Browns v. Cincy – Week 4

September 30, 2008

Thoughts on the game – Week 4 (CIN)

Overall comments:

Another quick caveat.  My game watching ability was again slightly impaired by the venue.  While State has great food, the deafening music at the commercials and inept staff (finding the game on satellite) left a lot to be desired.

First: No new injuries.  This is the first time this year that someone hasn’t missed a game due to an injury from the previous week.  Here’s hoping Shaffer is OK and two weeks will give him enough rest.

Second:  Play calling was a little weird until the 4th quarter.  As stated in previous recaps, Jamal Lewis is the man, and balance is needed for any offense.  However, Football Outsiders has a lot of statiscal research showing that the pass sets up the run, not the opposite.  In addition, the Bengals secondary was slightly depleted (no Jonathan Joseph), so even with Steptoe making his 4th start, the running focused offense was a bit of a mystery to me.  It might have indicated a lack of faith in DA (somewhat substantiated). 

Third: With regards to Crennel’s decision to not pull DA in the 4th quarter, here are a couple of thoughts:

1)      Making a QB change in the middle of the game is risky business.  It shows a complete lack of confidence in the offense and QB.

2)      If DA faltered for the rest of the game, Quinn would have had two weeks of reps to prepare for the Giants, as opposed to some snaps during this weeks practice.

3)      Not making the change worked.  DA snapped back into last year’s form (after getting berated – justifiably – by Braylon).  I still think DA has enormous issues reading zones, but hopefully two weeks of film will help

Fourth: Crennel went for it on 4th and 1 and didn’t succeed.   But, it was the right call.  I’m ecstatic that he did this and I hope he views it the same way I do, right call, bad execution, not simply based on the result (incomplete pass)

Injury update (unless noted, scheduled starters are starting):

WR: Stallworth, Jurevicious

OL: Tucker

LB: Peak, McGinnest

DB: Holly, Jones

DL: R. Smith

 

QB

Anderson’s struggles were apparent, so you don’t need me to tell you that this is an issue.  He frequently missed receivers.  However, he did pull it together and the end of the game, and hopefully, he’ll continue on this streak.  I don’t think this is the case, but believe he deserves an opportunity to prove himself.  As stated before, prior to this game, he faced 3 top 10 defenses

RB

I’m starting a Jamal Lewis fan club.  He’s one mean looking individual with an incredibly aggressive running style.  Further, his intervention between Anderson and Edwards could be the turning point in the season for the offense.  Harrison dropped a ball that he needs to catch.  Vickers has done a better job breaking tackles in the open field. 

Another comment, called asinine stat of the week:  Browns are 5-0 when Jamal rushes for more than 25 times a game.  (From James Walkers AFC North blog on ESPN http://myespn.go.com/blogs/afcnorth/0-0-414/Seven-step-drop–Browns-Bengals-edition.html . This is a classic example of correlation not causation.  For all non-stats readers this can best be described in football terms:

Research (again Football Outsiders) has shown that teams are undefeated every time they run this one specific play in the 4th quarter.  Yet for some reason, no team has tried to ensure victory by running this play earlier in the game, or even for the whole game. 

Know the play:   Victory formation, QB kneel.

Another example:  If the Browns are ensured a victory when he runs the ball 25 times.  Why not just give him the ball 25 times to start the game?

Obviously when the Browns win, Lewis touches the ball more.  If they’re ahead in the game near the end he gets the ball. (6 carries after having the lead yesterday).  However, this doesn’t mean they should give him the ball so much early in the game.

 

OL

Fraley’s really starting to have issues handling bigger guys in short yardage situations.  This could be a real big long term problem for two reasons: 1) It’s crucial for the offense 2) He makes most of the line calls, is well respected in the organization and by the team, and therefore may be really hard to replace.  Sowells finally made it out of the 4 year old dog house to get some snaps (granted it took a lot of injuries to get him there).  He wasn’t asked to do much (just run block), so I can’t really make a better analysis.

