Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Inconclusive Evidence

We've noted before and will note again: each Browns victory is generally met with irrational exuberance; each Browns loss is generally met with irrational dread. The truth, as it always does, lies somewhere in the middle, which is why we felt best to wait a bit before commenting on Sunday's victory against the New York Jets.

To the extent there even needs to be a final analysis of Sunday's game, it's this: draw no conclusions. It's easy and convenient, of course, to credit Jeff Davidson's promotion (?) to play caller as critical to the Browns success on Sunday. And if, by promotion, it's meant to imply the firing of Maurice Carthon deserves much of the credit, then we're more in that camp than any other. In reading the missives from the mainstream media this past week we were left with two distinct impressions.

First, Carthon's a jerk. And not just a garden-variety jerk, but the kind that develops as a result of being granted too much power without having earned it. He alienated players and coaches alike. He was cranky and uncommunicative. He was unreceptive to the ideas of others and despite a tough demeanor and penchant for criticizing anyone and everyone he was incredibly thin-skinned himself. His reaction to being criticized was to continue to do the same things in the same way as if only to prove his point.

Second, the fact that all of this, while an open secret to the beat writers following the team on a daily basis, didn't come out until after he was canned should tell you everything you need to know about the reporters covering the team. We understand the difficulty of being a beat writer. Access depends greatly on relationships. And relationships to athletes and coaches alike generally means limiting any negativity. All that being said, we think it just a wee bit disingenuous for the beat writers to now reveal stories that they say took place weeks or months ago.

It was clear that Carthon was a divisive force on this football team. As we've said previously, the fact that he lasted as long as he did is more an indictment of Crennel's leadership ability than anything else. What we get out of Davidson is unknown but we did admire the relative crispness and efficiency with which the offense seemed to perform on Sunday. Players seemed to know when to be on the field and seemed to know their assignments. At every critical juncture, the teams few playmakers were all on the field at the same time, something Carthon couldn't achieve on a consistent basis.

But whether this is a trend or an aberration is a tough call at this point. If it's a trend, then Crennel has a fighting chance to retain his job at season's end. If it's an aberration then the problems are more serious than anyone thought and for which Crennel will ultimately pay the price. But the fact that there was a noticeable change in demeanor does show, at the very least, that there is still some pride simmering among the players at Berea. And that's something we couldn't say last week after the Denver fiasco.

As a final note, we do find it a tad odd that Davidson has not been given the title of offensive coordinator. Apparently he's only been given the added duties of play calling. According to the Browns web site, Davidson continues to retain his titles as Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Line Coach. Officially, that brings to two the number of NFL teams without an offensive coordinator at the moment: Cleveland and Baltimore. Fill in your own punch line here.

This week the Browns face the Chargers in San Diego. We think this will give a better gauge on where this team stands than does an emotional win against an equally inferior time such as the Jets. Until then we'll hold off on the conclusions.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Weak, Very Weak

There's a right way and a wrong way to do most anything. There's also the Cleveland Browns way, which is often somewhere between the two.

We can't say, for example, that it was wrong for Head Coach Romeo Crennel, ostensibly the leader and public face of the Browns, to take responsibility for Carthon's departure. But what didn't make it quite right was the fact that it ding ring particularly true nor did it make much sense.

At Crennel's press conference yesterday, he insisted that Maurice Carthon had, ahem, resigned. Crennel claimed that Carthon came forward, offered his resignation and that Crennel decided "to do what I thought was best for the Browns and the Browns organization, I decided to accept his resignation."

The reason it doesn't ring true is the same reason it doesn't make sense. And if we're wrong on both counts, then Crennel unintentionally revealed exactly why his own days are numbered. If Crennel really felt it was in the best interest of the Browns and their organization to let Carthon quit, why would it not have been in those same best interests to fire Crennel two weeks ago? The more likely view is that it played out just as Jim Donovan, who officially works for the Browns, reported it on Monday: Owner Randy Lerner and General Manager Phil Savage forced Crennel's hand.

Yesterday's press conference was about making Crennel look like a leader and in that, the Browns failed miserably. If Crennel's story is actually true, it makes him look indecisive and unable to pull a trigger on a gun that was cocked weeks ago. But if Crennel's story is not true (and that's where the smart money is), he looks ridiculous trying to spin a story with more holes in it than the offensive line. But in either case, the impact on the fans and the Browns is the same: Crennel looks less like a head coach today than at any point in his short tenure and that can't be good news.

