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.
Throughout the season I have always done my best to remain positive and focus on the reasons the Browns could do well. Today I’m doing the same thing, but because no sane person would pick the Browns to beat the streaking Seahawks, I’m giving myself a little handicap. I’m looking for 4 reasons the Browns may win against the +14.5 spread.
1. The Seahawks don’t have a running back. After Thomas Rawls went down last week with a broken ankle the only remaining running backs on the roster are third down back Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown, and the newly signed Christine Michael. One of the main strengths of the Seattle Offense has been their ability to move the ball on the ground but injuries may not allow them take advantage of the Browns poor run D. Plus it is very hard to run up the score and cover large spreads without a solid running game.
2. The Browns pass rush has stepped up immensely. Last week the Browns sacked 49er QB Blaine Gabbert 9 times and young players like Nate Orchard, Armonty Bryant, and Xavier Cooper accounted for half of them. These young players could give the Seattle O-Line, which has allowed the third most sacks, plenty of trouble. Russell Wilson has been performing great over the past 4 games mostly because he hasn’t been pressured. If Orchard and Bryant can generate pressure we can do what the Vikings and Ravens couldn’t, which is stay within 14 points.
3. Gary Barnidge presents problems Seattle hasn’t dealt with. Seattle’s defense is very solid and should be able to stifle our practically weaponless offense. Luckily for us though Seattle usually allows lots of receptions to TEs. Plus Kam Chancellor is questionable which could give Gary Barnidge more space to make plays.
4. Johnny Manziel presents unique challenges for any defense, Seattle is very good at hindering QBs but they haven’t gone against a QB with his mobility since Cam Newton put up . Manziel’s play-making could be the key to creating big plays to keep the game close. If all these things happen and the Browns play a clean game we can keep within 2 touchdowns of the mighty Seattle Seahawks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Validation. The rematch between Pittsburgh and Cleveland did not disappoint Browns fans as the good guys win 31-10, proving to all critics that Cleveland is here and the league should take notice.
The game on Sunday was the first time this season we have seen both the offense and defense play a full four quarters. While there were a few hiccups the first couple of drives for Brian Hoyer and the offense, a deep play action pass to Jordan Cameron that went for 42 yards seemed to open up the floodgates.
Once again, the offensive play calling was dominated by the running backs, with Ben Tate rushing 25 times for 78 yards and two scores and Isaiah Crowell running for 77 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Terrance West was a surprise healthy scratch for the game.
With the Browns finding so much success with the run, that left Hoyer with only 17 passing attempts—completing a meager 8 of them. While a 47% completion percentage leaves much to be desired, Brian Hoyer’s shortest completion of the day was to Jordan Cameron for 9 yards towards the end of the third quarter. Hoyer’s longest pass also went Cameron’s way on a perfectly thrown 51 yard bomb for a touchdown in the 2nd quarter.
Something we aren’t used to this year is the team holding a convincing lead. The Browns defense came through in a big way, holding the Roethlisberger and the Steelers to a field goal until a garbage time touchdown to Lance Moore with about 2:45 left in the game. The Browns held the Steelers to 10 points while forcing five QB hits and two sacks. Buster Skrine also collected an interception after a John Hughes pass deflection.
What is most impressive about the success of the defense is they were without three key defensive linemen in Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin and Billy Winn. Not only that, but Armonty Bryant went down in the second quarter with a knee injury—what we now know is a torn right ACL which will unfortunately end his season. The importance of the depth of the defensive line cannot be overstated. With Bryant’s promising season being cut short, its next man up once again.
The offense was not spared from the injury bug, as Alex Mack suffered a fractured fibula and could also be done for the season (undetermined at time of writing this article). Joe Thomas admitted he became emotional after the injury to his fellow Pro Bowl teammate. One positive that came from this injury is the offense was not stunted because of Mack’s departure. John Greco moved over to center and Paul McQuistan came off the bench to replace Greco at right guard. The loss of Mack is a huge concern going forward, as the Browns have relied on the success of the running game this season.
