Monday, November 30, 2009

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Nice way to end the holiday weekend, wasn't it? I kind of knew that it was going to be a bad day when I opened The Plain Dealer and read Mary Kay Cabot's interview of Eric Mangini. I know I complained about him giving interviews to the national media, so I suppose that I should give him his due for sitting down with Cabot, but jeezes -- the guy just comes across so badly.

Unfortunately, whenever he opens his mouth, Coach Mangini consistently manages to create the impression that he's got the integrity of a Cuyahoga County politician and the sincerity of Eddie Haskell. I actually kind of feel bad for the guy -- he's obviously sensitive to the criticism he's received, and even told Cabot that he wanted his critics to "at least give me the opportunity to express the other side."

Okay, fair enough. But then Mangini follows that up with a statement that he's got no idea where the perception that players hate playing for him comes from, because after all, "all of those guys from New York came here and they know exactly how I am..." C'mon coach -- is that the best you can do? Half of those guys came here in trades, and the other half were free agents who didn't exactly have 31 other teams pounding on their doors. The fact that they came here doesn't mean that they like playing for you, it just means that they like getting an NFL paycheck.

Mangini may be unconvincing, but at least he provides some entertainment value, which is more than I can say for his football team. After last week's head fake, the Berea Turds offense returned to form against the Bengals. Yesterday's game featured Brian Daboll's "Screens Gone WILD!" game plan, Grumpy the Aging Tailback, extremely offensive offensive line play, receivers who are so disoriented that they make a compelling argument for in-game drug testing and, last but not least, a noodle-armed QB who couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. In short, it had everything you've come to love about this season's edition of the Turds' offense.

The defense also didn't disappoint. The Bengals may not have passed the ball real well, but you don't have to when you're racking up 210 yards on the ground. As LB David Bowens put it, "They came out and ran the ball, what, 75 times?" It turns out that the Bengals ran the ball 45 times, but it must have seemed like much more than that to the Turds defense, which spent 38:11 on the field yesterday afternoon.

Of course, the Bengals didn't just grind out yardage -- they also ground up defenders. While the apparent season-ending injury to Shaun Rogers is the biggest piece of bad injury news to come out of yesterday's game, a total of four defensive starters left the game with injuries. The Browns have already been hammered by injuries this season, and you got a sense for just how bare the cupboard is when receiver Mike Furrey was brought in to play defensive back after Pool went down. So if you don't think things can possibly get worse, well, stay tuned.

Another week, another hopeless loss. Sunday, bloody Sunday. Like Bono says, I'm so sick of it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

It Would Be Nice If They Knew the Rules

This morning's Plain Dealer carried a story detailing the whining that the Browns engaged in after Hank Poteat was called for pass interference. I understand how frustrating it is to lose a game like that, but I've watched the reply several times, and the refs absolutely got it right.

Hey, mistakes happen, and sometimes they cost you games, but what really boggles my mind is that both Eric Mangini and Hank Poteat appear to think they've got a legitimate beef with the call on that play. Both of these guys complained that the QB was outside of the pocket, which according to their interpretation of the rules, allowed Hank Poteat to knock the receiver out of bounds while the ball was in the air.

Sorry guys, but that ain't the rule. Mangini and Poteat are confusing an exception to the illegal contact rule with a non-existent exception to the prohibition on pass interference. Generally, a defender engages in illegal contact if he makes contact with a receiver -- before the ball is thrown -- that impedes him in any way more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

This rule was put in place back in 1978 (and amped up in 2004) to open up the passing game. The illegal contact rule is probably the stupidest rule in the entire rulebook other than the Brady Rule, but that's not what's relevant to the Browns' situation. What is relevant is an exception to the illegal contact rule that applies if the QB is out of the pocket. The reason for that exception is that when the QB's scrambling, he's a potential runner, and any receiver can justifiably be regarded as a potential blocker. The NFL adopted this exception before the 2007 season.

That exception doesn't apply to pass interference. According to the NFL rule book: "It is pass interference by either team when any player movement beyond the line of scrimmage significantly hinders the progress of an eligible player of such player’s opportunity to catch the ball. Offensive pass interference rules apply from the time the ball is snapped until the ball is touched. Defensive pass interference rules apply from the time the ball is thrown until the ball is touched."

One of the things that the rule specifically says constitutes pass interference is "cutting off the path of a receiver by making contact with him without playing the ball." Check out Poteat's play (if you can stand to look at it again) and tell me if it wasn't a textbook example of pass interference.

