What Makes the Cleveland Brows — Well, the Cleveland Browns

81xogvlrxul._ac_ul320_sr208,320_I bought this book on a whim because I like reading about football.  I am a New England Patriots fan but I do share the misery of losing seasons with bleak prospects for the future.  From 1987 to 1995 the Patriots had a losing record every year except one, including seasons of 1-15 and 2-14.  We also had bad ownership until Robert Kraft bought the team and turned it around.  Much of what happened to the Patriots during that span of time is a lot like what has happened to the Browns.

This book lays out the key themes that have made the Browns the worst team in the NFL for the last decade.  Let’s lay it out here.

Bad ownership. While the three owners during this time are not bad guys like a Victor Kiam or Daniel Snyder, they certainly did not know how to establish a winning team.  They never came up with a structure that was clear on who was running football operations, so internally GMs, Head Coaches, Team Presidents often worked at cross-purposes.  With no structure and no accountability in place, the Browns have churned though coaches and front office personnel with no continuity in place.  A losing formula.

Horrible drafts.  The author goes through just how utterly awful the Browns drafts have been.  Every year the first-round yields busts and before the rookie wage scale, salary cap issues.  Johnny Manziel and Justin Gilbert in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft???  It doesn’t get much more disastrous than that.  Add to that players they missed out on that they could have drafted like LaDanian Tomlinson and Kalil Mack.

Bad quarterbacks.  I don’t even recall how many bad starting quarterbacks the Browns have gone through in the past decade.  Tim Couch got hurt behind and awful line then Brady Quinn turned out to be a bust.  From Tim Couch to DeShone Kizer it’s been 1st round draft pick busts, perineal back up quality quarterbacks (Doug Pederson, Brian Hoyer, Colt McCoy), or has beens (Trent Dilfer, Jeff Garcia, Jason Campbell).  Not a winning formula.

Bad Coaches.  Up through and including Hue Jackson, the Browns have had bad head coaches.  The author has some affinity for a few of them but frankly I just don’t see any of the coaches as quality head coaches.

No culture.  The Browns created a losing culture by having zero stability in leadership positions and not establishing one voice to run football operations.  Mike Lombardi, who was briefly the General Manager of the Browns, said they never established any kind of culture, much less one of winning, which is needed to be a winning franchise.

Hope for the future?  Time will tell.

This book might be painful for Browns fans but it certainly lays out the reasons for its abysmal showing the past two decades.

The Browns Blues: Two Decades of Utter Frustration: Why Everything Kept Going Wrong for the Cleveland Browns

Comprehensive History of the 1946-1955 Cleveland Browns

The Best Show in Football: The 1946-1955 Cleveland Browns, Pro Football’s Greatest Dynasty by Andy Piascik
Taylor Trade Publishing 2007

This is an extremely comprehensive history of the Cleveland Browns from 1946-1955.  It is also a very well done argument that the Cleveland Browns team of that era is the greatest dynasty of all time.

Despite playing in the All American Football Conference from 1946-1949, a competitor to the National Football League at the time, Piascik makes a great case for the greatness of the Cleveland Browns.  They won seven championships in ten years, an unbelievable feat.  But four of those championships came as members of the AAFC, which many consider to be an inferior league.  The AAFC folded in 1950 but took in some of the old AAFC teams, with the Cleveland Browns being one of them.

The greatness of the Browns’ however is evident in that they won the 1950 NFL Championship in their first season in the NFL.  They also won it again in 1954 and 1955.  It is pretty clear that despite playing in the AAFC they were a great team, and maybe the best of that time period.

Beyond the argument that the Browns are the greatest dynasty of all time this book chronicles the rise of Paul Brown as the taskmaster head coach who sought perfection and greatness from his players.  And possibly the greatest quarterback of all time, Otto Graham, was at the helm in these winning years.  This book does a fine job of chronicling the team and its players of this era, and also serves as partial history of the AAFC.  This by itself makes the book a worthy read for those who like football history.

The Best Show in Football: The 1946-1955 Cleveland Browns–Pro Football’s Greatest Dynasty

2010 NFL Football Season: Week Nine Observations


The Dallas Cowboys

Watching the Sunday night debacle where the Green Bay Packers demolished a Dallas Cowboy’s team that had been thumping their chests about a Super Bowl run at the start of the season was just too much fun to watch. For all those lifelong Cowboy’s haters like me, it’s great to see this team not only buried in mediocrity, but actually be a bad team that quits. I knew after watching that travesty of a game that poor Wade Philips was going to get the proverbial axe. Jerry Jones had to do something to stop the bleeding. I like Philips but never thought he was quite cut out to be a head coach. I am not so sure Jason Garrett is the answer as I see the offense, which he runs, as part of the problem as well. If they really want to make a statement they need to cut Mike Jenkins who has been a horrible cornerback all year long. The Cowboys are providing some good fodder and good entertainment.


GAMES I WATCHED

Cleveland Browns over New England Patriots, 34-14 (On NFL.com Game Rewind)

I had to force myself to watch this game online. What I saw made me sick to my stomach.

