Thursday, November 30, 2006

What's Tony Grossi Up To?

If you read Tony Grossi's article in this morning's Plain Dealer, you'll find a relatively straightforward portrayal of the turmoil surrounding the Browns and Coach Romeo Crennel. That story comes with a relatively tame headline as well--"Drama, questions build with Edwards, Crennel." About the only thing noteworthy in the story is Grossi's continuation of the Cleveland print media's tradition of damning Crennel with faint praise ("To his credit, Crennel...maintained his composure and class, as usual, during another day of uncomfortable interrogation about his job status.").

However, The Plain Dealer is pushing the "Crennel is on his way out" story line a lot harder on the Internet. The headline on the front page of its website this morning features a photo of Romeo Crennel along with the headline "Days Numbered?" (Update: not anymore. You'll have to trust me on this one.) It links not to Tony Grossi's article in this morning's paper, but to his podcast from yesterday morning. You should definitely listen to that podcast, because it is pretty explosive. In it, Grossi says a number of things, including:

  • One of the biggest reasons he thinks Crennel is on the way out is that WTAM, the radio mouthpiece of the Browns, is starting to talk about his ouster. I think Tony Grossi is the first guy in the media to openly acknowledge what fans have long known--WTAM and its hosts are little more than spokespeople for the Cleveland Browns' front office.
  • Grossi insists that Jim Tressel is interested in the Browns job (something I personally can't imagine to be true), and is definitely "on the radar screen."
  • Business issues are factoring into the coaching decision. Grossi says there were suite cancellations after Sunday's fiasco, and that the Browns feel a need to bring in a coach of Tressel's stature in order to regain the support of the fans and the business community.
  • Crennel has to win at least three of the last five games in order to keep his job.
Why the PD is softpeddling this in the print edition, while pushing Grossi's views so hard online? Perhaps the answer lies in the stormy relationship that Grossi's had with the team's ownership in the past. There's a lot of history between Grossi and the Browns, and when it comes to a story like this one, his approach to reporting it may reflect a self-preservation strategy born out of a healthy distrust of the team's front office.

As everybody knows, nobody managed to get under Art Modell's skin quite like Tony Grossi did. If I recall correctly, the last time that Grossi was ahead of the curve on a coaching change, it involved Bud Carson. Grossi reported just prior to the Browns v. Broncos regular season game in 1990 that Carson's job was on the line. The Browns, and Modell in particular, went nuts, alleging that Grossi never checked his facts with them before running the story. I think that Grossi ended up being removed from the Browns beat for a while as a result of that mess.

The Browns beat the Broncos that week, and Bud lived on, only to be fired a few weeks later, just as Grossi said he would be.

I've always had a sneaking suspicion that Grossi was set up by the Browns back then, and I'm sure that left him with a lingering distrust of the team's front office. Given the fact that this version of the front office has already shown a penchant for intrigue (e.g., the Collins coup and the Carthon resigfiring), that distrust is probably well placed. So, Grossi's different approaches to this story in print and online may be pretty shrewd -- he gets the real story out online, relies on idiots like me to write crap like this pointing you in the direction of his podcast, and covers his butt with the powers that be by softpeddling it in print.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Stop the Bleeding. Draft Some Linemen.

Jeff Schudel wrote a great article in the News Herald last Saturday that should be read by every Browns fan. It is about as complete an indictment of the Browns' inability to find quality offensive linemen as you'll ever see. While Schudel points out that neglecting the offensive line has been a tradition with the Browns for more than a generation, you really get a sense for the futility of the team's efforts to build a line when you look at the past eight drafts.

Take a look. Here are the offensive linemen selected by the Browns since 1999:

1999 -- No offensive linemen drafted (Sorry, Tim)
2000 -- 6th round, Brad Bedell, OL Colorado [206th overall]
2000 -- 7th round, Manuia Savea, OL Arizona [207th overall]
2001 -- 7th round, Paul Zukauskas, OL Boston College [203rd overall]
2002 -- 3rd round, Melvin Fowler, OL Maryland [76th overall]
2002 -- 7th round, Joaquin Gonzalez, OL Miami (Fla) [227th overall]
2003 -- 1st round, Jeff Faine C Notre Dame [21st overall]
2004 -- 6th round, Kirk Chambers OL Stanford [176th overall]
2005 -- 7th round, Jonathan Dunn OL Virginia Tech [217th overall]
2006 -- 4th round, Isaac Sowells OL Indiana [112th overall]

The Browns have selected nine offensive linemen since 1999, but have chosen a lineman on the first day of the draft only twice. By way of comparison, the New England Patriots have drafted 12 offensive linemen since 1999. Six of those guys were first day selections (including Damien Woody and Matt Light), and only three were drafted later than the 4th round. The Browns' two first day O-line picks serve only to illustrate the utter chaos and incompetence that has plagued the team's efforts to build an offensive line. That's because only a year after picking center Melvin Fowler in the 3rd round, the Davis regime decided to pull the plug on him and spend the team's 1st round pick on Jeff Faine.

Seriously Butch, WTF?

What have the Browns drafted instead of linemen? C'mon, let's all say it together now--WIDE RECEIVERS! The wide receiver position is the Cleveland Browns' version of "more cowbell." They just can't get enough of them. In every year except 2003, the Cleveland Browns have spent a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd round pick on a wide receiver (I count Winslow as a wide receiver). In 2000, the team had two 2nd round picks, and spent them both on wide receivers (Dennis Northcutt and JaJuan Dawson). In 2004 and 2005, they used their 1st round picks to add still more receivers. This year, of course, they picked Travis Wilson in the 3rd round. Now, we can quibble with some of the team's decisions, but I think we can all agree that Wilson has provided much needed depth to the Browns' inactive list this season.

If they could just convince the NFL to adopt a "five Mississippi" pass rush rule, the Browns' decision to select wide outs instead of offensive linemen year-in and year-out would probably look brilliant. Unfortunately, that isn't how it works, so the Browns look like the NFL's village idiots.