The other reason that Crennel looks weak in all of this is that in turning over Carthon's old job to Jeff Davidson, Crennel also announced that Davidson will be calling the plays. In other words, Crennel's one week foray into paying attention to the offensive is over. In other words, Crennel knew he had a serious problem with Carthon but deliberately chose not to meaningfully address it until still another game and another week was lost.

Crennel cannot possibly survive the mess he's created. The only real question is whether Savage will find a legitimate head coach or again roll the dice on another life long assistant. Given the Browns history in that regard, the choice should be easy.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Getting What You Need

It's said that the two worst things in the world are not getting what you want and getting what you want. Now that overmatched offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon has officially been shown the exit door we all lose a convenient whipping post.

But before we leave this topic, much is to be said about the exit and none of it good. If Head Coach Romeo Crennel is feeling any job insecurity today, and he should, it's understandable. According to Browns play-by-play man Jim Donovan (who also serves as sports director of WKYC-TV), the decision to dump Carthon was made by owner Randy Lerner and General Manager Phil Savage. As Tony Grossi of the Plain Dealer observed, Crennel was unable to pull the trigger. That doesn't speak well on a number of fronts.

It demonstrates that Crennel has the inability to separate what's best for the team and the franchise from what's best for him personally. Clearly Carthon and Crennel are friends. But Crennel's inability to see past his loyalty to Carthon and see, instead, a lockerroom full of disgruntled players who are close to packing it in for the season underscores that Crennel, too, is overmatched in his current job.

Bud Shaw wrote in today's Plain Dealer that Crennel made the strongest argument in yesterday's press conference for dumping Carthon (although that wasn't the topic) by observing that there was still 10 weeks of football to play. But if Crennel had done this sooner, like during the bye week when the team had nearly two weeks to adjust to the coaching change, there would have been 11 weeks of football to play.

In our view, Crennel did indeed make the strongest argument for dumping Carthon during yesterday's press conference but not necessarily in the way Shaw suggests. Crennel closed his press conference yesterday by saying, with respect to Carthon, that "things can always change in football, but I'm staying with Maurice right now." This was all Lerner and Savage needed to hear to become convinced that Crennel had absolutely no intention of replacing Carthon voluntarily despite the further regression witnessed on Sunday. Lerner and Savage had to act and it's doubtful that the discussion among the three was pleasant.

Crennel has a military background so it's unlikely that he'll ever go public about what took place when he was informed that Carthon had to go. And like the good soldier, he cut the cord himself. But the relationship between GM and Head Coach will be forever strained and it's doubtful that it can be repaired. Remember, Savage let Crennel have his way by shipping quarterback Trent Dilfer after he sparred with Carthon. That cost the Browns an experienced back-up, a necessity all fans were reminded of when Charlie Frye went off the field briefly on Sunday.

We doubt that ultimately Crennel can survive. His abject lack of leadership during this crisis was fully on display for all to see. Lop onto that a newly strained relationship with both the owner and the GM and you have a volatile recipe that strongly suggests that the Browns will be looking, again, for a new head coach this offseason.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Regression, Again

Sometimes a single play can define a season. If the Cincinnati Bengals ultimately go deep into the playoffs, everyone will look back at the critical fourth down pass from quarterback Carson Palmer to receiver Chad Johnson in yesterday's game against Carolina as the tipping point. If the Browns end up with the number one pick in next year's college draft, everyone will look back at the critical fourth down pass from fullback Lawrence Vickers to Kellen Winslow in last week's game as the tipping point.

The point, we think, is that to truly understand the true depths to which the Browns have sunk, as evidenced by yesterday's game against Denver, you have to have context. And the difference between these two plays tells you everything you need to know about the difference between these franchises right now.

As the drum beat gets louder for Carthon's ouster, we have no doubt that Crennel will stay the course. But whatever credit Crennel gets for loyalty pales in comparison to the criticism he rightly deserves for the enlarging blind spot he appears to have over exactly what ails his team and, in particular, his offense. Normally, we're not a big fan of letting the inmates run the asylum, but in this case if Crennel would just ask virtually anyone still watching the Browns, they could tell you the problems: Carthon needs to go. Winslow, Joe Jurevicius, Braylon Edwards and Reuben Droughns need to be on the field for virtually every play. The pocket needs to move. The run shouldn't be abandoned.

The most disturbing aspect, of course, of yesterday's game is that the Browns were coming off a bye week. When common sense strongly suggested that Carthon is the problem, Crennel demurred saying that the Browns need to get back to doing what they do best. Exactly how that supposedly transferred to the field yesterday is wildly unclear. If anything, the Browns have to be even less sure about their offense after yesterday than they were prior to kickoff.