Like I said, textbook. It doesn't matter that Stafford was out of the pocket. Once he threw the ball, the Browns couldn't have been penalized for illegal contact, and the scrambling QB exception to that penalty no longer applied. Unfortunately, the moment that the ball left Stafford's hand, the pass interference rule did apply --and the fact that Bryant Johnson wasn't the intended receiver does not matter. He was an eligible receiver, and Poteat's contact cut off his path to a ball that was not clearly uncatchable. Read the rule for yourself if you don't believe me.

Cleveland: The Best in the Business

...of creating heroes.

Perhaps no city's sports teams have done a better job of creating heroes and legends than Cleveland's have. Unfortunately, rather than striding joyously into the history books adorned with a laurel wreath, Cleveland's always the raison d'etre for the newly annointed. It's always some other guy, some other team, some other victory parade, and some other bit of history that will be remembered from generation to generation. Cleveland always plays a small but significant role in the emerging legend---the vanquished, the plucky opponent, the valiant opposition. The loser.

Long-time Clevelanders tend to have a "woe is me" attitude about sports that is fueled by a sense of entitlement resulting from decades and lifetimes of suffering. They view losses in big situations as something that was done to them, to the team, to the city, to the state, and to us. In fact, I suspect that the Cleveland sports teams of the past 50 years have created far more atheists than any church scandals.

We tend to sit around wringing our hands and looking for someone or something to blame , but we forget that the winner goes away to a new life as a champion. The Catch cemented Willie Mays' reputation as a stellar fielder and gave him a World Series Ring. Red Right 88 propelled the Raiders to become the first wildcard team to win the Super Bowl. The Shot was Jordan's announcement to the world that he had entered the big stage. The Drive, for the first time in his life, made Horseface a big game winner. The Fumble cemented that reputation. Last year's Eastern Conference Finals, at Cleveland's expense, introduced Dwight Howard to everyone outside of Florida.

But not all heroes are christened on a big stage. Yesterday, #1 pick, Matt Stafford and the lowly Lions hosted the Browns in what could have been dubbed The Pathetic Loser Bowl (If only Matt Millen were still with Detroit). Both teams entered 1-8, and to say each team's QB was "embattled" would have been an understatement. Stafford and Brady Quinn have been booed and jeered, and at least in the blue collar towns that follow each franchise, their manhood has been ridiculed. In the end, Stafford walked away a winner following a come- from- behind, game- winning touchdown pass with no time left on the clock. That's a nice win for a rookie QB, but because Cleveland was the opponent, it was even bigger and better.

On the last play during regulation, Stafford chucked a pass for the end zone that was intercepted, sealing an apparent Browns' victory. Meanwhile, Stafford was stretched out on the turf with what looked like a serious arm injury. However, as the great Howard Cosell might have said, "But wait. Cleveland had failed to reckon with the steely-eyed determination of one Matthew Stafford." You know how it goes. Pass interference in the end zone puts the ball on the one with no time on the clock for one last play. But, Stafford is so shaken up, he's taken out of the game. Duante Culpepper is brought in for the final play. And then, Mangini calls time out. When play resumes, Stafford runs on the field clutching his left shoulder, calls a play, and throws a touchdown pass. It was that easy. Lions win. Browns lose, and the scribes are left to write about Stafford's gritty performance.

Perhaps some day when he's elected to the Hall of Fame or holding a Super Bowl trophy, Stafford will reflect upon how his greatness began and think of the Cleveland Browns fondly.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What If They Win?

As the Browns prepare for their upcoming game against the almost equally woeful Detroit Lions, there's a nagging fear that's beginning to creep into the back of my mind.

What if they win?

If the Browns beat the Lions, they are looking at a schedule for the remainder of the season that is chocked full of the worst teams that the NFL has to offer. While they will undoubtedly get their heads kicked in by Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and San Diego, the Browns close out the season with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Oakland Raiders, and a Jacksonville Jaguars team that is much worse than its record.

The Chiefs and the Raiders are so bad that the Browns have a legitimate shot at both of those games, while the Jags will face the Browns (in Cleveland, in January) after a three week stretch in which they will have played Indianapolis, Miami and New England. So, as horrific as they are, it's just possible that the Browns might win all three of those games. Coupled with a victory against the Lions, that would make the Browns 5-11, which just might be the worst outcome imaginable.

Don't get me wrong -- if the Browns actually do improve, that's terrific. But the scenario that worries me is one in which they squeak out ugly wins against Oakland and the Chiefs in games that make the Buffalo game look like a masterpiece, and then cap that off with a season-ending "upset" against a demoralized Jaguars team that's playing out the string. In other words, without any meaningful improvement, the Browns could end up 5-11, with a .500 record in the second half of the season and a three game winning streak.

