At Least Cavs Work And Play Hard.

After LeBron James left for Los Angeles following the 2017-18 NBA season, no one figured the Cavaliers were going to be at the same level they reached over the past four seasons, meaning The NBA Finals.

There were a few of us who thought the Cavs could still be competitive, like contending for a low playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but when you lose the team’s best player, Kevin Love, to injury, any thoughts of that went out the window.

Love has played just three of the squad’s 30 contests to date, and won’t be back until mid-January, so he will likely play just half of the Cavs’ schedule in 2018-19.

Since then, the wine and gold’s second best player, Tristan Thompson recently went out with a foot injury, and he will miss two to four weeks.

Despite these injuries and a coaching change six games into the regular season, the Cavaliers continue to play hard, and since Larry Drew took over, the shorthanded Cavs have been a pretty competitive basketball team, meaning they aren’t getting blown out on a nightly basis.

The team’s front office has taken a ton of criticism over the years about how the team was built around James, the trade of Kyrie Irving and the return they received, and their attitude toward this year’s roster.

But one thing they should be commended on is stressing character on the players they’ve given both Drew and Tyronn Lue to coach.

We are sure everyone has heard about the issues with the Chicago Bulls, who by the way, have the same record as the Cavs.  The team fired Fred Hoiberg because they weren’t winning and when new coach Jim Boylen took over, he started implementing longer and tougher practices, which irritated some of the players.

Our guess is that Bulls’ management will be looking to move the players who are feuding with the new boss as soon as possible.  There is an entitlement felt by some players, who have been coddled since it was determined they were good at basketball, and some players don’t do everything they can to win games.

That hasn’t been the case with the Cavs.  Since Drew has taken over, he has changed the roles of several players, and no one has said a thing.

Which is something, because the players like Love and Thompson, who both have made four straight Finals appearances, could be upset that the Cavaliers have one of the worst records in the NBA.  Instead, Thompson in particular (because of Love’s injury), has established through his work ethic, how to conduct yourself as an NBA player.

The lone dissenter was JR Smith, and once again, the front office and coaching staff did the correct thing by telling the player to stay home until a potential trade can be worked out.

Bringing back Matthew Dellavedova, a player with a excellent work ethic, was another good move by GM Koby Altman, although not as good as getting a first round pick in the deal with Milwaukee.

The players the Cavs have on the roster are coachable and willing to do what the coaching staff is asking.  That should not be minimized.

The work ethic James put in place here still exists.  That should help the Cavaliers going forward.

JK

 

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Tribe Deals Good First Step, Now What?

As baseball’s Winter Meetings came to an end, it appeared the busy week we all expected for the Cleveland Indians was not coming to fruition.

Then, in the next two days, Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff took the first steps in what we figured the organization wanted to do this off-season, reallocating the payroll in an effort to make the 2019 Indians better.

The first step was dealing Edwin Encarnacion to Seattle, and thus returning Carlos Santana to Cleveland.  That saved (depending on where you get your information) an estimated $5 million on the ’19 payroll.

The other half of the deal sent Yandy Diaz, who it seemed the Indians were loathe to play, to Tampa Bay for 1B Jake Bauers, a top 100 prospect, who hit .201 with 104 strikeouts in 384 plate appearance for the Rays last season.

However, looking at the left-handed hitting minor league numbers, he didn’t have a profile of an all or nothing hitter.

We don’t understand the lack of gusto for Diaz, who’s high on base percentage (.361 in the majors, .415 in AAA) was never taken advantage of by the Tribe.  We are disappointed in the lack of opportunity for a player whose only problem hitting was not getting the ball in the air.

Friday night, the front office cleared a spot for Bauers by dealing Yonder Alonso, another over 30 player whose hitting seemed in decline, to the White Sox for a minor leaguer, clearing another $8 million off the books.

This gives the Tribe a decent chunk of change to upgrade the roster and still keep the payroll where it was a year ago.  And that figure might be the highest the ownership feels comfortable with, whether the fans like it or not, or they believe it.

