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Tony Grossi's Take: Are the Browns being creative on offense, or silly?

Sep 21, 2014 -- 7:00pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

Tony Grossi’s Take on Browns’ 23-21 loss to the Baltimore Ravens

Offense: For three quarters it was good – 21 points, 305 yards, 5 of 7 on third downs. Brian Hoyer was 17 of 19. The fourth quarter was atrocious – two blown field goals, 0 for 4 on third downs. They had 70 yards in final quarter, all coming on a catch-fall down-get up and run play by Taylor Gabriel. Although the balance of run-pass was there, it seemed the running game was underused. The Johnny Manziel “hideout” trick play was illegal, according to FOX analyst Mike Peirera, though it was nullified by a penalty on Terrance West for not setting long enough after motion. Bottom line: Negative plays at the end.

Defense: After a thorough shredding on the ground throughout the game, the unit actually made two plays in the deciding fourth quarter that should have led to victory. The first was a Tashaun Gipson interception after a quarterback hit by Paul Kruger, and the second was a fourth-down stop of back Lorenzo Taliaferro. But it still had plenty of bad plays left – confusion in the substitution process caused one penalty and burned one timeout, Justin Gilbert’s 31-yard pass interference penalty and Joe Haden’s 32-yard burn by Steve Smith. Bottom line: Giving up 5.2 yards per rushing attempt through three games.

Special teams: The return game was worse than non-existent. Travis Benjamin’s inability to fair catch Sam Koch’s punt at the end tipped the field in Baltimore’s favor and set up the game-winning field goal. Benjamin also muffed an earlier punt. Billy Cundiff banged the left upright from 50 yards (dropping his career mark to 7 of 28 on field goal tries from 50 yards and longer) and had a 36-yarder blocked by Asa Jackson, who zipped past the right wing of protection before Billy Winn got out of his stance. The protection breakdowns were evident a week ago and nearly cost them their lone win. Bottom line: An extra week to ponder changes.

Coaching: The substitution process on defense is broken and must be fixed. For that matter, the defense as a whole seems out of whack, both against the run and pass. The offensive play-calling treads the fine line between creativity and silliness. You can argue the fun aspect of the Hoyer-to-Manziel pass, but also ask why not reserve it for a knockout punch later in the season when the team has had more work on it in practice. The running game looks like it has more to offer. And those special teams are in need of some changes. Bottom line: One blown call by Rob Ryan from being 0-3.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Browns blow chances, bungle way to 23-21 loss to Baltimore Ravens

Sep 21, 2014 -- 4:04pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

Updated at 5:52 p.m.

There are team wins, when everybody pitches in and makes plays. Like against New Orleans.

And there are team losses, when the offense, defense and special teams each contribute with eye-gouging mistakes compounded by confusion, ugly plays and wasted opportunities. Just very bad football.

The Browns had one of those losses on Sunday. They blew opportunities on offense, suffered periods of sheer dreadfulness on defense, and botched kicks. The coaches had a bad day, too.

And all of that equated to a 23-21 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on a last-second field goal.

So the Browns have won a game against the Saints by two points and lost games by three and two to division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore. All three games have been decided in the last five seconds.

“It’s going to be a long two weeks,” said quarterback Brian Hoyer, referring to the team’s upcoming schedule bye. “We’re going to be mad at ourselves. This will hang with us a little longer. We have no one to blame but ourselves.”

For Mike Pettine, it was a coaching nightmare.

His defense was shredded on the ground by a rookie making his NFL debut, and his pride and joy – cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Joe Haden – failed at the end. His offense got too tricky early and couldn’t capitalize on Hoyer’s highest passer ranking (127.1) as a Brown. The kicking team blew one field goal and had another blocked, and punt returner Travis Benjamin let a fair-catchable punt sail over his head and be downed at the 7 with 2:19 to go. Overall, the Browns committed 12 penalties, including two for having 12 men in the defensive huddle. They burned a timeout to avoid a third.

“I put this one on me,” Pettine fumed afterwards. “We didn’t coach well enough to win today. I’m not going to get into specifics. The list is long.”

For much of the day, the Browns were taking it to one of their rivals who had dominated them for 15 seasons.

Through three quarters, Hoyer completed 17 of 19 passes and rookie backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West each had touchdown runs. As the third quarter wound down, Hoyer’s 4-yard touchdown throw to Miles Austin gave the Browns a 21-17 lead – the fifth lead change of the game.

The fourth quarter blew up into a comedy of errors. It was one of the worst quarters of football, a surprise relapse of the losing mentality Pettine and Hoyer and others have worked so hard to change.

