NFL Nation: Tashaun Gipson

CLEVELAND -- Having a healthy salary cap is the NFL equivalent to having too much oatmeal, or having too many jackets in the winter.

Nice, sensible, necessary, not overly exciting.

If Cleveland Browns fans are looking for good news after a brutal two months, it’s this -- a team with a pretty good roster has $53,777,486 in cap space as of this week, according to ESPN stats and info. The Browns have a cap value of $106,604,471, with the adjusted cap value sitting at $161,908,285.

With help from J.I. Halsell (@SalaryCap101), a former Redskins salary-cap analyst, here is Cleveland’s exact spending situation:

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Gary WiepertBuffalo outside linebacker Jerry Hughes could be an ideal fit in Cleveland's scheme.
As it stands (before player cuts and new signings), the Browns must spend roughly $71 million in cash over the next two years to be compliant with the Collective Bargaining Agreement.


Because the CBA requires NFL teams to spend at least 89 percent of the cumulative salary caps from 2013-16, which, for the Browns, projects to $492.17 million in spending by the end of the 2016 league year.

How much have the Browns spent during that span?

To date, Cleveland has spent or committed to $420.99 million. Splitting in half, the Browns could spend $35.5 million in each of the next two years. Or, if they are feeling aggressive, spend a cool $50 million before September. The Browns likely want a larger cushion of space for next year.

For argument’s sake, let’s say the Browns are entering March with plans to spend about $40 million in the next eight months. There is a reasonable plan for such spending. All free agency deals are one-year totals while assuming the signing bonus is prorated over the length of the deal.

Rookie draft picks: $7.9 million.

This takes into account the Browns’ two first-round picks and the rest of the lot. This is essentially money all teams must pay, give or take a few picks.

Free agent quarterbacks: $8 million.

Sorry, Sam Bradford fans. Don’t expect the Rams to part with him without at least a second-round pick in their hands, maybe more. I’m not expecting the Browns to offer more than a third. They want to stay true to the build-through-the-draft plan.

There is no obvious home run out there, so the Browns will do what they can -- $4 or million for Josh McCown, maybe $5 million for Brian Hoyer, or $6 million for Ryan Mallett. The Browns have discretion here, but no quarterback will command enough to stress the team's books.

Splashy free agent signing: $8-9 million -- Buffalo outside linebacker Jerry Hughes

Mike Pettine is a fan of Hughes, who acquitted himself well against Joe Thomas in the Bills' Week 13 win against Cleveland. Thomas had three penalties in that game. Pettine, a former Buffalo coordinator, spent one season with Hughes, who seems the perfect complement to Paul Kruger's strength game and Barkevious Mingo's lateral speed.

In this case, filling the outside linebacker need in free agency allows the Browns to attack nose tackle, wide receiver, and tight end high in the draft.

If Hughes commands $10 million a year, that is probably too steep for a draft-precedent team. Getting him for $8 million would be a win for the Browns.

(Free agent fallback: Baltimore WR Torrey Smith at $7-8 million)

Restricted free agent tenders: $6 million

The restricted tender numbers aren’t out yet, but my guess is a first-level tender -- a placeholder where an opposing team must relinquish a first-round pick to cut a deal with the player -- will be somewhere in the $3.5 million range, with a second-level tender around $2.4 million, and a third-level in the $1.5-million range (just projections).

If the Browns truly believe safety Tashaun Gipson is a cornerstone in the defensive backfield, they will either slap him with a first-round tender or cut a long-term deal now. If the Browns give him a second-level deal, no doubt Gipson’s camp will shop him around.

Linebacker Craig Robertson could get a second-level tender. Both players are valued, and it makes sense to keep them.

In-house free agents: $7.5 million -- Cornerback Buster Skrine at $5 million a year (possibly higher) and Miles Austin at a one-year, $2.5-million deal.

Coaches have made clear they would like Shrine to return. Skrine will have a good market, but the Browns should be able to make a competitive play for him.

Austin would be a reasonable re-sign. The offense was better with him in the lineup.

Otherwise, I’m suspecting the team will let most free agents walk.

Special teams: $2 million for Ted Ginn

Give Ginn, an effective returner and Cleveland native, a two-year deal with a couple of million up front in signing and roster bonuses.

Total cap spending: $40.4 million

Bottom line: The Browns could spend on a receiver, but it’s hard to imagine Dez Bryant, Randall Cobb or Jeremy Maclin leaving their current spots. Smith might command closer to $8-9 million, a bit pricey for the Browns’ taste. Hughes is a safer play. Draft a receiver in the first and fourth rounds, re-sign Austin, and ride with what you have.