You know, you've got to laugh at this, but it's tragic, really. Look at the amount of money they invested in Tim Couch. Look at the amount of credibility they've invested in the decision to go with Charlie Frye. We'll never know what Couch might have been, and we'll probably never know what Frye's potential really is, because after eight years of allegedly trying, the Cleveland Browns still haven't been able to figure out how to build a decent offensive line.

Let's face it, right now, all the Browns have to show for eight years of trying to build a line with "diamonds in the rough" draft picks and free agent signings is an increasingly alienated fan base and a 70,000 seat stadium that's become a quarterback graveyard on the shores of Lake Erie.

Guys, you've tried just about everything else to get this franchise turned around. Why not try something that just might work? Stop the bleeding. Draft some linemen.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


The Cleveland Browns disgraced themselves this afternoon. No, not because they stunk, but because they quit. There's no other way to describe their gutless performance against the Bengals. Just when you think it can't get worse, these incompetent jackasses get shut out by the worst defense in the National Football League.

Charlie Frye was f---in' atrocious, but he had plenty of company on both sides of the ball. Braylon Edwards showed that while he may not be a very good receiver, he's definitely a first rate clubhouse cancer. But you know what? At least he gives a damn, which is more than I can say for most of the rest of the team.

Hey coaches, your team quit, and that didn't appear to bother you a bit. The more I watch this team, the more I think that Romeo Crennel's sole game day contribution appears to be to make mindless replay challenges that have no chance of succeeding. Michigan State, if you want somebody whose teams show promise and then collapse as totally as John L. Smith's did, it looks like Todd Grantham's definitely your man. Jeff Davidson, your offense has scored one touchdown in three weeks, and--I'll say it again--just got shut out by the WORST DEFENSE IN THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE!!!

Phil Savage, aside from being a first rate practitioner of office politics and an engineer of mediocre drafts, could you explain to us just what exactly you do? Whatever you do appears to have no discernible impact on this club's performance. Maybe it's because when all is said and done, you're just an empty suit who is in way over his head.

Randy Lerner, we heard a rumor that you were "annoyed" by your front office. We don't care. Just sell the team, Randy. You never wanted to be in this business in the first place, so sell it now, and let somebody who isn't more interested in English soccer than Cleveland football run it.

Have I missed anyone of note in the Browns' coaching staff or front office? If so, I apologize for the oversight and offer my sincere assurances that I think you're worthless too.

Time to hit the reset button again. Maybe the fourth time's the charm.

Whew! That was close.

I watched the big game last night, and boy, was it close. The Youngstown State Penguins beat the James Madison Dukes 35-31. When it seemed like all was lost, the good guys battled back from an 11 point deficit to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

It was a weird game for the Penguins. They're really a pretty formidable running team, but last night they really eschewed their bread and butter running in favor of a passing attack. Marcus Mason, who averaged 170 yards per game in the regular season, rushed for 72 yards against the Dukes. I was skeptical, but it worked. Known for their defense and grinding style of offense, the Penguins racked up 35 points against a stingy Dukes' defense.

Coach Jon Heacock, a former Tressel assistant (no vest), got his first playoff win. Watch next Saturday when the Penguins take on Illinois State at Stambaugh Stadium in beautiful Youngstown, Ohio.

The Browns v. The Bizarro Browns

For the second week in a row, the Browns play a team that's just snapped a three game losing streak by beating the New Orleans Saints. Pittsburgh beat the Saints 38-31 two weeks ago, while the Bengals beat New Orleans by a score of 31-16 last week. So what's the significance of this? Beats me, but I've got to be honest with you, after 10 weeks of generally lousy football, it's getting pretty hard to find anything interesting to say about a Browns game.

I suppose I could talk about Braylon Edwards' need to be the center of attention week after week after week. Braylon, you only get to talk like Chad Johnson when you play like Chad Johnson. For the record, you don't play like Johnson, which means that while Ocho Cinco's antics are colorful, yours are merely ridiculous.

Or I could discuss what a challenge events like this week's "Throwback Weekend" are to a team that wears basically the same uniform that it wore 50 years ago. Aside from the number on the helmet, it looks like each fan should probably be given a microscope so they have a fighting chance to pick out the differences between the Browns' current uniforms and the throwback version that the team will be wearing today.

Any of those topics would be more interesting than a matchup between the lousy Browns and the underachieving Bengals, but this is supposed to be a game preview, so guess I'd better preview the game.

At this point in the season, the Bengals have a very potent offense, but one that's surprisingly one dimensional. They can definitely pass the ball--Carson Palmer ranks second in the AFC in passing yardage and third in passer rating, and Chad Johnson leads the conference in receiving yards. However, the team as a whole ranks near the bottom of the AFC in rushing, even though Rudi Johnson's on pace to run for over 1,200 yards once again.

The problem is that the Bengals have literally gotten no contribution from anyone else on their roster. Johnson's rushed for 826 yards this season, while the team's second leading rusher, Kenny Watson, has only carried the ball nine times for 60 yards. Of course, it's important to keep the Bengals rushing woes in perspective -- they still are averaging almost 20 more yards per game on the ground than the pathetic Browns, who rank last in the AFC and 30th in the NFL in rushing offense.

The good news for Browns fans is that while the Bengals have a formidable offense, they are the worst defensive team in the NFL. Their real weakness is the passing game, where the Bengals have given up over 2,500 yards already this season.

With stats like these, it occurs to me that Paul Brown's bastard child looks like a Bizarro version of the Browns. Remember the Bizarro world from Superman comics? It was a place where everything was ass backwards. Well, that's what the Browns and the Bengals are like. Cleveland has no offense, but the Bizarro Browns are a juggernaut. Even after last week's 4th quarter melt-down, Cleveland ranks near the top of the AFC in pass defense, while the Bizarro Browns can't cover anybody. Come to think of it, maybe we ought to start calling Chad Johnson "Bizarro Braylon."

I think this all adds up to a pretty close game, and one that the Browns have a chance to win. Despite the Bengals' reliance on the passing attack, I think the key to the game is going to be stopping Rudi Johnson. If they make the Bengals rely solely on the pass, the Browns can stay in the game. If Cincinnati can run effectively, forget it.

