All posts by Andy Metzger

Leadership at the Top Gives Browns Future Hope

Another Cleveland Browns season has come and gone without a playoff appearance. Despite an AFC North leading 6-3 start, the home team finished with a 7-9 record—good enough for last in the division while losing their final five games. Many fans are angry, myself included. However, I am choosing to focus on some positives rather than tearing down every position, as easy as that would be. I feel we have great leadership in place at the top that allows me to feel hope for the future of the Browns.

Mike PettineWe were once again dealing with a rookie Head Coach and rookie GM this year. However, Mike Pettine took this team to a 7-9 record when many national pundits predicted the Browns would with four or less games again this season. Before the season began, I know many Browns fans would have called me crazy if I said this team would win seven games.

Pettine is also establishing a no-nonsense culture in the locker room. While it is tremendously beneficial to have veteran voices like Donte Whitner and Joe Thomas in the locker room, the leadership and discipline needs to come from the Head Coach. Mike Pettine decided to sit Justin Gilbert and Josh Gordon for violating team rules. Regardless of it being a meaningless game for the Browns, the message was sent that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you were drafted, get it together or you won’t be playing for this team.

FarmerIt was also the first year for Ray Farmer to hold a General Manager position. I believe he did very well and look for him to improve in the years to come—especially in the first round of the draft. While I’m not quite ready to give up on Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel, there definitely needs to be significant improvement from these two to salvage the TWO first round picks we had in 2014. Johnny is a knucklehead that needs to grow up, but I both of these players have the talent needed to succeed in the NFL. The question is, will they apply themselves to realize their potential, or will they be names in the long list of poor Browns draft choices?

While the first round is still undetermined, the rest of the draft as well as the undrafted players that Ray Farmer brought in have already made significant contributions. Joel Bitonio (2nd round), Christian Kirksey (3rd), Terrance West (4th) and Pierre Desir (4th) all had pretty decent rookie years—especially Bitonio.

Let’s also look at the notable undrafted players that Farmer and his scout team deemed worthy to bring in this year. Isaiah Crowell, Taylor Gabriel, Connor Shaw and K’Waun Williams. That is pretty impressive, considering a few of these players arguably performed well above veterans or those that were actually drafted this year.

Add these rookies along with free agent signings Andrew Hawkins, Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby, I believe Ray Farmer gets an A for this rookie year. This, as well as adding an additional first round pick in the 2015 draft, which we now know the Browns will be picking 12 and 19.

I believe a bit more praise is in order for Ray Farmer. This time, for realizing just how valuable Alex Mack was for this offense. I remember many fans and media members bemoaning the Browns matching Jacksonville’s 5-year, $42 million offer to resign the center. After Mack went down for the season, you would have to be blind to deny the impact he makes on the offensive line. It was a brilliant move to use the transition tag and allow another team do the negotiating for them.

Looking forward, while there are a few holes that need to be addressed (unfortunately we still don’t know who will be our starting QB), I see the Cleveland Browns future is bright. You can call me a blind, hopeless optimist. You can say I’m suffering from some morbid sports Stockholm syndrome. Call it whatever you’d like, I enjoyed watching the Browns this season and I’m positive to see how this team grows under the current leadership.

Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine are exactly what we needed in this organization. Also, the very last thing that should happen is to get rid of them, so any talk of firing either of them needs to stop. You get rid of them, who would want to come to Cleveland in a situation like that?

What Cleveland needs is continuity for multiple years. No knee-jerk reactions. Stay the course.

Go Browns.

Annual Browns Mantra: There's Always Next Year

Well, what is there to say, really? The Browns have been officially eliminated from the playoffs following San Diego’s win on Saturday night, though they have been out of reach since the loss to the Colts. For the fans in Cleveland, we are once again rooting to play spoiler for another team’s playoff hopes, instead of playing for our own. And I’m tired of it.

Yes, there was improvement this year—the Browns are currently sitting at a 7-8 record and have a chance to be 8-8 with a win against the Ravens, the best record since the 2007 season when they recorded a 10-6 record, but still narrowly missing the playoffs.

