Tag Archives: Alex Mack

All I want for Christmas: Browns Edition

It’s the holiday season and children everywhere where will be making lists of all the things they want for Christmas. Some of these lists are short and others are longer than a government document. The Browns list is far more like the latter as they have many holes now and could be losing some key players to free agency. So in theme of lists (I love lists!!!!!) here’s a look at what I believe to be what the Browns and their fans what put on their Christmas list.

1. Josh Gordon to return to 2013 form. Number one for me was an easy pick with Manziel showing enough signs of being a quarterback that can turn this team around. Having Josh Gordon back and focused gives the Browns a dynamic play-maker. Plus if we retain future free agent Travis Benjamin and Gary Barnidge stays healthy Johnny Manziel will have an arsenal capable of putting a chill down the spine of opposing defenses.

2. Our offensive line to be fixed for next year. One of the most perplexing things about this team is figuring out how good the Browns O-Line is. Pro Football Focus has been adamant that the Browns offensive line has been good and that been issues are with the rest of the team are responsible for the offenses shortcomings. Others look at our high sack rate and sky-high rate of being stuffed and put it more on the O-line. Regardless, Mitchell Schwartz will be a free agent after the season. Schwartz is one of the best pass protecting right tackle in the NFL and could command a 7-9 million dollar a year contract. Alex Mack if he wants to can opt out of his contract and become a free agent. He could get more on the open market than the 8 million that’d he’d get if he stays with the Browns. The Browns knew this and drafted a Cameron Erving, a versatile lineman who could replace either if they left. Sadly Erving has been playing terribly lately and is not giving the fans any reason to believe that he can replace them without a significant dip in production. The offensive line has more complex parts than Santa’s workshop, and the Browns really hope they can figure it out, because a poor offensive line can hold back and otherwise competent offense.

3. A clean bill of health for Joe Haden. It’s been a tough year for Joe Haden injury wise. He started out the year with a bum hamstring and only got worse when he broke his finger and had a rib contusion. Then against the Ravens he suffered a concussion and has not seen the field since. Having Joe Haden come back healthy is the first step in making the pass defense worthy of the nickname Lock-down at the Lake.

4. Our young defensive players to continue improving. Danny Shelton started out the year a little slow but has shown more recently. Xavier Cooper is showing promise as a rotational defensive lineman. Armonty Bryant has had some really good games and has shown flashes of being a good pass rusher. And finally Christian Kirksey has shown he can do many things at the linebacker position. If these players can develop in to quality starters our defense will be greatly improved for next year.

Four Downs – Browns at Chargers

The Cleveland Browns took a step back last week after beating the Tennessee Titans the week before. Here’s why the Browns will continue to go backwards this week against the San Diego Chargers.

First Down: Can someone please stop the run?

 Defensive tackle Danny Shelton #71 of the Cleveland Browns (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
Defensive tackle Danny Shelton #71 of the Cleveland Browns (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

Fans have been getting on first round pick Danny Shelton for all of the issues relating to the Browns not stopping the run. It is not entirely his fault. Shelton has been busy and doing his job by taking up the double team in a 3-4 defense. Ideally, taking up two defenders in a 3-4 defense will allow the linebackers to step up and make a play. They clearly haven’t.

To me the linebackers are the biggest issue here. Did anyone hear Paul Kruger’s name last week? Anyone? Bueller? Kruger is in the third year of a 5-year, $40 million contract and right now he is no where to be found. If the Browns want to stop the run, especially to the outside, they need Kruger and another first round pick Barkevious Mingo to set the edge on the outside.

Mingo has been a big disappointment so far and is probably another first round bust. The typical sentiment about draft picks is that you will see the biggest growth of a player from year two in the NFL to year three. This is year three. He really needs to step up if he wants to be on this team next year. Mingo single-handedly changed the momentum of the game last week and in a negative way with the roughing the kicker penalty.

The Browns defense has the incredible task of stopping the multi-threat Danny Woodhead and rookie Melvin Gordon of the Chargers. San Diego is averaging over 100 yards of offense on the ground this year and with the way the Browns have defended the run (32nd in the NFL), both of these players could have huge games.

Second Down: Can someone please run the ball?

The Browns have not been able to run the ball this season effectively, they are 26th in the NFL in rushing. The offensive line has been struggling so far this year and it is a wonder if Alex Mack is not fully healthy yet. They have not yet been able to get in sync.

The Chargers, like the Browns are also not very good with stopping the run. This would be a good time for Isaiah Crowell to get a lot of carries and do some damage for the first time this season. Running the ball effectively will finally give the Browns an opportunity to pass the ball off the play-action.

Third Down: Josh McCown has something to prove

Josh McCown needs to prove that Mike Pettine made the right decision at starting quarterback. If McCown struggles again, I could definitely see a change at starting QB after the bye week. I am not a huge fan of Johnny Manziel, he still has a lot to prove to me.

However, he seems to make this offense click. The other players seem to feed off of his energy, including the defense. In the first and third games, we had no pass rush whatsoever. In the second game, the Browns had seven sacks, seven. I don’t know what it is exactly but Johnny seems to make this offense and defense click.

Fourth Down: Prediction

The Browns will not be able to stop the run this week against the likes of Woodhead and Gordon. It will be a long day for the Browns defense after they try to stop the run and Rivers throws the ball over their heads.

Final Score: San Diego 34, Browns 20

My picks this year: 1-2

The Shanahan Situation

While by no means the most surprising (see John Fox) or significant (see Rex Ryan, Todd Bowles) coaching news of the past week, Kyle Shanahan’s decision to leave the Browns clearly affects us, as Browns fans, more than any other.

One week ago, on January 8th, reports surfaced that Shanahan had decided to resign from his position as offensive coordinator, primarily due to friction among coaches and front office members. Two days later, on the 10th, the Browns held a press conference announcing that they were accepting Shanahan’s resignation and would be looking for a new offensive coordinator. Quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains was also let go of on Saturday. One week later, the Browns are once again searching for a new coach to fill a high-profile position in their organization, but before we get into that, let’s look at what Shanahan did iduring his short stint here in Cleveland.

