Tuesday, December 31, 2013

View From the Dawg Pound, Week 16

At least I thought that when the game was over with so would be the suffering. No more Browns games until next August, and hopefully with a new quarterback, a rebuilt running game, and another threat or two at the receiver position. Some time away from the Browns would be good for all of us, from the fans to the press. But no, like a bad case of poison ivy that won’t go away, the Browns just couldn’t give us that well deserved break, could they?

The firing of Rob Chudzinski was not the defining moment of the season. Brian Hoyer getting hurt was not the defining moment. The moment that defined the season happened the day Trent Richardson was traded. Not the trade itself, but the fact that Richardson heard about it from a friend who had heard it on the radio. That should have told all of us how the latest front office regime was going to handle things.

Where was the front office and owner the last seven weeks of misery? Nowhere to be found. And each week they threw Chud out there in front of the press. To talk about a team that Ray Charles could have game planned against, with no running game, a carousel of players at quarterback, and a defense that spent way too much time in the field.

When Jimmy Haslem was introduced to the fans of Cleveland he told us he ran his business like he hoped to run his football team, by hiring the best people possible and let them do their jobs. Since he told us that wonderful news, he has spent the last year dodging lawsuits and pleading that he didn’t know what was going on as his company ripped off their best customers. He either has been lying or he didn’t hire the best people possible to run his business.

The fans will once again go through another season of change. A new head coach, new coordinators, new philosophies on offense and defense, new position coaches, etc., etc., etc. You better have someone waiting in the wings that is a proven winner on the head coaching level either in the NFL or a major college. A coaching retread, someone who has already failed as a head coach, an unproven offensive genius, just won’t do. But who is going to come here? An owner in serious legal problems; a front office that just left the last head coach out to dry; a general manager and team president who have less than stellar reputations. A first time head coach or a retread rebounding from disaster will be what we settle for. Here we go again.

The Browns disappointing 2013 season was the fault of many people, not just the head coach. They traded their leading rusher from last year; they added very little in the draft, especially a part time player with the sixth pick in the draft; when they were 4-5 and still in the thick of things no personnel moves were made to strengthen the team. None of that was the coaching staff’s fault. The Browns have five Pro Bowl picks, but had nothing but journeymen playing at quarterback, running back, and most of the receiver positions. That lack of talent was not the fault of the coaching staff.

I want to thank Lane Adkins and Brian McBride for letting me do this blog this year. I really enjoyed it and hope to do it again in the future. I’ll soon have all sixteen weeks filed on my website, as well as all the columns I’ve written over the years for the Orange and Brown Report. Check it out at www.gregcielec.com.

Greg Cielec

Section 120, Row B, Seats 3&4

Monday, December 23, 2013

View From the Dawg Pound, Week 15

What was more painful, watching the Browns/Jets game or writing this blog about it?
I knew when they had a chance to go up 7-0 early and had to settle for a field goal, that they were going to lose. When they didn’t score on a fourth and short on the next drive, everyone in the bar knew it. And after they blew a 10-0 lead before half, everyone everywhere knew. That’s the way it has gone this season.
Where do you start with this one? Probably the only thing positive about the afternoon was that the Browns actually had a running game, with Edwin Baker rushing for 64 yards and a touchdown (close to what Trent Richardson gave them weekly last year). The Jets were unprepared for Baker running right at them, the Steelers won’t be this week.
For weeks it was Brandon Weeden who was the scapegoat. Then it was Jason Campbell. But the problems with this team don’t start at quarterback. The Jets exploited the same things everyone else has this season.  Don’t worry about the running game, and take Josh Gordon out of the game. Let the Browns do whatever they want on defense, as the game goes on they will show their holes and start making major mistakes.
And speaking of Weeden, play him this week. He is the only one of the three quarterbacks who the Browns can get anything for. Campbell and Hoyer have both been passed over several times by everyone in the league, but somewhere there is a coach or two who will see Weeden’s million dollar arm and will think they could do something with him and trade a draft pick or two for him.
And, just like proceeding weeks, the front office is nowhere to be seen. They let Coach Chud face the press and take the blame. It’s too late to blame it on previous regimes. This team has gotten worse as the season has gone on. A culture of losing permeates through the team and organization as much as anytime since they have returned. And I stick with what I said at the beginning of the season, this Browns team has talent and should have challenged for a playoff spot.
But don’t worry, they will send us emails each week asking about our fan experience. And next season we will once again see every gimmick used in every other stadium each Sunday until the NFL can’t be recognized from the NBA. And the new super scoreboards will allow us to see the replays of all those fourth quarter touchdowns the Bengals and Steelers and Patriots score.
And in this sad, strange, frustrating Browns season, the thirteenth such season in the fifteen years since they returned, the Browns have one more game that they could salvage for their fans. One more game to tell the people who pay for their salaries, that buy their uniforms and revolve every Sunday around them, that things are going to be alright. The Browns could beat the Steelers this weekend and many fans would consider the season a success. But I don’t see it happening. I see another game of field goals instead of touchdowns, of blown leads and a leaky defense giving up fourth quarter touchdowns.
And then after the game Coach Chud will stand in front of the press and tell them that it is all inexcusable. Another losing season in a long line of losing seasons. But don’t worry; the new scoreboards are going to be beautiful.
Greg Cielec

