Busy days in Berea

Posted by Vic Carucci on January 18, 2013 – 11:18 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

Excuse me as I try and catch my breath.

It seemed like only yesterday that the Browns were making a major announcement: the hiring of Norv Turner, who has 14 years of NFL head-coaching experience, as their offensive coordinator.

Wait. That was only yesterday.

And as we fully began to digest that development, we awoke today to the hiring of Michael Lombardi as the Browns’ vice president-player personnel.

And before we had a chance to get a handle on the rest of the day, we learned the Browns had named Ray Horton their defensive coordinator.

So much news in such a short period of time.

Roll the cameras in the television studio. Turn on the microphones in the “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” studio. Scrambling, scrambling, and more scrambling by those of us who provide you the media content for this team.

But that’s what happens during an offseason of change within an NFL team. Virtually every day brings something new.

And time is of the essence.

The Browns could not afford to be casual about finding replacements for the top three spots on their coaching staff, beginning with the selection of Rob Chudzinski as their head coach only 11 days after the dismissal of Pat Shurmur.

The two most important hires on his staff – offensive and defensive coordinator – had to be made quickly, especially with several other teams filling coaching openings.

It was vital that the Browns were able to swoop in and grab Turner, who has overseen highly productive offenses and quarterbacks through 38 seasons of coaching, shortly after he had been fired as head coach of the Chargers because other clubs had him on their radar.

The same was true for Horton, who had spent the previous two seasons as defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals and who has 19 years of NFL coaching experience on top of 10 seasons spent as a defensive back in the league. In 2012, Horton’s defense led the NFL in passer rating allowed (71.2) and interception percentage (4.4), ranked second in the league with 22 interceptions and third-down efficiency (32.9 percent), and fourth with 33 takeaways.

He ran a 3-4 base defensive scheme in Arizona. Former Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron has used a 4-3 alignment the past two seasons. Some transition will likely be needed for incumbent linemen and linebackers, although most teams tend to incorporate elements of both looks and most players have had exposure to both at the professional and/or collegiate level.

“With the additions of Ray and Norv, and also by retaining (special-teams coordinator) Chris (Tabor), we believe we have outstanding leaders and teachers in each of our three phases,” Chudzinski said. “I feel as though we are off to a great start in our plan of putting together an outstanding coaching staff.”

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/viccarucci or by e-mail at daily@clevelandbrowns.com or by calling 855-363-2459.


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Five keys for Ravens vs. Patriots

Posted by Vic Carucci on January 18, 2013 – 8:25 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

Here are five keys for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game between the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots:

>>The Patriots must be able to find a way to fill the void in their offense created by the loss of injured tight end Rob Gronkowski. In last weekend’s divisional-round victory against the Texans, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady managed to consistently connect with wide receiver Wes Welker and tight end Aaron Hernandez, who had 131 and 85 receiving yards, respectively. Another receiver, Brandon Lloyd, has also proven to be a factor, and the Pats’ running backs do a nice job of catching the ball. The Ravens struggled badly against New England’s passing attack when the teams met in Week 3, but their defense has tightened considerably in recent weeks.

>>Baltimore’s offensive line needs to continue to provide excellent protection for Joe Flacco. The Ravens did a superb job of keeping Flacco upright against one of the NFL’s best pass-rushing defenses in last week’s divisional-round game against the Broncos. He faced little pressure and was sacked only once behind a line that has received a major boost since Bryant McKinnie was placed at left tackle, causing Michael Oher to move to right tackle and Kelechi Osemele to shift to left guard. Meanwhile, the Patriots didn’t get a single sack against Houston’s Matt Schaub, even though he attempted 51 passes. And there is reason to think their pass rush might be slowed by an injury to Chandler Jones.

