A View From The Cheap Seats
Week 1 - Cleveland vs. Minnesota
Ladies and Gentlemen - your attention please.
Remain calm. There is No... Need... To... Panic.
The season is not over. The end is not near. This is simply what happens when a really good team plays a team that is somewhere between mediocre and bad.
Honestly, folks, you didn't actually expect the Browns to win that game, did you? The Vikings are one of the Top 5 teams in the league, a legitimate Super Bowl contender. They have the Best Run Defense in the league. They have the Best Running Back in the league. They are better than the Browns at almost every position (with the sole exception of Special Teams). The talent gulf between the two franchises is vaster than the Sea of Tranquility.
I know you don't want to hear it, but, for the Browns, this is a Transition Year.
Yes, the dreaded T word. Sorry, it's true. This is Mankinis' first year at the helm. You can't get all your players and install your system and horde the talent and change the culture all in one offseason, especially with the rash of inexperience the Browns have.
OK, fine, sure, it happens, but expecting it is like expecting $50 bills to start growing out of your gallbladder. For every team with an 8 game turnaround, there are 12 teams that repeat their previous horror. The teams that have made the gargantuan jumps in the past had extenuating circumstances: easy schedule, getting healthy after an injury-marred season, big-contribution Rookies and Free Agents, or NOT sucking for the last 10 years.
So what we need to look for is not dominance, but improvement. And just because we didn't really see a lot of that in the first game doesn't mean it's not coming. This team has few players in their prime - they're either young and raw or old and over-experienced. They've seen too many seasons, or they've seen too few.
Plus, this was the first game. The first time the starters played longer than a Quarter and a Half. The first time the first team Offense really got to play together. The first time the Defense got to play with Shaun Rogers and David Bowens. There were bound to be mistakes, growing pains, inconsistency, and miscommunication.
Best to get the shanks out against an opponent that probably would've beaten you no matter what stage of the season you were in.
Please don't read this as I'm making excuses for Mangini & Company. I'm not. But I'm not gonna start crucifying people and whining about "same ol' Browns" after one measly game either._____________________
The Vikes tried to get tricky and sneak in an opening Onside Kick, but Abe Elam was alert and the Browns started with great field position. Brady Quinn and the Offense had a decent drive, but stalled at the MIN 20, so Phil had to boot a FG. Browns 3, Vikings 0.
MIN did nothing on their first drive, going 3 and Out, but the Browns returned the favor and punted, and what a terrible punt it was. The Vikes took over at the 50, and methodically drove the ball down towards the End Zone. But Kamerion Wimbley took down Adrian Peterson for a 2 yard loss on 2nd and Goal at the 1, and the Goal Line stand held up. Browns 3, Vikings 3.
End 1st: Browns 3, Vikings 3.
The Browns went 3 and Out again, thanks in large part by one of the Williams toasting Floyd Womack on 3rd Down and plowing Quinn into the turf for a sack. The ensuing punt was returned 36 yards to the CLE 23, and a few plays later Peterson bowled in for his first TD. Vikings 10, Browns 3.
Cleveland responded with really their best drive of the day, which had some nice Jamal Lewis runs and a 34 yard TD pass to Braylon Edwards... which was nullified because of the ol' ticky-tack Corner-commits-Pass-Interference-pushes-Edwards-out-of-bounds-Edwards-didn't-get-2nd-foot-re-established-before-catching-the-ball rule. If I've seen it once...
1st and Goal, and Offensive Coordinator decided it was a good time for a whole mess of Wildcat packages, which is almost as good as the "Reverse to Northcutt on 4th Down" calls of the past. The problem is that Josh Cribbs wasn't able to get in, so TD wasted. Vikings 10, Browns 6.
The Vikes and Browns traded 3 and Outs for a few possessions (here's where the Browns' O started to suck), and, after a Brodney Pool sack and near-safety by Wimbley, MIN punted with about 1:46 left, and Cribbs found himself a hole to the left and do what he do best. Somehow, the Browns had a lead going into half. Browns 13, Vikes 10.