Rapid Reaction: Cleveland Browns

December, 22, 2013
A few thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 24-13 loss to the New York Jets:

What it means: That the Browns have a lot of problems, and all the folks saying how close they are and how the 2014 NFL draft can make the difference might want to realize the depth of their problems. They start at quarterback and go throughout the offense and defense, which has given up long fourth-quarter touchdown drives in the past four games. Sunday’s 80-yard Jets drive lasted more than six minutes and gave New York a 24-13 lead -- after the Browns had cut the deficit to 17-13.

Stock watch: How can a team’s stock not be plummeting when it loses six games in a row heading to the finale in Pittsburgh? One year after new ownership and leadership promised a new approach and smarter decisions, the Browns must win in Pittsburgh to match last season’s five-win total.

Dropped chances: The Browns can lament a lot of mistakes from this game. Wasted timeouts. Twelve men on the field for the defense. Two interceptions of Jason Campbell. A penalty that wiped out a touchdown. But they may most lament dropping two passes in the end zone in the first half, wiping out touchdowns. For good measure, they even had a penalty wipe out a touchdown run in the fourth quarter. This was a bad, bad, bad game.

Poor finishes: The Browns gave up 10 points in the final 1:18 of the first half. That makes eight of the past nine games in which they gave up a scoring drive in the final two minutes of the half -- for 53 points. The defense is failing to get off the field in quarters other than the fourth.

Not smart: Safety Tashaun Gipson helped give the Jets their last-play field goal at the end of the half by pushing Jets quarterback Geno Smith when he was a few steps out of bounds. It appeared that Smith took a dive after the shove, but there was no reason whatsoever for Gipson to even touch Smith. He was out of bounds, the play was over, and the league has made it clear the quarterback is sacred.

What’s next: The season comes to a merciful end in Pittsburgh, where the Browns face the Steelers.
It’s come to this with the Cleveland Browns as they stagger to the finish line of another dreary season: Kellen Winslow made news in Cleveland with something he said.

As if that’s never happened before.

“Winslow, he plays for the Jets, don’t he?” said Willis McGahee, a former teammate of Winslow’s at the University of Miami.

He does, and he told that he doesn’t believe anyone in the league can cover him. Then he added: “Who’s going to guard me over there? Nobody.”

“It’s funny,” cornerback Joe Haden said with a smile. “What would you expect him to say? Is he gonna say, ‘Yeah those dudes are gonna cover me.’ I don’t know him that well, but hearing about his personality, that sounds like the kind of thing he’s going to say.”

Cleveland folks are used to Winslow, who is apt to say almost anything about his abilities.

“He’s thought that for years,” said coach Rob Chudzinski, who coached Winslow in Cleveland and Miami. “That’s the confidence that you want football players to have.”

The two guys who will see the most of Winslow also treated it with a grain of (Cargill) salt.

“I saw it,” safety T.J. Ward said. “It’s irrelevant. Your play speaks.”

Calvin Johnson said that, it’s different,” safety Tashaun Gipson said. “No, in all respect .... we’re already going in there [wanting to] showcase our dominance. He can say what he wants to say. He’s still got to go out there and perform. What he does Sunday, I guess, will tell it all.”

Gipson said some players joked about the remarks during practice, but it was never a focal point of discussion. Ward made reference to Winslow’s status as an aging veteran.

“He’s a decent tight end,” Ward said. “He was good in his heyday. He’s a little past his prime, but he’s still a good tight end.”

Ward called it an interesting league with a lot of characters, but both Ward and Gipson said they feel the same way that Winslow does, except in reverse. They both feel they can cover anybody.

“Absolutely, and I respect that he feels that way,” Gipson said. “You have to feel that way.”

“You should have that confidence that your’e unstoppable,” Ward said. “Just like I have that confidence that I can stop anybody. If you didn’t have that confidence, you wouldn’t be a player in this league. You wouldn’t be here. I don’t think there was any shots fired. It was just how he felt. You have to respect it, but at the same time you got to go out there and play football.”
CLEVELAND -- Three factors played important roles in the Cleveland Browns 38-31 loss to Chicago on Sunday. And the first came with the flip of the coin before kickoff.

The Browns won the toss, but instead of taking the ball they chose to defer. That gave the Bears the ball first, and the Browns the choice to start the second half. It’s not an uncommon decision these days.

And once the Browns kicked off to start the game, there was no way they were going to give the ball to the Bears to start the second half. Rob Chudzinski chose to receive.

Bears coach Marc Trestman wisely chose to take the wind in the fourth quarter. And that wind was strong -- blowing from east to west right across the field.

Any pass that was thrown into the wind died, like a key third-and-10 throw to Josh Gordon with the Browns down seven in the fourth quarter. Any thrown with the wind sailed, like a couple of Jay Cutler’s early throws.