I give the nod to the Bizarro Browns, 31-21.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Carthon = Rumsfeld

Whether it's unfair or not, Maurice Carthon seemed to be trapped in the same single-mindedness that plagued the former Secretary of Defense. Why it took Berea as long as it did to figure that out and dump him is the tragedy of the 2006 season. His sacking gives me hope.

By now, we all know that the offensive line isn't as good as we thought it would be in the preseason. We also know that, despite its shortcomings, it's the best one the Browns have had since their resurrection.
We also know that the kids, Frye, Winslow and Edwards, can combine to score some points if the line gives them a little time.
The defense has gotten better as the season has progressed, and is now capable of stopping opponents if it doesn't stay on the field too long. Again, the kids (Pool, Jones, Jackson and Wimbley) have proven to be the difference.

So, what's all that mean today? I might be nuts and will likely be ridiculed by the Rhino, but the Browns are going to win this one 23-20.

Come on, you guys all know that's Joe Turkey Jones planting Terry Bradshaw. After all, it's Pittsburgh Sucks Week.

Can The Browns Stand and Deliver?

During the 11 months since last year's Christmas Eve debacle, the Cleveland Browns have said a lot of things about the Pittsburgh Steelers. These statements range from Phil Savage's remarks last June about "doing some damage to Pittsburgh for a change," to Braylon Edwards' comments this week about the team's intention to "coming after their (butts).”

Talk's cheap. Now it's time to stand and deliver. The question is, can they? Personally, I doubt it.

Sure, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a mediocre team. They're 3-6, and haven't won a game on the road all season. However, they have one of the AFC's leading rushers in Willie Parker and rank among the conference's top teams in total offense. While Pittsburgh's defensive unit hasn't been as dominant as in years past, it's still pretty formidable, particularly against the run.

So how did they end up tied for last in the AFC North? Turnovers are a big part of the answer. The Steelers have turned the ball over 24 times, which is --believe it or not--even more than the Browns have. The Steelers' -8 turnover margin ties them with the Browns and Raiders for last place in the AFC. The Steelers are also a different football team outside of Heinz Field. They have yet to win a game on the road this season, and while they've averaged over 30 points per game in each of their home appearances, the Steelers are averaging only 16 points per game on the road.

Of course, it's hard to know how much of a factor Pittsburgh's road woes will be today, when they play in front of a crowd that, if last year's game is any indication, will probably be about evenly divided between Cleveland and Pittsburgh fans. The fact that the Browns haven't beaten the Steelers here since 2000 and own one of the league's worst home records suggests that you probably shouldn't count on Pittsburgh's road woes being much of a factor this afternoon.

I don't think the Browns are expecting the Steelers to do anything differently on offense than they've done in the past. The key to making it all work for the Steelers is their ability to run the ball, and they still do that pretty well. With the retirement of Jerome Bettis, Willie Parker has become more of a complete Steelers-type running back. He's got the speed to get outside, but he's not afraid to stick a shoulder into people.

Today's game may well come down to whether the Browns can stop Parker's onslaught. If you watched him romp for a career high 213 yards against the Saints last week, you'll probably have your doubts. I know that I do. If you think the glass is half full, you'll probably point out that Parker is among those Steelers who appear to be the most daunted by the absence of home cookin'. Parker averages almost 130 yards per game at home, but less than 60 yards per game on the road, and has yet to put together back-to-back 100 yard games this season.

Ben Roethlisberger struggled during the first part of the season, but he appears to have settled down and has played pretty well over the past five weeks. He's 3-0 lifetime against the Browns, and unless they can somehow figure out a way to get some pressure on him, I doubt you'll see the kind of mistakes that plagued him earlier this year.

Drew Brees passed for almost 400 yards against the Steelers last week, and the Saints 517 yards in total offense demonstrates that you can move the ball against the Steelers, but the Browns better be firing on all cylinders if they expect to do that. With Droughns nursing a sprained foot and unlikely to be much of a factor even if he does play, the Browns may be even more one dimensional than usual. You know that the Steelers, who currently rank 3rd in the AFC in both sacks and interceptions, are licking their chops at the prospect of coming after Charlie Frye again.

I hope I'm wrong again, but I think that Pittsburgh still has Cleveland's number. What about all the talk from the Browns? Sorry, but it's just that. I look for Pittsburgh to bust out of its road blues in a big way today. Pittsburgh 24, Browns 13.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Trouble Brewing in Berea?

Read this morning's post from Ace Davis, and then click through to the article that he quotes from (scroll down to "Trouble in Cleveland"). Looks like Randy Lerner is not a happy camper.

A Tale of Two Rivalries

As far as Cleveland's favorite college and pro football rivalries go, it's the best of times and the worst of times. While the nation's attention is riveted on tomorrow's Ohio State v. Michigan game, the Browns and Steelers rivalry exists only in the minds of die-hard Cleveland fans. For everybody else, the Browns v. Steelers game isn't so much the renewal of a rivalry as the latest in a string of Road Runner cartoons, with the Browns seemingly destined to forever play the role of Wile E. Coyote.

In order to have a rivalry, you've actually got to be competitive every now and again. Unfortunately, "competitive" isn't a word I'd use to describe the Browns games against the Steelers in recent years. Somehow, words like "embarrassing" and "humiliating" seem to fit much better. The Steelers own a 13-3 record against the Browns since 1999, including the January 2003 playoff collapse that etched another scar into the psyche of Cleveland fans. The Browns haven't beaten Pittsburgh at home since 2000. Is it any wonder that Hines Ward calls Cleveland Browns Stadium Pittsburgh's home away from home?

All anyone needs to know about the futility of the new Browns is encapsulated in the fact that the Steelers welcomed them back to the NFL in 1999 with a 43-0 massacre, and that by last Christmas Eve, the Browns had improved so vastly that the Steelers were only able to eek out a 41-0 victory. That was the merriest Christmas ever, wasn't it, Browns fans?

