November 2007


Leading Vote GetterBrowns’ Guard Leading Pro Bowl Voting

With just 2 weeks left to vote for the Pro Bowl, NFL.com has released the leading vote grabbers to this point. Cleveland Browns’ left guard Eric Steinbach is leading all AFC guards in votes with 293,339 nominations.

The NFL did not release any other information, so there is no way to know how big the lead is, nor is it possible to know if others, such as Joe Thomas, Josh Cribbs, and Kellen Winslow are close at all to the leaders at their respective positions.

Final results will not be released until the Pro Bowl Selection show on December 18th.

The most frustrating thing I saw on the list was Josh Cribbs not leading the AFC in kick returners. I would have been ok with this if Leon Washington was the leading vote getter, but Wes Welker? Not so much. That vote is an absolute joke. Welker is 4th in the AFC in punt return average, and he does not return kicks. Josh Cribbs is 1st in the NFL in kick return average and 5th in the AFC in punt return average. Who is voting on these awards? Do fans not pay attention to the NFL outside their own teams at all??? And don’t get me started on tight ends, either. How can fans ignore the fact that Winslow is 6th in the entire NFL in receiving yards, 1st among TE’s? Let alone the fact that he’s 1st among TE’s in catches and 5th among TE’s in TDs (a number that would surely be much higher if Braylon Edwards wasn’t splitting so many TDs with him). I don’t want to sound like an esoteric homer here, but fans need to start expanding their boundaries a little bit and stop voting out of such egregious ignorance.

The good news is that the fans’ votes thankfully only count for 1/3 of the proccess. Coaches and players make up the other two thirds. Here’s to hoping the players’ peers can rectify the mistakes of the fans.

Brandon McDonaldPower Rankings and DA’s Future

Time to look around at the power rankings and Browns analysis for this week.

Coming off the big win over the Texans this week, optimism is still the key word. Regarding the Power Rankings, the Browns have basically hit that part of the rankings where even with big wins it’s tough to move up much because there are so few teams above them. Every week this season feels more and more remarkable. It’s hard to fathom how far this team has come since week 1. How was anyone to know following the blowout and fallout that followed that this team would be in this position. The Browns truly control their own playoff destiny at this point. Keep winning against teams with worse records, and the Browns are in. With 5 games left, even a 3-2 record in those games will very likely put this team in the playoffs. Optimism is the word.

As always, we start with the power rankings. And as always, we start with Matt Mosley’s Hashmarks power rankings. And as always, I will mention that the Browns started at #32 on his rankings because, well, I just enjoy thinking about that fact.  This week, Mosley has the Browns up one slot to number 7, just 1 back of the Steelers, just as they are in the AFC North standings.

Next up are Jason Cole and Charles Robinson’s Power Rankings for Yahoo! Sports. Jason Cole has the Browns in a holding pattern, stuck firmly at number 7. Cole writes,

“Cleveland showed on Sunday it truly belongs. The Browns aren’t some aberration. They are legit.”

Charles Robinson, however, moved the Browns up a notch to a peak position for the season of #6. His optimism about the Browns shows, as he writes,

“Believe it or not, with the schedule (at Cardinals, at Jets, Bills, at Bengals, 49ers) sitting in front of them, it’s possible the Browns don’t lose again and head into the postseason at 12-4.”

ESPN’s Power Rankings have the Browns on the move as well. This week they get bumped up a spot from #8 to #7. Mike McAllister writes,

“The Browns are plus-2 in the giveaway/takeaway category. That may not mean much to you, but the Browns have finished on the plus side of turnover differential just once since 1993.”

Next, we look at CBS SportsLine’s Power Rankings for this week. While a little lower than most rankings, SportsLine also has the Browns moving up spot, although here they go from #9 to #8. Peter Prisco writes,

“They are for real. And based on their schedule they have a good shot to be a playoff team. Going to Arizona this week to face a desperate team won’t be easy.”

Our next destination is the Fox Sports Power Rankings. The Fox Sports rankings are a bit of an enigma to understand. Peter Schrager has the Browns surprisingly low and he keeps the Browns at the same position as last week, number 9. But surprisingly, Schrager shows a lot of optimism in his comments about the Browns, writing,

“Break up the Browns! Derek Anderson continued his dream season, going 24-35 and tossing for two touchdowns, while Jamal Lewis gashed the Houston defense for 134 yards and a touchdown in Cleveland’s 27-17 win over the Texans. Cleveland improved to 7-4 with the victory — its fifth straight win at home. With Arizona, the Jets, Buffalo, Cincinnati, and San Francisco up ahead — there are five winnable games on the docket. A playoff berth in 2007? It’s very possible. A 12-win season, an AFC North title, and a first round bye? Hey, if Cleveland keeps playing like they have been the past few weeks, there’s definitely a chance.”