One Browns defender said the Bears never threw long going into the wind, but did take chances throwing with it.

Trestman wanted his quarterback, Jay Cutler, and his receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery working with the wind in the final quarter.

File that little thought.

With 3:59 left in the third quarter came factor two: The Browns lost cornerback Joe Haden to a hip pointer when he was kneed inadvertently by Bears lineman Jermon Bushrod.

That sent Haden to the locker room, and put rookie Leon McFadden in the game. McFadden was targeted a week ago in crunch time by Tom Brady in New England, and Cutler went after him too, throwing a deep ball to Jeffery from his own five.

McFadden ran into Jeffrey as he tried to come back and was called for pass interference, a call the Browns disputed.

“Not a PI at all,“ safety Tashaun Gipson said. “I watched the whole time. I’m running over there and he snapped his head around at the appropriate time. If I was a ref I wouldn’t have called it. I think he had good coverage. Of course I’m going to say that, but I truly believe it.”

On the next play, with the wind, Cutler again threw deep to Marshall, who had used a double-move to elude Buster Skrine. Skrine did the wise thing and grabbed Marshall, giving up a five-yard holding penalty to save six points.

Six plays later, Cutler threw deep again to Jeffery, this time covered by Julian Posey, who if everyone were healthy would be the fifth corner.

Cutler was hit in the head as he threw -- it would have been roughing the passer regardless -- but still got the ball off. He thought it was a duck, and it was. But the duck flew farther than anyone thought possible.

Gipson settled under the ball at about the three, but the ball suddenly sailed past him where Jeffery made an athletic catch.

Gipson tried to leap and knock it down, but the ball went past him.

“The ball seemed to literally sail over my head,” he said.

Thanks to the wind.

Who knows how things work out, but had the Browns taken the ball to start the game they could have forced the Bears to throw into the wind in the fourth quarter.

The Browns didn’t.

The Bears had the wind.

Haden was injured.

Chicago had the big receivers -- the third factor.

And the Bears were able to take advantage on some key plays en route to a victory.
CLEVELAND -- An honest Brandon Marshall admitted after the Chicago Bears' 38-31 win against the Cleveland Browns that quarterback Jay Cutler was “rusty” on occasion during his return game from a four-week absence caused by a high-ankle sprain.

Although Cutler finished 22-of-31 for 265 yards, three touchdown passes and a 102.2 quarterback rating, he had some notable misfires in the first half.

Cutler failed to connect with Marshall on a pair of first-half throws that resulted in turnovers. With the Bears driving on the game’s opening drive, Cutler zipped a pass to Marshall in the front of the end zone, but Browns safety T.J. Ward cut in front of Marshall and deflected the pass to fellow safety Tashaun Gipson for Cutler’s first interception. Later in the half, Cutler badly overthrew Marshall on a medium-range route near the Browns’ sideline. Marshall got his fingers on the ball, but Gipson came from the backside to pick off the pass and race 44 yards for a touchdown.

“Well, the ball in the end zone, that interception was on me,” Marshall said. “It was one of our favorite plays, a play that we are really efficient on, one of our better plays. The linebacker kind of got underneath me a little bit, made me widen, then the safety came down and I didn’t get around like we worked on all week. I put Jay in a bad bind, so that’s really on me.

"The second one, he just threw a terrible ball, so that’s on Jay. He was rusty. Coming in, we knew this was the type of game we were going to have. The guys have been on ice for weeks now. It was a good thing that we were able to get through it, get a victory, and still have hope. Hats off to him. We expected to win, we expected it to be a little rough, and we came out on top.”

Marshall, who led the Bears with six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown, said Cutler was under immense pressure to play well after Josh McCown earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his performance against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night.

“Well, you guys have been around Jay for a while now, so he’s not going to show it,” Marshall said. “The human side of things, you have a guy in Josh McCown playing lights-out, probably playing the best football of any quarterback in the National Football League. I can only imagine the commentators and fans back home after the first and second picks, what they were saying. I’m sure they were ready to hang [Cutler]. This team has been resilient all year, faced adversity really well all year. It was nothing short of that today.”
CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns' defense talks a good game.

The Browns can recite numbers with the best of them to show where they are ranked league-wide, and what they need to do to be ranked high if they’re not.

But there is also is this fact: For the third week in a row, the Browns had a fourth-quarter lead and the defense squandered it.

Sunday the Chicago Bears scored 21 points in the final 15 minutes en route to a 38-31 win.

[+] EnlargeAlshon Jeffery
AP Photo/Mark DuncanThe Cleveland Browns had trouble stopping Alshon Jeffery and the Chicago Bears in the fourth quarter.
Which would project to 84 points a game, which is pretty good.

