Sunday, September 29, 2013

View from the Dawg Pound, Game 4

I went to bed Sunday night knowing the Browns had won 17-6 and were now tied for first place in the AFC North; the Steelers and Ravens, as well as the Bengals, had lost; and the Indians clinched home field for the AL Wild Card game.  Wow, too much for a boy raised in the suburbs.
And what about that game. The Browns/Bengals game left the fans in the stands at First Energy Field in a state of extreme happiness with a big dose of shock mixed in. On the field they saw the Browns defense play its best game in years against the team picked by most to win the AFC North; Hoyer, Cameron, and company did enough on offense to get things done; the scoreboard flashed that both the Steelers and Ravens were losing; and the Tribe was on its way to clinch home field for the AL Wild Card game by winning for the 21st time in September. It was just too much good stuff at one time. Did I tell you the Steelers lost?
            The story of the afternoon was the Browns defense that dominated the Bengals from beginning to end.  Lead by the teams three best players, Joe Haden, D’Qwell Jackson, and Phil Taylor, the Browns defense held the Bengals to just two field goals. The Bengals only once threatened to score a touchdown, but were stopped on a 4 and 1 on the seven-yard line when Jackson and Desmond Bryant stopped BenJarvis Green Ellis for a two-yard loss.
            Haden was suburb, spending most of the game controlling Bengals premier receiver A.J.Green. Green finished the day with seven catches for fifty-one yards and didn’t come close to sniffing the end zone.
            Meanwhile the offense is still a work in progress. The offensive line played better, but still hasn’t dominated a game. Jordan Cameron is playing like a Pro Bowler. Josh Gordon had a quiet seven catches. Chris Ogbonnaya had five catches out of the backfield, including a touchdown. Greg Little was a nonentity. Willis McGahee showed a little flash at running back, carrying 15 for 46 yards.
            And Brian Hoyer had another steady game. He does some things so well, especially a great touch on screens, short out patterns, and check downs. And he is 2-0 as a starter and deserves some of the credit for both wins. However, there is still the big question that needs to be answered. Can he throw the deep ball in what has been labeled as a downfield passing attack? He did not throw one ball in the Bengals game that you could call a downfield vertical pass. Cameron’s balls were on crossing routes, Ogbonnaya’s were on arrows out of the backfield. He hit on one pass to Gordon for 33 yards, and a short one to Travis Benjamin that he stretched for 39 yards. He needs to show us he can throw long or things, sooner or later, or not going to be good for him or the Browns. I don’t want to rain on our great sports day, but in the NFL an offense must be able to attack the whole field. Hoyer has not yet showed that he has the arm and moxie to do it. I hope he does soon.
            Browns General Manager Mike Lombardi has been much maligned in the press, some of it deserved, but you must give him credit for signing Brian Hoyer.
We should also be grateful for two things the Browns didn’t do, even though they very much wanted to. The first goes back to the previous regime and their efforts to trade up to draft Robert Griffin III. He is a damaged athlete who is trying to make the transition from running college quarterback to pro style drop back quarterback. The list of those who have tried and failed is long, Google Vince Young as a starting point. The second thing that didn’t happen was sign Chip Kelly as head coach. He is out of his element, as is Gary Scianno, and both of them will soon join Steve Spurrier back in the college game. And both will be successful there again. Kelly cannot practice, let alone execute in a game, his fast paced offense with only twenty-five or so offensive players that the NFL’s 53-man roster allows. At Oregon he had twice as many offensive players, probably more, young guys that can run on and off the field like deers. It’s just not going to work in the NFL, as simple as that.
It was a great day in the Dawg Pound. Very upbeat crowd that was really into the game, wanting to see if last week’s win against the Vikings wasn’t a mirage. It was a beautiful fall Sunday in Ohio, the type of day that Alex Bevan wrote about when the world was a younger place for those of us on the north side of fifty.
And did I tell you the Steelers lost and are 0-4?
One last item…I know the Muny Lot gets all the credit for being the big time Cleveland tailgate place, but I have to say the Flats still have it. I know we lost several big lots when the Ernst and Whitney building was started ten years ago, but the lots south of there are still a great place to socialize before Browns games. You can walk  to the game or take the Lake Front Line from the Settler’s Landing Station. If it rains you can set up shop under several bridges. You are close to some good bars like the Flat Iron, and you are not that far from the Warehouse District. Tthere is free parking on the streets if you get there early enough, and most of the lots are only five or ten bucks. Check it out sometime.

Greg Cielec
Dawg Pound Season Ticket Holder
Section 120, Row B, seats 3 & 4

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

View from the Dawg Pound, Game 3

I chose to view yet another road game from a real neighborhood place, a good local joint with sexy bartenders, great wings, cheap beer, and more than a few football experts. The Nice Place CafĂ© on the Parma Seven Hills border is that type of place. Football is king there in the fall, you can always get in on some sort of square game, they have a huge 33 pool, and there is always more than one game on the many TV’s.

