Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday Night Football Quick Hits: Eagles Fly Over Inept Browns

The Philadelphia Eagles thrashed the Cleveland Browns 30-10 and the beating was truly worse than even that lopsided score suggests; if the Eagles had any kind of red zone offense they could have easily dropped 50 points on the hapless, helpless, hopeless Browns, who are still mired in the longest stretch of time without an offensive touchdown in franchise history. Donovan McNabb completed 26 of 35 passes for 290 yards, two touchdowns and one interception en route to a 105.7 passer rating, his third highest single-game rating this season. He sat out most of the fourth quarter or he could have easily notched a 300 or even 400 yard game. "This is like seven on seven (practice drills with no linemen)...Donovan is getting no pressure on him," ESPN's Ron Jaworski said early in the third quarter.

You could not conceive of a bigger contrast than the one between the Eagles' offense--at least until they reached the red zone, when things got a little dicey--and the Browns' offense, "led" by third string quarterback Ken Dorsey, who completed 11 of 28 passes for 156 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, accumulating a 28.3 passer rating on the heels of his 49.6 passer rating last week in his first start of the season, a 28-9 loss to Tennessee. Dorsey has a peashooter for an arm and absolutely no mobility; his strength is supposed to be his ability to read coverages but that was hardly evident during this game. He totally misread a coverage and threw a pass that Asante Samuel intercepted and ran back for a touchdown late in the second quarter, extending Philadelphia's lead to 17-3. Dorsey's second pick also looked like it was the result of a terrible read and he could easily have had two more interceptions if Eagles' defenders had held on to the ball.

Here's a bizarre stat for the Browns: they have started six different quarterbacks in their last six Monday Night Football appearances, each of whom faced some kind of adversity either in that game or soon afterwards, beginning with Bernie Kosar in 1993 (waived by the Browns later that season) and then continuing with Eric Zeier in 1995 (started just one more game for the Browns), Kelly Holcomb (2003, benched during that game and did not play for the rest of the season), Derek Anderson (2008, benched three weeks later and then suffered a season-ending injury) and Brady Quinn (2008, broke his finger and is now out for the season). It is safe to assume that Dorsey does not have too many starts left in his future, either.

The Eagles effortlessly marched 64 yards on their opening drive to take a 7-0 lead. The Browns answered with their only productive drive of the game, going 63 yards before stalling at the Eagles' nine yard line and settling for a field goal. The Browns' offense did not reach Eagles' territory again until the second half.

Even when the Browns made a big defensive play they found a way not to score. After McNabb and the Eagles used horrible time management during a two minute drill near the end of the first half, McNabb threw a pass into the end zone that Brandon McDonald intercepted. Often, such picks are run back for TDs because the offensive players are so spread out. McDonald took off down the sideline but Brian Westbrook and Hank Baskett did not give up on the play, combining to run McDonald down as time expired. McDonald's 98 yard return is the longest interception return in regular season NFL history that did not result in a touchdown. Either McDonald is slow, Westbrook is really fast or the Browns are just cursed.

McDonald must have been destined to score in this game, though, because after McNabb went to the bench in the fourth quarter McDonald picked off Eagles' backup Kevin Kolb and raced 24 yards, somersaulting into the endzone to avoid a tackle attempt. That ended the Browns' touchdown-less streak--which had extended to 15 quarters--but the Browns' offense has not reached the endzone since Cleveland's 29-27 Monday Night Football win over Buffalo on November 17. Oddly, the Browns went 2-1 on Monday Night Football this year, beating the Super Bowl champion New York Giants and a Bills team that looked pretty good in mid-November. McDonald had at least one interception in each of Cleveland's three MNF games this year, an MNF first.

Braylon Edwards has been terrible for most of the season--leading the league in dropped passes after making the Pro Bowl last year--but even with the weak-armed Dorsey at the helm he caught five passes for 102 yards, thereby exceeding the 100 yard plateau in each of Cleveland's MNF games; only Jerry Rice and Torry Holt have had three 100 yard games in three MNF appearances in the same season.

