Monday, September 22, 2014

View from the Dawg Pound Browns vs. Ravens 21 September 2014

If you told me at the beginning of the season the Browns would be 1-2 at their bye week, I would have thought that was not that bad of a thing. But after seeing the first three games, and how close they came to being 3-0, I feel disappointed because for the third week in a row they were not out talented.  Just like the Steelers game, the Browns lost to the Ravens 23-21 on their own efforts.
There was plenty of blame to go around. First, they self destructed in the fourth quarter on offense, defense, and special teams. The quarter started with a terrific interception by Tashaun Gibson, only to lead to a missed 50-yard field goal. I had a great view of the kick, and the wind took it almost at a 90-degree angle as it approached the goal post.  On their next drive, the Browns had their biggest offensive play of the day, a 70 yard pass to Taylor Gabriel. However, on his longest pass of the day, Hoyer could not lead the receiver. Taylor Gabriel made the best of the situation, but if the throw would have been leading him he would have run into the end zone after the catch for a touchdown.  This lead to a blocked field goal. There is no excuse for that happening. That’s two botched kicks in two weeks. Last week it was a botched extra point, this week a blocked field goal. Inexcusable. On the following Baltimore drive that lead to a field goal, the Browns defense had to burn two time outs and also had two penalties for having twelve guys on the field. Again, inexcusable.
On short to medium passes, especially play action and under screens, there are very few better than Brian Hoyer. However, it is the thing he can’t do, throw deep, that haunts the Browns. His passing percentage and rating are both inflated by the fact that the team doesn’t even try to throw long. This is partly because they lack a deep threat until Josh Gordon returns, but is also because of Hoyer’s limitations. I really like the kid and am rooting for him, but his imitations are obvious. They will become more obvious when Gordon does return, because he will be open downfield and the Browns won’t be able to get him the ball.
The media bragged about Hoyer’s 3-0 record as a starter coming into the season. That wasn’t really true, on the night he got hurt it was Brandon Weedon who won the Buffalo game for the Browns after Hoyer’s early exit. This year his record as a starter stands at 1-2. But some weaker opponents soon appear on the schedule, it looks like Gordon will make an appearance soon, and the running game is clicking. Brian Hoyer can still lead this team to some good things this season, but in the big picture if you want to reach the Promised Land, sooner or later you need a quarterback with an NFL arm. To be honest with you, I am not sure either of the Browns two quarterbacks has it.
Unnecessary penalties, using time outs when they shouldn’t be used, missed and botched field goals, lack of a downfield passing attack. Those are not the characteristics of a championship team. On the other hand, how the Ravens managed the game at the end of the fourth quarter was textbook. Their use of time outs, how they managed the clock, and their play calling on their last drive down the field is how quality NFL teams play at crunch time.
I wrote when the Browns lost to Pittsburgh in week one that they will sometimes play like a team that has had four coaching changes in five years. That happened again in the fourth quarter against Baltimore. That is going to keep on happening for three or four more games. But it will soon be an excuse the Browns cannot use to explain their poor play at times.
Before the game we did a little pub-crawling in the Warehouse District. But instead of heading to West 6th Street where the establishments are usually packed before and after Browns games, we took another path. Sometimes people forget about the places on West 9th. Some nice outdoor patios, good mix of bars and restaurants, and a lot less people make it a great place to hang out before and after games. The bad weather waited to make its appearance until well after the game ended, so it was another beautiful day to hang out outside before and after the game.
We made it to bye week with a 1-2 record but also with many reasons to be optimistic. After the bye the Browns travel to Nashville to play the Titans. If you are going to the game enjoy yourselves, Nashville is a very fun town. I’ll be watching the game with my friends in the Central Maryland Browns Backers after attending the Maryland/Ohio State game the day before. This is a great group of people who have been together for years; most of them dislocated Northern Ohio natives. I can’t wait; it’s going to be a great time.