We get that the Browns are in a rebuilding mode. We didn't expect even a playoff season. But when you're rebuilding, there should be progress, correct? But what those who remained to witness the debacle saw yesterday was abject regression, on all fronts. The fumbles, the interceptions, the dropped balls, the dropped interceptions, the idiotic penalties, all speak to a larger problem that besets this team. In simple terms, what the fans witnessed was a team that didn't play hard and didn't play with pride. If Crennel doesn't make a change soon, he most assuredly will suck out what little life remains in this team and the fans. And if Crennel can't pull the trigger on the needed changes, then owner Randy Lerner needs to show Crennel the door.

Crennel likes to tell the assembled media that all this team needs is one big win to turn it around. Read the story yourself on the Browns own web site. But there is nothing about the way this team is performing under Crennel's "leadership" that gives anyone any hope that a defining win is close by.

Lerner is lucky that Cleveland will always be a Browns town. The fans stay engaged, whether complaining or celebrating. But that's still no reason to abuse their trust.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Ripe for Comparisons

If it's not clear now why the Browns continue to falter, contrast the styles of Head Coach Romeo Crennel with those of Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Dennis Green and Baltimore Ravens Head Coach Brian Billick.

No sooner did we get done writing about Crennel's rather scary comments about how Carthon is not the problem, even though Crennel balanced that against his other comments that he'd be taking a more active interest in the offense, then we find out that both Green and Billick have fired their offensive coordinators.

In each case, the rationale was the same: the teams weren't scoring enough points. And in each case, both teams were scoring more points, approximately 2 per game, than the Browns. In fact, in each case, both teams were doing better in virtually every offensive category than the Browns.

So why did Arizona and Baltimore pull the trigger when Cleveland did not? We think it has much to do with the demeanor and the decisiveness of the parties involved. Both Green and Billick are long established as head coaches. They've been around long enough to know when something is working and, more importantly, when it's not. While Crennel likes to say the buck stops with him, these two clearly recognize that it actually does and neither was going to sit idly by and let their futures be dictated by offensive coordinators who weren't getting the job done.

We've heard some suggest that there's no point in firing Carthon at this point since the Browns aren't going anywhere anyway. But to that we ask, why wait? If this season is about building for the future, and it is, shouldn't that apply to all facets of the operation? If Crennel doesn't fire Carthon, which appears unlikely right now, does anyone honestly believe he'll be back for next season? We doubt even Crennel believes that. So we ask again, why wait? Start moving the offense in the right direction now.

Crennel being upstaged by his more experienced brethren only highlights his own shortcomings. He lacks the presence, the leadership, the skill and the decisiveness to implement a change that so obviously needs to be made. His inability to recognize Carthon's abject ineptness threatens to further polarize him from the few playmakers he has and further threatens the Browns ability to continue to attract desirable free agents who could actually make a difference. And as a result, Browns fans are forced to suffer again through a miserable season and a volatile off-season wondering, among other things, whether we'll get still another high draft pick signed again in time for training camp.

Half and Half

Your perspective on the news coming out of Berea yesterday really depends on whether you are a half-full or half-empty kind of person. Cleveland Browns Head Coach Romeo Crennel is clearly in the former, given the tenor of his remarks.

Crennel told the assembled media at his weekly press conference that upon further review, no major overhauls on the offensive side of the ball are needed. Instead, we're told that this offensively-bankrupt squad needs a little tinkering. Yea, just like George Bush's foreign policy needs a little tinkering.

And that tinkering? Well, according to Crennel, he's going to start getting more involved in the offense. Crennel said he'll start attending the offensive game planning meetings during the week and may even call a play or two on the sidelines. And this is supposed to make Browns fans feel better?

See, this is where the half-full and half-empty part comes in. If you're a half-full kind of person, it's a good thing that Crennel is starting to realize, and acknowledge publicly, that maybe, just maybe, inept Offensive Coordinator Maurice Carthon needs a little help.

But if you're a half-empty kind of person, like most Cleveland fans have been conditioned to be, Crennel's comments have to send chills. In short order, Crennel has admitted that though he's head coach, to this point he's basically ignored fully one-third of the team. Whether this is a case of coaching negligence or incompetence is rather hard to say. But it's scary either way.