Given their bumbling, unprofessional approach to front office personnel issues, I have very little faith that the Browns are going to have an easy time finding the "serious, credible leader" they are looking for to fill the GM spot. If the Browns do struggle in their GM search, then bolstered by the team's second half "improvement," Eric Mangini might just be able to persuade the exasperated, desperate and gullible Randy Lerner that the guy he was looking for was already in the building.

If Mangini can pull this off (and under this scenario, he just might), that means that the man who gave us the 2009 draft will have the final say on who they get with the 11 draft picks the Browns have stockpiled for 2010. If that scenario doesn't scare the crap out of you, then you haven't been watching the same team that I have this season.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

EA Sports: Let's Get Them In The Game

Okay, I've got an idea. Let's all chip in and buy the Browns coaching staff an Xbox and a Madden NFL 10 video game. Then, instead of doing whatever it is they supposedly do to come up with an offensive game plan, they should just select the next week's opponent, play in Super-Sim mode, write down the plays that the computer calls and use that as a game plan.

Sure, that might sound like a ridiculous suggestion, but when you've got an offense that's as incompetent as a one-legged soccer player and as entertaining as Meet the Press, there are no ridiculous suggestions.

$20 says that the offense devised by the techno-geeks at EA Sports would get the Browns past the other team's 45 yard line at least once, which is more than the coaching staff accomplished last night.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thank you sir! May I have another?

Yup, I'm off to the Browns game tonight. I'm thinking of wearing no shirt, lederhosen and one of those things that they stuffed into Ving Rhames mouth in Pulp Fiction's most disturbing scene. While admittedly unconventional, I think that this kind of bondage-wear is the most appropriate attire for anyone voluntarily attending the ninth edition of the slow motion train wreck that is the Browns season.

In other words, if you show up for this one, you definitely have a thing for pain. Not only will you have to endure the coma inducing tedium interspersed with moments of slapstick comedy that Brian Daboll calls an offensive game plan, but you'll also be a participant in yet another nationally televised Cleveland joke. What fun.

I'll probably chicken out and dress like any other idiot, complete with my Bernie Kosar jersey to remind me of better days. I'll try to show up on time, if only to spite the knuckleheaded protesters, but despite the change at QB, it's not like I hold out any hope that the team is going to win, or even score an offensive touchdown. The Ravens aren't great, but they're good enough to beat the Browns. (For what it's worth, I watched the Glenville v. St. Ignatius game on Saturday night, and I think Glenville's good enough to beat the Browns.)

So that raises the question, "why show up?" Aside from the fact that I'm a season ticket holder and I've got some sunk costs, that's a question that is getting very hard to answer -- and one that an increasing number of fans are starting to answer by saying, "the hell with it -- I'm not going."

Well, I'm going, but I'm not sure why. Part of it has got to be the masochism thing, but part of the reason is likely even more unflattering -- it's probably got to do with the part of human nature that makes us slow down so that we get a good look at traffic accidents.

Maybe I'd be better off investing the money that I spend on Browns tickets on a good shrink. Maybe we all would.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How Not to Win Friends and Influence People

Randy Lerner and Eric Mangini continue to amaze. In this week's edition of the Berea Follies, Lerner and Mangini went out of their way to ensure the undying enmity of every sports reporter in Northeast Ohio by feeding juicy tidbits to the national media, while tossing little more than scraps to the local yokels.

Yup, in the midst of all the turmoil that has surrounded the Browns, Lerner and Mangini have said nothing of substance to any of the people whose livelihoods depend on their ability to cover the team. Eric Mangini did his usual version of coach-speak at his weekly press conference, while Lerner deigned to provide scripted replies to a series of e-mail questions submitted by The Plain Dealer's Tony Grossi.

But that doesn't mean the Dynamic Duo were completely closed-mouthed. In fact, when it came to the national media, they were downright forthcoming. Lerner gave an interview to Sports Illustrated's Peter King, while Mangini performed an extended impersonation of a human being in front of CBS Sportsline's ever credulous Clark Judge.

They ought to know better than to give preferential treatment to New York based national media at this point in time. Everybody in this town has a giant chip on their shoulders when it comes to anything related to New York, including the local media hacks. In a month during which Cleveland fans had to watch C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee duke it out in the World Series and watch the national media smugly speculate about LeBron's future --which they just know won't include Cleveland -- how smart is it to treat the local media like red-headed step-children?

Lerner and Mangini may think that things can't get worse for them in the local media, and may have decided that this kind of high-handed treatment is an appropriate punishment for real and perceived offenses against them. I guess they've never heard the expression "Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel." Smacking The Plain Dealer and the other guys around may feel good, but Lerner and Mangini, and their team, are going to pay for this decision.