Section 120, Row B, seats 3 & 4

Monday, December 16, 2013

View From the Dawg Pound, Week 14

            Let me see, have I written this already this season? The Browns lose another winnable game. They had a chance to score a touchdown early but settled for a field goal. Quarterback play was once again good enough to win. The defense falls apart in the fourth quarter, including giving up a touchdown on a pass that should have been an interception.  That’s pretty much how it has been most of the season, that Thursday night win against the Bills seems like lifetimes ago.
Let’s start with the offense. Again, inconsistent, but good enough to win. Jason Campbell played well at times, but did his share keeping the Bears in the game with a interception that was returned 47 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter, and an earlier pick that was just an ugly throw. His box score finished at 23 out of 39 for 273 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He spread the ball around to eight different receivers, but no one had a dominant game like Josh Gordon did the last few weeks.
Recently signed running back Edwin Baker got 38 yards on eight carries, but for the most part the Browns’ running game was once again nonexistent. As I say every week, it makes the defensive game plan a lot more effective when you know your opponent can’t run the ball.
The defense did what it has done all year, play good enough to win for three quarters, and good enough to lose in the fourth. An early pick six by Tashaun Gipson was a big time play, and the first of two by Gipson on the afternoon. But it was another signature play that turned the game away from the Browns and its defense. This week it was a pass that almost could be called a ‘Hail Mary,’ except it wasn’t on the last play of the half or game. On the Bears first possession of the fourth quarter, Jay Cutler on a third and eleven at the Browns 44 threw it high and deep and Bears receiver Andrew Jeffrey came down with the ball between two Browns defensive backs in the end zone for a touchdown. Either Browns defensive back could have intercepted it, but neither did. Ouch!
The real story of the day was the fans. There were more at the game than I thought there would be, including a healthy contingent of Bears fans. Most stayed well into the second half and kept the Browns in the game. They really needed to be rewarded with a win.
Another home season has come and gone, and this one will have fans analyzing things well into the winter and spring. Most fans don’t want to here it, but the same front office and coaching staff for two years in a row; an abundance of draft picks; and millions of dollars under the salary cap make the future look rosy for the Browns. Let’s hope things aren’t screwed up like they have been so many times in the past.
            Pregame and post game notes…It was too cold for many, including us, to tailgate, so we hit the Hard Rock Café before the game.  A nice, festive crowd. The brunch looked great, we didn’t want to pig out saw we just had appetizers at the bar. They were good, as was the service.  And their shuttle took us to the game in time for kickoff. I would definitely do it again. After the game we warmed up at the Tilted Kilt, which had a festive atmosphere also, in spite of the results of the game. Maybe people are just getting immune to it? Again, food and beverages were good, as was the service. Maybe we should have just bar hopped all day and avoided the agony of the game?
Text by Greg Cielec
Photos by Dave Hostetler
Section 120, Row B, seats 3 and 4 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Note from a Living Legend

During 2012 we were involved in a project that resulted in us publishing "Finding Voice: Poetry by the Residence of the 2100 Lakeside Mens Emergency Shelter." We recently got a note from Nikki Giovanni about the project. How cool is that?