Lenny is the owner, and Karen (pictured above) is the Sunday afternoon bartender.  They both looked glum when I showed up right before kickoff. Karen said, “Half the regulars aren’t here.” Lenny added, “Two weeks ago for a home game we had standing room only. Today the place is half filled.” I made some calls to friends around the city who I know were out and about watching the game, and I heard the same things from them. Favorite watering holes around town were less than filled for the game.

Was it a reaction to the Richardson trade? Another 0-2 start? What ever it was those who stayed away missed it, as the Browns gave us the most entertaining game in several seasons as they came from behind to beat the Vikings 31-27 on the road.

Not to say the Browns showed their ugly side. Once again they were leading at halftime 24-17, only to go scoreless until late in the game, finding themselves behind 27-24.

But after throwing several ugly second half interceptions, Brian Hoyer rallied the team and lead them on a game winning drive as time was running out, hitting Cameron Jordan with a seven yard touchdown pass with 2:30 left for the win.

The game was filled with heroes. Besides Hoyer with three touchdown passes, there was Josh Gordon having a huge afternoon with 10 catches for 145 yards and a touchdown; Cameron with 6 catches for 66 yards and three touchdowns; and unlikely hero punter Spencer Lanning who, besides punting five times, threw a touchdown pass on a fake field goal and subbing for injured kicker Billy Cundiff kicked an extra point.

It was an afternoon when the team went for the win from the beginning, with a successful fake punt, a strong attacking defense, and an offense that scored four touchdowns.

And now for a week fans can enjoy a win, and a week were the Browns are not last in the standings as the Steelers are floundering at 0-3. They head into a stretch of three home games in a row, Cinci this Sunday, the Bills the following Thursday, and the Lions the weekend after that. Is there a chance of the team coming out of that stretch at 3-3?

We are probably in the beginnings with having a quarterback controversy; with Hoyer being the fan favorite and Weedon haven’t yet to play with Josh Gordon.

I’m enjoying the win, but do have some immediate concerns about the Browns offense. Without a legit running game, and there was none against a weak Vikings team, defenses with work on stopping Cameron and Gordon. You can’t count on trick plays every week, and the Browns showed all that they had against Minnesota.

And the team and its fans still have the cloud of the Richardson trade hanging over it. The best quote of the afternoon came from my buddy Woz, a long time season ticket holder who regularly watches the away games at the Nice Place. “Just once I’d like to see a new regime come to town and admit that the previous regime left some good players. I hope this Richardson trade is the end of it.”  And I couldn’t agree with him more.

Besides the questions at quarterback and running back, can Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron keep it up? Can the offensive line return to peak form, not what we saw in the first two games? Can the defense keep improving? Is it just me or is Buster Skrine growing into a pretty decent corner?

The Browns still have a lot of holes to fill, but as I look around the NFL so do a lot of other teams. The first two games were very winnable, the Browns let both of them slip away and they did not have Josh Gordon for either. After starting out 0-2, finishing with 6 or 7 wins and beating the Steelers at least once would appease the fan base and make things look rosy for the future. Let’s hope that it happens.

The Browns don’t have an away game for almost a month, so the next three blogs will come direct from the second row of the Dawg Pound. But looking for the future, we are open for any suggestions for where to watch road games, whether with a Browns Backers club or in a neighborhood place somewhere in Greater Cleveland. Email me at with any suggestions.

Greg Cielec
Season Ticket Holder, Section 20 Row B.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

View from the Dawg Pound, Game 2

View from the Dawg Pound, Game 2

We couldn’t watch this week’s game from the Dawg Pound for obvious reasons, so we did the next best thing, and watched it at a joint called Kennedy’s in Charlotte, North Carolina, with the Carolina Browns Backers. Except, obviously, the outcome of the game, it was a very enjoyable afternoon. Eighty or so dislocated Browns fans watching the game together in a great establishment with a big outdoor deck and flat screens everywhere, rooting for the team they grew up loving.

Another game and another loss. For the second time in two weeks no second half touchdowns, no second half scoring. My game notes from the game look very much like my notes from week #1. The Browns tried to get Trent Richardson going and they couldn’t. The right side of the line couldn’t get the job done. The defense, for the most part, looked good. And, for how many weeks in a row, no halftime adjustments.

The biggest disappointment so far to me has been the offensive line. Oniel Cousins and Mitchell Schwartz, for the second week in a row, did not get the job done. But this week it wasn’t just them; the rest of the line did not exactly shine. This must stop immediately, or it is going to be a very long season. What has happened to the line? The right side of Cousins and Schwartz has gotten hammered, while the other side hasn’t exactly been outstanding. I thought this was going to be one of the strong points of the team.

There were some highlights in the loss. Another solid effort was turned in by the defense. Joe Haden made some great coverage moves, and it was great to see Mingo Barkevious get a sack in his first play from scrimmage.  When will third round pick Leon McFadden start contributing? When will seventh round pick Garrett Gilkey get a chance to replace Oniel Cousins? When will Shan Lauvau come back?

I know I’m in the minority on this amongst fans and media, but stick with Weedon if he is healthy. You can talk about quarterback ratings all you want, but if half of his dropped passes were caught the Browns would be at least 1-1 and we probably wouldn’t be having a conversation about this. Get the line playing better, get the receivers to catch the ball, get Trent Richardson up over 80 yards a game, and Brandon Weedon will be fine.

