006 rushing)

In 2014, the Lions replaced coach Jim Schwartz (a Jeff Fisher protege) with retread Jim Caldwell— meaning, for the first time, they had a coach who actually cared about offense. WR Golden Tate gained 1,331 yards receiving and Johnson (1,077) fell to #2 man. Bell tailed off to 322 yards receiving, but also got 860 yards rushing.

The Lions went 11-5, made the playoffs and lost 24-20 to Dallas on a janky call by the officials. They had the #3 defense and Stafford went to the Pro Bowl.

The following year, Tate and Bell turned back into pumpkins, the defense fell to 23rd, and Stafford got sacked 44 times. In the off-season, Johnson (like Barry Sanders, years before) got into fight with the front office and decided to retire at age 30.

Last year, Detroit signed WR Marvin Jones from Cincinnati and got a decent year from TE Eric Ebron, but four guys took turns as the running back– only Ameer Abdullah (who missed 14 games with injury) looked decent. The defense finished 13th and the Lions went 9-7. They’re 4-4 this year.

The problem with the Lions– as it has been since I was attending the University of Michigan during the Reagan era– is an inept front office. It’s produced only three Pro Bowl players since 2009: Stafford (the first overall pick) in 2009, MMA heavyweight Ndumakong Shoe (the second overall pick) in 2010 and DE Ziggy Ansah (the fifth pick) in 2013.

Like the Browns, the Lions are a strong argument for not trading down. If a player isn’t a can’t miss, no-brainer, the Lions GM (currently Bob Quinn) won’t ever be able to spot him.

In order to get production, Detroit has to import veterans at the end of their career– like WR Anquon Boldin and DT Haloti Ngata last year. They don’t last long (Boldin retired; Ngata is hurt), so the Lions are always trying to fill holes.


The Lions are 4-4 this year– and they are as average as the record suggests.

They’re 8th in offense 25.8 per game) and 20th in defense (23.3), so the burden is once again on Stafford. His feature back (Abdullah, a #2 pick in 2015) is healthy, but not playing well (417 yards; 3.4 per carry). At receiver, Tate and Jones remain, but the next-best options are journeymen T.J. Jones (19-35 for 290) and RB Theo Riddick (29-39 for 266 yards).

On defense Ansah is tied for the team lead in sacks (5.0) with Anthony Zettel, who came out of Penn State last year and is a poor man’s Carl Nassib (although he went in round six). If they played on better teams, CB Darius Slay and FS Glover Quin might be considered “underrated”. LB Tahir Whitehead is Detroit’s Chris Kirksey– a guy who runs around a lot, which the dimmer lights in the media confuse with skill.

I do, however, have Detroit pegged as a good playoff possibility. Their eight remaining games include:

  • The dregs of the weak AFC North: Cleveland, Cincinnati and Baltimore
  • A game against both the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers and the rudderless Bucs
  • A game against Minnesota (which doesn’t have a healthy quarterback)
  • Two games against Chicago (QB Mitch Trubisky has been highly erratic)

Detroit could go 6-2– maybe better– and steal a playoff spot. They could also end up 8-8 or worse. It’s going to depend on how much they believe in themselves– and obviously a productive second half begins with drilling the worst franchise in the NFL, making sure it gets closer to equaling their 0-16 mark in 2008.

Browns Preview

I’ve never had much respect for Rube Haslam’s intelligence. For one thing, he’s a crook. Since his president just went on trial— and might flip on Haslam– revelations might still hit him. For another, he inherited control of a successful business. He managed to sell that business to Warren Buffett, but I attribute that more to Buffett losing his buttons than Haslam being a genius.

His latest genius move is to use the Plotuphone to tell his coaches and front office that he might fire them both if they don’t stop fighting. It was probably in response to this Jason La Canfora piece— which states the obvious: Sasho Marx knows how to make trade– he’s done it before. If he neither called nor emailed the league office about A.J. McCarron, he obviously didn’t want to make the deal.

The piece also contains this statement: ” League sources said ownership has already starting talking internally about how to move forward with a new regime in 2018. Owner Jimmy Haslam’s son-in-law, JW Johnson, has continued to take a more hands-on role with the club, sources said, and he will be an integral figure in the reshuffling of the franchise, along with Haslam’s wife, Dee, who is considered by many inside and outside of the organization to be the most powerful figure in the Browns hierarchy.”

Lord knows if that is true, but if Rube’s wife and his daughter’s husband are running the team, that’s going to make things even worse. Everyone will assume they are figureheads whom Rube will overrule when he chooses.

The problem Rube doesn’t get– and Terry (who loathes changes) doesn’t want to get– is that firing everyone would guarantee that he can’t get a decent replacement. GM candidates are already steering clear of the Browns; it is almost unheard-of for someone who gets fired with a losing record to get another chance.

The message that this trade debacle sent just eliminated any decent coaching candidates, It looks to outsiders, like the front office is actively undermining Hue Jackson and Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams. It passed on Carson Wentz a year ago, then didn’t go all-out for Garoppolo or McCarron, imagining it could get by with Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer.

When that strategy blew up, the Browns couldn’t put together a package better than a #2 and Brian Hoyer to New England and wouldn’t pull the trigger for McCarron.

I thought a McCarron deal was insane. You’re 0-8 and will have the #1 pick again, where you can take a quarterback. Why spend a #2 and #3 to get a player who might be ready to play games 11-16– then serve as a placeholder for the #1 pick? You’ve already wasted a #2 on Kizer and a #3 on Kessler– how many picks do you want to flush?

That’s what front office should have said. “Hue, you won’t be fired, but you have to get through the second half with what you have.” But, by not saying that– by making a trade and then sabotaging it– the front office looks like it screwed their coaches.

If they follow that by event by firing the coaches– the fifth consecutive coach given a four-year deal, but fired after two or less– no one will interview. Jackson and Williams have their shortcomings, but they are universally perceived as skillful coordinators. No one will feel that Jackson (two years) and Williams (one) got a fair shake.

The only thing Rube (or Dee or their son-in-law) can do to move forward at this point is to fire the Marx Brothers at year’s end and tell candidates “You have to keep Jackson and Williams at least until their contracts expire.” That’s not a ridiculous set of conditions. If the new GM drafts well and the 2019 Browns are still bad, he can change coaches and more forward with some hope of getting a decent hire.

Dump everyone now– or keep the Marx Brothers and change coaches– and they have no chance.

In other news, the Browns will have both “Hands” Coleman and “Puff” Gordon back for the same game. Yee-hah. Mary Kay Greenhouse is saying maybe they can even get Terrelle Pryor back and reuinite the band. The notion that Puff will be back– and can still surpass Jerry Rice to be the best receiver ever (where do they find these people?) seems to be keeping the wolves at bay.

Oy, gevalt.

Game Preview

This should be the sort of game that Tony Grossi loves– both sides trying to drop the bomb on the other. DeShone Kizer will play knowing that he has only five games left in his career in Cleveland, so that won’t help him stay within himself. The Crow will almost certainly be looking only to salvage his stats for his turn at free agency. LT Spencer Drango, who can’t protect the passer, will have to do it against one of the weaker pass rushes.

Hard to see this ending well.

Game Prediction: Detroit 31, Cleveland 13

Browns’ Review: Game 8 (Vikings @ London)

Opening Statement

Congratulations, gentlemen. You lost 33-16 to a team that went 8-8 last year. The team was playing its third-string quarterback (Case Keenum) and didn’t have its #1 back (Dalvin Cook). Its #2 receiver (Stefon Diggs) had missed several games with a a groin pull, and didn’t go long even once (he was 4-6 for 27 yards).

But Minnesota ran 77 plays, gained 375 yards, and held the ball for 37:52. They gave up only one sack and had only one turnover.

The Browns can say “Well, we stuffed nine runs– and we knocked down 10 passes!” But the fact remains– they stuffed Latavius Murray (available in free agency last off-season; he cost $15 million for three years) and Jerick McKinnon, not Dalvin Cook. Case Keenum cost the Vikings only $2 million for a year because his career stats were:

  • 9-15 in 24 games started.
  • 78.4 rating (80 is the minimum to be acceptable),
  • 6.7 yards per pass (7.25 is average)
  • 24-20 TD-INT ratio (40-20 or 24-12 would be acceptable)

Keenum had a rating of 88.3 Sunday; he went 27-43 for 288 yards (6.7 per pass) and threw an interception. He did throw two TDs– but in both cases, he hit a receiver more or less unguarded in the end zone.

