Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Best Headline Ever

If you're a Cavs fan, the headlines just don't get better than this one. Put that one in your pipe and smoke it, Bill Simmons.

Fussing Over Football Fields

The rain-soaked abomination of a football game that Pittsburgh and Miami played on Monday night has a lot of people whining over the condition of Heinz Field. Sure, the field was a mess, but on the other hand, you're playing football in late November in the northern part of the United States. What the hell do you expect?

I guess the answer is that people expect quite a bit out of football fields these days. NFL fields start out the season better manicured than Augusta National's fairways, but they definitely endure a pounding. It's just unreasonable to think that natural grass fields in Cleveland and Pittsburgh are going to be anything but painted green dirt by this time of year, and efforts to prevent that by madly resodding fields after the growing season has ended only make this worse.

Of course, weird decisions like allowing four high school games and a college game to be played on Heinz Field right before a Steelers home game contribute to the problem, but I can't help but think that the team's efforts to fuss around with that field only made things worse. Come to think of it, efforts like this usually do make things worse. Remember the mess that the Horseshoe turned into last season? The Buckeyes replaced the field twice during the 2006 season, and ultimately decided to throw in the towel and put in Field Turf.

The Browns have had more success with their natural grass field, but only because they go to heroic lengths to keep it up. Think your neighbor is a Lawn Nazi? Check out the Browns' groundskeepers.

Back in the day, teams just didn't fuss with their fields this much. Remember when it rained, and players actually got mud on their uniforms? That didn't bother me. In fact, when I was a kid, the ability to roll around in the mud without your mom yelling at you was one of the best things about playing football. Now when it rains on college or pro fields, players just get wet, not dirty. Want to know why? The invention of something called Prescription Athletic Turf back in the early 1970s. This stuff and variants on it suck the water away from the grass and the soil underneath it, and prevent the ground from getting soggy, even if you're playing in a monsoon.

I guess these improvements to the playing fields are a good thing from the perspective of player safety, but I really do miss the mud. Besides that, I just think teams have gotten to the point where they've lost their perspective. Sure, you want a safe field for the guys you've invested millions of dollars in to play on, but you shouldn't aim to have a PGA Tour fairway to play on in Cleveland, Pittsburgh or Chicago in December. It just ain't gonna happen, and if you want it to, you're better off putting in Field Turf than trying to resod dead fields in December or January.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but it seems to me that two things in sports that just aren't as tough as they used to be are pitchers' arms and football playing fields. Then again, maybe it's just that teams obsess about these things a lot more than they once did. In any event, crotchety old man that I am, I liked things better the way they used to be. A little painted green dirt never hurt anybody.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Make Room on The Bandwagon for Me

Okay, I give. The 2007 Cleveland Browns have finally overcome all of the defense mechanisms that I've built up over the years of futility that we've endured since 1999. I'm officially jumping on the "this team's going to the playoffs" bandwagon.

To me, there's always been an air of unreality to the Browns' success this season. Early on, the Browns gave all of the signs of being a team in complete disarray. They appeared to have wasted an entire training camp on a QB contest that proved so futile that they pressed the reset button on the day after the Pittsburgh game, and jettisoned their most experienced QB in favor of a guy with size 17 feet and four NFL starts.

Trading Frye and putting the season in Anderson's hands seemed to be a reckless gamble by a desperate front office, but if it was, it paid off in spades during the first part of the season. Putting Anderson in charge was like adding rocket fuel to the offense's gas tank. The Browns responded immediately, and found themselves 3-3 at the bye, with wins against both the Ravens and the Bengals to their credit. That record came as a shock to me, and I think to quite a few other fans as well. After the week one meltdown, I thought the most likely scenario for the bye week was a 1-5 record, an interim head coach, and the beginning of the Brady Quinn era.

Despite the team's early success, a lot of questions remained. The defense was terrible, and every game was a track meet. How far could the Browns go knowing that they'd have to win a scoring contest each week? Then there were the penalties, which seemed to come in bunches. The Rams game, in particular, became a comic opera. The Browns opened the third quarter with a nice scoring 80 yard scoring drive. The only trouble was, they actually drove 105 yards thanks to a holding penalty and three false starts. It got worse after that. Remember the last drive of the third quarter? The Browns managed to get a field goal despite 30 yards in penalties, including Braylon Edwards' memorable Dwayne Rudd impersonation.

