The Sunday Drive with Gordon’s return, a weak Browns’ defense and a Cavaliers conundrum

He's baaaack!

He’s baaaack!

As 50 degree weather breaks up the ‘Polar Vortex,” or the “Bomb Cyclone” here on the North Coast, I find myself pondering the conundrum that all of our sports teams seem to find themselves in on a weekly basis.

The Browns get all-world wide receiver Josh Gordon back this week, and he’ll likely push our offense from a meandering unit into something a lot more than that, while our defense is missing four key starters from a unit that was struggling anyways.

The Cavaliers have their big three in place, and for stretches look like the best team in the NBA, but somehow every worry we had (rim protector, no defense, no understanding of the offense) at the beginning of the year has come true, and the team is struggling mightily.

The Indians truly seem to have a solid foundation in place, but also seem to be to close to their internal cap to do much about it except hope they don’t regress, and improve on last season.

Seriously, it should be easier than this, right?

Let’s get driving, before I start comparing Cleveland sports to tennis.

Josh Gordon is back with the Browns, and he’s going to really do some damage against a really bad Atlanta defense.  Atlanta’s defense currently ranks last in total yards per game (403.4 yards per game), and more importantly, they are dead last in passing yardage per game (281.2). While that certainly makes things look bleak for the Falcons, it actually gets worse. Starting cornerback Robert Alford broke his wrist last weekend, and will be out two-to-four weeks, so they actually could be worse (or better, depending on how you look at it) than they’ve been.

If Josh Gordon wasn’t coming back, a revitalized receiving corp led by #EHC favorite, Andrew Hawkins, and unsigned free agent surprise, Taylor Gabriel would be licking their chops. Of course, Josh Gordon is coming back, and I expect really bad things to happen to Atlanta’s depleted and bad secondary. The only thing that would make me smile wider, would be a healthy return of Jordan Cameron, but we’re a week away from Brian Hoyer having all of his weapons available.

Hawkins, a 5’7″ speedster, is leading the team with 45 catches and 601 yards so far, and is only six receptions away from passing his previous season high with the Cincinnati Bengals. Obviously, this is Hawkins first shot at being a regular starter, and with Gordon being out, he’s been the de facto #1. He’s only dropped one football this season.

As big a surprise as Hawkins was this season, he can’t touch the shock-power of his rookie receiving mate Taylor Gabriel. The undrafted Gabriel, from Abiline Christian, mirrors Hawkins in many ways. He’s only 5’8″ tall, and his normal 40 time is 4.40, although he has clocked in a wind-aided 4.27 in front of scouts before this year’s draft. He has 29 receptions this year, but already has 527 yards receiving, and is leading the team with 18.2 yards per reception, which is second in the NFL next to DeSean Jackson‘s 20.5 average. He only has two drops on the season.

Miles Austin is the old man of the group at 30, and while he has lost a step, he does have 34 catches and 418 yards receiving. You can argue that he’s been the least effective of the three starters for many reasons, but he’s only dropped two balls (according to the NFL), and likely has given his younger peers plenty of advice this season, while waiting for the return of Gordon.

I haven’t even mentioned Travis Benjamin, who has 15 receptions and 269 yards receiving (17.9 YPC), but leads the team with three touchdown receptions. That may be this unit’s biggest weakness, as Austin (2 TD’s), Hawkins (2 TD’s) and Gabriel (1 TD) lack the red zone pop that a bigger receiver might have.

Enter 6’3″, 245 pound Josh Gordon, who caught nine touchdowns last season, while playing only 14 games. He adds an element to the Browns’ passing game that the current players really can’t, and that’s the physicality to not only get to the end zone, but to get up and over players to get it. Miles Austin, at 6’0″, is the biggest current Browns’ wide out…well…until now.

With Gordon lined up outside of Hawkins, the Browns will have an immediate advantage against most teams, and especially the over-matched Falcons. Things will really get fun when Kyle Shanahan brings out his multiple receiver sets. Can you say nightmare for the NFL? Can you say nightmare for the Atlanta Falcons? Imagine what that will do for the running game…but I’ll get into that in a little bit.