Finally, as always, we end with the Cleveland Sports Authority Power Rankings:

01. New England Patriots
02. Dallas Cowboys
03. Green Bay Packers
04. Indianapolis Colts
05. Pittsburgh Steelers
06. Jacksonville Jaguars
07. Cleveland Browns
08. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
09. Seattle Seahawks
10. New York Football Giants

Next up is our weekly look at what the ESPN.com analysts had to say about the Browns this week. There was a lot of talk this week about DA and the Browns QB situation going forward.

First stop, we take a look at the Winners chat from this week. Keith Kidd took the first question about DA:

John (Cincinnati, OH): Keith, am I crazy for thinking that the Browns should get whatever they can for Anderson this offseason while his value is high? For every amazing throw he makes he misses 3 dump-offs/check – down throws.

SportsNation Keith Kidd: Why should the Browns move him and go to a QB who has never played in the NFL. It makes no sense. Yes Anderson will struggle with his accuracy, but he has been a great story this year, and I would not trade him if I were the Browns.

Matt Williamson was next, and he talks about the balance of credit for the Browns success between the QB play and the O-Line performance:

John (Cincinnati, OH): The Browns are 7-4 in part b/c of Anderson. I’d have to say the Oline has done just as much if not more than Anderson. Might as well trade him instead of keeping him for 1 more year and letting him walk out the door. There is no way the Browns will sign him long term.

SportsNation Matt Williamson: I agree that the OL has been at least as important. That being said, I don’t think they would be 7-4 in Charlie Frye. Tough spot. They will tender him high for sure. Listen to offers. Don’t HAVE to move him. From what I understand, Quinn’s cap situation is pretty friendly for Clev if Quinn remains a backup. Good problem to have really.

He later took another question comparing DA to Chuck Frye:

Grover (Cleveland): Cleveland is 7-4 right now. Where do you think they would be with Frye still at QB?

SportsNation Matt Williamson: 3-8. DA is just a much better fit in that O. He is a much better pure thrower and that is what they need. Great OL. Good running game. Great weapons. Need a thrower. Still, DA isn’t very accurate and that often gets overlooked because his weapons have such huge catching radiuses. He needs the conditions to be near-perfect, but they often are behind Joe T and company.

Finally, Doug Kretz was up and he started by looking ahead to the Cardinals matchup:

Jay (NC): How do you think the Browns-Cards game will go next week? I think it will go like the Texans game with the Browns winning big something like 30-20. Cards D won’t be able to contain Winslow or Edwards. What do you think?

SportsNation Doug Kretz: I think that Arizona’s defense is better than most people realize.. If DA’s O line is able to give him time, like they have for most of this season, the Browns should win, but I think it will be a nail biter.

Finally, he ended with a question about DA and his accuracy:

Rob (Indiana): I’ve really enjoyed Derek Anderson, but can a guy with a 58% completion percentage stick as a starting QB? I would think you need to be at least 60% to make it in this league.

SportsNation Doug Kretz: While I think Anderson has “made it in this league” I don’t think he will ever be an elite QB.. Not mobile enough and a lot of his completions have been a result of great catches by Winslow and Edwards.

That wraps it up for this week. A little shorter than normal, but look for a post tomorrow discussing a wide range of Browns topics.

OMG I’m AwesomeAnderson Varejao Trying To Make Waves

This thing is officially a mess. With negotiations evidently going nowhere in the Anderson Varejao holdout, evidently AV has decided that the only thing left to do is to throw anyone and everyone under the bus by talking to the media and not holding back.

Lets start at the beginning. Anderson Varejao entered this offseason as a restricted free agent. He asked for a deal in the range of 6 years, $60 million. The Cavaliers, predictably, scoffed at this number, and basically told Varejao to go ahead and find someone to give him that kind of deal. The Cavaliers held all the cards, as they could match any offer anyone else made. After a lot of talk by Varejao’s agent, Dan Fegan about several teams showing interest in giving Varejao the money he wanted, the only team that even considered signing Varejao was Memphis, who eventually decided to just sign Darko Milicic. This left Varejao all by himself, with an inflated sense of self worth and no suitors.

Meanwhile, the Cavaliers did absolutely nothing. They brought in no plan B’s to replace Varejao. Danny Ferry just sat on his hands, and decided to keep holding all the cards. But not before making one major miscalculation. Ferry went down to Brazil and knocked on Varejao’s front door unannounced and unbeknownst to Fegan. He came with contract in hand and tried to talk Varejao into signing. The stunt was not illegal, but certainly taboo. Varejao was angered by the move, and basically told Ferry to leave and to call his agent.

Which brings us to today, with 2 sides who are angry, frustrated, and distrusting of the other side. All of this finally boiled over this week, as Varejao finally spoke out to the English speaking press. As Bob Finnan reported, as Varejao spoke, the Cavaliers began looking for other options. Finnan wrote,

“The Cavs have begun to aggressively pursue sign-and-trade deals involving the 6-foot-10, 250-pounder from Brazil, but a league source said they aren’t going to take back inferior players just so Varejao can be overpaid.”