Now of course, we're hearing that this year's version of the Browns gets it when it comes to the Steelers. Some of the Browns have been pretty vocal this week, most notably Braylon Edwards, who promises the Steelers that the Browns are coming after them. Whatever. Sorry Braylon, but I'm not impressed, and neither are any other Browns fans. See, when it comes to Pittsburgh, we don't think "getting it" means out-talking the Steelers in the locker room. It means out-fighting, out-hitting and out-playing the Steelers on the football field.

When we see you do that, we'll believe that you get it.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Leave Bobby Knight Alone

We don't seem to have a problem with sending 18 year-olds to Iraq to get blown to bits by IEDs, but judging from the non-stop media circus surrounding this incident, apparently our tender sensibilities can't cope with the idea that Bobby Knight gave one of his players a smack on the cheek to get his attention. Grow up, America.

Make no mistake about it--Knight smacked the kid. He didn't hit him hard, but he didn't "quickly lift his chin" as Texas Tech officials are attempting to spin it. That's not the point anyway. The point is, who gives a damn? Let me tell you a secret that's known to any kid who ever got to the high school level in sports: coaches will give you a bop in the head every now and again. If you can't deal with that, have your kid join math club.

I had several coaches who pushed and shoved me on occasion. The most memorable was my high school line coach, who used to not only grab us and toss us around a bit when we were consistently lining up in the wrong place, but also occasionally crack us in the helmet with a chin strap if we blew an assignment during practice. My ears rung, and I called the guy every name in the book under my breath, but I've never felt the need to get "closure" for this "trauma." Perhaps I'm just not in touch with my feelings, or maybe I'm just grateful to the guy for turning somebody with almost no athletic ability into an All-League player.

I don't condone physical abuse of players by coaches, and I agree completely with a zero tolerance policy in youth sports. On the other hand, I also think the zero tolerance crowd is wrong when they say that every bit of physical contact with a high school or college age athlete is per se abuse. Coaching sports like football and basketball requires physical contact with players. Technique demonstrations, moving players to the proper spot on the field, etc. are part of what coaches do every day. Sometimes that contact is a little on the forceful side, because "knowledge maketh a bloody entrance." Sorry, but a coach giving a player a little shove or a smack on the head isn't abuse, and nobody who ever played a contact sport will tell you otherwise.

Bobby Knight is a complex man and an extraordinary basketball coach. He's also one of the biggest jerks in all of sports, but if that was a crime, nobody would be able to field a college or pro sports team. Still, the guy inspires unbelievable loyalty among former players, and there's no doubt that he goes the extra mile for them. There have been a number of incidents involving Knight and his players, but almost always, it is the players who jump to Knight's defense. Knight's bashers will say that this is because they fear retribution. I think a more likely explanation is that they know something about him that the rest of us don't.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Rhino on Ice

Yup, that's me in the Red Wings jersey. I told you I played hockey, and I told you I was a fat pig. So there.

I'm not a Detroit fan, but I needed a new white jersey a few years ago. Hull had just left for Phoenix and this one was $25 at Champs. Believe me, if I had any alternative, I'd have chosen somebody other than Brett "No Goal" Hull, but size 52 hockey sweaters don't grow on trees, ya know.

Games of the Century

You know that this weekend's Ohio State v. Michigan game is a sporting event of galactic proportions when even a Texas paper publishes an article calling it "The Game of the Century." I believe that this is the first time in the 21st century that this tag has been hung on a college football game, but there were several 20th century games that were given the GOTC moniker. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at them.

1916 - Georgia Tech 222, Cumberland 0. Talk about a bad day at the office. How the worst mismatch in sporting history got a GOTC tag is beyond me. Why Cumberland College commemorates it is even more mystifying.

1935 -- Notre Dame 18, Ohio State 13. This is the game that a panel of experts voted the greatest game played during the first century of college football. Ohio State held a 13-0 lead in the fourth quarter, but the Irish scored three touchdowns to pull out the win. Bill Shakespeare threw a game-winning 19-yard pass to Wayne Millner with 32 seconds left. Check out the highlight video.

1946 -- Army 0, Notre Dame 0. The scoreless tie between Notre Dame and Army is one of the most famous games in college football history, but there's a dirty little secret about this game: it was boring as hell. Notre Dame had only one scoring opportunity,
reaching the Army 4-yard line before Frank Leahy decided not to try a field goal but to instead run a sweep on fourth and goal (huh?). Johnny Lujack made a touchdown-saving open field tackle of Doc Blanchard to stifle the Cadets' only scoring threat.

1966 -- Notre Dame 10, Michigan State 10. This was the much anticipated and still highly controversial matchup between the #1 Irish and the #2 Spartans. The game lived up to its billing, and is still regarded as a classic. The controversy involves Ara Parseghian's decision to run out the clock during Notre Dame's last drive. Was this the wrong thing to do? Decide for yourself. Here's the last series of the game.

1969 -- Texas 15, Arkansas 14. The #1 Longhorns spotted the #2 Razorbacks a 14 point lead and then, led by QB James Street, scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to win the game. Texas went on to win the National Championship, defeating Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl 27-17.

1971-- Nebraska 35, Oklahoma 31. I think that aside from the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, this was the greatest college football game that I ever saw. Johnny Rodgers and Greg Pruitt squared off in a see-saw battle that saw the Sooners twice overcome double-digit leads, only to have the Cornhuskers win the game with a long drive that culminated in FB Jeff Kinney's two yard scoring plunge.

1987 -- Penn State 14, Miami 10. The 1987 Fiesta Bowl was Joe Pa's masterpiece. His outmanned Nittany Lions outfought the more talented Hurricanes while he and his defensive staff coached rings around Jimmy Johnson. Vinny Testaverde was intercepted five times, the last one coming with 18 seconds left to play and the ball on the Penn State six yard line.

1993 -- Notre Dame 31, Florida State 24. This one had one of the more dramatic endings of the various GOTC contenders, as Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward's last second pass was knocked down by Shawn Wooden of the Fighting Irish. Check out the video of that play here. Of course, none of us Notre Dame fans like to recall what happened the following week, when the Irish lost to Boston College on a last second field goal and ended up handing the national championship back to Florida State.

