Tuesday, October 29, 2013

View From the Dawg Pound, Game 8

          This is going to sound a lot more like the monthly column I write for the   Orange and Brown Report and less like the previous blogs I have written this season after every game. But that’s alright, because what the Browns showed against the Chiefs was two fold, that they are an up and coming good team who can play against good teams on the road, and it isn’t all about who is playing quarterback.
            I really think there are only so many top tier quarterbacks. You know whom they are, the Mannings, Brady, etc., and who knows who is going to the ones that will come out of the next few drafts. The closest to a for sure thing is freshman Jameis Winston at Florida State, and he is two drafts away.
            And it seems that you need one of the big guys to win a Super Bowl, recent history definitely supports that. However, I think over the next several seasons, and as early as this year, a very good, but not great, quarterback is going to win a Super Bowl. It is going to be a quarterback who was the last missing link to a team that has everything else. It could be the 49ers with Colin Kaepernick at QB, or possibly Seattle with Russell Wilson. Both did not start out as traditional drop back passers. Both run a lot in college. And both have been molded into pro quarterbacks on teams that seem to have all the other parts in place.
            That is what I though about as I watched the Browns with Jason Campbell at quarterback this past Sunday. The Browns could be a team like Seattle or San Francisco, and not like Denver or New England. The team has a good, young core, a large amount of money under the salary cap, and a bucket load of draft picks for the 2014 draft.  Sure, draft a quarterback next year, but don’t blow all those draft picks to do it. They have the unique chance between the end of this season and the beginning of next to fill in most, if not all, their holes. Now it isn’t going to be easy, and it would take some very good drafting and the signing of two or three outstanding free agents, but it could be done.
            Keep two out of the three current quarterbacks along with a high draft pick. Then use the salary cap money and the rest of the picks to find another top tier defensive back to give Joe Haden and T.J. Ward some help; how about another big receiver to go with Josh Gordon like Mike Evans down at Texas A&M? The team needs a runner back to replace Trent Richardson, how about someone like Mike Davis at South Carolina? How about a solid veteran tight end to mentor the young talented ones we already have? What about adding to depth at linebacker and wide receiver? In our downfield passing game you can never have too many good receivers, and in an attacking defense the more hybrid linebackers you have the better the defense.
            Am I thinking too much? Are the Browns that good to being that close to a top tier team? They are 3-5 and on a three game losing streak. But if you added what I just mentioned to the team between now and next year, you have a pretty good team. And maybe, like the Niners and the Seahawks, a team strong enough so a rookie quarterback can step into to play because he won’t be expected to carry the team on his back.
            Imagine Jason Campbell last Sunday with just one more legit passing threat, and some break away speed in the backfield. Imagine the defense with just two more playmakers on it. It’s not like they need an overhaul on either side of the ball. Josh Gordon is showing he is a quality receiver. If they can smooth out their sometimes-erratic play, the offensive line is young and talented. Jordan Cameron is emerging as a tight end. The defensive line is solid, and Jackson, Krueger are very good linebackers.
            Again, that is what I thought about as I watched, and rewatched the Browns/Chiefs game.
            It was good to see some quality consistent play at quarterback. The Browns got it from the least likely source. Let us hope Jason Campbell stays healthy and keeps it up for eight more games.
            How do you explain the lousy play at Green Bay, and the poor second halves against Miami and Baltimore? Remember, this team is still very young, and it is once again playing for a new coaching staff. It’s third coaching staff in the last four years. Some things take time to jell, maybe that started in the second half against Kansas City.
            This week there are no pictures of cute bartenders or pretty girls in Browns uniforms. I watched the game alone in my living room, and I doubt you wanted a shot of a short, fat, bald (but still surprisingly good looking) old guy sitting alone in his living room and yelling at his TV.
            Big game this week. The Browns are back home against a division foe who they could have very easily beat earlier in the season. I’ll be back in my seats in the Dawg Pound, as Michael Stanley once said ‘amongst my friends again,’ hoping the team is on the path to good things.
            I waited until the passing of the trade deadline before posting this piece, and I am glad the Browns did not trade Josh Gordon. I can’t imagine what the Browns offense would be without him, especially with the season ending injury to Travis Benjamin.
Greg Cielec
Section 120, Row B, seats 3 and 4.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

