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Monthly Archives: May 2012

NFL OTAs: What I’m Taking From Them

What I’m Taking Away From the Browns Offseason Training Activities (OTAs):

1) – It’s much easier to lose a starting job now than it is to earn one

Even if a player performs flawlessly throughout the OTAs in May and June, the athlete still has to continue to excel in July and August to assure his position on the field.  However, should a member of the Browns falter (i.e. missed assignments, underperforming or forgetting tasks on a given play, etc.) the coaches will make note of it and the player will likely carry that burden with them until he proves he can consistently correct his mistakes.  An example of this from OTAs has been the play of Colt McCoy, whom (according to reporters) has not performed exceptionally.  Can he still become the starting quarterback in 2012?  Possibly, but he will have to play near perfectly from here on out to do so – assuming he is still on the roster in September.

2) – Judging the players’ physical portions/abilities should done with a grain of salt

This holds true especially for running backs and linemen (both offensive and defensive).  A majority of their play relies on playing physically to defeat their competitors during the play to achieve individual success, which likely leads a good play by the Browns.  All running backs on the roster (from Trent Richardson to Chris Ogbonnaya) know how to run hard and hit the necessary spot during a running play.  For these athletes and offensive lineman, it is easy to block air and opponents in shorts; likewise defensive lineman have to push and try to get around players without pads.  All of these groups should perform pretty well in OTAs, so the real judging of these physical abilities should occur in training camp.

3) – The importance in this offseason for the Browns is evident

It’s no secret that there is pressure on the organization to improve as a whole and win more games – starting now.  From the owner, to the general manager and president, the perception is that they have not been as present at activities as they could be.  The fact that both Randy Lerner and Mike Holmgren both attended the voluntary workouts and focused intently on the team, (when that is not likely the case with other NFL teams) speaks volumes.  The 2012 season has begun and everyone wants the Browns to get better from day one; this should (at the worst) quell some of the concerns and fears of fans that believe that the front office does not care about the team.  The only issue that could arise is the possibility of micro managing which would be viewed as unproductive and may lead to Browns players second-guessing themselves regularly.  Fortunately, I believe Holmgren and Lerner know where the fine line is and will be engaged but not overbearing.

4) – Many non-skilled positions focus on mental aspects and learning

This is a very important period for younger players (especially rookies) who are looking towards getting some playing time and contributing on offense or defense.  Learning the playbook and what to do on every single scenario definitely boosts a player’s opportunity to be on the field.  Although this does not guarantee success, it is definitely a prerequisite; (as mentioned previously) these learned techniques and tasks in May and June must be combined with speed and strength in July and August for a player to be active on Sundays in the fall.

5) – This is a glorified passing scrimmage

The major focus during the OTAs for fans and reporters centers mainly around quarterbacks, receivers, defensive backs, and to a lesser extent linebackers (these groups are primarily featured in the passing game).  The coaching staff is hoping these practices demonstrate communication and timing between quarterbacks and receivers – especially among the projected starting units.  On the defensive side, the team looks for members of the Browns’ to have the necessary speed and ability to be in the right place at the right time (while not being able to jam receivers).  It will be very exciting to see Brandon Weeden anticipate Greg Little’s break on a ten-yard out route and hit him in stride, but until he can continually do it over the next few months, these sessions carry little weight.  Additionally, Sheldon Brown could break up multiple passes in OTAs but whether he slows down and gets beaten by the younger wide outs or not (when the pads come on) remains to be seen.

Conclusion:

I’m not diminishing the offseason training activities – they are valuable sessions in the offseason and a good starting point – but the team must build upon these practices if they want to get that spike in their record.  The bottom line for the fans is that OTAs give us a little taste of football in late spring, but the main course is still waiting in the wings (which many of us will be looking forward to discuss and debate).