TE/WR

K2 is certainly a weapon, and the browns need to continue their attempts to get him the ball.  He and Edwards both are reeling from a lack of a 3rd threat (Steptoe may have proven to be a decent #3 and good #4.  As you noticed, “Dropped by” Edwards changed his name back to Braylon with one great TD catch.

Defense

DL

The Bengals had absolutely no rushing offense (except for Fitzpatrick on scrambles), and a lot of credit goes to the 4 man rotation (Williams, Rodgers, S. Smith and Leonard).  However, Leonard needs to stop jumping offside. The pass rush generated was good, although, this was a slightly depleted offensive line.  Fitzpatrick made the DL look slow (which they are. . . intentionally),  but keep in mind, S. Smith wasn’t supposed to be in on passing situations, and because of Robaire’s injury, he is. 

LBs

Alex Hall again showed his athleticism, and it’s great that the browns found an absolute steal in the 7th round .  On the other side, Wimbley’s still struggling to generate a pass rush.  I’ll be watching closely in the NYG game to see how many double teams he faces.   Again, I wasn’t focused on watching the ILBs, but the great run defense leads me to believe they did a decent job.

 

DBs

Pool looked good in coverage again, and is also great against the run.  I really think they should keep him over Jones just based on his versatility (and could likely be cheaper.  McDonald impressed me with his tackling ability, as did the secondary as a whole (I think 1 missed tackle against two great WRs).  The Browns were near the top of the league in yards after catch last year, although this stat could have some misleading issues.

 

Overall

The win should provide some much needed confidence.  The OL will be tested a week from Monday, and will determine whether or not we win.   For those DA haters, all three QBs that played the Giants this year (Palmer, Bulger and Campbell) have had sub par days with respect to their QB rating.  So if DA looks good, it just might be the defense, not the offense.

 

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Browns v. Baltimore – Week 3

September 25, 2008

Overall comments:

First, a quick caveat.  I missed the 1st couple of series of the game, and also didn’t have a great view of the TV from the bar, so this review will be less in-depth than the others.   First, I want to remove the initial part of the conversation from any of these topics: There’s something wrong with a) Anderson, b) Chud, c) Crennel d) defense that’s causing this losses.  There are two major factors to the Brown’s 0-3 start. 

First, is an unprecedented amount of injuries:  Football Outsiders has done research that showed one of the highest correlating factors to a team’s record is offensive line continuity.  The Browns haven’t had the same offense line play a single game yet this year, and they barely played together in the preseason.  To further this point, I want you to think back to last year’s OL and the fact that the team had few relative injuries to the starters, and when they did get hurt, it was for an extended period of time and the line adjusted to playing together.  If Tucker returns next week as expected, it will be the 4th different offensive line to start a game this year.  

Outside of the offensive line, the Browns started their 6th receiver, Syndric Steptoe (Edwards is #1, Stallworth is #2, Joe J is #3, Kasper was brought in to be #4, and Cribbs is #5, for the 3rd straight game.  Steptoe didn’t make the Brown’s roster last year.  In addition, their 7th receiver, Steve Sanders, played prominently in 1 of the games.   If you think this doesn’t affect the Browns offense in terms of ability, and plays they can call, you’re crazy.

The defensive injuries have been less crazy, but not much.  At best, the Browns can only start 8 of their penciled in starters from the preseason (Peek, Holly, Robiare are injured). The two starting safeties haven’t played together yet, and Alex Hall (the team’s 4th OLB, and 7th round pick), started on Sunday.

The 2nd reason the team has looked so bad this year is that they’ve played 3 of the best defenses in the league.  That will slow any offense down (look at Green Bay against Dallas from last night).  Yes, the Browns need to be able to beat good defenses, but doing it with your #6 receiver and you’re 3rd and 4th guard aren’t easy.

 

Injury update (unless noted, scheduled starters are starting):

WR: Stallworth, Jurevicious

OL: Steinbach, Tucker

LB: Peak, McGinnest

DB: Holly, Jones

DL: R. Smith

 

QB

Not much new here, except I can’t figure out why teams rush Anderson at all.  I’d just sit back in a zone and wait for him to make the wrong read.  Keep in mind though, this isn’t a new problem.  This was the same problem as last year, but a healthy offensive line and Jurevicious make a huge difference.