The problem with this, however, is that it’s too little too late. Sign and trade deals are just too tough to pull off this late in the season. Brian Windhorst touched on this in his blog this week, saying:

“As for a sign-and-trade now, who is fooling whom? The summer is for sign-and-trades, the summer is for doing contracts. You don’t think Fegan has been working on sign-and-trades since July? Of course he has and there is no deal to make. There one coming now just like there wasn’t then. See, so much of this is common NBA sense, which is why so much of this is nonsense.”

And often, nonsense breeds nonsense, and that’s what happened when Varejao spoke. In an interview with ESPN’s Chad Ford, AV absolutely ripped into the Cavaliers organization, from top to bottom, including teammates. From Ford’s interview:

“I wanted to come back. I love the fans and I really love my teammates. But there are others there that have made it very difficult. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t want to play there anymore. I’m just hoping for a sign-and-trade at this point.”

Several other teams told ESPN.com they would have offered Varejao their full midlevel exception (starting at $5.356 million per season), but Varejao has not been willing to sign for that amount because he believes (a) the Cavs would match, and (b) he’s worth more.

The Cavs’ popular forward wants considerably more than the team is offering. He turned down the Cavs’ one-year, $1.2 million tender offer. (To retain a restricted free agent, a team must make a tender offer.) He also refused Cleveland’s opening offer of five years, $20 million, and then its latest offer of five years, $32 million, with a starting salary slightly below the midlevel exception.

But Varejao said media reports that he’s asking for a contract averaging $10-11 million a season “just aren’t true. There are a lot of things being written that are wrong. I know they aren’t talking to me or my agent.”

Varejao says that the Cavs’ players support him, and that his conversations with James have been positive.

“He just says, ‘We love you and we’re waiting,'” Varejao said. “He keeps telling me he wants me back but to get the best deal I can and to take care of my family. He’s a great teammate. He always supports us on and off the court.”

That sentiment was confirmed by a source close to James, who said, “LeBron wants Andy back. He wants him to get a fair deal. I think his frustration isn’t with Andy, it’s with the fact that for the past two years, he’s been waiting for more help and he hasn’t gotten it. This is just a step in the wrong direction.”

If Varejao leaves, it will be a bitter ending for both parties. But at this point, that might be the most workable option.

“I’m willing to go and play in Europe if that’s what it takes,” Varejao said. “I know it’s a risk and I’ll be a restricted free agent next year, but at least I’d be happy. I don’t think I’ll be happy in Cleveland knowing that I was [almost] the lowest-paid player there for three years and am still paid much less than players on the team that I outperform. Life’s too short to be unhappy.”

That last paragraph is the one that really caught people’s attention and turned a lot of people against Varejao. The fact of the matter is, as long as there is no team willing to pay him the near $10 million he wants, and as long as no team is willing to give up pieces to overpay for AV themselves, this thing is likely going nowhere. As Adrian Wojnarowski wrote for Yahoo! Sports,

“Varejao had been asking for $60 million, an irrational request out of a player whom James made look much better than is. Privately, Varejao keeps telling James that he still wants to play for the Cavaliers. Yet, Monday, Varejao’s agent, Dan Fegan, apparently set him up with a writer to say he wants a sign-and-trade out of Cleveland. He’s rejecting the reported $32 million that Cleveland has offered him, and he thinks there are bigger riches on the market for him.

Maybe there’s a few more dollars, but not much more. Fegan has his client talking tough and he’s committing career suicide. He’ll never have it as good as chasing championships next to James for years and years. Varejao is letting Fegan use him to get his reputation back after the Yi Jianlian draft debacle, and that’s a shame. To hear Varejao insist he wants out is troubling to James. As much as anything, LeBron seems offended that a teammate would no longer want to play with him.

“If he’s got a problem with the front office, then he’s young enough where he can go somewhere else,” James said.

Asked if he was resigned to going the season without Varejao, James responded, “It doesn’t look like I’m playing basketball thinking about Andy coming back, does it?”

And don’t be fooled. LeBron isn’t the only member of the Cavaliers who was angered and shocked by Varejao’s comments.

“There was already a little uneasiness with Varejao, because he seemed to be betting on the Cavs getting off to a poor start to drive up his value. That’s a bit of a gray area. But the quote on ESPN.com, in which he belittled some of his teammates’ performances, wasn’t. The statement irked some Cavs, many of whom already have been scratching their heads over the process.

”I think it rubbed some of us the wrong way. One of the things you don’t do in this league is compare your situation to someone else because everybody is different,” one Cavs player said. ”I almost don’t believe he said it because earlier in the article he says he loves his teammates.”

The bottom line in this matter is that there are certain things that just aren’t tolerated in team sports. In the same way teammates do not publicly question holdouts and contract disputes involving other teammates, so too are they expected not to lash out at those still playing when one is holding out. AV broke major protocol when he diminshed the performance of his teammates in an attempt to make himself look better.

