A View From The Cheap Seats
Now that's what I call a psychological enema.
I haven't felt that good after a Cleveland Browns game for a long time. Immediately after it ended, I watched it again (despite the fact that I had to get up the following morning at 5 am and drive to NYC). And as soon as I got back, the first thing I did was watch it yet again. I've watched it 5 times now.
Would we be this excited if it were the Detroit Lions we just beat 13-6? Unlikely. What is likely is that fans would be bitching and moaning about not being able to perform any better against a horrible team.
But this was the Pittsburgh Steelers, our nemesis, the defending Superbowl Champs, the epitome of everything we hate and everything we want to be. So a win against that team, no matter how bad they are right now, no matter that it cost us draft position, was more than just a good thing. It was a GREAT thing. It was a F-ing MARVELOUS thing.
I'm still on a high. If I see a Steeler fan on the street, I can't help but yell "STEELERS SUUUUUUUCK!", even if it's just some punk kid walking down the sidewalk with his mother. "Tell your mommy that dressed you that the STEELERS SUUUUUCK!"
"Christopher!" my girlfriend admonished. "That's just a kid!"
"And he needs to learn that there's a price to pay for wearing enemy colors in Browns territory. Steeler fans have had it WAY too good around here for WAY too long."
"Besides... it may be another 6 years until I can gloat again. I'm getting my shots in now."
A win over a hated rival propels all sorts of fancy dreams. Suddenly, Mangini is the answer. Quinn is a good QB. This team is turning it around. Despite their horrid record and their numerous injuries, this team is playing hard, certainly harder than the Steelers played. The team is coming together. No where to go but up.
And now it's time to Curb Your Enthusiasm.
The Steelers are terrible right now. They've now lost to 4 of the worst teams in the NFL, and their playoff chances are about as real as the tooth fairy. Beating them feels good because of who they are, but, realistically, this wasn't nearly as impressive as the Giants win last year.
The Browns won despite Brady Quinn, not because of anything that he did.
Eric Mangini/Brian Daboll still decided to put the team into Prevent Offense for the entire 2nd Half. One could argue that it was due to the weather, but the Browns have been doing that all season, and Roethlisberger seemed OK in the conditions (18 of 32, 201 yds).
The team is still just 2-11. They are ranked in the bottom 2 of both Offense and Defense. The top of the well they fell down is still way way up there.
I refuse to set aside certain facts due to this win. I will not start proclaiming that certain previously useless parts are now functioning fine. I will not buy this swamp land.
At least, I won't after this week. For this week, I'm in friggin' Brigadoon.
I've heard some addled Browns fans bemoaning this win because 1) it deprives us of the opportunity to draft Ndamukong Suh or 2) it gives Mangini a chance to stay around.
Outside of how freakin' CRAZY it is to complain about a win over the Steelers, let me just point this one thing out:
Beating the Steelers this year lets the team know that Fixburgh is not immortal. They are not unbeatable. They are human, and they will bleed if you punch them right in the lip.
I would suggest that half of the games the Browns lost to the Steelers since 2003 were lost before they even took the field. The team didn't believe they could win, and even when they took a lead, they refused to trust what their eyes were showing them.
And the Steelers didn't believe they could lose to the Browns. No matter what lead Cleveland raced out to, Fixburgh was confident that they would pull it out in the end.
Now, maybe these teams aren't so sure anymore. That's huge.
During my drive to NYC from Akron, I was forced to cross the god-forsaken state of Pennsylvania. On the 310 miles of that I-80 corridor, there were probably 2 towns, each boasting a robust 200 citizens. Along with those podunk villas were numerous trailer homes, mostly in western PA, many boasting the Steelers flag out front.
After I counted out 14 of these occurrences, I turned to my girlfriend and said, "I guess sometimes stereotypes are based in truth."
Then we stopped at a ramshackle gas station. As I sat pumping petrol into the motor vehicle, I stared at a flashing neon sign at the truck stop that said: "The Black and Gold are back! Get your Steelers gear here!"
There must be some kind of educational gap amongst the hills and pits of the Alleghenys, so please forward this to all of your slackjaw friends:
This team wears Black and Gold.
This team wears Black and Yellow.
This color is called "Gold".