Those problems persisted well after the bye, and they were added to in recent weeks by the team's lackluster second half performances against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Anderson appeared a lot less confident than he had earlier in the season, especially during the second half of those games. The Browns blew a 21-6 second quarter lead against Pittsburgh and a 27-14 fourth quarter lead against Baltimore. But for the miraculous chain of events that sent the Ravens game into overtime, the Browns would have entered the Texans game with back-to-back losses.

The Browns' recent troubles weren't lost on the local media. Just yesterday, Bill Livingston wrote an unusually coherent column in which he pointed out many of the concerns that fans had about Derek Anderson's performance in recent weeks. In particular, Livingston noted Anderson's lackluster performances against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and the fact that his best outings have occurred against the league's worst defenses.

So despite their record, the Browns faced a lot of questions going into the Houston game, and the good news is, they answered some of them in pretty convincing fashion. As usual, Terry Pluto said it best in his column this morning: it was the team's best performance of the season, and exactly how a playoff team performs at home.

No, it wasn't perfect. The Browns came out flat at the start of the game. Anderson misfired several times, and the play calling was uninspired to say the least. Uninspired, that is, unless your favorite short yardage play is "Metcalf up the middle," in which case the play calling in the first quarter was brilliant. That's because in their first two possessions, the Browns twice threw a running back without a lead blocker into the teeth of the Houston defense on third and fourth down short yardage situations. The first victim was Jason Wright, who wiffed on 3rd and 2 during the Browns first possession, while the second was Lawrence Vickers, who came up empty on 4th and 1 during the team's second series.

Meanwhile, the Texans picked the Cleveland secondary apart on a six play touchdown drive, and pretty much dominated the first quarter, outgaining the Browns 125 yards to 43, and holding the ball for almost nine minutes. Things looked pretty bleak for the Browns, but the tide turned quickly in the second quarter, starting with D'Qwell Jackson's interception of Matt Schaub's to TE Joel Dresseen. Jamal Lewis picked up three yards on first down, and the Browns picked up six more on second down.

That left the team in a familiar spot: 3rd and 1, but they handled it in an unfamiliar way. In hindsight, it was the next play that started me on the path to joining the playoff bandwagon. Why? Because the play was brilliant, and it showed me that there really is something that's different about this team -- it's just a little bit smarter than most of its opponents.

The Browns lined up in an I Formation, with Lawrence Vickers and Jamal Lewis in the backfield. Now, on the first two possessions, the Browns had lined up in a single back formation and tried to run the ball up the middle without a lead blocker. Looking at the formation and what the team had done on their first two possessions, it was pretty clear what the Browns were going to do: they were going to run Lewis outside, using Vickers as a lead blocker. The flow of the play headed in that direction, the Houston LBs bit on that flow and a nice fake by Derek Anderson. Meanwhile, Anderson spun around and hit Joe Jurevicius in the left flat. Thanks to the fake, Jurevicius had a lot of green in front of him, and he rambled for a gain of 25 yards.

What I liked about this play was the way the Browns turned lemons into lemonade. A lot of teams set up defenses for deception based on what they've done well. For example, a team with a strong power running game is often in an excellent position to use play action or to run misdirection. But what the Browns did was a little different. They deceived the Texans by using their past failures to set up a strong perception about what play was coming, and then did something completely unexpected. That's very smart football, and the ability to game plan on the fly like that distinguishes this team from a lot of other teams in the NFL.

That 3rd down conversion marked a turning point in the game. The Browns went on to score on Anderson's 19 yard strike to Edwards, and although the Texans responded with a field goal, the Browns were pretty much in control of the game from the second quarter on.

There were many things to be happy about yesterday, not the least of which was the way the defense stepped up and shut down a team that actually has a decent offense (the Texans rank 11th out of 32 teams). The Browns also demonstrated an ability to play the second half of a game as well or better than the first half, showed that Jamal Lewis remains a viable weapon, and showed that they could deliver a knock-out blow to an opponent when given the opportunity. Penalties remain an area of concern, but aside from that, you can't ask for much more out of a game than what the Browns delivered yesterday.