If the organization doesn’t spend the saved money, then they deserve all of the criticism they will get. We don’t believe that will be the case though.

However, they still have a lot of holes.  We believe to have a solid batting order, you need seven reliable hitters.  Right now, the Indians have three:  Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Santana.

That leaves them four short, and we don’t think they can fill them all in free agency.  And don’t forget, they still need to address the bullpen too.

They need to either move Jason Kipnis in a deal similar to the Alonso transaction to free up more money, or continue to explore trading Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer to fill two or perhaps three pieces.

Then you may be able to put a solid batting order out there every day.

We may be considered insane for saying this, but even if the Indians had the financial wherewithal to sign either Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, it really wouldn’t solve their problem.

It would simply make their top heavy batting order more top heavy.

We like what Jordan Luplow may bring, but he hasn’t proven it at the big league level.  Same with Jake Bauers.  Adding one or two players with some success in the majors, or a top hitting prospect (like Alex Verdugo of the Dodgers), would seem to be more helpful, and help the Tribe have the kind of attack which give pitchers nightmares up and down the order.

These two deals were a great first step for the front office, but now the real work has begun.  Adding players who can help next season.

And don’t be fooled by people claiming they won’t have to trade a starting pitcher.  They still do in order to reshape the team they want next season.

MW

 

Tribe’s Off-Season “Plan” Makes Sense

We thought the Cleveland Indians would have made a major move by now, and by the time you read this, perhaps they have.

What is puzzling is the way a possible major trade by the Tribe front office is being viewed by many baseball fans here.

Part of it is reflex.  Many people (including us) lived through the desert from 1960-1994, where the Indians where pretty much a joke throughout the sport, struggling to make payroll, and seemingly without a plan on how to be competitive.

The other part is the nagging thought that the Dolan family wants to cut the team’s payroll.  Now, it is fair to say they don’t want to increase the budget for major league player’s salaries, we will stay firm to our belief that the Cleveland payroll will still be somewhere over $120 million in 2019.

After reaching the World Series in 2016, and having the best record in the American League the following year, last year’s team showed signs of regression.

Cleveland has the third oldest position player roster in the AL, and 4th oldest in all of the majors a year ago, behind the Mariners, Giants, and Angels.  Every regular was over 30 years old except for Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor.

It’s tough to figure on any increased production for any player who has entered his 30’s.  We aren’t saying it’s impossible, but it certainly isn’t likely.

So, the conundrum the front office has is improving the everyday lineup, and to do that, they likely have to deal from the strength of the team, the starting rotation.

Think about it.  Comparing last year’s team to a possible 2019 lineup, where do you see improvement?

1B–Yonder Alonso was a disappointment and would not figure to get better.
2B–Jose Ramirez will be better than Jason Kipnis (but see below)
SS–Lindor, enough said
3B–We like Yandy Diaz, but he isn’t going to have a better year than Ramirez
LF–If Kipnis is the nominal starter there, he’s not hitting better than Michael Brantley
CF–A platoon of Leonys Martin and Greg Allen, might be an improvement
RF–Jordan Luplow?  Are we sure he’s better than the Melky Cabrera/Brandon Guyer platoon?
C–Roberto Perez won’t likely hit better than Yan Gomes did a year ago.
DH–Edwin Encarnacion is turning 36 next month.

That’s three spots where you can legitimately think of increased production with people currently on the roster.  Doesn’t bode well for a more balanced and better hitting attack in 2019.

So, if you can trade a starting pitcher like Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer and improve your team at one or possibly two spots, doesn’t that make sense?

And if it’s Kluber, and you gain some cash to upgrade another position through free agency or my by getting a player another team wants to unload because of salary, isn’t that the right move?

This isn’t the NBA, where other teams will give you a good player for the expiring contract of a mediocre player.  So, no one is going to give you a young, ready to play prospect for Jason Kipnis.