Here is the list of foul-ups, bleeps and blunders that comprised the Fourth Quarter from Hell:

* Paul Kruger’s hit on Joe Flacco caused a flutterball that was intercepted by Tashaun Gipson and returned to the Ravens’ 30-yard line. Four plays later, Billy Cundiff’s 50-yard field goal try in swirling 23 mph winds banged off the left upright with 13:26 to play.

* After the defense finally stopped rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro (91 yards, one TD, on 18 carries) on a fourth-and-1 carry at the Browns’ 21, Hoyer found receiver Taylor Gabriel open five yards behind safety Matt Elam. For some reason, Gabriel fell after making the catch at the Ravens’ 28. He jumped up and raced to the 9.

The Browns proceeded to lose 9 yards on the next three plays. Hoyer killed the second down because of miscommunication with a back. On third down, he lost track of geography and threw to Austin in the end zone from five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Consequently, Cundiff’s field goal try was moved back for a 36-yard effort. It was summarily blocked.

“We’ve got to be better,” said punter and holder Spencer Lanning. “We can’t leave six points out there. The first one, the wind was pretty bad and (the snap) wasn’t as clean as we’d like. The second one was just a breakdown in fundamentals.”

* Baltimore kicked a short field goal to close the Browns’ lead to 21-20 at the 5:00 mark. The blunders on that 71-yard Flacco march were a 31-yard pass interference penalty on Gilbert against Torrey Smith, one penalty for 12 men in the huddle and a burnt timeout to avoid another. Oh, yeah, the drive was jumpstarted on three runs by Justin Forsett for 38 yards right out of the gate.

Linebacker Karlos Dansby, who railed about the run defense during the week, said, “We have to play technically sound and make better plays. That’s the nuts and bolts of it right there.”

* The Browns’ offense had two more possessions to close out the game. The first expired in 47 seconds. The second one, which was set up at the 7 because of Benjamin’s decision not to catch Sam Koch’s punt, consumed a total of 8 seconds.

“I wasn’t afraid at all,” Benjamin said. “I got up under the ball correctly and at the last minute a gust of wind blew it and it went past my hand. I didn’t want to go back and reach for the ball, so I just let it pass by.”

Hoyer threw the ball well all day (19 of 25 for 290 yards, one touchdown and his fourth complete game in a row without an interception) but suffered his first loss at home as a Brown.

“We made a lot of plays but we didn’t make them when we really needed to,” Hoyer said.

After Lanning’s 40-yard punt, Flacco took over at the 50 with :58 left and no timeouts. On second down, Steve Smith Jr. beat Haden on a perfectly thrown pass for 32 yards down to the Browns’ 12 to set up the game-winner.

“There were a lot of opportunities, but we pride ourselves on going on the field, making plays and getting stops and I just didn’t do that today,” Haden said. “He just got me on a go route.”

For the second game in a row, rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel made a cameo appearance. He came in for successive plays in the second quarter and actually caught a pass from Hoyer on the latter one. Of course, it was nullified by a penalty.

After handing off on his first play, Manziel walked toward the sideline and made a hand gesture towards offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to throw confusion into the Ravens. Manziel stopped before leaving the field, however, and Hoyer, sneaking back in, made a quick snap and threw to Manziel down the left sideline.

The play would have been worth 39 yards, but West was flagged for an illegal shift because he didn’t set long enough after motion. Later, former NFL officiating chief Mike Peirera, now a FOX analyst, wrote on Twitter that the play was illegal because no player can line up within five yards of the sideline when the line of scrimmage is in the “bench area,” which is marked off between the 32-yard lines on either side of the 50.

“It was our understanding that where he was lined up was sufficient,” Pettine said.

The Browns hit their bye week with a 1-2 record. Both losses came to division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore when the clock ticked down to zeroes.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Browns uniform makeover is complete, but remains under wraps until April

Sep 21, 2014 -- 11:15am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Twitter

The Browns won’t unveil their uniform changes until April of 2015, but they do know what they look like. At least a select few know what they look like.

The team has made its choices in what will be the biggest uniform makeover in the last 30 years of the franchise.

According to a source with knowledge of the process, the Browns have chosen three jerseys and two pants styles. The jerseys are categorized as dark, light and an alternate.

The Browns intend to mix and match jerseys with pants, giving them up to six combinations to wear over the course of a season.

Sources previously have said the color schemes would remain largely orange, brown and white – the colors selected by founding coach Paul Brown when the team debuted in 1946. There could be slightly different shades than accustomed to the franchise. But the source declined to comment on a rumor that a fourth color would be introduced, believed to be metallic gray.

The process of redesigning the uniforms of the Browns was initiated in spring of 2013 by Browns owner Jimmy Haslam.

At the time, Haslam said, “I will say there will be no change to the helmet. But we will look at everything else. We may change a lot. We may change a little.”