Crennel, in his bid to retake some the reigns he's foolishly discarded, told the media that the team needed to focus first on what it does well, "then maybe add pizazz to it." Roughly translated, no more fullback options passes from Lawrence Vickers. But more to the point, this is Crennel's admission that, as we've said repeatedly, Carthon is all about plays and not about plans. There is no cohesiveness to his game plan. Every Sunday it seems cobbled together on the fly. The Browns never seem to be trying to establish anything and Carthon seems to spend most of his time looking at his card trying to find a magic play.

At the professional level, offenses tend to be more mundane, by design. The players on defense, even on bad teams, run faster and tackle better than their counterparts in college. That's why they're in the pros. Thus, what might work for Ohio State isn't as likely to work for the Browns or any other team for that matter. The truly good offenses in the NFL got that way by designing a system and executing it. They know their strengths and basically challenge their opponents to stop them. With the Browns, there is no identity. They have a thousand yard rusher in Reuben Droughns but rarely make any attempt to establish a running game. They have a gifted tight end but struggle to find ways to get him the ball, particularly early in games. But rather than exploit their limited advantages, they instead abandon their fastball repeatedly in favor of a change up, and frankly, they don't have a good change up.

Crennel is fond of saying, week after week, that the buck stops at his desk. It's fair, then, to hold him completely accountable for the fact that thus far he's abdicated a significant share of his duties and obligations to someone as overmatched as Carthon. With that, we're taking Carthon completely off the hook. If this head coach is dumb enough to give Carthon the keys to car, it's hard to blame Carthon for driving it off the road. But a few more wrecks and Crennel won't have to worry about giving away the keys. Phil Savage will mercifully take them away.

Friday, October 13, 2006

On Paper

It's the bye week for Cleveland Browns fans, the yearly reminder of what it was like during the dark days when a morally and financially bankrupt Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore.

We always took great comfort in the fact that Modell's inept financial acumen ultimately forced him to sell the franchise. And we marvel at the fact that he has kept just the slightest piece of the franchise so that he doesn't have to pay off on an old contract to the Mickey McBride family. And he wonders why he isn't in the Hall of Fame.

But enough about Modell for now. Instead, as we enter the bye week, there is one thing for certain: Head Coach Romeo Crennel and his handpicked offensive coordinator, Maurice Carthon, are the walking definition of embattled. The frustration just oozes from every pore of Crennel's expanding girth. Sizing up the season thus far, Crennel told the assembled media "Last year when we got here, we didn't think we were very good and nobody did. We just tried to play hard and keep it close. This year, because of the off-season acquisitions, everybody felt we were going to be better. You can be better on paper, but ultimately you have to be better on Sunday. And we haven't been as good on Sunday."

And exactly why the Browns aren't better shouldn't be such a mystery to Crennel. Which is where Carthon comes in. In Tony Grossi's analysis in this week's Plain Dealer, he aptly noted that despite the sensitivity of the matter, the play caller must be changed: "Under Carthon's direction, the Browns scored the fewest points in the league last year. Today, they are ranked 31st in overall offensive yards. Add in a bunch of questionable play-calls and some puzzling lineup decisions. What in that body of work suggests the coordinator is doing a reasonably good job?"

In many ways, the Browns are struggling in the same ways as the Miami Dolphins. In 2005, the Dolphins appeared to be a team on the rise, finishing their first season under Nick Saban at 9-7 after going 4-12 the previous season. The Dolphins likewise made a splash in the off-season, seemingly stabilizing their quarterback situation by signing Daunte Culpepper. Yet, five weeks into this season they find themselves, surprise, at 1-4. And it's not a good 1-4, either, with losses to three struggling teams: Houston, Buffalo and Pittsburgh.

When we compared the overall stats of both the Browns and the Dolphins, we were mildly surprised at how identical the teams really are. The Browns have scored 20more points, but have given up 19 more than the Dolphins. Miami holds only slight edges in rushing and passing yardage, but Cleveland holds sizable edges in third down conversions and in limiting opponents third-down conversions. The biggest difference is in turnovers. Cleveland is a league worst -9 and Miami is at level par, which begs the question of whether this statistic is overrated (it's not).

The point, we think, is that while Cleveland fans see nothing but grey in every cloud, it is nice to know sometimes you aren't alone. In fact, one could credibly argue that Miami is in worse shape since their turnover ratio figures to get worse and Cleveland's figures to get better, if only slightly. But in the end, none of it will matter. Both teams will be lucky to win 5 games and by whatever measure, whether on paper or stone tablet, they both will have taken a step backward this season despite decent off-seasons. On the other hand, at least neither club is Oakland.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Getting Defensive

It may have been foretold by Nostradamus, we're not quite sure, but it seems that Courtney Brown is back on the injured reserve and out for still another season. Only this time, he's in a Denver Broncos uniform. So to the extent that Cleveland Browns fans need to feel good about something, they can feel good about this.

