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Thoughts & Jots: From Jordan Love to the Elves to Bill Belichick

Things on my mind

1. Does it seem like the first weekend of games in the NFL is a bit sloppy? Lots of penalties, fumbles, dropped passes, missed tackles, passes into the turf, missed assignments, and a lack of offensive imagination.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that hardly any starters play in the preseason. This period of exhibition games is important to every coaching staff so that they know who to cut and who to keep, but for the upper third of the roster, it is just a time to stand on the sidelines and see if their pants are fitting right.

Used to be starters played the final one-and-one-half games in order to their timing down and get back into the flow of playing the game. Not anymore. But realistically, I would rather see these guys playing in Week 1 than keeping up with who is on an IR list. I believe once the NFL schedule goes to an 18-game season (it will), you will see just two preseason games if not one. The USFL from 1983-1985 played 18 games with a single exhibition game, so it is possible.

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns
Za’Darius Smith
Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

2. The Cleveland Browns’ defense came as advertised. Wow. The Cincinnati Bengals have one of the league’s best receiver units and last year was ranked as the third-best passing attack, yet could not generate any continuity all game. DC Jim Schwartz has his cornerbacks play man, and they did a great job. Yes, the weather played its part, but Cleveland scored 24 points in the same conditions, right?

Za’Darius Smith is a player coupled with Myles Garrett is going to be a great season defensively. The top four tacklers for the Browns were all defensive backs. Was not surprised to see the Browns’ defense after Week 1 listed in the Top-5 right out of the gate. That is a hallmark of a Jim Schwartz defense. Cincinnati had just 75 yards rushing, 82 passing yards, zero touchdowns, a paltry six first downs, 142 total yards, and only 24:10 of time possession.

QB Joe Burrow looked like a quarterback who hadn’t taken a preseason snap and was out six weeks with a right calf strain. He was 6 of 14 for 36 yards in the first half. Plus, Cincy had just three points. Burrow’s stats in this game were horrible. Completion percentage: 45.2%, passing yards per attempt: 2.3, and passer rating: 52.2 plus his low passing yards. All are career lows for him.

Cleveland’s next two opponents, Pittsburgh and Tennessee, scored just seven and 15 points, respectively, plus lost their opening contests. Cleveland is the favorite already against the Steelers. The Browns could be 3-1 or 4-0 at the bye week.

3. Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase just doesn’t get the Browns logo Brownie the Elf. After all, it is a 1940s logo. A lot of folks don’t know the history behind it and why this creature has been associated with the Browns. And no wonder. When Art Modell bought the Browns in 1961, the first thing he did was fire Brownie. So, from 1961-1995, there wasn’t any Elf logo. And when the Lerner family bought the New Browns, they were slow to re-introduce the iconic emblem.

In fact, it was only recently during the Haslam ownership that they embraced the logo and decided to showcase it. Chase kept referring to the Browns as “the elves” even after his team got their ass kicked and he had just 39 yards receiving.

I did a complete analysis of the history of Brownie the Elf years ago, and in my research, I discovered that the logo is of a brownie, not an elf. I questioned that the Browns logo is not an elf and still do. They are the Browns, not the Elves. The original owner Mickey McBride discovered there was a creature in Northern England called “brownies.” Every pro sports team had a cartoon logo, and so a brownie logo was created to represent the Browns. The very first ad taken out stated, “Here come the Brownies!” So, shouldn’t he be “Brownie the Brownie”? Or maybe just “Brownie”? I emailed the PR department of the Browns about this. Their response was, “His name is Brownie the Elf so he must be an elf.” Well, that solved that mystery.

By the way, the Bengals are named after a stove.

In 1937, another Cincinnati Bengals team competed in the American Football League. That owner, Hal Pennington, was trying to think of a good team name while sitting in his mother’s kitchen. On her cast iron stove was an emblem that had a snarling tiger with the words “Bengal.”

The Bengal stoves were manufactured by Floyd-Wells in Royersford, Pennsylvania from the 1870s through the early 1940s. Pennington thought well Tigers are mean and ferocious and named his club for them. That team lasted until 1941. When Paul Brown brought back pro football to Cincy in 1967, he wanted to bring back its history and called his club “Bengals” as well.

So, on January 7, 2024, it will be the Elves versus the Stoves. Someone please let Ja’Marr know.

Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

4. If the Patriots do not make the post-season, my thinking is that Bill Belichick will retire. Standing on the sidelines during Sunday’s loss to the Eagles, he just looked tired. You name a mistake and the Pats did it against the Eagles. Besides, he will be 72 next year.

He has done it all and I am sure he wanted to finish his coaching career doing two things: Win one more Super Bowl, and prove he could do it without Tom Brady. Neither of these will happen.

Brady went off and put an exclamation mark on whether he could win without his former coach, but Belichick most likely will lose out on this accomplishment. If he steps down, who will replace him? Maybe if the Raiders do poorly perhaps Josh McDaniels will come back.

Put a pin in this name: Lincoln Riley. Will Belichick be regarded as the greatest NFL coach ever? Hmmm…. Most say it is Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, George Halas or Bill Walsh. For my money, it is Paul Brown. Under his tutelage, Cleveland went to 12 of 13 league championship games including 10 in a row.

Fill in the blank: ___________ has also accomplished this. Yeah, it’s only Coach Brown. And most lists rely on championships won. Coach Brown won seven. Belichick has won seven. So has Lombardi. Halas won eight. So, on lists of the greatest coaches ever, why is Coach Brown listed like Number 5-7 or so? While we are at it, why isn’t there a statue of him outside of Browns Stadium? All those wins, titles, and accolades, and no statue. Anyone?