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Posted by on May 31, 2012 in Offseason

 

Final Cleveland Browns 2012 Schedule Analysis

Breaking Down the Cleveland Browns 2012 Schedule:

Weeks 14 – 17:

Sunday, December 9 vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m. ET

Sunday, December 16 vs. Washington Redskins, 1 p.m. ET

Sunday, December 23 at Denver Broncos, 4:05 p.m. ET

Sunday, December 30 at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m. ET

Analysis:  Heading down the homestretch will include a couple of good storylines for the Cleveland Browns.  The first relates to a pair of former players and a former coach who were a part of the Brown and Orange.  Running back Peyton Hillis, quarterback Brady Quinn, and head coach Romeo Crennel are now members of the Kansas City Chiefs; all will likely receive a fair amount of “boos” from the home fans.  Quinn is currently the backup, but either injury or poor play from incumbent Matt Cassel could allow the reserve to see playing time.  Likewise, Hillis will probably not take a majority of the carries as the Chiefs employ Jamaal Charles for that role.  However, should the two receive playing time, expect them to have a chip on their shoulder.  If the Browns’ defense can game plan around on controlling these players, while still focusing on putting the offense in the best position possible, the team will have a good chance to succeed.  One major concern is how the Chiefs are building their defensive line (with their first round draft pick Dontari Poe – to complement other previous top draft picks like Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey, and Tamba Hali).  The Browns running attack will have it’s hands full, especially when including safety Eric Berry who will be a large factor in run support.

The Browns’ fourteenth game will center around one player – Robert Griffin III (or as many dub him, RGIII).  In March, the Redskins and Browns were both in a bidding war to trade up and have an opportunity to select the quarterback from Baylor with Washington landing the talented athlete in April.  There’s no doubt the media and announcers will play up the angle of “what could have been” for Cleveland vs. “what actually happened” for the Redskins.  However, the Browns selected their own starting quarterback in 2012 in Brandon Weeden, which will help further this discussion.  Additionally, Washington also grabbed a few higher profile free agents in March like Pierre Garcon and Josh Morgan (both wide receivers) whom the Browns had interest in.  Like a few teams in the NFL, the Redskins have not had a tremendous winning percentage the past few seasons (zero winning seasons since 2007 when they went 9-7).  It will be a race between the two teams and whether Griffin will improve the Redskins quicker than the tandem of Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden.  Provided they are healthy and can be factors, I believe the younger core of players on Cleveland’s roster will help the team in the latter part of the schedule, especially at deeper positions like offensive and defensive lines.

The Cleveland Browns have never beaten a Peyton Manning-led team – losing all five contests against the future hall of famer.  Now, the quarterback plays in Denver where the Browns (who have not won there since 1990 – that’s not a typo) are the competition.  Fair enough to say, this is likely the most difficult game of the Browns’ 2012 schedule; the odds are not in their favor and no one will give Cleveland a shot at even being competitive.  Assuming the rosters are close to full strength, I believe the Browns will struggle with having to stop a true two-dimensional offense.  Couple that with the strong Broncos’ defense led by Elvis Dumerville and Von Miller and it will be an uphill battle for the Browns.  The hope for Cleveland lies in three aspects; rookies and younger veterans exceeding expectations at this point, Denver resting starters (for the playoffs), and the chance at a large upset.  The first option is possible, as the past few seasons have included improved play from these players as the season progresses (i.e. Joe Haden in 2010, Greg Little in 2011, etc).  The second scenario is out of the Browns’ hands, therefore hope for victory will lie more in the visitor’s locker room.  Like previous games against the Saints and New England in 2010, the Browns could come out and play mistake-free football while forcing several errors on the competition.  If that occurs, the unthinkable could happen in the Mile High City.

Another regular season, another regular season that ends against the black and yellow.  The Steelers have shown that although they locked up a (possible) playoff position, they will play all their starters at least a majority of the game – this was the case in 2011.  Browns fans looking for an easier chance at victory will be disappointed once again; the team will have to earn this victory the hard way.  Whatever it may be – an inspirational speech, something to prove, or camaraderie from the previous fifteen games, etc. – Cleveland has to get some internal mojo and swagger when playing teams, especially division rivals.  This includes doing whatever it takes (legally of course) to get an ever-important win.  Even if the Browns don’t make the playoffs in 2012, a win at Heinz field would be a good way to end the campaign and give the franchise momentum and hope for 2013.