Minny went 3 and Out again (the D was fired up), and the Browns actually got the ball back one more time with about a minute left. Sadly, they went into Prevent Offense, playing it safe despite good field position and Time Outs, running out the clock.
Halftime: Browns 13, Vikings 10.
The Browns had the Vikes 3rd and 10 early on the initial 2nd Half possession, but Brett Favre beat the blitz with a well-timed screen to Vic Shiancoe. Brandon McDonald had a bad drive defensively, getting beat for a TD that was fortunately called incomplete because the WR stepped OB, then picking up a Pass Interference at the 4. The Browns made another valiant effort at a Goal Line stand, but Peterson got in for his 2nd TD on 3rd Down. Vikings 17, Browns 13.
Needing an answer, Lewis ran the ball twice very well, and Quinn threw the ball on 2nd and short at Midfield. Problem was that he thought Braylon was running a route that he wasn't, and you got to see a most disheartening boneheaded (by someone) pick. Then, despite a great sack by Shaun Rogers (he was getting held and still finished it), the Vikings pounded the ball down the field and scored another TD, mainly via Percy Harvin (who should not be guarded by Hank Poteat). Vikings 24, Browns 13.
That killed the Browns. They went immediately into No Huddle - a sense of desperation setting in.
End 3rd: Vikings 24, Browns 13.
Yes, the stench of fear was clear as Quinn started spraying the ball, and the Browns punted. A few Minnesota dropped passes killed their following drive, but all Cleveland did when they got the ball back is watch Antoine Winfield (freakin' animal) just about kill poor James Davis on a tackle.
Still, Quinn actually had the Browns on a march after a few nice passes. He got into pressure at the CLE 40, broke out of the pocket and ran to his left, tried to throw the ball, and whoops! Damn KY on the ball again... slipped right out of his hand and the Vikes got it back. A few plays later, MIN kicked a FG (thanks to a Wimbley sack). Vikings 27, Browns 13.
Quinn almost hit Braylon on a nice long pass down the left sideline, but it was just out of his reach. On 4th Down with about 6 minutes left and the Defense dying on the sideline, Mangini elected to punt - effectively ending the game. It was over right then.
Then Peterson had his 64 yard TD run. You've seen pictures, so I don't need to rehash it. Now it was REALLY over. Vikings 34, Browns 13.
Pass-O-Rama started, but receivers started dropping everything, so the Browns punted again. But the Vikings brought in Tavaris Jackson, the Human Mercy Rule, and they went 3 and Out, allowing the Browns a nice snappy drive against Minnesota backups to finally - FINALLY - break the Offensive Touchdown hymen that has been in place since the End Zone declared itself a born-again virgin in November 2008. Vikings 34, Browns 20.
At least the TD pass from Quinn to Robert Royal was a thing of beauty.
Final: Vikings 34, Browns 20.
Abe Elam - Dude was everywhere from the opening kick. He beat McKinnie for a sack. He recovered an Onside Kick. He spent half the day in the Vikings backfield, making tackle after tackle. Finished with 8 tackles, 1 assist, and 1 sack. Nice debut, Mr. Elam.
Kam Wimbley - That was about as active as I've ever seen the The Wimbley. He had one sack, and got severe pressure on Favre several other times, including almost getting a Safety. It appears to this casual observer that moving Kam around - not having him beat his brains out against the Left Tackle all day - has kept him fresh and active.
Joe Thomas - He owned one of the best pass rushers in the league (Jared Allen). And the Browns were able to effectively run to the left all day against even the vaunted Minny D. Maybe the best performance of his career.
Josh Cribbs - You get a punt return TD, you get a Gameball.
Jamal Lewis - The stutter step was actually working. I'm not saying he plowed into those holes, but he was hitting them, and was solid all day running and receiving. He finished with 11 carries for 57 yards (about 5.2 per) and 3 catches for 47. By far the best Browns back out there on that day.
Alex Mack - He was far from perfect. But you go against the Williams Brothers in your first game ever and you don't get owned like a Big 10 team in a Bowl Game, then that's pretty impressive.