The New England Patriots defense has been very soft all year long. We have mostly been winning through special teams and turnovers. And our offense, without Randy Moss stretching the defense, has been extremely inconsistent as teams are able to simply double cover the underneath receivers. Wes Welker is getting a lot of unwanted attention from defenses these days. And when we can’t establish a running game to loosen up the passing attack, the offense is just flat.

But the defense was just absolutely mauled by the Cleveland Browns. The scariest thing about this game is it is either an aberration and just a trap game between contests with the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers, or it exposed our defense and weak, undisciplined, and patsies. I hope it was just an aberration.

The Browns did beat the Saints after all and Peyton Hillis, who had a 184 yards rushing in this game, put up 144 yards on the stout Baltimore Ravens defense (okay, I know they are not as stout this year but still). And I thought the Patriots’ defense played very physical and tough against the Minnesota Vikings and the hard running Adrian Peterson. So that gives me hope that defense just had an off day. But you never want to lose this badly and look that soft against any team, much less one with losing record.

Cleveland certainly appears to be better than their 3-5 record. They beat the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots and played very well against the Baltimore Ravens.

MVP: Peyton Hillis, RB

Baltimore Ravens over Miami Dolphins, 26-10

The Baltimore Ravens had little trouble dispatching the Miami Dolphins. I thought they were going to pay for settling for field goals after having the ball in the red zone twice in the first half. Once the Ravens got near the goal line they had comically bad offense series after looking great up that point and had to settle for three points instead of seven. But Miami was never able to take advantage of their breaks. It was only 13-10 Ravens at halftime and it should been much worse for the Dolphins. But the Ravens dominated the second half.

Most impressive was the Ravens ran the ball straight up the middle over and over with guard Ben Grubbs and center Matt Birk just dominating the interior of the Dolphins defense. The Ravens, while giving up a few yards, forced three interceptions and never looked back.

MVP: Ben Grubbs, G

Philadelphia Eagles over Indianapolis Colts, 26-24

I have a lot to say about this game and the horrendous officiating. The officials did every thing they could to give the Indianapolis Colts the win. The officials used zero common sense in call helmet-to-helmet contact. I could care less about the Eagles and despite many who think I hate the Colts, I really don’t. But I have observed over the years just how much the bad, horrendous, game changing calls always seem to go in their favor.

The bottom line is the Eagles completely outplayed the Colts and deserved to win the game.

The biggest mistake the officials made is calling a roughing penalty on defensive back Kurt Coleman late in the second quarter after Austin Collie was knocked out on a hard, legal hit. Collie clearly caught the ball, had possession, moved forward and ducked his head, and was crunched by Coleman in what appeared to be the chest area. Collie drops the ball and the Eagles recover it. The correct call by the officials would have been a fumble by Collie and the Eagles getting the ball wherever they returned it. At the very least it should have been the Eagles ball at the spot Collie fumbled it. Instead the Colts get a 15-yard penalty in the red zone and are able to score a touchdown and pull to a 16-14 deficit against the Eagles.

I know part of the officials’ reaction to the hit was probably that Collie was knocked completely unconscious and had to be taken off on a stretcher. I have a lot of admiration for Collie and thankfully he appears to be fine now. But that doesn’t absolve the officials for practically handing the Colts a touchdown.

But they were not done yet! Down 26-17 with three and half minutes left in the game, the Colts face a 4th down and 18 yards to go from the Philadelphia 41 yard line. The Eagles sack Manning, game over, right? Hold on, defensive end Trent Cole barely grazes the back of Manning’s helmet as he was being blocked. Manning probably didn’t even feel or notice it. But the officials, seeing that the Colts were about to lose, drop the flag, 15 yards, let’s hand the Colts another touchdown refs!

The Eagles were able to survive for a close win but it should have never come to having to get first down and run to run out the clock.

Lost in all this is Michael Vick played an excellent game both passing and running and the Eagles defense played as well as I have seen them play all year.

MVP: Michael Vick, QB

Green Bay Packers over Dallas Cowboys, 45-7

There really isn’t much to say about this game other than that Green Bay destroyed Dallas and the Dallas players simply quit. Jerry Jones must have been horribly embarrassed by the lack of effort or will on the part of his team. The Packers played a great game, of course, but they didn’t have a real football team to compete with.

And Clay Matthews, Jr. just terrorized the Dallas offensive line while receiver James Jones had a nice day with 8 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown.

MVP: Clay Matthews, Jr., LB

Pittsburgh Steelers over Cincinnati Bengals, 27-21

The Bengals are an enigma to me. They have great receivers, a good quarterback, and a solid running game but just can’t seem to get it done. Their defense is a bit weak and not at all like the Marvin Lewis defenses of the past, but they are not horrible either. Had the Bengals not given up scores after turnovers and a blocked punt, they might have been able to win this game. But they just seem not to be able to get over the hump.