And there you have it.  Looking forward to the next three months speeding by to see these games.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Cleveland Browns 2012 Schedule – Weeks 9 – 13 Analysis

Breaking Down the Cleveland Browns 2012 Schedule:

Weeks 9 – 13:

Sunday, November 4 vs. Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m. ET

Sunday, November 11 BYE WEEK

Sunday, November 18 at Dallas Cowboys, 1 p.m. ET

Sunday, November 25 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m. ET

Sunday, December 2 at Oakland Raiders, 4:15 p.m. ET

Analysis:  This will be the most difficult, physically demanding stretch of the Browns 2012 season.  Victories will be hard to come by and the likelihood of injuries sustained will be greater than the other three parts of the schedule.  Will all that good news; the first in this four game stretch is a home battle against the Ravens.  Coming off meetings against less physical teams like the Colts and Chargers will likely help the Browns; the odds of a healthy roster should be relatively high.  During and after the game may be another story however, as Baltimore’s defense has been known to blitz constantly and not allow large rushing totals.  Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson will be tested once again, and both will have to perform to put the Browns in a position to succeed.  Also, the Browns’ defense gave up over 200 rushing yards to Ray Rice last season at home – I’m pulling for the new additions to help alter this and keep the defensive unit off the field as much as possible.  I’ve felt the team has been competitive with the Ravens the past few years and I hope this offseason (new players, another year in the same offensive and defensive schemes) will cause Cleveland to finally get over the hump and beat some of the better teams in the NFL.

Heading to Texas Stadium is not a common occurrence for the Cleveland Browns; this will be the inaugural visit to the new venue and the first time playing in the Dallas area since 2004.  For better or worse, this game will be after Cleveland’s bye week; I say that because that lay off gives the team a chance to heal but winning the game after the bye week was a crapshoot for teams last season (going exactly 16-16 in 2011).  This could be related to the new CBA rules mandating teams take off an entire week causing the athletes to be rusty once they return to practice and games; it could also be that teams played good opponents after their bye and were just defeated by a better group.  I view the Cowboys much like the Eagles and Chargers, they are a tough team to gauge from week to week and expectations are therefore difficult to predict.  There always seems to be some sort of drama around the team from north Texas (from ownership, the head coaching status, off-field issues for players, etc.) – sometimes they carry over to the field and sometimes they don’t.  The Browns will be decidedly underdogs coming in but I could see them making it tough for Dallas.

The once proud rivalry against the team to the east has been decidedly one-sided; the 2009 upset at home was the only triumph for the Browns over the Steelers in almost a decade.  When playing in Cleveland the past few seasons, there unfortunately have been a fair amount of yellow towels in the stadium for support of the away squad.  A large reason for this has been the poor record of the Browns and their fans selling tickets to the opposition.  I hope the team will have a respectable win-loss record at this point where Cleveland fans outnumber and create a less than common “home-field advantage”.  In their only recent victory against Pittsburgh, the Browns got to big Ben all game long and sacked him eight times; they also played ball-controlled offense – running the ball a majority of the plays.  I feel this blueprint can work again in 2012 and the team has better personnel (overall) to put the team in an advantageous situation.  The Steelers still do have ample playmakers on both sides of the ball and have shown a knack for pulling out end-of-game victories; winning this contest will not be easy for the Browns.  However, doing so can, at the least, give the fans pride and excitement (for the team).

It feels like every year the Browns travel out west to visit the Oakland Raiders – in 2012 it occurs in week twelve.  The Raiders (like the Browns) have not seen much success in the past decade; however both 2010 and 2011 demonstrated remarked improvements resulting in 8-8 seasons.  They are looking towards taking the next step and advancing to the playoffs this year but will do so with a bit of turnover.  Their longtime owner, Al Davis, passed midway of last season and coach Hue Jackson was fired after the end of the same campaign.  It will be interesting to follow how the team responds to the new leadership.  Also, the Raiders did not have any draft selections in the first or second rounds due to prior trades; getting only six players from the weekend (none of whom are expected to be big contributors on day one) may hurt the team should injuries or subpar production occur.  The team also did not make many moves to supplement the roster with free agents, but this was a product of their poor financial situation entering the offseason.  Maintaining status quo and Oakland will field one of the better offensive teams in the league (11th in passing and 7th in rushing) while struggling on defense (27th against both passing and rushing).  Fans of the NFL know that this rarely occurs, and the Raiders will more than likely either stumble from 2011 or continue to build with their many veterans on the roster.