Early, the Browns were buoyed by two defensive touchdowns -- an interception and a fumble return -- that had the defense off to a great start. But late, the defense did not come through when it mattered most. It collapsed, buried under the weight of its mistakes and the Bears' athletic plays.

That makes three games in a row the defense did not stop the other team when it mattered most.

Jacksonville (!) drove 80 yards in the final minute for a game-winning touchdown.

New England had officiating help on its last drive, but the 82-yarder that made that last drive meaningful was against the Browns' defense.

And Chicago saw Jay Cutler salivate at the loss of cornerback Joe Haden to a hip pointer, then lead the Bears to three scores in the final 10:59.

The first was an athletic catch by Alshon Jeffery behind Tashaun Gipson, with the help of the wind. That play was set up by an interference call on Leon McFadden and a holding call on Buster Skrine, the two corners playing with Haden out. (Julian Posey wound up covering Jeffery on the touchdown.)

On Chicago’s next two possessions, the Bears ran the ball down the vaunted Browns' throats.

Twenty-two of 36 yards came on the ground on the next TD drive, then 74 of 78 on the drive that sealed it.

The Browns played a team that had to go on the road after playing Monday night, a team that had a quarterback starting his first game in a month. The defense gave up 179 yards rushing, 127 to Matt Forte, and 265 and three touchdowns passing.

The fourth quarter was the worst.

While the Browns have been giving up 12, 16 and 21 points in the fourth quarter the past three games, they’ve scored 21 -- seven against the Bears on a late TD when the Browns were already down 14. In fourth quarters all season, the Browns have been outscored 128-66, or just less than 2 to 1.

The last four games the opposition finished with 27, 32, 27 and 38 points, an average of 31 per game. Yes but, some might say. As in, but the offense turned it over, or the defense was tired, or the moon was in the seventh house. Last time anyone checked, the defense was on the field when many of the points were scored.

In 11 of 14 games this season, the other team scored 23 points or more -- 23.5 was the league average heading into the game. In five of them it was 31 or more. Opponents are averaging 26 points per game on a defense that touts itself as quite a bit more special than it is.

Sure, the Bears scored on an interception return, which means they scored 31 on offense. Hoo hoo.

A top defense does not give up this kind of scoring.

A top defense does not finish games this way.

A top defense makes a stand when a stand is needed.

Until that happens, perhaps it’s time to put away the numbers and metrics. Just go out and win a stinking game.

Rapid Reaction: Cleveland Browns

December, 15, 2013

CLEVELAND -- A few thoughts on the Cleveland Browns38-31 loss to the Chicago Bears:

What it means: The Browns' defense needs work. Players and coaches can point to numbers and stats and justify whatever they want, but against Chicago, the Browns gave up 21 fourth-quarter points. They started the fourth quarter with a lead, then gave up three touchdowns. On one, Alshon Jeffery made a circus catch; on another, a good punt return gave the Bears a short field. A good defense makes big stops when needed. The Browns' defense is not doing that.

Stock watch: Maybe Josh Gordon was simply due an off week. After four otherworldly games in a row, Gordon was average against Chicago. He missed a couple of passes that he had been catching. Jason Campbell missed him at times. And at others he was open, and Campbell didn’t look his way. Gordon’s stock should not drop, but the Browns clearly needed more from him than a late touchdown when the game was already decided.

Walk the walk: Browns free safety Tashaun Gipson had effusive praise for Bears quarterback Jay Cutler during the week leading up to the game, but he also said Cutler would give the Browns' defense a chance to make plays. Gipson proved he wasn’t kidding, with two first-half interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. The big blemish: Gipson misjudged a long pass and allowed Jeffery to make a circus catch in the fourth quarter to tie the game.

Safety awareness day: At one point it appeared the Browns' safeties were headed to a big game against the Bears and Cutler. Too bad games last four quarters. Gipson had the interception for a touchdown, and T.J. Ward returned a second-half fumble for a score. The two helped to produce 17 of the Browns' first 24 points, with Gipson’s first pick leading to a field goal. But in the second half, Gipson let Jeffery make the TD catch behind him, and Ward was nowhere to be found on the second-longest touchdown run of Michael Bush's career.

Haden injured: Browns cornerback Joe Haden left the game in the third quarter with a hip injury. It appeared Haden either hit the ground awkwardly trying to make a tackle on a Bears run, or he was kneed in the hip by Jermon Bushrod as Bushrod was blocking. Haden's leaving, combined with an earlier injury this season to Chris Owens, put rookie Leon McFadden on the field at corner with Buster Skrine.

What's next: The Browns travel to face the New York Jets on Sunday in the penultimate game of the season.