 Photos by Dave Hostetler

Monday, September 15, 2014

View from the Dawg Pound Browns vs. Saints 15 Sept. 2014


   Let’s first say the Browns victory over the Saints was a great win. The type of game the Browns of the last decade would have lost. Tom Brady driving for the winning touchdown. A goofy call by the refs at the wrong time. Jerome Bettis breaking free on thirddown for a big gain. Those are the things that usually happen to the Browns during crunch time. But not this time.
            Let’s first talk about why the Browns won. The most over riding thing is the depth of the team. This team won missing some big guns on offense, no Josh Gordon, no Ben Tate, no Cameron Jordon. Yet rookies like Isaiah Crowell and Terrence West, along with veterans like Mike Austin, really stepped up. As I said last week, it is amazing how talented this team is with all the changes in the front office the last five years. The next reason they won was for the second game in a row they were able to run the ball. Credit the above named running backs as well as the offensive line.  When you run the ball it opens all phases of the offense. The third reason they won was the defense. For most of the game they dominated, highlighted by Tayshaun Gipson’s 62-yard interception for a touchdown. And, finally, let’s give credit when credit is due, Brian Hoyer did some nice things, especially during the final drive.
            Not to take away from the celebration of a big one, but the Browns almost lost a game they could have won very easily.  They couldn’t put the Saints away in the first half, allowing a touchdown right before intermission that put the Saints back in the game. An uncharacteristic missed extra point haunted the team, allowing the Saints to take a one-point lead in the second half. And, most importantly for the second game in a row, the Browns had no downfield passing attack. Part of that is not having a home run weapon like Josh Gordon in the line up, part of that is not having a quarterback with a big arm. This is going to start haunting this team very soon. I love Brian Hoyer and the things he can do, and he showed a lot of those skills yesterday, but you can’t win championships in the NFL without attacking the whole field and the Browns just can’t do that with their current quarterbacks.
            Speaking of quarterbacks, it was a good thing to play Johnny Manziel just enough to worry defensive coordinators. You can bet this week during practice the Ravens will spend time on defending against the things Manziel does well, scrambling out of the pocket and passing on the run, as well as running some sort of spread option. This will take time away from working against the things the Browns offense does well when Brian Hoyer is in there, like the no huddle offense, the short play action passing game, and, of course, the running game.
            The most promising thing about the game to me, for the second week in a row, is the Browns were not out talented. Even with the guys the Browns were missing on offense, the Saints, who are everyone’s pick to make the playoffs, did not have more talent on the field. Jimmy Graham was the best player in the game, but after that the talent was at least equal, maybe even leaning to the Browns.
Let’s get another home win against the Ravens, get to the bye week, and get everyone healthy. Who knows where the season could take us then?
            The media, especially the television and radio stations, love to go to the Muny Lot before games to showcase all the tailgating going on. I am often surprised how little attention all the tailgaters attract on the West Side of the stadium, especially down in the Flats. In the Muny Lot you are out in the open, exposed to the elements, and not close to any bars and restaurants. In the Flats on the west side you have bridges and trees for cover if the weather goes bad, close to some great places like the Flat Iron and the joints up In the Warehouse District if the weather really gets unbearable, and you have your choice of walking to the game or take the Lakefront rapid line, which drops you off either at the west end of the stadium or by the Rock Hall.
            The first home game of the year we always spend with the Becka Brothers and friends in one of the lots between the Flat Iron CafĂ© and the Settlers Landing train station. Our tailgate featured barbeque steak and chicken, corn on the cob, and home mad jambalaya. It was a tasty bill of fare with a lot of great people and old and new friends. The weather was terrific, and it was a great way to start out what turned out to be a fantastic day.
Food was the theme at the tailgates that surrounded ours, as fans cooked treats like alligator, lobster tails, deep fried turkeys, and every type of sausage and bratwurst imaginable. And lets just say there were a variety of complimentary cocktails too.
Let us hope there are more Sundays to come like we had for the first home game.

            One final note…Like many sports fans, I catch bits and pieces of the many shows that are on ESPN, whether it is SportsCenter or Mike and Mike in the Morning. All I heard last week is everyone on the network criticizing the NFL in how it has handled the Ray Rice situation and other incidences involving domestic violence. No one at ESPN has the right to say anything about something as serious as domestic violence as long as they employ Ray Lewis. If there is something worse than domestic violence it could be street violence, especially when it leads to murder. We all know the story, in 20XX during Super Bowl week in Atlanta Lewis was involved in the murder of two young men from Akron. He was arrested and plea-bargained, with the help of NFL lawyers, to a charge of obstructing the investigation. He later settled out of court with the family of the victims to avoid a civil suite. When you plea bargain that means you were guilty of something, and you don’t settle out of court for millions of dollars to avoid a civil suite when you are innocent.  Ray Lewis should never have been allowed back in the NFL, and he should not be working for ESPN. And until that changes, ESPN has no credibility to comment on the Ray Rice situation, or any other domestic violence incidences that involves athletes or former athletes.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