What is Gordon going to do? He is as fast as Hawkins, clocking a 4.37 40. He doesn’t drop footballs (he dropped eight passes, while he was targeted 159 times). He forces teams to double team him, which in turn, opens the field up for the rest of the team to do what they need to do. Unfortunately for Gordon last season, there really wasn’t anyone else to do anything, except for Jordan Cameron.

This year, the Browns have those weapons.

Look for Gordon and the rest of Hoyer’s shiny 2014 toys to annihilate the Falcons defense, and Josh Gordon will be leading the way.

Josh Gordon is on his way in, and Ben Tate is on his way out. The disgruntled Browns running back was given his walking papers this past week after a less-than-stellar eight-game career in Cleveland. While there are many rumors circulating as to the real reason for his departure, you can point to several different things that led to his surprising demise.

About a year ago, while watching the Houston Texans, I began pondering Ben Tate, and his potential fit with the Browns in 2014. The Browns rushing game was a joke, and my belief was that Tate could be a premier back in this league if he was given a shot at #1, and if he could stay healthy.

When the Browns signed him to a two-year, $7 million dollar contract, I was ecstatic. The contract wasn’t ridiculous, and Tate could certainly play. The Browns then drafted Towson’s Terrance West in the third round, and I was pretty excited about him too. When the Browns picked up former Georgia Bulldog and Alabama St. running back Isaiah Crowell, I thought it was Christmas in Spring.

I still thought Tate was the clear #1 though.

In his first game, he carried the ball six times for 41 yards before getting injured, and then the second-guessing began. With West and Crowell looking good, and Tate reverting to his injury issues, why have a guy making that kind of money?

I thought that’s what the fans were thinking. Little did I know that management was thinking that as well.

In his first game back, a healthy Tate carried the ball 22 times against the Tennessee Titans, and gained 124 yards, and then it was all downhill from there. Against the Steelers, he garnered 25 carries, but only gained 78 yards in the same game that Alex Mack was injured. His carries and yards would dwindle after that. In the horrible Houston loss, Tate had two carries for -9 yards, and the writing was on the wall.

The Minnesota Vikings have since claimed Tate off of waivers, while the Browns will move forward with the rookie tandem of West and Crowell. Who am I kidding. The entire Browns backfield are rookies.

Rookie Glenn Hawkins becomes the third back, while rookie Ray Agnew is the team’s fullback.

Four rookies at running back. Is that a good thing (money), or a bad thing?

I really get the feeling that Mack and Crowell could ultimately resemble former Browns’ running backs Earnest Byner and Kevin MackMack was 6’0″ and 224 pounds, while Byner clocked in at 5’10” and 215 pounds. Crowell is 5’11” and 225 pounds, while West is 5’9″ and 225 pounds. While the 80’s duo of Byner and Mack came to the Browns much differently than did Crowell and West (Mack went to the USFL first and was a supplemental first rounder after the 1984 season, while Byner was a tenth rounder in 1984), they do carry the same type of potential.

Both Byner and Mack would rush for over 1,000 yards in 1985, and had long and pretty successful careers in the NFL.

If West and Crowell can do the same, and their job should be easier with Tate gone, and Gordon back, then the Browns will be in real good shape going forward.

The Browns are a run-first team, but they’ve struggled without Mack in the lineup. There’s no doubt that with Gordon lining up and keeping the linebackers and safeties fairly honest, both runners should be able to find more open lanes. Neither one seems to be a great receiver out of the backfield as of yet, but I’m not sure that Shanahan and the Browns offense will need them to be receivers once Cameron comes back, and as Gordon gets re-assimilated to the offense.

Crowell seems to be the more explosive of the two backs early on, but he’s had a hard time holding onto the football at times, which is a slight concern. West has had a hard time breaking out, but you have to wonder how much of that has to do with Tate’s involvement with the team as the starter through the early stages of the season, combined with sharing touches with two other backs all season long.