Browns: Jay Cutler a different monster

December, 12, 2013
Josh McCown threw for 350 yards and five touchdowns in Chicago's win Monday night over Dallas, but the Browns won't face him this Sunday.

Bears coach Marc Trestman announced Thursday that Jay Cutler will start for the Bears.

Cutler was the starter until he missed four games to a high ankle sprain. McCown took over and played surprisingly well (13 TDs, one interception this season). But the Bears and McCown maintained Cutler was always the team's starter and when he was healthy he'd start.

What do the Browns say about Cutler?

"Any time you're dealing with who I perceive [to be] one of the more elite quarterbacks in this game, Cutler, he's arguably a top-10 quarterback in this game," Gipson said. "I think that amplifies the situation. No disrespect to Josh McCown, but Jay Cutler is a different monster."

Gipson also knows Cutler's reputation as a gunslinger who isn't afraid to use his strong arm to make a throw.

"Cutler's definitely going to put some balls up for us to make chances," free safety Tashaun Gipson said. "So I'm definitely excited that Cutler's playing"

Cutler has thrown eight interceptions this season, which means three percent of his passes have been picked. McCown's interception accounts for 0.5 percent of his throws. In his career, McCown has thrown 3.4 percent of his passes for picks, the exact same figure as Cutler.

Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton faced Cutler and the Bears last season in Arizona, where Horton ran the same system. Horton addressed the challenge with Cutler.

"Playing him the last couple years, to me it's his feet," Horton said. "You know how strong his arm is and he's a smart quarterback and all that. When you watch his feet and the ability to throw off the wrong foot, to get the ball out quickly, I've been impressed.

"He's smart, strong-armed. Everybody knows that. To me it's his ability to move in the pocket and get the ball off, sometimes on the wrong foot."

Last season, Cutler was 12-for-26 for 152 yards in a 28-13 Bears win over the Cardinals.

Browns' loss among worst since 1999

December, 1, 2013
There are losses.

There are bad losses.

There are really bad losses.

And there are fiascos.

The Cleveland Browns hit the jackpot against the Jacksonville Jaguars, losing 32-28 and reporting postgame that their quarterback had a concussion.

Meanwhile, the fans at home and in the stands might have hurt their palms smacking themselves in the forehead.

The Browns lost to a 2-9 team.

At home.

After their receiver gave them as exciting and uplifting a play as they have had in years. And after their self-styled standout defense gave up an 80-yard game-winning drive.

To Chad Henne.

This loss to the Jaguars was as bad as any since 1999.

And it had players either silent or extremely emotional in the locker room.

Joe Haden was near tears as he talked with expletives about being tired of losing and frustrated at the way things have gone. Three weeks ago, the Browns were 4-5 and people were talking about finally playing a big game in November. They now are 4-8 and headed toward a top-five draft pick.


“You’re going to come with the same questions every week and we’re going to give you the same answers,” Haden said, his voice cracking as he spoke to the media. “We’re gonna get better next week. We’re gonna get better next week.

“Until we do it, then there’s nothing else to talk about.”

He was right.

The Browns made enough gaffes to fill a follies film -- except for Cleveland fans the product on the field has been constant football follies since 1999. To win six times for the first time since 2007, the Browns would need to split their final four games -- which is more than highly unlikely.

Where to start is the question. Brandon Weeden had some pretty numbers (370 yards passing, three touchdowns) but a brutal finish to the first half. In the final 2:47, he threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, turnovers that gave the Jaguars 13 points.

The probability of three turnovers in that time frame might make NASA scratch its collective head.

In the second half, the Browns had a 21-20 lead and had held the Jaguars to no first downs and five yards in the third quarter.

On first down from their 14, the Browns called for a run out of the shotgun, but center Alex Mack sailed the ball over Weeden’s head. Weeden didn’t take a chance and kicked the ball out of the end zone for a safety. Jacksonville followed with a field goal to take a four-point lead.

But the Browns had every reason to believe after Josh Gordon turned a short pass into a 95-yard touchdown. With 3:55 left, the Browns had the lead.

“I thought that we were actually going to have a momentum swing right there,” Gordon said. “We did for a second.”

Which is the problem. Good teams don’t hold onto huge momentum swings for a second. They seize them by the throat. They finish the job.

And the same defense that let the Jaguars have five yards in the third quarter gave up 137 in the fourth -- including a game-winning 80-yard touchdown drive.

To Jacksonville.

Which entered the game ranked last in the league in (among other things) total offense, yards per play, rushing yards, first downs, red zone efficiency and points scored per game.

“There’s no way they should have been down there, but they got down there,” safety Tashaun Gipson said.