The Browns’ offense was ranked 23rd in total offense and 27th in scoring for the 2014 season. A squad hindered by injuries and another year of disappointing quarterback play, the offense slowly declined as the season wore on. Alex Mack’s injury in late October had more impact than most anyone could’ve imagined, and Shanahan’s offense was largely ineffective in the second half of the season. Personally, I’m not all that bummed to see him go. Growing up in Denver, I have a special place in my heart for his last name, but I was more than a little disappointed in his playcalling in 2014. Having watched him lead Robert Griffin III to an Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2012, I expected Shanahan’s playbook to be just shy of brilliant if Johnny Manziel ever saw the field this past season. Brian Hoyer’s play quickly declined after Mack went down, and, inevitably, the overhyped rookie was given the opportunity to lead the team. Going into Manziel’s Week 15 debut as a starter, I was really really excited. The Browns had destroyed the Bengals in their earlier meeting, and with Shanahan calling plays for Manziel, I expected more of the same. Instead, Shanahan presented the Browns and their fans with what was probably one of the worst play books I have ever seen. The Browns got shutout, trampled, and humiliated. Manziel managed 80 yards through the air while putting up a 27.3 passer rating. Shanahan’s play calling wasn’t much better the following week either. As the season went on, Shanahan’s playcalling became less and less effective; as such, I don’t think his departure will be that much of a loss. As to Loggains, the Browns’ quarterbacks clearly underperformed this season, so I don’t have to much of a problem with that move either.

Shanahan’s departure leaves the Browns once again in the coaching hunt. As of Thursday morning, the Browns had interviewed former Bears head coach Marc Trestman. They also have set up interviews with John DeFilippo, the Raiders QB coach, and Anthony Lynn, the Jets assistant head coach and running backs coach. Other names that have surfaced in association with the job include Cowboys OC Bill Callahan and former Bills Coach Chan Gailey. Out of this list of names, Trestman would probably be the best hire, although it will be difficult to lure him to Cleveland. He is known around the NFL for his ability to coax good play out of QBs, a skill the Browns could really use. However, because of his profile, he is being interviewed for numerous jobs across the NFL, including serving as the Raiders new OC. If they Browns were unable to land him, it would be quite possible they bring on Lynn, someone who Mike Pettine worked with from 2009 to 2012 while in New York. In that case, the Browns would do well trying to bring on someone like Bears QB coach Matt Cavanaugh to replace Loggains. Although it will be difficult to convince any coach to join an organization with such an absurd history of turnover since Jimmy Haslam took ownership, the Browns might could leverage Johnny Manziel to draw someone in. Manziel’s first season was a massive failure, and there are many questioning whether he could even come close to making it on this level. A young coach with a lot of ambition might see a place to prove himself and fasttrack his career. If not…well then the Browns might end up having to claw for scraps when it comes to new coaching hires.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next couple weeks. I originally considered making a prediction as to who might be hired, but then I realized this was the Browns I was talking about. When it comes to coaching decisions, they are as unpredictable as it gets. As such, I’m going to go ahead and postpone making a fool of myself with a wildly incorrect guess…at least till next week that is.

Cleveland Browns Ten Best of 2014

Well, here we are again. The door has finally closed on the most recent Browns season. It may actually be more appropriate to say that the lid has finally been closed on the casket, but hey, semantics. 2014 ended much the same way that every season seemingly ends. The Browns strolled into one of their rival’s stadiums with their third string quarterback while nursing a massive losing streak, and proceeded to put up a valiant (pathetic) performance that came up short.

In what has become the saddest, most infuriating and depressing holiday tradition around these parts, the Browns train flew off the tracks halfway through the season and careened down the hillside in flames. The details of this particular fiery wreck were a little different than seasons past, as is normally the case, but the end result was eerily familiar. The only thing that is slightly unfamiliar to me is that I have to write about it this year for an adoring public clamoring for my thoughts on the year that was.

(Deliberate pause for everyone to get in their prolonged eye rolls)

As is the case with an NFL season, especially one involving the team that plays on the Northern edge of downtown Cleveland, there is so much that happens that trying to pack it all into one article would be borderline irresponsible. It would also eat up content that could be stretched out for a few weeks, but let’s go with the previous sentence. It sounds much better. That being said, over the next month or so I’ll be taking a look back at all things 2014 Cleveland Browns before we get to start talking about the offseason and our favorite civic past time which is, of course, the NFL Draft. Today I’ll be starting off with the positive and counting down the Cleveland Browns ten best of 2014.

10. Kyle Shanahan

We’ll start things off with the Browns young offensive coordinator. Granted, there were some issues with his offense that showed after starting center Alex Mack went down, but I have to say that I really do like his offense overall and saw a lot of positives that give me hope for the future. He’ll be getting interviews for Head Coaching jobs elsewhere, and I wouldn’t be all that surprised if he actually landed on of them, but if he comes back the Browns will have a year under their belt with him and I would be willing to bet the Browns offense improves come next season. If you look at what he did, especially early on, with some limitations at certain positions and his ability to adjust, I have to give a very positive review of Kyle Shanahan’s job in his first season with the team.

9. “Scrap Heap” Wide Receiver Acquisitions

I wasn’t exactly sure how to title this one. When I made my list for this I ended up with fourteen players and coaches that I wanted to mention. Unfortunately, a top fourteen list doesn’t quite have the ring to it that a top ten list does, so I had to make some edits. The first of those was combining three guys that I thought clearly needed to be mentioned into one item. Those guys, in no particular order, are Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, and Miles Austin. These three were each acquired through different ways and all made their mark at a position that was thought to be among the worst on the team.

To be clear, none of these receivers will be mistaken for an elite player. But each of them were extremely pleasant surprises that had very good first seasons with the Browns. There were big plays made by all of them, they brought a sure handedness that we had been sorely lacking, and I would wholeheartedly support all three of them being back next season. As sad as it is, there aren’t many receivers that have played for the Browns the past decade or so that I could say any of those things about, let alone all three.

8. Karlos Dansby

One of the big offseason acquisitions for the Browns, Dansby was brought in for both his on field performance and his veteran presence in the locker room. And he exceeded all expectations that I had for both of those things. He may have been higher on this list had his season not been cut short by injury, but there is no doubt that the signing of Karlos Dansby was an incredibly important one for the development of a winning culture, and there is also no doubt that he still has something left in the tank.