West has talent, as does Crowell, and now they’ll have a chance to show it.

All the focus for the Browns has been on the return of Josh Gordon, but the biggest impact on the team just might be the loss of Karlos DansbyI’ve heard that Dansby could be out at least a month, but Dansby is trying to play in this week’s game against Atlanta. I can’t imagine that the Browns would risk a more serious injury for their starting inside linebacker, and de facto leader of the defense.

But with Jabaal Sheard out for an extended period, and with Phil Taylor out for the year, an already suspect defense could be in some serious trouble if they don’t get adequate replacements. Chris Kirksey will be replacing the vociferous Dansby as a starter, and while I like Kirksey a lot, he needs more time before we can logistically look at him as a starter. Look for Barkevious Mingo to get a bigtime look on the outside, with Eric Martin getting some snaps as well.

It would be nice if Mingo could “find it.”

The Elephant in the room here is that the Browns lost to a team they should have beaten last week in the Houston Texans. They played horribly, and truthfully got what they deserved. Here’s what we have to remember thought. The Browns have the second youngest team in the NFL, and with it will certainly come growing pains.

Last week they played bad. Perhaps they were outcoached. Perhaps they were outplayed. Perhaps they looked at the press too much.

This week will be different. Management made a statement by releasing Ben Tate, and giving the youngsters a chance to finally run the ball the way they can. Josh Gordon also returns, which should give Brian Hoyer many more options to deal with in the passing game, and ultimately in the running game as well. This offense will move the football against the Atanta Falcons defense that just doesn’t have a J.J. Watt.

On defense, the Browns are beat up, but the Falcons offensive line isn’t all that good. The real challenge will be the Browns secondary, and if they can contain both Julio Jones and Roddy White. If they can, the game should go to the Browns comfortably. If they can’t, I still think the Browns win.

Here’s the problem though: The Browns defense isn’t even sorta good right now. You take Dansby and Sheard and Taylor off an already average-ish defense, and you aren’t going to be getting any better.

What are the Falcons going to do? If they’re smart, they’re going to do exactly what the Texans did, and soften up an already moist defense with a heavy dose of Steven Jackson and Devonta Freeman. For crying out loud, Alfred freaking Blue rushed for 213 yards last week.

The difference with the Falcons though is at QB. Matt Ryan is no three-year understudy, like Ryan Mallett. Julio Jones and Roddy White aren’t passing-through-the-night wide receivers. While the Browns secondary is the best part of the defense right now, if the Falcons play their cards right, they’ll have to hedge against the run.

It could be bad, unless defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil and head coach Mike Pettine can work out some sort of scheme. It won’t be easy.

So who wins? Is it an offense led by a returning, game-breaking receiver in Josh Gordon against a bad Atlanta defense, or is it a historically good offense led by an All-Pro QB and WR set against an injured and lethargic defense?

Can the game end up in a tie?

The breaking point in this game could be the fact that Atlanta is playing at home, and I fear that a set offense like Atlanta’s will have the advantage over a returning Josh Gordon/Brian Hoyer-led offense for Cleveland.

But, I think the Browns have something to prove, and while they aren’t going to do it in a big way, I do think they are going to win a close game.

Who is going to win this game?

Cleveland 27, Atlanta 26

The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t good right now.  I know, it’s not rocket science. They’ve lost four games in a row, are now 5-7, and look absolutely lost on the court at time.

Like you all, there are several things going through my head. Let’s run through a few of them.