Monday, December 9, 2013

View From the Dawg Pound, Week 13

I thought it was going to be the best Sunday of the season. I’m sitting in the back room of the Nice Place Café in Parma, sitting amongst friends in front of two giant screen TVs. On one it looks like the Dolphins were going to hang in and beat the Steelers on one screen, and it looks like the Browns had the Patriots.

And then it happened. But this time it wasn’t the Browns fault. Sure, they didn’t recover the onside kick and they are going to live with that. But the roughing penalty on the Patriots second last touchdown, and the pass interference call that set up the Patriots winning touchdown, were both bad calls. Bad calls that came at crunch time in a great game that hurt a team that ended up losing that was playing their butts off. The refs did not bring their A game.

For those of you who think the Browns are going to be saved by a franchise quarterback in the next draft…Jason Campbell played good enough to win today, just as Brandon Weeden played good enough last week to win. Maybe there are more important immediate needs, especially since there is not an obvious fore sure bet at quarterback in the draft. That will come the year after next, when Jamies Winston is eligible for the draft. Sure, draft a quarterback, but don’t bet the farm on it. Find a running back, get at least two more quality receivers, find another threat at tight end, and get another quality defensive back.  But let’s worry about al that stuff in the off-season…

What could have the Browns done differently? Get touchdowns instead of field goals. The Browns had two chances to score touchdowns and go up 14-0 early in the game, instead they went up 6-0.  Besides that, it is hard to find fault. They were on the road, against a quarterback who is very good and because of who he is usually gets all the calls, and they played as well as they could.

And all the mouthpieces in the national media are crowing about the great Tom Brady. And, yes, he has been very good for a very long time, but if it wasn’t for help from the referees it would not have happened this time. And it has been ten years since the Patriots have won a Super Bowl, and it is not going to happen this year. They are very similar to the Steelers, an aging team that has not replaced their departed talent with guys just as good, with a stud quarterback who will keep them in games and beat 4-8 teams like the Browns. But just like the Browns, on Super Bowl Sunday they will be watching and not playing.

Once again after a loss I still feel very good about the Browns. It is hard to keep saying to keep the faith, but the team is close to being good. What they need to do is show their fans how good the future could be by winning a couple of more games down the stretch, starting with the last home game this Sunday against the Bears.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

View From the Dawg Pound, Game 12

All the fans wanted was a win. It seemed like forever since the team had one, and the loss to Pittsburgh last week really sucked. It isn’t too much to ask, this wasn’t Denver or New England or even the Steelers. This was Jacksonville.

The day started out so well. After last week’s bitter cold and strong winds, the temps in the 40s and no breeze seemed almost tropical. And although the numbers were down, those tailgating were quite festive. We joined the Becka Brothers in their usual Thanksgiving weekend feast which included deep fried turkeys, roast beef, homemade potato dumplings (not as good as when Mrs. Becka makes them, but still marvelous), pumpkin pie and all sorts of other gooodies.

When it was all finished and the scoreboard said 32-28 there was a lot of blame to go around….after the Browns score quickly to open the game, the defense lets the Jaguars score on the very next drive…After the Browns go up 14-7 and get an interception from Joe Haden and great field position the offense goes 3 and out  and punts….then with under three minutes left in the half Brandon Weeden has a meltdown, resulting in 10 points before the half for the Jags…the Browns open the second half with a nice drive that puts them back in the lead, but then miss a field goal and take a 21-20 lead into the fourth quarter…the Browns lose the lead in the fourth quarter and it is a total team effort. Alex Mack hikes a snap over Weeden’s head into the end zone. Weeden rightly kicks the ball out of the end zone before one of the Jags lands on it for a TD, but it still coasts the team a safety and the lead 22-21…The kick after the safety is a dud, and so is the coverage, and the Jags take over on the Browns 43 and march down the field for a field goal and stretch the lead to 25-21. The Browns have a penalty on the kickoff and have to start their drive on the five yard line, where Weldon hits Gordon on a slant that goes on forever in the most exciting play this year at First Energy Field and the Browns go up 28-25 with just under 4:00 minutes to go. The place is going berserk, Gordon is having the greatest game of any Browns receiver in history, and even Brandon Weldon is looking good.