The front office knows they need to make the everyday line up better, and they are trying to make a trade from a position for strength.

It might be tough to swallow, but it absolutely makes sense.

MW

Browns In A Meaningful December

It is December, and the Cleveland Browns are still in a playoff race.

That seemed impossible after a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers dropped the Browns record to 2-5-1, and raised the Steelers mark to 4-2-1.  When Pittsburgh won the next three to jump to 7-2-1, it made the prospect even more remote.

But Jimmy Haslam and GM John Dorsey let Hue Jackson go after that game, and since, the Browns are 3-2, while the Steelers have dropped three straight, and have games the next two weeks with New England and New Orleans.

It’s still a tremendous long shot, but for the first time since 2014, the Browns are playing meaningful football in December.

Whether or not it will continue beyond this weekend will depend on what the Browns do this weekend against Denver, a very difficult place to play.

The Broncos are just 3-3 at home this season, but their losses are to the Chiefs (11-2), the Rams (11-2), and the Texans (9-4).  A win there by Cleveland would be very impressive indeed.

It would also set the team up very nicely for a week 17 game with meaning.  There is no doubt the Browns will be favored at home the weekend before Christmas against Cincinnati.

And wins in the next two contests would put Gregg Williams’ team at 7-7-1 heading into the season finale, on the road against Baltimore.

For a team that came into the season with one win in the last two years, that’s very exciting.

Again, it’s a long shot.  The Browns could very well lose in Colorado this weekend, and drop the season finale and end up at 6-9-1, which again would be a tremendous accomplishment given the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

The reason for the hope is not just Baker Mayfield, although he is the chief one.  But Cleveland has exciting players all over the field.

It’s fun to watch Nick Chubb run the ball, to see Myles Garrett go after the quarterback, and to see the toughness of Jarvis Landry and Demarious Randall.

Sundays are fun again.  And that’s a breath of fresh air.

But back to Mayfield.  After the Panthers marched right down the field on the game’s opening drive, there were no worries at all.  That’s what having a quarterback does for you.

When the Browns have poor down and distance situation now, we don’t dread it, instead we wonder if Mayfield can make a play to keep the drive going.

We have a QB who can throw the long pass, can beat the blitz by hitting the hot receivers, and can put the touch on the ball to get it over a linebacker and into the hands of his teammates.

When was the last time we had a signal caller that gave fans that kind of confidence?

This isn’t to say we are elevating Mayfield to top ten quarterback in the league status, he’s started just ten games in the NFL.  We’ve seen other young quarterbacks (Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston for example) come into the league and have people proclaiming them as the league’s next best things.

However, we have to say, that there aren’t many young QBs we would take over Mayfield.  Perhaps just Patrick Mahomes and Carson Wentz.

Again, we may think differently next year.  But, the future of Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns look very bright.  Maybe even pre-expansion team bright.

JD

Cavs Making The Right Moves For A Bad Season.

The winds of change continue to blow through Cleveland Clinic Courts and Quicken Loans Arena, as the Cleveland Cavaliers made their second deal in two weeks, moving another veteran piece to a playoff contender.

Two weeks ago, it was Kyle Korver going to Utah for Alec Burks, who based on his week and a half with the wine and gold can play.

Friday night, it was George Hill who was moved to Milwaukee, in exchange for veteran big man John Henson, fan favorite Matthew Dellavedova, and most importantly, a first round pick, which based on the Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo, should be conveyed in 2021.

Hill missed a lot of time this season with a shoulder injury, and when he returned, he really didn’t seem very engaged.  In his last game with the Cavs, he played 25 minutes, didn’t score and had three assists.

He may have helped rookie Collin Sexton in practice, but in games, it was clear that he wanted out, much like it was evident he wanted out in Sacramento a year ago before the Cavs traded for him.

Henson, 6’11”, will turn 28 before the end of the calendar year, and is currently out with after wrist surgery, with reports that he can return after the All Star Game.  He averages 7.8 points and 5.4 rebounds for his career, and is a solid defender.