The camaraderie shown by the entire Browns team to Alex Mack shows why they have found success this year compared to others. Despite not having a quote “superstar” on the field this year, they have come together and have played as a team. The heart is there. While they haven’t played perfect football, they pick each other up and fight for each other. Joe Haden and Paul Kruger, who both were very questionable to play, suited up to take on the division rival. Haden ended up making a highlight pass defense on Antonio Brown, soaring over Brown in the end zone, knocking the ball away.
It is fantastic to have won against the Steelers, but it is time to look forward. In the next three weeks, the Browns will be traveling to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars, then it is home against the Raiders and Buccaneers—a combined record of 1-16 between the three teams. The only win from these teams is when Tampa Bay traveled to Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers 27-24 in week four. The Jaguars nearly won week five as well as this past week. The opponents? Pittsburgh and Tennessee, the Browns’ last two games that vaulted them from a 1-2 record to 3-2.
While it is fun to look ahead to the next three opponents, dreaming of a 6-2 record, the Browns need to focus on this week against the Jaguars. Playoff teams beat teams they are supposed to beat. By all accounts, the Browns are supposed to beat Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay. Cleveland can’t play down to their opponent. They’ll need to build off their momentum heading into Cincinnati for the week 10 Thursday night game.
In an apparent battle to be the losing side on Sunday, the Browns ended up losing to the Titans. But in doing so, they won, if that makes sense. What I am trying to say is that both teams looked pretty god awful at times on Sunday in Nashville. However, the Titans managed to do a much better job than the Browns at throwing away the game, leaving room for the Browns to score 26 points unanswered and set the NFL road record for largest comeback victory.
As much as I would like to say that they did, I’m not sure the Browns necessarily deserved that victory. Their defense once again looked terrible, and their offense took forever to get going. But first, before elaborating on that, let me focus on the good:
First off, we won, which at the end of the day is the thing that matters most. So points there. Second off, our offense, once it finally did get going, looked really really good. Ben Tate looked awesome, effectively silencing everybody who was saying that he will lose the starting job to the rookies by the end of the season by putting up 123 yards on 22 carries for a very solid 5.6 yards per carry. On top of that both of the rookies still looked good in the limited action they saw, and the team combined for 175 yards on 36 carries. Brian Hoyer played a solid game once the 3 minute mark in the second quarter came and went, racking up 292 yards and 3 touchdowns in the air with a completion rate of 56.8%. He did however throw his first interception in 187 pass attempts (+/- 2 attempts), so that was kind of a bummer, definitely because it came in the fourth quarter, although it could be argued that the Browns probably would’ve had to punt the ball the next play anyway, so the deep interception actually saved them a few seconds of clock time. Regardless, I was still pretty bummed to see the streak end. Oh well, I guess he will just have to start another. Let’s hope that he can top the last streak.
Other players that impressed me Sunday included:
– Undrafted rookie WR Taylor Gabriel, who brought in 4 receptions for 95 yards
– Undrafted rookie CB K’Waun Williams, who came in for benched rookie Justin Gilbert and proceeded to rack up 6 solo tackles, one pass defensed, and one sack
– DE Armonty Bryant, who also amassed 6 tackles, including one sack, and also happens to be one of my favorite Browns players
– LB Karlos Dansby, who was consistently in the right place at the right time, or at least was more so than other Browns defenders
– WR Travis Benjamin, but only in the fourth quarter as a receiver bringing in two huge touchdown grabs
And, as much as I hate to admit it…
– K Billy Cundiff, who managed to not miss a field goal all game. And he even made one that was longer than 40 yards!!!! So I was pleasantly surprised by that. I do have to say though that I was very bummed when the Browns didn’t swoop in to sign recently-released Broncos kicker Matt Prater. I am still praying for the day the Browns decide to sign a real kicker.