7. Paul Kruger

After signing a huge free agent deal and having a disappointing first season, Kruger came back in a big way this year. He was a guy that I thought could be gone if his second season went the same way as his first, but he turned things around and was one of the better players on the defensive side of the ball throughout 2014. Kruger ended up with 11.5 sacks and he was one of the only players, if not the only, who applied consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

6. The Baby Backs

You may know them by their given names Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell, but together they were known throughout the season as the Baby Backs. And while each of them had some issues during their rookie year, they both showed enough flashes that I think we can all be satisfied with the running back position going into next season. The talent is obvious and as long they can clean up their respective problems the Browns will have a great 1-2 punch for the foreseeable future.

5. Mike Pettine

There were definitely mistakes made by the Browns rookie Head Coach, but he is someone that I have to put in this top ten. I’m positive that I will have much more on Pettine in the very near future, but for now I’ll slot him right smack in the middle of this list. There are almost certainly other coaches that we all would have liked the Browns to have hired the past few years using hindsight, but we ended up with Mike Pettine. And I have to say that I have a much better feeling in my gut regarding him than I had for all of his predecessors dating back to Butch Davis. I love his honesty, I love his relatability, and I love the type of program that he’s trying to build here. I’m only hoping that he gets the time needed to build that program.

4. Joe Thomas

Joe Thomas, Pro Bowl, All Pro. Rinse, wash, repeat. The Browns veteran left tackle caught a lot of flack for having a down season and nearing the end of his career as an elite lineman. This Browns columnist would like to tell you that that is all a steaming pile of crap. Sure, he may not have had his best season, but let’s remember that his best season ranks among the elite for the entire history of the NFL. Rumors of his demise are far, far exaggerated and we should all continue to count our lucky stars that we have him on our team. Here’s hoping that he actually gets to play in the postseason before his Hall of Fame career ends.

3. Joel Bitonio

It would make sense that the high second round draft pick that practically no one in Cleveland had ever heard of would be higher on this list than the future Hall of Famer that he played next to, right? In Browns world, of course it would. The pick of Bitonio either enraged fans because he wasn’t a wide receiver or befuddled fans because they had no clue who he was. There really wasn’t much in between, me included. I fell into the second category, but instantly fell in love with the guy after listening to his conference call after the second day of the Draft and reading up on him. And then he went out and had himself a fantastic rookie season at left guard. He’s the kind of person you want in the locker room, and judging by his first year with the Browns he’s also the kind of player you want on the field. Barring injury, you can set it in stone that he’ll be playing in some Pro Bowls and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he’s the guy who ends up taking over at left tackle when Joe Thomas calls it quits.

2. The Secondary

Again, this is kind of cheating. I had three players that definitely needed to be mentioned, and a couple others who were close to making the list. But, for the sake of not leaving out some of the others, I have combined them all and will talk about them as a unit. The Browns secondary in 2014 contained two players who made the Pro Bowl in Joe Haden and Tashaun Gipson, two steadfast veterans who played well in Buster Skrine and Donte Whitner, and a surprising undrafted rookie who was fantastic before getting hurt in K’Waun Williams.

I mainly wanted to make sure that Haden, Gipson, and Williams were mentioned, but it seems fitting for me to include the unit as a whole. Gipson had his coming out party this year, leading the league in interceptions before suffering a season ending injury, and K’Waun Williams was an incredibly pleasant surprise, vastly outplaying first round pick Justin Gilbert.

But mostly, I have to talk about Joe Haden. After a slow start that could probably be attributed to being banged up out of the gate and adjusting to the new restrictive rules for defenders, Haden played at as high a level as anyone could given the restrictions on defensive backs in today’s NFL. To put it much more simply, Joe Haden was out of this world fantastic and showed why he continues to be among the best at his position in all of the NFL. He came up with a couple of the more ridiculous pass break ups and interceptions that you’ll ever see and, as far as I can tell, continues to be a great presence in the locker room. I should probably qualify everything I write about him with the fact that he will probably go down as one of my favorite Cleveland athletes of all time, but I won’t right now because his play on the field doesn’t need any qualifiers.

1. Alex Mack

I stewed over whether the secondary or Mack should earn the number one spot on this list. After all, the secondary encompassed a half dozen players who ranged from fantastic to good, had two Pro Bowl nominations, and a myriad of other points for other players going for it. As much of a cop out as it may have been, part of me couldn’t see how anything from the 2014 Browns could top the resume of that unit.

But then there was that other part of me. The part that saw the offense in the first five games before Alex Mack went down with a season ending injury. The part that saw an offensive line, a unit, and an entire team that could impose their will on any team and dictate the tempo. The same part of me that saw a team with a new identity that could play with any team in the league, and was winning more than they were losing.

Sadly, that part of me, and all parts of me really, were slowly devastated in the weeks and months following Mack’s injury. Sure, there were some wins against bad teams and a few good performances against playoff bound squads, but for all intents and purposes the season ended when Alex Mack was carted off the field in October during the bludgeoning of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

I would never have believed that a center could have such a monumental impact on a team. Hell, I think I even wrote as much last offseason when talking about whether the Browns should keep T.J. Ward or Mack. But I have never seen an injury, aside from a quarterback, affect a team as much as Mack’s injury did to the Browns. I honestly still can’t believe how staggering the difference was. I’ll have more on this in the next few weeks, but there is not a shred of doubt in my mind that Alex Mack was the most valuable player on the Browns in 2014. There’s no way we would have ever known it had he not gotten hurt and had he stayed healthy it would have certainly been someone else.

But, unfortunately for all of us, he did get hurt. His season was ended prematurely. And the team went into a tailspin that was impressive even for the Browns. And a center who didn’t even play five games ends up atop my list of the best of the 2014 Cleveland Browns. It’s almost unbelievable.

Almost.

It's A Happy New Year For The Browns

First off, happy New Year everybody. May 2015 be better than 2014. Especially for us Browns fans.

