Browns vs. Steelers Preview: A Game Typically Followed by a Pink Slip

Tonight is the Browns’ fourth and final primetime tilt of the 2019-20 season, facing off against despised, one-way rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Now, I know I don’t need to explain myself in calling this rivalry one-way, because anyone who watches football with even semi-moderate regularity knows the Browns are losers and the Steelers are winners. But, to provide some perspective for those of you who don’t follow either team and happen to be reading this blog, the Browns are 6-34-1 against the Steelers since the franchise returned in 1999. That’s right, the Browns beat the Steelers roughly 15% of the time they play them. Put simply….yikes.

Furthermore, this matchup is more often than not the last opportunity for a Browns head coach to either pull their head out of the guillotine, or meet their demise:

I saw some replies to this tweet mention that typically this typically goes down after the second Steelers game of the year, but a.) the fact that this happens at all is embarrassing and b.) the game tonight is different than most Steelers games.

The Browns have looked, putting it nicely, inconsistent in primetime games this year. They beat Luke Falk and the Jets on Monday Night Football (unimpressive), lost to the Rams in a game that their defense should not have kept them in but did, and got the doors absolutely blown off them by the Niners on Monday Night a few weeks back. Another loss, be it a blowout or last second field goal, on your home field in primetime with the eyes of the football-loving nation watching feels like it could be the end of an era for the Browns and Kitchens that will go down as disorganized, dysfunctional, and disappointing.

But the Browns do have a single, microscopic, shred of hope left. At 3-6 they’re not completely eliminated from playoff contention, and a win tonight puts them squarely back in the hunt with Miami coming to town next week and then the Steelers again in Pittsburgh. If they focus on one game at a time and win these next three weeks, they will sit at 6-6 with 2 games against Cincinnati, at Arizona, and vs Baltimore to end the year. Personally, I think the loss to the Broncos was the nail in the coffin for this season, but the players, at least on Twitter, have the right mindset and are looking to reset after the abysmal first half.

Maybe this team really has turned the corner. Maybe this team has enough leaders in the locker room to straighten this thing out and lead to a 7-1, 8-0 back half. Maybe the Browns are due to put up a solid all-around primetime game and beat the Steelers. After all, they’re 1-8-1 in their last ten against the Yinzers, so maybe a game against Mason Rudolph is exactly what this team needs to get the Pittsburgh weight off of their shoulders.

But I doubt it.

I want to believe. I really do. This team and this city are so fun to root for and deserve a football team that they can be proud of. But life doesn’t award handouts to the downtrodden, it rewards those who work hard and do things the right way. The Browns are highly penalized, turn the ball over, and at the end of the day, Mike Tomlin is simply a much better coach than Freddie Kitchens.

My feeling is that this game will be a game of consolation prizes. The Browns won’t get blown out, OBJ will score his 2nd touchdown of the year, but much like this season, it will be too little too late.

Steelers – 23 Browns – 17

Oh, and Joe Haden will probably have a pick six or something because, well, the Browns.

The Monday Night Football Black Cat Taught Me How to Love Again

There he was, just 26-year-old boy who’d lost all hope watching the Cowboys play the Giants on Monday Night Football with his friends. His favorite team, the Cleveland Browns, who in his perpetual state of pessimism thought would be at worst 6-10 this year, sit at 2-6 after losing to the Denver Broncos in what became a comedy of errors and a borderline farce. The defense forgot how to tackle, Jermaine Whitehead was threatening people via Twitter, Freddie Kitchens made every wrong coaching decision he could have possibly made, and their franchise quarterback, drafted #1 overall and destined for Canton, Ohio, lost to a quarterback making first ever start. The cherry on top? The fact that that SAME #1 pick addressed in the media in his postgame press conference looking like the man on the pizza box just walked in on his wife getting satisfied by Mr. Clean in his own bed.

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Image result for mr clean sexy" Troubling indeed.

Suddenly though, he heard eight words that would change everything:

“THERE IS A BLACK. CAT. ON. THE FIELD.”