But is AV solely to blame? Perhaps not. There are many who are questioning how much of this is AV and how much is Dan Fegan. Brian Windhorst, for one, laughs at the notion that AV never asked for $60 million,

“By the way, Varejao trying to indict the Cleveland media saying he never asked for a contract averaging $10-$11 million a year is rich. One of the worst kept secrets in the NBA is that Fegan asked for six years and more than $60 million a few days before training camp. Executives all over the league have been taking to each other and to media members about that figure. It’s not even inside information anymore, everybody knows it. Maybe that is not what they are asking for now, but they asked for it then.”

The truly fascinating thing about this is how polarizing of a figure Fegan really has become. His mere involvement seems to indicate that this is going to drag on for a very long time. Amongst his detractors are former clients and peers alike. From Branson Wright’s article in the Plain Dealer today,

“Former Cavs guard Ricky Davis said he is positive Fegan is behind this stalemate. Fegan was Davis’ agent for two years.

“He doesn’t need to be an agent,” said Davis, about Fegan. “He does dirty stuff, under-the-table things. [Varejao] needs to change agents immediately if he wants to get this thing done.”

Fellow agents seem to share a similar viewpoint of Fegan:

“He’s a crazy guy,” said one agent, who did not want to be identified. “He’s known for picking up guys in their contract years, and that’s taboo in our industry. He did that with so many players, including Varejao. He’s not well-liked among other agents. . . . His biggest problem is that he doesn’t care about relationships. It can’t always be about the money.”

But is it really just about the money? There seems to be more at stake here, as this unprecedented restricted free agent hold out situation is being closely watched, as the outcome has ramifications for everyone involved.

“Another agent, who also didn’t want to be identified, said there’s a bigger issue on the table.

“Fegan’s whole reputation is based on what happens with Varejao,” said the rival agent. “Fegan’s trying to show how tough of an agent he is. Every agent, every GM and every player is watching to see how this works out. If the Cavs budge, Fegan will sign a hundred clients.”

That’s the flip side. Fegan is respected for his tough negotiation tactics, and many agents admire him. Those same agents also want to see if this holdout by Varejao transpires into dividends.

“If this works, we’ll all have our players hold out,” said the agent. “It’ll change the face of negotiations in the NBA. So what’s going on between the Cavs and Fegan is very important because if it works out for Fegan, this will change the whole game. But if he fails, he’ll look like an idiot.”

Which makes this whole thing seem to be more than just “nonsense”, but also transparent. This isn’t about what Anderson Varejao is truly worth. This isn’t about doing what’s best for a client. This isn’t about basketball as a sport. This is about pride, ego, and pure business. This is about manipulation of the system. This is about outsmarting. Which is really why Varejao would have been better served to have just stayed out of it. He’s obviously frustrated, but it seems a bit of that frustration is misguided. Not that he’s not entitled to be angry and frustrated with the Cavaliers, but he has to see that some of that should be pointed at his agent as well. Dan Fegan isn’t doing this for Anderson Varejao, he’s doing this for Dan Fegan. It’s just unfortunate that it was Varejao who got caught in the middle and who stands to lose the most, including the respect and trust of his teammates.

Jeremy SowersIndians’ Lefty Looks To Make Triumphant Return To Team In 2008

Saw this on Buster Olney’s ESPN.com blog this morning, and thought I’d pass it along.

Basically, Sowers talks about having to deal with disappointment and frustration for the first time in his young career. I respect the approach he’s taking to his demotion last year and his struggles both in the majors and in the minors.

Sowers has always seemed like a smart and even-keeled individual, and I’m pulling for him to make a full recovery both because it would be great for the team and because I’ve always pulled for him. But followers of baseball metrics will tell you that it may be an uphill battle for Sowers. Their biggest issue with Sowers is, quite frankly, the fact that his pitches don’t miss hitters’ bats. He’s not a dynamic sinker ball pitcher like Carmona or Westbrook, either. Sowers has a career 1.26 G/F ratio, compared to Carmona’s 3.00 or Westbrook’s 2.68. A pitcher who has low strike out numbers, doesn’t throw hard, and induces a lot of fly balls is normally not a recipe for success. But that being said, 2 of his top 3 comparables according to Baseball Prospectus are Tom Glavine and Mark Buehrle. Not the worst comparables to have. I think as long as Jeremy maintains his command, he can have a long career as a solid, above-average even, number 4 starter on a good team.

Anyway, for those of you who aren’t ESPN Insiders, here’s the text from Buster’s email with Sowers:

Jeremy Sowers went into the 2007 season projected to be in the middle of the Cleveland rotation, but he struggled early. Wrote Sowers an e-mail and asked him to diagnose how his season played out, and this is his response:

“For the most part, the life as a baseball player has been successful. Although I definitely got my stuff knocked around a time or two, failures were few and far between. Even when I began to play professional ball, my stops at A, AA, and AAA all led to great numbers. In fact, they improved as I climbed the ladder. “When I first received a call-up in 2006, my initial performances were not very good. However, my team was in three of the four games, and only once did I leave the game before the sixth inning. When my fifth and sixth starts turned into complete-game shutouts, I was able to utilize the confidence until the end of the season. “When I arrived to 2007 spring training, I was told I would be the No. 4 starter. Even though I earned the spot with successful pitching, the path to becoming a member of the rotation was fast and not extremely difficult (1 1/2 yrs of pro ball is a quick rise to the majors — obviously). “The season started out well, but after four or five weeks I had nothing to show for it. Every time I pitched well I seemed to get a no-decision. Being an idiot (in retrospect), I put too much weight on statistics. So when I began to hit a rough patch, my numbers became even worse. From there, I let everything compound. My mentality became more ‘please don’t get a hit,’ rather than ‘you’re not going to hit this.’ “At times I came very close to breaking out of my slump, but never quite got over the hump. It was like riding a roller coaster. I would have a couple good innings, then give up a 3-spot. I also felt like opponents were hitting about .800 with RISP and two outs. All season my pitching coach was telling me to ‘stick with it, things will change.’ Because I never failed for an extended period of time before, I did not take his words to heart. “I was demoted in the middle of June, which was expected. I was not mad by any means. I was still frustrated about the season, but I decided to make the most of the situation. Unfortunately, my failures continued. I think I was 0-4 after a month. The same formula stayed true. I would get very close to pitching a successful game, then give up four or five runs in an inning (mostly with two outs). “Then I had a start against Syracuse. Nothing special happened that day, nor did something profound ignite my confidence prior to the game. Somehow, someway (probably luck) I managed to strike out the side in the first inning. My pitches were perfect, and the hitters looked overmatched. Eight innings later, I finished a CG.

“After that game, I realized one thing to be true: ‘Confidence breeds more confidence.’ The only way to end a slump is to get a couple hits, or win a game or two. Personally I never believed in the ‘think confident’ approach, mostly because I never had to pitch without it.

“From that game on I pitched very well in Buffalo. I still had a couple rough starts, but I always bounced back. Eventually I got promoted back to Cleveland for a spot start against Seattle. Although the first inning was rough, the next four were great. I finally believed I was back to being myself. Unfortunately that was the last game I pitched during the season, so I never got an opportunity to build on the Seattle game. Still, I was happy to end the season at my peak.

“Another thing that helped me along the way was rationalization. If baseball was going bad for me, the other 99 percent was great. I was healthy, had a great family, and soon to be married (which I now am). I also realized I’m only 24, and already spent 180 days in the majors. What the hell was I complaining about?

“Every now and then I believe I need some humble pie. It’s simply too easy to complain, and it has a snowball effect. You have to play this game care-free and loose, not worrying about what’s wrong. The 2007 season was my most painful, but I am a much better person for it.”

“This offseason, I plan to simply work harder. Then be ready to battle in spring training for a spot in the rotation.””

DA Celebrates WinBrowns Play Complete Game, Dominate Texans To Claim 5th Win In Last 6 Games

The crazy, unconventional overtime wins and losses on last second field goals are fun, but every once in a while it’s also nice to play a complete game and win one handily. That’s exactly what happened today, as the Browns took care of business and took care of the Houston Texans (5-6) by a final score of 27-17. The win moved the Browns to 7-4 on the season and, if just for one night, a half game behind Pittburgh in the AFC North standings.

I normally spend a fair amount of time in these recaps focusing on the negatives, looking for areas where the team needs to improve. And although I wouldn’t classify this one as flawless, it was certainly as close to that as any game has been thus far this season. DA was still pretty erratic at times, but he finished with a solid 24 of 35 effort for 253 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT. K2 had another simply brilliant game, hauling in 10 catches for 107 yards and a TD. Braylon, despite a couple more drops (though they came on poor throws), had 4 catches for 57 yards, including his 11th TD grab of the season. Joe Jurevicius snagged 5 catches for 55 yards. Jamal Lewis was an absolute beast, carrying the ball 29 times for 134 yards and a TD. Phil Dawson knocked through 2 more field goals, moving himself past Jim Brown on the team’s all-time scoring list. The defense forced 3 turnovers, limited the Texans to 314 yards of offense, and kept them from having a 100 yard rusher. This was without a doubt the most well rounded, complete game the Browns have played all year.

Special mention in this game needs to go to 3 players: K2, Jamal Lewis, and rookie cornerback Brandon McDonald. K2 continues to be the heart and soul of the offense, and the most reliable spoke in the wheel. He continues to be an absolute freak of nature, and having watched him mature and develop, I couldn’t be more proud and I can honestly say at this point in time, there’s not another TE in the league I would rather have. Jamal Lewis gets special mention as he continues to get better as the season wears on. After coming back from injury to score 4 TDs in the Seattle game, and coinciding with Ryan Tucker’s move to right guard in the wake of Seth McKinney’s injury, Jamal Lewis has been solid in the past 3 games. Pittsburgh’s formidable rush defense limited Jamal, but he had some nice runs in the first half before the offense vanished in that game. After that, he put up an impressive game in Baltimore last week against that stout rush defense and today he tore up the Texans defense all day long, compiling big time yardage along the way. I said in my preview that I felt the Browns would try to control the game with their rushing attack, and that’s exactly what they went out and did. Finally, I would certainly be remiss not to mention the fabulous game put in by newcomer Brandon McDonald. I wondered in my preview if Andre Johnson would pose a matchup problem for the Browns, particularly with the Eric Wright injury. Well, not only was Johnson not a problem, he was barely noticeable as McDonald came in and shut him down all game, holding him to 3 catches for 37 yards. McDonald also made some key tackles, including on special teams, and he even came away with a key interception to help ice the game today.