That five game skid to end the season was painful. I have to admit, when we were sitting atop the division in early November, I really truly believed that we would sneak into the playoffs, and I was 100% certain that we would at least finish with a winning record. Alas, neither of those things happened, and us Browns fans had to suffer through a skid that was reminiscent of past years. But despite that ickiness to end the season, we fans have many a reason to be happy and excited heading into this new year:

1. Our Coaches Don’t Take Bullshit

Mike Pettine’s reaction to Johnny Manziel’s alleged party and its after-math (in which Josh Gordon, Justin Gilbert, and Manziel were all late to mandatory team-related activities) shows that he does not have patience for players who don’t put their team and their job first. Suspending Gordon and forcing the rookie tandem to remain in the locker room for the duration of the game showed that Pettine isn’t willing to waste time on individuals who are unwilling to make sacrifices for the team. Although this sort of attitude has adverse effects on the team in the short-term (I’m sure Connor Shaw could’ve benefitted from Gordon’s presence), over the long-term it will lead to a team that is more… well, teamly. The players will trust each other more without this type of toxicity in the locker room, and as a result the team will play better on the field.

2. The Injury Bug Can Only Eat So Much

Armonty Bryant (11 games missed), Alex Mack (11), John Hughes (10), Phil Taylor (11), Miles Austin (4), Paul McQuistan (1), Desmond Bryant (1), Pierre Desir (1), Barkevious Mingo (1), Jordan Cameron (5), Ben Tate (2), Ahtyba Rubin (3), Billy Winn (3), K’Waun Williams (3), Johnson Bademosi (2), Andrew Hawkins (1), Marlon Moore (2), Karlos Dansby (4), Tashaun Gipson (5), Gary Barnidge (3), Joe Haden (1), Brian Hoyer (1), Ryan Seymour (1), Ishmaa’ily Kitchen (1), Johnny Manziel (1). Every single one of those players was inactive due to injury at some point during the season. Considering the caliber of the players on the list, I think it is fair to say that the Browns got unfairly roughed up this season. And yet still managed to improve vastly from previous years. Sure, there will inevitably be injuries next season, but I just don’t see there being as many as this season. With more of our core players remaining in the game, expect improvement.

3. Ray Farmer is Kind of a Minor Personnel Genius

The number of rookies who contributed significantly this season was astounding. Joel Bitonio, K’Waun Williams, Christian Kirksey, Terrance West, and Isaiah Crowell all played big roles for the Browns. Pierre Desir and Connor Shaw both out played expectations. Both Manziel and Gilbert disappointed, but they are both talented enough to turn themselves around this offseason. Combine the rookies with the free agent signings of the past year (which include Karlos Dansby, Donte Whitner, Miles Austin, and Andrew Hawkins, among others), and Ray Farmer’s first class of personnel changes is astounding. With two first round picks this year and less holes to patch up, Farmer is set up to have another great offseason.

4. The Curse of Eternal Browns Optimism

 This is probably the biggest reason we fans should be excited going into next year – we always are. Realistically we often know that the Browns are not going to have a great year, but nonetheless the most exciting time of the year is when Week 1 rolls around. Even if this team was set for a decline, we would still be excited for next season. Life is just not the same without football, and win or lose we are always going to be there cheering (and complaining).

I’m really bummed that I have to suffer through watching the Steelers, Bengals, and Ravens all play this coming weekend, but I’m still happy with what the Browns did. They are an organization that is poised to keep improving over the next few years, and I have little doubt that we will be playing in January in the next season or two.

Cheers and Happy New Year.

A Cleveland Browns Thanksgiving

After years of mediocrity, it finally looks like (knock on wood) Cleveland Browns fans have a team they can be thankful for and proud of this year. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the team is currently 7-4 and right in the thick of the playoff hunt. All of this got some of the Browns writers here at More Than A Fan: Cleveland thinking, what should the Cleveland Browns be thankful for this year? Here is what we came up with.

Dave Jack

-For starters, the Browns as an organization should still be thankful for the Indianapolis Colts. While the current administration had nothing to do with executing the Trent Richardson deal, they certainly did benefit from it. It’s far too early to determine whether the trade ultimately worked out in their favor, but the added first round pick allowed the Browns flexibility to move around in that round and do what they wanted.

-To piggyback off of that, Ray Farmer and company should propose a Thanksgiving toast to Joe Banner. Banner wasn’t perfect, but he did have the foresight to stockpile draft picks for the 2014 NFL Draft (much to the detriment of the 2013 draft), one that he predicted (so far, correctly) would have much more talent. He also left the new regime in a very good position financially.

-We found out the hard way that everyone should be thankful for center Alex Mack. The offensive line as a whole took a noticeable step back in the couple games following his injury. This was no doubt partly due to chemistry, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that was it. Joe Thomas is probably the better lineman at a more integral position, but Mack was the general and possibly the best run blocker out of the bunch. Missing him shows that Mack is worth every penny of his $42 million contract.

Andy Metzger

First and foremost, the Browns should be thankful for the defensive secondary unit. If it hadn’t been for their stellar play all season, the Browns record would be much different. The secondary has collected 13 total interceptions this season, led by Tashaun Gipson with six of them. Joe Haden has played lights out this season and is earning that big contract. While he had early struggles, Justin Gilbert has shown tremendous progress the last few games and made a huge pass defense against the Falcons in a tight game. It is because of the secondary unit that Brian Hoyer has had extra opportunities per game.

Second, the Browns should be thankful for Johnny Manziel *ducks*. Now, hear me out on this. When the Browns selected Johnny Manziel in the first round in the draft, the Browns suddenly became a relevant team in the NFL in the eyes of the national media. With that, Brian Hoyer knew he needed to work his butt off to be the starting QB of the Cleveland Browns. This is just speculation, but I assume Hoyer also brought his game up on the intangibles that rookies have a hard time with. Namely, leadership. There’s no doubt that Brian Hoyer is the leader of the offense. He has command of the huddle and the respect of his peers. Sometimes it is that confidence that boosts your game to another level. The Browns should be thankful for Johnny Manziel, it lit a fire under Brian Hoyer. I just hope his inconsistent passes don’t lock us out of the playoffs *ducks*.