Admittedly, the Viking offense (and the Cleveland defense) knew that almost any amount of scoring would be sufficient. The Browns went into the game averaging 14.7 points a game. It exceeded that amount only because the Vikings gave them the ball inside their own 40 twice:

  • Carl Nassib tipped a pass that Joe Schobert pulled down and returned to the 37
  • Matt Dayes returned a kick 72 yards to the 31.

The Browns managed to get only six points out of those two possessions because Zane Gonzalez missed an extra point and a 35-yard field goal. (In the game preview, I said he had fought through his slump; obviously I was mistaken.)

The Browns managed to score a touchdown after an 8-play, 82-yard drive. Its next longest drive was 37 yards.

One may claim (not credibly, but it can be said) that the defense allowed 33 points because its lone pass rusher Myles Garrett and its best corner (30-year-old Jason McCourty) missed the game, and tackles Larry Ogunjobi and Trevon Coley were inactive. (Jabrill Peppers didn’t play, but Ibraheim Campbell stepped in and made the same mistakes Peppers has been making.)

But what is the excuse for the offense? Sure Joe Thomas missed the game, but the offense hadn’t been any better with him. In fact (as Thomas noted on Twitter) it performed better without him. Knowing that Spencer Drango would be overmatched, coach Hue Jackson didn’t call his customary game plan with 25 deep throws to journeymen. Instead, he called for short, quick passes to people capable of catching them.

Corey “Hands” Coleman was out– but what does that matter? Before he got hurt, he’d caught only 6 of the 13 balls thrown to him, averaging 10.3 yards a catch. That’s the same performance he had as a rookie– that every Baylor receiver (other than Puff Gordon) has had once they reach a league that requires them to run patterns while guarded.

You can argue that Coleman’s absence was keenly felt, because every other receiver on the team is even worse. But the number of people missing was nothing compared to the Vikings issues– they were also missing LG Nick Eaton and they lost RT Mike Remmers to a concussion during the game.

The problem is that the offense is terrible– that, other than the patchwork of highly-paid journeymen on the line, the Browns are incompetent everywhere on the unit.

Questions?

How much would Terrelle Pryor help?

Probably not a lot. For one thing, last season’s team went 1-15 with him, scoring 16.5 points. For another, his production has plummeted. He had 77 catches last year; after 7 games, he has only 18.

Pryor says he isn’t being used properly

Of course he does. He probably believes it too.The problem with that statement is that there is no data suggesting that the offense is being mishandled. Washington is 12th in points per game. Kirk Cousins is having a great year (103.3 rating, 8.0 yards per pass, 13 TDs and 4 INTs). More to the point, several receivers are outperforming Pryor. There are:

  • Four receivers with more catches,
  • Three who have more total yards,
  • Four with more yards per catch,
  • Four have more touchdowns, and
  • Five players (omitting four guys with five throws or less, all of whom are better) are catching a higher percentage of balls

Pryor’s playing time is a little bit down from last year (87.4% of the plays for Jackson, 70.2% for Jay Gruden). The difference is that he got 8.75 targets per game last year. Cleveland threw 62.5% of the time and he was one of four people worth targeting. Washington throws 57.6% and has half a dozen guys. He’s down to 4.75 throws per game this year.

If the Browns had him instead of Britt–

OK, let’s go through this once and for all. The Browns gave Britt $32 million for four years, but only $17 million is guaranteed. They can cut him at the end of the year and owe only $9 million.

Had the signed Pryor, they would be paying him $12 million for one season.

Pryor didn’t want to sign a multi-year deal. Drew Rosenhaus (his agent) convinced Pryor that his best option was to sign a one-year contract, have an even better year (figuring Pryor would have more experience and a better quarterback) and then hit the market again. They expected him to get a multi-year deal averaging $13-16 million.

I’d say it was improbable, but that’s what the best receivers get paid.

That’s why Pryor turned down multi-year offers valued at $10 or 11 million per year.

As for Britt, it’s hard for him to justify his contract when the team isn’t playing him. He’s played only five of the eight games and started only four. Not surprising– Jackson is angry with him.

Remember, Jackson loves Pryor– Oakland blew a #3 pick to get him in the supplemental draft when he was coaching Oakland. Almost every story about Pryor getting a tryout said he was working out for the Bengals. Guess who was coaching there.

The coach is angry that the front office didn’t sign a player he likes– and stuck him with a player he doesn’t. He barely played Britt in pre-season (67 snaps, 6 throws); when Britt played badly in game one, that’s pretty much been it.

How much would Pryor help the offense?

Not as much as you think.

One of the biggest red flags on DeShone Kizer in college was “stares at his primary receiver from the moment the ball is snapped”, making it very easy for the defense. If the Browns had Pryor, Jackson would be calling his number 8-10 plays per game.Kizer (who’s still leading the NFL in picks) would have even more interceptions and passes knocked down.

If you want to play this game, you should be asking how much the Browns miss Andrew Hawkins or Gary Barnidge.

Neither of them are in the league anymore

I know. Hawkins hurt himself during offseason workouts and decided to retire. Barnidge has played eight years. Since the minimum salary is now based on service time, any team that signed him would be required to pay him at least $900,000 a year.

My point is that last season, Barnidge caught 67.1% of the balls thrown to him (fourth among Browns with ten catches). Hawkins (61.1%) was fifth.

On this roster, they’d be third and fourth, behind The Duck (75.0%) and The Crow (68.0%). The next-best player (David Njoku) had 56.3% (since he went 2-7 yesterday, that’s gonna drop).

Having reliable targets would help Kizer a great deal. They don’t have any. The Marx Brothers blew five picks on receivers in the 2016 draft. They took receivers in the first (Coleman), fourth (Rocardo Louis and Seth Devalve) and fifth (Jordan Payton, Rashard Higgins).None of them can do the position’s primary job: receive.

  • Devalve (17-32; 53.1%) is the best of the lot this year. That’s way down from his 10-12 last year (83.3%), where he looked like he might be a valuable possession receiver.
  • Louis (23-45; 51.1%) is the only other one over 50%. Since he was 18-35 (51.4%) last year, it’s pretty likely that he will always be a “hit or miss” player (literally).
  • Coleman (6-13) is 46.2%. That’s his second season below 50%– he went 33-73 (45.2%) as a rookie.
  • Higgins (14-31) is 45.2%. That’s down a hair from 2016, where he went 6-12.

A lot of that is probably the quarterbacking

I love it when people who are confronted with evidence they know nothing about leap to conclusions, If that were the case, do you think I’d be citing the data?

A year ago, Browns’ QBs completed 59.6% of their throws. Pryor caught 77 of 140 balls– 55.0%.

This year he has Kirk Cousins (completing 67.9% of his passes) targeting him. Pryor is 18-34, which is 52.9%

As it happens, there are three receivers on the team who played for other teams– in two cases, with outstanding quarterbacks:

  • Russell Wilson targeted Kasen William only twice; he caught one of the balls. He is 9-18 this year.
  • Sammie Coates caught 22 of the 51 balls (43.1%) Ben Roethlisberger threw him in Pittsburgh, He is 3-8 here, or 37.5%.
  • Britt caught 309 of 566 (54.5%) with Tennessee and the Rams. He is 10-28 (35.7%) here.

Catch percentage isn’t a perfect measure for three reasons. First, NFL rules require there to be an “intended receiver” on every pass attempt– even when the quarterback is throwing the ball away. Some percentage of targets come on uncatchable balls.

Second, a deep threat like A.J. Green (who runs tougher routes and is usually double-covered) is likely to catch a lower percentage (58.5% this year) than a running back (Cincinnati’s are a collective 33-41, or 80.5%), who gets screens or outlet throws.

Third, if the quarterback has trouble throwing certain patterns– and the receiver frequently runs them– that will drive down the catch percentage. And if the quarterback is completing 52% of his passes (as Kizer is), it is unlikely that anyone will hit 60%. (That isn’t always true.)