This color is called "Yellow".
Due to circumstance beyond my control, it has been more than a week since the game was played. Thus, a recap will probably be skipped by a vast majority of readers anyway. It be old news.
Let's just put it this way: Ben Roethlisberger dropped back, and got sacked. Josh Cribbs took the snap out of the Wildcat, broke a couple tackles, and picked up a key 1st Down. Chris Jennings bounced the ball to the outside for a respectable gain. Brady Quinn missed an open Receiver.
And then, on 4th Down, David Bowens dropped a sure interception. Which didn't matter, because it was 4th Down. Reggie Hodges quick punted to Santonio Holmes, who had more chance of lifting the Eiffel Tower with his eyelids than breaking through the 17 Browns Defenders that surrounded him. Triple 0's on the scoreboard, game over, and the crowd goes WILD.
Final: Browns 13, Steelers 6.
Time of Possession: Pittsburgh - 30:45, Cleveland - 29:15
Total Yards: Cleveland - 255, Pittsburgh - 216
First Downs: Pittsburgh - 16, Cleveland - 12
216 yards allowed, by far the fewest of the season. And against a team that they gave up 543 to 7 weeks ago. I don't know if it was the conditions or the scheme or if the Steelers have just flat mailed it in, but that was a VERY impressive Defensive performance.
It also raises you (in just one week) from the 32nd ranked Defense to... 31st. Oh.
Well at least they're the 25th ranked scoring Defense!
And they've moved all the way up to the 30th ranked scoring Offense!
Like Lou Brown says, "It's all coming together."
Josh Cribbs - I do not fall into the trap of harboring emotional attachment to professional athletes. That being said, Mr. Cribbs is the greatest human being I have ever known.
You wanna buy a ton of goodwill right off the bat, Holmgren? Get Cribbs' contract situation fixed.
The Fans - Despite the freezing cold, the terrible product, and the onslaught of annoying enemy supporters, the Browns fans turned out in force and were loud the whole night. I salute them for their perseverance and for their self-control. How they didn't pour glasses of beer down the backs of the rag-wavers, I'll never know. That's why I do not attend Steelers games.
Eric Wright - Very solid, aggressive coverage. And some nice hits.
David Bowens - I really like what this guy has brought since he moved inside.
Corey Williams - Finally some signs of why he was brought here in such a high-profile deal.
Marcus Benard - Two sacks for the rookie Undrafted Free Agent. Very aggressive.
Brian Schaefering - 4 tackles, 1 assist, 1.5 sacks. Man, these Practice Squad guys are going nuts.
Eric Mangini - If you beat the Steelers, you get a gameball. That, and the fact that every time a big play was made, the announcers were always saying "Rookie" or "First Year". Mangini might not be able to draft for shit, but he's been fairly decent on the waiver wire.
Rob Ryan - It was really your squad that won the game for Cleveland.
Hank Poteat - Bet you never thought you'd see his name here.
Brandon McDonald - He hasn't been here much either. Hard to underestimate how good a job the secondary did.
Kaluka Maiava - Fantastic effort in getting to his 4th Quarter sack.
Chris Jennings - He may yet prove to be Ben Gay 2.0, but he had some nice solid runs against what was reputed to be the best Run Defense in the NFL.
Mike Tomlin - I like his idea of "unleashing hell".
Bruce Arians - How you like him now, Fixburgh?
Wall of Shame
Brady Quinn - 6-19 for 90 yards. How did the Browns win that game?
Playcalling - Give the players enough respect to call actual NFL plays.
Ndamukong Suh - For going so high in the draft. We didn't want you anyway.
Randy Lerner - He let Holmgren leave town. Go watch the part of The Godfather about the offer and the not refusing.
Invariably, the win brought the Pro-Mangini faction out of the woodwork, and even a few diehard Anti-Mangini-ites crossed over to the other side. This is to be expected - in a season this desolate, it's hard to imagine a more feel-good win. And there's certainly no denying that the team has played hard despite its dire situation and that the coaching staff has never veered from its methods and standards.
Almost immediately after the game, I was contacted by a friend who asked, "What do you think of Mangini's future now?"
My answer: I don't care.
I am unconcerned with Mangini's future. I am neither Pro nor Anti.