All in all, this game was exactly what this franchise needed. If the season ended today, the Browns would be in the playoffs, as they now control their own destiny thanks to Cincy’s upset of Tennessee this afternoon. It was refreshing to show that they could come out and, for the most part, dominate a team they were supposed to beat at home. Sure, at times the offense was sputtering and struggling to establish an identity (especially in the first half), and sure the defense letting Houston drive right down the field for a TD in 8 plays and 80 yards, lasting just 2:36 to close the gap from 17 to 10 was disheartening, and sure Josh Cribbs was not much of a factor in this game, but in the end, they took care of business and got the job done. Looking ahead, the next 2 games are on the road in Arizona and against the Jets. If the Browns can find a way to win both these games, they will be well on their way to getting in the playoffs no matter what happens after that. Today is a good day to be a fan of the Cleveland Browns.

TexansWeek 12
Houston Texans vs Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns Stadium
Cleveland, Ohio
1:00 PM

This week, two of the more improved teams in the NFL square off as the Browns (6-4) take on the Houston Texans (5-5). Every game from here on in is huge, that goes without saying, but it is especially important that the Browns keep up their solid play at home. If the Browns can protect their home field the rest of the way, then this team stands a good shot at getting in the playoffs. Playing the Texans used to be a good way to pick up a quick win, but this year’s Texans team is much different than those in the past.

Injury Reports

Houston Texans:

-Ahman Green, RB – Out (knee)
-Charlie Anderson, LB – Probable (knee)
-Kris Brown, K – Probable (foot)
-Mike Flanagan, C – Probable (back)

Cleveland Browns:

-Eric Wright, CB – Out (knee)
-Ethan Kelley, DT – Doubtful (knee)
-Tim Carter, WR – Questionable (finger)
-Kevin Shaffer, T – Questionable (knee)
-Shaun Smith, DE – Questionable (knee)

Game Outlook

Simply stated, don’t be surprised to see a high octane shoot out. The Texans come in with the #8 offense in the NFL (#6 passing, #23 rushing, #11 scoring) while the Browns have the #12 offense (#10 passing, #17 rushing, #5 scoring). Conversely, neither team brings in a defense worth bragging about, as the Texans are #18 in the NFL (#15 passing, #21 rushing, #23 scoring) and the Browns are #32 in the NFL (#31 passing, #28 rushing, #32 scoring). On paper, this doesn’t look like a great matchup, as the Texans have the better offense and the better defense. Furthermore, the Browns’ offense has been sputtering a bit lately. But those difficulties came against 3 pretty solid defenses in Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore. On top of that, Joshua Cribbs has been a madman, eating up some of the offense’s numbers himself with his stellar kick returns. Furthermore, since Ryan Tucker has taken over at right guard, Jamal Lewis has seen an increase in his rushing production. The keys to this game will be the Browns ability to control the game with their rushing, a return to form for DA, and the Browns will need to find some way to slow down Houston’s brilliant WR Andre Johnson (a task far more difficult with the injury to Eric Wright). I look for a pretty high scoring, yet close game. I think the Browns’ offense finds itself again against a defense which will appear much easier after playing at Pittsburgh and at Baltimore, and I look for the Browns to win this one 31-27.

Brodney’s InterceptionAnalysts Buying Into Browns’ Playoff Chances…With Caution

Time to take our weekly look at what the analysts and writers out there are saying about our beloved Brownies, along with a look at the various power rankings. Coming after a nothing short of stunning victory in week 11 in Baltimore, the overall mood continues to be quite positive. Granted, the questions about the defense still exist, and as long as this team has the league’s worst defense, there will be plenty of doubters out there. It’s only natural to question this team’s ability to be consistent winners when they’re struggling to stop even an offense as sick and inefficient as Baltimore’s. But, I don’t want to sound like a broken record, so let’s get to the analysis.

First off, looking at the power rankings, the team has moved up on most people’s lists, continuing their run in the top 10. The first one we’ll look at is Matt Mosley’s Hashmarks power rankings. Mosley, the one who had the Browns ranked at #32 to begin the season now has the team up to #8, just one spot behind Pittsburgh and three spots ahead of Wild Card competitor Tennessee.

Jason Cole and Charles Robinson have their Yahoo! Sports Power Rankings up, and they have the Browns moving in different directions, believe it or not. Jason Cole actually dropped the Browns down a slot from #6 to #7, but he still has them ranked above Robinson. Robinson moved the Browns up a spot from #9 to #8. Neither one offered any analysis for the Browns this week, but to be fair, the reason for Cole’s dropping of the Browns was because he moved Jacksonville back ahead of the Browns. At 7-3 and fighting the Colts for the AFC South, it’s hard to argue too much with that one.

