Monday, December 22, 2014

View from the Dawg Pound Browns at Charlotte 12.22.2014

Postcard from Charlotte…I have no new information about the Browns 17-13 loss to Carolina. There is nothing new to tell you that I haven’t said before. The Browns have two guys who are not the answer at quarterback. They both showed you why today. One is an over hyped college superstar whose skills set does not work in the NFL. He’s too short, he can’t run away from defenders like he did in college, and he has yet to show that he has an NFL arm.
            The other one definitely doesn’t have an NFL arm. He showed that today when Travis Benjamin had his guy beat by two strides on what would have been the winning touchdown but turned into an interception.
            This was a big loss for the Browns. Going 8-8 after winning only four games last year would’ve been huge. Instead, with a loss to Baltimore next week the Browns will be 7-9, losing the last five. Ouch!
            With all that has happened, most of it negative, 4-11 to 7-9 is a big jump. The Browns are in a good position to make a bigger jump next year, but it won’t happen without a real NFL quarterback. Simple as that.
            The 2014 Browns were good enough to make it to the playoffs except for one position, the most important one, quarterback.  The front office made several huge mistakes in regards to this position, and now it is still a mess. The best pro prospect on the team is the third string quarterback who is on the practice squad and did not make an appearance in a game this year.
            Here’s a hunch I have…Mike Pettine had a limited pool of candidates to fill positions on his staff because of when he was hired. I will be really surprised if many of the assistants from this year will be retained. He will bring in his guys, guys he couldn’t hire last year because they were committed to coach someplace else. This will be a major change for the team. I especially think there will be a new offensive coordinator.
            As has been said over and over in the last fifteen years, the fans deserve better. Even after what has happened over the last four weeks, there they were in Charlotte taking over the city. Wherever you went on Saturday you saw Brown and Orange. We met fans from all over the south and as far away as Rochester, New York, there to root on their team. There were a lot of sad rides on Monday morning back to where ever they live, but you still got the feeling that home will always be in Northern Ohio for most of them.


Monday, December 15, 2014

View from the Dawg Pound Bengals at Cleveland, 14 December 2014

            Enough has been said about Sunday’s game. I’ll just quote from my game notes for the start of the game. Browns kickoff. Cinci Scores. Cinci kicks off. Browns three and out. Cinci scores. Browns three and out. Cinci scores. Browns throw a pick. Cinci scores. Browns three and out. Cinci throws a pick, Craig Robertson with another big play. Browns actually start driving. Browns throw a pick. Cinci penalty, Browns keep the ball. First “Put in Hoyer” from the guy behind me. Browns throw pick on the goal line.  Yada, yada, yada.
Sunday’s disaster against the Bengals brought into public knowledge what some people have known all along, that neither Brian Hoyer nor Johnny Manziel is the quarterback that will lead the Cleveland Browns to a championship. Hoyer is a career journeyman, with the brains but not the arm for the NFL. Manziel possesses the skills to be successful in college but those same skills do not translate to the pro game.
Hoyer’s journey in the NFL from New England to Pittsburgh to Arizona to the Browns, living off the “knowledge” he learned as a Tom Brady backup has suddenly stopped. Signing him was a good move, a stopped gap solution until the real quarterback would hopefully show up. The drafting of Menziel was a bad move, and tarnished an otherwise good draft and some solid free agency signings.
            The graphic on the morning shows Sunday stated that Manziel is the 22nd starting quarterback since the team returned in 1999. The only for sure thing is number 23 is not that far in the future.
            Quarterback is such a chance at draft time for most teams. The only for sure bet in recent history has been Andrew Luck. Oregon’s Marcus  Mariota, even with his Heisman, is as big of a risk as Manziel. Obviously a more mature person, he still spent most of his career using his feet as much as his arm. For all of his faults as a person, last year’s Heisman winner Jameis Winston has more of a pro skill set than both Manziel and Mariota. He has thrown more from the pocket, and shows he has the tangibles to keep winning. As of this writing in two seasons he has not lost a game as a starter.
Quarterback isn’t just a Browns problem. The NFL has a quarterback problem, there isn’t enough to go around. College and high school quarterbacks don’t learn to audiblize because their coaches do it for them. They don’t read their third or fourth receivers because if their first one isn’t open they take off running. During the off season they get the false sense that they can play in the NFL by participating in a sham called 7 on 7 football, which is nothing more than glorified touch football. Receivers are always open and catching the ball when they know they are not going to be hit, and quarterbacks can always find the open guy when they aren’t being chased by defensive linemen and blitzing backers.
The Browns coaches have to some how regroup their team and win one more game. An 8-8 season after the disasters of the last few would be a big step forward. Going 7-9 and losing the last five games is the same old stuff. The team has to win, no matter who is the quarterback.
Here’s their dilemma, this isn’t an expansion team or even the talented deficient team of a few years ago, this is actually a decently talented team on both sides of the ball. Sure it has some problems like kicker, but the talent to succeed is there. But not without a quarterback, a pro quarterback who can read defenses and has a strong arm enough to do what needs to be done in the NFL. We will have the whole off-season to talk about their options, but for now just win one more game.
Once again Browns fans will spend the playoffs watching what seems like the same old teams. Wonder why some organizations always seem to be good? They don’t draft popular running college quarterbacks like Manziel or Robert Griffith III because they know they can’t do it on the next level.
And when the season is finally finished, throw Manziel’s corpse onto that big, and getting bigger, pile of unsuccessful former running college over hyped college quarterbacks, right on top of Pat White, Vince Young, and RGIII.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