So why am I so upset?

The Browns had a 6-3 record and were first in the AFC North. But in the last six games, they have lost 5 of them. One win to five losses in the last six games. C’mon, guys. You had our hopes up, then you just smashed them to pieces. It has become a chore to watch the second half of this season.

As demoralizing as that is, looking at the bigger picture, we still don’t know who our starting quarterback will be next year. We still need offensive line help. We still need another wide receiver. We still need defensive line help. Sounds familiar. When will this yearly trend stop happening?

One thing I will give the Browns, is they held off the draft talk in Cleveland until the middle of December. Now THAT is progress. But, alas, the time has come again to look ahead to the draft to see what poor sap we’ll take in the first round, only to trash him first chance we get before he has a chance to develop.

Speaking of, people are already calling Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel busts, playing possibly the two toughest positions for rookies to acclimate to the NFL. While they both have had their fair share of miscues and mistakes, I’m not quite ready to write either of them off just yet, though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with Johnny’s level of play. My hope is that perhaps some sense was knocked into him, and he realized he cannot be successful in the NFL on his talent alone. He’s got to put in the extra work to be successful in the league. He doesn’t have to completely give up his party-boy lifestyle, but he definitely needs to tone it down to the point no one cares if he has a drink. That is, if he still has the opportunity to compete for the starting job next year.

Gilbert, I’m not as concerned about. He has definitely had a rough season, but even without the rule changes for defensive backs, rookie corners rarely perform well. Forget the fact he was selected 8th overall—some people feel his draft position should determine immediate impact and success. While I agree to a certain point, I disagree for cornerbacks. We talk about the huge adjustment QB’s have to make when adjusting to the NFL, a corner’s adjustment to the NFL is just as difficult. Especially in the press-man coverage scheme the Browns run.

But enough of defending this team. That wasn’t my intention when I started writing this article. As a fan, I am defeated. I wish I had some kind of answers, some kind of ideas, but I don’t. Usually at this point in the season, I already know who I want the Browns to draft. I guess I can, at the very least, thank the Browns for keeping it entertaining until mid-December for me. But we’re back to the drawing board.

I’m so sick of repeating the hopeful optimism mantra of the Cleveland fan: “There’s always next year.” No. I’m tired of it. I’m sick of having to convince myself the Browns are just one or two pieces away from being a playoff team. What do the pieces matter if they just give up in the second half of the season? Where was the fight in this team in these last games? Always next year? How many “next year’s” have we lived through? When will it be time for Browns fans to celebrate?

Let's wrap this up before this turns into a Festivus airing of grievances.
Let’s wrap this up before this turns into a Festivus airing of grievances.

In the immedate future, we’ve got the Ravens on Sunday, but we’re unsure who will be the starting quarterback for the Browns. Well, we know Johnny is out for the last game of the season, but Hoyer is also banged up. So will it be Connor Shaw? Sign Rex Grossman or Tyler Thigpen for the final game? Sign me?

One thing that’s for sure, if Brian Hoyer doesn’t play, that God-forsaken jersey with all the names of the Browns starting QBs since 1999 will be updated. What started as a somewhat humorous gag has turned into a haunting reminder of 15 years of pain and suffering through pitiful Browns seasons.

We all must be gluttons for punishment, remaining fans of a team that seldomly gives us joy. Perhaps the owners of this jersey should donate it to the Browns, setting it up in Browns HQ. Let them look at it every day when they come into work. Let them see what the fans have gone through after we finally got our team back after it was ripped from our city.

Go Browns.

…and we might need a taller mannequin.

Murphy's Law Rules in Manziel's Debut

Murphy ’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

This old adage describes exactly what happened this past Sunday when the Browns took a punch in the gut from the Bengals. Johnny Manziel’s first career start came to the tune zero points, but it was far from just his rookie mistakes that led to the devastating loss, despite what some Browns fans would lead you to believe.