Next, we have the ESPN.com Power Rankings. Here, the Browns made their way back into the top 10 after dropping out last week. Mike McAllister writes,

“Yet the biggest surprise team resides in the AFC. The Browns have jumped 23 spots since the preseason when they were ranked 31st (and, actually, the Browns were dead-last when our voters were polled just before the season). Just one game back of the Steelers in the AFC North, the Browns still have a shot at their first division crown since 1989. But the Steelers own the tiebreaker by virtue of their two head-to-head wins this season, so Cleveland will need to win the division outright.”

In the rankings, the Browns moved up 3 spots, going all the way from #11 to #8, with their writeup saying:

“Say what you will about the gods of football smiling on the Browns. But it helped to have Josh Cribbs. He had 306 return yards and forced a fumble on punt coverage. “Our 12th man on offense,” Jamal Lewis told the Plain Dealer.”

Next up we have the CBS Sportsline Power Rankings. Like the ESPN poll, the Browns also moved up 3 spots here, but at a slot one spot lower. They went from #12 to #9. Pete Prisco writes,

“Speaking of great coaching jobs, what about Romeo Crennel? He has done a heck of a job. This team has a playoff look.”

The Fox Sports Power Rankings are also smiling on the Browns, moving them up one spot from #10 to #9, saying:

“Who would have ever believed that 11 weeks into the NFL season, the Cleveland Browns would be 6-4 and in the thick of the AFC playoff picture? Certainly not me. Cleveland got another solid day out of quarterback Derek Anderson (24-38, 274 yards, TD) and running back Jamal Lewis (92 yards, TD) and dynamic play from special team heroes Phil Dawson and Josh Cribbs. From here on out, Cleveland plays Houston, Arizona, the Jets, Buffalo, Cincinnati, and woeful San Francisco. Those are all winnable games. An NBA Finals appearance, an ALCS appearance, and now a potential playoff run? Not a bad year for Cleveland sports.”

Finally, we end with our own Cleveland Sports Authority Power Rankings:

01. New England Patriots
02. Dallas Cowboys
03. Green Bay Packers
04. Pittsburgh Steelers
05. Indianapolis Colts
06. New York Football Giants
07. Jacksonville Jaguars
08. Cleveland Browns
09. Tennessee Titans
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Next up, a look at what some of the various analysts and writers around the league are saying about Cleveland. First, though, one last look back at the field goal call last week, as this was a subject that seemed to be on a lot of the writers’ minds. Don Banks for SI.com wrote,

“The NFL has another potential officiating mess on its hands with this one, even though justice was served in the sense that Cleveland didn’t lose a game due to a needless loophole in the replay system. Field goals are not reviewable under current league rules, but you can bet there will be a hue and cry from around the NFL that they should be in light of Sunday’s events.”

Banks added later in the article,

“However the NFL cleans this one up, I promise you this: It’ll be far neater than the debacle the league would have had on its hands if Dawson’s kick had stood as a miss when the entire football-watching world saw it clear the crossbar by a foot or so via replay. Can you imagine the storm of controversy that would have raged if the officials hadn’t eventually gotten it right, and Cleveland was denied the right to play into overtime? All of us talking heads would have been screaming heads this week. The Browns would have understandably played the aggrieved martyrs and the story would have lived on no matter how Cleveland’s playoff bid unfolded one way or another.”

That’s an interesting point to consider. We’ll never know how the fate of the Browns season might have been different had the “bottle throwing” game of 2001 gone the other way. Granted, this isn’t an exact comparison because the refs got the call on the field correct after the replay review, but the fact remained that you can’t review a play after another play has been run. The Browns went on to finish 7-9 that season, but they were 6-6 going into that game, and who knows how they might have finished had they won that game. But as it stood, they ended up losing 5 of their last 6 that year. You could argue that play deflated the whole season (along with the crazy OT loss to the Bears). In the same manner, perhaps this win will be looked back upon as the one that propelled the team into their final playoff push.

Finally, a look at some blurbs and analysis written about the Browns this week. James C. Black of Yahoo! Sports wrote about the win over Baltimore,

“Not only did the Browns avoid choking away a second straight divisional road win, but they made up a game in the AFC North in the process. And while so much emphasis will be placed on Dawson’s kick and the controversial “non-review,” not to be overshadowed was Joshua Cribbs‘ 39-yard kickoff return which gave the Browns the ball at their own 43-yard line.”

CBS Sportsline examined the strengths of this team in the wake over the big win. According to Clark Judge,

“Cleveland is where it is because of Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow and big plays at the right time by a defense that Sunday produced a season-high six sacks and returned an interception a franchise-record 100 yards for a score.

But they’re there because of Cribbs, too. Look at the league’s top teams returning kickoffs. Cleveland is numero uno at 33.9, and they’re there because of one guy.”