View from the Dawg Pound Colts at Cleveland 7 December 2014

The Browns did not lose the game when the Colts scored with 32 seconds left on an Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton. The Browns did not lose the game when Josh Gordon could not haul in Brian Hoyer’s pass with 28 seconds left. They lost on their second drive of the game when they crossed the fifty for the first time and had to punt. They lost on their third drive of the game when they got down to the Colt’s nine-yard line and threw a pick. They lost on their second drive in the second quarter when they missed a 40-yard field goal. The Browns could’ve put the Colts away by halftime, but they didn’t. A touchdown or field goal in the first half counts just as much as one in the fourth quarter.
The Brian Hoyer era has come and gone. Johnny Manziel’s time might go just as fast, but we don’t know. It is time to find out. Hoyer’s time did not end with just the Colts game. It ended with losses in the Bills and Texans games. It ended with three interceptions against Atlanta, and two more picks against Tampa Bay. His play has been poor in both wins and losses. It is not all of his fault, but he has played poorly now for a good portion of the season.
My notes from the Colt’s game look like this: First offensive drive, punt. Second offensive series, bad passes. Did not take advantage of field position. Third offensive series, pick! Fourth offensive series, three and out. First offensive series in second quarter, three and out. Second series in the second quarter, missed field goal. You don’t win against quality teams like the Colts playing like this on offense. If it weren’t for two defensive scores the game would have been a blow out.
The Browns must win one of the three remaining games. Anything less than 8-8, or finishing the season with five straight losses, would be the same old stuff.
This team could be very, very good next year. They are going to end this year in contention, but probably not making, the playoffs. Next year could be a different story. Very soon big decisions have to be made. The team’s window is only going to be open for so long. Quarterback, kicker, depth at safety and linebacker, another big receiver, all have to be addressed. Winning and losing is a cold-hearted business at times. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We will have the whole off-season to talk about stuff like that.
            I’m not writing off the playoffs this year. A lot can happen in these last three weeks. The Browns win all three it would seem they would be in the playoffs; winning 2 out of 3 is a maybe. Every game left is a winnable game.
            In all the negativity that a loss will bring, don’t overlook the Browns defensive performance. Two defensive scores and one big play after another.  Craig Robertson will another defensive score; Justin Gilbert with his first pick six; Jim Leonard with another big play. The Browns offense needed to get the defense off the field and they couldn’t.
            The roller coaster continues…

Thursday, December 4, 2014

View from the Dawg Pound Browns at Buffalo 30 Nov 2014, 2014 Traveling Circus Football Road Trip