Last, but certainly not least, the Browns should be thankful for Ray Farmer. More specifically, Ray Farmer and his scout team. Where older regimes refused to bring in free agents because “they’re free agents for a reason,” Ray Farmer brought in Donte Whitner, Karlos Dansby, Jim Dray, Ben Tate, Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins. As for the draft, they snagged Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel, Joel Bitonio, Christian Kirksey, Terrance West, Pierre Desir as well as gaining extra 2015 1st, 4th and a 6th round draft pics. For undrafted rookies, the Browns collected an impressive haul that are major contributors on both sides of the ball. Cleveland signed Ray Agnew, Isaiah Crowell, Taylor Gabriel and K’Waun Williams. Without the players Ray Farmer signed, this would be a very different looking team. So, not only the Browns, but I, too, am thankful for Ray Farmer and his scout team. They did a fantastic job in the first year and cannot wait to see what they can do in the years to come.

Nico Ericksen-Deriso

Local(ish) High Schools – With four players from the Youngstown and Cleveland areas, the Browns ought to be thankful for the local talent that has reached them. Brian Hoyer went to high school at local powerhouse St. Ignatius. After spending time working behind Tom Brady in New England, Hoyer has emerged in Cleveland to lead the team’s offense, racking up 2864 yards through the air on a 55.9% completion rate to go along with 11 touchdowns thus far this year. On defense, one of his counterparts is also a Cleveland native. Donte Whitner attended Glenville High School before heading to Ohio State. In his first year with the Browns, he has been instrumental so far, finding himself second on the team in tackles with 73. He also has an interception and a forced fumble to go along. Two Browns linemen hail from the Youngstown area: Ishmaa’ily Kitchen on defense, and John Greco on offense. Kitchen attended Cardinal Mooney High before pursuing a career in the NFL. After seeing little time on the field in September, Kitchen has stepped up to the tune of 23 tackles since Week 6 as injuries have slowly decimated the Browns’ defensive line. On the other hand, John Greco, who attended Boardman High in Youngstown, has started every game for the Browns this season, primarily at right guard.
A Kyle Shanahan Offense – Shanahan’s offense has created a functional unit for the Browns. Despite losing one of their best players in Alex Mack, Cleveland has still been able to produce at a greater rate than last year, often powered to victory on the backs of their duo of rookie running backs and Hoyer’s mistake-minimizing arm. However, I can’t say that this has been all good, as their have been a few games when the offense has just straight up failed. However, overall, Shanahan’s presence in Cleveland has been a blessing.
The Cincinnati Bengals – “Wait what?! The Bengals? That makes so much sense, being thankful for one of our rivals and the division leader. Except not!”…Well, if you really think about it, it does. The Browns have three big reasons to be thankful for the Bengals. First off, former Bengal Andrew Hawkins leads the team in receiving with 50 receptions for 694 yards and two touchdowns. Secondly, the Bengals were kind enough to drop a huge deuce on Thursday Night Football. And lastly, the Bengals were dumb enough to help make sure the Browns improved this year by signing Greg “Brickhand” Little, guaranteeing that Cleveland’s worst nightmare would never haunt the team again. As hard as it is to admit, the Browns owe the Bengals a polite nod at dinner this Thanksgiving.

Stephen Thomas

I’m thankful that Mike Smith knows less about clock management than Andy Reid.

I’m thankful for reactionary Browns fans on Twitter, who handle each third down failure and incomplete pass with the grace and tact of a sorority girl in a zombie apocalypse movie.

I’m thankful for Joel Bitonio and Joe Thomas, who could block their way out of Nakatomi Plaza.

I’m thankful for Steelers fans, because as Judge Smails said in Caddyshack “The world needs ditch diggers, too.”

Ryan Jones

Mike Pettine – I routinely make jokes about the corpses that have roamed the sidelines for the Cleveland Browns over the past two or so decades, but know that I make those jokes in the most masochistic way imaginable. It kills me every time that I do it, but I think we might just be able to move on from all of that. Granted, Mike Pettine has had a couple time management blunders during his rookie campaign, but I get the feeling that he is an actual NFL caliber head coach. It’s a relatively small sample size but I’m absolutely loving him at the helm of my team thus far.

Josh Gordon – Quite simply the most talented football player that I have ever seen play for the Browns during my lifetime. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Josh Gordon was the singular reason that I was able to watch and enjoy the second half of last season. He is that good. And the Browns were that bad. There were quite a few local media members who advocated for his release this offseason. You most likely won’t hear them address that, but you will hear me reaffirm my love of Josh Gordon and the fact that I wrote a series of articles championing the fact that releasing him would have been a disastrous mistake. Seeing number twelve out on the field in Brown and Orange might just be the best thing in my life right now. Please don’t tell my girlfriend.

Seven and four. Seven wins and four losses. Seven wins at Thanksgiving and a team that is squarely in the mix for a playoff spot. I’m sorry, but after the putrid and depressing football that I have been subjected to my entire life, that is definitely the thing that I am most thankful for. Again, please don’t let my girlfriend or loved ones read this. Or, actually, let them read this. They know I have an irrational love for this football team. They’ll understand. All of us understand. Or, at least, should. The Browns have a huge game against Buffalo on Sunday, and they are poised to enter the month of December fighting for the division and the playoffs. How can we not be thankful for that?


 

As you can see, the Browns organization has a lot to be thankful for. One consensus among all of the writers was that the Browns should be thankful for their fans. These are fans who have stuck it out through multiple two, three and four win seasons. Fans who have begged just to have a team with a .500 record. Fans who can boast that they are some of the best fans in the NFL, as well as the most numerous.

The staff at More Than A Fan: Cleveland would like to wish all of you, our readers, a very Happy Thanksgiving. Even if you’ve only read one post or disagree with everything we say on a regular basis, we are still thankful for taking the time to do so.

Happy Thanksgiving

Why the Browns Have Me Waiting For Next Year

I’m afraid to admit this, but the ship has sailed on anything good this season. It’s the same old Browns in a slightly different skin. They might be a few wins better than normal, but at the end of Week 17, there are tee times to be set and a May draft to think about, but no games until August. Fortunately, we’re so familiar with the routine that it should depress us no longer.

There are excuses more legitimate than we’ve seen in years past, and we have no problem with anyone upgrading this bunch from the standard F or D- to a more motivating C+, but they’ve once again failed this pass/fail course we call an NFL regular season. Sure, it’s one of their more successful fails, compared to what we’ve become accustomed to, but we’ve waited two decades for a post-season victory in Cleveland. We can wait another 365 days.