The Steelers defense, as usual, is solid but they seemed to relax after getting the big lead and let the Bengals back in the game late. And the offense had to resort to a trick play with Antwaan Randle-El throwing a touchdown pass. But despite a speedy receiver, Big Ben, and a good running attack, they don’t tend to produce a lot of points.

While the defense really won this game, they let the Bengals back in it so I’m going with the speed receiver Mike Wallace as the MVP who had 110 receiving yards and extended the Steelers lead in the fourth quarter with his touchdown grab from Randle-El.

MVP: Mike Wallace, WR

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Peyton Hillis, RB, Cleveland Browns
Defensive Player: Clay Matthews, Jr., Linebacker, Green Bay Packers
Offensive Lineman: Ben Grubbs, G, Baltimore Ravens
Special Teams: Wes Welker, WR/K, New England Patriots
Rookie of the Week: Jacoby Ford, WR, Oakland Raiders

2010 NFL Football Season: Week Three Observations

Tom Brady

I realize after the first three weeks of the season that what I thought I knew, I don’t know, but there some things I know that I know, at least I think so this week.

What I Thought I Knew

I was ready to anoint the Green Bay Packers one of the top teams in football going into the week and I thought Mike McCarthy was a good coach. The horribly sloppy play and penalties against the Chicago Bears and questionable decisions by McCarthy lost the game for the Packers.

I thought the Ravens had one of the best defenses in the NFL. Who would have thought they wouldn’t be able to stop the run, against the Cleveland Browns of all teams? Luckily for them the offense woke out of its slumber for a win.

I thought the San Francisco 49’ers were an up and coming team despite their losses, but they proved me wrong Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.

I thought the Houston Texans might be the best team in the AFC but they got punked by Dallas’s defense.

And while I knew the St. Louis Rams would be better this year than last, I didn’t expect them to completely handle the Washington Redskins the way they did.

And finally, I have never been a big believer in Michael Vick coming back to be an effective every down quarterback. I guess he has proven me wrong, so far.


What I Think I Know

Pittsburgh has the best defense in the league and they just keep proving it. It is scary that they are 3-0 without Big Ben. Very scary.

The New England Patriots young defense is terrible, mostly in the secondary. I sure hope Bill Belichick gets that squad straightened out, soon.

Clinton Portis has seen his better days.

Philip Rivers is a whiney punk and San Diego has once again started off slowly. I’d love to see them lose the rest of their games. I am tired of Philip Rivers.

Baltimore’s offense could be one of the best in the league once Joe Flacco starts playing well. Even though he played well against the Browns, I still didn’t like his jittery feet and mechanics.

The Super Bowl is totally up for grabs this year. So far, there are no clearly dominant teams in the NFL.


GAMES I WATCHED

New England Patriots over Buffalo Bills 38-30 (On NFL Game Rewind)

What is going on with the New England Patriots defense?! Giving up 23 points to the Buffalo Bills is simply not acceptable (I am not counting the kickoff return for a touchdown by C.J. Spiller). The young rookie defensive backs are struggling mightily. Hopefully they will improve over the course the season. Otherwise we are in big trouble.

Thankfully, the offense looked great. Tom Brady had a terrific game and spread the ball around to a variety of receivers. The one huge concern I have is the lack of commitment to the running game. Even without a marquee running back, it is imperative to have a rushing attack to slow down pass rushers and keep defenses a little more off guard. Otherwise teams will just catch up with our passing attack.

Ryan Fitzpatrick obviously had a great day at quarterback as well and you can understand why the Bills jettisoned Trent Edwards who was just not working out. It will be interesting to see what kind of success the Bills can muster when they face tougher defensive backs.

MVP: Tom Brady, QB

Baltimore Ravens over Cleveland Browns, 24-17

I was absolutely shocked watching the Cleveland Browns and Peyton Hillis run all over the Ravens defense. Hillis ended up with 144 yards against what I thought was one of the toughest run defenses in the league.

Luckily for the Ravens the offense woke up after two disappointing weeks with Flacco hitting Anquan Boldin for three touchdowns. Despite having a better game I still though Flacco sometimes looked sketchy in the pocket. No quarterback has a lot of time to throw in the NFL but when Flacco gets what I consider normal pressure, he seems to get happy feet and throw off his back foot or make mental errors. It was less pronounced this week than last but there are still some issues there.

And what can you say about the acquisition of Anquan Boldin? He has been one of the most consistent offensive performers in the league and the bright spot on offense for the Ravens the past three weeks.

For Cleveland this should be a game to build on. If they can play that well against this defense, they should be able to notch up a few wins this season. And I wonder if Jake Delhomme will get his starting job back? Seneca Wallace looked awfully good in this game. Of course he was getting a lot of support in the running game.

MVP: Anquan Boldin, WR

St. Louis Ram over Washington Redskins, 30-16

Despite some miscues and not taking full advantage of some of their opportunities, the St. Louis Rams looked like a good football team against the Washington Redskins! I was extremely impressed with the team on both sides of the ball.