          The Browns are at the crossroads. And I am not talking about all of this quarterback hoopla. I’m talking about a team that could be on the long road to someplace special. You got to remember the big picture. They have to win just one more game to go 8-8, a record any Browns fan would have died for back in August.
The Browns are at the crossroads because the #1 priority for this team this year was to put fifteen years of losing culture behind. Behind for the team, for the organization, and for the fans.
The season has been a roller coaster, and at 7-5 they are still in the running for a playoff spot, but more importantly they have to end the season perceived as winners. This season can’t end like almost all the others since 1999 in a mountain of disappointment and losing. This team, no matter who the quarterback, is too talented to implode.
The Browns 26-10 loss to Buffalo showed one season long weakness of the team, they can’t do it every week. Not enough depth, not enough experience, not enough guys who hate to lose more than they like to win. They could be there soon. And you have to remember; it isn’t easy doing it every week in the NFL.
Long after this loss will be forgotten, this game will be remembered for Johnny Manziel’s pro debut. I’m not getting caught up in the hoopla, because I’m not sure Manziel can do the things that needed to be done. Brian Hoyer has his limitations.
When the Browns first acquired Hoyer I wrote that it was no secret about how to defend him, and the Bills and the rest of the NFL all know about it now. Take away the running game and force him to use the whole field. It’s been the game plan against the Browns most of this season, and with the return of Josh Gordon it really sticks out as the team’s sore thumb. Gordon needs a home run arm to get him the ball down field where he can run away from safeties and corners.
Does Johnny Manziel have the arm to do it? Only time will tell. Recent history shows he is going to struggle throwing downfield from the pocket. One only has to look at how his college contemporaries have struggled, i.e. RGIII, Vince Young, Cam Newton, Tim Tebow, etc. Running spread offenses where the coaches call all the plays and checks, and where a quarterback takes off running when his primary receiver is covered, is not the best training for the drop back world of the NFL.
            You have to play Manziel to see what he has, but no matter who the quarterback is the Browns can’t end the season losing the last five games. They need a win or two to finish up in the right direction for the future. The quarterback position will take care of itself, either Manziel can do it or he can’t. We should have a good idea by the end of the season if he plays the last four games.
            The Bills loss was disappointing. The Browns had their chances in the first half to take charge, but they came away with a field goal and a blocked field goal instead of two touchdowns. Most of the game was very painful to watch.
            I attended the game and it was the only low point in an otherwise fun road trip that included hanging out at the Seneca Allegheny casino in Salamanca, New York, about an hour south of Ralph Wilson Stadium.
            We tailgated outside the stadium before the game, surrounded by many other Browns fans and some pretty cordial Bills fans. The stadium is out in the middle of nowhere, so everyone tailgates. It was a pretty festive environment.
However, it was disappointed to see the culture of “planned spontaneity” has spread to Buffalo. Yes, they have a drum line like everyone else. Yes, the play that stupid movie special effects on third down while their obnoxious announcer reminds you that it is third down. The Bills even take it to another level with a cheesy remake of “Shout,” including reworked lyrics they flash on the scoreboard, blasted each time they score.  It isn’t even the Isley Brothers or Otis Day version of the song. It sounds like a second rate lounge singer.
            All of this stuff thought up by marketing consultants in ‘idea sessions’ and now copied by almost every team in the NFL. It’s all part of the “fan experience.” And next year when the Browns are wearing their new disco uniforms they will be just like everyone else. And someone will call me an old fuddy duddy who doesn’t like change.

            The Browns need at least one more victory. Don’t tell me they are banged up, everyone is banged up. Don’t tell me the schedule is tough, it’s been tough since week one. It’s time to do what this season started out to do, putting the culture of losing behind forever.

All of these great photos by Dave Hostetler.

Monday, November 24, 2014

View from the Dawg Pound Browns at Atlanta 23 Nov 2014

            The Browns last second 26-24 victory over Atlanta Sunday made two big statements about the state of the team: #1 This was definitely a game they would have lost in the past, but they weren’t going to; #2 Even with the last drive, Brian Hoyer is not the guy to lead the Browns to the Promised Land.
            Much good comes out of the game, especially the win and the team’s record improves to 7-4. Who would have thought that in August?  Another quality win to go along with previous victories over Bengals, the Steelers, and the Saints. The Browns did it on the ground and in the air with the return of Josh Gordon.  And they did it at crunch time, with a time management gift from the Falcons, with a classic Brian Hoyer drive and a Billy Cundiff 37 yard field goal as time expired.
            Remember, the goal for each team in the NFL is the same every season, to win the Super Bowl.  In the big picture only one team has a good season, the last team standing holding the trophy.
            The Browns are not that team this year, but can be in the near future.  Wins over teams like the Falcons are little steps to the big prize. The Browns are becoming a talented, seasoned team. Their window for big success is beginning to open. How long it will remain open is uncertain. The Browns need to make sure things are settled at quarterback.
            A lot of things are falling in place for the Browns. The culture of losing is disappearing.  After years of change and dysfunction, there is a good general manager making personnel decisions. The coaches so far appear to be the best staff in who knows how long. High draft picks, for the most part, are producing, and the current crop of rookies and free agents, again for the most part, have been solid. They have two first round picks next year. They will end this season fighting for a play off spot. The core of the team is young and talented on both sides of the ball. I know this is the Browns, and we have been conditioned to expect the worse, but when did the future ever look brighter?
In the big picture I hope that Brian Hoyer will remain part of the team. Because when the team does get deep in the playoffs, and the starting quarterback gets dinged up, there is no one else I would rather have to come off the bench for a game or two.  But to get to that point the week-by-week quarterback must be able to lead a balanced offense that includes a downfield passing attack. One of the most misleading stats this year is the Browns success with long passes. Most of the yardage has come after the ball has been caught. The Browns need someone who can throw the long ball, as well as the short stuff, consistently.
A balanced NFL offense is like an empty tick-tack-toe puzzle. The bottom three boxes represent the running game and the short passing game. The Browns have upgraded their running game tremendously over last year. The middle three boxes represent the short to medium passing game that Brian Hoyer is so good at. Play action passes, slant routes, out routes for first downs. The top three boxes represent the deep passing game, from passes in front of the safeties in zone coverage to deep routes against man-to-man coverage. It is that deep passing game a team must have in its arsenal if it is going to go deep in the playoffs, and Hoyer has yet to show that he can master. And, his history in the league, as well as with the Browns, probably shows he never will. It is time to see if the other guy can do it.
Each season for us Browns fans is a roller coaster, but usually by this time the ride would be over with. Lets enjoy the moment, there will be plenty of time in the offseason to discuss quarterbacks and draft picks and free agents. This week it’s the Bills in another crucial game and of this writing we don’t even know where the game is going to be played. There is nothing like being a Browns fan.  
We watched the game this week at Grub’s, a sports bar in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where we went to watch the Arkansas/Ole Miss game the day before. It was a great experience watching games in a football crazy place without a nearby professional team. Tables of fans all rooting for their different favorite teams. It seemed like everyone in the place, including all the waitresses, had a fantasy team or two. When it became known we were Browns fans we were bombarded with questions about Josh Gordon. It was an enjoyable day and the Browns win made it even better.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