The Browns' final five games of the season all involve opponents with sub .500 records. That doesn't mean that you can pencil the Browns in for 11 or 12 wins, but I do think that 9 or 10 wins is a reasonable expectation at this point. The Browns are a young team with a lot of flaws. They will lose some games to teams they should beat, and I doubt very much that they'll storm into the playoffs or unseat Pittsburgh as the divisional champ. But assuming they stay healthy, I do think their chances of ending up in the playoffs when the dust settles are pretty darn good -- and the reason for that has as much to do with the smarts they've shown as the talent they've got.

So, make room on the bandwagon for one more. HERE WE GO BROWNIES! HERE WE GO! WOOF! WOOF!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

My Name is Kobayashi. I Work for Larry Dolan.

Talk about irony. On a day when former Indian and Steely McBeam confidant Kaz Tadano announced that he was returning to Japan, the club again turned to the Land of the Rising Sun for pitching help, and announced the signing of Chiba Lotte Marines reliever Masahide Kobayashi. Kobayashi has over 200 career saves in his nine year career, and the Tribe is hopeful that he can add more depth to the back end of the bullpen.

What I want to know is when are they going to finally sign somebody from my favorite Japanese team, The Nippon Ham Fighters? Mmmm. . .pork chops.

Anyway, my pal the Starfish said yesterday that Masahide Kobayashi is a great name for a baseball player, and I couldn't agree more. If I were a Japanese guy, I think I'd want my name to be "Kobayashi." I dunno, there's just a real Samurai-style coolness to that name.

In fact, it's so cool that I'm not even bothered by the fact that it's also the name of that hot dog eating guy (shown here getting his ass kicked in an eating contest by a giant bear), or that the Star Trek dorks love the name too. As Vinny and I both remembered yesterday, Kobayashi was also the name of Keyser Soze's lawyer in The Usual Suspects ("My Name is Kobayashi. I work for Keyser Soze."), and that 's cool enough to make up for the Star Trek thing.

According to Wikipedia, Kobayashi means small forest and is the ninth most common Japanese surname. Whatever. I hope the guy can pitch.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Win's a Win, But...

While everybody is still jazzed up about the wild ending to yesterday's game, I think Kellen Winslow's reaction to yesterday's game is probably the most appropriate one. K2 was reportedly a little down in the locker room, and was quoted as saying "We've got to play better. We didn't play well in the second half. We've got to play better, man."

All's well that ends well, but for the second week in a row, the Browns blew a big lead to a division opponent on the road. It's somewhat understandable if the opponent in question is the Pittsburgh Steelers, but to blow a 27-14 lead at the beginning of the 4th quarter to the likes of Kyle Boller and the anemic Baltimore Ravens offense is pretty disturbing.

The Browns are starting to have fans thinking about playoff possibilities. They've certainly got a golden opportunity to make a playoff run, but if they continue to take their foot off the gas pedal and try to sit on a lead, they aren't going anywhere. They simply don't have the defensive firepower to play that way and win consistently.

As far as I'm concerned, the Brown simply must make the playoffs this season, if for no other reason than to avoid having CBS's 5th or 6th team announcers assigned to most of their games. Otherwise, we'll be stuck with the likes of Gus Johnson and Steve Tasker or Ian Eagle and Solomon Wilcots calling Browns games for the foreseeable future.

Wilcots, who has very nearly perfected the "frequently wrong but never in doubt" approach to broadcasting, was particularly grating yesterday. He spent a good deal of the first half wondering out loud whether the Browns believed that they were good enough to beat the Ravens, apparently oblivious to the fact that they'd already done so once this season. Then he somehow convinced himself that the Browns got a bit of a break when the replay system broke down on Baltimore's challenge to Carter's reception in the second quarter -- even though the replay that CBS broadcast plainly showed that Carter had both feet in bounds.

But the highlight of Wilcots' performance came with Dawson's field goal at the end of regulation. He and his partner were absolutely clueless about what was happening on the field. I can't blame him for that, since it was one of the most bizarre events I've ever witnessed. Still, you'd think that if he didn't know what was going on, he'd at least shut up until things were sorted out. Unfortunately, he chose not to do that. Instead, he kept babbling about how although the ball passed through the uprights, it bounced back in front of the goal post, as if that somehow mattered.