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Cleveland Browns 2012 Schedule – Weeks 5 – 8 Analysis

Breaking Down the Cleveland Browns 2012 Schedule:

Weeks 5 – 8:

Sunday, October 7 at New York Giants, 1 p.m. ET

Sunday, October 14 vs. Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET

Sunday, October 21 at Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m. ET

Sunday, October 28 vs. San Diego Chargers, 1 p.m. ET

Analysis:  The Browns have karma on their side traveling to New Jersey to play the Giants in week five.  In 2008 (Giants), 2009 (Steelers), and 2010 (Saints) the Browns defeated the reigning Super Bowl Champions (I left out the Packers in 2011 as it was preseason).  I don’t know if whether the team gets fired up and has something to prove, or if the champs take Cleveland lightly, but it has become a perfect storm as of late.  For that fact alone I can give the team a puncher’s chance against the Giants; actually winning the game is another story.  I’m pretty certain if the rosters were placed side-by-side New York would have an overwhelming edge in many of the position groups.  The offense will be challenged all day, especially up front, and could struggle mightily; the Browns must match their opponent’s physicality in order to stay competitive (I’m assuming this will be a running theme for 2012).  In the upset in 2008, the secondary was able to intercept Eli Manning several times to escape with a win – the Browns will need a repeat performance to get the victory.

The rematch against the Bengals will pit two teams whose personalities will have likely changed since the previous meeting.  Both young rosters include rookies who will then have a few games under their belt; depending on position, the coaching staff may give these athletes more freedom to display what they are made of.  My hope is that the younger players on the Browns progress well, while the veterans continue to play at a solid level.  This is another very winnable game, as I believe Cleveland’s new playmakers can give them an better opportunity to score almost anywhere on the field (it would be hard to argue that this was the case in 2011).  To believe in a Browns victory here may not be all that crazy when it’s all said and done.

The first victory of the 2011 season for the Cleveland Browns was a triumph in Indianapolis; this year the rematch will occur in week seven.  However, the Colts will now have Andrew Luck at quarterback – among many new faces on the roster.  The makeup of the perennial AFC South winners has changed dramatically – I envision it will take a few seasons for the Colts to get their act together and be a power once again.  For the game in 2012, it will be imperative for the defense of the Browns to disrupt the timing of Luck as he continues to get accustomed to the professional game.  Like a majority of NFL contests this one can easily go either way; I feel the Browns actually have more talent overall and in a majority of units (which is not the norm).  Taking advantage of this incidence will allow a mistake here or there and still earn  a victory; too many though and an upset win could ensue for the home team.  I would not be surprised to see a more conservative approach for the Browns’ offensive play calling (at least earlier on) and have the game dictate where they go from there.

Another team the Browns have struggled against, as of late, has been the San Diego Chargers.  Historically, Cleveland will have one thing on their side that may help spring a victory for the team.  The past few NFL seasons has included several games with teams who play primarily in the Pacific Time zone traveling to the Eastern Time zone for the early set of contests.  Many dismiss this argument, but having these players’ bodies feel like 10 AM (instead of 1 PM) has proven to be more of an issue than you would expect; (from coldhardfootballfacts.com) Pacific time zone teams have had a .381 winning percentage on the road in the past five seasons.  This is much lower than Eastern and Central time zone teams – who had .446 and .439 winning percentages in the same span respectively.  Coupling this with the inconsistency of Chargers on a week-by-week basis (and the perceived uncertain status of head coach Norv Turner), and a loss is not guaranteed for the Browns here.  Having said that, the game still has to be played and the Chargers will still be likely favored to win; at worst case scenario I expect the Browns to keep it close.