  • They’ll get a lot better.
  • What if they don’t?
  • LeBron stands around a lot.
  • Kyrie Irving looks really, really good out there offensively.
  • Defensively, this team has no clue.
  • Kevin Love is a lost soul, and is pondering changing his name to Chris Bosh 2.0.
  • Anderson Varejao is so much better than we give him credit for.
  • Does Dion Waiters have any idea what he’s doing out there?
  • Defensively, this team has no clue.
  • The Cavs need a rim protector.
  • When Tristan Thompson is on the floor, I’m not sure there is anyone working harder than he is.
  • There’s a player in Joe Harris, but he’s very incomplete right now…is David Blatt trying to get him through the awkward early days of his career, or does Harris just get the offense better than some.
  • I love Shawn Marion, but, does anyone forget he’s on the team?
  • Why exactly did the Cavs sign Mike Miller, and James Jones?
  • Does David Blatt suck?

I could go on, but you get the point. There are so many questions with regards to this team, but in the end, I can’t get the good out of the way of the bad.

In the first quarter of the Raptors game on Saturday night, the Cavaliers looked sublime. They were moving the ball. They were playing defense. Their transitions looked like a team that wanted to win by 40. Before you knew it, the Cavs were up by 12, and all looked right in the world.

This is how I see things going, down the road.

Anderson Varejao impressed me the most. He looked so good, not just in the first quarter, but in the entire game. On a championship team, Varejao could be a special contributor. I just hope that we get a chance to see it.

Then came the second quarter. The Cavs stopped making shots, and all the old crud started working its way back into the engine. Iso-city began taking shape, with the exception of Varejao and Love underneath. There was a lot of standing around, and the Raptors started hitting everything. This is when a good team starts getting physical defensively to knock the other team out of rhythm.

What did the Cavs do?

They watched…including LeBron.

It was all downhill from that point on.

Kevin Love just hasn’t been a very good basketball player early on this season, but he did show me something last night against the Raptors. I’ll get to that in a second.

Kevin Love is a really good outside shooter. He’s also an amazingly good interior scorer. In Minnesota, Love needed to shoot a ton of three-point shots because the Timberwolves didn’t have anyone else to shoot from the perimeter. In Cleveland, you can really take your pick of outside shooters, although they have been cold of late. The Cavs are loaded with outside shooters though, and while I’m not saying that Love can’t shoot as well or better, should he?

I think last night was proof that Kevin Love can be highly effective on the inside (of course, ignoring how horrible the rest of the team was from behind the arc…3-for 16), and he needs to start there.

Heading into last night’s game, Love had 60 three-point attempts, the exact same amount as Kyrie Irving? That just shoudn’t happen. Love shouldn’t just be an inside scorer, but his outside shots should take advantage of positioning, and allow others to get the ball underneath should he miss.

When #KLove gets the ball in the paint, not only is he dominant inside, but it also leaves him in position for offensive rebounds, which he equally excels at. I’m not saying Love should avoid taking threes, but I am saying that he should stay inside a little bit more, where he can utilize the best part of his offense.

At this point in the season, almost 40% of his points have come from behind the arc, while only 25% are from inside the paint. That’s a massive mistake. Kevin Love isn’t Chris Bosh, and he shouldn’t be treated like Chris Bosh. With Love standing outside more, he’s starting to look a bit like Robert Horry, and no offense to Horry, but Kevin Love is a star, not a role-player.

I’m not sure who’s at fault here. Is this a product of LeBron and the way that he runs the team on the court? Is this a byproduct of both LeBron and Kyrie’s style of play? Is this because David Blatt hasn’t quite figured out how to co-manage his three star’s touches? Is it all three of the above?

Prior to the regular season, Love expressed this very concern.

“I play the game from the inside-out. The more touches I can get inside to get myself going, the better. I’m not accustomed to starting out a game shooting a three, so it’s just something that I see…If anything, keeping it around the basket a little bit more and the offense will allow me to get offensive rebounds. That will be tought for teams with Andy and myself and Tristan in there.”

Prior to the Wizards game on Friday night, LeBron pointedly said that it was up to Love to “demand it.”

“…if he wants the ball in the post, he gets it in the post…we’ll give it to him.”

If anything, the disconnect in statements shows you where the Cavs are with this offense right now. This is definitely something that a coach should fix. We’ll see what happens over the next ten-to-twelve games, but right now, Love just isn’t a good offensive player on a night-in, night-out basis.