There are lots of reasons why it would be great to see the Browns make the playoffs this season, but I think that an opportunity to move up the TV commentator food chain definitely belongs on the list.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Hunting Barry Bonds

If you've read anything I've written about the guy, you know that I can't stand Barry Bonds and that I'm a proud member of the pro-asterisk crowd. But what looks to me to be a questionably motivated decision to indict Barry Bonds bothers me a lot more than anything that Bonds has allegedly done.

Keep in mind that this grand jury was convened just a month after Sports Illustrated published the now famous excerpt from Game of Shadows. Was new evidence brought forth in that book? Nope. As the authors themselves acknowledged, most of the allegations against Bonds that surfaced in Game of Shadows were drawn from information that was in front of that grand jury. In other words, the feds had all of the information about Bonds' conduct for more than a year, yet only after a big public splash was made did they decide to go after Bonds.

Over the past couple of years, we've all witnessed the parade of MLB superstars denying or obfuscating their involvement with steroids. This hasn't just been in front of the media; it's also occurred in sworn testimony. We all watched Raphael Palmiero adamantly deny--under oath in front of a congressional committee--that he used steroids, and then we watched him test positive for them only a couple of months later. They looked into prosecuting him, but decided against it. Mark McGwire's weepy evasiveness before that same committee could have landed him contempt charges, but didn't. What makes Bonds' case different?

Let me tell you exactly what the prosecutors will say: because Bonds allegedly perjured himself in a grand jury proceeding, and perjury in that setting strikes at the foundation of our judicial system and the rule of law. When they say that, just remember that these are the guys who gave a green light to waterboarding, so take their statements about their devotion to the rule of law with more than a grain or two of salt.

Did Barry engage in illegal conduct? most of us would probably bet that he did, but let me tell you a little secret about the American legal system: some federal criminal statutes are so broad in their scope that my educated guess is that most law abiding Americans over the age of 30 have at some point in their lives engaged in conduct that could get them indicted for at least one felony.

Remember, America hates Bonds because we think he took steroids, but that's not what he's being charged with. The feds are going after him for what he did or didn't say in the course of the grand jury proceedings. That allows them to charge him with crimes like obstruction of justice, which are particularly sweeping in their application, and are therefore particularly prone to abuse.

So, while Bonds may have done something wrong, I think that Bonds' high profile and unpopularity with the public have played a big role in the decision to seek an indictment against him. Federal prosecutors think that prosecuting Bonds will be a very popular-- not to mention career advancing -- decision. I think they're right about that, but I also think that prosecuting him is wrong. Barry is being singled out because he's a bad guy. But folks, being a bad guy isn't illegal. This is America. We're supposed to be better than that.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

All-Time Great Kick Returners

Joshua Cribbs electrified Browns fans again last weekend with kick returns of 90 and 100 yards against Pittsburgh. As Jeff Walcott's recent article on the Browns' web site points out, Cribbs is having a simply spectacular season. Not only has he surpassed Dino Hall to become the Browns' all-time leader in kick return yardage, but his 1,230 yards on kick returns is tops in the NFL, and his 32.4 yards per return average ranks him among the league's top five.

This is a golden age for NFL kick returners. For example, while Cribbs has given Browns fans plenty to cheer about, the Chicago Bears' Devin Hester may just be the best kick returner of all time, and he's only been in the league for two seasons. These guys accomplishments have allowed them to eclipse Dante Hall, aka the "X Factor," in the imagination of fans, but they can't rest on their laurels, because just last weekend, the Chargers' Darren Sproles became the first player since 2002 to return a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns in the same game.

The accomplishments of the current crop of return men may make some fans think that these guys invented the art of the kick return. That's certainly not the case, and as a Browns fan, names like Eric Metcalf and Greg Pruitt immediately come to mind as players who could turn a game around with a kick return. Eric Metcalf, in particular, is the Brown whose returns I remember as being the most spectacular.

Metcalf's greatest day was against the Steelers in 1993, when he became the first player in NFL history to score two touchdowns in a single game on punt returns longer than 75 yards. If I did this right, and you have RealPlayer, you should be able to listen to Nev Chandler's call of one of those touchdown returns by clicking right here. (It's also available on this page at the Browns' website.)

