10 Orbservations is a regular Saturday piece at Everybody Hates Cleveland where EHC Managing Editor Steve Orbanek offers 10 quick sports takes, both on Cleveland topics and national ones.
1. How do you define anticlimactic? Go watch Johnny Manziel’s first start with the Cleveland Browns last week. That game was rough — it was difficult to even watch. In case you missed it, I elaborated more on Manziel’s first start in my Orbiting Cleveland column this past week. EHC’s Joe Cuneo also wrote a great piece this past week that you should take a look at. With a week to now take in the performance, I realize that I may have been too quick to jump to conclusions. It was, after all, just his first start. But here’s what startles me. On multiple throws, including one to Josh Gordon and another to Andrew Hawkins, it appeared as if Manziel just did not have the zip to get the ball there. Now, we’ve seen plenty of undersized quarterbacks succeed recently in the NFL (ex. Drew Brees, Russell Wilson), but have we ever seen a quarterback overcome both a lack of size and arm strength? I sure can’t remember an example of that. Manziel’s footwork was reportedly off, which could have contributed to the weak throws, but it’s still hard to be optimistic. Usually, even in bad games, there are positive takeaways. It’s hard to find even one from last Sunday’s loss.
2. The Browns head to Carolina tomorrow and are currently four-point underdogs. I’ll be honest — I think that’s being too generous. Carolina is far from an impressive team as the team actually won just one game across a 10-game stretch this season, but they’re still in contention in the pitiful NFC South. However, Cam Newton should be back, and the Panthers have now won two straight games and are actually playing for something, which cannot be said for the Browns. Yes, the Browns remain mathematically alive, but for the team to make the playoffs, a slew of things need to happen, including the Week 17 game between San Diego and Kansas City ending in a tie. Translation? The Browns are have been eliminated. Last week showed that this team has basically thrown in the towel as the defense was just as bad as Manziel and allowed 244 rushing yards. The thing is that even an average defensive effort might have produced a different result as Andy Dalton and the Bengals’ passing game was far from stellar in the contest.
3. Perhaps that’s what has made the end of this season so difficult. Do you remember the optimism that we felt at times during this year? For evidence, consider some of the columns I wrote on the Browns, especially after the team’s wins over Tennessee (the largest comeback ever on the road), Pittsburgh (a blowout-win in Cleveland) and against Atlanta (Brian Hoyer overcame three interceptions to lead the Browns on a game-winning drive). Optimism like this is a rarity when dealing with the Browns. As this season proves, it can be a dangerous thing too. It’s hard to believe that this team was once 6-3 and alone atop the AFC North standings. They were then 7-4 and still in the driver’s seat in regard to earning a playoff spot. Now, the Browns’ record is 7-7 and they’re in the midst of a three-game losing streak that has been as difficult as anything we’ve seen in recent memory. Change doesn’t come overnight and shame on me or any other Browns fans for letting ourselves think otherwise.
4. As the team’s performance has begun to degenerate, the same can said for the Browns’ individual performances. Remember when Andrew Hawkins seemed to be a lock to finish the season with 1,000 yards? Remember when Taylor Gabriel seemed destined to finish the season with 800 yards? It would have been quite the feat for an undrafted rookie receiver. Now, Hawkins sits with 58 receptions for 763 yards while Taylor Gabriel has 32 catches for 554 yards. Their numbers have barely budged over the last few weeks. At this point, it would be surprising if the two players finish with 800 and 600 receiving yards, respectively. Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West have also suffered as of late. In his last three games, Crowell has managed just 100 yards on 38 carries. For West, it’s been 109 on 27 carries. Both of these running backs are much more talented than their recent numbers indicate, but as the passing game has sputtered, teams have now filled the box with an extra defender, and Crowell and West have been the primary casualties.
5. Also, how big of a disappointment has Josh Gordon been? Since catching eight balls for 120 yards in his first game back against the Falcons, the star receiver has proceeded to grab just 12 receptions for just 138 yards in the games. The targets keep coming (24 over the last three weeks), yet Gordon just does not seem up to speed in the offense yet, and his effort is questionable. His route running has been poor, and Gordon, like many others on this team, seems to have mailed it in. This was probably most evident during the Browns’ loss to the Colts a few weeks ago. Say what you will about Brian Hoyer’s performance that game, but the bottom line is that he made a throw on that final drive that Gordon should have caught and would have set up a game-winning field goal. Instead, the ball went right through Gordon’s hands, and that moment seems to be the tipping point for the 2014 season. If Gordon catches it, the Browns are 8-5 going into last week’s game against the Bengals. It’s also likely that Mike Pettine would have stuck with Hoyer at this point. It’s hard to think about “What if?” but I can’t help but do it in this case.