But thanks to rules changes and the schemes being used, completion percentages are at historic highs now. The league average was 62.7% last year. 60% is the benchmark for a receiver.

The quarterbacks have nobody reliable to throw to.

So you think they need to draft someone

Dear God, no. The Browns need receivers, but not players drafted by the Marx Brothers.

This front office drafted five players a year ago. They’re all busts. This isn’t target-shooting, where you improve with practice. If you’re not scouting properly, picking more players means you’ll keep making mistakes.

I don’t normally second-guess drafts, but there is no question that the 2016 draft was a disaster. Receivers taken shortly after almost every Browns pick have substantially outperformed them.

Coleman (pick #15; 39 catches for 475 yards): He was the first receiver drafted. They could have had anyone they wanted. Houston’s Will Fuller (60 career catches for 914 yards) or the Giants’ Sterling Shepard (87 for 946) or New Orleans’s Michael Thomas (134 for 1,617) would probably be helping them much more.

Louis (pick 114; 41-497): He was taken 26 picks before Tajae Sharpe (41-522). Sharpe has missed the entire 2017 season with a foot injury, and the Titans still have gotten as much out of the pick as the Browns.

Devalve (pick 138; 27-321): The next player at his position was taken with pick 177, so there is no good comp. I will note that none of the scouting services expected him to be drafted at all.

Payton (pick 154; 1 catch for 3 yards before being cut): 11 slots later, Kansas City took Tyreek Hill (who has 97 catches for 1,108 yards).

Higgins (pick 172; 20-227): The only receiver drafted within 32 picks (one round) even close is Cody Core of the Bengals (17-200).

The list of players outperforming the Browns’ choices will only get larger, Rookie receivers usually don’t win starting jobs– it takes them a year or two to learn the routes, beat out the veteran and begin producing. Coleman and Fuller were #1 picks who got to start as rookies. Josh Doctson of Washington and LaQuaon Treadwell of Minnesota didn’t. They’re both starting now and might move ahead by year’s end.

Based on what they’ve done, I wouldn’t consider letting the Marx Brothers use any more high pick on receivers. I’d make them sign veterans until they showed they could pick good ones.

Hasn’t the quarterback derby hurt them?

Not nearly as much as Trent Green (the former QB who raised the issue during the game) thinks. Obviously it matters– every quarterback throws differently; they all have favorite routes or receivers. But receivers who drop passes as often as these guys do (or run to the wrong spot and get bitched out by both the QB and the coaches) don’t get to grumble about how someone throws the ball.

The problem with former players becoming broadcasters is that most of them think every game revolves around their position.

But that raises another issue. The Browns wouldn’t have this chaos at quarterback– and wouldn’t have needed to take Kizer in the second round this year– if they’d chosen Dak Prescott instead of Cody “Trust Me” Kessler with their third pick in 2016. But the front office didn’t like Prescott.

They had a chance to take DeShaun Watson with the 12th pick this year– they didn’t like him either.

Now perhaps Prescott (to date, a 102.2 rating, 7.6 yards per pass and 37-8 TD-INT ratio) wouldn’t look as good with these receivers– or without “Son of Ray Rice” running the ball. Watson has a league-high 19 TD passes (plus only 8 interceptions, 8.3 yards per pass and a 103.0 rating). Maybe he’d be leading the NFL in interceptions (as Kizer is) if he were here.

Maybe Kessler and Kizer would look a lot better if they were on other teams. But so far there isn’t a single position where we can say “Boy, this front office really knows how to find talent.”

A year ago, it chose Emmanuel Ogbah with the 32nd pick, leaving TE Hunter Henry on the board (also, Shepard and Thomas at receiver, plus RB Derrick Henry).

On Sunday, Garrett missed another game. The Browns needed someone to step up. The player who did was Carl Nassib (the third-round pick in 2016). He got a sack and three tackles. He was credited with a quarterback hit; he tipped three passes– one of them going to Joe Schobert, setting up the first score.

Ogbah had no sacks, tackles or assists, and only one tipped pass. He was shut out in the Baltimore game as well– in both the Pittsburgh, Houston and Tennessee games, he had no sacks and one tackle.

Nassib, who broke his hand last year (and then rushed back from it), has played only 856 snaps. Ogbah has about 50% more. If you look at the major stats (PD is “passes defensed” AKA balls tipped), Ogbah hasn’t been 50% more productive:

Snaps
Tackles
Assists
Sacks
Tips
Ogbah 1,245 41 36 7.5 6
Nassib 856 25 10 4.5 7

The only edge for Ogbah is in assists. Since he he plays on the weak side (no tight end), he should be able to get to more plays than a guy who has to fight off two blockers.

The other issue I have with Ogbah is that much of his output (4.5 sacks, 12 tackles, 6 assists) has come in three games against the Bengals. Marvin Lewis will be lucky to go 8-8 this year; if he gets fired, Ogbah no longer has any value.

I’ve said it before: I suspect the Browns would be in better shape with Nassib starting opposite Garrett and Ogbah as the third down rusher.

The secondary has been another problem spot. Last year the front office drafted Derrick Kindred in round #4– he couldn’t beat out Ed Reynolds and is pretty terrible in coverage. This year they passed up free safety Malik Hooker at pick 12 and ended up taking whatchamacallit Jabrill Peppers (meaning “we don’t know what, if any position he plays best”) at pick 25– the way the two have played so far, that clearly looks like a mistake.

You’d need to have Grade four Stage four Lesmerises (a degenerative brain disease that produces dementia) to imagine that the Marx Brothers can fix the problems with their drafting at this point.

This is the problem with making a lawyer the GM, putting a pro personnel guy in charge of college scouting and giving some dude who worked for baseball teams input.

Why are you so het up about the draft?

I usually react to what I am seeing and hearing. It has come achingly clear to the media that the Browns will, unless they catch someone sleepwalking to the end of a lost season, go 0-16. It’s hard, at this point, to see any games they project to win:

  1. Detroit is 3-4 and still in the hunt for the playoffs, so they will be trying.
  2. Jacksonville is 4-3. Its defense is strong; its offense is coming around.
  3. The Bengals could be 5-5 (losing at Jacksonville, winning at Tennessee and then at home against Denver), so they should still be playing hard.
  4. The Chargers are likely to be 3-8 (they’re 3-5 and have Jacksonville, Buffalo and Dallas), but they have more talent and ought to want to revenge themselves for last season’s loss.
  5. Green Bay should be in a tailspin due to life without Aaron Rodgers, but they’re a good team..
  6. I’d guess Baltimore will be 6-7, and might be staggering. They have a lot of people hurt.
  7. Chicago’s defense is now ranked 14th, they have a good running game and Mitch Trubisky will be starting his 11th game. He looks OK now, but could regress.
  8. Pittsburgh will not lose to the Browns if Cleveland is 0-15. If the Steelers have their playoff slot locked up, they could (as they did last year) send out the scrubs and say “It’s on you, guys.”

There are possibilities, but nothing I’d be willing to pick.

That’s why we’re seeing more and more “The Browns are so undermanned” and “It’s tough for Hue Jackson to win when he doesn’t have the players.”

The Browns seem undermanned partly because they fill their roster with players who lack the basic requirements of the position. But they also devote roster spots to people they rarely play:

More to the point, I have no idea why Dayes and Vitale aren’t both starting.

Are you crazy?

Like a fox. It is certifiably insane to come out with one running back, one tight end and three receivers. They don’t have three receivers capable of holding down a job on an NFL team.

It would make sense to try using two receivers and two tight ends (Seth Devalve and David Njoku). Neither of them can block, however– and with Joe Thomas out, the quarterback needs blockers.

Vitale can block. He’s been targeted seven times and caught six.  Is he a great player? No way. But he is a role player, whose roles (picking up blitzers and being a surehanded receiver) are exactly what the Browns need right now.

Why Dayes?

Do the math, We don’t know– he’s in the concussion protocol– if The Duck will be available in week 10. But more to the point, Hue Jackson has clearly decided that he won’t work as the #1 back. Review his career:

  • As a rookie, Mike Pettine gave him 104 carries and 74 targets.
  • Last season, Jackson reduced his carries to 73 and held his targets at 74.
  • After 8 games, he’s on pace for 68 carries and 96 targets.