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

5. Let’s hold our applause for kicker Dustin Hopkins for now.

Remember Cade York’s first game with the Browns? That 58-yarder that beat Baker Mayfield and the Panthers? He could have run for Mayor and won after that kick. At season’s end, York had the most misses of anyone and was ranked #37. That means five players were cut and five more took their spot, and yet York ranked below those dudes also.

Hopkins is a 10-year veteran so that is a plus. But I want to see how he does when those winds come off Lake Erie, the temp on gameday is below 20, and how he performs on the road, especially with the rest of the division which also plays in frigid environments.

His post-50-yard range is not the best either. But I would rather have a kicker who is dependable on accuracy than one who can nail the long ones. The 43-51 yarders are the ones which win games. But for now, happy to have a good kicker.

6. I interviewed Justin Herbert and Jordan Love at the Senior Bowl years ago. In practice, I wrote about Love’s uncanny accuracy. He didn’t have the strongest arm, but he could hit his spots. That was the All-Star game that also featured Cooper Kupp who caught everything thrown his way so maybe that was it.

Love has had his time to marinate with the Packers which is kind of their QB story, isn’t it? In Love’s debut, he tossed for 245 yards with three touchdowns against zero interceptions and was only sacked once. Aaron Rodgers waited three years under Brett Favre, and now Love his own three seasons under Rodgers.

If Love turns out to be spectacular, look at the fortunes that Green Bay has had under center. They had Favre for 16 seasons, and Rodgers for 15. Harkens back to the days of nine years with Arnie Herber (1932-1940) and Bart Starr’s 16-year run (1956-1971). Something strange though: As great as Favre and Rodgers are, and how good they both will look in a gold jacket, between them they only won two Super Bowls. So, greatness does not compute to titles. Dan Marino, Fran Tarkenton, Warren Moon, Jim Kelly, Dan Fouts, Tony Romo, Billy Kilmer, John Brodie, Roman Gabriel, Y.A.Tittle, and Sonny Jurgensen all never won a league championship either.

Cincinnati Bengals v Cleveland Browns Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

7. Do we have a grasp on what this Browns offense is going to be this year? I really don’t know. I did see a lot of four-receiver sets with either an empty backfield or a single tight end. Then, there were three receivers on the field with two tight ends.

Yet, the best part of the offense was giving the ball to Nick Chubb and letting that elite offensive line do their thing. Offensive linemen love to run block anyway, so have at it. One thing for certain: do not call this offense any type of “Air Raid” with passes flying all game. Only 144 passing yards were tallied which doesn’t say for one second this is a pass-happy offense despite the alignments that suggested otherwise. At the same time, the 206 rushing yards are not indicative of any smash-mouth running team either.

So, can we just agree on an offense that is balanced? I do like to see Deshaun take off and gain valuable real estate. I have seen him play in three Clemson games and he did this a lot more than he does now and killed defenses. His 45 rushing yards against Cincy is a good indication of where he stands on running the ball when he gets flushed.

And speaking of offense, the Jim Brown badge on the sidelines and jersey patch was a great tribute. Years ago, I had the inkling that every Browns player to wear #32 in the year of his death like baseball does for Jackie Robinson’s #42, but of course, football players can’t. However, they can wear the 1957 Jim Brown rookie helmet with the brown numerals on the side and every player could display the Number 32. I called the PR department of the Browns two years ago and told them my idea. They said they took note of it. Oh well – would have been the topic of every sports show. Not one has talked about the JB jersey patch.

8. Sad to say, but we may have seen the last game in a Browns uniform for OT Jack Conklin. He is injured way too much which isn’t his fault. In fact, it was the inability of Jedrick Wills to keep his man out of the backfield that caused this injury.

Conklin is a warrior, but you can’t keep solidifying a roster spot if you can’t stay on the field. We must also, likely, say our goodbyes to Jacob Phillips and Jakeem Grant. All exceptional players with annual injuries. After Conklin goes on IR, I expect former first-round pick Alex Leatherwood to be brought up to the main roster as depth.

Miami Dolphins v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

9. After only a week, I am casting my vote for league MVP to WR Tyreek Hill of the Dolphins. The man has just amazed since he was a fifth-round pick and a rookie in the league. Would not surprise me if he broke that Mount Everest 2,000 yards in a season plateau. And why not? They play 17 games now. I thought it would be Cooper Cupp once he came back this year, but he is now on IR with a lingering hammy and will miss the first four games. Hill had 215 receiving yards on 11 receptions with two TDs and 15 targets.

Did you see the touchdown catch he made that went past the helmet of Chargers CB Michael Davis? The concentration alone is worth my vote. Hill needs just 118 receiving yards per game to break a receiving threshold everyone assumes will never be broken: 2,000 yards in a single season. Former Lions WR Calvin Johnson has the current mark of 1,964 yards set in 2012. And Hill could also shatter the other receiving records such as the most TDs in a season (23) held by Randy Moss in 2007, and the best average per game (129) set by Wes Chandler in the strike-shortened season of 1982.

The strategy is just to let Hill go on a fly pattern and your fastest man can’t keep up with him. This year, he is the best non-quarterback player in the league.

10. It is widely known that the AFC is a much tougher conference, but in Week 1, all four NFC teams won their intra-conference games. Add the fact that all three of the best AFC teams lost their first games (Chiefs, Bengals, Bills) while the NFC now has the 49ers, Eagles, and Cowboys to hoist up as NFL elite clubs. Maybe the pendulum is swinging widely out of control. In any regard, the AFC still has the best quarterbacks.