Driving back to Ohio Monday morning, all we heard on talk radio was rumors about the Browns scouting Johnny Football down in Texas over the weekend, and listeners calling in about how the Browns should have gone after RGIII.  As I have said over and over, running quarterbacks do not survive in the NFL. RGIII has a banged up knee, can’t run, and has the same record this year as a starter as Brandon Weedon.

Don’t be enamored with the running, spread offense, flashy college quarterbacks that came out of college, or will be coming, to the NFL soon. I’m still not sure what will become of Brandon Weedon, but I do know he can be a good pro quarterback. What his upside is we won’t really know until other things are fixed. However, it is pro drop back quarterbacks that win Super Bowls. The Manning brothers, Drew Breese, Tom Brady, etc., have won Super Bowls. Vince Young, RGIII, Michael Vick, Tim Tebow, Etc., superstars running quarterbacks in college, have never won Super Bowls.

It is not time to panic yet; it is time to fix things. Get Richardson thirty more yards a game. Eliminate the stupid penalties, this week it was delay of game. Hopefully Josh Gordon will bring his A game and rise up the rest of the receivers. Hopefully Shawn Lauvau will be back soon to help out on the offensive line.

Besides another disappointing loss, I can’t say enough how much fun it was to be in the company of the Carolina Browns Backers. Here we were, almost 500 miles from Northern Ohio, over seventy dislocated Browns fans, together, cheering on our favorite team. There was something almost spiritual about the afternoon.  All these groups get together every Sunday all across the country all to get a little bit of home. Too bad the team couldn’t come through with a win, it was a vey winnable game.

Text by Greg Cielec
Photos by Dave Hostetler and Greg Cielec                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Vanderbilt at South Carolina, September 14, 2013

We had a great time at the Vandy/South Carolina game in Columbia. What a great place for college football! Special thanks to Liberty's Grill, the Vanderbilt cheerleaders (especially the lovely Ally Martin), and the good people at the Shuman Owens Supply Company who helped us out printing our game tickets.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

View from the Dawg Pound Game 1

            And it ended once again the same way, a lonely and quiet walk across the West 3rd Street Bridge back to the Warehouse District and down to the Flats. Another Opening Day loss in a game that the Browns could have won.
            Besides the game, it was a great day. We had a wonderful tailgate, saw tons of familiar faces and old friends. The weather turned to the better, as sunshine filled the stadium. Too bad we had to watch the game.
            Where to begin? Fault goes all around to an offense that in the first half could not hold on to the ball and in the second half could not protect the quarterback.  A defense that attacked in the first half and got figured out in the second.
            Let us begin with the pregame.  Is the NFL turning into the NBA? Flames and smoke and music being played too loud. What happened to the days where it was totally about the game? We sang the national anthem then straight to kickoff.  Now it is way too much manufactured enthusiasm.  I would like to think the Browns and their fans are above that. But somebody in Berea is listening to some marketing consultant who saw all this waste of money entertainment at some other stadium.
            For most of the first drive the Browns did what I thought they were going to do the whole game, run the ball game. Little did I know…The interception that ended the drive was Weedon’s fault, the only one of the game that really was.
            Before the second series we were treated to two huge banners, one in each end zone. The one at our end said in big letters THIS IS THE DAWG POUND. Those of us sitting there already knew that. Again, more manufactured enthusiasm. I guess someone upstairs knew which way the game was going to go. And while I’m ranting about stupid stuff at the games, what’s with the field announcer and his THIRD DOWN proclamations each defensive series?
            I really thought the game was turning to the Browns in the second period when they had two sacks on a three play Dolphins drive; then Travis Benjamin made something out of nothing on a punt return.
            But except for a beautifully executed touchdown pass from Brandon Weedon to Cameron Jordan, the offense kept Miami in the game with illegal formations, dropped passes, penalties, and sacks.
            The biggest disappointment of the afternoon is how the offensive line fell apart in the second half. Oniel Cousins, filling in at guard for the injured Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston, got manhandled. He should not be in the lineup next week. Go with the rookie Garrett Gilkey; he could not do worse.
            For all talk of all the new stuff with the Browns, it seemed a lot like last year. Too many crossing and out routes, not enough downfield passing. Leading at halftime 7-6, they were completely outplayed in the second half. The Chud era started as the Shurmer era ended, with getting outcoached in the locker room at half time.
            Most of the positives for the afternoon occurred off the field. We attended a great tale gate party in the Flats, complete with roasted chicken, fried shrimp, and corn the cob. And, yes, a few adult beverages. Fans seemed enthused for the game, and everyone came wearing their best Browns garb. It was great to see all the old friends in the Dawg Pound whom I have been sitting with for years, and everyone seemed so upbeat and positive.
            We will be coming direct to you next week from Charlotte, North Carolina, where we will be watching the Browns/Ravens game with the Charlotte Browns Backers. We will be down that way for a little golf and will take in the Vanderbilt at South Carolina game.  
Text by Greg Cielec
Photos by Dave Hostetler
Season Ticket Holders, Section 120, Row B, in the Dawg Pound