View from the Dawg Pound Browns vs. Texans 11.16.2014

In the process of a team becoming something special, things happen. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. Good things recently happened for the Browns against the Steelers and Bengals, bad things happened against the Jaguars and the Texans.
The Brows are getting better, but they are not that good yet. Not good enough to be a perennial playoff team, like the Patriots or the 49ers. I’m not even sure there is such a thing in the NFL anymore. This years playoffs will be missing the Giants, one of those usual perennial playoff teams. And last year the Steelers missed out on the playoffs. The NFL is always filled with surprises as the season begins to end, look what happened to the Broncos this week. Did anyone see that coming?
Let us not forget that Houston is a good team. They are not the Jaguars. They are currently 5-5 and, like the Browns, still playing for a playoff spot. They still have the core of players from two years ago when many picked them to go to the Super Bowl. Things blew up on them last year, but they seem to be coming together again under Coach Bill O’Brien.
Sunday’s game against Houston showed once again the things the Browns must improve upon if they want to get deep in the playoffs next year. First, more depth at some obvious positions.  Even the defensive line, considered the deepest part of the team in preseason, could use another quality player or two. Second, get healthy. To get deep in the playoffs next year they need a healthy Phil Taylor, a healthy Cameron Jordan, and a mentally healthy Josh Gordon.
I’m not guaranteeing something special in the near future is going to happen to the Browns, but it could. And I am not one of those wait until next year fans. A team doesn’t go from where the Browns were last year to the Super Bowl in one season. With all the hoopla around the Browns being in the playoff hunt, remember what the expectations were back in week one. I’m sticking with the hopes I had in August, at least an 8-8 record, 3-3 in the division, and fighting for a playoff spot.  All of that is still possible entering game #11.
One thing the team can work on immediately and in the off-season is cleaning up their special teams. Every week it is something, this week it was a missed chip shot field goal. They need a full time punt returner who can get them some yardage, not just catch the ball. The best teams have the best special teams.
The Houston game once again showed Brian Hoyer at his worst. He has had a good season, and he does some things most of the time very well. Play action, short to medium routes, the no huddle offense. But you got to be able to attack the whole field, and that includes throwing the deep ball. Houston gave the Browns the short stuff, but nothing downfield. Sometimes that isn’t a problem when you score first and build up a bit of a lead like the Browns did against the Steelers and Bengals. But when you make field goals instead of touchdowns, and then give up a touchdown that followed a turnover in the last minute of the half, and fall behind, you cant always come back.
The Browns have to make a decision at quarterback before next season. What will Brian Hoyer’s body of work look like at the end of the season? Is the team going to see what Johnny Manziel can do? Hoyer’s stock goes up and down each week. The Browns can be a talented playoff proven team next year, ready to make a legitimate move for the big prize. Things could really be that good. But they have to make a decision about the man who is going to be the quarterback.
Even with the loss, there was lots of excitement for those of us sitting in the original Dawg Pound in the east bleachers.  Most of the action and scoring in the game, for good or bad, took place at our end. Two plays made by Browns in front of us stood out to me. The first was Joe Haden’s interception in the first quarter. The way he made the play, first denying a touchdown, then tipping the ball in the air, and then making a catch for the interception, was terrific. Not too many athletes in any sport can make that sort of play.
The other play showed why the Browns are going in the right direction. On Andrew Hawkin’s touchdown catch, he caught the ball with a couple of defenders between him and the goal line. Instead of being run out of bounds short of the touchdown, Mike Austin came off his route and made a terrific downfield block that sprung Hawkins for the score. Just like solid special teams, the best teams have running backs and receivers that consistently make downfield blocks. Austin’s was as good as it gets.
One last note, if the Browns are ever to get to where they want to go, and that seems to be a possibility, they need stability in the front office and on the coaching staff. We need all of this never ending Jimmy Haslem legal problems to finally disappear. Just when we thought it was over, it reappeared this week. Not good.
I said last week to hold on tight the rest of the season is going to be a heck of a ride. Last Sunday we went back to the bottom turn of the roller coaster, hopefully next week at this time we will be back on top.