View from the Dawg Pound Browns at Pittsburgh 9.7.2104

We plan to continue this year what we did last year on this blog. For home games we will spend the pregame time going to different establishments and tailgates near the stadium. For away games we will go to popular local watering holes, or visit with a Browns Backers club at their choice of establishment. If we are on the road doing a college game on Saturday, we will try to find the nearest local Browns Backers club and spend Sunday with them. It’s been a blast in the past and we hope it continues for this year!
For the game at Pittsburgh this past Sunday we wanted to go to a place that was going to be fun to be at and had a lot of energy. With the Tribe still in the playoff race and having a home game at the same time as the Browns Steelers game, we decided on Panini’s at East 9th and Huron. It was a great choice. We were able to watch both games at the same time on big screens, plus there was a lot of energy in the place with people coming and going from the baseball game and really becoming energized as the Browns came back in the second half.
What can I say about the game that hasn’t been said? I loss is still a loss, especially to the Steelers. But I think there are some positives we can take away from this game.
            The Browns have a reasonably talented roster with a lot of young solid players. It is amazing with all the changes in the front office and coaches that they have been able to accumulate the talent they have. And in the second half last Saturday they showed  what they got.
            However, at least for the time being, the Browns at times are going to look like a team that has had three coaches in three years, four in the last five. And remember, with all the rookies on the team are in their second systems in two years, so everyone on the team has a lot of lingo and ideas and philosophies floating around in their heads. But I really like this current coaching staff, Ray Farmer and his staff for the most part have done a good job, and hopefully a period of stability has finally come to the sidelines and the front office.
            And looking like a team with three coaches in three years is exactly how they played in the first half. Tentative, hesitant, unsure what to do. But what ever was said and done at halftime worked, and the team played a lot better in the second half.
            Rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert had a rough afternoon, but he is playing the toughest position in sports and you have to learn on the job. The next time the Browns face the Steelers he will be facing their receivers for the second time and things should go better. Evan Hanford struggled as a young corner. Once the whole defense got n a good rhythm in the second half I really liked what was going on. Players like Paul Krueger and Barkevious Mingo were moved around and doing different things and it was showing results. The defense could be very, very good.
            The offense, like the defense, needed some time to get its rhythm. You had to like the running game, especially the work of the two rookie backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. We still don’t know the extent of Ben Tate’s injury, hope it isn’t serious, he played well too. The offensive line got dominated in the first half and dominated in the second. Lets hope they can start putting four quarters together.
            The passing game showed promise. After Jordan Cameron’s shoulder acted up again, the other tight ends Gary Banidge and Jim Dray made some nice plays. You got to like the little guys out wide, especially Taylor Gabriel and Andrew Hawkins.
             If Josh Gordon really comes back he will help everyone on offense. The Browns without him do not have a deep threat. Plus there is the big ugly secret that fans and the media do not talk about but every defensive coach in the NFL knows.  Neither Browns quarterback can consistently go deep out of the pocket, and I am talking NFL deep. Deep like John Elway and Tom Brady and Carson Palmer and Jim Plunkett deep. Brian Sipe did not have the strongest arm, but when he had to go downtown he could. Almost all of the long touchdown passes in both Hoyer’s and Manziel’s careers, both college and pro, have been short to medium range passes with a lot of running after the catch.  For a team to win a championship in the NFL they must be able to run the ball and attack all of the field with a passing game.  I don’t see that happening with either Browns quarterback.
            But I don’t want to end this as a downer. The Browns are greatly improved and should keep getting better. And don’t blame the Browns for their quarterback situation. How many quality downfield true NFL quarterbacks are there? Manning, Brady, Brees, Big Ben, and Carson Palmer are all on the north side of thirty. The kids in Cincinnati and Atlanta are still too inconsistent. Kyle Kapenick and Cam Newton are still works in progress. There is just not that many good quarterbacks around the league.
The excitement of the Indians win and the Browns loss, both games that went down to wire, had really worn on me. Even though the game had ended and hour earlier, everyone went to see the Indians play went to a near by restaurant or bar to watch the end of the Browns game. The streets were still crowded with post game traffic as I walked back up Prospect where my car was parked. Even though they had lost, the Browns comeback as well as the Indians win put a buzz through the people on the street.

We are always looking for new places to go to watch the games on television when the Browns are on the road. Drop us an email if you have a suggestion at