AFC North: Jordan Poyer

The two late flags thrown on the Cleveland Browns in New England have been the topic of much criticism, in Cleveland and nationally.

But the Browns also wondered about a no-call on the play before Billy Cundiff’s missed field goal.

The team privately wondered if Patriots defensive back Logan Ryan should have been penalized for launching into Jordan Cameron on Cameron’s catch at the Patriots 41. Had that been called -- the video is available at the 3:55 mark on the highlights here -- Cundiff’s attempted game-winning field goal would have been from 43 yards, not 58.

Whether it’s a penalty appears to be up for interpretation. The NFL Rule Book states that unsportsmanlike conduct takes place “if a player illegally launches into a defenseless opponent.”

Section 2-8-j of the NFL Rule Book defines it further by stating: “It is an illegal launch if a player (1) leaves both feet prior to contact to spring forward and upward into his opponent, and (2) uses any part of his helmet (including the top/crown and forehead/”hairline” parts) to initiate forcible contact against any part of his opponent’s body.”

Clearly, Ryan left his feet. Whether he aimed his head at Cameron and only missed because Cameron was being tackled is the debate.

ESPN officiating expert Gerry Austin, a two-time Super Bowl referee, said there was no penalty because Ryan turned his back to avoid a hit to the head.

“He does leave his feet, but he doesn’t do it in a targeting manner,” Austin said.

He stressed the penalty is two parts: A player has to launch and target, and Ryan “just launched,” Austin said.

Because he turned his back, “The fact he left his feet has no significance.”

Less blatant hits have been flagged -- including two against the Browns on Sunday in the final minute. Jordan Poyer neither launched, nor hit Patriots receiver Julian Edelman in the head, but he was flagged. Other players also have been flagged when they aimed for the body but wound up hitting the head of a receiver who ducked.

The Browns' case no doubt would center on the fact that Ryan, a rookie from Rutgers, left his feet so aggressively, and that he did have his helmet heading upfield when he jumped.

It’s safe to assume the Browns submitted the play to the league for clarification.

And it’s also safe to assume any explanation they receive will leave them still wondering.

Did Tom Brady outwit Browns' defense?

December, 12, 2013
What did in the Cleveland Browns' defense at New England?

Penalties and Tom Brady.

That’s what defensive coordinator Ray Horton said.

Horton did his best not to complain about the officiating, but he did say that Brady audibled three times on the last two drives to take advantage of the Browns' coverage.

“He put them in the right play for what we had,” Horton said. “That’s the dilemma -- how do you protect against a guy who changes the play? You hope you stand up.”

Horton said Brady’s hand signals were as simple as a nod and a two-thumbs-up signal.

“You don’t have time after two-thumbs-up to get it across the formation,” he said.

In some instances, Brady would wave a receiver lined up wide to move inside to a stack formation. That was when Brady saw man coverage. In that formation, teams run “rub” routes, where they cross and effectively rub out the defender. The Pats scored the game-winning touchdown to Danny Amendola on a rub route.

These pass routes are effective against man, not as effective against zone. Horton went into no detail about the coverages, but the pass interference penalty on Leon McFadden and the touchdown to Amendola both looked to come against man coverage.

The Browns could combat the offense with a change of their own, but as Horton said, changing the entire coverage would be tough given the time limitations after the audible. About the only things the defense can do is have the ability to change quickly from man to a predetermined zone, or cover better.

Horton tried not to criticize the officials, saying the game is fast and he’s sure they do their best. But pressed on the Jordan Poyer hit he said the Browns teach their players never to launch (leave their feet) or hit a receiver in the head. He admitted neither happened with Poyer.

As for the pass interference and the team’s anger at the call after the game, he talked more generally. But in doing so he said a lot.

“There were 45, 44 yards of penalties on two plays, I think, within 30 seconds,” Horton said. “That’s a lot of yardage in penalties for a team that has a pretty good quarterback.”

Ranking team needs: Cornerback

April, 24, 2013
The AFC North blog continues to look at the different positions and rank each team in terms of draft need. For Wednesday, the blog is addressing cornerbacks. Mel Kiper Jr.'s top five cornerbacks are: Alabama's Dee Milliner, Washington's Desmond Trufant, Florida State's Xavier Rhodes, Boise State's Jamar Taylor and Houston's D.J. Hayden.