View from the Dawg Pound Browns at Bengals November 6, 2014

As both a fan and an old coach, there are so many things to like about the Browns win over the Bengals Thursday night in Cincinnati. As a fan I like the divisional win, a big win on national TV, and a win over an obvious rival. It has been a very long time since the Browns had a winning record this far into the season.
But it’s the things that I saw through my coaching eyes that really make me feel good about the win and the future of the team. I saw a defense completely dominate their opponent. I saw guys off the bench coming in and making big plays. I saw a running game the Bengals could not stop. And I saw another week of a short passing/play action attack that keeps getting better and better.
Even with all the rule changes over the years that favor the offense, defense still wins games. The Browns defense took it to the Bengals. They completely shut down not only a pretty good quarterback, but also one of the premier receivers in the league. A.J. Green was held to three catches for 23 yards. Mohammed Sanu, who is another solid receiver, was held to two catches and 20 yards. Quarterback Andy Dalton had his worst game ever, held to 86 passing yards on 10 for 33.
The defense was lead by the usual suspects, including Joe Haden, Tashaun Gipson, Craig Robertson and Paul Kruger. But it was some other guys that stepped up too. Buster Skrine had two picks; Desmond Bryant had six tackles including two sacks on two consecutive plays; rookie K’Waun Williams had some big plays; and Jim Leonhard played more than usual and had four tackles.
On offense with both Alex Hawkins and Jordan Cameron out, Miles Austin stepped up with five catches, and Gary Barnidge had two, including a key catch in coverage that was all over him.  The offensive line keeps improving in the post Alex Mack era, and it was Terrance west’s turn to lead the rushing with 94 yards.
The Browns are good enough to challenge for a playoff spot. As I have said before, it is amazing to see the talent that has been accumulated under all the different front office and coaching changes over the last five years or so. General Manager Ray Farmer did a great job with the draft this spring, and also with signing undrafted players and free agents. Another off-season like the last one and the team could be challenging for a championship, not just a playoff spot.
With the success with Brian Hoyer at quarterback the Browns are left with a major decision at that position. There are many variables. Do they sign Hoyer for the long term? What do you do with Johnny Manziel? Are they completed sold on either player being a championship level quarterback?
Next spring’s draft could be filled with many talented quarterbacks. Johnny Manziel’s reputation could be a thing in the past if the Browns wait too long to move him or to play him. Does Hoyer warrant big money or a long-term commitment? Is Manzel in the team’s long-term plans? I doubt vey much the team wants to have both quarterbacks in camp when summer practices begin next year.
Where should we go from here? Fans and the team should be on the same plan for the long weekend and enjoy the time off. Get healthy and clear your heads, the rest of the season could be a heck of a ride.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

View from the Dawg Pound Tampa Bay at Cleveland 2 November 2014

             On what turned out to be a good afternoon for football in November, sunny with temps in the 40’s, the Cleveland Browns raised their record at the halfway point of the season to 5-3 as they defeated the Tampa Bay Bucs 22-17.
Why is it so hard for many fans to be happy with a 5-3 record at the mid-point of the season? Most Browns fans back in August would have been very happy with that. What was it with this week’s victory over Tampa Bay that left you unsettled?
Whatever it is it needs to be ignored because reality is soon coming and we will finally know how good this Browns team really is.  Cincinnati on the road this Thursday, then ten days later Houston at home. The next two games are against talented, solid teams. We know what the Bengals got, and the Texans are bouncing back from last year’s disaster. The Cincinnati game will be the first time the Browns will be out-talented this season, but not by much.
My notes from the first half are filled with scribbles about field goals instead of touchdowns. For the second game in a row I thought that was going to sink the Browns. It did let the Bucs, just like the Raiders last week, hang around. How this is going to play as the competition gets better and the games get more important we will have to see. We have yet to see this team play a complete game. Deep down in our hearts we keep waiting for too many field goals and not enough touchdowns to come back and haunt us.
On the talk shows after the game I heard a lot of criticism of the Browns’ clock management before half, so I won’t rehash that. They did a better job in the second half, but these moments of indecision have to be eliminated if the Browns want to get to where they want to go.
            There were a lot of positives for the Browns in the win over the Bucs. Once again the Browns’ undersized receivers came through. Taylor Gabriel, Travis Benjamin, and Andrew Hawkins all come up with big plays at important times.  Craig Robertson, the linebacker many had not making the team in August, made another big play by blocking a fourth quarter punt that lead to the winning touchdown. Joe Haden made a tip play to Dante Whitner that will be highlight reels for years. Paul Kruger and Justin Gilbert again had good games. And, oh yes, Tashaun Gipson had another interception.
            Brian Hoyer had another up and down game, but got things done when it mattered. For the Browns to be productive this Thursday against the Bengals he is going to have to play more consistent.
            Mike Evans had a great game for Tampa Bay. The rookie from Texas A&M, who was a big part of Johnny Manziel’s success there, caught 7 passes for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns. How good would a big outside receiver like him look in a Browns uniform?
            The Browns coaches know they received a gift from the Bucs in the fourth quarter.  Deep in the fourth quarter the Browns were clinging to a 22-17 lead, the Bucs made a few plays and had a second and one at the Cleveland 36. Three times the Bucs went from a shotgun formation and were unsuccessful making a yard for the first down. If they would have put the quarterback under center, and went to a two back set, they would have had a good chance of getting the first down. Quarterback Mike Glennon is as tall as they come, he could have leaned over and gotten it by himself. Not smart coaching by the Bucs.
            Things were subdued for most of the game in the Dawg Pound, as fans were waiting for bad things to happen as the Browns let the Bucs hang around. But most fans stayed to the end to celebrate the victory, and left the stadium with a sense of optimism.
            One last comment to elaborate on something I said last week about uniforms…How ugly were the Bucs uniforms? Different shades of orange and red and gray, a design that looked like it was put together by first graders. I hope the Browns don’t look like that in the future. Who knows what Nike has planned?
(Greg Cielec is a former college football coach, a freelance writer, and a veteran of over 25 years in the Dawg Pound as a season ticket. Contact him at