He adds some needed size to the roster, a roster that has ignored size over the past few years.  He can be a free agent after the ’19-’20 season, making him an expiring contract next year.

Dellavedova will, of course, bring grit and energy, and a good locker room presence.  His game and shooting have declined since he left the Cavs after the championship season.  Whether he can regain it will be something to watch.

Burks has been a great addition, averaging 14.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 3.2 assists in his half dozen games with Cleveland.  Don’t fall in love with him though, he has an expiring contract, and will likely be moved for more assets before the trading deadline.

That said, he may be playing his best basketball since the ’15-’16 campaign.

Cleveland also moved Sam Dekker in the deal.  Dekker has decent analytical numbers, but in watching him play, we just couldn’t see him as a piece down the road.

GM Koby Altman is in what former GM Chris Grant called “asset acquisition mode”, dealing off veterans for younger players, some on expiring contracts, and draft picks.

It’s a no brainer, really, when your team in 6-20 and lost the best player in the game in the off-season, and you started the year 0-6, that’s what you should be doing.

There is no doubt, the next guy they are trying to move is JR Smith, which may be Altman’s biggest challenge.  Korver can still shoot, and Hill was a starter in the second half of the season last year.

Smith’s game has been declining for the past two years, and currently, the team is paying him to stay home.

His contract is an asset though, but it has to be hard for Altman to find a taker for Smith.  If he can get something useful in return, then you have to tip your hat to the GM.

Before going all crazy about the front office though, remember, it is easier to deconstruct a roster and collect assets than it is the build a contending team.

A lot of people can collect draft picks, it takes a keen eye to bring in talent.  With every passing game, Sexton looks like he can play, be a contributing player for a contender.

That’s a feather in Altman’s cap.  If the Cavs have a top three pick in next year’s draft, Altman must convert that into a franchise cornerstone.

JK

The Cavs’ Slow Down Offense.

We have discussed a few times how the Cleveland Cavaliers have changed their offensive style of play since Larry Drew took over as head coach six games into the season.

The Cavs are one of the most workmanlike teams in the NBA with the ball, ranking ahead of only Memphis and Houston (surprisingly) in pace of play, and ranking last in the league in assists (tied with the Knicks).

They are also dead last in scoring, but is up to 14th in the association in defensive scoring, despite being behind only San Antonio in worst field goal percentage against.

The wine and gold haven’t turned into playoff contenders under Drew, but they are 5-13 since he took over the reins, and the most points they’ve allowed in a game under the new head man is the 129 allowed last night against the defending champion Warriors.

They allowed more than 130 twice in the first six games under Tyronn Lue.

Part of the reason for last night’s performance was the Cavs got caught up playing Golden State’s game.

And we have said many times, you try to play that way against them, they are better at it than you.

Four times since Drew became head coach have the Cavs held teams under 100 points, which never happened in the first half dozen contests.

This isn’t to say the Cavs are suddenly a decent defensive squad or that Lue was a terrible head coach.  We are saying that the slower pace seems to be suiting this group of players better.

Which brings us to the Cavaliers’ offensive strategy, which allows them to control the pace of play.

While they certainly run when they get an opportunity, mostly off of turnovers, not defensive rebounds, when Cleveland gets in a half court situation, they are very deliberate.

On many possessions, they run the shot clock down to around ten seconds, and run a play, a lot of times some kind of curl move into the paint which results in a decent shot, a mid range shot.

If the defense reacts well, the Cavs don’t get a good look.  We guess that’s fine with Drew because his club is controlling the tempo.

Cleveland is also in the top ten in offensive rebounding, led by the irrepressible Tristan Thompson, who is second in the league in the category.  The extra possessions helps slow down opponents too.

And that could help explain the low assist totals.  Thompson gets a lot of hoops that way, and there is no passing helping him.

The Cavs also don’t take a lot of three pointers, even though they are in the middle of the pack in percentage.  In watching the games, they do take the wide open looks, but they aren’t forcing long jumpers.