Although a few individual players shined, this game was a microcosm of Cleveland's disastrous season. "It's really an embarrassment for Cleveland," Tony Kornheiser said after McNabb stood in the pocket unmolested for seemingly an eternity before throwing the TD pass that put the Eagles up 30-3. "It's everything that they've spent the whole year being: collapsing on offense, collapsing on defense, making no effort."

In many ways, the Browns resemble an expansion team now and, although injuries to the top two quarterbacks have played a part in that recently, the team did not look great for the most part even when Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn played. The Browns returned to the NFL in 1999 after the skunk Art Modell moved the original Browns to Baltimore and it must be said that virtually everything that has happened with the Browns since 1995--the team's final season in Cleveland--stinks. It started with Modell's underhanded moves that resulted in one Super Bowl title for his Baltimore Ravens and three Super Bowl wins for the New England Patriots, who smartly hired Bill Belichick a few years after Modell unceremoniously dumped the last Browns coach to win a playoff game. A lot of people seem to have forgotten that when Modell signed the deal to move the team Al Lerner--who later became the owner of the "new" Browns--was literally right by his side. If you believe in conspiracies, you could say that things worked out perfectly for the two good friends: Modell got to move his team, received a pile of money and even managed to get his long coveted Super Bowl championship, while Lerner got the opportunity to be the majority owner of the Browns, something that otherwise would never have happened because Modell was determined to keep control of the team in his family (ironically, he again got into financial trouble in Baltimore and had to sell controlling interest in the team). The only people who got screwed are the loyal Browns fans. Al Lerner has since passed away and his son Randy now owns the team but he seems more interested in the fate of his soccer team. I think that it is fair to say that Randy Lerner owes it to the Browns fans to put a much better and more professional product on the field. He has largely gotten a pass from the media and fans but the actions--and lack thereof--of he and his family have a lot to do with the sorry history of the Browns since 1995.

Here are some notes/comments about Sunday's action:

*Everyone has offered his or her two cents' worth about the drama in Dallas but I only heard two objective voices who made sense: Steve Young and John Madden. It is unfortunate that Young has such a limited role in ESPN's coverage because he is by far their best NFL analyst. Prior to Dallas' 20-8 win over the New York Giants, Young offered his prescription for the Cowboys to move forward: as the quarterback, Tony Romo should publicly take the blame for misreads/poorly thrown balls but in private Romo should assert himself when necessary and make sure that the lines of communication are open between he and all of the other offensive players. Young said that is the best way to defuse any potential controversies; considering that Young played with Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and other receivers who wanted to have a lot of passes thrown in their direction, he definitely has a lot of credibility to explain how a quarterback should nourish his relationships with his teammates.

Madden made two interesting technical observations:

1) He watched the game film of the Dallas-Pittsburgh game and determined that Owens was indeed open but did not receive the ball, which has been Owens' contention (and which many other Dallas players also believe, despite the media's attempts to portray Owens to be a troublemaker).

2) During the New York game, Madden noted that a screen pass to Owens' side of the field is very effective because Owens attracts so much extra defensive coverage.

The bottom line is that Owens is a playmaker and he is a competitor who wants to be involved in the offense. The Cowboys should want to get the ball in his hands as much as possible; I've never heard it suggested of any other future Hall of Famer that he should not want the ball or that his team should not try to get him the ball. That is just ignorant. People can say that Owens destroys teams but the 49ers were a playoff team during five of his eight seasons in San Francisco and have not once been a .500 team since he departed after the 2002 season. The Eagles were a Super Bowl team with Owens and have barely been above .500 overall since they got rid of Owens. The Cowboys missed the playoffs two years in a row before Owens arrived but made the playoffs in each of his first two seasons with the team and are on the verge of qualifying for the playoffs again this year.