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Literary Event on November 20 at Sokolowski's University Inn

Literary Event November 20 at Sokolowski’s University Inn

A book signing for the Brown Jug Cookbook
Featuring Ed Wolf and Bill Stroud, longtime Jug owners, as well as former semi-famous Jug employees such as Reno Oradini, Joe Blaha, and Steve Hollis

Thursday, November 20, 7:00-9:00

Sokolowski’s University Inn in Historic Tremont

Free munchies, cash bar, music by Cats on Holiday

Co-Sponsored by Pink Flamingo Press and Creative Endeavors and the Cleveland Chapter of the Ohio Wesleyan Alumni Association

$1.00 will be donated to the Cleveland Food Bank for each copy of the cookbook purchased at the event

We’ve had some great events tied in to the publishing/writing projects over the years we have been involved in.  We had a couple of good events at the Harp, and the one at Brothers Lounge for the poetry book was fun. We recently did two down in Delaware at Roops Bar, complete with our friend John Schwab performing. It’s time for another one for our latest writing/publishing project the Brown Jug Cookbook.
If you know me well, sooner or later you have heard me tell stories about the best job I ever had, waiting on tables and bartending at the Brown Jug Restaurant in Delaware, Ohio, during my college years at Ohio Wesleyan University. Two bucks an hour and all the beer you could drink, working with and hanging around a group of characters I will never forget. It was big fun.
The Jug changed a lot after I graduated, as its crowd got older and the drinking age changed. It went from a pizza and pitchers of beer joint, to the first place in Delaware County to serve chicken wings, to the best independent steak house in the state. The place closed several years ago and my old bosses Ed Wolf and Bill Stroud retired from the business.
Recently we got together with Ed and Bill and published the Brown Jug Cookbook, filled with recipes, pictures, stories, and the history of the establishment.
Ed and Bill made many friends in their thirty-one years owning and running the Jug.  Many of them live in Northern Ohio. There is a group of us who worked at the Jug, as well as a lot of old college friends who hung out there. Plus many friends and family members who liked to visit the Jug when they came and visited.
We thought it was a no brainer to have some sort of event in Cleveland about the cookbook. The Ohio Wesleyan Alumni Association thought it was a good idea too, and have agreed to co-sponsor an the event.
So come join us at Sokolowski’s University Inn on November 20 and help us celebrate the Brown Jug Cookbook. Even if you have never been to Delaware, Ohio, or never set foot in the Brown Jug, please come anyway. There will be a lot of good people, a munchies buffet that will include the Inn’s famous perogies, a cash bar, and live music from the guys in Cats on Holiday.
We will have copies of the cookbook to purchase, and Ed and Bill will be on hand and glad to sign them. A dollar will be donated to the Cleveland Food Bank for each cookbook purchased at the event. We will also have copies available of our other recent publishing project, the 2015 Cleveland Little Italy Calendar. It is a beauty, featuring over 60 photos from the Murray Hill neighborhood.
Hopefully see you on November 20. Call or email me if you have any questions. Please pass this information to anyone you think would be interested.
Greg 216.496.8286