Mike Pettine hasn’t had all of the answers this season, but DAMNIT JIM, he’s a football coach, not a doctor.

The simple answer is the same as always. The reason why the Browns aren’t going to entertain us with January football is that they’ll fail to win the amount of games required for entry into the tournament. The complicated answer is also the same, though to a lesser degree than we’ve come to know and love. They lack the talent to do so.

In the past, we’ve denied lack of talent because it was tough to slice through all of the dreadful coaching to learn the truth. When Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn co-existed in Berea, some were excited at the idea of two real NFL-caliber quarterbacks being on the roster, but the reality is that there were none. Then, there was the time Joshua Cribbs was easily the best player on the roster. Needless to say, that wasn’t a roster worth celebrating, which is the same sentiment many have for the long list of coaches and executives that have taken money from the fans, but offered little in return.

If you think things are terrible at quarterback with Hoyer on the field and Manziel waiting in the wings, I present defense exhibits A & B.

Before you go measuring the emptiness of the current glass, let me assure you that it is most certainly half-full, but it’s going to be capped with an air-tight lid until 2015. First, applause is due for an outstanding first season from Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine, the loudest voices in the board room and on the field, respectively. You can nit-pick the little things all day long, but at the end of the day, it’s hard to deny these guys have done their job, perhaps better than any of their counterparts before them, going back to 1999.

I suppose a full 180 degree turn from the 4-12 team that left Pittsburgh with their lame duck head coach would mean finishing in the Final Four instead of the bottom 4 in the NFL, and that’s not going to happen, but they’ve righted the ship. Mathematically, they can flip their win-loss record from a year ago, but an honest look at the state of this football team doesn’t suggest that being they way things will play out.

Look at the way the way were built. You play to your strengths, and the make-up of this roster said they would be strong running the ball and letting their defense win games. Depending on how you looked at it, you could come to the conclusion that no one making decisions took the idea of throwing the football too seriously. That isn’t a slight on Brian Hoyer, but it’s clear they were willing to settle for the hometown kid as a place-holder while other needs were met.

They had the best receiver in the game with Brandon Weeden throwing the football and no one better than Greg Little opposite Josh Gordon, so they prioritized other deficient areas. Ben Tate was an obvious target before we even knew Kyle Shannahan would be in the fold, which only made the former-Texans back a better fit. If you paid attention to the draft experts, Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell were home run picks on paper, and the Browns brass was rounding the bases on Draft Day.

With a couple of youngsters from schools you’ve never heard of running the football, Kyle Shanahan has put himself in a good position to interview for some head coaching jobs.

Some were curious about the selection of Joel Bitonio over any highly rated pass-catcher in the second round of the draft, given that word of Gordon’s potential absence from the 2014 roster had come down between Rounds 1 and 2, but they stayed the course and found a monster of a man to play guard between Joe Thomas and Alex Mack. If everything played out the way was it planned, it promised not to be an awful plan. They weren’t going to half-ass themselves into a passing team. It wouldn’t have made any sense.

If this were a video game, you would have taken one look at the Browns depth and turned injuries off. Missing time was just not an option. If you had to make a list of offensive players they could least afford to take the field without, it would go something like this:

1. Joe Thomas
2. Josh Gordon
3. Alex Mack
4. Brian Hoyer
5. Jordan Cameron

Thomas, their first-round pick in 2007, has never missed a snap, in this season or any other. Mack, taken in Round 1 two years later, shared that distinction until a broken leg took him out for the year in early October. We know Gordon was handed a ten game suspension by the league, but it’s six fewer games than we initially feared. Cameron has missed time with brain injuries and Hoyer has taken every snap, save three plays designed for their popular rookie back-up. Add in time missed by Ben Tate and Andrew Hawkins, and then wonder how this team has won 60% of their games.

mackinjured
There goes the season

The team released the highly-touted Tate on Tuesday, after ten games of sub-par production. It was a pretty ballsy move, but many would approve of them making good football decisions that aren’t the best PR moves. It goes to show where their priorities are. They like what they see from their tandem of rookies from small schools. We all know the results would be better if the offensive line was at full-strength.

On the defensive side of the ball, I think it’s fair to say we expected better, back when this was a team playing at full strength. We wondered why Joe Haden was getting $60 million contracts when he struggled to cover the aging Steve Smith. We wondered what this team saw in Justin Gilbert, given his lack of production, and if the Buffalo defensive coaching staff of 2013 could graduate Barkevious Mingo from project to football player.

Steve Smith, Joe Haden
This picture doesn’t tell you whose star is fading and whose is allegedly rising.

Players were thought to be busts from the free agent market, like Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant, started earning their paychecks. Tashaun Gipson and Buster Skrine have looked a lot more competent in the secondary, and having Karlos Dansby, Phil Taylor, and Armonty Bryant up front made the entire unit better. Unfortunately, we won’t have the services of the latter three available for the better part of what remains this season.

In the end, it adds up to a very talented list of football players on the Injured Reserve and not enough talent on the active roster to compensate for those losses. And while their presence arguably made their teammates better, their absence does contribute to a significant decline. We’re not looking at a lost cause, but definitely a lost season.

You might call me a wet blanket for observing this thing with my eyes open, but I’m simply not going to set myself up for the inevitable disappointment that will dawn on the eternal optimists out there. There’s no waiting for the bottom to fall out here; that happened when Mack went down, rendering the strength of this running game to a fraction of what it’s supposed to be. Granted, it’s forced the defense into a previously undiscovered gear, but now they’ve set the bar high for themselves and they can’t possibly sustain it with the personnel they’ve been left with.

The silver lining resides in the fact that in writing off this wildly successful season of growth and development, we’re not watching the window of opportunity slam shut. Our optimism isn’t rooted in the unknown of what could be added to the roster, but in the utilization of known commodities, guys that just happen to be banged up right now. For the first time in a long time, the present is very nice and the future is actually much brighter.

After 16 years, we’re all tired of that Bad News Bears mantra, “wait ’til next year”, but we’ll all be ready for something very special in 2015. I’ll be there with bells on.