He’s in disbelief. “Surely I misheard them,” he thinks, “who could possibly sneak a cat into Metlife Stadium?” But as quickly as he thought it, the camera panned over to a stunning feline galloping its way past midfield. He smiled, then cackled, as he and his friends basked in a moment that is is without a doubt one of the more absurd things they’ve ever witnessed on a live broadcast.

“The 20! The 10! The 5….still the 5…..TOUCHDOWN!” they all shouted, imitating the announcers and laughing until they could no longer breathe.

The cat made its way into the tunnel and the game resumed. The announcers quickly regained control of the broadcast and moved on with the game, trivializing what will live on as one of the most iconic moments in NFL history for years to come.

But more importantly, it gave that 26-year-old boy a reason to love football again. No matter how futile a season is, how many losses one endures, or how much money one loses because a scoop and score at the end of the game puts the total over even though the under was never in doubt,  moments like those are why we love and watch football. The games may be poorly officiated, the coaching may be suspect, but football bring us all together and teaches us that the real winner, is love.

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Oh, and that 26-year-old boy? That was me all along.

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“Grading” the Browns 2018 Draft

The 2018 NFL Draft came and went this weekend and as a Browns fan, I’m optimistic about the team’s future for the first time in a long time. The theme of the draft for the front office was to address obvious and specific needs, which they did. They drafted a QB they believe in, a potential shut-down CB and a hometown kid at that, a versatile offensive lineman who will hopefully fill the void left from Joe Thomas’ retirement, and a downhill running back to round out what I believe will be one of the more interesting backfields in the NFL in 2018. Like I said, I’m optimistic.

That being said, having an opinion anything short of definite or extreme doesn’t move the needle in this day and age. One can no longer be “optimistic” or “leery,” but instead must be able to assign an exact letter grade to a team’s draft mere hours afterward without having seen any of the 256 players taken physically play a snap of football in the NFL. Think about how patently ridiculous that is. That’s the equivalent of a movie critic writing a review about a movie they haven’t seen yet:

“Mission Impossible has all the makings of a potential hall of fame action movie, but I question going with Tom Cruise as the lead role. While Cruise certainly has the acting chops and experience, he’s just not what I want in terms of a prototypical action movie star. Being only 5’7″ and a known scientologist are big red flags for me, I would’ve rather they pick a Statham or Reeves type actor instead. 6 out of 10 stars.”

Can you imagine living in a world like that? Yet NFL fans everywhere will give merit to the Mel Kiper’s and Mike Mayock’s of the world, reading article after article about how they think their team did and let it either ruin or make their day. It’s both stunning and disappointing to me that in a time where two major sports leagues are in the second rounds of their respective playoffs, sports writers and fans argue until they’re blue in the face about a team receiving a C- when they should’ve been at least a C+.

But alas, that is the world in which we live. And here at Second String, we’re not ones to be left in the dust in the sports media realm (sure, we’ll take a few months hiatus here and there to do other stuff, but that’s not the point). So without further adieu, here’s the 2018 Second String Official Draft Grade for the Cleveland Browns:

Baker Mayfield: 8 out of 8 stars

Denzel Ward: Three scoops of ice cream

Austin Corbett: 88% fresh tomatoes

Nick Chubb: Full chub

Chad Thomas: Double gold record

Antonio Callaway: A half pack of cigarettes

Late Rounders: I don’t know they’re probably fine.

OVERALL GRADE: Good.

Sorry if this offended some, if you disagree feel free to call in or comment so we can discuss something that will have no tangible payoff for another five months.

 

The Browns Had a Good Draft Last Night, Don’t @ Me

Throughout the day today I’ve heard from sports pundits and idiots in my office alike that they don’t like what the Browns did last night. “I would’ve gone Darnold and Chubb.” “How did they not draft Darnold??” “You guys passed on Chubb??” To which my response is:

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Why, you ask? Well allow me to explain to those of you who a.) don’t watch the Browns religiously b.) don’t watch college football or c.) base all of your opinions based on outdated media personalities who use outdated metrics and measurements to grade prospects.