Courtney Brown seemed to have all the talent in the world. The one thing he could never do is stay healthy. For those keeping track at home, Brown has played a full season once, in 2000. Last year he did play in 14 games but recorded just two sacks for a total of 14 yards. Not exactly the kind of production one might expect out of a number one pick.

On a broader level, there has been much kvetching over the Broncos weird fascination with Cleveland Browns defensive linemen. The convention Cleveland-fan thinking is that this represents just another screw-up since, clearly, the Broncos are a better team. But the truth is, the strength of the Broncos defense is in their defensive backfield. The line, at best, and with all these ex-Browns, remains highly mediocre.

Michael Myers, the player and not the actor/comedian, hasn't exactly lit the world on fire. To call him an ex-Brown is only technically true. He played in Cleveland for only a season and a half, ironically, because of the injuries to the aforementioned Brown. Most of his time was spent with Dallas until they cut him and the Browns picked him up. In his time in Cleveland he recorded exactly one sack, the same as his total with Denver.

Gerard "Big Money" Warren at least has remained healthy. But by any objective measure, such as tackles or sacks, his production continues to decline each year. In fact, his best year was his first year in Cleveland. Since then it's been a rather dramatic decline.

Regarding Kenard Lang, the jury is still out. A career defensive lineman, the Browns tried to make him an outside lineback in Coach Romeo Crennel's 3-4 scheme. It didn't work too well for either side and Lang went looking in the offseason, landing in Denver. In three games, all subbing for Courtney Brown, Lang as five total tackles and one sack. Nothing stellar about that, either.

The bigger point to be made, though, is that with the exception of Mike Myers, all of these lineman carried high salary cap numbers for the Browns. Given their production, the cap numbers simply were not justified. We can certainly debate whether the Browns made good use of the cap space cleared by letting go of this group, but it's beyond debate that the cap space needed to be cleared.

The secret to Bill Belichick's success in New England revolves around his ability to coordinate cap numbers and production more closely than virtually any other team. Belichick is not afraid to let go of even popular veterans if their production no longer comes close to matching their drag on the team's overall salary. This has allowed him to sign, often relatively cheaply, up and coming talent whose production outstrips their cap numbers. Again, whether this works for the Browns, only time will tell. But on this score, you can hardly fault them for trying.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Following Up

It's probably just a coincidence, but we couldn't help notice how much Bud Shaw's column in this morning's Plain Dealer sounded like the same points we made just yesterday.

In particular we noted two key conclusions Bud makes, which we share since we made them first. The first is that as long as Crennel judges Carthon by whether or not a play works, there is no hope that the situation will improve. As Bud noted: "As long as Crennel defines a bad play-call as one that doesn't work, there's no hope of the Browns' offensive philosophy matching the talents of the team's playmakers. Ever. Never." Exactly. Carthon seems more interested in finding that magic play then in putting together a philosophy that tries to actually make full use of the limited resources available to him. Kellen Winslow, Jr. still is on the sidelines in too many third down situations. Simply put, there is no reason he should ever come off the field. He's a tight end that can play as a 4th or 5th receiver in a spread formation, particularly since we have no other viable options. Joe Jurevicius, easily the most sure handed receiver we have, is too often on the sidelines in favor of the clearly less accomplished Dennis Northcutt. Conversely, fullback Lawrence Vickers is on the field more often then his limited skills would suggest. In short, Carthon's offense isn't about players but about plays.

Bud's second point is that Crennel either fix the problem or be part of it. As we've said before, Crennel is a lifelong assistant who probably got his chance at head coach too late. As a result, he's over protective of his assistants, adopting a sort of "there but for the grace of God", toward the issue. If Crennel doesn't take this bye week to fix this problem, he should pick up the phone and start canvassing for jobs now. We have a suggestion on that score as well. Call Charlie Weiss. The Notre Dame defense is pitiful and Weiss seems about as clueless as how to fix that as Crennel seems to be about the offense in Cleveland. Reunited might be the only hope for Notre Dame to actually be a top tier team.


We noticed with great interest an item in the Plain Dealer's business section and wondered why it escaped the notice of the PD's super terrific and talented sports staff. As was reported widely yesterday, the Dolan family has made a renewed, multi-billion dollar offer to take Cablevision Systems private. The Dolan family, which controls 75 percent of Cablevision, not only control a key cable TV asset in New York City, but also Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers.