RB

Again, not much new here.  Jamal runs hard and over people.  Harrison looks quick. 

OL

Great strategy by the Ravens putting Suggs against Tucker (who was overmatched twice).  Thomas shut him down last year and the Ravens realized (as I hope more team’s don’t), that Shaffer can’t handle a good pass rusher.  The run blocking was average, which says a lot against a good defense and aforementioned injuries.

TE

K2 looks good, but a less threatening Edwards, and no Joe is leaving him facing double coverage.  He has a hard time beating two guys

WR

Edwards was questionable, and based on his performance, probably needs a week off.  Syndric Steptoe played, and that’s all I have to say.

Overall Offense

Crennel should have gone for it on 4th and 4 in the 4th Quarter.  He may have Zastudil in his fantasy league this year as well.  They were down 18 points at the time.  Want to see the right move, down 18 with 10 minutes to play in the 4th quarter, the Jets kicked the ball onside.  Regardless of whether or not they recovered the ball, the Jets players know their coach is trying to win the game at every opportunity.

Defense

DL

Rodgers played well, but he sometimes falls back on his incredible ability to get penetration, which sometimes hurts a 3-4. If the Browns make a coaching move in the offseason, I wouldn’t be shocked if they go to a 4-3, and have some very effective pieces (Rodgers, Williams, Shaun Smith, Wimbley).  I want to be clear that I’m against this strategy (it makes Beau Bell, and Leon Williams players without a role and requires that we find 2 OLBs (Peak is bad in a 4-3, and that’s the reason he left Houston)

Alex Hall showed his athleticism on his sack, further displaying why a healthy McGinnest shouldn’t be on the field in obvious pass situations.  I wasn’t able to watch him close enough on run plays.

LBs

Hard to evaluate.  My seat at the bar was too far from the TV

DBs

Pool looked good in coverage.  The Browns will have a tough situation in which they have to decide which S to keep.  I think Pool is better, because he’s solid against the run (where Jones is below average against the pass).

By the way, the Cowboys defense is exceptionally better without Roy Williams in at safety.  Not only is he the most overrated player in the NFL, he may not be starter worthy.  Somehow he made it to the pro bowl last year.

Overall

We’re moving in the wrong direction and the team is in desperate need of a week off  to heal injuries.  Here’s hoping the beat CIncy and make it to the by injury free.

Browns v. Pittsburgh – Week 2

September 25, 2008

Injury update (unless noted, scheduled starters are starting):

WR: Stallworth, Jurevicious

OL: Tucker

LB: Peak

DB: Holly, Jones

QB

Anderson passed the ball very well, but two things are very apparent: 1) His a lot more problem with teams sitting in a zone and rushing 4 players then he does when they blitz.  I believe this is a result of him having a hard time making the correct reads.  When a team blitzes him, he knows he’s got 1 on 1 coverage and Winslow and Edwards (at least last year) can beat the man covering them.  In a zone coverage, Anderson is forced to predict defensive player movements, and he has trouble with this (interception at end of the half).  2) He’s not football smart.  Before Crennel gets blamed for the time management, Anderson needs to be questioned first.  Here are the situations that bothered me the most:

1)      Last week, end of 3rd quarter, about 30 seconds left on the game clock, Browns can’t get a play off

2)      This week, before the 2-minute warning, Anderson got the play off 1 second before the 2-minute warning (also the reason why Polamalou was able to time the snap).  Prior to the play call you could see Anderson looking to the sidelines waiting for the call.  This is unacceptable.  Anderson should be able to run to the line, call a play without needing to depend on the staff to send it in

3)      The 3rd and 1 sneak.  Despite what Madden said (he and Michael’s are clueless half of the time), this was the perfect play call.  However, again you could see Anderson waiting for at least 5-7 seconds waiting for the call.  That situation dictates either a QB sneak or a quick run.  Anderson should be able to call that play without needing sideline help.  Problem is he just doesn’t.  This is a huge problem with judging a QB based on his arm strength and stats.   Football smarter QBs know what needs to be done there.  (on a side note, I have complete faith that neither of these would have been an issue with Quinn).