View From the Dawg Pound, Game 7

Where do I start? I got to write about the game sooner or later, might as well get it over with. First quarter, very ugly. Second quarter, got better but still pretty ugly. Third quarter, ugly. Fourth quarter, ugly.
 If anyone was still on the Brandon Weedon bandwagon, and I admit to being one of those, they fell off somewhere in the first half. It could have been as early as the first drive. His confidence is shot. He is thinking too much. After last year’s disastrous opener against Philadelphia, he really didn’t play that bad. I thought with a season under his belt, a more suitable offense under Chudzinski, a receiver corp a year more mature, and the whole offensive line returning, Brandon Weedon would be an asset this year. How things fall apart soon.
            How many of you thought that Chud would do for Weedon what he did for Derek Anderson in 2007?
            But I don’t put all the blame on the quarterback. The defense played its second weak game in a row.  Is it just me, but do they look like they are taking steps backwards? Remember this, even the most attacking defenses get figured out by the good quarterbacks. Sooner or later, you have to play your base defense soundly.
            You can also throw a little blame to the coaching staff. There was another round of unnecessary penalties. Why did they go for it on fourth and fifteen?  Too many of the same mistakes happening over and over.
            Brandon Weedon is regressing and deserves some of the blame being thrown his way. But I hate to tell you this, who else is there? Hoyer is hurt and out for the season.  Yes, Jason Campbell is on the bench, but remember he doesn’t fit into the team’s long-term plans either. There is no Andrew Luck in this year’s draft. Yes, there are some good quarterbacks with potential, I really like Teddy Bridgewater at Louisville, but there are no for sure things. The best quarterback in college is still two drafts away, Jameis Winston at Florida State. Half the NFL is going to try to maneuver and draft him in 2015.
            The stat sheet was as ugly as the game. Let’s start with 17 out of 42 passing for only 149 yards passing; only 83 yards rushing; 216 yards total offense compared to 357 for the Packers; 12 penalties for 106 yards; and the defense gave up three more touchdown passes. That’s seven passing TD’s in the last two games, the Browns defense only gave up one during the first four games.
            There was a fair amount of Browns fans in the stands, and it was just a kick in the stomach to fall behind so early and seem to be never really in the game. And when it did seem that they might make a run at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Browns go for it on fourth and fifteen, only to see Josh Gordon miss making a great catch on the goal line. Five plays later the Packers scored and put the game out of reach.
            On the good side…Lambeau Field and everything Packers is good. I’ve been to many stadiums that have been redone and enlarged over the years and Lambeau is probably the best I have seen. A great entrance atrium, lots of exposed brick and wide concourses. They do an outstanding job with the team colors, especially with the dark green. But it’s not without its negatives, including tight seats and in our section very long lines for the rest rooms.
            The tailgating and bars and restaurants around the stadium were very good. Green Bay is considered by many as the yardstick for tailgating, I’ll put our Browns Sundays and what happens in Columbus on Saturdays as its equals.
            Some observations… I don’t know what they do in Green Bay when it isn’t football season....Seeing all the Matthews #52 uniforms seemed strange to someone use to seeing Matthews #57 jerseys…As usual, lots of Browns fans at the game…Cheese curds are really big in Wisconsin. Over the weekend I was exposed to fried, baked, Buffalo, garlic, homemade, white, yellow, and orange cheese curds…they sell cocktails at all the beer stands in the stadium…the guys in my group all devoured the brats sandwiches at the game…All the natives were very friendly and cordial.
            I spent the Friday and Saturday before the game with seven old college frat brothers at a house on Maiden Lake, about 90 minutes from Green Bay. It was a beautiful autumn weekend. We spent Saturday afternoon drifting around the lake on a pontoon boat, surrounded by the colors of autumn, drinking beer and telling stories and lies about the football games, escapades, and women of our youth. Both nights we went to local supper clubs, eating prime ribs that dripped over both ends of the plate, and drinking the region’s favorite cocktail, Kessler’s Old Fashions sweet, with pickled mushrooms as the garnish. In upper Wisconsin they drink Kessler’s like it’s Kool Aid. Thanks again to Bruce Graham for hosting us, and to all the guys (Russ, Trout, Gordon, Kelly, Pete, and BoBo) who made it a great weekend before the Browns screwed it up.
One last comment, I am not giving up on the Browns this year because the quarterback play has been mediocre at best. That is not an excuse to expect to lose each week. There is no excuse for the weak defensive play in the Green Bay game. There is no excuse for the inconsistent play by the wide receivers all season long. There is no excuse for the inconsistent play by the talented offensive line. I am very tired of excuses, but I remain hopeful and dedicated.
I fly back Sunday morning this week from the Vanderbilt at Texas A&M game. Anyone have a good suggestion for a local place to watch the Kansas City game? Maybe I need a new local spot to bring some magic to the Browns.