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2012 in NFL Season

 

Cleveland Browns 2012 Schedule – Weeks 1 – 4 Analysis

Breaking Down the Cleveland Browns 2012 Schedule:

Weeks 1 – 4:

Sunday, September 9 vs. Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m. ET

Sunday, September 16 at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m. ET

Sunday, September 23 vs. Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m. ET

Thursday, September 27 at Baltimore Ravens, 8:20 p.m. ET

Analysis:  The Browns’ season opener struggles have become extremely frustrating for their fans (1-12 record since returning to the league).  Going against one of the more talented teams in the NFL will make it very difficult for the franchise to change this trend.  However, a few things will be in Cleveland’s favor the first week.  One is the revenge/familiarity factor the coaching staff and front office has with the Eagles.  Shurmur, Childress, and Heckert were all members of Philadelphia’s team a few years ago; Browns’ fans are hoping they can pull a “Mangini” and soundly defeat their former employer due to knowledge of the opponents‘ schemes, tendencies, and weaknesses.  Another issue with the Eagles franchise has been inconsistency from week to week; Cleveland will be pulling for the continuation of the trend, which could lead to unexpected opportunities for Browns.  The final aspect is that the Browns will likely have a few new starters on offense that can come in and be assets immediately (Trent Richardson and Mitchell Schwartz).  Additionally, Brandon Weeden is not a typical rookie and the team might employ a more complicated game plan than other rookies; the Eagles will not have ample film on him and may not know the best way to prepare.

In the dismal 2011 season, one team the Browns played tough both games was the Bengals; with offseason improvements, one would figure the franchise should have a fair chance at defeating their in-division rival to the south.  However, the Queen City has not been kind to the Browns the past few seasons (one win since 2004).  Going against a young playoff team from a year ago who also had a solid draft will be a daunting task for Cleveland.  The Browns will have to keep it close throughout in order to have a chance at an upset victory.  I am looking forward to the days of the team accruing a late lead and salting away the clock with Trent Richardson.  One way for this to occur will be for the defense to rattle young Andy Dalton and force the Bengals to rely on their running game (which, in my opinion, got worse in the offseason).  Whether the free agent pick-ups and draft selections of defensive lineman can stop the run will be the biggest question for Cleveland.

Jekyll and Hyde was a good description of the Bills last season; they had a tremendous beginning to their season (5-2) until they finished at a record of 7-9 (losing seven of their final nine games).  One of the more active teams in free agency, the Bills scored former number one overall draft pick Mario Williams who will make things difficult for opposing offenses.  Having said that, I do not believe their draft was so great to take them to the next echelon in terms of the NFL hierarchy.  I see this game as very winnable and can go either way; I am glad the game will be played at Cleveland Browns stadium.  Again, I feel the Browns will have to rely on their defense to force mistakes while the offense capitalizes.  This would likely be in the form of Ryan Fitzpatrick making errors, as their running game of Jackson and Spiller have proven to be solid.  Like any other game, it all comes down to execution though.

The only night game (provided they do not flex to Sunday night later in the season) in 2012 for the Browns occurs in week four against the Ravens.  This is one of the most difficult games on the schedule (even with the omission of Raven’s linebacker and reigning defensive MVP Terrell Suggs) as the atmosphere will be crazy and loud – especially early on.  The only way I can see Cleveland coming close in this game will be the possible let down from Baltimore’s previous Sunday game.  The Ravens have a huge meeting against the Patriots, a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship game.  Fuel was added to the fire when Ravens’ Coach John Harbaugh stated the Patriots’ Super Bowls should have asterisks with them due to the video recording of other teams.  Bill Belichick will have a chip on his shoulder and will not easily forget this; the Patriots will prepare for a physical game with something to prove.  Coming off a short week, the Browns could come into town against a (possible) beat-up team.  If this occurs and the team can take advantage of the Ravens’ situation, an upset is possible – otherwise there is little reason to believe a Browns win is in the cards.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2012 in NFL Season

 

What I Learned – Rounds 4 through 7 of the 2012 NFL Draft

A Few Things I Learned from the 2012 NFL Draft – Rounds 4 through 7

1 – The Browns’ front office has faith in their current wide receivers:

Entering the draft many people, including myself, were clamoring for the front office to select a highly rated wide receiver.  After the first three rounds, the position had not been targeted; but with their first pick in the fourth round, the team chose Travis Benjamin to fill this perceived void.  However, several analysts envision the shorter speedster to be on the field more as a returner on special teams.

