Landry Jones

Woe and 16: Browns go winless after 28-24 loss to Steelers

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PITTSBURGH (AP) The Cleveland Browns joined the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams in NFL history to go 0-16 when they failed to find a way to beat the backup-laden Pittsburgh Steelers in a 28-24 loss on Sunday.

Cleveland had a chance late in the fourth quarter, but quarterback DeShone Kizer‘s fourth-down pass to Corey Coleman bounced off Coleman’s hands and fell incomplete.

And for the 16th time in 2017, the Browns walked off the field searching for answers that are as elusive now as they’ve been at any point since the franchise’s return to the NFL nearly two decades ago. Head coach Hue Jackson is expected to return despite a 1-31 record and the Browns have two of the top four picks in the 2018 draft.

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

Kizer finished with 314 yards passing and two touchdowns to Rashard Higgins but also threw a fourth-quarter pick, his NFL-leading 22nd of the season.

The AFC North champion Steelers (13-3) sat stars Ben Roethlisberger and Le'Veon Bell among others but it hardly mattered. Landry Jones completed 23 of 27 passes for 239 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster caught nine passes for 143 yards and a score. He also returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.

Pittsburgh sacked Kizer six times, boosting its season total to 56, a franchise record.

Nearly four months removed from a taut 21-18 loss to Pittsburgh in the season opener – a game that seemed to indicate the Browns were ready to take a significant step forward in Jackson’s second year – Cleveland walked onto frigid Heinz Field still looking for its first win in 372 days.

The wait will continue for another eight months following three hours that symbolized Cleveland’s historically miserable season.

While there were bouts of competency, including a pair of takeaways by the defense and long Kizer hookups to Higgins and Josh Gordon, the Browns simply could not get out of their own way. Twice in the first half they drew third-down defensive penalties that extended Pittsburgh drives. Three times in the fourth quarter they had the ball and a chance to go ahead.

The first two ended with turnovers, giving Cleveland an NFL-high 41 on the season. The third ended with Kizer somehow escaping pressure on fourth down at the Pittsburgh 27 only to have his pass clank off Coleman’s hands and fall to the frozen turf, one last missed opportunity in a year filled with far too many.

While Jackson, who will jump in Lake Erie at some point in the near future to fulfill his vow the Browns wouldn’t go 1-15 as they did in 2016, is expected back in 2018, another offseason filled with searching awaits.

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Browns: “With the first pick in the 2018 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns select … ”

Steelers: Will enjoy a week off before hosting the divisional round the weekend of Jan. 13-14.

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NFL Week 7 odds roundup: Vikings, Patriots favorites in marquee matchups

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Sam Bradford had difficulty winning in Philadelphia, and the OddsShark NFL Database shows the same has long been true of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings are listed as 2.5-point favorites against the Philadelphia Eagles for this weekend at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The Vikings, who got Bradford from the Eagles after Teddy Bridgewater suffered a major knee injury, are the NFL’s last unbeaten team. They are 3-8 SU in their last 11 games against the Eagles, and 3-10 ATS in their last 13.

The Eagles are 2-6 SU and ATS in their last eight games against teams from the NFC.

Another QB, Brock Osweiler, has a return game in Week 7. The Denver Broncos are seven-point favorites against Osweiler’s Houston Texans for the Monday Night Football game. The Broncos are 7-0 SU and 5-2 ATS in their last seven home games after losing their most recent home game. The Texans are 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games as an underdog of 7.5 or fewer points.

The New England Patriots are favored by seven points against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Patriots are 11-1 SU in their last 12 October games. The Steelers, who are relying on QB Landry Jones after Ben Roethlisberger was injured during their Week 6 loss in Miami, are 7-1 SU in their last eight games after losing as a favorite.

According to website PredictionMachine.com, going from Roethlisberger to Landry decreases the Steelers’ chances of beating the Patriots from 40.5% to 26.3%.

The Arizona Cardinals are favored by two against the Seattle Seahawks for the Sunday Night Football matchup. The Seahawks are 7-2 SU in their last nine road games. The Cardinals are 3-7 ATS in their last 10 home games.

The Detroit Lions are a one-point favorite against the Washington Redskins. The Lions are 3-8 SU in their last 11 games against teams with winning records. The Redskins are 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games in Week 7.

The Buffalo Bills are favored by three against the rival Miami Dolphins. The Bills are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games as road favorites. The Dolphins are 2-6 SU in their last eight against teams with winning records.

On Thursday Night Football, the Green Bay Packers are 7.5-point favorites against the Chicago Bears. The Packers are 8-0 SU and 7-1 ATS in their last eight games in Week 7. The Bears are 2-9 SU in their last 11 games against teams with winning records.