I was most impressed that after taking a 14-0 lead, the Washington Redskins came back to take the lead 16-14 early in the third quarter but the Rams didn’t falter. This is when bad teams fall apart and get spanked. Instead, the Rams stayed calm and retook the lead with a nice touchdown drive and never looked back. While I think Sam Bradford has a lot of work to do, his calm leadership and solid play showed that he can eventually be top flight starter in the NFL if he stays healthy. And the defense shut the Redskins out the rest of the game thanks to linebacker Bill Laurinaitis being all over the field and the play of free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe before leaving the game with an injury.

On the Redskins side of the ball, they absolutely could not get a running game going. Without a running game they just could not do much in the second half. It would appear Santana Moss is getting too old be a receiver that can carry the load and Joey Galloway is even worse. I am surprised the Redskins didn’t go to tight end Chris Cooley more than they did.

The most bizarre play was when Clinton Portis broke off a long run and then simply fell to the ground himself. Later in the week it was reported he told Coach Shanahan it was because of his wrist injury and concern about ball security. While I think Portis is one of the biggest whiners and malcontents in the league, he has been a tough player so I give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

This game reminded me a lot of the Detroit Lions game last year in the third game of the season where the Redskins lost in a poorly played game and Portis got into an argument with Jim Zorn on the sideline after taking himself out of the game. To me, that game marked the day the wheels came off for the Redskins in the 2009 season. Again, in the third week, they lost to a team most would think they should beat, and didn’t look great in the process. Will the wheels come off again or will Shanahan keep this team rolling forward and improving? With a weakened offensive line, no running game, and a questionable corps of receivers, it might be tough. Donovan McNabb can’t do it all on his own.

MVP: Bill Laurinaitis, LB

New York Jets over Miami Dolphins, 31-23

Mark Sanchez had a great game against the Dolphins. Is this his breakout game or will he revert back to the poor play we saw in the first game of the season? Time will tell. But I will say, I am not a believer.

I also think if the off field incidents like Braylon Edwards’ DUI continue, it will become a distraction for this team. He did catch a long touchdown pass to help redeem himself. The key to this game, to me though, was the ability of the Jets to run the ball with LaDanian Tomlinson, helping out the passing game.

Miami hung tough and tried to come back but to no avail, even with Brandon Marshall catching 10 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown.

MVP: Mark Sanchez, QB

Chicago Bears over Green Bay Packers, 20-17

Green Bay outplayed the Bears but their 18 penalties for 152 yards killed them. Holding penalties thwarting the offense and a stupid roughing the passer penalty negating a Green Bay interception really did the Packers in. Punter Tim Masthay was horrible, having the kind of game that should get him cut. A short low kick allowed an easy punt return for a touchdown by Devin Hester that put the Bears ahead in the fourth quarter and was really the key play in the game.

And then Mike McCarthy challenged a fumble that was clearly a fumble in the fourth quarter costing the team a timeout. That was a really stupid move on his part. There is no way that play was getting overturned.

The Bears are now 3-0, the only undefeated team in the NFC, and have knocked off two good teams in Dallas and Green Bay. Frankly, they just don’t look like a 3-0 team to me.

MVP: Devin Hester, WR/KR

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Austin Collie, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Defensive Player: Bill Laurinaitis, LB, St. Louis Rams
Offensive Lineman: Adam Goldberg, G, St. Louis Rams
Special Teams: Leon Washington, RB/KR, Seattle Seahawks
Rookie of the Week: C.J. Spiller, RB/KR, Buffalo Bills

2008 NFL Football Season: Week 10, Browns Blow it in Quinn’s Debut

Jay Cutler Throws for 447 Yards Against Browns

Jay Cutler Throws for 447 Yards Against Browns

Denver Broncos over Cleveland Browns, 34-30

I can’t remember a year where I have seen so many close games with wild plays that determine the final outcome.  For three quarters the Cleveland Browns dominated the Denver Broncos and took a 23-13 lead into the fourth quarter.  There was nothing to indicate that Denver could get back in the game, but I told my wife “it’s not over by a long shot, it’s only a 10 point lead.”  The very next play was a 93-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler to Eddie Royal that cut the lead to 23-20.  This was immediately followed by a Kellen Winslow, Jr. fumble on Cleveland’s next possession that Denver turned into another touchdown to take the lead 27-23.  Those were the two pivotal plays of the game as both teams traded touchdowns late in the game. 

Cleveland has now blown two fourth quarter leads in consecutive games, dropping to a 3-6 record that all but ensures they will miss the playoffs this year.  The promise of a breakout year after last year’s surprisingly strong showing is gone, as the Browns now look to salvage their season and pin their hopes on the arm and leadership of Brady Quinn next year. 

 

The storyline going into this game was obviously the first start of Brady Quinn’s career.  Quinn acquitted himself very well and showed great promise.  He stayed poised throughout the game, threw the ball well for the most part, and played smart.  Most impressively, Quinn stayed cool once Denver took the lead late in the game and calmly drove the Browns for a go ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter on a one yard run by Jamal Lewis.  It was for naught as Denver and Jay Cutler answered with a winning touchdown drive of their own.  But even on the final desperation drive, Quinn played well and his fourth down pass to Winslow was right on the money, Winslow just didn’t make the catch.   