Last night, it was clear that Love was working hard on the inside. He scored 23 points with seven boards, and moved a lot more. He’s never going to be a great defender, but if the rest of the team can figure things out, while allowing Love to own the middle offensively, I think this team will be very good.

It’s a learning curve, for sure, but let’s hope they learn it soon.

Should we talk about turnovers? The Cavs had 18 last night, against eight for the Raptors. I don’t know many teams that win with that many turnovers. They don’t protect the ball well, which could be a byproduct of not grasping David Blatt’s offense. I wonder when the rubber is going to meet the road?

Will they figure out his offense before he has to abandoned much of it?

I will still stand by this: when the Cavaliers dictate play on offense, they are better than any team in the NBA. They have to stop pouting when they miss, and continue to look down low. Once they do that, and stop standing around for stretches, they’ll win…a lot.

There was some good news on the Indians’ front this weekend when the club announced that Giovanny Urshella won’t need surgery afterall, and he’ll be ready to go for spring training. Urshela had sprained the PCL in his left knee, and it was originally believed that he would miss at least six months. Fortunately, that’s not the case.

Urshela is a guy that the writers here at #EHC have loved since I first saw him in Lake County in 2011. There are always minor league players that never seem to rise to the occasion of their talent, and then there are guys like Urshela, who always push the envelope until their abilities catch their talent.

From day one, the Indians front office have loved his ability with the glove, and for good reason. He’s been a major league caliber defender from the outset.

His offense has always had gaps, but in each season he’s slowly but surely corrected the flaws that many “experts” never felt he could. When he was in Carolina, he had a bunch of gaps in his swing, but over the course of that 2012 season, he started to pick up the habits from all of the hours spent in the batting cage.

Many still thought that Urshela’s offense would hold him back enough to only make it to the major league level as a bench player or a defensive replacement. The big question for the third baseman was whether or not he would continue to excel in the upper levels of the system.

He’s yet to hit under .270 in Akron or Columbus, and he’s showcasing some decent power.

The front office have held high hopes for Urshela based on that intense work ethic, and ability to pick up on what his coaches tell him. All of that started to come to fruition in 2014, as he rose from Akron to Columbus, and was added to the 40-man roster this past week. If Urshela can come into spring training and show them a reason to keep him with the big league club, things could get interesting. I really believe that they have Urshela earmarked for the position in the near future, but would like to see him get a little more seasoning in 2014.

With the injury keeping him on the shelf for the better part of the winter, I doubt that the Indians will rush him along. I just wonder if he’s not going to find a way to force the issue.

On a personal note, I can’t wait to see this kid playing full time in the big leagues.

Alright, I’m going to just say it: trade Chisenhall and start this kid. He’ll figure it out, and Chisenhall can help this team by bringing someone else in.

Of course, they could always bring in Chase Headley…;)

Today’s plug goes to an #EHC favorite, Hayden Grove. Grove is currently the sports director at BuckeyeTV, a columnist and TV personality at Indians Baseball Insider. You can follow his Ohio State coverage here, and you can follow his Cleveland Indians coverage here. Not only is Hayden a talented writer and on-air personality, but he’s one of the truly good people in our little circle here in Ohio and Cleveland sports.

Give him a read or a view, you won’t be sorry.

Jim Pete is a founder and Managing Editor at Everybody Hates Cleveland, a former Senior Editor and Columnist at Indians Baseball Insider, and isn’t afraid to say that he thinks the Cleveand Indians will win the World Series in 2015…or 2016…or 2017…or…well…you get the idea. Follow him to find out why Josh Gordon is the greatest football player on the planet on twitter @JimPeteEHC, and also follow our website twitter@evrybdyhatescle, won’t you? If you do, Steve Orbanek will pledge to stand on his head for an hour, while whistling the Andy Griffith theme song.

Who wouldn’t want to see that?

Wait…don’t answer that.

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