Writing in the Arizona Republic about the surprising season for the Browns, Bob McManaman says,

“Don’t ask how or why, but the team that traded its starting quarterback after the first game of the year and has kept the prized face of the future on the sideline won another game Sunday.

The Browns, who we thought might be in winless Miami’s shoes, given their youth and perceived lack of star power, are 6-4, nipping at the heels of the Steelers and talking about the playoffs after their remarkable, 33-30 overtime victory in Baltimore. “

Jeff Biletnikoff makes an interesting point that I wholeheartedly agree with for the Brown and Orange Report on Scout.com, saying:

“I guarantee that the 1999-2006 versions of the team lose all three of the games that were just played. Ok, maybe 2002’s squad might have had a glimmer of hope but I don’t see it. We haven’t had an offense like this since the 1980’s and it’s all been a super effort on offense that’s allowed the Browns to do what they’ve done.

The Browns now head into a part of their schedule where all games are winnable and they’ve got a legitimate shot at the playoffs because they went 2-1 in a stretch of games that included the Steelers and Ravens on the road and the Seahawks at home.”

The Scouts, Inc. analysts had plenty to say about the Browns as well in their weekly chats for ESPN.com. First up, in the winners chat, Keith Kidd talks about the Browns playoff chances, saying:

Jay (NC): Keith do you see the Browns making the playoffs? It was pretty clear we were the better team, just didn’t play our best. I also think our defense is really improving on a weekly basis. 4 sacks last week, 6 this week, interceptions, touchdowns etc. If that continues and our offense gets back on track will we not be tough to beat from here on out?

SportsNation Keith Kidd: Jey, I do see them being a possible Wild Card team. Tjis team may be able to win the North, since the Steelers dropped the ball yesterday. There is no quit in this team, and a lot of credit has to go to Romeo for instilling this in them. I mean outside of the Colts the Browns were the only team who were competitive with the Pats.

Matt Williamson tackled some Browns questions about potentail Pro Bowl players on the team:

Robert (Monrovia, Ca): Is it possible the Browns have six Pro Bowlers (Anderson, Edwards, Winslow, Steinbach, Thomas, Cribbs)?

SportsNation Matt Williamson: Would you take Anderson over Big Ben? I wouldn’t. Peyton and Brady are in and that only leaves one AFC spot. I would vote for the other five though.

Williamson also discussed DA’s “struggles” in the last few games, saying:

mike (cle): Are we starting to see the real Derek Anderson, or is this what happens to good QBs when they play good Ds?

SportsNation Matt Williamson: Both. Most of his numbers have come against bad defenses, but the “Real DA” is a solid to above average signal caller who fits this O well. He needs that OL and those weapons. But when things are right for him, he is tough.

He also sized up Joe Thomas’s Offensive Rookie of the Year chances now, saying:

Jay (NC): Matt does Joe Thomas win OROY now? Is he getting credit in league talk/circles because he’s not getting enough in the nat’l media. He’s already a pro bowler. Who would you take in the AFC over him? Not many.

SportsNation Matt Williamson: Not many at all. Not many in the entire NFL over Thomas at LT. Still, not sure that Peterson doesn’t win it-even if he doesn’t step on the field again this year. What he did was really amazing.

Doug Kretz answered a question that I have been asking lately:

Jason (Cleveland): What do you think about the maturation of Kamerion Wimbley? I know people say he’s been “doubled”, but watch the film, he hasn’t been. Why would a second year player struggle so much?

SportsNation Doug Kretz: I don’t think it’s a matter of teams doubling him as much as it is offenses figuring him out.. The O linemen study their opponents and look for keys to show what kind of pass rush he is going to use, what kind of techniques he likes to use to play the run, etc.. He needs to develop more moves, techniques, etc..

Aaron Schatz of Baseball Prospectus (yes, a baseball site, but they do football analysis as well) held a chat on the Prospectus site this week (paid membership required to read), and he made a similar point to the one I made last week regarding the second guessing of the Browns’ draft that’s been going on. He says:

costa24 (Montreal): It’s an argument being made a lot in light of the ESPN Re-draft article. Given the choice again, in light of both their brilliant performances, do the Browns pick Thomas again? (I vote yes)

Aaron Schatz: Yes. I don’t buy this “every team wishes they had taken Adrian Peterson” argument. It’s the worst kind of 20-20 hindsight. Nobody was saying that Peterson should go higher than third, and most people weren’t saying that he should go higher than fourth. Oakland wanted to take a quarterback. Calvin Johnson was supposed to be the second coming of Randy Moss. Joe Thomas is having an excellent season at a more important position, a position that also has a longer average career lifespan. It isn’t until you get to Tampa Bay that you have a team where many people thought Peterson was the right choice, and they should be kicking themselves.

All in all, this has been yet another week of Browns optimism. Looking ahead to Week 12, we have a very win-able game at home against the Houston Texans. Lets hope the team can ride this optimistic momentum into the game on Sunday and start a new winning streak. I will be out of town for the holiday this weekend, but I will try my best to get a Week 12 Preview up later in the week. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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