Click here for Part One of the Awards.
Peyton Hillis’ Strep Throat
Let’s face it – Browns’ bye weeks are boring.
Because of this unfortunate reality, a story as innocuous (and dated) as Peyton Hillis missing the Dolphins’ game with strep throat suddenly becomes tabloid fodder. Hillis – whose play is defined by a running style that will likely not outlast any future contract – was suddenly labeled as everything from a “me-first” player to “soft.”
What an amazing turn of events for the first player in Browns’ expansion history to give the organization a national identity.
But then again, perhaps the reason so many around town have weighed in on the alleged controversy is because national media outlets have begun to pick up the Hillis narrative.
And of course, there is nothing else to write about. Right?
Biggest Non-Story: Cheap Page View Honorable Mention
It’s come to this. Really.
Coming soon….Should Bernie Kosar Become the Browns’ Offensive Coordinator? Tell us what you think!
Reason For the Non-Stories
Pat Shurmur’s Play Calling
The Browns’ new head coach – handpicked by Team President Mike Holmgren – is clearly still enjoying an extended honeymoon period. Despite some lapses in judgment during his team’s two losses, Shurmur still retains the offseason luster granted to him by local media – the same group that tarred and feathered Eric Mangini ten minutes into the 2009 offseason.
As for the rationale behind such a strategy, it’s generous to think that perhaps local media have learned a lesson based on the savagery committed towards Mangini. Or, it’s more probable that Shurmur is simply a conduit of the well-connected Holmgren – who still possesses a nearly God-like football presence.
Either way, a non-story like Hillis or a patently false one like the Owens survey serves as a distraction.
Otherwise, the tide could turn against the Browns’ offensive coordinator and head coach.
Speaking of which….
Worst Pat Shurmur Play Call
I had hoped to never again reference his name, but a few of Shurmur’s early 2011 play calls have reminded me of the arrested development of Maurice Carthon.
Actually – more than a few.
For those who haven’t numbed their brains towards the Carthon era, you’ll remember a litany of Charlie Frye scrambles and some of the most bizarre third and fourth down play calls in the history of the game.
In 2011, Shurmur has dipped his toes into similar waters.
Consider the following:
1. A Pitch to Armond Smith on 4th and 1.
2. Josh Cribbs’ Triple Reverse Option Pass on Third Down.
3. Owen Marecic Up the Middle – On Any Down.
However, in Shurmur’s defense, a few considerations should be made.
1. Opposing defenses usually don’t expect the unexpected.
2. Running Hillis up the middle is playing right into the defense’s hands.
3. Besides, there are a lot of plays in Shurmur’s offense – why not aim for variety?
And since we’re on the subject….
Montario Hardesty, Greg Little and Josh Cribbs
How is it that Montario Hardesty is a better blocker than Owen Marecic – yet Marecic is a better receiver than Hardesty?
Or, why is that when Brian Robiskie is on the field, the Browns run – yet Greg Little is obviously the team’s best blocker – at least on special teams?
Finally, considering the league’s draconian rule changes, is it possible that Josh Cribbs could make an even bigger impact in 2011?
About those special teams…
Similar to the media blanket currently protecting Shurmur, venerable Browns’ kicker Phil Dawson is largely untouchable when it comes to local criticism. And for the most part, this practice is just – considering that Dawson has been his usual reliable self on field goals.
However, even with the kickoff line pushed ahead, Dawson has struggled to get the ball into the end zone – while opposing kickers have continually blasted touchbacks and destroyed the Browns’ chances at getting decent field position.
But at least all is not lost with the team’s punters.
Cradle of Punters – 2011 Inductee
If nothing else, Browns fans can say this about the last dozen years of expansion football: our punters have been exceptional.
Because of such a strong lineage of punting talent, including Chris Gardocki, Dave Zastudil and Reggie Hodges, the one-game aberration of Richmond McGee was enough to fuel the wrath of some 70,000 stadium fans not used to such a display of poor football.
In McGee’s defense, a pre-game injury led to some of the worst punting seen in Cleveland since the long forgotten days of Derek Frost.
However in retrospect, McGee never had the substance to be included on such a prestigious list.
Neither did this….
Flawed Misery Index Candidate
It was clever for about five minutes, but attempts to characterize “The Huddle” – or the Non-Huddle that resulted in A.J. Green’s backbreaking uncontested Week One touchdown – along with such ghosts of Browns’ past as The Drive, The Fumble and The Move were a bit much.
In terms of a more fitting tribute, “The Huddle” should probably be renamed “The Hurry Up”, or perhaps the “Fifth Weirdest Thing To Ever Happen When the Browns Play the Bengals.”