When he said “no change to the helmet,” Haslam meant that the Browns’ tradition of being the only team without a logo on its helmet would not change. But there has been some discussion about altering the tint of the orange on the helmet to match the modern look of the new uniforms.

In partnership with NFL marketing executives and designers at apparel-maker Nike, the Browns market-tested their fan base, tested wearability and durability of fabrics, and camera-tested designs worn by models to make sure they were pleasing to TV cameras.

Haslam is one of six people in the organization who participated in the selection of the uniforms, and he had final say. Others involved were Alec Scheiner, club president; Brent Stehlik, executive vice president and chief revenue officer; Kevin Griffin, vice president of fan experience and marketing; General Manager Ray Farmer; and coach Mike Pettine.

According to the source, those are the only six people in the Browns organization who have seen the new uniform combinations. NFL marketing and Nike executives also know of the selections.

The Browns hope to keep the uniforms top secret until a big-splash introduction prior to the April 2015 draft.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Tony Grossi's Four Downs: The best mudders, Hoyer's last first, Cundiff's chance for revenge, and more

Sep 20, 2014 -- 6:15pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Four downs on Browns v. Baltimore Ravens

First down: All-weather Browns

Weather forecasts are calling for possible rainstorms through Sunday morning. If they move on by kickoff, conditions still would favor running the ball over passing it. Mike Pettine has talked about making his team “weather-proof,” meaning it could win in any conditions. There was a day in training camp when Pettine had his team practice in a downpour. Balls squirted out of the quarterbacks’ hands and receivers dropped more than they caught. If the conditions are similar, a premium will be on the running game and the backs’ ability to secure the ball. A good test for rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell.

Second down: Hoyer’s last first

With only six career starts on his ledger – five with the Browns – there are plenty of teams that Brian Hoyer has yet to experience on the field. The Ravens are the last of the AFC North teams Hoyer is facing for the first time. Last year with Hoyer at quarterback, the Browns defeated the Bengals, 17-6, in Cleveland, and this year lost to the Steelers in Pittsburgh, 30-27. Hoyer was injured for both Ravens games last year and never played against them in stints with the Patriots, Steelers and Cardinals. This week, Hoyer downplayed the fact he hasn’t played them before and said he studied them often in his three years as Tom Brady’s backup with New England. The teams split four meetings between 2009 and 2011, counting the 2011 AFC Championship.

Third down: Receiver advantage, Ravens

If the teams’ facsimile running games play to a standoff, the passing games favor the Ravens – by a wide margin on paper. Joe Flacco’s receiving targets have been bolstered by the addition of former Panthers receiver Steve Smith Sr. – an emotional powder keg -- and former Texans tight end Owen Daniels. Also, reliable tight end Dennis Pitta is back to good health. Flacco (11-1 v. the Browns) has leaned on those three for 62 percent of his completions and 66 percent of his passing yards. So far this year, speed receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones have been fairly quiet.

Fourth down: Cundiff’s revenge?

Billy Cundiff was replaced by the Ravens in the 2012 training camp following his missed game-tying short field goal try in the 2011 season AFC Championship Game. Cundiff has had few game-deciding field goal tries since then. One of them was last week when he converted from 29 yards to defeat the Saints. If this becomes a close contest decided by a kick, Cundiff could avenge Justin Tucker, the young gun who replaced him in Baltimore in 2012. For the record, Cundiff is 7 of 25 on field goals of 50 yards or more in his career. Tucker is 10 of 12.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Browns Game 3 Preview: Can John Harbaugh keep the Baltimore Ravens focused through the organization's turbulence?

Sep 20, 2014 -- 6:10pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

What: Browns (1-1) v. Baltimore Ravens (1-1), 1 p.m., in FirstEnergy Stadium.

TV: CBS, WOIO Channel 19 with Spero Dedes and Solomon Wilcots.

The set-up: This is Baltimore’s third division game in a row, but its first road game of the season. They have tough games immediately ahead – home against Carolina and at Indianapolis. The Browns are in great shape mentally, confident after beating New Orleans in their home opener, but also knowing they aren’t close to playing as well as they believe they can. They have their home crowd excited and energized this early in a season for the first time in a long time.

Series history: Ravens lead, 22-8.

Historical footnote: In a 24-18 victory over Baltimore in FirstEnergy Stadium, quarterback Jason Campbell and receiver Davone Bess experienced their best moments in Browns uniforms. Campbell played through a rib injury suffered on a hit by Haloti Ngata and tossed three touchdowns, including two to Bess. Bess’ final reception was a sliding grab that extended Campbell’s 15-play, 6 minute-plus drive at the end that sealed the win with a field goal. It tagged Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco with his first loss to the Browns in 12 career meetings. It was as good as it got for the Browns in 2013. They lost their final seven games to finish at 4-12.