Greg Cielec
Browns Season Ticket Holder
Section 120, Row B, seats 3-4.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

View from the Dawg Pound, Game 6

For the sixth game in a row, the Cleveland Browns took a lead into the locker room at intermission. And for the fifth time this season they were completely outplayed in the second half by a very beatable opponent. The Browns fall to the Detroit Lions 31-17, dropping their record to 3-3.
            The Browns play in the second half this season, no matter who the quarterback is, has been horrible. In six games they have not scored in the second half at all twice; take away the 20 second half points they scored against the Bills they are averaging four second half points a game; even with the Bills game they are averaging less than seven second half points a game; and in three of the games they have scored no fourth quarter points.
            Against the Lions the refs did the Browns no favors on several big plays. I had a good view of the first quarter pass interference call on Joe Haden in the end zone, it was a lousy call and the replay backed up the fact. Also the replay showed the pass Greg Little caught in the fourth quarter challenged by the Browns was a catch. What did the refs see in that replay we didn’t?
            Brandon Weedon had a solid first half, throwing two touchdowns and no interceptions. In the second half he threw two picks he shouldn’t have, and scored no points. How much of that is Weedon’s fault and how much of it is the offensive game plan is something we will never know. Both of Weedon’s interceptions were his fault, poorly thrown balls at the wrong time.
            The defense was on the field too much the second half, but that is not an excuse for some sloppy play. They too did not make some needed in game adjustments. They needed to quit covering Reggie Bush out of the backfield with a linebacker who could not keep up with him, and how many big plays were they going to let tight end Joseph Fauria before changing up things on him?
            The Browns are a terrible second half team on offense. They can’t protect first half leads, and seem to make much more mistakes after the half than before. For example, the team’s last five interceptions have been during the second half, they haven’t thrown a first half pick since the first half of the first game.
            The radio and television talk shows this week will all be about Brandon Weedon. I don’t know if he is the answer at quarterback, and I know he threw two interceptions against the Lions he wishes he had back, but the problems on offense are not about who is at quarterback. The problems are the inability to hold leads, not taking time off the clock in the second half with successful drives, and not scoring second half touchdowns. Remember the old saying, when a team wins the quarterback gets too much of the credit, and when they lose too much of the blame.
            Brian Hoyer is hurt and out for the year. Weedon and Campbell are whom we have left for the season. But don’t think things are going to change in the future. There is no Andrew Luck coming up in the next NFL draft, the next few NFL drafts for that matter. Drafting a quarterback is a crapshoot in this era were most college quarterbacks never really learn to read defenses and coverages. The RGIIIs of the world take off and run if their main targets aren’t open, and we see how things are working out for the real RGIII in Washington. The team traded away their future for him and they are currently 1-4, and yesterday he threw no touchdown passes in a 31-16 loss to the Cowboys.
            Blame Weedon for the loss to the Lions if you feel you must blame someone. But if you do, also spread some of the blame around also to the offensive coaches for some poor second half-play calling, and to a defense that didn’t make any adjustments when needed.
            Pregame Notes…For our pregame activities this week we decided to check out the festivities around the Galleria on East Ninth Street and I’m glad we did. We got there at 10:15 and Winks, a Winking Lizard knockoff, was already jumping. There was outdoor and indoor seating, and they feature beers and spirits from Ohio and the surrounding region. I’m not of the craft beer generation, I’m showing my age, but still found a few beers I liked. I had a veggie wrap fro breakfast and it was very good. About half the stands in the food court were open, and there was a bar and DJ out on the patio. We walked down to East Ninth and Lakeside where WKNR and several of their sponsors had a great set up that included a live band, several bars with large screen TVs, and plenty of room to get comfortable.
            Next week I’ll be coming to you from Green Bay, as I will be making the pilgrimage to one of the shrines of football. I am not giving up on the Browns or anyone on the team or coaching staff. Still plenty of football to be played, and I really believe the Browns are so close to being good. I’m not waiting for some franchise quarterback to show up to turn things around; it is just not going to happen anytime soon. We are stuck with this team and I am sticking with them.