>>Despite its highly productive passing game, New England has to maintain offensive balance with a running game capable of being highly productive. The Patriots’ No. 1 back is Stevan Ridley, but they have plenty of depth. Shane Vereen generated 124 yards rushing and receiving after taking over for injured Danny Woodhead against Houston last weekend. But the Patriots averaged a mere 2.3 yards per carry against Baltimore in Week 3. The Ravens also held the Broncos to only three yards per rush last weekend, thanks largely to an inspired effort that linebacker Ray Lewis (credited with 17 tackles against Denver) has shown since returning from a triceps injury that sidelined him for the final 10 games of the regular season.

>>The Ravens must get another strong and efficient performance from Flacco. Flacco showed off his tremendous arm strength to the fullest when he threw for 331 yards against Denver, and has been particularly effective on deep throws in the playoffs. He has not thrown an interception in two postseason games. The Ravens should be encouraged by the fact that the Patriots allowed Schaub to throw for 343 yards last weekend.

>>The middle of the Patriots’ defense must keep Baltimore’s running game in check. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork has been especially effective against the run in recent games. The Patriots’ linebackers also do a solid job of clogging the middle. The Ravens, who produced an impressive 155 rushing yards against Denver last weekend, are likely to have their best chances for success on the ground by having Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce attack the perimeter.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/browns_daily, Twitter.com/viccarucci, e-mail: Daily@ClevelandBrowns.com, or by calling 855-363-2459.


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Five keys for 49ers vs. Falcons

Posted by Vic Carucci on January 18, 2013 – 8:17 pm

By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor

Here are five keys for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game between the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons:

>>Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick must continue to run effectively when he has no one open or on plays designed for him to carry the ball. Kaepernick averaged a staggering 13.1 yards per rush on the way to generating 181 yards on the ground in last weekend’s divisional-round victory against the Packers. He’s doing a masterful job of running the 49ers’ read-option offense from the pistol formation. And when things break down on a pass play, Kaepernick is an extremely dangerous scrambler. He becomes even more dangerous with the help of a strong running game. Besides the enormous challenge of stopping/containing Frank Gore (who ran for 119 yards in last weekend’s divisional-round game against Seattle), the Falcons must try and avoid being overpowered by San Francisco’s big, physical offensive line.

>>The Falcons need to get maximum production from their talented pass-catching trio of tight end Tony Gonzalez and wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones. The Falcons will do what they usually do with their passing game: look to draw as much man-to-man coverage as they can. And that should help allow Matt Ryan, who has become increasingly comfortable running a no-huddle offense, to connect with his receivers for big plays, especially with the 49ers lacking anyone in their secondary with strong lock-down coverage skills.

>>The 49ers have to get big-play production from wide receiver Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. Crabtree has firmly established himself as Kaepernick’s go-to option. Crabtree has become particularly effective on deeper routes, and does a superb job of picking up big yards after the catch. With his tremendous speed and athleticism, Davis is a constant big-play threat. The Falcons’ defense showed a clear vulnerability in the middle of their defense against Seattle tight end Zach Miller last weekend.

>>The Falcons have to run the ball every bit as effectively as they did against the Seahawks last weekend. Atlanta generated 167 yards in the divisional-round playoff game. Although Michael Turner might not offer the explosiveness he once did, he is still capable of doing some damage. The Falcons get dynamic running and receiving from Jacquizz Rodgers, who will have plenty of opportunities to make an impact against a defense that has not performed particularly well against the run of late and is susceptible to biting hard on play-action.

>>The Niners’ defensive line needs to find a way to generate steady pressure on Ryan. The Seahawks were unable to sack Ryan last weekend, but the 49ers should be able to apply greater heat from a line anchored by tackle Justin Smith, who has been able to still see extensive action despite dealing with partially torn triceps muscles. His disruption and penetration do plenty to help ends Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks to tear after the quarterback. It should be noted that, although the Niners managed to often make Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers uncomfortable in the pocket, they only sacked him once.

>>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford” on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com.

>>Have a question for “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford”? Ask me at Twitter.com/browns_daily, Twitter.com/viccarucci, e-mail: Daily@ClevelandBrowns.com, or by calling 855-363-2459.


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