View from the Dawg Pound Oakland at Cleveland 26 Oct 2014

The Browns spent most of the game clinging to three field goals that weren’t touchdowns, and you just felt that was going to come back and haunt them. Late in the third quarter just when it looked like that was exactly what was going to happen, a great hit by Dante Witner led to Joe Haden swiping an air born fumble and returning it 34 yards. Four plays later the Browns scored their first touchdown and went ahead by two scores and never looked back.
The game wasn’t all ugliness for the Browns. Paul Kruger and Joe Haden did great things on defense. Tashaun Gipson showed once again why he will be All Pro this season. Justin Gilbert showed flashes of why he was a number one pick.  And even Barkevious Mingo, yes, that Barkevious, played enough to say he contributed. I still don’t see why he was a first round pick, but credit the Browns’ coaches for trying to get the most out of his height and quickness. On offense, you have to wonder were the Browns would be without their over achieving undersized receivers. Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel make catches in traffic and aren’t afraid to go across the middle. They both made big plays against the Raiders.
The game ended with some big questions left unanswered. When and if the offensive line will jell in the rest of this post Alex Mack season?  When will Jordan Cameron return after leaving the game with a concussion in the second quarter? Will the Browns ever play a complete special teams game? And, oh yes, what is the long-term solution at quarterback? Brian Hoyer had another so-so day, including several incomplete passes that could have been interceptions. I am pretty confident that the Browns will go to camp next summer with both current QB’s on the roster. Sooner or later Johnny Manziel has to show what he can do, either to prove he’s the quarterback of the future, or to showcase him to other teams.
But for now the team is trying to prove it deserves a playoff sport, and it’s one game at a time and Tampa is next on the agenda. Ugly or not, I think we will all take another win as the schedule will take a turn into a more challenging direction in the weeks to come.
It was another beautiful late fall day on the lakefront. The late 4:25 start put the crowd in a bit of a laid back mood. Even when the sun went down over the lake in the west it still remained pleasant and comfortable. We took advantage of the weather to once again visit friends tailgating at sights to the west of the stadium. We crossed paths with Sam Rutigliano and Don Cockroft visiting fans, signing hats and t-shirts and copies of Cockroft’s book about the Kardiac Kids of 1980. The weather was of the kind you know you must enjoy, because despite the fact we have had beautiful Browns Sundays, you know ugly weather is coming sooner and later and the gray days of winter will soon be upon us.

One last thought about the Oakland game…I’ve loved the Raiders uniforms since I started watching football in the Sixties as a small boy. The Raiders of today aren’t very good, but their uniforms still say class and remind you of when the Raiders were still the Raiders. The Packers, the Giants since they went back to their classic uniforms, the Chargers in their powder blues, the Cowboys, all of those teams whose uniforms have remained mostly unchanged over the years give off a aura of class about them. And it’s not just a football thing, think of the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Giants, and Cardinals in baseball; the Lakers, Celtics, and Spurs in basketball; the Canadians, Maple Leafs, Black Hawks, and Rangers in hockey. Even when one of the teams is down, their uniforms give them a touch of respect.  The Browns have been on that list too, since the team’s beginnings. But that will soon end. New uniforms from the team’s partner Nike are promised for next year. Filled with gray and pewter and stripes and who knows what else I’m sure. And when sports fans turn on the TV and see those uniforms they for the first time will say, who the hell is that? Instead of saying, Oh look, the Browns are on TV. Just something to think about.

View from the Dawg Pound Game 6: Browns at Jacksonville 19 October 2014

O.K. the Browns played a bad game. Get over it. Yes, it was painful to watch. And, yes, they played poorly all around, but that is going to happen sometimes, a lot of times, in the NFL.
Everyone has heard the cliché before, don’t let the wins get you too high and don’t let the losses get you too low. Every Browns fan should get that tattooed on their foreheads. Last week fans wanted the Browns to franchise Brian Hoyer and sign him to a mega deal, this week they want to cut him and play Johnny Football.
The Browns spent  a little too much time listening to everyone tell them how wonderful they are, and they encountered a Jaguar team that isn’t as bad as their record and was hungry for their first win.
My 82 year old mother called me up and screamed into the phone, “How can those guys play that bad?” It happens, Mom. It is hard to get everything right every week, especially in a league were there is talent on every team and on every sideline.
Everyone needs to learn from the Jaguars game then put it behind him or her. Remember the important thing, for the sixth game in a row the Browns were not out-talented.
It was assumed by too many people that the three game stretch against the Jaguars, Raiders, and Bucs were going to be an easy 3-0 for the Browns. But it already isn’t, with two of the games to come. Records in the NFL can be deceiving, especially before the half way point of the season. Right now the Cowboys are the darlings of the media with a 6-1 record, but it’s a safe bet they won’t be a one-loss team in December. And after seeing them up close this past weekend you can assume the Jaguars will be more than a one win team soon.
The Browns are going to do what they have to do. Work on the things they didn’t do well last week, while keeping their routine and keeping thing positive. However, quietly and behind doors, there will be discipline. Players will be moved up and down the depth chart, someone will be waived and someone will be signed to the practice squad, maybe someone will be fined for stupid or irresponsible play. Some of this will become public knowledge and hosts and listeners will dissect it for hours on sports radio. There will be some ugly moments in film sessions, and some more when position coaches meet with their players. That is expected, and it will happen far away from media and fans. By midweek it will all be behind the team, and it will be all working in anticipation of the Raiders game.
Short term decisions for the Browns: Decide on who is on the post Alex Mack offensive line and get them as much work together in practice this week. Get Hoyer and his receivers back on the same page. Find someone who can think out there as a punt returner.
Long Term Decisions: It is quite obvious when training camp opens next summer both Hoyer and Johnny Manziel won’t both be with the Browns. Will it be Hoyer and possibly a long-term heir apparent? Or will it by Manziel and a respected veteran behind him? Sooner or later sometime this year they have to play Manziel to see what he has or doesn’t have. The team has to find a way to showcase both quarterbacks in case a suitor or two surfaces.
Other long-term decisions: Who is and isn’t in the long term plans, including but not limited to the following: Do they keep all three current running backs? Which of the undersized receivers make the cut next year? Who stays and who goes on defense, especially at linebacker and defensive back?
The fan base has taken the Jaguar loss very hard. Yes, the Browns played poorly, but remember this once again, for the sixth game in a row the Browns were not out-talented. There is too much talent on this team to see the type of collapse we have seen too often since 1999.
(Greg Cielec can be reached at