As the latest GOTC designee, the Buckeyes and Wolverines have a lot to live up to this weekend. I've got every expectation that they won't let us down.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Kicking Off Michigan Week

The front page of this morning's PD has a story about a guy from Hudson who is going to dot the "i" on Saturday. I thought that was as good an excuse as any for kicking off Michigan week with a hit of TBDBITL. How about a little "Hang on Sloopy" to start off Monday?

Three Cheers for Mel Tucker

There's a lot of credit to go around on the defensive side of the football for the Browns' victory over the Falcons, but in light of Michael Vick's horrendous passing performance (a 43.4 QB rating, his worst since the 7th game of the 2005 season), the guy most deserving of praise may well be defensive backfield coach Mel Tucker.

Tucker's a Cleveland Heights native who played his college football for Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin. He then served as an assistant to Nick Saban at Michigan State, and eventually followed him to LSU. Jim Tressel hired him away from LSU, and he served as the Buckeyes' defensive backfield coach from 2001 until the Browns hired him in 2005. By the way, when the Browns hired him, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in Columbus.

The results that Tucker's achieved during his short tenure in Cleveland have been impressive. Last season, all he did was help the Browns take Leigh Bodden, an unknown free agent from Duquesne, and turn him into one of the top young cornerbacks in the game. This year, despite season-ending injuries to Daylon McCutcheon and Gary Baxter, and nagging injuries to just about everybody else, the play of the defensive backfield is one of the biggest reasons that the Browns rank 6th in the league against the pass. Even more impressive is the fact that opposing QBs have completed only 52.3% of their passes against the Browns, which is easily the lowest completion percentage in the league.

Those numbers are solid enough on their own, but when you consider that they're being achieved with only a mediocre pass rush and a defensive backfield that includes cast-offs like Ralph Brown and Daven Holly, they're downright amazing.

Tucker's starting to get noticed for his work, and it's likely that he's going to have some pretty big opportunities elsewhere after the season's over. With Todd Grantham at or near the top of the list for the Michigan State job, maybe it's time to consider offering the defensive coordinator's job to Mel Tucker. It seems to me that he's given one hell of a nine game audition for it.

Sunday, November 12, 2006


I think the Browns can score some points today. In fact, if Charlie Frye can avoid what has become his customary Sunday bad decision, they can score enough points to win.

Sadly, I don't think that will happen. I think the Rhino's pretty much right about the score. 31-23 looks about right.

I've got a feeling that the Browns will jump out to a lead, tease us all with a win, and then be unable to sustain it. It should be real close---razor thin, but I think they'll lose.

Woof woof.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Hugo Chavez, man of distinction

Hugo Chavez may be, as the Venezuelans say, a culo de caballo, but the man's got taste. The fool welcomed Shakira to Venezuela and said he might go to the concert.

I can't fault the man for that. Check her out. Now, that's an athlete for you.

It's The Same Old Story: Stop Michael Vick

The Browns visit the Atlanta Falcons this weekend. Remember the last time they played Atlanta? It was one of the very few good days that we've had since the team returned. The Browns have been so bad that it's easy to forget that they made the playoffs back in 2002, and it was a home victory over the Falcons that got them there.

Of course, that happy memory is tainted by the Browns quick exit from the playoffs the following week, after they managed to blow a 17 point 4th quarter lead to the Steelers. That game not only put a real damper on the buzz we were all feeling after the Buckeyes' Fiesta Bowl triumph, but also revealed what a creep Butch Davis was. Butch, as you remember, threw defensive coordinator Foge Fazio under the bus for that loss--even though it was reportedly Davis' overruling of Fazio that allowed Pittsburgh to get back into the game in the first place.

If the reports about Butch's next coaching position are true, all I can say is enjoy the hell out of him, Tar Heel fans. He'll coach his guts out for ya.

Isn't it great to be a Browns fan? I haven't even talked about this week's game yet and my blood pressure is already in the danger zone. Anyway, the key to a Cleveland win this week is the same as it is for any team playing Atlanta. If you want to beat the Falcons, you better figure out a way to stop Michael Vick. Sure, Atlanta has other weapons, but controlling Vick-- Ron Mexico to his intimate friends--has to be the Browns' top priority.

Vick ranks among the top 10 rushers in the NFC with 576 yards and an astounding 8.2 yards per carry, and he's on a pace to break Bobby Douglass' single season QB rushing record. But this year, stopping Vick sometimes means more than shutting down the run. Vick's shown signs of maturing as a passer, although he's still inconsistent. For example, after lighting up the Steelers and the Bengals for seven passing touchdowns and nearly 550 yards in back-to-back games, he threw for less than 200 yards and had two passes intercepted against the Lions last week.

Vick's not the Falcons only offensive threat. Warrick Dunn is having another stellar year, and currently ranks 5th in the NFC with 688 yards and a 4.5 yards per carry average. With both Vick and Dunn in the backfield, it's no surprise that the Falcons lead the NFL in rushing with an incredible 205 yards per game. TE Alge Crumpler is tied for 3rd in the NFC with six touchdown receptions, and former Buckeye WR Michael Jenkins has caught three touchdown passes of his own.

Stopping the running game isn't exactly one of the Browns' strengths, so on the surface, it looks like this could be a very long afternoon. It might well turn out that way, but if you want a reason to hope otherwise, consider the fact that the Falcons' productivity on the ground has plummeted over the past three weeks. Through the season's first five games, Atlanta was averaging over 230 yards on the ground. Over the past three games, that's dropped to 160 yards per game.

The biggest reason for the drop-off in the Falcons' running game appears to be a decision to throw the ball more, but that may have resulted from the absence of guard Matt Lehr, who is serving a four game steroid suspension. The Falcons' line was further depleted during the Lions game, when guard Kynan Forney was lost for the season with a shoulder injury. Furthermore, Warrick Dunn's backup, Jerious Norwood, has a knee injury and is questionable for Sunday. Ordinarily, that's kind of a "so what?" but Norwood's not exactly your average backup. The rookie from Mississippi State has rushed for 355 yards and is averaging almost seven yards per carry. Combine these injuries with Alge Crumpler's sore ankle, and there's reason to think that if the Browns can't stop the Falcons, they at least might be able to slow them down some.