The more pertinent item, as reported by the PD business staff, is the local connection. Indians cheapskate owner Larry Dolan, his ineffective and equally cheap son Paul and another son, Ohio Rep. Matthew Dolan, have a huge stake in this transaction. How this may impact the Indians isn't certain, of course, but we are surprised that the sports staff hasn't attempted to even analyze the situation.

The cheapskate owners have about $500 million tied up in Cablevision, or about a third of the total Dolan interest in the company. Presumably, then, they are in for a third of the purchase of the additional shares as well. Buying the additional shares, while certainly increasing their wealth on paper, will also increase their debt liabilities, which isn't on paper. Will this impact the Indians? We submit it already has. Remember, this is the second time the Dolans have taken a run at taking the company private. For the last two years, there has been significant internal turmoil at Cablevision, turmoil that was occurring, coincidentally enough, during the Tribe's last off season.

Did all of this have an impact on the Dolans strange refusal to not spend last off-season, despite numerous previous pledges to do just that? Did any of this impact on the dumping of salary this past year? Will any of this impact on the off-season decisions this year, such as the budget? Undoubtedly if you ask either owner they'll disavow any connection. But they are fair questions to ask and fair questions to monitor. We have no beef with the Dolans and their business interests at Cablevision, except when those collide with their interest in the Tribe. And given how poorly they've treated the franchise, it seems fair to us to suggest that this latest intrigue at Cablevision can't be good for the Indians.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Written Off

While perusing the plethora of pre-game talk shows this past Sunday, we were fascinated by the number of fans who already have written off this year’s Browns season. We suppose that if you’re judging the season by the usual, boring barometers of wins vs. losses, we can see how one would arrive at that conclusion. But even in a lost season, there is much intrigue to both distract and fascinate even the casual observer.

For example, it was clear in early June that the Indians were through. They were playing uninspired, sloppy baseball night after night. They were well out of the race early and gave fans no hope that they could ever get back in. But the movements of GM Mark Shapiro still provided intrigue as he sought to divest assets for cash to better position his cheapskate bosses into pulling the wool over the fans yet again with another declaration of how they would spend in the off-season. Although house shill, team apologist and resident troll Mike Trivisonno of Indians flagship station WTAM may not have noticed, most fans with a lick of sense could see what was going on. At the very least, it provided hours of conversation for fans, which is what sports does best.

In turning our attention to the Browns, the intrigue is no less compelling.

Kellen Winslow, Jr. is a classic tragic figure. Undeterred by his modest professional accomplishments to date, he has the talk and swagger of a Super Bowl MVP and the absolute hubris to not realize that this lack of humility will ultimately be his downfall. But until that happens, he continues to entertain. Even his “no comments” resonate.

Exhibit A was the loud “no comment” yesterday when asked about the ludicrous play calling of justifiably beleaguered offensive coordinator, Maurice Carthon. Specifically, K2 was exorcised, rightly, about a ridiculous “halfback” option call on third and inches with the game in the balance. Rookie (that’s right, rookie) fullback Lawrence Vickers lined up with veteran fullback Terrelle Smith. Reuben Droughns, a former fullback, was on the bench as was scatback Jerome Harrison. Showing supreme confidence in his frail offensive line, Carthon decided not to power forward for the crucial real estate but instead tried to trick Julius Peppers and the rest of the Carolina Panthers defense with the halfback pass. Vickers threw poorly, center Hank Fraley held anyway, and the Browns settled for another field goal, blowing their last legitimate chance to get back into the game. Asked about it after the game, a perturbed K2 demurred “no comment on that one.”

So what we know from all this is that head coach Romeo Crennel has effectively stifled public criticism from the players, based on K2’s last outburst about Carthon. And what we also know is that Crennel is fast becoming a tragic figure himself with a dangerous lack situational awareness.

No one could seriously argue Crennel’s lack of effectiveness when it comes to stifling the poor play calling of his hand-picked coordinator, Carthon. Each week Crennel is asked about one poor play after another. Each week Crennel gives the same answer, “it didn’t work so it wasn’t a good play.” Since the pattern keeps repeating, the only conclusion we can draw is that Crennel believes that it’s not the plays but the players.