As Madden indicated, Owens not only makes plays but he attracts so much coverage that he enables less talented teammates to have opportunities to make plays. I just laugh when I hear people talk about how the Eagles need a game-breaking wide receiver to make their offense complete. They had one in Terrell Owens and Owens helped them to reach the Super Bowl but because McNabb is sensitive and the owner was too cheap or stubborn to pay Owens what he was worth--after Owens risked his career to come back from a devastating injury to have an MVP-level performance in the Super Bowl--the Eagles can derive temporary joy from beating the Browns before they are eliminated from postseason contention next week or in the final game of the season.

Most commentators took the easy route and bashed Terrell Owens in a variety of ways. I have said it before and it must be said again: the last person on Earth who should say anything about Owens is Keyshawn "Just Give Me the Damn Ball" Johnson, a player who was let go by a Super Bowl champion due to his insubordination and who--as Owens has rightly noted--is a commentator now at the age of 36 (just one year older than Owens) because Owens took his spot in Dallas. Talk about combining hypocrisy and conflict of interest in one sound bite! When Johnson talks about how a wide receiver should properly deal with his quarterback I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Johnson criticizes Owens' route running skills but Owens ranks second in NFL history in touchdowns, sixth in receiving yards and seventh in receptions, so this reminds me of the late, great Ralph Wiley's response to critics who said that baseball great Rickey Henderson did not always play hard: if a guy can put up those kind of numbers without playing hard (or, in this case, despite supposedly being a bad route runner) how great must he really be?

The problem here is that most people apparently cannot distinguish between athletes whose bad attitudes bring down their teams--like Chad Johnson--and athletes who are intense and passionate about winning and get frustrated when things aren't being done properly. I remember when then-Bengals running back Corey Dillon sat down on the bench in disgust and would not go back in the game because Coach Bruce Coslet's team was so undisciplined and unprepared. The media killed him but I always said to Bengals' fans that I hoped that the Browns would get Dillon because he was a great back on a sorry team. Bill Belichick saw through all the media nonsense and signed Dillon, who became a key contributor on a Super Bowl champion. In the NBA, Dennis Rodman may have seemed to be eccentric or worse but he had an extremely high basketball IQ. When he had high IQ basketball coaches like Chuck Daly and Phil Jackson he helped his teams win championships but he did not have patience for teammates and/or coaches who were soft or unprepared. One time, he was in the locker room when a coach was diagramming a defensive scheme and Rodman just went off, saying that the whole thing was BS, that Jackson's Bulls never played that kind of defense and it just won't work. Certain players just cannot be in situations that are not structured properly. Since coming to New England, Randy Moss has proven that even though he blatantly dogged it at times on previous teams he can be a winning player with the right structure around him.

Another aspect of the whole Owens situation that is strange is the "thrown to" numbers that have suddenly proliferated out of thin air. That is not an official NFL stat and I don't know how "thrown to" statistics are compiled; the numbers that have been bandied about in the past few days that purport to show that Owens has been "thrown to" more than Jason Witten this year seem bogus to me, unless "thrown to" includes balls that are thrown away and are uncatchable; the number of catchable balls thrown in Owens' direction this season has not been nearly as high as it should be (yes, Owens has dropped some catchable balls, too, but he has a track record of making big plays when he gets enough opportunities to do so).

By my count, here is the breakdown for Owens and Witten in the New York game:


1) Dropped deep pass on 3rd and 10.
2) 25 yard reception on 2nd and 13.
3) Six yard reception on 1st and 10.
4) Overthrown ball on 1st and 10; illegal contact called on Giants, resulting in a five yard penalty and an automatic first down. If Owens had not been held, he likely would have had a huge gain on the play.
5) Seven yard reception on 2nd and eight.
6) Overthrown deep pass on 2nd and 13.

Owens finished with three receptions for 38 yards and drew one penalty that resulted in five yards and an automatic first down. He dropped one catchable pass and two of the balls thrown in his direction were not catchable.