The Browns have some impressive defensive numbers, but they have been lacking all season in red-zone and third-down defense. Both caught up to them on the final drive, with the Jaguars converting two third downs, including the touchdown.

The group in the locker room was frayed and rattled. Emotions were raw. Coach Rob Chudzinski talked about losses such as this being “unacceptable.”

But the only thing that’s really been unacceptable is the product the Browns have given their fans year after year after year.

How much longer fans put up with it remains the unanswerable question.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It may be weeks or even months before any decision is made about the future of Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, but some sense of normalcy has returned for him.

A day after he was released from a local hospital, which included one night in the intensive care unit at Bellin Hospital, Finley returned to Lambeau Field for the first time since he was taken off on a stretcher during the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns.

"I saw Jermichael this morning; he looks good," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after Friday's practice. "Looked like a dang movie star walking in there with sunglasses. It was good to see him. [He had a] big smile on his face. It's great to have him back in the building."

Finley, who sustained a spinal bruise that led to a four-night hospital stay, is expected to undergo additional tests to determine whether he can return to the field. For now, Finley remains on the active roster although he has been ruled out of Sunday's game at the Minnesota Vikings.

"That information is being sent to the specialist, and then we'll have to make a decision at a certain time," McCarthy said.

The injury hit the Packers hard. Tight end Andrew Quarless, who was the first player to reach Finley after he went down, said he shed a tear when he realized Finley could not move shortly after the hit. Receiver Jordy Nelson had trouble speaking to reporters after the game without his eyes moistening.

"Just seeing [Finley] walk in here today, I think is what everybody needed to see," McCarthy said.

Finley did not make an appearance in the locker room while it was open to reporters.

The Packers did not have an issue with the hit, delivered by Browns safety Tashaun Gipson, and neither did the NFL. A league spokesman confirmed Friday that Gipson was not fined for the play, although he was penalized for what referee Jeff Triplette said was a helmet-to-helmet hit even though it appeared Gipson hit Finley with his shoulder.

"I thought it was clean," Packers tight ends coach Jerry Fontenot said. "It looked like the safety that was coming in to make the hit really did his best to keep his head out of it and it almost looked like, I couldn't tell what happened right there at that moment, but looking back at the tape, it looked like he almost turned his back to Jermichael and Jermichael's crown on his helmet hit the safety on the back of the shoulder. To me, it wasn't maliciously intended. He was just trying to make a play."

Upon Further Review: Browns Week 7

October, 21, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Cleveland Browns' 31-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers:

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
AP Photo/Mike RoemerThe Packers sacked Brandon Weeden three times and he completed just 40.5 percent of his passes.
Offensive offense: The Browns had some poor offensive numbers in the loss to Green Bay, a natural byproduct of scoring 13 points and not winning. Brandon Weeden threw for 149 yards on 42 passes. The Browns as a team ran for 83 yards, 20 of them came on two Weeden scrambles. Their only touchdown drive went 20 yards. Josh Gordon was targeted six times and caught just two passes for 21 yards. And the 216 total yards were the fewest by the Browns since the 2012 season opener -- also Weeden's first start. Weeden remains at the center of all concerns, but clearly the offense had many issues at Lambeau Field.

Third-down struggles: The Browns started the game 29th in the league in defensive third down stops, meaning they'd been letting teams sustain a lot of drives. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton said the third down defense was a focus of last week's practice. What did Green Bay do? Without two of their better receivers? Convert 7-of-13. "Third downs are crucial in this league," safety Tashaun Gipson said. "And right now we're not very good at it."

Running on empty: The Browns put up decent numbers running the ball, but it's worth asking if the team as it's constructed can actually run the ball, and run it consistently and successfully. Willis McGahee is aging with bad knees. Chris Ogbonnaya is a fullback. And the fans can now say they were there for the start of the Fozzy Whitaker era. The Browns gained 83 yards and averaged 3.6 yards per carry, but called 20 runs compared to 40 passes. Some of that was because they fell behind. But most teams down 14-0, as the Browns were, would not totally abandon the run. The Browns might not believe they can run efficiently.

Eye of the storm: For the second time this season Gipson finds himself at the center of a hit that caused an injury. Gipson sidelined Buffalo quarterback EJ Manuel for a month with a hit to the knee, then drew the ire of the Bills for looking like he celebrated the injury. Against Green Bay, Gipson hit tight end Jermichael Finley in the head with his shoulder at fullspeed, and Finley could not move on the field after the hit. "When I'm breaking out of the post and I'm running fullspeed I'm not thinking about settling down," Gipson said. "At the same time I'm thinking about getting the ball on the ground. Not under these circumstances, unfortunately." Gipson said he felt awful about Finley's injury, and would try to get in touch with him.