Slowing down the Falcons' offense just might give the Browns a chance, because this is one of the rare weeks when the Browns may be able to get something going on offense. That's because while Atlanta's decent against the run, its pass defense is downright porous. The Falcons rank 31st overall in passing defense, and it isn't because they don't have a pass rush. The Falcons have a respectable 21 sacks; they just can't cover anybody. Teams are completing 61% of their passes against the Falcons and the team's already given up almost 2,000 yards passing.

I'd feel a lot better about this game if the Falcons weren't coming off an upset loss to the Lions and the Browns weren't so banged up themselves. I don't think the Falcons are as good as their record indicates, but I think that with the home field advantage and the poor performance against the Lions as motivation, the Browns will be hard pressed to bring home a victory.

Falcons 31, Browns 23.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Scarlet Hype

Not to take away anything from the Scarlet Knights, but don't you think that Rutgers' thrilling victory over Louisville is being overhyped just a little bit? New Yorkers love to thumb their noses at us flyover state rubes, but when it comes to sporting events, the supposedly jaded New York media takes a back seat to nobody in terms of absurd exaggeration--so long as the event in question happened within easy commuting distance of Times Square.

I mean, c'mon guys--it was a great win, but if it didn't happen 20 miles from Manhattan, would grown ups be claiming that this game would "live through the centuries"? You gotta be kidding me! Rutgers beats a ranked opponent, and all of the sudden we're supposed to put this in the same class as the 1971 Nebraska v. Oklahoma game or the 2003 Fiesta Bowl?

Not only that, but now we've also got to endure ESPN instant polls asking whether the 15th ranked team in the country ought to play in the National Championship ahead of one loss teams like Florida, Auburn and Texas. With this schedule? What nonsense. (It's probably a moot point anyway, because I doubt they're getting out of Morgantown alive on December 2nd.)

New York--if you can make it there (or in North Jersey), they'll insist you can make it anywhere.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Two Sides to Every Deal

Right now, the Tribe is getting kudos from the local media for its acquisition of San Diego Padres second baseman Josh Barfield. I like the deal too, although a prospect like Kevin Kouzmanoff is a big price to pay for the team's inept handling of Brandon Phillips. If you read Terry Pluto's column this morning, you'll see that he includes quotes about Barfield from a San Diego sportswriter named Tim Sullivan that would lead you to believe he's likely to be despondent about this deal. Well, he isn't.

Bud Shaw writes about the Tribe's revolving door at second base, implying that it somehow matters. Others don't think so. "Second basemen are like 50-watt bulbs compared with the neon brilliance of a third baseman with pop. They are easily replaced; highly expendable. When you get an opportunity to acquire a hitter of Kevin Kouzmanoff's potential, baseball percentages tell you to pounce." Who says so? San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Tim Sullivan in his column this morning.

While Cleveland emphasizes Barfield's defensive brilliance and the potential improvement in his numbers resulting from a move to a hitter's park, San Diego counters with the fact that Barfield ranked 31st in OBP among second basemen with more than 100 appearances and besides, chicks dig the long ball. Plus, from the Padres' perspective, there's the fact that the free agent market for second basemen is pretty solid this season, and includes SoCal native and former Padre Mark Loretta. Based on Sullivan's column, it sounds like Loretta already has his bags packed.

Who got the better of this deal? We'll know in a few years. Right now, I'd give the nod to the Tribe. Kouzmanoff's a great hitting prospect, but with his history of injuries, I'm a little surprised to see a National League team this hot to get him. But there are always two sides to every deal. Shapiro probably had the best comment about the deal when he said that "We gave up players we liked. No trade is an easy trade. But [Barfield's] a player we're very happy to get."

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


The Yinzers' favorite sociopath, Joey Porter, has moved from tackling drunken fans to threatening sober officials. Now I ask you, is that any way to thank the guys who won the Super Bowl for you?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The 2007 Chevy Silverado is the Right Choice for Ohio's Next Senator

If you have watched a football game at any point over the last month, then a conservative estimate would be that you've seen John Mellencamp's Chevy truck ads more than 10,000 times. I've seen several versions of the ads, and while they haven't persuaded me to buy a Chevy truck, they have convinced me to endorse the 2007 Silverado in today's United States Senate race.

Unlike either Mike DeWine or Sherrod Brown, the Silverado comes standard with a Vortec V-6 engine and the Stabilitrak vehicle stability system, not to mention a one ton payload capacity. In contrast, Mike DeWine is the kind of gap-toothed ignoramus who has made Ohio politicians a national laughingstock for almost a century. His opponent, Sherrod Brown, is a limousine liberal married to Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz, who won a Pulitzer Prize last year for consistently offering readers columns that are a unique blend of condescension, maudlin self-pity, and misandry.

Some skeptics will dismiss the idea of electing the Silverado by pointing out that it is an inanimate object. That is true, but I ask those skeptics to remember that this kind of disability did not prevent John Glenn from serving the Buckeye State with distinction during his four terms in the United States Senate.

In addition to all that, Mellencamp's ads make it clear that the Silverado stands tall for such bedrock American values as the working man (truck yeah!), the Boy Scouts (truck yeah!), civil rights (truck yeah!), babies (truck yeah!), cowboys (truck yeah!), Katrina devastation (truck yeah!), 9/11 images (truck yeah!) and, in the version that appears below, football (truck yeah!)

Ohio could do worse than the 2007 Silverado, and if past experience is any guide, it probably will. As others have said before me, you're either with the Silverado, or you're with the terrorists.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Charlie Frye Bashing

Now that Maurice Carthon's head has been delivered to us on a platter, Charlie Frye seems to be emerging as the scapegoat du jour for the Browns' offensive woes. In recent weeks, there has been a rising chorus of Frye bashing, and some of it is plainly justified. Frye's habit of refusing to give up on a play that's going nowhere has cost the Browns dearly this season, with the fumble that led to San Diego's first touchdown yesterday being only the latest example. There's a fine line between competitive fire and plain old immaturity, and I think Frye crosses that line pretty regularly.

