Monday, December 10, 2007

Another Step Closer

Jets coach Eric Mangini is the man who ratted out Bill Belichick for using a camera to steal his team's defensive signals. After watching yesterday's performance by Mangini and the rest of the Jets coaching staff, I'm wondering why Belichick even bothered to cheat.

I guess that's kind of a cheap shot. The Jets aren't terrible. In fact, they've got a surprising amount of talent, and they certainly gave the Browns all they could handle down the stretch. But some of Mangini's decisions down the stretch yesterday were pretty bizarre, and have a lot of people scratching their heads.

Of course, the strangest of those decisions was when Mangini opted to kick a field goal with his team trailing by less than a touchdown with under two minutes to play and the ball on the Cleveland 20 yard line. I'm not a statistician, but I've got to believe the odds of making a 4th down conversion inside the red zone are a little bit better than recovering two onside kicks in a single game. What's more, the worst that could have happened if the Jets didn't convert on 4th down would be that the Browns would get the ball on their own 20 yard line. The Jets had all three time outs remaining, and if they could get a stop, you've got to think they'd get the ball in pretty good field position, with 90 seconds or so to mount a drive.

Instead, by going for the field goal, Mangini put the Jets in a position where they had to roll the dice on another onside kick, knowing that the most likely scenario would be that the Browns would get the ball in Jets territory. So, even if the Jets were able to shut Cleveland down, the Browns would have a shot at a long field goal or, more likely, would be able to pin the Jets deep in their own territory. Sorry, but I just don't see the logic of picking up three points in the hope that lightning will strike twice when the most likely scenario is that you'll end up with a 30-40 yard negative swing in field position.

As it turned out, the Jets didn't even get the stop they were counting on. Thanks to Joe Jurevicius's heads up play on the onside kick, the Browns ended up with the ball deeper in Jets territory than they might have expected, and they capitalized on that field position with Jamal Lewis's 31 yard touchdown run. That put the Jets down by two scores, and kicked off a mass exodus of Jets fans that left the stadium virtually empty by the time the game ended -- even though the Jets were able to get another field goal and make things interesting again before the Browns finally escaped with the win.

By the way, despite the fact that they were down 24-18, Mangini's decisions were so odd that I'm not entirely convinced that if the Jets recovered the last onside kick, they'd wouldn't have kicked another field goal with :01 on the clock.

Anyway, that's enough about the strangeness of the Jets coaching decisions. How 'bout them Browns? Sure, it wasn't an outstanding performance, but any win on the road is a good win, and this one had some pretty encouraging aspects to it. First, there's the play of Jamal Lewis, who ran for 118 yards on 21 carries. Best of all, 65 of those yards came in the fourth quarter. Lewis appears to be over some of the nagging injuries that slowed him down mid-season and looks to be getting stronger. If so, that's just about the best news that the Browns offense could get right about now, because there's just nothing better when the snow flies than a healthy power back with some gas in his tank, and that's what Jamal Lewis gives the Browns.

Anderson wasn't great, but he wasn't terrible either. He threw some bad balls, but also had a few catchable passes dropped. Considering the playing conditions, neither of those things is very surprising. What is surprising, however, is that the Browns only turned the ball over once. Remember, last week in ideal conditions, they turned it over four times.

Defensively, you've got to give the Browns credit for a pretty good overall performance yesterday. Yeah, it got a little ugly at the end, and I don't understand why this team couldn't put away the Jets when they had the chance, but they did enough to win, and at times, they were terrific. In particular, the goal line stand after Rhodes's interception was one of the best team performances of the season. That was clearly a situation where the team needed its defensive unit to step up, and boy, did they ever respond.

It was ultimately Sean Jones's interception that stopped the Jets on that series, I think the key play in that stand was the play before, when Robaire Smith, Orpheus Roye and the rest of the offensive line just blew up a running play to Thomas Jones. Instead of third and goal from the one inch line, the Jets found themselves a long two yards from a score, and I'm sure that watching the Browns shred their offensive line on the previous play had a lot to do with their decision to throw in that situation.

Defensively, I also continue to like what I see from rookie Brandon McDonald, who just seems to be everywhere. He got his second pick in three weeks yesterday, and seems to be developing into a pretty solid cover guy. He also appears to be a decent tackler, who isn't afraid to take on a larger player one on one.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the significant improvement in the penalty situation this week. The Browns were penalized only four times for 29 yards, and that's a dramatic improvement over their performance against Arizona (and most weeks, for that matter).

The Browns' win, together with Buffalo's victory over Miami, sets us up for something that we haven't seen in this town in a long time -- a meaningful home game in December. Buffalo is 7-6, just one game behind the Browns in the playoff hunt, and that means while the Browns control their destiny, they better bring their "A" game next week against the dangerous Bills.

Damn, this is fun! I can't wait until next Sunday.

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