Locker Room Buzz: Cleveland Browns

October, 20, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Observed in the locker room after the Cleveland Browns' 31-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Angry faces: The angriest people in the locker room seemed to be the Browns' receivers. Interpreting their anger probably isn't wise, but their answers were ... curt. Said Josh Gordon of the offense: "We just didn't get it going as well as we should have." Said Greg Little: "Have to get better. That's it." There was a bit of an edge to their voices.

Evening grimace: This came from Brandon Weeden when he was asked how frustrated he is that he can't get the offense going. It either meant, "Geez, I'm doing my best" or "of course I'm frustrated."

Stay the course: Coach Rob Chudzinski said he gave no thought to pulling Weeden during the game, even though Weeden finished just 17-for-42. As for the future, Chudzinski said: "We'll always put the guys out there that give us the best chance to win."

Against the wind: Chudzinski said he eschewed a field goal on fourth-and-15 from the Green Bay 31 because the wind in that direction was strong and unpredictable. Kicker Billy Cundiff said Mason Crosby told him he hit a 52-yard try in that direction well, but it came up three yards short. Cundiff said the wind would have had to die to make the 48-yard kick worth trying. "(Coaches) get paid big bucks for a reason," Cundiff said.

Concerned for Finley: Safety Tashaun Gipson said a prayer for injured Packers tight end Jermichael Finley after Gipson's violent hit left Finley laying on the turf for several minutes. "I shot a prayer up for him and if I can reach out after the game I'm going to try to get in contact with him and let him know my condolences go out to him," Gipson said, adding the hit was all shoulder and it went so fast he still doesn't know what happened.
They had tried this play -- either variations of it or the exact design -- before this season. A cutting screen to running back Reggie Bush either out of the slot or in the backfield.

Against Green Bay a week ago, this play failed. On Sunday against Cleveland, when Bush caught the ball at almost full speed and ran 18 yards for a touchdown, it worked to perfection.

“It’s a hit-or-miss play,” Bush said. “It’s either going to be big or it’s not going to work at all. We’ve been on both sides.”

On Sunday, Detroit was on the big end of the play to finish off the first drive of the second half during the Lions’ 31-17 win over Cleveland.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
AP Photo/David RichardWith help from center Dominic Raiola, running back Reggie Bush scored a key third-quarter TD for the Lions on Sunday.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford approached the line of scrimmage on a second-and-7 on the Cleveland 18-yard line, already having used Bush on a run up the middle and a big 39-yard dash off the left block down the sideline earlier in the drive.

Now with an empty backfield, Stafford had three receivers on the right side of him, another receiver outside on the left and Bush in the slot. The ball was snapped and Bush started to look like he was going to drift off into the flat on the left side, taking advantage of Cleveland linebacker Craig Robertson playing about five yards off of him.

At halftime, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan saw the Lions had an advantageous matchup with Robertson on the speedy Bush and tried to leverage that into big plays, especially after not targeting Bush at all in the first half.

“He did a great job in the second half for us, made some big plays,” Stafford said. “We got him matched up with [Robertson] and he made him miss quite a few times.”

Bush’s quick bounce heading left took Robertson out of position almost immediately as he took a few steps toward the left sideline to cover Bush. This gave the three interior Detroit offensive linemen -- left guard Rob Sims, center Dominic Raiola and right guard Larry Warford -- time to get down the field and set up the pocket for the screen.

Bush took off toward the middle of the field.

“Design is the three inside guys getting him vertical and giving Reggie the ball and giving him some space to make plays,” Sims said. “That’s it.”

That’s it?

“That simple,” Sims said. “Not very complicated at all. It’s a very, very, very easy play. It is.”

Not quite.

Bush needed to sell Robertson on the fake cut. When he did, by the time Robertson recovered, Bush already had the ball and Sims was there to put a block on Robertson, springing the big gain and making sure the hit-or-miss play turned into a hit.

“I think they ran an all-out blitz or at least brought pressure on that,” Bush said. “It’s a disadvantage for that guy who is over top of me. For one, he doesn’t want to play me press man coverage because of my speed so he has to respect me and he has to be at least five yards off.

“That’s really all the cushion that we need to make that play work.”

From there, Bush had already beaten most of the defenders and had a two-man escort -- Raiola in front of him and Warford a yard or so to his right -- bringing him down field.

Raiola eventually tried to block safety T.J. Ward around the 5-yard line and actually missed the block, allowing Ward to make contact with Bush. By then, though, Bush was running at full speed and was not going to be brought down. Receiver Ryan Broyles, who was on the right side, also had a key very late small block to ensure Bush got into the end zone on free safety Tashaun Gipson, who made contact with Bush as he crossed the goal line.