Why Baker Mayfield was the Right Pick

To put it simply, the dude has been nothing but a stud throughout his career. He has the largest sample size of any quarterback in the draft, and the best stats of any quarterback in the draft. Take a look at how Baker graded out in college:

The guys at PFF have watched and graded every snap since 2009 for every player on the field, and since recording these analytics, Baker has been a top QB in 3 different seasons. He’s a proven winner, with a gritty attitude that the Browns need to serve as the face of this franchise. His timing and anticipation need improvement, but he’ll have a year to learn under an experienced QB in Tyrod Taylor to figure out timing and the playbook.

Those things are not difficult to teach a QB. Things that ARE hard to fix are throwing motion (Darnold) and accuracy (Allen and Jackson). The only other QB I would’ve been okay taking is Rosen, but the front office loved Baker and quite frankly, so do I.

Why Denzel Ward was the Right Pick

He’s the best cornerback in the draft. Period. End of statement. Couple that with the fact that the Browns drafted a premier talent from Ohio St. and I didn’t understand what Browns fans were so mad about. Sashi got KILLED for missing out on top Ohio St talent like Michael Thomas, so now you’re all going to flip flop on that point?

More than that, the Browns don’t NEED an edge rusher. Key word there is NEED. Yes, another top talent rusher would have been NICE, but it wasn’t a MUST. I know that’s difficult to comprehend, but if you watched the Browns last year you’d realize their sack issues started in the secondary. Gregg Williams LOVES to blitz, more than I’m comfortable with quite honestly, and if you’re going to blitz you need a secondary that’s locking down receivers and keeping the ball in the QB’s hands. As it was, the defense going into last night was incapable of doing that. Now, with Randall and Ward, we have two solid young CB’s that take pressure of Peppers at FS and allow Garrett and Ogbah more time to rush the passer.

The way the game is played now, the most important positions are:

1.) QB – Tyrod and Baker

2.) Edge Rusher – Garrett and Ogbah

3.) Left Tackle – Too soon

4.) Left Cornerback – Randall or Ward

Last night the Browns used their top picks to address needs for the betterment of the team, and if you can’t see that then I can’t help you. PLUS, we have three picks in the second round tonight to use on either a wideout, running back, defensive line, offensive line, or another edge rusher. In that spirit, if the Browns draft any of the following guys tonight at aforementioned positions, I’ll be completely satisfied with the draft this year:

WR – Cortland Sutton (SMU)

HB – Derrius Guice (LSU)

OL – Connor Williams (Texas)

EDGE – Harold Landry (Boston College)

NT – Maurice Hurst (Michigan)

Any of those guys will make us better this year than we’ve been, and that’s the point of the draft. It was the logic behind last night, and if the Browns are serious about this turnaround, it will continue to be the strategy in the draft moving forward.

To all the people who complained about Baker being drafted #1 overall last night, you’ve officially made my list and are kindly excused from the bandwagon. We are taking off and heading for Super Bowl 2022 without you.

THEY DID IT!! THEY ACTUALLY DID IT!! Browns Draft Baker Mayfield with #1 Overall Pick

I can’t believe it. I really. Can’t. Believe it. The Browns have done something that they haven’t been able to do since Braylon Edwards was catching passes from Der Anderson — make me happy. I know, I know, but it’s true they really did by drafting Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Now gambling implications aside, if you read my blog earlier you already know how much I love Baker Mayfield. He leads this class in just about every on field statistical measurement in this quarterback class. The Analytics era is not dead in Cleveland, not by a long shot.

I’ll write more about the first round tomorrow because I love Denzel Ward, but I’m still shaking from screaming at my TV about Baker. To all the Darnold advocates and Allen Apostles, I have two words for you.

Reports are Saying Baker Mayfield Will Be Drafted #1 Overall and *looks down to check pants* yes, I’m Hard

ESPN – The Browns continue to keep the decision about their No. 1 pick a secret, but there is a mounting belief from head coaches and general managers around the NFL that Cleveland will take quarterback Baker Mayfield, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday.