If you want to argue that The Duck should get more carries, I would support that. He’s averaging 5.2 this season and he got 4.9 last year. He hasn’t run often enough to make me think he’s really that good– that his average wouldn’t drop 2-3 yards if he got even 10 carries a game. But it’s worth experimenting

If you don’t want to run The Duck, you have to look elsewhere. And Dayes is the only other back on the roster.

You just wanna give up on The Crow?

Why not? Start with the obvious: His contract is up at the end of the year. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent; he can leave the team. The Crow thinks he’s the greatest thing since Peyton Hillis– he’ll want a premium deal. The Browns, very clearly, have no intention of giving him what he wants.

So you have him for eight games. What’s the logic behind playing out the string with him?

1. The Minnesota game was by far his best performance of the season. He made his first score of the season; he had 118 all-purpose yards. The next-best game was 73 in the Houston game.

2. A back whose big outburst is 64 yards rushing and 54 yards passing isn’t that hot.

3. Three factors offset the performance:

  • He fumbled– on the first play of the second half. The Browns were leading 15-13, and had a chance to extend the lead, and put pressure on the Vikings. Instead, he handed the opponent the ball on the Cleveland 30, giving them a chip-shot field goal to take the lead back.
  • 38 of his 54 receiving yards came on a shovel pass. He gets points for realizing that his quarterback was in trouble, and coming back. But the rest of his day breaks down as 3 catches on 5 throws for 16 yards.
  • He got 26 of his running 64 yards on one play. On the other 10 rushes, he gained 38 yards.

The game was a microcosm of Crowell’s career. He looks terrific a couple of times, but you don’t get much else.

You’re starting Dayes based on one return?

I want to start Dayes because there are three running backs and two of them have been ruled out. But. yes, the kick return– where he followed his blocking and saw a hole– was a pretty impressive play. The week before, he gained 30 yards on one return. Not to be mean, but that’s as good or better than anything Peppers has done.

Dayes looked interesting in pre-season– like one of those “zone read” backs who spots the holes and picks his way through them. Mike Shanahan made a career out of using backs who didn’t impress anyone in college, and most of them were low picks too.

Anyway, it’s an 0-8 team. What, exactly, do you have to lose on this venture?

If you’re Hue Jackson, your job

Jackson isn’t likely to lose his job unless he melts down. If the Marx Brothers fire Jackson, everyone will pour abuse on them. No coach worth hiring will apply. Same applies if Rube Haslam cleans house. Nobody will come to the NFL’s worst franchise to work for an owner who gives his hires two years max.

Plus, Dayes would have to be historically bad to hurt Jackson. His starting back is in his fourth season and is having his worst year. Nobody questions a coach who replaces a starter averaging 3.4 yards per carry.

If Dayes plays decently, it helps Jackson keep his job. If Dayes gives the team a running threat– something they can use as the basis of long drives– Jackson looks like a genius. If the Browns run effectively enough to take pressure off the passing game, maybe they even win some games.

A losing team needs to find players. To do that, it needs to try players who look interesting– not play unhappy veterans who are ready to bug out.

Is there anything else?

Why aren’t you harder on Williams?

Because, for the 47 years I have followed this team, I have been saying six things repeatedly:

  1. “They can’t run the ball.”
  2. “They can’t stop the run.”
  3. “They have zero pass rush.”
  4. “The can’t protect the quarterback.”
  5. “They never get any turnovers.”
  6. “The kicking teams really suck.”

Five of those things are true this season. One of them– complaint #2– is not. Opponents have 761 yards rushing in eight games– only 2.9 per carry. Only two teams (Baltimore and Houston) have gained 100 yards rushing; no opposing back has 100 yards.

I know it’s mostly because he’s overloading the line– that it’s hurting the pass coverage somewhat. I am not blind to the lack of pressure on quarterbacks or the nine turnovers in eight games.

But it is something. Normally teams blast through the center of the line and scamper down the field. That isn’t happening. The number of missed tackles– and arm tackles– has plummeted. The defense isn’t biting on fakes and leaving itself wide open when the runner cuts back.

I’m not sure it will continue, but until it stops, I’ll give Williams less grief. He is playing without Garrett; his front office cut Joe Haden. His failures are things I can comprehend.

Browns Preview: Game 8 (Vikings @London)

Opponent Preview

If you’re looking for an example of what might have been, the Minnesota Vikings are as good an illustration and one could find. Four years ago, GM Rick Spielmann fired head coach Leslie Frazier after a 5-10-1 season. The Browns, who had gone 4-12 under Rob Chudzynski, were slightly worse, but not significantly so. Minnesota was 25-39-1 over the past four seasons; the Browns 18-46., but 10 of Minnesota’s 25 wins had come in a single fluke season.

Since that time, the Vikings have won nearly three times as many games . Over the last three seasons and seven games, they’re 31-24; the Browns are 11-44. Seven of those wins came in a single season.

At the risk of giving my cousins in Minnesota an aneurism, let’s ask the question: What did Vikings owner Zyggi Wilf do right? (This question, I assure you, could only be asked if Wilf is juxtaposed with owners “Rube” and Dee Haslam.)

1. Wilf had a marginally competent GM already in place and kept him. My gorge rises at the notion of calling Rick Spielman competent. He went 23-25 in three seasons (2002-04) with Miami and has gone 49-53-1 in Minnesota since 2011.

From 2006-10 Wilf, Spielman (as VP of Player Personnel) and coach Brad Childress jointly made personnel decisions.That troika went 46-38 in five seasons. Pro Football Reference has his lifetime record dead wrong.

But Spielman has been in charge of a team for nine seasons (not counting 2017) and his teams have won more games than they have lost five times. He’s been under .500 with both teams, but not by a great deal. Wilf decided to give him a shot.

Rube and Dee had the Three Stooges (Rube, Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi) running the front office and didn’t decide to change that until February 11, 2014, which was:

  • 19 days after they had hired Mike Pettine as coach.
  • Nearly 30 days after every other team had hired their GM.
  • Only 83 days before the May 8 draft.

There was no way Rube and his wife could get a viable GM to come to a team with a rookie head coach he hadn’t hired– and no time to revamp a failed scouting staff (it chose Barkevious Mingo and Leon McFadden).They promoted Ray Farmer.

2. Spielman hired a superior head coaching candidate. One may argue that Pettine (who went 7-9 in his first season) could have been a good head coach if the front office had given him better players. What one may not argue is that his resume was thin. Pettine had four seasons as defensive coordinator under Rex Ryan (a 34-30 team) and , one year working for Doug Marrone (who went 6-10).

The defense had been first in points allowed in Pettine’s first season. Then it fell to sixth– and the next three seasons, it finished 20th.

The Browns didn’t even consider Mike Zimmer, the coach Spielman hired. He’d spent:

  • Seven seasons as defensive coordinator in Dallas– first under Dave Campo, then Bill Parcells
  • A season in Atlanta under Bobby Petrino
  • Six seasons in Cincinnati, under Marvin Lewis

Both Parcells and Lewis know how to coach defense; Zimmer had run defenses that finished second, fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth in points allowed.

With Zimmer in charge, the Vikings have finished, 11th, 6th, 5th and 6th in points allowed. The Browns finished 9th and 29th under Pettine and then 30th and 24th under his successor.

3. Spielman chose not to trade up to draft Johnny Manziel in 2014. The Vikings had the 40th pick and, I am told, had Manziel rated slightly higher than Teddy Bridgewater, based on arm strength and injury concerns (which have been well-founded). They spoke with Philadelphia about trading up for the 22nd pick.

Teams were talking to the Eagles because rumor had it that Kansas Citry, which had pick #23, planned to draft him– that Andy Reid believed he could transform Manziel into the new Donovan McNabb.

But when Philadelphia told Spielman that the price would be the 40th pick plus their third pick (#73), Spielman declined. Instead, he traded pick #40 and his fourth round pick (#108) to Seattle to get the last pick in the first round. He took Bridgewater with that pick.

Note that this wasn’t a great decision. When the Vikings took Bridgewater with the 32nd pick, they passed up Derek Carr— who went to Oakland at pick 36. Carr has had trouble staying healthy, but he’s played 53 games–nearly twice as many games as Bridgewater (29)– as a much higher level.