And this is the second reason why the Browns are still compelling. As this mini reality show plays out each week, the question quickly becomes whether Crennel will save himself by rightly sacrificing Carthon or whether Crennel will fall on his sword instead. Given how long it took Crennel to become a head coach, sacrificing Carthon would be the smart move. Given how long it’s taking for Crennel to recognize a bad coaching job, the latter is more likely. And for Crennel and Browns fans, that’s the real tragedy.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Regrets? What Regrets?

A few weeks ago we asked why the Indians traded Bob Wickman. If you listened to or read about Mark Shapiro's post-season wrap-up of the Indians, that question is even more relevant and an answer ever more elusive.

Shapiro was quick to admit that trading Brandon Phillips was a mistake. That's fairly obvious given the rather large hole that needs to be filled at that position in the off-season and no one on the present squad or in the minors to fill it. That's why finding a second baseman occupies one of the top spots on the off-season wish list.

But why, then, would Shapiro nonetheless defend his decision to trade Wickman. According to Shapiro, "I don't have any regret about the decision. We had to find out about Fausto Carmona as a closer candidate. Had we not traded him, we're looking at [an] 82-, 84- or 85-win season. That would have been a positive outcome for this market."

Let's dissect this for all it's worth. First, the underlying premise makes no sense. There was nothing pushing the Indians to try to find out, right now, whether Carmona could be a closer. Virtually all scouts agree that Carmona is best suited as a starter. His late season starts for the Tribe seem to confirm that opinion. But even more to the point, Carmona is only 23. If he were a position player, he'd be young. As a pitcher, he's a baby. He's probably a good four or five years from developing to the point where his future will be clear. We'd go back and point out, statistically, how much later pitchers reach their prime than position players, but anyone who's watched baseball even casually understands that point. For Shapiro to use this self-created, but wholly unnecessary, need to chart Carmona's path now simply lacks credibility.

Second, our analysis basically confirms Shapiro's contention that had Wickman stayed, the Tribe would have won somewhere in the mid to high 80s. But where we have a problem is Shapiro's somewhat dismissive view of this. The truth is that the Indians record only improves by 7 or 8 games due simply to the lack of save opportunities this team afforded to its closer. That was evident when Wickman was here for the first part of the season and remained true after his trade on July 20th. We all remember the Carmona flameouts, but mostly because they occurred in rapid succession. If you examine the season as a whole, that appears to be the only real stretch when several save opportunities presented themselves in such consecutive fashion. Most of the save opportunities were scattered and there were long stretches throughout the season where a closer simply was not needed.

But looking at the big picture, Shapiro's lack of regret of his trade is mystifying since finding a closer, like a second baseman, also is at the top of his wish list. So while he regrets dumping Phillips, presumably because of the hole he now has to unnecessarily fill, he can't bring himself to offer up the same regrets for trading Wickman, even though filling that hole will require at least as much effort on his part. And it's not, as we've said, that finding a proven closer like Wickman comes easy or cheap.

In our view, if Shapiro should have any regrets it should be for dumping Wickman not Phillips. For Shapiro's sake, it's probably a good thing no one asked him whether he regretted not signing Bob Howry. We could only imagine the spin that question would have received.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

On Further Review

Now we're worried.

Yesterday we noted, somewhat in passing, somewhat in detail, the lack of professionalism exhibited by Browns quarterback Charlie Frye in throwing what may be the worst pass we've seen in recent years.

We note today that Frye readily acknowledges that it was a "bonehead" play that is not to be repeated. Good. But what scares us is that what drove him to make the throw in the first place is the fact that it supposedly worked three or four other times in the past. Really? We defy Frye to name the times, places, and situations where it worked even once. We guarantee he can't do it. Besides, even if he could, is that what we can expect out of this guy. In Frye's world, a stupid mistake that happens to work shouldn't be met with a sigh of relief that he got away with one. Instead, it's met with the false confidence to try it again. If that's what's guiding Frye in his development, we submit that the Browns will be on the market for a new starter before the start training camp next season.

We also were intrigued by the comments of Joe Jurevicius. As reported in the Akron Beacon Journal, Frye's play didn't cost him the respect of his teammates, according to Jurevicius.``He's a phenomenal competitor. He takes the hits and still takes charge in the huddle.... I don't care where he went to school,'' Jurevicius said.

This somewhat backhanded compliment only underscores the tenuous nature of Frye's grip on the respect of his teammates. Not only must he overcome the stigma of being from the University of Akron, he also must overcome the stigma of throwing two critical, ill conceived passes in the red zone in consecutive weeks. Just getting up after being repeatedly hit will ultimately lose its luster. If Frye continues to play like he's still at the U of A instead of the NFL, that respect for taking the hits will quickly turn into disdain, as in "why the heck doesn't he get rid of the ball faster? He deserves what he gets."