RB

Again, I’ll take fault in believing Lewis wasn’t going to be good this year.  He runs hard, breaks tackles, and the change of pace with him and Harrison is exactly what we need on an ongoing basis.  I realize that we average 2 yards a carry, but Lewis reads his blocks well, and does a good job in pass protection.  Vickers needs to get mentioned as well.  He’s a great lead blocker.  My only fault with him is that despite his 250 lb size, he always seems to get tackled by 1 DB going low on him when he catches passes

OL

Keep in mind,  Pittsburgh has a very good front 7.  Hadnot is a dramatic improvement over McKinney, and did a good, not great job handling Casey Hampton with Fraley.  Steinbach does a good job pulling and keeping blockers away from Anderson, but struggled a little again with blocking at the point of attack.  As always, the pass protection was almost perfect.   They only gave up 2 sacks, and one of them Anderson held the ball too long.  I love the overload package, and will elaborate more on that in later on.  

TE

Again, K2 looks as scary as ever.  He seems to get open easily and doesn’t drop much.  Obviously, he’s a liability in blocking.  The only thing I’d like to see more of is him split out opposite of trips on the other side.  I don’t think there’s a corner in the league that can get inside position on him, and he ran away from Palamalou and 2 separate occasions.  As mentioned above, the team doesn’t really need a blocking TE, because they use Vickers and overload a tackle in those situations.  Dinkins will be off the team as soon as Rucker returns from injury.

WR

Dropped by Edwards showed up again, but also displayed that he’s still very good at getting separation.  However, he did alligator arm the post route and took a good hit.  The larger problem was Syndric Steptoe’s inability to block.  There were at least three occasions where he was actually a detriment to the play (one of which he went flying in the air and hit Lewis).  There are two problems with this: 1) Jamal won’t break any long runs if Steptoe can’t block.  2) I have no idea what Chud asked him to crack back on a DE on a sweep play I think in the 4th quarter.  Clearly, someone on the team may be better than him at this (a flexed out Winslow?).  I get not sacrificing Cribbs on this play and asking him to do this.  Chud should learn from President’s Bush’s mistakes,  if you don’t have the armor, don’t go to war.  There’s nobody on the Browns active roster at WR that can make this block, but Steptoe’s the worst.

Overall Offense

Despite the incredibly slow start, this was a pretty good game all clock management issues aside. The weather was obviously a factor and slowed both teams at the beginning, but Chud was incredible in his play calling.  The steelers had no answer for the overload formation (Madden did an excellent job calling this out.  The Browns did this a lot last year and not a single announcer focused on it like Madden did), and the team converted on some pretty crucial 3rd downs.

There’s absolutely no excuse for the field goal attempt.  Michaels and Madden are completely wrong about kicking the field goal there.  The worst case scenario is a slightly upset offense frustrated with their performance and a defense heading out on to the field with the statement “the game’s in our hands” in their head.  This is even a larger problem based on last week’s field goal attempt.  Crennel could have used this opportunity (the team had just converted on 4 previous 3rd downs) to say to the offense, you can win us the game.  Instead he fed his unhealthy field goal obsession (or helped his fantasy team with Dawson on it) and kicked the field goal.

 

Defense

DL

As I said last week, “Rodgers is almost impossible to stop when he’s fresh”.   He’s an absolute monster, and is probably the top interior lineman in the league.  He almost impossible to block with 1 guy, and when he does get double teamed, he doesn’t get pushed back 4-5 yards (Ted Washington and Jason Fisk’s favorite moves).  So when Michaels and Madden were beating him up for getting pushed to the ground at the line of scrimmage, those were actually incredible plays by Rodgers designed in the defensive system.  This is exactly what you want your 3-4 NT to do.  He’s quite simply, amazing.   If you take out Parker’s 19 yard run and the other 12 yarder (courtesy of Willie McGinnest – more on this in a second), the Browns held him to 26 carries for 74 yards.  If Robaire Smith’s injury is serious, this could be very big problem as Crennel will rely on Rodgers too much.  Also, watch Rodgers on any play on the outside, he’s trying to chase much faster RBs down.  His effort is also exceptional.