Friday, October 4, 2013

View from the Dawg Pound, Game 5

It took less than 24 hours for Cleveland sports fans to get rid of the pain of the Tribe’s Wednesday night Wild Card loss to the Rays, as the Browns came up with a big home 37-24 win against the Buffalo Bills Thursday on national TV. The highlights of the evening were many, and included great plays on offense, defense, and special teams.

The big plays in the game included a 57 yard punt return by Travis Benjamin in the first quarter to set up the Browns’ first field goal; a 79 yard punt return by Benjamin at the end of the second quarter for a touchdown (it was vintage Dawg Pound circa 1989 when Benjamin finished off his TD by diving into the first row of section 120); three catches by previously unreliable Greg Little; a nice second quarter drive for their first touchdown that featured a nice mix of passes and Willis McGahee runs; a Weedon to Gordon downfield home run; and T.J. Ward’s 44 yard pick six that sealed the victory late in the fourth quarter.

And lost in all the big plays was the work of Taushaun Gipson and Buster Shrike. They continue to improve and are turning into solid pros.

The game will probably be remembered for both quarterbacks getting hurt, especially for the Browns Brian Hoyer being lost for the season.  I had a good view of both injuries when they happened, and TV replays back this up, that no one was to blame for the injuries except the quarterbacks. Hoyer’s injury was a result of a very bad slide on his part, which left his knee at a bad angle when he got hit. E.J. Manual’s injury was the result of staying in bounds when he should have ran out of bounds. Neither quarterback was a victim of a cheap shot.

Like many fans, I feel awful about Hoyer. However, emotions aside, deep down the coach in me keeps telling me the big secret, that Brian Hoyer is not the answer as the starting quarterback for the Browns. As a backup, as a spark coming off the bench, I still feel he has a career in the NFL.

I know I’m in the minority, but Hoyer is not the answer. I love the kid and rooted for him, but he can’t throw deep. That is why New England kept Ryan Mallett over him, and that is why he didn’t stick with the Cardinals. The NFL is a downfield passing league, and to win championships, you must be able to pass downfield. Hoyer just doesn’t have the arm to throw the deep ball consistently. Weedon’s third quarter touchdown pass to Gordon, and the one before it to Little that set it up, showed what Weedon can do that Hoyer can’t. Attack the whole field with a passing game.

The conundrum for the Browns is this: Weedon has the arm to throw deep, but hasn’t showed the other skills consistently that Hoyer has. The ability to move around a bit, to have a nice touch on short passes, to get rid of the bowl in time. But I would say this; this season is about Brandon Weedon and whether he can be a championship level quarterback in the NFL.

Mike Lombardi has been much maligned in the media since arriving back in Cleveland as GM; however, he must be given credit for bringing Hoyer aboard. He was just what the team needed when Weedon went down with a thumb injury. Also give him credit for Desmond Bryant and Paul Kruger on defense, both have been solid additions.

Before the game we did not do the usual tailgating, but instead spent sometime bar hopping in the Warehouse District. I really enjoyed standing on the patio outside Panini’s on West Sixth, people watching and taking in all the fans heading to the game. We then headed to Brownstown, the new fan area on the north side of the stadium. What a pleasant surprise this turned out to be, as we hung out on their patio over looking the lake, and sharing a very delicious barbeque chicken sandwich. My only complaint is that there are not enough places to sit down; they need some tables and chairs on their patio.

My biggest question of the whole Browns experience from Thursday is this: what’s with this “na na na” song they play after each Browns score? I can’t here most of it, I don’t recognize the melody (and neither do the people around me in the Dawg Pound), and why are the playing it in the first place? Just wondering. I’m still not a big fan of all the pomp and circumstances before the game, and really wish they would get rid of the smoke and flames. It’s all stuff I’ve seen in other stadiums, why don’t they come up with something original?

Some big games coming up, the Browns will be the underdog in the next five. Let’s hope they can pull an upset or two. Down the road there are still games against the Jaguars, Jets, and two against the Steelers you got to feel optimistic about. Does this team have enough to make a playoff run?

See you next Sunday against the Lions.

Greg Cielec
Section 120, Row B, Seats 3 and 4.