The conventional wisdom is that many fans look at Frye as a hometown boy made good, and expect him to be some sort of reincarnation of Bernie Kosar. If that's the case, I guess you can count me among those who haven't drunk the Kool-Aid, because I don't see anywhere near the on-field savvy that Kosar possessed early in his career. On the other hand, you can also mark me down as somebody who still thinks that Charlie Frye has the potential to be a good NFL quarterback, as well as somebody who thinks that some of the recent criticism being voiced about the guy is simply unfair.

The comments from the two meatheads who broadcast yesterday's game provide a case in point. Gus Johnson and Steve Tasker harped constantly on Frye's supposed habit of "locking onto" receivers. Within minutes of the end of yesterday's game, their insights were being treated as received wisdom in the Internet's echo chamber, and touted as evidence of Charlie Frye's incompetence.

I disagree. At this stage in Frye's career, I think staring down receivers is mostly evidence of the fact that he's a young quarterback with a lot to learn, and I'll cite Ray Lewis as my authority. Shortly before the last game between the Browns and the Ravens, Lewis talked about the way the Ravens feasted on inexperienced quarterbacks. Lewis noted that they were able to do this in part because "most young quarterbacks don't know how to read the whole field or scan defenses." That comes with enough time on the job and, just as importantly, enough time in the pocket to do the job. Frye's got neither of those things.

To me, Bud Shaw's take on the Browns' QB situation in this morning's Plain Dealer puts the blame where it belongs--squarely on the shoulders of Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel. They're the guys who dealt away a veteran QB (granted, a stiff, but a veteran stiff) and left the Browns with nobody to help groom Frye or to take his place if need be.

Frye's struggling, the Browns are paying for it, and Savage and Crennel have only themselves to blame. You'd have thought that the overwhelming success of the Browns' efforts to destroy Tim Couch would've taught this organization how not to handle young QBs, but apparently that's a lesson that each new regime has to learn on its own.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Browns-Chargers Preview Without a Quote From "Anchorman"

Nobody gives the Browns much of a chance this weekend. The Pumpkin Heads started the week as 12 1/2 point dogs, and the line didn't move off that number even after Shawne Merriman decided to begin serving his suspension this weekend. A lot of prognosticators think the score will be much more lopsided than the line. For example, one preview that I came across pegs the score at 35-17 in favor of the Bolts, while another guy predicts a 41-6 blowout.

The Chargers organization must be reading the clippings as well, because if you visit their website, you'll see that they can hardly contain their glee at the prospect of a visit from the Browns. And why not? The Chargers have the AFC's top running back in LaDainian Tomlinson, and its best backup in Michael Turner. With talent like that, it's not surprising that San Diego leads the AFC in rushing with an average of almost 158 yards per game. On the other hand, the Browns have held opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground only twice this season, and rank 13th in the AFC (and 28th in the NFL) against the run.

The Chargers can also throw. Philip Rivers has been impressive in his first year as a starter, although as Ben Toothlessberger can tell you, there's no better friend to a young quarterback's stats than a solid running game. Good receivers help plenty too, and the Chargers have several of them. Former Kent State hoops star Antonio Gates has blossomed into one of the NFL's premier tight ends. Wide Receiver Eric Parker is averaging almost 16 yards per catch, while former Brown and future Hall of Famer Keenan McCardell adds veteran experience to the receiving corps.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot about their leading receiver--some guy named LaDainian Tomlinson. Believe it or not, he sometimes throws the ball too, and currently has a 95.8 passer rating. Unfortunately, Tomlinson didn't play his college football in Florida, so he didn't meet Butch Davis's criteria for a first round pick. That's okay, because nobody would ever second guess Butch's selection of Gerard Warren instead of Tomlinson.

I hate Butch Davis.

Defensively, the Chargers will miss Merriman, but let's not get carried away here. They lead the AFC in total defense and rank second overall in the NFL. The Chargers are strong against the run and the pass, and while Merriman's out, their defensive line will improve with the anticipated return of Igor Olshansky. The Chargers also enjoy the second best turnover ratio (+7) in the AFC.

In short, the Browns have a mountain to climb this weekend. Is there any reason for hope? Well, one interesting thing about the Chargers is the fact that they've had one of the NFL's easiest schedules to this point. They've only beaten one team with a winning record (St. Louis), and their other four victories have come against teams with a combined record of 8-20. So, just maybe, they aren't as daunting as they look.

Then again, they're playing the 2-5 Browns, who are exactly the kind of team they've feasted on this season. While Cleveland's offense looked better last week, it will have to get a whole lot better to make this game competitive, and with McGinest, Roye and Holly potentially added to the endless injury list, Todd Grantham is going to have to figure out some way to patch together a defense yet again. I wish him all the luck in the world.

Sorry guys, but this one looks like a blowout. San Diego 34, Cleveland 9.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


Erik Cassano has a post on his blog about Stephon Marbury's new line of $15.00 basketball shoes. For some reason, reading that reminded me of one of the great frustrations of my own brief basketball career -- my repeated failure to convince my parents to spring for a pair of hi-top Chuck Taylors.

My first attempt at Chucks came in sixth grade, when I was selected to a basketball all-star team. This had nothing to do with my ability, and everything to do with the fact that I was an extra-wide body and one of the tallest kids in my grade. Nevertheless, I thought this great honor merited a new pair of sneakers, and since my toes were curling up in the pair I'd started the school year with, my parents reluctantly agreed.