 

Granted Denver has a very weak defense, the Browns established a very productive running game, Quinn had excellent protection in the pocket, and the passing game was mostly a short, controlled variety with no long throws.  He also threw some odd low balls that Kellen Winslow dug off the turf bailing Quinn out.  Nonetheless, for a first start in the NFL, not bad.  Only time will tell what Brady Quinn will ultimately do in this league, but he showed enough last night to think he has a bright future.

 

And what’s up with Brandon Marshall dropping ball, after ball, after ball?  What happened to him all of a sudden? 

 

And Kellen Winslow had a great game except he had a silly offensive pass interference penalty that stymied a late drive, fumbled the ball that led to a Denver go ahead score (although it was a great strip by the defense), and he should have caught that last  pass of the game for a first down.  But he seemed to play with a lot of heart and made some nice catches.

 

Jay Cutler, with NO running game, and hurt tight end, and a receiver dropping balls all over the field still pulled out the win.  It was a very impressive outing by Cutler.  What Denver will do with no running backs the rest of the season is a mystery, but this will keep their playoff hopes alive.

 

MVP:  Jay Cutler, QB, Denver Broncos

 

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2008 NFL Football Season: Week 6

I am gong to quit saying what a crazy week of football it has been. It’s a crazy season.

San Diego Chargers over New England Patriots, 30-10 

Oh what a difference one man makes on a team.  Sorry Matt Cassel, I know it’s not all your fault because you don’t play on our lousy, no account defense.  But you hold the ball too long on some plays when you should pass it or throw it away, get too impatient and run too soon on others, and miss seeing wide open receivers too often.  This is not the same New England team that almost went undefeated last year, to say the least.  And the only real difference in the team?  No Tom Brady.  I even heard someone suggest that Tom Brady should be awarded the 2008 NFL MVP Award because the Patriots’ performance so far shows just what a difference he made and the rest of the AFC now has a real chance to get to the Super Bowl. 

Needless to say watching this game for New England fans was excruciating.  We are used to close games but getting blown out twice in four weeks??  Unheard of in recent memory.  But let me get on with my take of the game; enough whining and whimpering. 

The New England Patriots didn’t seem to show up for this game on offense or defense.  The Chargers outplayed the Patriots in nearly every area imaginable and kept torching the defense for long pass plays.  The Chargers had a 17-3 lead at halftime and the Patriots looked awful the entire first half. 

Then, Patriots fans were given a glimpse of hope as the Patriots marched down the field in the first possession of the third quarter right down to the 1 yard line, first and goal.  The Patriots looked like they came out at halftime with new game plan on offense and were ready to make the score 17-10 and get back into the ballgame!   

But the hope was false as the Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniel’s inexplicably calls three passing plays and the Charger’s stuffed us at the one yard line on 4th and one.  Okay, so we have the Chargers backed up on their one yard line, we are still in this game. 

But no, BOOM, 56 yard pass to Vincent Jackson on second down, followed shortly thereafter by a pass interference call on Ellis Hobbs in the end zone.  24-10 Chargers.  Game over! 

Let me say the Chargers played a great game and really took advantage of our weak defensive backfield.  But I don’t care about the Chargers, so I am going to talk about the Patriots. 

Defense 

Where was it?  No pass rush and lousy defensive back play allowed the Chargers to hook up on bombs that were the difference in the game.  We generated no pass rush on Philip Rivers and he and Vincent Jackson torched our defensive backs, especially Deltha O’Neal, making them look like lost little boys among men.   

Offense 

Why not run the ball on the goal line instead of passing three times with Matt Cassel?  Forth and goal is when you man up and stuff the ball in the end zone.  Cassel did take off running too soon on the fourth down play and had a guy open in the end zone. 

Why not run the ball?  Because Jamal Williams (DT, Chargers) was slapping around Dan Koppen and the New England guards like they were rag dolls.  We could hardly run the ball up the middle.  Williams played the best defense of the games I saw this week. 

This season to me is shaping up to look a little like the 2005 season when the Patriots beat the bad teams and lost to the good teams because the defense kept giving up huge plays.  But our offense was much more prolific than this one, with Tom Brady at the helm, so we survived and made the playoffs while the defense improved.  (We got robbed in the playoffs in a loss to Denver by the bad officiating).  Only time will tell what the ultimate outcome of this season will be, but seeing a game like this doesn’t give us Patriots fans much hope. 

MVP:  Vincent Jackson, WR, San Diego Chargers.  5 receptions, 134 yards, 1 touchdown. 

Indianapolis Colts over Baltimore Ravens, 31-3 

After seeing the Ravens defense play so well this year and Joe Flacco playing good for a rookie, I really thought the Ravens would give the Colts a run for their money this week.  Shows you how much I know about football.  Turnovers were a big key to this game for the Ravens and Manning took full advantage of them and looked as good as I’ve seen him all year.  This game was never a game from the start.  He even got good production out of Marvin Harrison this week who scored two touchdowns. 