Then, of course, it was all over before you knew it. An incomplete pass on first down had the Jags at second and ten, but the Browns were offside, the Jags hit the next pass for 25 yards, and then seven plays later score a touchdown with forty seconds left. Boy did it hurt.

Shame on the defense when the offense gave them enough big plays to win they couldn’t get the job done. Shame on the offense for not putting the Jaguars away by giving them at least 13 points…Shame on the special teams for not doing anything special when needed.

Another winnable game. The season starts with the Browns beating Miami 7-6 at half, only to lose 23-10. The next week they are beating Baltimore in Baltimore 6-0 at half, only to lose 14-6. Then after three wins and things look so optimistic, they are beating Detroit 17-7 at half and go on to lose 31-17. They then go to Arrowhead against the red hot Chiefs and take a 20-10 halftime lead only to lose again 23-17.  They then travel to Cincinnati and take a 13-0 first quarter lead, only to lose 41-20. Of their eight losses only the Green Bay and Pittsburgh games were losses from beginning to end, the other six games they blew a lead in very winnable games.

Is it ever going to end?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

View From the Dawg Pound, Game 11

 Another Sunday and another disappointing loss for the Browns. What can be said that hasn’t been said before? No running game, inconsistent quarterback play, special teams that aren’t, and an attacking defense that spends too much time on the field.
 The lack of a quality running game will not be addressed until the off-season. The trading of Trent Richardson still has to play out for the Browns, but it left the team without a true number one running back who showed consistency and flashes of potential last year as a rookie. They need to replace Richardson with several young, strong backs. The Browns had a meager 55 yards total rushing against the Steelers.
 Jason Campbell did not look great, and Brandon Weedon looked inconsistent against the Steelers. However, what you did see on several plays when Brandon Weedon looked deep for Josh Gordon you saw the offense the team wants to run.  The NFL offense circa 2013 is a downfield passing game, ala Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. The most improved quarterback in the league is Carolina’s Cam Newton, who has made the transition from a running quarterback to one who can throw the ball downfield. That is why I have said over and over it is not about Brian Hoyer or Jason Campbell in the Browns’ long-range plans.  They are looking for someone with Brandon Weedon’s arm. How the Browns address this I am not sure. The best college prospect is still two drafts away, and might be spending the upcoming offseason fighting rape charges. Against the Steelers, Jason Campbell went 14 for 22 for 124 yards, while Weedon went 13/30 for 209 yards and one pick and one touchdown. Probably not too bad of a combined day considering no ground game.
 Travis Benjamin’s injury has been a bigger blow to the Browns than anyone first thought. It took away the team’s only real speed receiver, his threat on gadget reverse plays, and, of course, his threat as a return man on kicks. In some ways he took over Josh Cribbs’ many roles on the team. Now those things are done by a committee of players and none of them scare the other teams during games.
 Very good NFL quarterbacks take apart attacking defenses. What Ben Rothlisbergher did Sunday was typical. When the Browns attacked he knew what areas were vacated and hit a ‘hot’ receiver with a completion. That is why the most attacking of teams don’t do much attacking against the Mannings, Tom Brady, and Ben Rothlisberger.
 Sooner or later an attacking defense has to be able to sit in its base defense and play football. But constantly rushing five, six, or seven men on play after play just leaves too much of the field open for good teams to take advantage of.  The Browns have a good defense, but it can’t rely on its blitzing packages and stunts to win every game. In games like Sunday’s with the offense sputtering and the defense spending too much time on the field, the opponent’s offense has seen all you have to offer by halftime.
 It was another winnable game for the Browns in a season of winnable games, even considering the Richardson trade, playing three quarterbacks, and only drafting two players. This is turning into the strangest of a series of strange seasons, another losing season that we will have to live with for another long winter and into next year.