It was a total team effort. The offense could not put a drive together and the defense couldn’t stop Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard from running wild all over the field. It was an embarrassing game that I can think of no redeeming qualities coming out of it.

This Browns fan was the silver-lining on Sunday.
This Browns fan was the silver-lining on Sunday.

Everything leading up to the game was all about Johnny Manziel. I was excited to see what the kid could do, but I also had tempered expectations, as he was a rookie making his NFL debut. However, depending on who you talked to, seeing Johnny on the field was either a white flag that signaled the season was over, or a sign of hope for playoff chances.

After the game, some people were even happy to see Johnny Manziel fail. To these folks, I say take a hike. You aren’t Browns fans. You are massive piles of garbage. If you don’t like Johnny Manziel as a person, that’s fine. If you don’t think he will do well in the NFL, that’s your opinion—and also fine. If you fall into this category, please, root for the name of the front of the jersey, not the back. But to be happy to see YOUR starting quarterback fail is asinine. To call yourself a Browns “fan” is a falsehood.

Let me tell you this—Brian Hoyer would have failed in that game as well. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Joe Montana and everyone else you can think of would have lost that game. It was not on one person. As I stated earlier, this crap-fest was a true team effort.

To the fans who have the opinion Brian Hoyer would have been a better option this game, this is a reminder that Hoyer posted a 29.3 rating in the loss against the Colts. In Johnny’s first career start, 27.3 rating. It’s my opinion that I’d prefer playing a rookie making rookie mistakes while progressing (because he couldn’t do much worse than that performance on Sunday), over a veteran making rookie mistakes in the midst of a steep decline.

Here’s a look at first half drives. One is Brian Hoyer vs. Pittsburgh, the other being Johnny Manziel’s first career start against Cincinnati. The numbers are oddly similar.

Hoyer vs. Pittsburgh
Hoyer vs. Pittsburgh
Manziel vs. Cincinnati
Manziel vs. Cincinnati

As a matter of fact, there were plenty of veteran quarterbacks that performed terribly this week. Aaron Rodgers, a top three QB in the league, completed 40% of his passes and threw for 185 yards and 2 interceptions, giving him a 34.3 rating. I’m not saying Johnny is comparable to Rodgers, just stating the facts.

In this very game, Andy Dalton was terrible, completing 14 of his 24 attempts for 117 yards and an interception, all this against a hobbled Browns defensive secondary. The difference for the Bengals? Their defense came to play and their lines DOMINATED on both sides of the ball. Jeremy Hill ate up 148 rushing yards and two touchdowns and Gio Bernard added 79 yards on the ground.

The Bengals defense took it to the Browns, allowing a pathetic 133 total yards of offense. They got consistent pressure in the backfield, giving both the rushing and passing game no chance. The mental mistakes piled up in the way of penalties and there you have it, a Cleveland Browns loss.

Johnny Manziel played terrible—there’s no way around that. Sure, the receivers dropped a few of his passes, but they dropped some of Hoyer’s passes as well. However, there’s no one person to blame for this game that I regrettably watched the entire 60 minutes of.

The point I have been repeating throughout the article is this—it was one game, yet some fans want to get rid of Johnny Manziel and draft another quarterback next year. Admittedly, I expected better play from him, but Manziel was a rookie making his first career start in the NFL. I cannot express that enough in this article. Let’s try to give the kid a couple of games before running him out of town, yeah?

If you are happy with the poor play of Johnny Manziel to point out that you were right or so you could say “I told you so,” then please, by all means, root for another team—because you obviously aren’t a Browns fan.

Go Browns.

Browns' Playoff Chances Dwindle with Poor Play

The Browns aren’t completely out of the playoff picture, but Mike Pettine’s decision to start and stick with Brian Hoyer against the Colts could mean Cleveland will be on the outside looking in when January rolls around. With terrible QB play and a missed field goal in a close game, this could soon be a reality. In my humble opinion, Hoyer and kicker Billy Cundiff couldn’t (and shouldn’t) see the field again this year for the Browns.