Rube made it clear that he wanted Manziel drafted, so the Browns spent a #1 pick (slot 26) and a #3 pick (slot 83).

4. Minnesota chose the correct back in 2014. Both teams took running backs in round three of the draft. The Vikings, picking 96th, took Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon has hd trouble getting carries– first he was stuck behind Adrian Peterson, now rookie Dalvin Cook. But McKinnon has gained 1,585 yards in his 3+ seasons, averaging 4.2 per carry. He’s also added 113 receptions.

Having traded out of round three in order to get Johnny Football, the Browns wanted to draft Terrance West and had to trade a  #4 and #6 to get pick 94. West has more career yards (1,816) but a worse average (3.9), And, of course, he gained only 673 yeards in Cleveland, before running afoul of management and getting traded.

 

Spielman hasn’t drafted well; of the 39 picks he’s made in the past four years, only 12 have started even one season. But Bridgewater went to the Pro Bowl. His other #1 pick in 2014 (LB Anthony Barr) has started all four seasons and reached the Pro Bowl twice in three years.

When Bridgewater tore his ACL at the end of training camp in 2016, Spielman decided not to let the injury ruin the season. He traded a #1 and #4 to Philly for Sam Bradford, who posted a rating of 99.0, got 7.0 yards per pass and threw for 20 TDs and only 5 interceptions.

As a rule, I agree with the policy “Accumulate as many draft picks as you can.” The more picks you have, the more prime talent you can accumulate.But this policy only works if you know how to draft. Contrary to what Doug Lesmerises and his ilk keep saying, picks are not frequent flyer miles– where, if you accumulate enough, you can exchange them for All-Pros. The Browns have had two #1 picks in the draft four times in the last six years:

  • Trent Richardson (#3) and Brandon Weeden (#22) in 2012
  • Justin Gilbert (#9) and Manziel (#26) in 2014
  • Danny Shelton (#12) and Cam Erving (#19) in 2015
  • Myles Garrett (#1), Jabrill Peppers (#25) and David Njokuo (#29) in 2017

Of those picks, Garrett is the only one that looks successful– assuming he can stay healthy (which isn’t clear). Peppers has played badly; Njoku looks so raw that the earliest one might hope to see him play well in 2019. The only other player still on the team is Shelton; 2½ seasons into his career, the best you can say is that he is above average on running plays.

Minnesota has had the kind of luck that would have Terry Pluto weeping in every column. Bradford hasn’t made the deal look great, His knee (which has been injured repeatedly) was gimpy last year and he’s missed the last two games. Case Keenum will start. Bridgewater is expected shortly, but that’s subject to change.

Cook is out for the year, which means Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray will be platooning. At receiver, Adam Thielen is a nice possession receiver, but Stefon Diggs missed the last two games with a groin pull and probably won’t be 100%; last year’s #1 (Laquon Treadwell) has been a spot player.

Other than rookie C Pat Elfrein (a #3 playing well), everyone on the line is a veteran retread. Matt Kalil, who was supposed to be the next Joe Thomas, struggled both to stay healthy (14 games missed in 2016) and to protect the quarterback, Minnesota let him sign with Carolina last spring. LT Riley Rieff, LG Nick Eason, RG Joe Berger and RT Mike Remmers are all what one would call “serviceable.” A defense with a great pass rush should be able to explout it.

The Viking defense looks a lot like the Bengals– not surprising, since Zimmer used to coach it. DEs Everson Griffen and third year man Danielle Hunter (who was drafted, by the way, 11 picks after “Duck” Johnson in 2015) provide the push; DT Linval Joseph clogs the middle and provides some rush. (Not as good as Geno Atkins, but the same type of player.)

Behind them, Barr does the rushing; middle linebackes Eric Kendricks makes all the tackles. I’m being told that rookie Ben Gedeon can really cover.

The secondary features two former #1 picks at corner– Xavier Rhodes (2013) and Trae Waynes (2015)– both of whom play well. Another former #1 (Harrison Smith, 2012) has three interceptions and six knockdowns at safety.

They’re sixth in points allowed for a reason. Nobody is a marquee player, but they all play well.

Browns Preview

The silver lining about Joe Thomas’s tragic season-ending injury is that it eliminated any possibility that the Marx Brothers might trade him away. Thomas wants to finish his career in Cleveland, but the lure of a draft pick might have been too much for the Boys From Harvard to resist.

What could be a bit of good news: the injury gives the Browns a chance to try out Shon Coleman at left tackle. One of the Browns’ rationalizations for spending a #3 on a player who (1) will turn 26 on November 25th, and (2) was healthy enough to play only 62 snaps at as rookie was that Coleman had first-round talent.

The rebop from the Marx Brothers and their sycophants was that Coleman (who played at Auburn) projected to be as good as Greg Robinson (also from Auburn; the second overall pick in 2014).

That sounded a lot more impressive before the Rams demoted Robinson from left tackle to right tackle– then declined his fifth-year option and traded him to Detroit for a sixth-round pick.

Coleman might, they said, be able to play two years at right tackle and then switch to the left side after Thomas retired.

If Coleman could handle the switch, it would make offensive line the only position that the front office has been able to draft for. Unfortunately Hue Jackson (in what could very well be his final mistake as coach of the Browns) has said that he doesn’t want to disrupt the chemistry of the line by, shifting a starter. The notion that Spencer Drango (who played tackle at Baylor, but everyone felt would have to be a guard to have any chance at all) can fill in for Thomas is ludicrous. But it’s Jackson’s team for a little white.

The quarterback position is now hosed beyond all recognition. DeShone Kizer— who has been pulled in each of the last two games– will start again, presumably on an even shorter leash. At some point we can expect Cody “Trust Me” Kessler to step in, complete a high percentage of dink passes and get sacked from his blind side. (He had two sacks– both after Thomas went down.)

In the backfield, “The Crow” was in vintage form last week, getting 17 carries and piling up 35 yards for a sparkling 2.1 average. “The Duck”, who got only seven carries, came close to outgaining him (26 yards).

The two backs were the only effective receivers a week ago. TEs David Njoku (2-5 for 58 yards) and Seth Devalve (2-4 for 27 yards) are the only players a sane person would consider throwing to,

The receivers are a collection of street free agents. Kenny Britt had two catches on five throws– for only seven yards. He’s considered solely responsible for the problems. For the life of me, I don’t get why they think benching him will solve anything. If you’ve given up on him, cut him. And cut Sammie Coates and Kasen Williams too– and play some kids who have decent hands.

The good news is that the defense is ranked 24th in points allowed, and has allowed less than 21 points in two of the last three games. The bad news is both the Jets and Titans are bad offenses. The unit is generating virtually no pass rush. They’re in a five-way tie for 15th ion sacks– which doesn’t sound bad until you remember that it is blitzing more than any team in the NFL.

The defensive MVP is easily CB Jason McCourty, with 3 picks (one returned for a score). nine passed knocked down and two forced fumbles. He beats Myles Garrett handily– because a player must play in order to have value, and Garret has missed four games (and will miss this one).

At middle linebacker, Joe Schobert looks like he is figuring things out; Briean Boddy-Calhoun has provided good coverage, despite being undersized. Other that that, there are no positive signs. LB Jamie Collins has been invisible. This is preferable to Jabrill Peppers, who has been highly visible due to his wretched play.

The most positive story of the season is that Zane Gonzalez worked his way out of his slump.

Game Preview

The Browns are 31st in points scored, averaging 14.7 points per game (Miami, which is playing without Ryan Tannehill, has scored 13.1). There is absolutely no reason to expect it to do better against the NFl’s #5 defense (allowing 17.0 points per game).

With the quarterback position in utter chaos– and without Thomas to protect the quarterback’s blind side– a shutout is a very real possibility. The best possibility of avoiding that is that Zimmer (coordinator) and Jackson (secondary, then running backs) served together on Marvin Lewis’s staff in 2012 and 2013. If they are friends, Zimmer might ease up once he has a decent lead.

How Zimmer might get such a lead is hard to see. Case Keenum‘s 89.0 rating is a fraud. He had a 142.1 rating against Tampa in week two and a 110.3 against Chicago in week five. His best rating in the other for games was 73.7, with two games in the 60’s.