Bridging the Gap: The (Not So) Midweek Report, Week 9

After last week’s 22-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Browns have a shot at sharing first place in the AFC North with the Pittsburgh Steelers by the end of tonight. So that’s pretty awesome, definitely considering we are now past the halfway point of the season. But, although that all looks great, I have a few problems with this, primarily that this isn’t going to happen. I mean I am praying that I am wrong. I would give anything to be wrong. But it isn’t going to happen, and here’s why:

Our offense is shot. We all knew that Alex Mack was a big part of our team’s success, but I don’t think that any of us really realized that he was quite this important. The first week after Mack’s departure from the field, the Browns put up 69 yards on 30 carries, which many people attributed to the fact that we just weren’t used to playing sans Mack. The next week, the Browns put up 39 yards on 25 carries, but that was sort of ok and sort of excusable because it was Nick McDonald’s first day on the job, so of course there was going to be a lack of chemistry between McDonald and Hoyer and McDonald and the rest of the line. And then Week 3 AM (After Mack) rolled around, and the Browns still ran for a measly 50 yards on 28 carries. Sure, I guess you can say rushing production has trended up in the past two weeks, but it is hard not to do so when your base number is 39 yards. I’m going to come out and say that the Browns have no running game anymore. Given that Kyle Shanahan uses an offense based on the run and Brian Hoyer operates best in the passing game when using the play action, I would say that it is pretty safe to say that without a running game, we have no functional offense anymore. And without an offense, it is much more difficult to score points. And, as many commentators and analysts make sure to point out every week, it is very difficult to win games when you don’t score points. Thus, realistically, the Browns have very little chance of coming out on top tonight.

Now, I want to make one thing very clear here. Despite the fact that our offense is failing and sputtering, benching Hoyer in favor of Johnny Manziel would be the worst thing we could possibly do. Or actually benching Joe Thomas just for the hell of it would probably be the worst thing to do, but benching Hoyer would be a close second. The point is that both of those ideas are ludicrous. Ever since the Jacksonville loss, there have been increasing calls for Johnny Football. I don’t want to be rude, but if you think that, you either have no idea what you are talking about, or are simply an idiot. One of Manziel’s biggest problems has been that, when given time in the pocket, he hasn’t been able to quickly make his way through his progressions before he tucks the ball, breaks the pocket, and tries to scramble or improvise. If he were to be put in a situation where he isn’t given time in the pocket, this problem would just be perpetuated. We already have no run game, so I don’t really believe that it would be that good of an idea to completely destroy our passing game as well. But hey, that is just me. Maybe I am wrong here. It’s just that to me it seems much more logical to keep in the game a player who is more comfortable under pressure, who has been working with his pass-catchers for a longer time, and who already has rapport and a connection with one of the most talented receivers in the NFL, one who will be returning in two weeks. Manziel is just not practical. And I don’t think he will be at any point this season, barring injury to Hoyer. So, to those of you calling for him, please just stop. I don’t think anyone appreciates what you’re doing.

Anyway, as for tonight, I believe it is going to be rough. I have been trying to come up with arguments to the contrary, but I am just not finding any. Jeremy Hill and Mohamed Sanu are two of the hottest players in the game right now. A.J. Green is back in the lineup. The Browns rush defense is giving up over 140 yards per game. The Browns secondary has been playing better, but they are still giving up 250 yards per game. If the Browns want to keep this game close, their run defense will need to have their best game of the season, and the secondary will have to create at least a couple of turnovers that give the Browns great starting field position. If the Browns can somehow overcome the problems that will be created by Domata Peko and Geno Atkins playing over McDonald, then they should keep it close. But then again, that is a lot of ifs. Hopefully the Browns pull it all together to capture what would be a huge win, but realistically I think it is safer to expect a repeat of Jacksonville. So make sure to have your beer ready, cause you might be needing a lot of it.

Prediction: Bengals 34 – Browns 10

Bridging the Gap: The Midweek Report, Week 8

It’s nice seeing a win. Or actually, I should say that it’s nice to see that the Browns won. Unfortunately, I had to spend the weekend working on a project in Washington DC, so I was unable to tune into the game and watch the Browns come out on top. On the bright side though, y’all will be spared my rambling about what went wrong, who I was disappointed with, and what needs to be improved looking forward. So instead I will just touch on a bit of other Browns news from the past few days, as well as give a short preview of this weekend’s game:

– The loss of Jordan Cameron (again) is big. But how big? While Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray have performed well when they have been targeted (5 catches for 54 yards on 8 targets and 9 catches on 11 targets for 118 yards and a touchdown, respectively), neither can really be considered a receiving tight end in the way that Cameron is. Although he has been relatively quiet and ineffective this season so far, his loss for the next game or two will have a significant impact on the offense. Brian Hoyer has been struggling over the past few weeks, and with no running game to lean on ever since the loss of Alex Mack, he has started to lean more heavily on Cameron. If the running game repeats last week (25 carries for 39 yards) against the Buccaneers on Sunday, then this game will be quite ugly for Cleveland. Although Andrew Hawkins has been playing well, Miles Austin has been consistently making key plays, and Taylor Gabriel has been out-performing everyone’s wildest expectations, an offense that expects to be successful and consistently move the chains while depending just on those three players is not at all realistic. The running game needs to step back up to early season form this week in order to make up for the absence of Cameron, otherwise a repeat of Jacksonville should be expected.

– Defensive Coordinator Jim O’Neill has instituted a really cool system in the Browns’ locker room. Each defensive player has been given a dog collar that hangs in their locker. For each “Play Like A Brown” play they make during a game, they are gifted a dog bone to hang from their collars. Now, I’m not quite sure what the heck a “Play Like A Brown” play is or means, but I love this idea. Being the overly competitive freak that I am, the idea of receiving some type of little reward to symbolize my dominance and success at whatever I am doing is beautiful. This type of system creates a lot of healthy competition among players in the locker room, as each tries to outplay and outdo the others in order to win a bone. Although systems like this could potentially be detrimental to a team’s on-field cooperation, the way this system is set up has the opposite effect. From my understanding, a “Play Like A Brown” play doesn’t only refer to things like sacks or forced turnovers, but also can refer to acts such as absorbing multiple blockers at the line of scrimmage or successfully disrupting the timing of a receiver and causing the quarterback to make a poor pass or decision. This kind of system enhances the functionality of a squad by successfully incentivizing players to create opportunities for their teammates to make big plays and get the glory, thus making the team as a whole better. The other added benefit, at least in my eyes, of this system is that it gives players extra reason to play hard even when they are comfortably ahead in a game and have room to relax a little. Similarly, it incentivizes players to continue to give it their all even when the came seems out of reach, helping create the opportunities for comebacks like the one that occurred against the Tennessee Titans. Basically, what I am trying to say here is props to O’Neill for coming up with a brilliant and simple system to keep his players invested in playing well.