As I wrote in my article last week, it has been time to start Johnny Manziel for the last couple of weeks. Brian Hoyer’s steady decline has been hindering this team and their playoff chances more than helping—it has felt like falling off a never-ending cliff watching him give away games. This past week’s game against Indianapolis was the cherry on top of this crap-sundae.

With another sub-50% completion percentage, Hoyer threw for 14/31 for 140 yards. That wasn’t bad enough, so he threw two picks as well—one in the end zone. This interception was promptly blamed on Jordan Cameron, who apparently ran the wrong route. However, it was clear that Jim Dray was well covered with another man coming over to help—so this pass should have never been thrown in the first place. In fact, Josh Gordon was open for the touchdown.

Speaking of wide open for touchdowns, there were a couple of TDs left on the field because of Brian Hoyer’s inaccurate arm, overthrowing his receivers that had a couple of steps on their defenders. On one pass, it is speculated Johnny Manziel said “I could’ve f*cking hit him” when the camera showed him on the sidelines. I’m no lip reader, but I’m sure most NFL quarterbacks could have got the ball to the receivers, so I’m not doubting you there, John.

Brian Hoyer extended his horrendous TD-INT ratio to 1 touchdown to eight interceptions in the last five games. He has scored ONE single touchdown since November 6th against the Bengals. If that is not a benchable offense, then I’m not sure what exactly is going on in Berea. It is time to make the switch to Johnny Manziel. As I have said before, I don’t know what he will do when he is in, but I do know what Brian Hoyer can do, and it is costing Cleveland the playoffs.

I have to commend the defense in this game, turning the ball over four times, scoring on two of them—Justin Gilbert returned his first NFL interception for a touchdown and Craig Robertson fell on a fumble in the end zone. When your defense plays as lights-out as they did this past Sunday, you have to win. When games like these are given away, not only does it wear out the defense physically, but mentally, they are probably asking themselves why they are playing so hard if the offense is going to give games away? After the game, you could sense the frustration in Donte Whitner’s voice, and who could blame him?

Kudos to you, defense.  You're the real MVP.
Kudos to you, defense. You’re the real MVP.

It seems as though I am piling on Brian Hoyer, which I am, but with his ineptitude the last four games, I think he deserves all the criticism he gets. Many fans believe making the switch to Manziel is a sign of giving up on the season. While I can see their point, I think it is quite the opposite. You have to start Manziel to save the season. Trotting Brian Hoyer out there again could cause another bottle-gate situation this Sunday against the Bengals.

OK, I wasn’t planning on spending that much time on Brian Hoyer (especially since I’m hoping to hear Manziel is the starter soon after this is published), but he is the main culprit for this decline.

Don’t think I have forgotten about you, Billy Cundiff. Sorry, bud, you gotta go. As much as I piled on Hoyer for his recent play, a missed field goal in a 24-25 loss is a punch in the gut. A missed field goal in each of the last five games should get you kicked off the team (see what I did there).

Last week, the Browns tried out Zach Hocker and Michael Bernard to replace Cundiff on kicking duties. Neither were signed. If neither of those guys could beat out Billy Cundiff, they must have been pretty bad. With names like David Akers, Rian Lindell and Lawrence Tynes out there on the market, I’m hoping for more tryouts to replace our current situation.

It feels silly complaining about an exciting 7-6 Browns team with what we have all had to sit through since 1999, but we fans can see the potential of this team. I think the Browns have already exceeded many fans’ expectations for the season, but it is a good thing we’re expecting more out of our team and from the quarterback position. It means we haven’t given up on you yet. Don’t give up on us.

A playoff push is still in the cards, Browns fans. There are many things that have to go right for them, but Cleveland isn’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs with three games remaining in the season. How many times has that happened in recent history? Get excited.

Go Browns.

Time for the Browns to Start Manziel?

We finally have seen it. Johnny Manziel replaced Brian Hoyer Sunday at Buffalo and put together a very impressive first drive resulting in his first NFL touchdown. Whether or not this will be a permanent replacement has still yet to be determined (as of writing this article), but I think the switch should have been made a couple of games ago.