Wall of Shame
Brady Quinn - There's no sugarcoating it; he played like dung. Besides being spazzy, jittery, holding the ball too long, and throwing some DA-esque inaccurate passes, that fumble was one of the lamer plays I've seen in many a moon. Look for that on NFL Follies someday.
Eric Mangini - Solely for his "Mystery QB" boner of a plan. Oh, and for punting on 4th and 7 down 14 points with 6 minutes left and the Defense fainting from exhaustion. That was truly a call from the Romeo Crennel/France School of Surrender.
Eric Wright - For getting beat down like Tila Tequila by Peterson on the 64 yard TD run. That was not pretty.
Time of Possession: Minnesota - 33:22, Cleveland - 26:38
Total Yards: Minnesota - 310, Cleveland - 268
It was more lopsided than that before Cleveland's garbage time TD. You don't normally win a game with those numbers unless you win the Turnover battle, and the Browns lost that too, 2-0.
Part of the common theme that I've read and heard is that the Browns Run D is not improved. It's easy to look at Viking's 225 rushing yards and come to that conclusion. It's easy to remember Peterson's 64 yard bitch-slap-fest TD run and settle for that answer.
But Stats can lie. The Run D looked pretty improved to me in the 1st Half when they held AP to just 25 yards. You know, when they weren't left dangling on the field by their Offense for 90% of the 3rd Quarter, and when they weren't beaten down from their first full-game action.
If you look at Peterson's carries, it's fairly obvious:
1st Half: 9 carries, 25 yards, 2.77 per rush.
2nd Half, 1st Series: 5 carries, 15 yards, 3.0 per rush.
2nd Half, 2nd Series: 5 carries, 36 yards, 7.2 per rush.
2nd Half, 3rd Series: 2 carries, 16 yards, 8 per rush.
2nd Half, 4th Series: 3 carries, 24 yards, 8 per rush.
2nd Half, 5th Series: 1 carry, 64 yards, 64 per rush.
Adrian Peterson is far too good a RB to be giving him all those opportunities and not expecting him to bust one. Take away that last run, and AP went 24 for 116, which is a 4.83 average, but not embarrassing. The Vikings had 5 series in the first 24 minutes of the 2nd Half, in which Peterson alone got 16 carries. During that time, Minnesota ran 34 Offensive plays to Cleveland's 17 and held the ball for 16 ½ minutes to the Browns' 7 ½ .
The D wore down.
Some of it was their own fault. I mean, if you get the Vikings off the field, then it doesn't matter if the Offense couldn't hit water if they fell out of a frickin' boat. The Ravens have made a living overcoming bad O. But that first long drive by the Vikes started to tire them out, and they didn't get a chance to catch their wind again until the game was basically decided.
Look for the Browns Run D to continue to improve as the season goes on and they have to face less Adrian Peterson.
Can't say I was a big fan of Mr. Daboll's playcalling. It was very conservative - it felt like they were playing not to lose. Several drives they just gave up on, and it'll be a while before he lives down the consecutive Josh Cribbs Wildcat runs from 2nd and Goal from the 3.
Quinn's interception in the 3rd Quarter was a complete blown play. He threw it to the outside, where he obviously expected Braylon to be, but BE broke it back inside. Afterwards, Braylon took blame, saying he ran the wrong route. Then Quinn took the blame.
Some would say that a lack of reps together was the real culprit. Some would say that maybe an Offense with a Rookie snapping to a 4th Start QB who is looking for a 1st Start WR and being backed up on 50% of the plays by a Rookie RB, with 2 new linemen and a Rookie Offensive Coordinator to boot, could benefit from spending as much time practicing as a unit as possible.
Faugh! Twaddle and flimflam! I scoff at your petty sniping! Didn't you see how confused the Vikings Defense was by Quinn's surprise start? They had no idea what hit ‘em!
Those players are professionals, and they should perform at peak aptitude at all times, regardless of your fictional "Offensive cohesion" and "chemistry". Do you think Peyton Manning and his top Receivers practice all the time? Hell no! They just go out there and do their thing!
Besides, Josh Cribbs was the QB taking all the meaningful snaps in this game.