We know the analytics say to take three pointer instead of long twos, but is it better to miss a three or make a two?

While the Cavs aren’t winning, other teams are having success playing slower.  Among the teams playing with a slow pace are Memphis (13-9), Indiana (14-10), and the most successful team is Denver (16-7).

It seems some teams are figuring out you can’t beat the Warriors playing their style.

We will have to see how the offense evolves when Kevin Love returns to the lineup.  He should provide better spacing because whoever is playing the power forward, whether it be Larry Nance Jr. or Cedi Osman, aren’t a threat from behind the arc.

However, controlling the pace is the best way for the Cavs to remain competitive most nights.

That’s good coaching.

JK

 

 

Browns Youth Shows Up Vs. Texans

Any chance, however how remote, the Cleveland Browns had of making the playoffs went away after Sunday’s 29-13 loss to the Houston Texans.

The Browns dropped to 4-7-1 on the season as the Texans won their ninth straight contest.  Cleveland took a step up in class after beating Atlanta and Cincinnati, and failed the test.  Houston looked like a team that could have some success in the playoffs against Gregg Williams’ squad.

The Browns have played a number of the top teams in the NFL this season:  New Orleans, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles Chargers, and Houston.  The Texans rank right up there with Kansas City and the Chargers as the toughest foes for the Browns.

We are sure there will be those complaining about Baker Mayfield’s performance in the game, but to us, it was just a reminder that last year’s Heisman Trophy winner is a rookie.  He hasn’t played like it for, really, most of the season, but he still has played only 10 NFL games.

It was a learning experience, and our guess is Mayfield will learn from it, and be better this Sunday at home against the Panthers.

Think about how few games many of the best players on the roster have played in the league.  Besides Mayfield, Myles Garrett, Nick Chubb, Denzel Ward, David Njoku, and Larry Ogunjobi have all played less than two complete seasons in the league.

And we would bet at least two of those players will be Pro Bowl selections this season.

As for Garrett, we can’t believe some fans are disappointed in last year’s first overall selection in the draft.

He’s second in the NFL in sacks this season, for cryin’ out loud!

We think there are some fans who think Garrett should sack the opposing quarterback on every certain passing down.  It just doesn’t work that way.

Garrett commands double teams and opposing offensive coordinators make sure they know where is at on every down.  Believe us, they are aware of him.

Since sacks started being tracked as a statistic in the NFL in 1982, the Browns all time leader is Clay Matthews with 62, followed by Michael Dean Perry with 51-1/2.

If Garrett gets four more before the end of this season, he would join the top ten all time for the Browns, tying Kennard Lang and Jamir Miller.

In two years!

Barring injury, he is going to be one of the cornerstones for this franchise as they move into playoff contention.

With four games left in the season, and none of them against the class of this year’s NFL, the Browns have a very good chance to finish the season 6-9-1 or even 7-8-1.

This week’s opponent, Carolina, is reeling with four straight losses and is 1-4 on the road.

Traveling to Denver is always tough, even if the Broncos are 6-6.  They have won three in a row.

Then come divisional games against Cincinnati at home, and the non-passing Ravens in the season finale.  Andy Dalton is done for the year, getting hurt last week against the Browns, and although Baltimore is a playoff team right now, it will be interesting to see how the league adjusts to the Lamar Jackson experiment.

Six or seven wins coming off a winless season would be phenomenal improvement, and so would not finishing last, which is also very possible.

On the other hand, it’s tough to gauge how this young football team will handle, what for many, is their first 16 game schedule.

For the first time in a while, the last four games should be interesting to watch, at least from a developmental standpoint.

JD

 

Gomes Move Is First Step To Reallocating Payroll

The Indians dealt another key member of the team over the last five seasons on Friday, moving catcher Yan Gomes to the Washington Nationals for two minor leaguers (the 7th and 8th prospects on Baseball America’s mid season report.