– As for this week, the Browns face a third bottom-dweller in a row. With injuries really hindering them right now, this is quite fortunate for the Browns. Sitting only one game out of first place in the division, this game is a must win for the Browns, and realistically it is one that they can and should take. The Buccaneers have been spectacularly bad this year, with what was lauded as a talented defense falling disgustingly short of expectations. Lavonte David has been playing very well, already having racked up 80 tackles on the year, while Gerald McCoy has also been performing at a high level. But two players do not make a defense, and there have been times where it has appeared that they were the only two actually on the field. Unfortunately for them, their offense has been nearly as poor as their defense, with the passing unit ranked 28th this year while the ground attack is 29th. Doug Martin has been a non-factor this year, and Vincent Jackson has been disappointing all season as well. The Browns defense should be able to continue to come up with turnovers this week, and a weakened offense should be able to do enough against a poor defense to give the Browns the victory this week:

Prediction: Browns 27 – Bucs 13

Defense Provides Spark to Overcome Raiders

A win is a win is a win. As ugly as this game was to watch, the Browns came out of it with a 4-3 record, looking ahead to Tampa Bay next weekend. I hear a lot of bickering between fans, mainly criticisms of what went wrong, and others who state we should just be happy with the win.

I see the points of both arguments, but expecting more from our football team is actually a good thing. It shows we’re non-complacent. We as fans aren’t giving up on the season, where most years some would already be looking forward to next year’s draft. This team has shown, despite not having main pieces on both offense and defense, it can overcome adversity to win.

CrowellOn Sunday, the running game was stalled for the second week in a row, which the Browns only compiled 39 total yards on the ground (1.6 avg). Whether it was because of Oakland’s game planning, or Cleveland still reeling from the loss of Alex Mack, nothing seemed to work. Fans, understandably, were very confused as to Isaiah Crowell’s usage (or lack thereof), where he did not get the ball until the 3rd quarter and received only one handoff. However, some of these fans were crying to “Feed the Crow” as if a different player getting hit in the backfield will make any kind of difference. Ben Tate has been plenty good this year, but when a defender hits him, or any other back, two yards behind the line of scrimmage, you cannot blame the running back. The loss of Alex Mack has hurt us much longer than originally expected.

The offensive line had another new look this week, moving John Greco back to right guard and starting Nick McDonald at center. I feel this was a good move, as it impacts only one new starter at a position, rather than two when Greco learned on the go at center and Paul McQuistan at guard. The defense runs a zone blocking scheme, so it will take some time for this new unit to get used to each other, as the line must work together to be effective.

This game was a case of sometimes, the numbers do lie. Brian Hoyer, despite having a rating of 111.5, looked less than impressive (to put it politely) for the second week in a row. Ball placement seems to be as big of a concern as his arm strength. This is a recurring issue that I’m not sure if Hoyer will fix this year. When the ball is at the very least catchable, the receiver isn’t able to catch the ball in stride, or even has to dive, in the case of Jordan Cameron’s catch that ended up giving him a concussion from an illegal hit.

I don’t think I’ve seen a QB with as much luck as Brian Hoyer received this past week, with at least four passes that looked to be sure interceptions. Thankfully for us Browns fans, the Raiders defenders were unable to catch the football.

Brian Hoyer has been a huge disappointment in the last two games. However, while it seems I am being overly critical of Hoyer, I’m not so sure it is time to switch to Johnny Manziel unlike many other fans.

As a fan, I have no idea if Manziel is actually ready to start in the NFL, as I do not attend practices. I have to believe the coaching staff will only put Johnny in when he is ready to play. As poor as Hoyer played against Jacksonville, it was an absolute must to start him this past Sunday against Oakland to see how he would respond. While he wasn’t as efficient as he was in previous games, Hoyer bounced back and eventually capitalized on the good team play on the defensive side of the ball.

The defensive unit definitely gets the game ball from me, as they kept Cleveland in the game long enough for the offense to find a rhythm and the end zone. It wasn’t smooth-sailing from the jump, however.

The Raiders started the game running all over the Browns defense, gashing chunks of yards at a time. “Here we go again,” I thought. Unexpectedly, the offensive play calling strayed away from the ground game.

Despite the tough going early on, the defense provided the opportunities for the offense to finally put touchdowns on the board. Tashaun Gipson amassed another interception, giving him 5 for the year, the most in the league. He just seems to be a magnet for the ball, being in the right place at the right time. Paul Kruger also came up big for the defense, recording three sacks.Gipson

The Browns also collected two fumbles in the second half. One by Barkevious Mingo in the 4th quarter, and another in the third by Joe Haden by way of a punishing blow from Donte Whitner, showing us why he was going to change his name to Hitner. This was the turning point of the game, as it had the feeling of the Jaguars game all over again before the ball landed in Haden’s lap. After this turnover, the entire team seemed to be re-energized and found their passion.

While it wasn’t pretty, the Browns came out with the win. Ultimately, that is really all that matters. Poor quarterback play and finding no space in the running game did not stop this team from grinding it out, finding a way to put points on the board. Going forward, it is up to the coaching staff to find more creative ways to call plays to keep the defense on their heels—especially with the loss of another play maker in Jordan Cameron, who looks to be doubtful to play against Tampa Bay. The Browns are in desperate need to get healthy and get Josh Gordon Back from suspension if they want to have success this season.

Opposing defenses are sure to stack the box more often without a real threat to go over the top. My only hope is that Kyle Shanahan finds a weakness in every defense we play and exploits it. Then, it is up to the offense to execute. The defense won’t always be able to create turnovers to bail them out.

I hope Hoyer and the running game find a way to rebound. Otherwise, it will be a long season ahead of us, once again.