MVP:  Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts

 St. Louis Rams over Washington Redskins, 19-17

I taped this one and watched it this week. The key to this game was turnovers (sound familiar?).  Washington outplayed the Rams the first half but were losing at halftime.  Of course the key play in the entire game was the 75 yard fumble return by Oshiomogho Atogwe that allowed the Rams to take a 10-7 lead into the locker room. The Rams played better in the second half on both sides of the ball and eked out a 19-17 win. The Rams didn’t look quite as bad on offense as they evidently have all year but I was pretty unimpressed overall. The only player on the Rams team that stood out to me was Steven Jackson. He ran hard through the smallest of holes. Marc Bulger just didn’t look like the Marc Bulger of a few years ago. He tended to be very skittish in the pocket and hurrying his throws. That is what happens to a quarterback who takes a beating and has a weak offensive line. Even when he had time to throw the ball he looked uncomfortable in the pocket. And I’m starting to wonder if Tory Holt has seen his better days. He wasn’t that impressive either. Overall, this game came down to the Redskins’ three turnovers in the first half.

As for the Redskins? No need to panic over this game. Some may recall I was very skeptical of Jim Zorn as a head coach, mostly from lack of experience. Zorn has made a true believer out of me. So far he has done an outstanding job of play calling, with the short passing game and a balanced run-pass attack. He’s also adapted the offense to play to the strengths of a rejuvenated Clinton Portis and the abilities of Jason Campbell. And Campbell has played the best I’ve seen him to date, much of which can be attributed to Zorn’s tutelage and play calling. The Skins are looking good this year despite this hiccup.

MVP: Oshiomogho Atogwe, FS, St. Louis Rams for 75 yard fumble return for touchdown that was the key difference in the game.

Arizona Cardinals over Dallas Cowboys, 30-24

The Dallas Cowboys have been in the wildest, most entertaining shootouts this year. Every week seems to bring something new. This game was no exception, going back and forth on one big play after another. The game started off with a Cardinals kickoff return for a touchdown, featured a 70 yard reception and awesome run by Marion “the Barbarian” Barber to get Dallas back into the game in the fourth quarter, followed by a 52 yard game tying field goal as time expired by Nick Folk – after getting the first attempt blocked but the Cardinals coach had called a time out, and ending on a blocked punt for touchdown to win the game in overtime by the Cardinals. It was a very exciting game, especially since I was rooting for the Cardinals.

The Cardinals are the surprising team this year. Ken Whisenhunt, obviously made the right call in starting Kurt Warner who, other than problems with ball security, has had a phenomenal year. They are almost definitely going to make the playoffs and are one of the more interesting teams this year.

Dallas, on the other hand, seems to be falling apart, with a mouthy Terrell Owens, injuries to Felix Jones and now Tony Romo, and Romo seeming to have problems with fumbling and bad plays. Dallas to me, seems to have the most talent but it is a topsy-turvy team.

Now I am one of those Dallas haters not Dallas lovers but I hate to see good players get hurt. I hope Tony Romo recovers quickly from his broken finger. I’m not a Dallas fan, but Romo is hard to root against and I hope to see him back on the field soon. Although, were I Dallas, I’d be hesitant to start him this week even if he can go. First, he’s too valuable down the stretch to risk additional injury, and he is already fumble prone so the cast or wrapping on his hand would only make that worse.

Larry Fitzgerald may be the best receiver in the league. He made some great plays, especially in the fourth quarter, which to me were the key difference in the game.

MVP: Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals

Cleveland Browns over New York Giants, 35-14

Where has this Cleveland team been all year long? Where has this Derek Anderson been this year? The Cleveland Browns in this game looked like the Cleveland Browns everybody expected at the beginning of the season. While Derek Anderson started off a little shaky in the first half, he played a spectacular second half as the Browns thumped the New York Giants. Braylon Edwards, despite some dropped balls, also had a great game. If the Browns can continue to play at this level they may get themselves back into the thick of things in the AFC.

Of course the Browns were helped by three Eli Manning interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown late in the second half that pretty much sealed the game. Eli looked like the Eli of old, making bad decisions and throwing off his back foot. I still think the New York Giants are likely the best team in the league anyway. The NFC East is shaping up to be a wild race.

MVP: Derek Anderson, QB, Cleveland Browns

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans

Defensive Player: Jamal Williams, DT, San Diego Chargers

Offensive Lineman: Casey Rabach, C, Washington Redskins

Special Teams: Matt Scifres, P, San Diego Chargers

Rookie of the Week: Chris Horton, SS, Washington Redskins

2008 NFL Season: Week 2

Rookie Running Banks

Some pundits have said that this may be the best rookie running back class in NFL history.  Whether that is true or not only time will tell but rookie running backs have certainly made a big impact in the first two games of the regular season with 100 yard rushing games and being difference makers in crunch time.  For posterity’s sake here the rookie running backs that have made the biggest impact so far this year.