Here are the rankings (the greater the need, the higher the ranking):

1. Cleveland Browns: The Browns have one of the division's top cornerbacks in Joe Haden on one side. They have a big question mark on the other. After not replacing Sheldon Brown in free agency, there is a big void at the other starting cornerback spot. The top cornerbacks after Haden on the roster is not an impressive group: Buster Skrine, Chris Owens, Kevin Barnes, Trevin Wade and Johnson Bademosi. For this reason, the Bengals have been heavily linked to Milliner in the first round. If the Browns wait until the third round, they could pick up someone like LSU's Tyrann Mathieu, Southeast Louisiana's Robert Alford, Oregon State's Jordan Poyer, North Carolina State's David Amerson, Utah State's Will Davis and William & Mary's B.W. Webb.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers lost promising corner Keenan Lewis to the New Orleans Saints in free agency. The hope is Cortez Allen, a 2011 fourth-round pick, will step up just like Lewis did last season. At nickel back, the Steelers will go with either William Gay or Curtis Brown, who struggled mightily at times last season. So, there's depth concerns at this position. But don't expect the Steelers to use a first-round pick on a corner. That hasn't been the team's style lately. The Steelers have taken a cornerback in the third round in two of the past four drafts.

3. Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens lost Cary Williams to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency, but they expect Lardarius Webb to be back this season after suffering a season-ending knee injury last year. Corey Graham, primarily a special-teams standout for most of his NFL career, is back after starting in the Super Bowl. Jimmy Smith, a first-round pick in 2011, should compete with Graham for a starting job. The fourth corner is Chykie Brown, who showed flashes last season. The Ravens have taken three cornerbacks in the past two drafts after not selecting one for four straight years.

4. Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals are the only team in the division to return both starting cornerbacks from last season. While Leon Hall is expected to keep his starting job, Terence Newman could be pressed by Dre Kirkpatrick, a first-round pick from a year ago. Cincinnati has depth after re-signing Adam Jones. But there is still a chance that the Bengals could add to this group. Head coach Marvin Lewis has put a priority on cornerbacks during his time in Cincinnati. The Bengals are apparently high on Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden. So, the Bengals don't have a need at cornerback but they could certainly draft another one.
The Browns wanted to lure Brent Grimes to Cleveland so much they sent a private jet to collect him for his free-agent visit March 16. Now, there's a report that the cornerback could land somewhere else.

Grimes, who also visited Miami, could reach a deal there "soon," according to CBS Sports. If Grimes checks out medically -- he tore his Achilles tendon in last season's opener -- he is the best cornerback left in free agency. The Browns could team him with Joe Haden, giving them one of the best corner tandems in the league. If Grimes signs with the Dolphins or elsewhere, the Browns will have a major hole at that spot.

It's surprising that Cleveland hasn't been more aggressive in trying to replace last season's starter, Sheldon Brown, who isn't expected to be re-signed. The other top free-agent corners -- Sean Smith (Kansas City), Aqib Talib (New England) and Chris Houston (Detroit) -- are gone. There is a dropoff from Grimes to the other defenders still on the market.

Here are some of the corners left in free agency (and it's not a promising group):

Antoine Winfield, Minnesota: He could accept an offer from another team before making a visit to the Redskins. Winfield, who will turn 36 in June, has reportedly drawn interest from two other teams (which haven't been identified). While his play is on the decline, Winfield had a strong season in 2012 and has enough athleticism to be an effective starter.

Nnamdi Asomugha, Philadelphia: The one-time best corner in the game is reportedly torn between playing for the 49ers and the Saints. It looks like he'll be off the market soon.

DeAngelo Hall, Washington: There were reports that he had signed with Detroit, but the Lions aren't interested in him. Hall has received very little attention. He sometimes takes too many risks to make a play, but he is a solid tackler and is very experienced.

Quentin Jammer, San Diego: He is a physical, durable corner who has drawn no interest and could be signed for cheap. The drawback with Jammer is his lack of speed. He's at his best in press coverage and likes to deliver big hits.

Mike Jenkins, Dallas: He has been linked to the Raiders and is scheduled to visit the Jaguars on Thursday. Jenkins was relegated to being Dallas' dime back last season, and it would be a surprise to see him become a starter again.

Tracy Porter, Denver: Porter visited the Saints and Raiders this week and should make a decision soon. He is only 26 and has a good feel for the game. But there is some concern after seizures and a concussion ruined his 2012 season.

If the Browns don't address cornerback in free agency, they'll be forced to take one in the early rounds of the draft. Cleveland has shown an interest in the top cornerbacks in this year's draft. Alabama's Dee Milliner and LSU's Tyrann Mathieu, formerly known as the "Honey Badger," are both scheduled for pre-draft visits, according to The Plain Dealer. Milliner could drop to the Browns at the No. 6 overall pick, and Mathieu is projected to go in the third round.