No discussion of kick returners would be complete without acknowledging Brian Mitchell, who ranks second all-time in total yardage (23,330), primarily as a result of the 14,014 yards he gained on kickoff returns and the 4,999 yards he gained running back punts, or the late Travis Williams, who averaged an incredible 41 yards per return for the Green Bay Packers in 1967. There were plenty of other great return men as well, including guys like Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, who was selected as the punt returner on the NFL's 75th anniversary team, and St. Joe's own Desmond Howard, who was named MVP of Super Bowl XXI on the strength of his 244 yards in total returns, and remains the only special teams player to earn that honor.

When it comes to all-time greats, however, I think you've got to give the nod to a Chicago Bear, but not Devin Hester, or at least not yet Devin Hester. For now, the guy who remains #1 in my book is the immortal Gale Sayers, who is still the only man to average over 30 yards per return for his entire career. Jim Brown was the greatest football player who ever lived, but I don't think there was ever a better open-field runner than Sayers. When he was healthy, he did things that I've never seen anybody else do with a football. If you check out this video, you'll get a sense for what I'm talking about:

gale sayers asks, Reggie Bush who?

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Sometimes I think people get too caught up about the wonders of today's NFL players, and how they're such great athletes and training techniques are so advanced that there's just no comparison between them and players of earlier eras. That's probably true for most players, but even in today's golden age of kick returners, I'd wager that the Kansas Comet could still run with the big dogs. Oh yeah, he could probably play a little tailback too.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Do The Right Thing

Romeo, it's time.

Please submit your resignation, or at least inform Savage that you'll do so immediately after the last game.

You're a lousy head coach. You might have been a good defensive coach, although it's not evident here in Cleveland with the abomination you and Grantham keep trotting out on Sundays. But, I'll concede that you know something about being a good defensive coordinator. What I won't do is pretend that you're a good head coach or administrator. There's too much evidence to the contrary. The loss to the hated Steelers today was yours. You earned it. Now, own it. Who the hell calls a timeout and then tosses the red challenge flag? That's the kind of shit that causes road rage. Who the hell loses two timeouts on one play?

You. Only you.

Don't you think an extra timeout might have been helpful during your last possession? I was watching the game with a bunch of drunks. Even they were stunned by your double timeout. Why don't you get a clue about running a team, or at least do what my pals did---start drinking and then go home...for good.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A Little Something for The Xs and Os Junkies

For quite some time, I've thought that Navy's Paul Johnson may well be college football's best coach. He certainly showcased his coaching ability last weekend when he and his squad put it to my beloved and beleaguered Fighting Irish.

I don't know about you, but I love watching an Option offense like Navy's. It isn't always the most exciting offense, but it is the offense that, at the college level, has enabled more out-manned teams to compete over the years than any other I can think of. At the high school level, that honor has to go to the Double Wing, but in college, it's the Option, hands down.

With App State's win over Michigan, some may say that the Spread Option offense will supplant the traditional Option as the choice of undermanned squads, but I don't think so. The Spread Option runs on speed, and the teams that do it best are those with great athletes. App State was smaller than Michigan, but its backs and receivers were blazingly fast -- or at least faster than anything that the Wolverines could throw at them on defense.

In contrast, the traditional Option depends primarily on discipline -- guys consistently being in the right place at the right time -- and on the QB making the right reads. For some reason I've got a problem linking directly to this post, but if you click here and scroll down to the post entitled "Simple Complexity," you'll get the best analysis of Paul Johnson's offense that you'll ever see outside of a coaches clinic, complete with game footage from the Notre Dame v. Navy game. If you're an Xs and Os guy, this one is guaranteed to make your day.

Monday, November 05, 2007

There's No Quit in Them

I took my sons to the Browns game yesterday, and boy, am I ever glad I did. They've been to several games over the years since the Browns returned, but I think you know what I'm talking about when I say that yesterday, they saw the Cleveland Browns for the first time.

There were so many moments of greatness yesterday that it's almost pointless to recount them all, but what made that game so great, and what made it so reminiscent of the Browns we fell in love with, was every player's stubborn refusal to quit under circumstances where the last several editions of this team almost certainly would have.