What I am is Pro-Czar. Whoever comes in here as the Football Czar will make that decision. It is essential that the Czar be a credible, reputable football man, and when he makes his verdict regarding Mangini's future, I will stand by it without question. I want him to succeed, you see, and I have no strong convictions either way about Mangini. Certainly not strong enough for me to go to bat for the guy over the decision of the Czar.
I think Mangini seems a decent guy, he has a plan, he sticks with his plan, players know what to expect from him, and he keeps them playing hard. I don't care that he fines players for stealing water or makes them practice hard. If the Czar comes in and says, "I think I'll give this Mangini person another year to prove himself", I won't be throwing a fit.
On the other hand, Mangini's made a lot of errors of decision and coaching tactic that lead me to believe he's hardly an irreplaceable commodity. He's not widely respected around the league, and his image isn't that great with potential Free Agents. If the Czar comes in and says, "I want to start off this building process by bringing in my own guy", I won't be throwing a fit.
Keep him or boot him, it makes no difference to me. I will support it because I NEED for the Czar to be right.
Because it's GOT to be the Czar's decision. It absolutely HAS to be. When Lerner hires the Czar, he must give him full power to do whatever he wants. No caveats, no precepts, no strings attached, not even from the Owner himself.
If Lerner starts foisting a "You can run everything but just don't fire Mangini" line on the Czar candidates, they'll disappear quicker than Tiger Woods' endorsements. How can you possibly be the Head of Football Operations if you can't even make the decision regarding who your Head Coach will be?
I'm sure Lerner understands this. Randy has made many mistakes in his reign, but he doesn't strike me as flat-out stupid. Cuz you know what will happen if Lerner does make Mangini a sticking point?
Bernie Kosar will be your new GM.
No real Czar-type will be taking a deal with a team as bad as Cleveland if there's a meddling owner. It won't happen. So what you'll get is a naïve footpad like George Kokinis or a Yes-Man like Kosar who will do anything asked of him for the love of the team, whether the situation were completely porked or not.
Would a Kosar-Mangini team bring us to the promised land? Maybe. This is the NFL. Anything can happen.
However, is it likely that a first time GM with zero player personnel experience would provide a beleaguered and embattled Head Coach with the right combination to make this team anything other than a bunch of young, mediocre-talented players who try hard, don't quit, and lose a lot anyway?
No. No, I wouldn't be putting a lot of money on that situation producing a Lombardi trophy.
With his apparent pursuit of Mike Holmgren, it's obvious Lerner understands this. Holmgren wouldn't have even bothered stepping foot in the state had that issue not been clearly understood beforehand. Mangini's future will be at the mercy and discretion of the Czar.
So, if Holmgren is the new Czar, is it likely he'd keep Mangini on? I doubt it.
Use the situation in Miami a couple years ago as a benchmark. The Dolphins were 1-and-forever under first year Coach Cam Cameron, but played hard at the end of the season regardless, hard enough to get them a big win against the Ravens just before the end of the season.
"Look how hard the team still plays for him!" the Pro-Cameron faction reasoned. "Only bad franchises fire their Head Coach after just one year!"
Then Bill Parcells came in and became the Miami Czar. One of his first acts was to say "Sorry, but bye" to Cameron. It wasn't anything personal. He just didn't have any ties or obligations to Cameron, and he wanted to bring in his own guy. Cameron had had limited success as Head Coach and the team he led was terrible, so cutting him was no huge loss.
If Holmgren (or Casserly, or Ruskell, or McKay, or Heckert) comes in here in that same capacity, he will have to choose between A) the incumbent Head Coach, a guy he has no ties with, a guy with a questionable league rep and the leader of a truly awful team, or B) a guy that he already knows on a personal and professional level, a guy that shares his football convictions.
Don't deceive yourself with what would likely happen.
Mangini knows that his back is against the wall on this front, and he's making his case publicly and in advance. In his Friday press conference, he said:
"I would imagine that anybody who would merit the title 'czar' would look a lot deeper than just the record. Like I've said, I'm transparent. There's been rationale for all of the decisions. There's been a thought process. Some of it's been good, some of it's been bad, but there's a reason behind it. Anybody who comes in can take a look at it. They can sit down and talk to the coaches, sit in on any meeting, watch our practices. They have seen other practices, watch our practices. See how we operate. Come to our meetings. See how we teach. See how we function as a staff because it's good and it's right. I'm confident in it. Come take a look because it's a good product."