This leads me to believe that Heckert feels Cribbs, Little, Massaquoi, and Norwood will haul in a majority of passes in 2012.  If Benjamin can have a reception here or there on a weekly basis, then that will be icing on the cake.  The front office feels improved quarterback play will make the wide receivers better than they were a year ago.  Many expect the Browns’ fourth rounder to not make a huge impact on the offense (at least immediately) so we have to believe the drafting of Brandon Weeden will improve (at least) two position groups.

2 – One (or both) of the drafted linebackers will see some playing time (at defense) in 2012:

The Browns chose two linebackers in the draft, James-Michael Johnson In the fourth round and Emmanuel Acho in the sixth.  Outside of D’Qwell Jackson and sometimes Chris Gocong, this was one of the team’s weaker units in 2011.  Scott Fujita, the Browns’ starting strong-side linebacker is 33 and has been on injured reserve the previous two seasons; I believe the front office’s expectations for the veteran are not as great as they have been in prior years.  Additionally, the overhanging three game suspension for Scott (barring appeal) from the commissioner regarding the bounties as a former Saints player must be taken into account.

Therefore, I feel Johnson will likely be groomed as a starter in 2012.  Depending on how quickly he picks up the defense in the offseason, and he will likely be the opening day starter.  Regardless, he will at least be a special teams player until he can prove himself to be a cog in the defensive unit.  There are only two other main threats for playing time at linebacker – Kaluka Maiava and Titus Brown; both are solid players, but if either of the rookies can wow the coaches then they will get the nod.  Acho will have a longer shot to get a spot on the defense in 2012, but having a full offseason could give the rookie a good chance to prove himself.

3 – I do not believe I have seen this much young depth on the Browns roster for a long time:

The selections of Ryan Miller in the fifth round and Billy Winn in the sixth helped fortify the offensive and defensive lines, respectively.  Since 1999, the Browns have had several members on these two units, however many of the guys were aging veterans and other franchises’ castoffs.  Heading into the offseason, many felt the right tackle was the only weak link, and after picking an athlete to fill that role (in the second round) the rest would be capable backups.  Miller is a giant who has played guard in college – his size is that of a tackle so assuming he can master the new position, he will be very valuable to the franchise.  Winn joins Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, Jabbal Sheard, Frostee Rucker, and fellow draftee John Hughes as members of the defensive line; none have more than six professional seasons under their belt.  With the several defensive fronts and situations (i.e. run or pass), one will likely see a steady rotation of defensive lineman in 2012.

Likewise Trevin Wade at cornerback will join Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, James Dockery, and Dimitri Patterson as potential members of the secondary.  Patterson is the front runner to unseat the veteran Sheldon Brown as a starting cornerback while the other two (and Wade) will be primarily on special teams and passing situations; Skrine and Dockery were rookies last year. Brad Smelley is fullback/tight end/H back that will compete with last year’s rookies Owen Marecic and Jordan Cameron for playing time; fellow tight end Evan Moore has played only three seasons.

Conclusion:

I’m not one for grading drafts immediately after they occur – I’d rather evaluate players after seeing what they can or can’t do on the field.  That being said, I like what the Browns did last week to improve the team.  Was it the best draft in the league? Probably not.  Did they select players where other teams perceive the picks went too early?  You better believe it.  However, I feel several of the 11 members will help contribute to the team next season, and from top to bottom the roster is improved; now I’m eager to see what the roster is capable of in the coming months.

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2012 in NFL Draft