The Browns lead the league in run defense (eighth in yards allowed; an NFL-best 3,0 per carry) but that’s usually because teams are running the ball either because they’re trying to hold a lead, or because their quarterback is dreadful. Keenum being bad works to their advantage. The problem is that

Mariota didn’t have a great game (21-34 for 203, no TDs or interceptions; 78.4 rating). On the other had, his receivers had between 3-6 drops. Keenum doesn’t have to have a good game– he just has to not loose it. He’s 3-2 this season, so he is capable of doing that.

Game Prediction

Games played in London tend to be really ragged affairs. Everyone is jet-lagged; nobody got much practice time. It’s usually exhibition-quality play with a 50% chance of a blowout. Of the 16 games.

  • 7 have been decided by at least 15 points
  • 3 had a final margin of 8-14 points
  • 6 were close games; one went to overtime

This season, things have gotten especially bad. My guess is that the players (many of whom are protesting– meaning they’re already on bad terms with the owners) really don’t like being flown to another country to earn money for the league.

Jacksonville beat Baltimore 44-7, the Rams beat the Cardinals 33-0 and the Saints beat the Dolphins 20-0. Since I already thought the Browns were unlikely to score, that gives us half the score.

How many points for the Vikings? Unless the Browns have a strong desire to save Hue Jackson’s job, I’m guessing it will be high. Hue Jackson might not make it back to America as head coach.

Vikings 24, Browns 0

Browns Preview: Game 6 (@ Houston)

Opponent Preview

When I do a team preview, I look at either (1) the most interesting thing about the team or (2) the most significant factor in their season or (3) the thing most Browns fans want to know. For the Texans, those are one and the same.

The Browns went into the 2017 draft holding the 12th pick. Rather than use it, Cleveland traded it to Houston for the 25th pick (which they used on Jabril Peppers) and Houston’s #1 pick in 2018. The Texans promptly used the pick on QB DeShaun Watson from Clemson.

Watson comes into the game with a 100.7 passer rating (seventh-best). He’s getting 7.4 yards per pass (tied for 12th; above the league average 7.1) and a superb 12-4 TD/INT ratio.  He’s run for 179 yards (8.1 per carry) and scored two TDs. About the worst thing you can say is that Watson has been sacked on 8.2% of his pass attempts– 23rd-best among starters.

So the Browns screwed up by passing up Watson– and everyone who didn’t like him was wrong.

I don’t agree, Even at pick 25, Watson would have been a bad pick for the Browns. He would have been a terrible one at #12. Let’s run through the knocks on him:

1. Likely to be injury-prone. Watson has a slender frame. His draft profiles at TSX, and NFL.com and Ourlads all flagged him. TSX compared him Teddy Bridgewater and Jared Goff; NFL,com to Goff.

Five games into his NFL career, he hasn’t gotten hurt. That doesn’t mean the assessment was wrong. After playing full seasons in 2014 and 2015, Bridgewater missed all of 2016 with an injury and still hasn’t played this year.

Maybe Watson will avoid injury– Adrian Peterson was downgraded for not being able to stay healthy in college and he missed only 8 games in his first seven years. On the other hand, scouts gave Deuce McAllister the “injury risk” tag. After four healthy seasons, he never played a full year again.

Most importantly of all, the Texans have a championship-quality defense (seventh, sevenths and eleventh in points allowed in the past three years) , but an offense so bad (14th, 21st, 28th) that they struggle to get over .500 and die in the playoffs. Their quarterback situation has been embarassing– they needed to get a young QB.

I know– pot calling kettle. The Browns have thrashed around every season, but Houston has been the opposite extreme. They’ve looked to trades and free agency..

Before Watson, the Texans’ last attempt to draft a QB– in any round– was Tom Savage in the fourth round of 2014. They’d drafted only six quarterbacks in 16 years: T.J. Yates in the fifth round of 2011. Then Alex Brink (7th round, 2008), B.J. Symons (7th, 2004), Dave Ragone (#3, 2003) and David Carr as the first pick of the 2002 draft.

The possibility that Watson might get injured pales next to the certainty that the clock is ticking. Coach Bill O’Brien is 27-21 only because he plays in the NFL’s worst division and gets six easy games. If he and GM Rick Smith don’t reach 11-12 wins and at least an ALCS, they’ll get fired.

A gamble makes more sense for a team with playoff expectations. J.J. Watt isn’t getting any younger, and he’s starting to fall apart (he’s out for the year).

2. Lacks good arm strength. I value a strong arm less than most people– accuracy is what concerns me– but Watson’s passes were clocked at only 45 MPH on the radar gun (you can find the stat on the Ourlads profile). By comparison, Cody “Trust Me” Kessler threw 55.

It’s another similarity to Bridgewater. Concerns about his arm strength were significant enough that he skipped throwing at the combine, rather than have the problem documented.

The Browns play in an open-air, cold-weather stadium in the AFC North. Houston plays in a dome. Also, their opponents in the AFC South include Indianapolis (another dome) Jacksonville (Florida) and Nashville, Tennessee (weather in December in the 40’s and 50’s). At worst– if the Texans play both the AFC and NFC North– he’ll play 4-5 games in cold-weather cities. And some of those games will be in September and October.

Again, a risk. But one Houston can rationalize taking.

3. Better fit for the Texans offense. Neither Watson not Kizer played in a pro-style offense– but other than using a shotgun exclusively, the offenses were very different.

Watson played at Clemson, which uses screens and short throws. A lot of their “pass plays” would be “tosses” or “pitches” if the quarterback weren’t throwing them overhand. Dabo Swinney wants his receivers to have the ball in their hands before the defense realizes where the play is going, so he they can get more yards after the catch. Other than WR Mike Williams (who was 6’1 and became the seventh pick) and the tight end, Clemson receivers are short, extremely fast players– Watson was expected to deliver the ball immediately.

Notre Dame uses a version of the spread that looks to throw downfield more. Brian Kelly wants receivers who can block on running plays, so he uses taller, slower receivers; Kizer was trained to wait for them to come out of their break– and because he has trouble reading defenses, he takes longer than normal to spot the open mando it.

Except for DeAndre Hopkins (6’1″ and 214, but still very fast– 35 catches for 363 yards and 5 TDs), the Texans have short, quick guys: 5’9″ (Bruce Ellington, who is 9-133-1), 6’0 (Will Fuller; 6-92-4), 6’0″ (Braxton Miller; 3-25-0) and 5’11” (Chris Thompson). The #2 receiver on the team 12-135-1) is RB Lamar Miller.

O’Brien runs an offense that values possession passing and avoiding mistakes (sack, fumbles, drops). It is fairly simple to pick up. Watson, who is trained to throw short passes to small receivers quickly, is ideal for that system. Kizer would struggle to fit in at Houston

Also, Watson would be a fish out of water in Cleveland. Hue Jackson‘s playbook is extremely complicated. Like Notre Dame, it looks to throw deep to big receivers, with the quarterback waiting for the big play. The Browns have taller, slower receivers with bad hands; they drop passes.

4. Better supporting cast. Not one of the receivers on the Browns– including tight ends– would be playing significant snaps in Houston. Partly that’s because Houston has spent #1 picks on Hopkins (2013) and Fuller 2016), a #3 on Miller last year and a #3 on backup RB D’Onta Foreman this year.

Mostly it’s that they drafted better. Fuller was taken six picks after Corey “Hands” Coleman last year. Savage and Brock Osweiler threw him 92 passes; he caught barely over half (47). But he gained 635 yards scored twice– vastly better than Coleman. He caught only 33 of the 73 balls thrown to him and gained 413 yards (a full yard less per catch). Coleman did score one more TD– but he also had one serious injury.

Lamar Miller was drafted by Miami in 2012; when Adam Gase was hired, they declined to re-sign Miller, even though ha had seasons of 709, 1,099 and 872 yards. The Browns decided they didn’t need a running back– that “The Crow” and “The Duck” were better. Last year Biller gained 1,073 yards and averaged 4.0 yards; he’s got 331 yards and a 4.0 average again. The two backs the Browns used have been… well, fowl.