Yes, we all hope it's a learning experience for Frye. And, frankly, we're pulling for him. But Frye must recognize that until he starts approaching his job as a professional, he'll never carry the gravitas accorded of a NFL veteran.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Don't Rain on My Parade

You can breathe easier now, the Browns are off the schnide. We know how the city breathes a collective sigh of relief when the Browns actually win a game, but we also know that this relief has the shelf life of an overfed goldfish. That's why we're pretty confident that by this time most Cleveland fans are busy devaluing the victory to the point where it might as well have been a loss.

But we're not going to pile on, at least not right now. If we were, we'd be talking about how Ted "C.C." Washington is about two bisquits away from eating himself out of the league. We'd also be talking more seriously about whether Charlie Frye really has the make-up to be a top tier quarterback in the NFL. His fourth quarter interception, which the Plain Dealer labeled, in victory, laughable, hopefully isn't a laughing matter in Berea. It was so amatuerish, so college, that it makes one wonder whether Frye can really lead this team.

It's one thing to try and make things happen. It's a whole other thing to treat the game like you're on the playground. Frye obviously had no appreciation for the situation. It was second down inside the 10. He was well out of the pocket and heading for the out of bounds line. He's allowed to throw it away and not risk an intentional grounding call. He's allowed to run out of bounds and lose a few yards. Instead, he just heaves it into the middle of the end zone hoping something good would happen.

And before one says "well, you'd be singing a different song if it had worked", that's completely untrue. If, by chance, Frye had been lucky enough to complete it, we'd still question his professionalism. The Browns were on the verge of putting the game away. A field goal would have forced the league's worst offense to score a touchdown, something they had done only once this season (which happened to be earlier in the same game). That's a chance a pro would take. Frye, instead, had no concept of the situation he was in, apparently thinking he needed a touchdown, even though the Browns were up by 3 and it was late in the game and a field goal was an almost certainty.

Some may want to compare Frye's bonehead play to the seemingly desperate pass that Troy Smith of Ohio State threw to receiver Brian Robiskie last week against Penn State. In the first instance, Smith is a college quarterback. Frye is a second year pro. Second, Smith's throw wasn't nearly as risky. Robiskie was in single coverage and at the time of the pass Smith, like Robiskie, was in the center of the field. The pass was thrown on a rope and put where either Robiskie would get it or no one. Frye nearly had one foot out of bounds and threw a pass in the air hoping something good would happen. And it wasn't even a well thrown ball.

And for those of you counting at home, that's two key interceptions in the end zone for Frye in consecutive weeks. Head coach Romeo Crennel gave Frye a public pass on the interception last week, saying that Frye had been hit when he threw. But that's only a half truth. The hit did not affect that throw. It was simply a poor throw at the exact wrong time, with the game in the balance. Just like yesterday's throw. But we doubt Crennel gives Frye a pass this week. Sure, they'll laugh about it now, but it's these kinds of things that one has to look for in trying to discern whether Frye is the answer.

But again, we don't want to rain on the parade this morning so we'll reserve our comments and instead note that if you're confused about the Indians, you're not alone. We read with interest two disparate articles yesterday about ostensibly the same subject: the Tribe. In the Plain Dealer, Paul Hoynes, was ranting about where the Indians now stand. Hoynes rightly notes that:"It was easy to say the Indians were ahead of schedule last year. This year, they've been out-spent and passed by three teams in their own division. It's hard to imagine what the Tribe could do this winter to leap-frog Chicago, Minneapolis and Detroit and reach the postseason in 2007."

For beautiful contrast, we look to Sheldon Ocker, Hoynes' counterpart at the Akron Beacon Journal. Ocker took a much more measured approach, saying , basically that the Tribe doesn't need that much to get back to where they were. While there is much to pick apart in Ocker's column, we do note that Ocker has been of this view for most of the season.

At this juncture, it's hard to tell who's right, mainly because the Indians were such an enigma this year. They had four starting pitchers win at least 10 games. They hit well and scored plenty of runs. Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner emerged as superstars. That tends to support Ocker. Yet, they were 18 games back in their division, three victories away from breaking even on the season. As we've chronicled, they are being massively outspent in their own division and little hope of ever catching up. That tends to support Hoynes.

We do know this, the fans are fed up. We suspect that this is the last season that either GM Mark Shapiro or Manager Eric Wedge will get the benefit of the doubt. It should be an interesting off-season.