After this official designation, let’s lump this play together with Dwayne Rudd’s helmet toss and call it a day.
Or, just wait for the inevitably miserable rematch in Cincinnati later this year.
As thoughts of Derek Anderson’s 2007 meltdown wain….
Wayward Sons of Romeo Crennel – 2011 Honors
It seems like a decade ago when the first Camp Mangini commenced and veteran defensive tackle Shaun Smith became a victim of the Browns’ new culture of discipline. Or even longer if you link nostalgic memories of Smith to sucker-punching Brady Quinn in the team’s locker room.
However, for a player seemingly forever off the Browns’ radar, Smith has continued to torment his former team. After a junk-grabbing episode with Alex Mack last season, Smith figuratively de-pantsed both Mack and rookie left guard Jason Pinkston last week as a member of the Titans. Smith’s play was a major factor as the Browns’ offense struggled to sustain drives.
Yet in a game in Cleveland where a Chris Palmer-coached offense continually ripped off big plays, why wouldn’t Smith dominate?
As for more reflections of the past….
Eric Wright/Brandon McDonald Lonely Island Prize
It used to be that the worst position to play for an expansion Browns team was cornerback. For a time in their Browns’ career, both Wright and McDonald were victimized by being the featured cornerback in either a Romeo Crennel or Rob Ryan defense.
Flashing ahead to 2011, Joe Haden has emerged as the Browns’ best defensive player – in a scheme that appears far less pressure-packed than the previous varieties. However, with Haden flourishing comes the reality that opposing teams have – and will continue – to target veteran Sheldon Brown.
The Sean Jones Football Academy Honorable Mention
Speaking of coverage, Ward excelled against the Colts, before being embarrassed a week ago during the Titans’ loss. In terms of his development as a safety, Ward continues to show consistency as a big hitter and occasional competence elsewhere.
But then again – perhaps “embarrassment” should be exclusively reserved for others.
Andra Davis Memorial
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A tight end possessing modest speed gets open against a veteran Browns’ linebacker. Missed tackles follow and a touchdown ensues.
Followed by more missed tackles….
Remedial Geometry Participation Award
The Browns’ new free safety must have missed class when basic angles were covered. Watching Young fall harmlessly into the sideline during a too-easy Titans’ touchdown was among the more disappointing of 2011 performances.
But enough of the negativity.
After all, 2-2 in these parts could be considered exceptional – at least considering the circumstances. Having said that, let’s end on a positive note.
Best of the Best - Offense
Final Minutes Against Miami
Granted, the Dolphins aren’t a great team. However, it was hard not to see GM Tom Heckert’s influence on the roster during the final minutes of a come-from-behind victory in Miami.
On what proved to be the game-winning drive, McCoy lived up to the hundreds of clichéd offseason articles devoted to the young quarterback’s “poise.” McCoy simply ran the offense, made some nice throws, got some luck along the way and found a new target in rookie wide receiver Greg Little.
In the end, a spectacular throw and catch to Mohammed Massaquoi helped to redeem three and half quarters’ worth of struggles.
Defensively, Dick Jauron’s unit performed an even greater feat. With the Dolphins basically needing two first downs to gain game-winning field goal position, the Browns’ defense did two things that have not come natural to them over the past decade:
They simply rushed the passer and covered well.
Led by Jayme Mitchell and Jabaal Sheard up front and Joe Haden and Dimitri Patterson on the back end, the Browns’ defense clamped down to preserve a much-needed win.
Best of the Best - Defense
Assault on Indianapolis
While the defense’s final stand against Miami was certainly deserving, the front four dominated against the Colts. In an almost satiating manner – at least compared to the sporadic pass rush generated in recent years – Sheard, Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin feasted on an aging Colt offensive line and lead-footed Kerry Collins.
The results – a huge collection of sacks against a stationary target – were completely gratifying.
Best of the Best – Moving Forward
Building Through the Draft
Although the most popular message boards get pretty heated after a performance like last Sunday, rational Browns’ observers and fans should at least realize one thing:
This team is improving.
No better evidence can be found than the realization that currently 11 Browns’ contributors – including 9 starters have arrived via the team’s last two drafts.
And while the future progression of each player is certainly debatable, a small developing core of Haden, Ward, Taylor, Rubin, Sheard, McCoy, Little and Hardesty – along with the veteran presence of players such as D’Qwell Jackson, Joe Thomas, Alex Mack and Peyton Hillis is exciting at times.
Again – there are many reasons why this team is 2-2.