And that is about it for what impressed me. Despite getting the W, the Browns still looked like a lower-tier NFL team. They did manage to only get called for 7 penalties this week, so that was good, or at least better. But honestly, we got lucky as hell. The football gods were on our side. First with Travis Benjamin inexcusably muffing a punt that was recovered by Tennessee but then called back because Michael Huff thought it would be fun to run 25 yards down the field while out of bounds, and then with a would-be-drive-killing fourth quarter interception that was called back due to a questionable illegal contact penalty. I mean that’s a lot more luck than one team deserves in a single game, definitely when they played as poorly as we did in the first half. The defense once again looked more full of holes than swiss cheese, and the offense took much too long to get going. That being said, here are some of the players that I was especially disappointed with this weekend:
– CB Joe Haden, who has still not been able to shake the penalty bug. I’ll say it once again, the defense cannot be good until Haden is back to his 2013 form…
– CB and first round draft pick Justin Gilbert, who got benched and replaced by an undrafted rookie who had 5 tackles all season heading into the game
– CB and special teams specialist Johnson Bademosi, who was called for penalties on two consecutive kickoff returns
– WR Andrew Hawkins, who had a shabby 3 catches for only 26 yards despite being targeted 9 times, more than any other player on the team
– WR Travis Benjamin. I know I mentioned it above, but again muffing that punt is inexcusable. There is no other way to phrase it. With Jordan Poyer showing the ability to return punts, I don’t want to see Benjamin back there again this season.
And lastly, but certainly not least…
– Cleveland Browns coaches and management, who did not sign kicker Matt Prater to replace the consistently disappointing and almost completely untrustworthy Billy Cundiff.
So, what am I looking for this week against the Steelers?
Well, first off, I don’t think we will start off the game like we did against them Week 1 (if we do, we will no doubt lose again). Instead, I’m expecting us to continue riding the momentum we had at the end of the Titans game and start off similar to how we did against the Saints. I don’t expect the defense to hold up that well against a talented Steelers offense, but I think they will be able to make enough stops to give the Browns a good chance at winning. Joe Haden will probably rack up a couple of penalties while defending Antonio Brown though. As for the offense, the run game hasn’t failed us yet, and I don’t expect it to soon. I’m looking forward to another big day from Ben Tate as well as another solid performance from Brian Hoyer. I think that this is a very winnable game for the Browns, definitely given it is at home. However, looking at previous results this season, it would be ludicrous a spread of greater than two or three points, so here is Sunday’s final score:
In a mere 4.5 hours, the Packers-Seahawks game will kick off, signifying the start of the the NFL regular season and meaningful football. From there it is only a short 64.5 hours until the Browns take the field on their way to beating the Steelers at Heinz Field. So, in preparation for that I thought that I would go back and revisit a few predictions I made back in May about the Browns’ passing game…
Prediction #1: Josh Gordon Will Play a Grand Total Of ZERO Games in 2014
While I was kind of right here. On the one hand, he did play in the preseason, which I did not expect since I naively thought the NFL would actually do its job and take care of the whole Josh Gordon affair in a timely manner. But alas, it is the NFL we are talking about. Anyway, I think I am unfortunately going to have to consider myself correct in this prediction. Although he did suit up the past few weeks, Josh Gordon will not be seeing the field in a meaningful game for the Browns this season. Which is extremely damaging for the Browns. But I’m not going to get into that right now, although if you do want to read more about that you can click here, here, or here. The essence of the situation though is that the Browns now have arguably the weakest group of receivers in the NFL, which means that their pass offense will have to be driven by other positions…
Prediction #2: Jordan Cameron Will Lead ALL AFC North Players in Receiving Yards Through Week 9, and then Suffer A Season-Ending Injury Against the Bucs
Obviously I can’t say whether or not this prediction is correct yet, but right now at least the first part is looking very plausible. With little in the way of passing threats other than Cameron rostered right now, and considering Cameron’s chemistry with Hoyer, it isn’t very far fetched to see the first half of this prediction panning out. Cameron will undoubtedly see a boatload of targets each game, leaving only whether or not Cameron will be able to elevate his game to combat the increased defensive attention to be seen. If he does, he is going to have a massive year. Like legitimate chance of outplaying Jimmy Graham massive.
As for the injury thing, that is just a gut feeling on my part. With the amount of work he is in line to see this year, he’s bound to get banged up. I just don’t see him making it through the whole season. And hey, Week 9 is as good of a week as any to predict an injury in.