Immediately, the criticism began from the Tribe is cheap faction in fandom.  We say let’s see.  If the Indians’ payroll is not close to where it was last season, then there is a valid argument.

However, as we have said all along, if Chris Antonetti and Mike Chernoff want to improve the 2018 Indians, they will need to clear some cash from the books, and that would give them the flexibility to add some players.

The Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes said it is difficult to contend while you rebuild, and while we agree in most cases, when you have two of the league’s top ten players in Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, it is a bit easier.

Gomes will turn 32 next July, so he is past his prime.  While still an excellent defensive catcher and handler of a pitching staff, here are his OPS since coming to Cleveland in 2013:

2013:  826
2014:  785
2015:  659
2016:  527
2017:  708
2018:  762

Last season was Gomes’ best offensively since ’14, so logic tells you he was going to slip back a bit in 2019.  He’s not a guy who has real strike zone judgment either, his career high in walks being 31 in 2017.

In our opinion, that doesn’t lead to a player sustaining decent offensive numbers as he ages.

With Gomes making $7 million this year and with club options for ’20 ($9 million) and ’21 ($11 million), the brass figured they didn’t want to pay that kind of money for a season that probably won’t be as productive as last, so they dumped his salary.

That doesn’t mean there is a “fire sale” going on, it simply means the Indians are doing what we said they need to do since the off-season began, and that is reallocate the payroll.

They have a lot of money tied up in players who no longer are producing up to the level of their contracts:  Edwin Encarnacion ($21.7 million), Jason Kipnis ($14.7 million), and Yonder Alonso ($8 million).

All of these guys are on the other side of 30 years old, and there performance has declined.  Let’s say the Indians could manage to trade all three of them, plus Gomes, and that would clear over $51 million in salary, and if they plan to have a payroll close to 2018 level, it gives them a lot to spend.

If they decide to deal a starting pitcher, again, it is a move designed to reallocate funds and also a trade made from strength.

With the emergence of Shane Bieber, and the coming arrival of Triston McKenzie, there may be no better time to move a starter.

We would hate to see Corey Kluber dealt, but he will be 33 in April.  If you can move him and get a young hitter and another young pitcher in return, you have to think about it.

You still have Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, Bieber, and you can get another veteran starter with the money you save to hold you over until McKenzie is ready.

Remember too, the three pitchers Cleveland was obtained since the end of the season (Chih-Wei Hu, Walker Lockett, and Jeffy Rodriguez) all have starting experience in AAA.

So, don’t make any rash judgments on what the front office is doing until they are finished.  We aren’t someone who think the Dolan ownership does no wrong, but right now, we believe the front office is just moving soon to be dead money in favor of younger players with upside.

And that’s what they should do.

MW

Tribe Roster in ’19 Will Look Very Different.

Little by little, the Cleveland Indians we have come to know are leaving the team.  Some we knew quite well, others passed through quickly.

Lonnie Chisenhall, one of the longest tenured players in the organization signed a one year deal with the Pirates on the same day Josh Donaldson, who spent less than a month with the Tribe, signed with Atlanta.

And of course, there have been rumors of trades, mostly regarding more players who have been with the Indians since Terry Francona was hired prior to the 2013 season.

Players like Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Kipnis, and Yan Gomes are primarily mentioned.

While not all of them will be traded (we think), there is no question the 2019 edition of the Cleveland Indians will look very different from the past.

Obviously, no matter what occurs in the next couple of months, the Tribe will be led by Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, both of whom finished in the top six in the American League MVP voting, and regardless of a trade, a stout starting rotation.

We have read comments from fans and media alike calling this a fire sale, or the Indians cutting payroll, but we don’t believe that’s the case.

Any moves made will involves redistributing the money the ownership can spend, because right now, they have a lot of money tied up in players in the decline phases of their careers.

Take Gomes, for example.  He is scheduled to make slightly over $7 million next season.  He’ll be 32 during the 2019 season, and had his best offensive season (762 OPS) since 2014 (785 OPS).