Monday, October 13, 2014

View from the Dawg Pound Steelers at Cleveland 10.12.2014

 Since they have returned, there have been so many Browns Sundays that ended the same way for me. Walking amongst throngs of quiet fans, heads turned down, across the West Third Street Bridge, having to endure pockets of celebrating fans in Steelers or Ravens or Bengals uniforms.
            Not this past Sunday. Beneath a brilliant blue cloudless sky, in a First Energy Stadium filled with electricity, the Cleveland Browns played like what was once the Cleveland Browns as they dismantled a hapless Steelers team 31-10.
            It was the story of two teams passing in the night, each going in a different direction. The youthful Browns looked quicker, stronger, and more talented than the aging Steelers. Did Troy Palumolo make a play yesterday? Where was James Harrison? How many more seasons does Big Ben have left?
            I know it is just one game, but going back to the second half of the season opener in Pittsburgh, it has been six quarters in a row the Browns have dominated the Steelers. The Steelers had no answer to the Browns running game, play action passes, and relentless defense. Not to keep picking on them, but the Steelers have had the reputation of being great with the draft, constantly reloading their team. I don’t see it. They do have some bright young stars at running back, and Antonio Brown is a player, but over all, especially on the offensive line and the defense, there are plenty of holes on this team. Its time for them to rebuild, not reload.
            But that’s their problem, not ours. Our Browns right now are playing very well. Yes, every so often the ugly head of a team that has had four coaches in five years surfaces. And there still a lot of inexperience on both sides of the ball, but this could be the beginning of a very good run for the team and the fans. This is a talented young team that finally has found the right coaching staff and general manager. Making the playoffs this year is a realistic goal, and who knows where they could go with one more strong draft and a key free agent signing or two.
            My notebook from the game is filled with superlatives: “great play,” “nice drive,” “terrific play action,” “depth!” “Hoyer’s block,” “good coverage.”
            Everyone is talking about the second quarter when the Browns exploded for 21 unanswered points, but two events in third quarter are also noteworthy. Early in the quarter on one of many terrific play action pass plays, Brian Hoyer hit Travis Benjamin with what could be considered Hoyer’s best downfield pass of the year. Benjamin did not have to stop or stutter to catch the ball; it was right on the money. Hoyer needs to show he can go long. The other event started at the Pittsburgh six-yard line, and ended with an incomplete pass on fourth down in the Browns end zone after a thirteen-play drive. The Steelers had their chance to score and get back in the game and the Browns wouldn’t let them.
            The 3-2 Browns find themselves in uncharted territory, a three game stretch against teams they should beat. How will they handle it? Will they give one of them away?
There are also games left against teams similar to the Browns, teams like Atlanta, Carolina, Houston, and the Bills who are trying to make the same statement as the Browns. Then there are the games with proven playoff teams who are considered amongst the elite in the league, including the Colts, Ravens, and two against the Bengals. Being 3-2 is nice, but the road to the playoffs is still filled with challenges.
But let us worry about the future when it gets here and enjoy the moment at hand. No matter what happens the rest of the season, the Browns are no longer the doormat of the AFC North. And, at least for now, the hold that the team two hours east on the Turnpike has held over the Browns, is now history. From my seats in the second row of the Dawg Pound, it was the first time I remember in a long time what it felt like in the old stadium in the late 80’s during the Kosar era.
We had a great time both before and after the game checking at the Horseshoe Casino, which I predict when the weather finally turns, will be one of the most popular game day spots in town.  To go along with all that is already there, they have opened TAG Lounge and Bar, a sports bar on the second floor. With beer and drink specials, and all the games being shown on large flat screens, TAGS is a great place to hang out before and after Browns games. Both before and after the Steelers game the casino was filled with Browns fans having a good time.