I'm not shedding any crocodile tears for the Cleveland media. In fact, nobody loves a good diss of The Plain Dealer as much as I do. But the fact remains that for a team that is struggling to retain fan interest and avoid television blackouts, delivering sharp kicks to the collective groin of the local media by peddling the big news to the New York guys simply isn't good business.

Monday, November 09, 2009

It's Mangini's Planet

It looks like an anxious nation will have to hold its breath a while longer. That's because Browns head coach Eric Mangini has decided that he will not announce the starting QB for the team's upcoming game against the Baltimore Ravens until Wednesday.

Mangini must think that the fact that the now affordable Brady Quinn will start the game isn't apparent to everyone or, worse, that there's some meaningful strategic advantage to be gained by keeping this obvious information from the Ravens. If that's the case, he's venturing beyond garden variety NFL coaching paranoia and into tin foil hat territory.

Nobody cares about your personnel decisions, Coach, for at least two reasons. First, you have made absolutely certain that the team possesses no offensive threats whatsoever, regardless of who starts at QB. Second, Coach Mangenius, I think it's fair to say that at this point the rest of the league thinks that you provide the Browns with the same "schematic advantage" that your fellow Belichick Coaching Academy grad, Charlie Weis, provides to the Fighting Irish. Anchors Aweigh!

I will say this for you: you don't lack self-confidence or self-esteem. In fact, some of your recent comments suggest that abject failure has actually gone to your head -- the most notable of these comments is your statement that you'll be closely involved in the selection of the guy whose job is supposed to be stopping you from killing again. Talk about chutzpah!

I guess fans should've known for a long time that this is your planet and we should be grateful that you share the air with us. After all, that's something that the Browns' rookies found out during their excellent 10 hour bus ride to Camp Mangenius, that the rest of the team has been finding out all season, and that your lifelong friend George Kokinis found out for certain last week.

Thanks for yet another reminder, Coach.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

No Exit

One of the most fascinating things about the reaction to the Browns' latest off-the-field antics is the seemingly limitless capacity for self-delusion among the team's fan base. An erratic and impetuous owner throws his GM in the dust bin less than a year into the new regime? Not a problem! Ernie Accorsi will race to the rescue, transform Eric Mangini into a mensch, resurrect Brady Quinn's career, get rid of the brown pants, and then gracefully turn the reigns over to Bernie Kosar, who will lead the Browns to the Super Bowl and bring unemployment down to 3.0%.

Okay, so Ernie's not interested. Again, not a problem! We'll get Marty to do it, and Bill Cowher too, and Bernie will be in there somewhere. Here we go Brownies, Here We GO! WOOF! WOOF!

I've got just one question for anybody who believes any of these scenarios.

Are you stoned?

Cleveland is not a situation that anybody with any options is going to want to get himself into. The organization is a complete disaster, and the prospects for any kind of a turnaround are not good. I mean, my God, does anybody in his right mind want to work for Randy Lerner at this point?

Let's remember how Lerner got himself into this mess, because anybody considering taking the GM or head coaching job here sure will. After getting rid of Savage and Crennel, Lerner raced through the hiring process, fell in love with a coaching candidate whose track record was questionable at best, and then let that coach dictate his choice of GM. Now, when the wheels have come off, he punts the figurehead GM out the door while looking for ways to avoid paying him, and then who does he turn to for advice? A couple of disgruntled fans looking for 15 minutes of fame.

Holy Crap. Why on earth would any "serious, credible leader" sign up for a tour of duty with this guy?

Folks, the truth is that the Browns aren't even close to being a professional organization. The team doesn't know how to deal with the media, it doesn't know how to deal with the fans, it doesn't know how to deal with the players that it has or find the ones it needs. Nobody's riding to the rescue right now, and anybody who does show up isn't going to be here because he's looking for a challenge, he's going to be here because he's looking for a regular paycheck.

The media is fueling a lot of the speculation about Mangini's future and potential saviors of the franchise. They hate Mangini's guts, so they'd like us to believe that Mangini's on thin ice. But I don't think it's reality. There is really no good alternative to Eric Mangini right now, and he was shrewd enough, and Lerner naive enough, to make darn sure that was the case when he walked in the door.

Mangini's in charge of the team, and he's likely to be for the next couple of years at least. You may think he's a creep. So what? The Browns just don't have a lot of options. You may think that Randy Lerner's incompetent and should sell the team. Who cares? It's his team, not yours. Unless you're willing to hit him hard in the wallet -- which 10 years of experience tells him you aren't -- he isn't going to sell this team until he's good and ready.

So, about all you can do is hope -- against all evidence -- that Mangini will use the picks that he's stockpiled effectively and begin to build the nucleus of a team that can compete in two or three years. That's it.

Sorry guys, but there's just no exit from this mess.