Monday, November 18, 2013

View From the Dawg Pound, Game 10

Well, the best thing that happened is that we did not go to the game. We had traveled to Nashville on Friday to see the Vanderbilt/Kentucky game Saturday afternoon, and our plans were to get up early Sunday and get to Cincinnati in enough time to buy some tickets on the street and see the Browns/Bengals game. We did leave Nashville early on Sunday morning, but we hit terrible wind and rain and it took longer than we thought to get to Cinci. Also, none of the three of us had brought enough rain gear to comfortably survive the storm, so we quickly decided instead to watch the game with the Greater Cincinnati Browns Backers in a place called Slatt’s in Blue Ash, fifteen miles north of downtown. The weather remained terrible and the Browns played worse, so it ended up being a good decision.
The first notes I wrote down about the game were that Jason Campbell looked shakey, and the defense looked good. I think that pretty much sums up the game, although I don’t blame Campbell as much as others. It is quite obvious that the Browns don’t have a solid running game, and as long as defensive coordinators know this the Browns are going to have trouble on offense. And Campbell is not going to look good.
The Cincinnati Browns Backers were an older crowd compared to the Charlotte Browns Backers who we did a game with earlier in the season. Charlotte’s Browns Backers were mostly young professionals in the twenties and early thirties who grew up in Northern Ohio. Cincinnati’s Browns Backers were old school, many of them coming from families who were Browns fans back in the day when there weren’t even Bengals.
I was surprised to see so many of them at the sports bar considering the Browns were playing in town. However, I heard the same thing over and over again, that Paul Brown Stadium was an expensive and not very friendly place to see a game. Seats that go for $45-$50 in our end zones in Cleveland go for $85 in Paul Browns Stadium.  And most of them never really understood all that “Who Day?” stuff that goes on at the games. I know I’ve been there for three Browns/Bengals games over the years and it does get old fast.
The sports radio shows on the way home covered the obvious. The Browns should have gotten touchdowns instead of field goals early in the game, and very easily could have been leading 21-0 at the end of the quarter.
And, of course, the second quarter brought disaster. Fumbles, interceptions, two blocked punts, and 31 unanswered points on the board. It really took the life out of the crowd at Slatts, who were enjoying the game until then.
But what hasn’t been mentioned in the media, was the times in the second half were the Browns could have gotten back in the game. The Browns got down to the Bengals 34 yard line on the first drive of the second half and were stopped. The second drive Josh Gordon makes a great catch and the game is suddenly 31-20.  The hold the Bengals and make them punt, but on the next drive Campbell throws a pick on the third play. The Browns hold them again, but go three and out themselves. The Bengals then get another touchdown to make it 38-20 and put the Browns away going into the fourth quarter.
The Browns had three chances to make it a one score game after Gordon’s touchdown at the beginning of the second half and couldn’t do anything. As bad as the second quarter was, they still had a chance until the Bengals scored a six at the very end of the quarter.
Next week we are back at home against the Steelers. The Browns know what mistakes they have to eliminate from their game, but the Steelers will know that the Browns are weak at the run and will be sending all sorts of stunts and blitzes at Jason Campbell.
When I look back on my football weekend in Nashville and Cincinnati, I think of something that happened late Saturday afternoon after the Vanderbilt/Kentucky game. We were hanging out in the live music bars on Broadway in downtown Nashville and were inundated with Chicago Blackhawk fans, because the Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks were playing the Predators that night up the street in the Bridgestone Center. There had to be, and I am not exaggerating, thousands of Blackhawk fans in the bars and on the street. Everywhere you looked you saw Blackhawk uniforms. The Nashville paper the next day estimated there were over 5,000 Blackhawk fans at the game, over 25% of capacity of the arena. That many fans traveled over seven hundred miles to see their team play. I then I said to my self, that is what happens when you win championships.

Greg Cielec (cielec@hotmail.com)
Section 120, Row B, Seats ¾
Photos by Dave Hostetler

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Kentucky at Vandy in Nashville 11.16.2013

Our 2013 Football tour continued to Nashville for the Vandy/Kentucky game. Another great time was had by all, special thanks to the Ally Martin and the Vandy cheerleaders. Photos by Dave Hostetler.