Translation: Please don't judge me by what you hear. Just give me a chance to prove myself.
Mangini knows damn well that this is last Head Coaching shot, at least at the NFL level. He's showing some of the same fight and desperation that he wants his team to have. Can't fault him for that.
Even after the Browns brought in Holmgren, a man whose hiring would certainly dim Mangini's chances, the Coach kept his head up.
"Like I said, I'm all for anybody that can come in and help us organizationally be more successful. The more smart people, talented people, that you can put in the building -- that have the same approach in terms of being focused on winning -- that's the best thing you can have."
That's true. But I wonder if Holmgren feels the same way about Mangini. And Mangini's wondering that too.
Honestly, I'd have to think the only shot Mangini's got is if Holmgren signs on the dotted line soon, like REALLY friggin' soon. That way, Holmgren has at least a couple weeks of Mangini-led practice, preparation, and games to watch.
If the Czar comes in AFTER the season... well, Mangini's at the whim of preconceived notion. And in case you haven't noticed, that ain't good.
Much speculation has taken place this week regarding Josh Cribbs as potential Running Back. Joe Thomas lauded his vision, stating that he thought Cribbs would be great at RB. Even Eric Mangini opened up, telling the press that it "wouldn't be something I'd be opposed to".
I'm not sure how effective Cribbs would be as a RB in a standard I-formation, but I know how effective he is at WR, and I don't see why the Browns would waste their time lining him up anywhere but somewhere behind Center.
For the sake of argument, let's say Josh is in on about 20 Offensive snaps per game. In my opinion, ALL 20 of those snaps should be in the backfield.
Line him up as the Wildcat QB (and have him throw once or twice a game, for Apollo's sake). Have him take a couple snaps as a classic Halfback, just to see what happens. Line him up next to Quinn on shotgun formations, where he can get a direct snap, can act as a decoy, can catch a screen, can block, or can take a delayed handoff.
Put him in the situation where he's easily most dangerous, even if he's just there to scare the D. Because he ain't scaring anyone split out wide.
Here's an interesting blurb from Terry Pluto in the PD:
In the past two games, the Browns have allowed 75 yards (Pittsburgh) and 91 yards (San Diego) on the ground, a dramatic change for a team that had been being run over for 155 yards per game. The Browns believe part of the reason is Ahtya Rubin taking over at nose tackle for the injured Shaun Rogers. They've discovered that Rubin does a better job of clogging up the middle against the run. Rogers is the better pass rusher and far more athletic. Next season, this could lead to Rubin being in the middle of the 3-4 defense with Rogers as one of the ends.
That's a valid point, and just imagine Ahtyba Rubin at Nose, Shaun Rogers at one end, and Ndamukong Suh on the other...
D'oh! Gotta stop right there. Must... accept... Suh... gone...
In situations like this, I am always reminded of the lyrics of the immortal Roxette (who isn't?):
It must've been love, but it's over now. It must've been love, but we lost [won] it somehow.
A reason for a delay in hiring Mike Holmgren as Uber-Czar might have to do with the Rooney Rule, which now extends to Front Office positions as well as Head Coaching jobs. The Rooney Rule states that a team must interview at least one minority candidate for any open position before filling said position.
Now, according to Yahoo News, Caucasian Americans will be minorities come 2050, replaced as the majority by Hispanic Americans. Thus, one must assume that the implications of the Rooney Rule will vastly change by mid-century.
Which also brings into question the specificity of the term "minority". With a name like Holmgren, one must assume that he comes from German ancestry. What is the percentage of German Americans in the NFL? Not too high, I'd guess. One might be tempted just to lump German Americans in with Caucasian Americans, but there might be some German Americans that don't appreciate being lumped into that group, especially when it contains their traditional enemy, the French Americans.
Personally, I very seldom identify with Caucasian Americans, but I do take pride in being Scottish American. I've got the kilt to prove it. Pretty sure that Scottish Americans don't dominate the national scene.
Not to mention that I'm a Redheaded American, the biggest minority in the world.