Not to take any credit away from Williams, Shaun and Robaire Smith, they also played great games.  The pass rush was there because these guys occupied blockers so FS, and LBs could blit (except for when the Steelers were pinned down – more on that in a second)

 Willie “statue” McGinnest sucks section:

Typical game for Willie.  Three good plays, and the reason for every long run by the opponent.  This week’s mistakes were less about his speed (or lack thereof) and more about the fact that he didn’t close down the hole.  On Parker’s two long runs, the TE double teamed the defensive end, leaving McGinnest unblocked temporarily before the pulling lineman or TE came.  The first time, Willie charged the QB, leaving a gaping hole for the RB.  The second time, he did a little bit better, and only left 5 feet for Parker to run through.  It’s a very simple concept, when the TE doubles the guy inside you, close the hole down and force him outside.

Again the real issue here is lack of a better option with Peek hurt.  Alex Hall played some, but he’s not big enough to play on run downs.  He was on the field when the Browns had the Steelers pinned down, but didn’t get far with his pass rush.  He’ll be better next year when he’s 10-15 lbs heavier.

Switching to a 4-3 may be an option since “statue” doesn’t do much in pass coverage, but the Browns don’t have a 2nd DE (outside of Williams) that can play that role either. 

LBs

Again, with the DL doing their job, the LBs were able to play well.  Jackson missed a tackle, but overall, this was a good performance.  Madden needs to get off Wimbley’s back.  He still gets double teamed or chipped on every play.  Since you read last week’s column, you know that the issue isn’t Wimbley, it’s that Wimbley doesn’t have someone on the other side.   For example, Shaun Phillips (OLB – San Diego).  He had 4 sacks in his 1st year (pre-Merriman), since he’s had 7, 11.5, and 8.5.  I’d be shocked if he gets more than 6 this year (through 2 games – 0).   Wimbley’s good against the run, which is why teams run right at “Statue”

DBs

Another tough matchup for the Browns, but Pool looked better in coverage.  With Holly, this would have been a very good group, without him, it’s below average.  If you could choose 2 position injuries that would hurt the browns the most this year its CB, and OLB. 

An injury to Thomas would hurt, but Steinbach or Shafer would shift over, and Hadnot would play G, with Tucker moving to G or tackle respectively. 

Lewis getting hurt would be very bad, But Wright is serviceable (at best), and the Browns could pick up Benson, who wouldn’t be Lewis, but would be a lot better than he was in CHI.

Even losing Rodgers (I’m starting a fan club), would hurt, but the addition of Williams still makes the team better than last year.

Special Teams

 Zastudil is a good punter.  Dawson’s making his kicks.  Cribbs needs another game to get his feet underneath him (the weather didn’t help)

 Overall

I give this performance a B.  The defense played very well.  Crennel either needs to empower Anderson to make the decisions (if that’s the issue), or train him to make the right ones when the clock is running.  The schedule doesn’t get easier.  At 0-2, here’s my prediction for the season

@ Balt – W

@ Cin – W

Bye

NYG  – L (closer then you think.  We negate their best attribute, pass rush)

Wash  – L

Jax –  W (they’ve lost 3 starters on the OL)

Balt – L

Denver – L (WR will kill us)

BUF – L

Hou – W

Colts – L

TEN – W

 

PHI – L

Bengals – W

Steelers – L

6 wins total

Blog Goal

September 25, 2008

Goal of article:

The goal of this article is to reflect on the game with an emphasis on predicting future success/failure.  Therefore, I’ll focus on issues that tend to predict future behavior (based on Football Outsiders research) e.g. fumbles that are caused by the RB getting stripped) and less on other factors (fumbled snaps, and all fumble recoveries).  I’ll try and do my best to alleviate some bias, but will call out specifically in advance that McGinnest was washed up last year and shouldn’t be on the field (the Peek injury is significantly larger than the Holly injury).  Further, since I don’t have a DVR I’m not able to watch plays in slow motion to see what really happened.