Ravens update: You’ve got to wonder how long coach John Harbaugh can keep together his team in the wake of damaging revelations on Friday by ESPN’s Outside the Lines of how team executives handled the Ray Rice case. The investigative report disclosed that the club strongly supported Rice and advocated a lean suspension from Commissioner Roger Goodell even while knowing all the facts of Rice’s knockout punch of his future wife, and then withdrew its support, saying Rice misled team officials, when the videotape inside the elevator became public. The report also suggests that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti offered Rice a future job with the organization, and Rice interpreted that as a subtle message to keep quiet about the team’s actions. Those explosive allegations could fracture the Ravens’ locker room and shatter confidence in the organization.

Browns update: They have caught a wave of confidence as a result of steady improvement over the last six quarters of play. The offense is overproducing and should be bolstered by the return of tight end Jordan Cameron, the gradual improvement of rookie backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell and the continued leadership of Brian Hoyer. The defense has to find its way through Mike Pettine’s system and be better against the run, as linebacker Karlos Dansby has suggested.

Injury report: Browns – RB Ben Tate (knee) is out; TE Jordan Cameron (shoulder) and LB Barkevious Mingo (shoulder) are questionable. Ravens -- DT Timmy Jernigan (knee) doubtful; RB Bernard Pierce (thigh) questionable.

Our take: Past Browns teams under different coaches and systems have consistently played the Ravens tough, but have generally fallen short because of talent. The win in Cleveland last season was a breakthrough – first triumph over Harbaugh and Joe Flacco in 12 meetings. Pettine has a very good understanding of the Ravens and what this game means to the city and to the Browns’ season overall.

Prediction: Browns, 26-23.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Browns WR Josh Gordon's suspension reduced to 10 games, but questions remain

Sep 19, 2014 -- 5:08pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/USATSI

Updated at 8:05 p.m.

The long-awaited announcement of the reduction of Josh Gordon’s drug suspension from a minimum of one year to 10 games came down on Friday.

If he stays clean while subjected to up to 10 drug tests a month, Gordon will be reinstated for the Browns' last six games. He would be eligible first to play in the Nov. 23 game in Atlanta.

The rest of the Browns’ schedule after that has games at Buffalo, home v. Indianapolis and Cincinnati, at Carolina and at Baltimore.

In a statement released by the Browns, GM Ray Farmer said, "We are aware of the new NFL policy related to the reduction of Josh Gordon's suspension to 10 games. We will continue to support and work with him under the NFL guidelines throughout this process. Our team's focus right now remains on preparing for Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens."

Gordon’s indefinite suspension was reduced to 10 games as a result of a new substance abuse policy ratified by the players union and the league.

The new policy includes blood-testing for human growth hormone for the first time and changes in the previous policy regarding performance-enhancing drugs, banned substances and recreational drugs.

As it pertains to Gordon, the new policy raised the threshold of a positive marijuana test from 15 nanograms per milliliter to 35 ng/ml. Gordon’s original indefinite suspension resulted from a reported testing at 16 ng/ml in one-half of his urine sample and a below-threshold reading of 13.8 ng/ml in the other half.

The announcement of Gordon’s reduced suspension does not address why he still was disciplined even though his reported test result would fall below the new threshold.

The new policy includes new layers of discipline reflecting the NFL’s more liberal stance on marijuana.

Under the new policy, the first violation results in referral to the league’s substance abuse program, the second brings a two-game fine, the third brings a four-game fine, the fourth brings a four-game suspension, the fifth brings a 10-game suspension and beyond that is an indefinite suspension.

Gordon’s discipline, then, lines up with a fifth violation.

The announcement did not address why Gordon received 10 games suspension.

It has been widely reported that another change in the drug policy allows Gordon to return to the Browns’ facility and structure of its team during the suspension. But, again, there was no announcement relating to that significant change.

Gordon said in a statement released through the players association, "“I’'m happy that the NFLPA and NFL worked hard to agree on a new Substances of Abuse policy. I'’m very thankful to my union for fighting for a significant reduction in my suspension. I'’m glad I can go to the facility during my suspension. I look forward to going to meetings, working out individually, and learning from my coaches and teammates. I can’t wait until game 11 to get back on the field!"

The new policy also calls for a two-game suspension for an alcohol-related driving offense. Gordon pleaded guilty this week to a DWI charge stemming from an arrest in Raleigh, NC., on July 5. Players with pending alcohol offenses had until November to get their legal issues resolved without suspension under the new terms. The announcement did not address whether Gordon would be suspended for his DWI.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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