So, if the Browns interview me, does that count?
As the QB draft debate rages on, Brady Quinn has been pressing forward in his attempt to convince the powers that be (or will be) that he is The Answer (all apologies to Allen Iverson).
In the last 4 games, he has 7 TD, 0 INT, and 1 fumble. The team had a realistic chance to win 3 of those 4 games, and that included an actual win (you might have heard about it). There have been stretches where he has looked very good, and he certainly seems in command of the Offense in a way that no other Browns QB has this season.
Many people are sold on him. They feel he's turned the corner, that he's improving, that he very well could be the "Franchise" QB he was drafted to be.
I'm not one of those people.
I will readily recognize that Quinn has improved, and if he is tagged to lead the team in the future, I'm not overly opposed to that. However, stats don't mean nearly as much to me as the eyeball test. Quinn often fails that. His arm strength is plenty adequate, but his accuracy is not. Especially on the deep balls, which often float out of bounds (uncatchable being the best thing you can say about them).
It seems to me that Quinn gets too antsy when he's under pressure (or under the threat of pressure) and does not step into his passes. When he throws off his back foot, it's all arm, and that causes the pass to slip behind or over the intended Receiver. Look at how much more accurate he is when rolling to his right - he's throwing while moving forward.
I also think he lacks confidence in his deep ball, and plays it over-safe on those passes, throwing it towards the sidelines in a fashion that would err towards OB. It doesn't lead to a turnover, but it also has little chance of being a completion. Basically, it's a wasted down.
Can this be corrected? Yeah, I suppose it can. Maybe all he needs is a strong QB coach, someone that will analyze his faults, work him into new habits, and fix the wrongs.
But he's not a "Franchise" QB at this time, and I have my doubts whether he ever will be. Sure, he just beat the Steelers, but he personally had pretty much nothing to do with that. He did not throw one good pass ALL GAME. Not one. Nada. Bupkiss. Nein.
He's got 3 games left, and he'd better find some consistency ASAP, or he'll find himself replaced.
Here's one thing that mystifies me to no end - the number of people that don't want any QB currently on the roster, but feel that some other team's veteran castoff will be just fine as a stopgap at the position, rather than drafting a QB in the 1st two Rounds.
I've seen names like Chad Pennington and Todd Collins and Kerry Collins and Jon freakin' Kitna bandied about like Greek Gods, like juicy morsels of Quarterbacking glory.
How is it that we have forgotten the Cleveland effectiveness of the past stopgaps, the Ty Detmers and Trent Dilfers and Jeff Garcias of the world?
Veteran castoffs are castoffs for a reason - either their prime has passed, or they never had one.
So why are some fine with a mediocre stopgap for the next couple years until we eventually draft a "Franchise" QB (sometime off in the fantasy-like future)? Why are they fine with treading water for a couple years, then FINALLY turning the team over to the "Franchise" guy (leading to another couple years of growing pains)?
Ugh. How appalling. I don't want to see it. Put out the light, and then put out the light.
Either draft a guy that you intend to be starting by 2011 (at the latest), or you might as well stick with Quinn. He's probably just as effective as some decrepit stopgap, and there's about 1000% more chance that he'll be "Franchise".
I'm not going to get into this full-blast quite yet, but I do want to throw out the Top 8 Prospects (per the average rankings of 6 NFL Draft websites) of the 2010 Draft, just for some food for thought. Unless the Browns win out, they're assured of drafting in the Top 7, and one of these guys will likely be the pick. In alphabetical order:
Eric Berry (S-TEN) - This is many a Browns fans #1 desire, well, #1 now that it looks like the Browns have won themselves out of the Suh sweepstakes. Berry is often compared to Ed Reed. Safeties are rarely selected so high, but there's no doubt that if someone guaranteed you an Ed Reed or a Troy Polamalu, you wouldn't flinch at taking him wherever you might be picking. So maybe you screw conventional logic and hope that Berry lives up to the hype.
Sam Bradford (QB - OKL) - Despite watching his draft stock fall due to Senior Year injury, Bradford is still well thought-of enough to garner a Top 10 designation, especially since Jake Locker decided to return for his Senior Year at Washington.