5. Better coaching. O’Brien spent five seasons with Bill Belicheat, working his way up from offensive assistant to receivers, to quarterbacks to coordinator. This was after he spent 14 years in college, working for some good NCAA coaches– and a even a year with Chan Gailey (a former NFL head coach, who was an assistant for Dan Reeves, Bill Cowher and Dave Wannstedt.

O’Brien coached quarterbacks, but he also has both a quarterbacks coach (Sean Ryan, who trained under Tom Coughlin) and an assistant QB coach (Pat O’Hara) who works specifically with the backups. This ensures that the non-starters get grooming

Jackson, who has been to impatient to advance to serve an apprenticeship anywhere, spent a year coaching running. backs for Marty Schottenheimer and two years coaching quarterbacks for John Harbaugh. He spent seven years (in two stints) with Marvin Lewis– whose notions of offense are somewhat quaint.

The Browns have a QB coach (David Lee), who has, according to his bio:

helped eight quarterbacks surpass the 3,000 passing yard plateau nine times, including Tyrod Taylor (3,023 in 2016 and 3,025 in 2015), Geno Smith (3,046 in 2014), Ryan Fitzpatrick (3,400 in 2012), Chad Henne (3,301 in 2010), Chad Pennington (3,653 in 2008), Drew Bledsoe (3,639 in 2005), Vinny Testaverde (3,532 in 2004) and Quincy Carter (3,302 in 2003).

I wouldn’t brag about working with those guys, but if it’s the best you have, you go with it. The starting QB gets 80% of the work during the week, meaning that the backups are on their own.

We’ll never know, but had the Browns taken Watson at pick 12, I suspect he would be struggling as badly as Kizer. A bad team makes the players who join it worse.

Browns Preview

The Browns are observing radio silence at present. Everyone is aware that Jimmy Haslam is ready to fire everyone, and trying to keep their heads down.

The problem facing Haslam: he can’t fire anyone and expect to get even marginally competent replacements. A friend who has excellent ties to the front office world says that nobody will consider Cleveland for the following reasons:

  1. He’s fired three coach-GM tandems since taking over in 2012, giving none of them more than two years.
  2. The record of the three previous regimes were: (A) Tom Heckert and Pat Shurmur, who went 9-23 (.281), (B) Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi and Rob Chudzynski (4-12; .250), (C) Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine (10-22; .312)
  3. His current mismanagement team– Sasho, Ando and Paulo Marx, plus Jackson– is 1-20 (.048) which is by far the worst performance of any non-expansion team since teams began sharing revenue.
  4. Heckert is employed by Denver, Lombardi in New England. Chudzynski (Colts) and Shurmur (Vikings) are well-regarded coordinators.
  5. A list of people talking down the team includes all of the fired people already mentioned, plus former coordinators Norv Turner and Kyle Shanahan and Mike “The Walrus” Holmgren and writer Jason La Canfora (who is BFF with Banner and Lombardi)
  6. Haslam doesn’t just take an active role in the operation of the team– he lets his wife Dee weigh in. Because the NFL is nearly as sexist as it is racist, people who run teams get really angry at the idea of a woman making football decisions.

One may question the competence of some of the people, but not everyone. Also, Haslam has nobody willing to speak of his behalf, other than Jim Brown.

Potential candidates for coach or GM (my friend says) assume that they would have to reach .500 within two years, and they would have the owner actively working against them.

It’s now assumed that Haslam ordered the drafting of Johnny Manziel– and was the prime mover behind hiring Jackson. Some people even feel he ordered the cuts of Joe Haden, Gary Barnidge and other veterans. (I don’t.)

Another rumor– one that has been floating around for years– isn’t doing Haslam any good. Haslam graduated from Tennessee– Peyton Manning’s alma mater. It is widely assumed (it was even when Manning was still playing) that Haslam would like to hand the Browns over to him, much as Pat Bowlen did with John Elway.

Manning is not interested at this time— and probably is way too smart to come to Cleveland.

My friend says Haslam wouldn’t have an open path, either. Jim Irsay is thinking about letting Manning take over, if first-year GM Chris Ballard fails. Irsay saw how much fan support the Indiana Pacers (who had Larry Bird running the team until recently) received. Also, Manning is smart enough to do the job.

The belief that Haslam might swing the axes is so strong that Peter Queen– the lead Heather in the pack of Mean Girls that make up the national football media–actually gave him a public warning not to do it. In his most recent column,  (look for the “Ten things I think”, item #2) told Haslam

First, you never make good decisions when you’re angry, or you’re tired. Second, you’re going to go backwards by firing anyone now, or after the season, barring some unforeseen development. Stay the course, stay off social media, and don’t listen to the radio.

One of the plans– to fire Jackson and replace him with Gregg Williams– has had to be taken off the table because Williams’s defense simply isn’t doing well enough. The Browns are 25th in points allowed (24.8), despite playing the fifth-weakest schedule (Indianapolis, Seattle, the Rams, San Francisco). All of Cleveland’s opponents have spent part of the second half killing the clock, because they didn’t need to score.

The Browns can try to acquire a disgruntled veteran in the final year of his contract– like they did with Jamie Collins— but there aren’t any impact players at positions of need available.

Nobody thinks Kevin Hogan will become a star. They’re just hoping he’ll avoid making some of the truly horrible errors that Kizer has been making. The hope is that the offense (31st in points) can stop shooting itself in the foot, and that Collins, Myles Garrett and someone else (your guess is as good as mine) can rally the defense.

Game Preview

This game won’t be the type of one-sided beating that the Texans have been dishing out to the Browns of late. It simply can’t be:

  • Defensive Ends J.J. Watt and Whitey Mercilus are out for the year
  • LB Brian Cushing has been suspended for using performance-enhancers
  • CB Kevin Johnson has another knee injury

Also, both DE Jadeveon Clowney (knee) and CB Johnathan Joseph (groin) will play, but are likely to be slowed by injuries.

The Texans are ranked 28th in defense. They have only 11 sacks and 7 turnovers. Opposing QBs have a 97.5 rating, getting 7.9 yards per pass, with a 9-4 TD/INT ratio. The defense will not be able to stuff Browns running backs in the backfield. (If they do, it’ll be be because the Browns’ running backs suck.)

Hogan will get time to throw; his receivers will be open. If Hogan plays as well as he has been playing in relief (104.8 rating, 9.9 yards per pass, 3-2 TD/INT) the Browns will be able to score points– probably around the 26.0 the Texans have been averaging.

The problem is that the Texans’ offense isn’t the sickly sputtering thing it has been. They’re ranked fourth, averaging 28.8 points a game. In the last three weeks, they scored 33 on New England (which is not solely because the defense sucks), scored 34 against the unbeaten Chiefs– and dropped 57 on the Titans.

That’s a little misleading; Tennessee turned the ball over five times. But the Texans of past years wouldn’t have been able to score 57 if all five turnovers had put the ball on the one-yard-line.

Except for the first game against Jacksonville (93 yards), the running game has been well over 100 every week. You Jacksonville (99 yards passing) in game one and Cincinnati (99 yards) in game two held the passing game in check (or maybe it was growing pains by Watson). But they’ve been over 248 passing yards in the last three weeks.

Other than a 4-turnover debacle against Jacksonville, the offense has taken care of the ball.

So there’s no reason to think Houston will score less than 30 points. Gregg Williams’s defense has held opposing rushers to 2.9 yards per carry… but opposing quarterbacks have a 112.4 passer rating, are getting 7.9 yards per pass and have thrown for 11 TDs and only 3 INTs.

Also there is the small matter of the defense’s rushing stats by quarter, which show that much of the improved defense is merely a matter of opponents killing the clock:

  • First Quarter: 27 carries for 58 yards (2.1 per carry) and 2 scores
  • Second Quarter: 27 carries for 111 yards (4.1 per carry) and 2 scores
  • Third Quarter: 32 carries for 115 yards (3.6 per carry) and 0 scores
  • Fourth Quarter: 48 carries for 99 yards (2.1 per carry) and 0 scores

The first-quarter performance is highly impressive. Run defense in the second and third quarters are acceptable (especially compared to past Browns teams). It’s offset by the pass defense, however:

  • First Quarter: 22-28 (78.6%) for 161 yards (5.8 per pass), no TDs and no interceptions (90.6 rating)
  • Second Quarter: 43-59 (72.9%) for 572 yards (9.7 per pass), 7 TDs and 2 INTs (128.6 rating)
  • Third Quarter: 26-40 (65.0%) for 200 yards (5.0 per pass), 3 TDs and 0 INTs (102.1 rating)
  • Fourth Quarter: 22-26 (84.6%) for 204 yards (7.8 per pass), 1 TD and 1 INT (96.2 rating)

Opponents start out trying to run, quickly realize that they can pass as much as they want to– and then do so until they have a comfortable lead.