Why not trade him now after a good offensive season, in addition to his excellent defense and handling of a pitching staff?  And you give yourself some additional money to address other areas of need.

As for Kipnis, it’s a matter of moving a player who appears to have peaked in 2016 and is owed a lot of money next season.  It is doubtful the veteran will bring a lot in return because of his bloated salary.  In fact, the Indians may have to kick in some cash to make the deal.

Even if they have to throw in $4 million, that still gives the organization an extra $10 million to upgrade other areas.

And we still believe Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff will move one of the starting pitchers to bring in the biggest prize, a young controllable bat who can add depth to the batting order.

We still believe Carrasco will bring the biggest return.

It may not end there either.  The front office would love to move Yonder Alonso and/or Edwin Encarnacion freeing up more cash to spend, not to keep.

While we have seen some moves around baseball already, our guess is the Tribe will look to deal off some veterans before adding the new faces to the roster.

However, we reiterate that what the front office is doing to reallocating the payroll to try and prop the window open for several more years.  At the end of the season, we came to the realization that everyone in their normal lineup was over 30 years old, save for Lindor and Ramirez.

That’s not a recipe to get better, especially offensively.

That’s the off-season goal of the front office in our opinion, to get surround the two MVP candidates with players with upside.

That, and rebuild the bullpen.

MW

Texans Are Browns’ Toughest Foe Remaining.

We have always thought playing the NFL schedule game before the season starts is idiotic because so much happens during an NFL season, particularly injuries.

After the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Gregg Williams’ head coaching debut, the Browns rebounded to knock off Atlanta at home and followed up by breaking their 25 game losing streak on the road, beating the Bengals 35-20 on Sunday.

Now at 4-6-1, it appears the toughest remaining opponent on the schedule comes up next weekend when the Browns take on Houston, currently leading the AFC South at 7-3.

Another win and the Browns will be in playoff contention, believe it or not.

This is not to say Cleveland will be favored in any of those remaining games, heck, only two of them will be at home, a December 9th visit from Carolina and the Bengals come in for a game two days before Christmas.

However, no one would be shocked if Gregg Williams’ team won any of the five contests left on the slate, which also includes road games at Denver (5-6) and Baltimore (6-5).

This is a different team than the one that lost to Pittsburgh on October 28th.

Changing the play calling has helped Baker Mayfield be a more efficient quarterback, completing almost 74% of his passes over the last three weeks, with nine touchdown throws and just one interception.

Gone are the constant downfield throws which Hue Jackson used last year with DeShone Kizer and Todd Haley continued over the first eight games this season.  Mayfield is throwing a lot of short, quick routes, getting the ball out of his hand quickly, and using his accuracy.

That doesn’t mean he’s become a dink and dunk guy though.  When need be, he can fire the ball downfield, like the pass over the middle to TE David Njoku on Sunday.

Speaking of Njoku, we don’t hear (or see) the dropped passes that had some in the media suggesting he is a bust anymore.

Nick Chubb continues to impress as well, still averaging over five yards per carry.  Chubb finally passed the traded Carlos Hyde in carries against the Bengals, and he’s been the featured back for the past five games.  That’s how the old regime forced the ball into Hyde’s hands.

Hyde is a reliable back for sure, but Chubb is too and he can break the big run as well, which makes him the more dynamic runner.

Another observation we have on the Browns is on defense.  Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward, both high first round draft picks get a lot of attention, and rightly so, but watching Sunday’s game, man, is Joe Schobert a heck of a football player.

It seems whenever the defense makes a good play, he is in the center of it.  He plays and run and the pass both very well, and as Williams pointed out earlier this season, he is responsible for making sure everyone is lined up in the right place too.

The pick was criticized when it was made, people blaming analytics for the choice because Schobert doesn’t look like Dick Butkus.  But in today’s NFL, he’s a perfect middle linebacker.

He made the Pro Bowl a year ago, and we would not be surprised if he made it again.  He’s that good.

JD