Matt Forte, Chicago Bears (Tulane)
Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans (East Carolina)
Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders (Arkansas)
Jonathan Stewart, Carolina Panthers (Oregon)

Five other running backs are expected to make good contributions and have good careers when they get their opportunity.

Steve Slaton, Houston Texans (West Virginia)
Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens (Rutgers)
Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh Steelers (Illinois)
Felix Jones, Dallas Cowboys (Arkansas)
Kevin Bell, Detroit Lions (Central Florida)

Laurence Maroney, New England Running Back

Maroney is turning out to be a somewhat disappointing first round draft pick at running back.  He doesn’t run hard.  He dances behind the line of scrimmage instead of hitting the hole.  And he is always hurt.  In one series against the Jets this week there was a hole large enough to drive and 18-wheel truck through but Maroney missed it and got tackled for a short gain.  The announcers chalked it up to the speed of the Jets defense, but I’ve seen Maroney miss open holes too many times to buy that.  He seems to want to avoid any kind of contact.  That is why you see Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and LaMont Jordan in the game to get the tough, short yards when we need it most.  I wonder if we’ll see Maroney in the Patriots uniform after this year.

Blown Call in San Diego’s 39 to 38 Win over San Diego

Wow. I’ve seen some pretty bad officiating this week but the blown call of referee Ed Hochuli on Jay Cutler’s clear fumble near the end of the game clearly cost San Diego the win. The worst part is it was so obvious that the play was a fumble and there was nobody around Cutler, so it wasn’t one of those close judgment calls that the official just missed.

The worst part for San Diego is that the AFC playoff race would appear at this point to be a very close one, even this early in the season, and that one loss could be the difference between making the playoffs and sitting at home watching them. And it will almost definitely have an impact on home field advantage and seeding.

It’s hard to beat up on the referees too much because it is a fast paced game and the challenge to make the right call for the referees is a difficult one. But even though I have no interest in either of these two teams, as fan you just hate to see a game decided no such an egregiously bad call by the refs.

Here is what a member of my fantasy football league had to say about the call:

It is unacceptable. Totally. Norv Turner was right. If I was coaching that game I might have pulled my team off the field. The NFL should be embarassed…and I mean to a greater degree than issuing some bogus apology to Norv and the Chargers today, which you know will happen. That’s why you have replay and to not use it to its full extent is ridiculous. That play should have been called a fumble with the Chargers recovering, which essentially means “game over.” I understand human error. But technology is employed there to get it right. And the league failed in that regard.
 
But that’s football as long as it’s not against my Skins 🙂

Miscellaneous Observations

I have seen the worst pass blocking across the board than I can remember in a long time. Nearly every game I have seen the pass blocking has been suspect at best.

The Denver Bronco’s look like a real force to contend with this year, at least on offense. Jay Cutler appears to heading into the realm of elite quarterback in the NFL, if he isn’t there already. He’s really bounced back from last year and it would appear his diabetes can be chalked up to his less than stellar performances last season. Cutler really does appear to be best QB out of his draft class as Matt Leinert and Vince Young languish on the bench. Eddie Royal, the Denver Bronco’s rookie wide receiver from Virginia Tech looks like the real deal.

Could Donovan McNabb be the comeback player of the year? I guess not since he played last year, but he certainly didn’t play well and missed a few games with injuries. He looks like his old self the past two weeks.

GAMES I WATCHED

Indianapolis Colts over Minnesota Vikings, 18-15

I am sick and tired of the referees doing everything they can to make sure the Colts win a game.  Last year’s horribly officiated playoff game against the San Diego Chargers is just one of many examples where I’ve seen bad refereeing that all seems to go in favor of the Colts.  Last year the refs seemed to do everything they could to make sure the Colts wound up in the AFC Championship game, but the Chargers prevailed anyway.  While Minnesota deserved to lose after settling for 5 field goals (and one miss), late in the game on a 3rd down and about 5 the Minnesota receiver was clearly and definitely interfered with and there was NO CALL! That could have given Minnesota a first down and possibly changed the outcome of the game.  Maybe not, given Minnesota’s overall ineptness at scoring, and it did not as clearly cost the Vikings the game as the blown calls in Denver cost the San Diego Chargers, but it definitely had a big impact on the outcome.

The game started off going the Vikings way.  The Colts looked out of sync offensively all game and I thought Adrian Peterson would get a 200 plus yard game the way he was gashing the Colts defense in the first half.  But the offense could not punch it in the end zone and called a very conservative offensive game, not allowing Tarvaris Jackson to throw the ball.  I am not a big believer in T. Jackson as a starting NFL quarterback but he didn’t play that bad and the offensive line didn’t do much to help him when pass blocking.  But alas, the Vikings blew a 15-0 lead and you could feel all game long it was just a matter of time before the Colts and the Peyton Manning lead offensive would come to life and put some points on the board, which is exactly what they did.