While I can appreciate Mike Pettine not having a knee-jerk reaction to more off than on QB play, I am hoping the pending decision to proceed with Johnny Manziel for the rest of the season isn’t too little too late. In a tight AFC North and Wildcard race, it is only natural to wonder what could have been if Johnny Manziel started against the Texans or Bills.

“Who gives us the best chance to win?” That has been Mike Pettine’s mantra and deciding factor since training camp. I’m not so sure the answer to his question is Brian Hoyer anymore.

Aside from a delightful beat-down on the Bengals during Thursday night football, we have seen Brian Hoyer regress week by week since mid-October, which has been very frustrating to watch. He did not throw a TD pass in the blowout win against Cincinnati. In fact, Brian Hoyer has only thrown one touchdown in the last four games, compared to six interceptions in the same time frame. That is not going to win you very many games, folks.

“You don’t get to 7-5 in the NFL just by lucking into it.” This seems to be Brian Hoyer’s biggest argument to save himself from being benched. Now, you would be ignorant to say that Hoyer had nothing to do with the wins the Browns have accumulated, as he has made some throws when he needed to as well as being the unquestioned leader on offense. However, I believe his success has stemmed more from exceptional defensive play. As a matter of fact, I have been preaching all year that the Cleveland Browns winning record is more a product of the defense creating turnovers, giving Hoyer and the offense more opportunities to score.

Brian Hoyer has proved to be a serviceable stop-gap for this season, waiting for Manziel to get ready to take over. Many fans believe Brian is the real deal, I just don’t see it. Hoyer is a great backup QB, but I don’t think settling for mediocrity is going to get the Browns into the playoffs.

During Monday’s press conference, Mike Pettine mentioned Ray Farmer will be in on the discussion whether to make the switch to Johnny Manziel and will lean on the people he trusts to help make the difficult decision. Just a hunch, but I’m going to say Farmer likes the guy he traded up to draft in the first round in May. Going out on a limb, here.

Johnny3Enter Johnny Manziel. Johnny came into the game in the 4th quarter after another Brian Hoyer interception that led to a Bills field goal and a 20-3 lead over the Browns, putting the Browns down by three scores. With twelve minutes to go. Manziel put together an impressive drive, topped off with a 10-yard scramble for the touchdown. He looked quick and efficient in this small sample-size we got to see.

However, the next drive left something to be desired, as there was miscommunication and Johnny received the snap before he was expecting it, resulting in a touchdown that was thankfully (wrongly) overturned to an incomplete pass. Manziel then proceeded to play dead in the end zone, hoping if he stays still enough, no one will be able to see him.

Not a good look, John.
Not a good look, John.

Despite this hiccup, the offense seemed to have a little spark lit under them when the QB change was made. Manziel brings a different element to the offense. Brian Hoyer was terrific with the intangibles, but seeing overthrown passes to wide open receivers and more interceptions as the season went on has begun to cost the Browns wins—and maybe their chance at the playoffs.

In a week where both the Steelers and Ravens lose, it is tough to look back at this week against the Bills and the Texans game, at what could have been, only to give first place up due to turnovers. I say turnovers, because Terrance West’s fumble was just as damaging as Hoyer’s two interceptions. The Browns needed one of those two games.

I am a Browns fan. I hate the revolving door at the quarterback position just as much as anyone in Cleveland, but I think Brian Hoyer is doing more harm than good being the starting QB of the Cleveland Browns lately. The defense (secondary especially) has worked too hard in too many games to either lose, or barely squeak out wins that should have been won by two scores or more.

If it turns out that Brian Hoyer will continue to be the starting QB, I won’t understand it, but you better believe I will be cheering just as hard for him to succeed. I root for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back.

But if the switch is made, I don’t expect Johnny Manziel to be perfect, especially in the early-going, but I do expect him to provide a whole new element to the offense that will bring more wins and hopefully a playoff berth to the Browns and the city of Cleveland.

Go Browns.