The Browns hold the No. 1 and No. 4 overall picks in the draft, which begins Thursday at 8 p.m. ET at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Browns general manager John Dorsey didn’t provide many hints on the team’s draft strategy when he met with reporters last week, saying he expected at least four quarterbacks to be picked in the first round.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has projected the Browns to select Mayfield at No. 1 in his final mock draft, while ESPN’s Todd McShay believes USC’s Sam Darnold will be the pick. Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen and UCLA QB Josh Rosen also could be in the mix.

Mayfield, who won the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma, recently visited with the Browns and Dorsey referred to him as a “pleasant fella.”

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IT’S HAPPENING! IT’S FUCKING HAPPENING!!

After months, MONTHS, of hearing absolute nonsense leading up to the draft, my patience and restraint may finally pay off. Baker Mayfield is rumored to be going to our beloved Cleveland Browns with the first overall pick tonight.

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live look at me and all my Baker Believers

In my months of month like silence, I’ve been preparing myself for this very moment because inevitably, the following things will happen if my dreams come true and Baker goes first overall.

1.) People will say they should’ve drafted Darnold. Honestly, I’m okay with this, because I understand the logic. Darnold seems to be the safest bet of all of these guys. He’s a big guy, the youngest of the class, and is not the worst at any category when it comes to on the field play (except turnovers *rolls eyes at Darnold advocates*)

That being said, he just seems so…blah to me. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good quarterback. But that’s it. Good. I don’t see him being a stud QB at the NFL level, I think max his ceiling is serviceable with 2-3 Pro Bowls. People keep comparing him to a young Big Ben, but Ben has had more talent on his offense for the past 4 seasons than arguably any team in the NFL and hasn’t won a Super Bowl with them, so maybe that’s not what you want out of a QB in today’s game..? Just a thought.

Bottom line is if they draft Darnold I won’t be mad, but I won’t be thrilled.

2.) People will say they should’ve drafted Rosen. Again, I don’t have a problem with this take either really. Rosen by all means is the most “NFL Ready” of the bunch. His accuracy is the best of the class, and that is the one thing you can’t teach a QB. You can fix mechanics, you can fix timing, but you can’t fix whether or not a guy can put it on the back shoulder going up the sideline.

I also don’t care that Rosen is smart and/or has other interests outside of football. It seems patently ridiculous to me that someone being smart would be a shortcoming for them as they begin their career. I mean, Myles Garrett is into like dinosaurs and anime and shit and nobody had a problem with that, so why is it relevant now?

The biggest issues I have with Rosen, though, are escape-ability and injuries. Losing Joe Thomas this offseason, the Browns now have a Hall of Fame sized gap at left tackle that they need to fill. Considering that the O-Line is bound to be at the very least slightly worse than last year, so they need a QB that can move to a.) make them look good and b.) prevent himself from getting killed back there. Rosen is great in the pocket, and has the ability to make off balance throws, but the NFL is surely a lot faster than the D-Line’s of the Pac 12, and I think he’ll struggle in any offense that does not have a premier offensive line.

Hand in hand with that, are the injury concerns. Rosen suffered two concussions that caused him to miss time within the last year. All it takes is one or two more of those for doubt to begin creeping in. With all of the information that we now know about brain injuries, I don’t think it’s ridiculous to think that if he sustains head injuries at the NFL level, he may be forced to consider giving up the game, whether he wants to or not.

3.) Psychos will make a case for Josh Allen, and this one I simply don’t have time for. Yes, he’s big, has a rocket arm, and fits the mold of an NFL QB. But his accuracy is cause for concern, particularly on underneath routes.

josh allen accuracy

When you compare that to one Baker Mayfield’s, the argument should end there:

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A 70% passer in the Big 12 or a 56% passer in the Mountain West…

On that note, I’d like to address the “Big 12 defense” argument before we move on. I know defense is considered optional in that conference, but it’s not like the Pac 12 is some defensive powerhouse. The Big 12 and Pac 12 both had 4 teams in the conference that were up the NCAA Division 1 average in terms of total defense, so it’s not like Rosen or Darnold were playing against absolute shutdown units either. So, kindly, miss me with that argument.

4.) People will *sigh* compare him to Johnny Manziel. This, of all the consequences, bothers me the most, because in my mind it’s such a lazy comparison. Yes, I get it, Baker had that run in with the Arkansas PD and messed up. He owned up to the mistake, and hopefully learned from it.