Adrian Peterson is the real deal at running back.  He gets through small holes and just pile drives down the field.  And he’s got a good burst of speed too.  Peterson and Chester Taylor, who also played well, are about the only thing the Vikings have on offense, which in some games might be good enough.  But they are 0-2 and things aren’t looking up.  As of today, I consider Peterson to be the best running back in the league over LaDanian Tomlinson.

The Colts Anthony Gonzalez (9 catches, 137 yards) had a big day at wide receiver and was my MVP of the game.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see him supplant Marvin Harrison in the starting line-up this year. 

New England Patriots over New York Jets, 19-10

 Cassel Leads Patriots over the Jets

Oh, what a sweet victory for Patriots fans!!!!  While the Patriots didn’t look like the dominate offensive team they were last year, and Matt Cassel is no Tom Brady, the kid played well enough to win the game and we’re proud of him.  Cassel took some huge shots during the game as well, including one where he came up limping, but he came right back out and played mistake free ball and made key throws when he had too.

New England was clearly determined to run the ball more, especially once they got the lead.  Kevin Faulk made some great third down plays and LaMont Jordan was a better ram in the fourth quarter to help us milk the clock and hold the lead.

The defense seemed a little shaky at times, especially in the first half, but settled down a little in the second half and got good pressure on Farve and slowed down the running game.

I know Moss didn’t catch many balls but I sure hope he keeps his head up.  We’re not dead yet.

MVP: Matt Cassel for winning in his first start since high school.  I lean toward Kevin Faulk for key plays in the second half but I have to go with Cassel.

Pittsburgh Steelers over Cleveland Browns, 10-6

This was a very weird game to watch.  I guess it was the wind but both offensives looked anemic.  The Browns were just an absolute mess, especially their offensive line and their terrible clock management.  Just like last week Derek Anderson looked awful and Braylon Edwards looked worse.  It’s hard to tell if they are really just playing that badly or if they chalk this one up to the weather.  But after all the high expectations they have started off 0-2 and even though they were playing good teams, they looked awful in both them.  Things aren’t looking too good for the Browns if they don’t right their ship fast.

Willie Parker had a 100 yard day and Ben Roethlisberger managed the game will in bad conditions.  I love watch Troy Polamalu play who was all over the field and had an interception.

MVP: Troy Polamalu, Strong Safety

Dallas Cowboys over Philadelphia Eagles 41-37

This was one of the wildest games I have seen in a long time. It featured a Tony Romo fumble in the end zone leading to a Philadelphia touchdown, a kickoff return for a touchdown by the Cowboy’s rookie running back Felix Jones, a terrible pass interference call against the Cowboys on a long throw into the end zone that should have been called against the offense, chalking up an easy score for the Eagles. And the game was really decided by a McNabb mistake on a poor handoff to Brian Westbrook in the fourth quarter resulting in a fumble and a Dallas go ahead touchdown. It was quite the wild affair.

This game was very entertaining and looked like two Super Bowl contenders slugging it out. It’s kind of hard to say slugging given the lack of defense, but it was one heavyweight offensive blow after another.

For Dallas, they certainly seem to have picked up right where they left off last year offensively before they ran into the New York Giants in the playoffs. Other than his fumble, Romo looked great in the pocket and handled pressure well. And you just have to love the way Marion Barber runs so hard every single time he touches the ball. He is one of my favorite players to watch. And the rookie running back Felix Jones looks as good as advertised. One only wonders where the defense was?

On the Philadelphia’s side, Donovan McNabb extremely comfortable and played very well, except for a few errant passes, and a couple of inexplicable miscues on handoffs, once of which ultimately cost the Eagles the game. What is particularly surprising is that McNabb is doing it without his starting receivers. Brian Westbrook once again was stellar running and receiving.

One of stupidest plays of the game was rookie DeSean Jackson catching a long pass from McNabb and racing to the end zone but throwing the ball down in celebration before crossing the goal line. I get sick and tired and of seeing these idiotic types of plays and so wish one of the Dallas defenders had picked up the ball and gone the other way with it so we could gloat at the goat that he is. He has the speed and potential to be a big time threat in the league, but I hope he learned his lesson.

My only question at the end of the game is can either team win a championship without a better defense effort?

MVP: Marion Barber, RB, 114 total yards, 2 touchdowns, hard running

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Offensive Player: Brandon Marshall, WR, Denver Broncos.  18 catches for 166 yards and touchdown.

Defensive Player: Chris Horton, Free Safety, Washington Redskins.  Two interceptions and a fumble recovery.  I had to go with this rookie from UCLA who unexpectedly had to start in the game. Otherwise I would have chosen Troy Polamalu.

Offensive Lineman: Leonard Davis, G, Dallas.

Special Teams: Darren Sproles, KR/RB, San Diego Chargers (103 yard kickoff return for a touchdown).

Rookie of the Week:  Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland for his 164 yards rushing.  (Last week I’ll go with Eddie Royal, WR, Denver).