1) Off target, incomplete pass on 2nd and 10.
2) Dropped short pass on 3rd and 13.
3) Three yard reception on 1st and 10.
4) Five yard reception on 2nd and six.
5) Overthrown pass on 3rd and 11.
6) Underthrown pass on 1st and 10.
7) 12 yard reception on 1st and 10.
8) 13 yard reception on 2nd and nine.
9) 11 yard reception on 3rd and nine.

Witten also committed a false start penalty. Apparently, the second ball thrown to him was not "officially" recorded as a drop but the ball hit him on the hands and then hit the turf before he could control it. If that is not a drop then I am not sure what is.

After the game, Witten and Owens both told NBC's Andrea Kremer that their supposed feud had been blown completely out of proportion. "It was a lack of professionalism on (ESPN reporter) Ed Werder's behalf," Owens insisted to Kremer. In his postgame press conference, Owens added, "I don't know where he (Werder) got his information but it was a lie. It's unfair. I had to deal with this all week. I don't know where he's getting his sources from but whatever his source was, they told him a blatant lie." ESPN anchor John Buccigross said that the network stands by its story.

*"Bretty and the Jets" were bailed out by Buffalo's boneheaded playcalling but that does not change the fact that neither Brett Favre nor his team are performing well down the stretch. Favre had passer ratings over 100 in three straight wins to help the Jets improve to 8-3 but since that time they have limped to 9-5 as Favre threw four interceptions and just one touchdown pass while compiling ratings of 60.9, 60.8 and 61.4. At least he is consistent. Yes, Favre's old Green Bay team has crashed and burned this season but that has little to do with the performance of Favre's replacement, Aaron Rodgers, who has nearly duplicated Favre's 2007 stats and is having a better season this year than Favre is: Rodgers ranks eighth in the league in passer rating (91.8) and has thrown 23 TD passes while averaging 7.4 yards per attempt and only tossing 12 interceptions. In contrast, Favre ranks 15th in the NFL with a passer rating of 86.5 and he has 21 TDs, 17 interceptions--the most in the NFL--and is only averaging 6.8 yards per attempt, tied for 20th out of the 32 quarterbacks who have thrown enough passes to qualify for the league rankings. Last year, Favre had a 95.7 rating, 28 TDs, 15 interceptions and a 7.8 yards per attempt average.

New York's 31-27 win over Buffalo was a gift--the Bills had the lead and the ball with barely two minutes remaining before J.P. Losman inexplicably rolled out to pass and fumbled the ball, enabling the Jets to score the game-winning touchdown. The Jets have won three other games this year in which Favre had passer ratings of 76.0 or worse. Even though the Jets control their own destiny due to a favorable tiebreak situation, don't be a bit surprised if they end up right where I've said all along that they will be: sitting at home when the playoffs begin. Meanwhile, as I predicted in my season preview, ex-Jet Chad Pennington has gone to Miami and had a better season than Favre (though I was not bold enough to also predict that the Dolphins would improve their record as much as they have): Pennington ranks fourth in the NFL with a 95.1 passer rating and he has 14 TDs compared to just six interceptions. He is averaging a robust 7.8 yards per attempt (the same that Favre averaged in 2007 when he was considered an MVP candidate and one yard per attempt better than Favre this year) and he has 35 completions of at least 20 yards, two more than Favre in 32 fewer attempts. The knock on Pennington was that he does not have a strong arm but this season he has had more success throwing downfield than Favre has. Isn't it strange that Miami has the same 9-5 record as New York and that Pennington has had a better year than Favre while playing for a team that had been much worse (although the Jets were 4-12 in 2007 they were a playoff team in 2006, while the Dolphins were 1-15 in 2007 and 6-10 in 2006) but Favre has received much more media attention and praise than Pennington? If you go strictly by the numbers--not just passer rating but also completion percentage, yards per attempt and other key stats--then Philip Rivers, Pennington and Peyton Manning should be the AFC Pro Bowl quarterbacks this year. It will be interesting to see if Favre gets the nod instead due to how much the media pumps him up.

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