Johnny and Baker also have similar college stats. People have been using that as a knock, but when Johnny Manziel came out of college he was viewed as the most intriguing QB prospect we have ever seen, and did things in the SEC that were before not possible from a QB. So how is that fuel against Baker? If anything it shows that Baker can be everything that Johnny couldn’t, because their make up is entirely different.

Johnny Manziel loved the perks of playing football (which ironally, may have been percs) Baker Mayfield just loves playing football. Yes he’s a loudmouth, and yes he’s cocky, but I’d rather have a guy that encourages people to rally around him and owns his mistakes over a guy like Kizer or Manziel who would pout after every INT and treat this organization like a joke.

FURTHERMORE, Baker and Johnny’s paths were completely different. Johnny grew up with money, connections to A&M, made the most of them then got lost in the sauce. Baker grew up in Texas, walked on at Tech, then walked on to Oklahoma, won the starting job, and won the Heisman. He’s fueled by people who doubt him, and he has a track record of making everyone eat their words.

So when Baker gets drafted first overall tonight, I’ll rest easy knowing that all of these journalists with nothing better to talk about will bring up the aforementioned consequences ad nauseam leading up to the season. Trust me Browns fans when I say, just sit back and let them talk, because the more they talk the more motivated Baker will be when his time comes.

If you’re reading this, consider this your last chance to jump on the Browns bandwagon, because when it gets rolling we’re not stopping for anyone. Prepare yourselves everyone, because the journey to Super Bowl 2022 starts tonight.

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Thank You Joe Thomas

April 2007. A young boy sits in his living room on the edge of his couch cushion in anticipation, waiting for Roger Goodell to announce who the Browns drafted third overall. The boy is a Notre Dame fan, and praying Cleveland chooses the hometown kid Brady Quinn to be their quarterback of the future. The bell rings, the room falls silent…

The boy was crushed. “A left tackle?? What the fuck?? HOW COULD THEY NOT PICK BRADY??” Little did he know, that would be the worst Browns take the boy would ever have.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, that boy was me. I remember so vividly watching this draft wondering how the Browns could take this big lineman from Wisconsin over my golden boy golden domer with perfect hair. But to their credit, it’s the most right this organization has been this millennium. We didn’t deserve someone like Joe, we still don’t.

He was the consummate professional. He played every game to the best of his ability, and regularly dominated any edge rusher that dared to face him 1 on 1. Here are some of the things Joe accomplished in his time in Cleveland:

  • 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting behind Adrian Peterson
  • 10 Pro Bowl appearances in 11 seasons
  • 1 of 15 players to make a Pro Bowl in each of his first six seasons
  • The second Brown other than Jim Brown to make the Pro Bowl in their first 7 seasons
  • Consistently voted a top 25 NFL player by other players in the league despite the Browns’ incompetence
  • Played 10,363 consecutive snaps, the only player to do so in the history of the league

But while his accomplishments and accolades on the field are incredible, what was more important to we in the Dawg Pound was how he was off the field. By all accounts Joe was a great teammate, and even better person. In an era defined by super teams and leaving to win rings, Joe stayed in Cleveland despite the black hole of talent and coaching in which he constantly had to combat. He believed in Cleveland even though this organization never gave him a reason to.

Joe Thomas will go into the Hall of Fame with a lower winning percentage than any Hall of Famer before him (48-128, 37.5%). He will also have blocked for the most quarterbacks of any Hall of Fame lineman (21). But it brings a smile to my face to know that when I take my kid to the Hall of Fame someday and we look at Joe’s bust, I’ll be able to teach them a lesson that as long as you’re doing what you love and doing it right, that brilliance will always outshine the failures.

A lot of people have been joking that the expectation in Cleveland is so low, that a QB that wins 5 games in a season will get a statue outside First Energy. But if any man is to to be idolized and immortalized as a representation of this organization, it’s Joe Thomas.

So here’s to you Joe. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being the one guy we could always count on, and proving that boy from ten years ago wrong.