Chances abounded for this team to throw in the towel. First, there was Nate Burleson's 94 yard punt return in which no fewer than seven Browns missed tackles. That play put the Browns in a 21-6 hole late in the second quarter, but the Browns knuckled down and put together a scoring drive with less than 2:00 left in the first half.

Of course, they could've thrown in the towel when that drive stalled and they had to settle for a field goal after having the ball first and goal from the two yard line, but they didn't. Instead, they took the first possession of the second half and promptly went 69 yards in 11 plays. When Jamal Lewis scored on a one yard run, they closed the gap to 21-16.

When Seattle responded to that drive with one of its own, and increased its lead to 24-16, you could almost hear the ghost of Butch Davis warming up one of his "I'm tellin' ya what, these guys played their guts out today" speeches. Instead, the Browns actually did play their guts out, and after swapping punts with Seattle, drove 54 yards on the backs of Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards. After Anderson hit Winslow for a 13 yard gain on 4th and 1 from the Seattle 15, Jamal Lewis punched -- and I do mean punched -- the ball in from the two yard line, and the Browns just needed a two point conversion to tie the game.

They didn't get it, as Anderson's pass to Edwards was knocked away. So, with less than 13 minutes left to play, the Browns found themselves down by two points to the defending Western Division champs, who promptly went on a 64 yard drive that culminated in a field goal. That gave the Seahawks a 27-22 lead with 7:55 left to play.

Josh Cribbs returned the ensuing kickoff to the 35, but a holding penalty on Darnell Dinkins pinned them back on their own 11 yard line. Historically, that would have been the signal for them to engage in three ill-conceived pass plays, at least one of which involved a sack, followed by a punt and a game ending drive for the Seahawks. Not this time, and not this team.

Instead, the Browns got to work, and moved the ball 89 yards in 14 plays. Like most of the drives that the Browns put together yesterday, they rode Derek Anderson's arm and Winslow, Edwards and Jurevicius's hands almost all the way. But when it came time to pound out the last yard or so, they turned to Jamal Lewis, and he once again didn't let them down. Lewis's fourth rushing touchdown of the afternoon gave the Browns their first lead of the day, and Joe Jurevicius's two-point conversion made sure that a field goal wouldn't beat them.

That turned out to be a crucial play, because the Seahawks drove 67 yards to set up a game tying field goal, which they kicked just as regulation ended. That meant that it was time for the Browns to roll the boulder up the hill again, and that hill looked mighty steep when Seattle won the toss and got the ball to start overtime.

Oh well, a valiant effort, but we know how it plays out from here, right? Wrong.

The Seahawks appeared to be on a roll when Bobby Engram made his 12,oooth catch of the afternoon for a 17 yard gain, which moved the ball to the Seattle 47 yard line. But then a short completion to Engram was followed up by an incomplete pass, and the Seahawks faced 3rd and 8 from midfield. That's when things got interesting. The Browns actually got some pressure on Hasselbeck as he dropped back to pass, and he tucked the ball in and ran up the middle for an apparent first down. Fortunately, the replay rule worked the way it was supposed to, and it was determined that Hasselbeck was actually half a yard short.

By the way, Mike Holgren can whine all he wants about that play being overturned; it was clearly the correct decision.

In any event, that brought up the pivotal play of the game -- 4th down and about 18 inches to go. Fourth and short hasn't been an area of strength for the Browns' defense over the years, but they came up huge yesterday. The Seahawks tried a running play, but Sean Jones shot in from the back side and made the initial hit on Maurice Morris in the backfield, and aided by a tremendous line surge and a nice tackling by Andre Davis, the Browns shut the Seahawks down, and took over on their own 43 yard line.

Now, if you weren't at Cleveland Browns Stadium yesterday, let me tell you that the crowd had been on the edge of its seats pretty much the entire second half, but the Browns' 4th down stop in overtime whipped us into a complete frenzy. You could feel it. This was no longer about gallant efforts or playing their guts out or showing improvement -- these guys were going to win the damn game!

And they went out and did just that, thanks to a brilliant screen pass call by Rob Chudzinski that was executed to perfection by Jamal Lewis and the entire offensive unit. That play went for 34 yards, and together with a 10 yard run by Derek "Twinkletoes" Anderson, set up Phil Dawson's game winning 25 yard field goal. Dawson kicked it cleanly, and it split the uprights.