The New York Giants are favored by 2.5 points against the Los Angeles Rams entering their game in London. The Giants are 1-5 ATS in their last six games against the NFC West. The Rams are 5-2 SU and ATS in their last seven games as underdogs.

And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a road favorite for only the second time since 2011, giving two points against the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers are 0-5 SU and ATS in their last five games.

Antonio Brown, Receiver of Renown

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The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense will present several threats to the Indianapolis Colts’ offense on Sunday night. Perhaps the most dangerous is Antonio Brown, one of the league’s most prolific receivers and, by at least one measure, the most valuable. What does Brown do so well, and what makes him so good?

Volume, But Not Just Volume

Brown currently ranks second in the NFL in both receptions and receiving yards, behind only Julio Jones. It should come as no surprise he ranks highly in both categories. After all, he ranks third in the league in targets, behind Jones and Houston’s one-man band, DeAndre Hopkins.

But targets are no guarantee of production. Just ask Denver’s Demaryius Thomas, who was having a down season even before his 13-target, one-catch performance against the Patriots last Sunday night. What matters more is efficiency, and Brown has been very efficient. Just like he did last season, he currently sits atop the Football Outsiders’ leaderboard as the most valuable receiver in the league. What makes Brown so valuable?

Not in the Red Zone, But Getting There

Many of the most valuable receivers in the league are like Larry Fitzgerald, red zone monsters. That is not Brown’s forte, as his total of just five touchdowns indicates. He is not even the Steelers’ most-targeted player in the red zone. That distinction belongs instead to tight end Heath Miller.

Brown’s most productive areas are when the Steelers are trying to get to scoring territory in the first place. He is the second-most-valuable receiver in the league when the Steelers are between their own 20 and their own 40, and the seventh-most-valuable receiver in the league when the Steelers are between their own 40 and their opponents’ 40, the back and middle areas of the field where teams start most of their possessions and where many possessions go to die. Red zone receiving threats are incredibly valuable, but the best players are full-field players, and Brown is one of those.

A Threat Everywhere Past the Line of Scrimmage

Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Todd Haley is a devotee of the wide receiver screen, and Brown is his preferred screen player. He has 20 targets at or behind the line of scrimmage this year, most on the team. Haley may wish to rethink part of his strategy, as this is pretty much the only area on the field Brown has not been highly productive this year.

Brown’s most productive area of the field has been the very deep pass, those thrown more than 25 yards downfield. Even with the time he has missed, Ben Roethlisberger is tied with Carson Palmer for the most very deep attempts in the league. He has been excellent on those, ranking second to Derek Carr in total value by Football Outsiders’ metrics.

Brown is a big reason for Roethlisberger’s success on those very deep passes. Football Outsiders’ metrics rate him as the most valuable receiver in the league on such throws, ahead of Carr’s favorite target, Amari Cooper.

Brown is far from just a deep-ball specialist, as he displays special skills on short passes. There are 54 wide receivers who have been targeted at least 25 times within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He ranks first among that group with an average of 6.9 yards after the catch. That is not just one fluke play either, as he ranks third on passes 1-5 yards downfield and first on passes 6-10 yards downfield.

Even on shorter passes, Brown does not need to get yards after the catch to be highly productive. He averages just 0.4 yards after the catch on passes 11-15 yards downfield but still ranks as one of the most valuable players in the league on those passes too. The reason: he catches almost everything. He has a catch rate of 81 percent, best among the 25 players with at least 15 such targets.

Brown is also not just a one-side-of-the-field specialist, like Odell Beckham was. He has been targeted in roughly equal numbers on both the left and right sides of the field, and has been just about as efficient on either side of the field. The one tendency has been his high yards-after-catch plays on short passes tend to come in the middle of the field.

A great deal of Brown’s value comes from not just where he is targeted, but when. He’s had the ball thrown in his direction on third or fourth down more often than any receiver in the league. By Football Outsiders’ numbers, he is the most valuable receiver in the league there. His 190 DYAR on third and fourth downs is 50 percent more than second-place A.J. Green‘s.

What It Means

Brown is not as physical pre-possession as Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones or Dez Bryant, but he might still be the league’s best receiver. He can beat you after the catch on short passes. He can sit down in intermediate routes, get open, and catch everything. He can beat you deep. He will beat you on third downs. He has even been just as good playing with Landry Jones as with Ben Roethlisberger. The only people to slow him down this season have been Michael Vick and Richard Sherman. Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky needs a good plan, or else Brown could match the 133 yards and two touchdowns he had in Pittsburgh’s 51-34 win last year.