“Full speed coming in,” Bush said. “Stafford threw a great pass. I had two blockers in front of me so I really didn’t have to do much.”

If the play looked familiar, it should. It was somewhat similar to Bush’s 77-yard screen for a touchdown against Minnesota. Bush and Sims said it was the same play, but there were different wrinkles.

Against the Vikings, Bush came out of the backfield instead of the slot and was also lined up on the right side instead of the left, so it was Warford with the key first block instead of Sims.

Otherwise, it was a very similar play that led to yet another Detroit touchdown this season.
The last word on the “classless” Cleveland Browns comes from Tashaun Gipson, the Browns safety whose hit knocked Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel out of the game Thursday night.

Gipson admitted his demonstrative gesture over Manuel -- who was grabbing his knee after being hurt -- was not because Manuel had been injured. He simply was celebrating the play.

“I was not celebrating the injury,” Gipson said. “At the end of the day, we all in here are brothers in some way.”

He added later he “did not know the significance” of Manuel’s injury when he gestured.

Manuel will miss a month after Gipson hit him on the knee while making a tackle at the end of a run. Nobody complained about the hit, just the gesture after. Earlier in the game, Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer was lost for the season with a knee injury.

Gipson said he heard that Bills center Eric Wood called the Browns “classless,” and that Wood said he had been told T.J. Ward told a Buffalo teammate the Browns were going to get Manuel after Hoyer was injured.
Ward denied making the statement.

Gipson called it “he says, she says.”

“I highly doubt that any of our guys would say anything like that,” Gipson said. “I know me personally, suffering an injury myself last year, I definitely wouldn’t be over celebrating that I hurt somebody. That wasn’t my intention when I made the tackle.”

He added “football is an intense game (and) maybe a little too much adrenaline came over me” when he gestured.

But Gipson said he did not believe he would or should be fined.

“It was a clean hit,” he said.

Observation deck: Browns-Colts

August, 24, 2013

The Cleveland Browns offense delivered its worst output of the preseason just four days after Brandon Weeden was officially named the starting quarterback.

In a 27-6 preseason loss at Indianapolis, the Browns failed to score on their six drives against the Colts' starting defense and the first-team offense produced its only points -- a 50-yard field goal by Shayne Graham -- against the Colts' backups.

Weeden, who entered this game with the second-best passer rating of the preseason, finished 12-of-25 for 105 yards. He nearly saw two passes picked off, including a third-down one during a two-minute drill, and missed a wide-open Kellen Davis in Indianapolis territory. Weeden threw six consecutive incompletions during one stretch.

There are others to share the blame in the woeful performance. Wide receiver Greg Little fumbled after picking up a first down, and wide receiver Josh Gordon and running back Brandon Jackson both dropped passes. Little and Gordon combined for five catches on 11 targets.

This was a Browns offense that had scored points on five of six possessions in its first two preseason games. Cleveland had trouble extending drives Saturday night, going 1-of-6 on third downs against the Colts' starting defense.

Here are some other thoughts on the Browns' third preseason game:

  • [+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
    AP Photo/Jeff RobersonThe Browns made a stunning move Wednesday, trading running back Trent Richardson to the Colts.
    Running back Trent Richardson had a solid outing and looked to be at full strength. He touched the ball on the first four plays of the game and totaled 32 yards. On his 10-yard catch, he had a nice move in the flat to fake out a defender and pick up extra yards. There were times when Richardson didn't have any running lane and powered his way for a couple of yards. Richardson had 31 yards on seven carries.

  • The Browns defense came with a lot of blitzes against Andrew Luck, with not much success. Cleveland got pressure with Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves, but Luck either found the open receiver or scrambled for yards (which isn't a smart decision by Luck in the preseason). After not allowing a touchdown in the first two games, the Browns' first-team defense gave up two touchdowns, both of which came on pass plays in the flat.

  • Rookie third-round pick Leon McFadden was picked on repeatedly, with the cornerback giving up six completions in the first half (at least by my count). With Chris Owens out with a foot injury, McFadden played in nickel defense in his preseason debut. He made one nice breakup.

  • In the same week he was named the starting free safety, Tashaun Gipson made a big interception deep in Browns territory. He pulled in a deflected pass from Luck, who was hurried on the play by Kruger.

  • A couple of mistakes by the Browns' offensive tackles: Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz was flagged for unnecessary roughness following Little's fumble, and left tackle Joe Thomas had an uncharacteristic holding penalty.

  • Spencer Lanning, the only punter on the team after the Browns cut T.J. Conley, had punts of 31 and 29 yards on his first two attempts. He then booted punts of 65 and 50 yards to finish the first half.