Jimmy Clausen (QB - ND) - Consistently the highest rated QB in this draft, Clausen does nothing great, but everything pretty good. Probably the best pro prospect on Offense.
Joe Haden (CB - FLA) - He's a bit undersized at 5'11, 181, but he's very active around the ball, and who doesn't need a really good Cornerback?
Gerald McCoy (DT-OKL) - I've seen a couple mocks give him to the Browns now that they've fallen (gained). A couple sites think he's pretty comparable to Suh, whilst most feel he's a step below (while still pretty damn good). Once again, there's nothing (outside of LT) that the Browns don't need.
Russell Okung (OT - OKL ST) - The consensus top OT in the draft, Okung is rated so high because he plays Left Tackle. We do not need one of those. Could he be converted to Right Tackle? Sure. But why take a guy that high in the draft just to try and convert him?
Brandon Spikes (LB - FLA) - Some sites have dropped his stock quite a bit following Spikes' eye gouging incident, combined with a somewhat disappointing Senior Year. But most agree that Spikes is by far the most talented LB in the draft, and there's no need to go into the lack of production that position has provided Cleveland since '99.
Ndamukong Suh (DT - NEB) - I think I might have mentioned him last week. Simply the best pro prospect (by a solid margin) in the draft. But it's highly unlikely the Browns will be able to get him with Tampa and St. Louis sucking at an epic level, so we will look at Suh the way we look at Megan Fox or a thriving economy - something we can't have.
NFL Bottom 10
Boldly bravo the bountifully brain-bursting bad! 2-11 used to be able to get you somewhere. Not in 2009, kids!
1. St. Louis (1-12) - I know one team that's mailing it in. Or maybe they're trying, but they're just really this awful. Hard to tell. With games left against Houston, Arizona, and San Fran, it's unlikely they'll even make it close. Pencil them in for the #1 overall pick.
2. Tampa Bay (1-12) - The Seattle game this week is certainly winnable, but after that comes New Orleans and Atlanta, so they're looking good for a nice high spot too.
3. Detroit (2-11) - I don't care that the Browns lost to them - that Hail Mary PI was a fluke, and the Lions have played like Kittens since then.
4. Cleveland (2-11) - Usually, you get moved higher for beating the defending Superbowl champs. It's just that just about everybody on this list has done it too.
5. Kansas City (3-10) - Suddenly that win against Fixburgh doesn't seem as impressive anymore.
6. Oakland (4-9) - Starting the immortal Charlie Frye this week, who, apparently, is seen as a better option than JaMarcus Russell. Wow, what a clusterpork.
7. Chicago (5-8) - Not only is Jay Cutler screwing the Bears with his play, but the draft picks they had to give up to get him will screw the team for the next couple years.
8. Buffalo (5-8) - The least interesting team in the NFL.
9. Pittsburgh (6-7) - Having lost to 4 of the teams on this list, there's little doubt in my mind that they belong here.
10. Washington (4-9) - Playing really solid football right now - far superior to their record.
From Marv Doe, Montgomery, AL: "What do you think about picking Jason Campbell up this off season to run the Browns for the next 3 or 4 years?"
Please read 3 sections above. /\ /\ /\ /\
How far have we sunk that Jason Campbell is now the object of our affection. Our hopes and dreams have been castrated.
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark
The Kansas City Chiefs (3-10). Offense - 30th, Defense - 30th.
(The Browns are 32nd in Offense and 31st in Defense).
Wow, this match-up is just about as sexy as that CLE-DET game a month ago, which was just about as sexy as back hair. The Chiefs, after posting back-to-back wins against OAK and PIT to push their massive win total to 3, have now dropped 3 in a row, mostly in embarrassing fashion.
KC has a pretty decent run game, anchored by 2nd year back Jamaal Charles. Plus, they get Dwayne Bowe back from suspension this week. But Matt Cassel has looked really underwhelming in Todd Haley's offense, and the Chiefs are certainly not strong defensively.
The Browns could easily win this game. They're playing the better ball right now, and they have their first confidence of the season. Part of me still wants to say that Cleveland will "bounce back" with an awful game, but I think the conditions will probably keep it right in Eric Mangini's conservative wheelhouse.
Browns 16, Chiefs 13.