First and Ten - Still more decisions and drops
Something tells me that this week’s version should have 10 items, each labeled fourth-and-1. Alas, we digress …
1) The mantra remains true: The Browns will be a better team when this season ends, but the record won’t show it. The Colts watched the Browns and left impressed that the Browns have some good, young talent. Dare we say it … they felt the Browns are a team on the rise. This may seem foolish based on a loss, but the Browns showed they have a quarterback and a growing receiver (Josh Gordon) and another in Greg Little who is playing better. If Trent Richardson plays full go -- or if some better decisions are made on the sidelines -- who knows what happens. Words like ‘good young talent’ and ‘all they are missing is confidence’ were used. May be hard to fathom staring at a 1-6 record, but that’s some of the chatter.
2) The down side is the obvious: Young guys make mistakes. Witness Josh Gordon’s drop, which is still rattling around in Jimmy Haslam’s head. Living with these problems is the difficult part. Little dropped passes early in the season. He’s caught the last nine thrown to him. Gordon started slow, but has come on like Usain Bolt (#Blot) since he started in place of Mohamed Massaquoi. Add a couple key defensive players and the Browns might have something next season.
3) Which is something all the Mike Holmgren critics might want to remember. Holmgren is passing on a team that is more equipped to win than the one he took over, when there was no quarterback and a roster full of old, slow guys. It’s a bit of an irony. Right when the Browns finally seem to be getting something right, the guys who built it will probably be gone.
4) Yes, I’m coming around on Gordon. How can you not? I was hard on him early when it seemed he’d need an entire season to get accustomed to the pro game. But that learning curve has sped up considerably. Stand next to him and his size and strength are evident. Watch him and his ability is there. When a 6-2 guy can beat a corner like Gordon does, and run like he does, and has huge hands to make catches like he does … there is potential. The Browns will always be on the edge with him when it comes to off-field behavior, but when a guy stands and answers questions directly and honestly as Gordon did after his drop, that seems to bear well for his future.
5) As for the drop, Jerraud Powers was beat. Bad. One Colts writer surmised that Powers whispered “Boo” to Gordon just before the pass got to his hands. Think about it. “Boo.”
6) Powers also was involved in the Browns last play, a fourth-and-6 that was incomplete to Josh Cooper. Let’s take a look, because it’s tough to say what happened on that pass. The Browns lined up with three wide receivers, with Greg Little and Cooper to the left and Gordon to the right. Tight end Ben Watson is tight to the left. The Colts are playing straight press coverage:
At the snap, Brandon Weeden looks left, pretty much at one guy. He’s focused on his college teammate, Cooper. And it’s obvious. Cooper is covered by Powers, whom the Colts consider their best cornerback. The Colts did their scouting. Powers said after the game that they figured Weeden would look for Cooper in a situation like this, and he was ready:
The play continues, and Watson is open. But Weeden is focused on Cooper:
Weeden throws, and Powers is right with Cooper, breaking on the ball. It’s interesting. Weeden clearly trusts Cooper, and he can catch. But the Browns have cast their lot on this play, their last chance, with a guy who until two weeks ago was on the practice squad. With the ball in the air, Powers has a hand on Cooper and the play is pretty much doomed:
At this point the pass is broken up, and everyone knows it. But it’s also evident that had Cooper caught the ball and Powers missed the tackle Cooper would have had room to run. What blew up the play? Powers, and the fact that Weeden telegraphed his intention to throw to Cooper. End of game:
7) Despite that pass, Weeden has pretty much erased any and all talk of Colt McCoy. Weeden is a rookie, but he does not frequently play like one. Weeden seems to be grasping the offense better every game. His descriptions of plays is spot on. And his arm strength allows the Browns to successfully run plays that they could not run last season. Example: The 33-yard touchdown to Gordon, a laser shot to the corner of the field that arrived with speed in Gordon’s hands. That’s a throw Weeden can make because of his arm strength. Since the debacle of an opener, Weeden has completed 60 percent of his passes (142-of-237) for 1,665 yards (277.5 per game) with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. His rating since the opener: 83.4. Imagine how good he would look if Little caught that touchdown pass in Baltimore and Gordon caught that pass in Indianapolis.
8) Richardson has had a very curious start to his NFL career. His numbers are barely impressive: 103 carries for 348 yards. He was lifted Sunday because his coach said he was not effective. It’s not time to give up on him; the two plays he made against the Bengals showed his talent. But things really aren’t coming together. He has one problematic habit, and that’s that he tends to dance around and stay on his feet while players are swarming him. He did that on the sidelines against Cincinnati at home and it resulted in a serious shot to the ribs and an injury. A long time ago, former NFL receiver Irving Fryar said some of the best advice he got was from Raymond Berry, the Colts great wideout and and coach. That advice: “Know when your journey is over.” In the NFL, guys are too fast, too big and too ornery to risk injury by taking a shot. Dancing around when the journey is over only puts yourself at risk. Kevin Johnson said they taught players at Syracuse that they “had to learn to like to eat dirt.” The gain in fighting for an extra 18 inches is not worth the risk of injury with three or four guys right there. Richardson does that a little too much, and it hurt him. The life span of a running back is so short that losing a season like this is magnified; it’s a reason some teams won’t draft a back as high as the Browns did. There’s now a possibility this rib injury may keep him out of a game or two; Richardson himself said it’s worse than people know. Not exactly the roaring start expected of the third overall pick.
9) As for the fourth-and-1 decision to punt … I’d have gone for it. Shurmur said he’d punt again, and said it worked fine because the Browns had a chance at the end of the game. But … not going for it cost the Browns 30 yards in field position and 2:23 in clock time, not to mention a wasted timeout because the sideline didn’t get the play in on time after Gordon’s drop. Yes, the Browns got another chance with the ball. Yes, they moved past the 50 on the final drive. But it’s a whole lot different putting that drive together in the final two or three minutes than it is with six minutes left when there’s time, timeouts and the ability to use the entire playbook. And for some reason the Browns took way too much time getting off the third-down play that led to the two-minute warning -- before the incomplete pass to Cooper. That was poor clock management. It is true the Browns got another chance to win the game, and they didn’t get it done. But to say it was the same chance, well it wasn’t. Going for it on fourth-and-1 seemed a risk worth taking, especially for a team that started the game 1-5.
10) This horse I’ve been riding is tired and about worn out. But it still rides. The Browns gave up 148 yards rushing to the Colts (the Colts!). This season the Browns are giving up 133.7 yards per game rushing. No team will win consistently that does not stop the run. The Browns are not stopping the run. Guess the result.
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