6. Cavaliers head coach David Blatt made the decision to insert Mike Miller into the starting lineup last night. Kudos to you, Mr. Blatt. Miller immediately responded by going 7-of-8 from beyond the arch to score 21 points. He was easily the difference maker in the Cavaliers’ 95-91 win over the Brooklyn Nets, and he seems to have earned himself more time in this role. The game was Miller’s first back since suffering a concussion, so it’s good see that he obviously was not rusty. With him in a starting role, Shawn Marion can now go to the bench, which seems to serve the defensive specialist well. This might not yet be what the Cavaliers’ final lineup ultimately looks like, but after one game, it sure looks pretty good.
7. I have held off from criticizing Blatt this season, but I do have a bone to pick in regard to one particular topic: minutes. Last night, LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love all played 40 minutes each. Is that really necessary? Over the past two weeks, Dion Waiters has shown that he is finally getting a feel for the offense and what his role should be. However, Blatt barely looked to him on Friday as the shooting guard played seven minutes and scored four points. Could Waiters not have taken some of James’ or Irving’s minutes? Wouldn’t the extra rest have helped their bodies? A game in December against the Brooklyn Nets is not going to make or break the Cavaliers’ season, and Blatt needs to remember that.
8. I don’t have much to say about the Cavaliers’ 29-point loss to the Atlanta Hawks at home on Wednesday other than this — I’m worried. For the first time this season, I can firmly say that too. Everyone wants to talk about how it takes time for a team to gel, and that’s true. But here are some other things that I know. I know that home-court advantage is a huge thing in the NBA. I know that this Cavaliers team is supposedly much more talented than the ones James played on during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons. I know that during the 2008-09 season, the Cavaliers had the second-best home record in history (39-2), suffering just two losses at the Q — a 101-91 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in February and a 111-110 overtime loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in the final game of the regular season, which James did not play in. So far, the Cavaliers have lost five games on their home court, two of which have been big double-digit losses. It’s important not to make too much out of regular season games, especially in December, but should a team this talented be getting blown out at home? When will the notion of patience change to panic? When will we begin to ask ourselves if this team is really good enough to win an NBA Championship? I’ll give it until January, but I warn you that my patience is already wearing thin.
9. The Cleveland Indians signed Gavin Floyd this past week for one year, $4 million and incentives. Many will disagree with me, but I believe the price is a tad too steep. In an earlier piece this fall, EHC’s Michael Hattery outlined why the Indians should not pick up the option of Mike Aviles. The option, which ultimately was picked up, was only for $3.5 million, and we know that’s a decent chunk of change for the Indians. The same could be said for the $4 million that the Indians just committed to Floyd. If healthy, the former Chicago White Sox starter will eat up some innings and provide some length, but that’s the big IF. Floyd fractured his funny bone (olecranon) in his right elbow when making a start on June 19 for Atlanta last season. In 2013, he made just five starts before undergoing Tommy John surgery. So, in the past two seasons, Floyd has started just 14 games and had two elbow surgeries, yet he still received $4 million in guaranteed money. Am I the only one who finds that to be slightly crazy? Hopefully the deal pays off and the Indians must think it will as the team reportedly believes he is healthy and has seen him throw a long distance of 120 feet. Still, $7.5 million committed to both Aviles and Floyd does not exactly seem to be the most economical use of dollars, especially for a small-market team.
10. I just want to give a thank you to the readers who have supported EHC over the last few weeks. We’ve noticed an uptick in traffic as of late, and we appreciate that you’re willing to make EHC a part of your day. I’ll be traveling out of town next week, so 10 Orbservations will not be in its regularly allocated spot on Saturday, but I am sure we will have a great replacement piece in its place. If you have not done so already, consider giving EHC a follow at @EvrybdyhatesCLE. Happy holidays everyone!