I actually thought that I had sold my mom on the many, many merits of Chucks. Unfortunately, however, she always went to Sears first whenever it was time to buy us clothes (yup, my brothers and I wore the dreaded Toughskins), and I guess she viewed sneakers as falling into the clothes category, not the sporting goods category. That proved to be my downfall, because the guy in the Sears shoe department immediately pointed my mom to the Sears-brand sneakers. He showed my mom an ad for the shoes that said that they were "Made by Converse Expressly for Sears," and they were $2.00 cheaper than the Chucks I wanted at the sporting goods store. Needless to say, 15 minutes later, I walked out of the store with a perfectly serviceable pair of shoes, but ones that said "Sears" instead of "Converse" in the little white ball on the side of the ankle.

That would've been bad enough, but Sears was never content until they'd sufficiently ugly-fied their store brand products to make them a source of everlasting humiliation to the kids who got stuck wearing them. This corporate sadism had to be the reason for that gigantic hard plastic belt tag they stuck on Toughskins jeans, which couldn't be removed with a blowtorch and served no purpose other than to alert everyone within 50 feet that you weren't wearing Levi's. In the sneaker category, this sadism manifested itself in an obnoxious and useless ankle pad that they added at the back of their ersatz-Chucks. The thing looked like a giant plastic blister, and was a dead giveaway that what I had on my feet wasn't a Converse basketball shoe.

The next season, I took another crack at a pair of Chucks, and I was well on my way to them, until my mom happened upon a sale on Pro-Keds-- blue Pro-Keds. My basketball uniform was white with black and gold numbers, so it's fair to say that the Pro-Keds were a fashion don't. Still, they weren't from Sears, and I consoled myself with the fact that I was at least decked out in a semi-respectable brand of canvas.

I made one final try during my 8th grade basketball season. This one was the most tantalizing near miss of them all. I sold my mom on my need for Converse, but when we got to the sporting goods store, I discovered that right next to my beloved yet elusive Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars were a pair of Converse "Coach" sneakers, the All-Star's cheaper and infinitely less cool cousin. Guess which pair I walked out of the store with?

My basketball career ended following my 8th grade season, which I mostly spent being dispatched to commit hard fouls on guys who were outmuscling our twig of a center. (My 8th grade coach seemed to have learned all he knew about basketball from watching the 1974 Philadelphia Flyers play hockey). So, that was it as far as my dream sneakers were concerned.

Well, not quite. I did buy a pair with my own money (now there's a novel concept) shortly after I got my first job, and I've had a pair in my closet ever since. I don't wear them much anymore, but it's nice to know they're there.

Better Pitching Through Chemistry

Former Tribe gasoline can and current New York Met Guillermo Mota was suspended for 50 games for using a performance enhancing drug. If Mota started doping when he joined the Mets, he's a walking advertisement for the benefits of steroid use. Mota had a 6.21 ERA in 34 appearances with the Indians before being traded. He had a 1.00 ERA in 18 appearances with the Mets.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Light it UP!

I can't remember the last time I really looked forward to the start of the NBA season, but man, am I ever looking forward to the start of this one. Hell, even the Cavs' website intro is firing me up--and I'm not anybody's idea of a big pro hoops fan.

It's been almost 10 years since we've had a team in this town where the relevant question isn't "have they hit bottom?" but "how far can they go?" Yeah, I know that we all talked ourselves into 90 wins for the Tribe this season, but in hindsight, we should've known better. I don't think you can say that about the Cavs.

Can they win it all? Maybe not, but they can sure make it interesting. SI ranks them only 7th best overall and ESPN ranks them even lower, but EA Sports' NBA Live simulation predicts that the Cavs will make the NBA finals, and so does the Stanford Daily. Sure, it's a student newspaper, but on the other hand, what were your SATs, bunky?

Whatever you think of their chances to grab this town's first title since 1964, this is a team that won 50 games last year and came within a whisker of the Eastern Conference finals. The conference is better this season, but so are they. More importantly, so is he.

Now, this is the point where we traditionally start snapping patella tendons, right?

Unitas v. Manning

Somewhere out there in cyberspace, there's a man who believes that Peyton Manning is a greater quarterback than Johnny Unitas. I find that to be an astonishing claim. Peyton Manning is an amazing talent and a sure thing for enshrinement in Canton, but he's not Johnny Unitas.

Guys like Marino, Manning and Favre put up eye-popping numbers that dwarf those of the old timers. But when you look at the accomplishments of guys like Unitas, Y.A. Tittle and Otto Graham, you've got to bear in mind that football during their day was played with two-back, two-receiver sets, and without a lot of the limits on the defense that have made the passing game such a joke that an average player like Vinny Interceptaverde can rank sixth on the all-time list of passing yardage leaders.

The changes in the game aside, there's one gigantic difference between Manning and Unitas, and that's in their heads. Unitas was a team leader with unquestioned mental toughness. Manning is not. It would be inconceivable to anyone who played with Unitas that he would publicly point the finger at teammates like Manning did after his last playoff fiasco.

For example, in Tom Callahan's new biography of Unitas, he tells a story about how Unitas threw an interception because the receiver ran the wrong pattern. Unitas grabbed the guy on the bench, ripped him a new orifice, and told him he'd better learn the plays or he'd never see the ball again. After the game, a reporter asked him about the play, and Unitas said "It was my fault. I overthrew the ball." Taking care of business privately and taking the heat publicly was one of Johnny U's trademarks, and it's a big part of the reason why his old teammates still are very pugnacious when it comes to defending his legacy against challenges like this one.

I'll be honest with you -- as good as he is, Peyton wouldn't even be my top choice if I had to pick a QB solely from members of the Manning family. Frankly, I'd take his dad, Archie Manning, who is the first college QB I remember watching and is still the greatest I ever saw. I also think Archie is one of the most underrated NFL QBs of all time. Archie Manning's career stats aren't real impressive, but he spent almost his entire career with the godawful New Orleans Saints, and still managed to get selected to two Pro Bowls.

Surrounded by even halfway decent talent, I think Archie might have rewritten every record long before his whiny offspring had the chance to do so. For example, not only was Manning was selected NFC player of the year the only time he played for a .500 team, but in 1972, the guy even led the NFC in passing on a team that went 2-11-1! Archie Manning also got the crap beat out of him every weekend, without complaint. He didn't try to be a good teammate. He was one.