And, no, I am not worried about Brady Quinn. As I mentioned above, he played badly. There's no doubt about that. But he had his moments. He did have a nice long TD pass negated by the out-of-bounds shove, and I really think he would've made a spectacular play on that fumble if he hadn't, you know, fumbled. And I saw at least one play (scramble to his right, throw on the run to Royal on the first drive).
There is no doubt that you stay the course with Quinn for an 8 game minimum. Give the guy time to prove what he is and what he isn't. He might be worse than DA - that's always a possibility. But, honestly, if you're turning to DA, then you're hiking up the white flag anyway. Because we all know the ancient Confucian Haiku:
Year of DA Ball.
Done before. Is almost not
Worth watching at all.
That being said, Quinn needs to run the Offense with more certainty and stop being scared to make a mistake. Step up, young man! If you're afraid of losing your job, you surely will.
And let's take this moment to applaud Jay Cutler and Jake Delhomme. Gentlemen, thank you. Next to your performances, Brady Quinn's looked like a cross between Otto Graham and Jesus.
Jake Delhomme has mired himself in a swamp of suck. Backup Josh McCown was just placed on IR.
I wonder what Carolina would be willing to give us for DA?
I'm not trying to get rid of him necessarily, but if someone offers you enough, you make the trade.
Terry Pluto had a good point in the PD the other day, and I thought I'd throw it in here in case you didn't catch it:
The special teams fell apart on coverage. Minnesota returned three kickoffs for 29, 29 and 41 yards. Two punts came back 18 and 36 yards. Nearly every season with the Browns, Joshua Cribbs has led the special teams in tackles. They didn't use him on coverage because he was already on the field as a starting receiver and on kickoff and punt returns. But he was missed, and those solid returns gave the Vikings good field position.
Brian Billick is just awful as an announcer. I thought the guy was supposed to be smart, but he sure didn't seem like it. He said a number of things that made me wonder if he were high (Royal Roberts? "Big Daddy" Shaun Rogers? - although I do like that better than his real nickname). My favorite was at the end of the half where he kept saying he had to criticize the teams because they shouldn't have gone 3 and out and given the ball back to the other team.
Like they wanted to go 3 and Out, Brian.
I need to learn his art, so I too can make insightful broadcasting music such as:
"The Receiver probably didn't want to drop the ball there in the End Zone."
"They punted, but they probably would rather have had a Touchdown."
"As a coach, you want to try and score more points than your opponent. The best way to do that is to score points, and keep your opponent from scoring as many."
In case you wondering, and I know you were, both my Fantasy teams won this weekend. Yes, Don't Call Me Stupid rode Drew Brees to victory, and Gunga-Ga-Lunga pulled away late, thanks in large part to those solid 2.2 points from Braylon Edwards.
Serena Williams is a Jehovah's Witness. But she sure uses a lot of colorful language that I've never heard from any of those Jehovah's Witnesses that show up at my door. Even after I turn the hose on them.
I don't really want to start ripping Tressel right now, but I will just say that I'm getting more than a little sick of the conservative, boring, play-not-to-lose-but-lose-anyway bullpucky that I've been seeing lately.
From Larry Doe, Strongsville: "If Bill Cowher is willing to come back and coach the Browns next year, do you dump Mangini even though he only had one year?"
Uhhhhh... ummmm... ask me in 8 weeks.
The Denver Broncos
I watched a bit of the Broncos-Bengals game last week, and it was hard to tell which team looked more putrid. Now, one could argue that the Bengals O is probably better than the Browns O and the Horsies still shut them down, but I've seen enough of the Denver D to not be scared of it at this point.
Kyle Orton is no Brett Favre. Knowshon Moreno might be good someday, but he's a dinged up Rookie right now, and he'll never be Adrian Peterson. No, this is not the Denver running attack of old. The Broncs are in a similar position as the Browns - new Billichick-protégé Head Coach, new Offense, mismatched personnel.
There won't be many teams this season that I will be legitimately pissed off (I'm talking breaking shit. I mean it. I'll do it) to see the Browns lose to. Denver is one of them.
Browns 16, Denver 13.