In keeping with the whole tenor of the game, there looked to be another bit of adversity for the Browns to overcome. As the ball split the uprights, penalty flags flew everywhere. The Seahawks signaled that the call was on the Browns, but it turned out that Seattle had 12 men on the field. The game was finally over, and the Cleveland Browns -- our Cleveland Browns-- were 5-3.

As I watched the exhausted, banged-up and, most importantly, victorious Browns walk off the field, I was reminded of what the Duke of Wellington said at the height of the Battle of Waterloo: "Hard pounding, this, gentlemen. Let's see who pounds the longest." Last night, it was the Cleveland Browns who took everything that Seattle had to throw at them, but kept right on pounding. Kellen Winslow summed it up when he said "I'm proud of us, man. We fought as a team...We deserve this."

The fans are proud of you too, and you do deserve this. This is a team that's easy to love. Sure, there are holes in the defense, but the Browns are exciting, they're fun, and as the entire team showed yesterday, there's no quit in any of them.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Browns v. Seahawks

This is a pretty big game for the Cleveland Browns. They are playing a team that has made the playoffs following each of the past four seasons, and that's two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance. A victory against the Seattle Seahawks would show the nation that the Cleveland Browns are legitimately in the playoff hunt -- that is, if anybody outside of Cleveland and Seattle were actually paying any attention to the game. Today belongs to the Colts and Patriots, and everything else is just a sideshow.

Actually, I may have even overstated the interest in Browns game when I said people in Seattle were going to be paying attention to it. While most fans won't be able to watch the Colts and Patriots here in Cleveland, the isn't going to be blacked out in the Seattle market, so I'm guessing it will prove to be pretty stiff competition for fan attention there as well.

The Browns are slight favorites in this game, but I'm not sure that they should be. Seattle is coming off a bye week, but throttled the St. Louis Rams 33-6 in the last game the Seahawks played. The Seahawks have struggled with the running game this season, and currently rank 22nd in the league in rushing. They apparently spent a lot of time over the bye week experimenting with various fixes intended to help the running game, but haven't made any personnel changes.

It's nice that Seattle has had a hard time moving the ball on the ground, but the Browns' defense is so atrocious against the run that it's hard to draw much comfort from Seattle's problems. The Seahawks have been more effective through the air, which is even worse news for the Browns, because while they rank a lofty 29th in the league against the run, they rank dead last in the AFC and 31st overall against the pass.

The bottom line is that, as has been the case all season, the Browns go into this game knowing that their opponent is going to score a lot of points this afternoon, and if they want to win, they're going to have to match them. So, that brings us to the Seahawks' defense, which has been solid, if not spectacular. The team's led by OLB Julian Peterson, who has more sacks than any other linebacker in the NFC (7.0) and is tied for the league lead in forced fumbles with four. His teammate, MLB Lofa Tatupu, is right behind him with three forced fumbles.

While Seattle's linebacking corps is intimidating, the good news for the Browns is that Seattle's cornerbacks are undersized, and Edwards, Winslow and Jurevicius present them with some significant matchup problems. If media reports are to be believed, Seattle may opt to put Peterson on Winslow in passing situations. It would be terrific if the Browns could force the Seahawks' best pass rusher out of the equation like that, but let's just say I'll believe it when I see it.

A lot of attention has been paid to the return of former Browns Charlie Frye and Brian Russell, particularly in light of the feud that's supposedly simmering between Russell and Braylon Edwards over Edwards' comments last season about Russell's hit on Cincinnati's Chad Johnson. I think that Rob Chudzinski's assessment of Frye's impact on the game (not much) is about right, and I think the biggest impact that Russell will have on this game lies in the fact that he's not wearing a Browns uniform, not his feud with Braylon. The Browns flat out miss the guy. As The Orange and Brown Report points out, without Russell in the lineup, the team's surrendered 18 touchdown passes this season, only two fewer than they did all of last year.

When I put all of these disjointed ramblings together, I have a hard time predicting a Browns victory today. I just think that Seattle's a little bit better than the Browns, and that it will show up in the final score.

Seattle 34, Browns 30.