In this game, the Texans will probably need to score a lot of points to get a few TDs up on the Browns. The odds are they will.

Game Prediction

There is a small chance– I’d place it at about 15%– that the Browns win> it would require the following things.

1. The players would need to feel they are playing for the jobs of their coaches– and want to do that.

In his memoir, Pro Bowl nose tackle Fred Smerlas tells a story about the Bills when Hank Bullough was the coach. The day of a game that the papers said might decide Bullough’s future, DE, Bruce Smith told the defense “Anybody makes a tackle today, I’ll beat you.”

2. The undermanned Texan defense would need to get bad games out of their substitutes.

3. The Texans would need to come on overconfident– expecting the game to be easy.

4. Jackson and Williams would need to call their best games and use trick plays.

If so, Cleveland could eke out a 21-17 win, where Watson throws for four interceptions and Miller fumbles a few times. It did happen against the Jaguars; I will mention it as a possibility.

But there’s an 85% chance the Browns get gutted like a rotting fish.

Final Score: Houston 49, Browns 27

Review: Game 2, ALDS

I’m not in any shape for complex analysis, so I’ll just go with a few reactions that you’re not likely to find in the papers:

1. I’ll just say it– that “Hit by Pitch” on Lonnie Chisenhall was simply a terrible call by home plate umpire Dan Iassogna.

The play wasn’t exactly a “phantom call”– a play where the official imagines he saw something that didn’t happen. Iassogna did see the ball hit something and change its path. But he was wrong about what it hit.

Iassogna’s strike zone expanded and contracted– seemingly at random– all game. It was not a good performance, and the phantom HBP only made it worse.

2. It’s easy to say Yankee manager Joe Girardi has to challenge the call. After you see the replay– and especially after you see what happened next– it’s a no-brainer.

Here’s the problem with that. According to the Replay Review Procedure (D.1.a):

A Manager must notify an Umpire that the Club is contemplating challenging the play in less than ten (10) seconds after the conclusion of the play. 

Notifying the umpire that he is considering a challenge doesn’t obligate Girardi to challenge. But he has to notify them before he gets a chance to see the replays. Once he notifies the crew chief:

If a Manager wishes to invoke his challenge he must do so within thirty (30) seconds after the conclusion of the play or prior to the commencement of the next play, whichever occurs first.

The rules permit each team to have someone from the club in the booth to see the initial replay, and then inform the manager whether he should do it. But if he doesn’t make the decision within 30 seconds, he loses the right. That gives the review assistant a chance to see maybe one replay. Maybe it gives you enough evidence; maybe not.

So assume there’s no evidence. Do you still challenge?

If you challenge the call and win, it’s “Strike three”, the inning ends and you’re leading 8-3.

But suppose you challenge the call and lose. The bases are loaded with two outs, Francisco Lindor is coming to the plate– and Chad Green, who has (a) had Austin Jackson blast one of his pitched to right for an out, (b) had Yan Gomes blast a pitch to left for a double and (c) already thrown 21 pitches, had to stand around for however long the process  took, stewing.

Do you want Green doing that?

I assumed Girardi didn’t challenge for precisely the reason Girardi gave:

“And probably being a catcher, my thought is I never want to break a pitcher’s rhythm. That’s how I think about it. There was nothing that said he wasn’t hit.”

Naturally the New York writers are all saying “He had to challenge.” But if he does– and he loses the challenge, after which Lindor hits the home run, here’s the headline of every paper in the region:

Girardi Ices His Pitcher

“However lukewarm Joe Giradi looks on the field, we know he likes his water cold. That’s the only possible explanation for Girardi deliberately icing Chad Green last night. With the bases loaded, two outs and Indians superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor waiting at home plate, Girardi’s futile challenge forced his pitcher to stand idly by for precious minutes, while…

That’s the thing about managing or coaching in New York. No matter which decision you make, if it doesn’t pan out, you made the wrong one

3. Speaking of New York writers on decision-making, this is C.C. Sabathia’s game log for 2017. Of Sabathia’s 27 starts, his longest outing was 102 pitches; his shortest 57. Girardi pulled C.C. after 77 pitches. He went longer 21 times, shorter four times and 77 pitches twice.

That does suggest the Yankees could have gone longer with Sabathia. On the other hand, he’d allowed three runs. Of those 27 starts, he was taken out:

  • Five times while pitching a shutout
  • Seven times when he’d allowed only one run
  • Four times when he’d allowed two
  • Twice when he’d allowed three runs

He’d walked Carlos Santana on four pitches to start the inning; He threw two strikes to Jay Bruce– the third was lined hard to short.

The next batter is Austin Jackson, a lifetime .294 hitter against Sabathia– with a career OPS of .914 in 40 plate appearances..

Imagine the column that gets written if Girardi lets Sabathia pitch to Jackson, and he hits a double.

“By going against the percentages. Girardi put Chad Green in a situation with two men in scoring position, one man out and no room for error…”

You can’t win with the New York media. No matter what you do– no matter how many agree with you– there are so many writers, broadcasters and talk show hosts that half a dozen will disagree with you.

4. Terry Francona used eight pitchers in the game– including his top two relievers (Andrew Miller and Cody Allen), each of whom pitched longer-than-usual stints for the second consecutive day.

Cleveland won the game–putting the Yankees under the hammer. Everyone has two days to rest. Should Carlos Carrasco lose Sunday’s game, Francona still has Danny Salazar to pitch on Monday.

If that game doesn’t go well, he can use either Corey Kluber (on four day’s rest) or Trevor Bauer (on five) on Wednesday.

He still took a risk.

5. Question: Suppose Carrasco doesn’t pitch well in Game 3 and Salazar (who presumably has to pitch, since Tomlin worker) loses.

Given what happened in games one and two, are you sure you know which pitcher you want to use in game five?

Situations like that are the reason that (1) we play the games, rather than simulating them based on the stats and (2) being a manager is not a fun job.

6. Possibly the unhappiest man in the city is Paul Dolan. Jay Bruce is being paid $13 million a year— his contract expires at the end of the season.

Bruce drove in three runs in game one. He hit a double, then came around to score the game’s first run. He followed with a two-run homer and a sacrifice fly– meaning he knocked in three runs and scored the fourth.

Today he hit a game-tying home run.

Bruce isn’t worth $13 million– but after what he’s done, how the hell can Dolan justify letting let him go? Mike Napoli made it easy for the Indians to cut ties– he hit .173 in postseason. (Rajai Davis hit .147, so that was an easy call too.)

I’m sure Dolan is thrilled to have the problem, but that’s the tip of the iceberg. He has four other free agents to retain;look how they performed:

  • Santana had a walk, a hit, two runs scored and an RBI
  • Jackson had two hits, a walk, a stolen base, an RBI and two runs scored– including the game winner)
  • Bryan Shaw pitched 2.2 innings
  • Joe Smith came in with Todd Frazier on second and one out in the ninth inning, and got Aaron Judge on a grounder and Gary Sanchez on a called third strike.

7. I thought Edwin Encarnacion had broken his ankle, based on what I saw watching the replay. Athletes are not like normal people– because they’re freaks of nature. They can withstand stress that would cripple normal people; they heal faster than we do.

But I’d be very surprised if he can play for the rest of the season– or, if he tries, play well. Of course Francona might decide that Encarnacion on one leg is still better than Michael Brantley, based on how he looked.

Gee it would be nice to go into the playoffs without a couple of people missing sometime. It would be nice to have Jason Kipnis in left and Brad Zimmer in center.

8. If I ran baseball, I’d ban the photographer who touched the ball for life. You can assume it would have gone off the field, but you can’t prove it. Yankee fans will believe it was about to bounce back to Greg Bird, who would have thrown out Austin Jackson at second (not that it mattered).

These guys should know the rules and not interfere.