Prediction #3: Miles Austin Will Lead the Browns in Receiving Yards at the End of the Year
This is a prediction that I am going to have to change. Austin didn’t show flashes of brilliance at all this preseason. Or flashes of anything really. He will serve as a mediocre receiver at best this season, and that is assuming he can even manage to go the whole season without re-aggravating his hamstring, which seems unlikely. If Cameron does get injured on the earlier side, I would expect Andrew Hawkins to finish the season leading the team in both receptions and receiving yards. Assuming he doesn’t get injured either. God, the more I look at this group of receivers the more I begin to worry. Austin, Hawkins, and Travis Benjamin are all moderate to high injury risks due to their history or size. Meanwhile Taylor Gabriel and LaRon Byrd are completely unproven. I mean who even is LaRon Byrd? Before yesterday I had never even heard of him, and yet now he is sitting on the Browns roster and will likely be contributing to this team at some point. But anyway, before I worry myself to death about how questionable this group is, I’m going to move on…
Prediction #4: Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Receiver Willie Snead Will Start For the Browns Week 1
Yeah, well that was a huge home-run-sized swing that was a complete miss. Although Snead didn’t have a terrible preseason, he wasn’t even impressive enough to make the final 53-man cut. When you read my logic behind this prediction, it just gets worse. I was so off in so many ways here. Oh well…
Prediction #5: Browns Receivers Will Drop Less Balls This Season Than Last
This last prediction is one I am definitely going to stand by. With both Greg Little and Davone Bess gone, I think this is a very safe bet to make.
You know, since I’m on a roll with the predictions right now, I’m just going to add one last prediction to this list:
Prediction #6: Browns 20, Steelers 17
Despite a dismal preseason, the Browns will get hot at the right time and will stun a Pittsburgh squad that most of the league is very high on right now. Brian Hoyer will toss for a couple of touchdowns, Jordan Cameron will have a monster game, and Armonty Bryant will be all over Ben Roethlisberger all afternoon. So look forward to this weekend folks; it’s going to be fun.
Well at least Connor Shaw looked good… Or actually, compared to the other two quarterbacks, he looked great.
But honestly, that game was painful to watch. The endless string of mistakes simply served to numb my brain and make me want to go curl up in my bed and sleep for about 12 hours. And mind you, this is after I recorded and watched the game two days late after a full night’s sleep. There just wasn’t a lot of good to take away from that game in my eyes, but I’ll discuss that in a little. First, the big news from yesterday:
Brian Hoyer was announced as the Week 1 starter for the Browns on Wednesday, barring an unexpected injury. And this, I believe, was the right decision, if only because Hoyer didn’t look quite as uncomfortable as Manziel, although that point is very debatable. Hoyer seems much more familiar than Manziel with the playbook, and he didn’t have any apparent mistakes or problems calling plays in the huddles on Monday. However, he by no means played well in either of the first two preseason games. His passes were constantly low or high or behind or in front of the receiver. Or, in other words, his passes were rarely where they were supposed to be. But I think that problem should lessen by the time the season actually starts.
During the game, there was much discussion among commentators about the fact that Manziel and Hoyer were sharing snaps with the first team during practice the last couple of weeks. The theory was that because neither of them had a whole lot of time with the starters, none of the receivers could build real chemistry with either quarterback. Combine that with the fact that the two quarterbacks in question have different arm motions, and it makes it much more difficult for a receiver to run timing routes and know where to expect the ball. I’m really hoping that this is all it is. Now that Hoyer has been named the Week 1 starter, he should get close to 100% of the first-team reps in practice. This should allow him to build more chemistry and understanding with his receivers, which will hopefully be on display on Saturday at 8:00 pm against the St. Louis Rams. All going well, Hoyer will put up better numbers than the 6/14 for 92 yards and the 2/6 for 16 yards of the past two games. Otherwise, this might end up proving to be a much longer season than most Cleveland fans expected.
As to my other takeaways from Monday as well as my expectations for Saturday:
– Armonty Bryant and Marqueis Gray continue to impress me. They are both having fantastic preseasons so far and are making cases to see significant playing time once the season truly starts. Neither is going to be able to force their way into the first team, but both are proving to be very talented and capable backups.
– Mitchell Schwartz is going to need help this year. Probably the weakest piece of this offensive line when it comes to pass protection, Ryan Kerrigan ran ragged over him on Monday. Now, not every defender he will be matched up against is going to be as talented as Kerrigan, but next week I’d expect to see a slight tweaking in the gameplan to give him a bit more help when Chris Long and Robert Quinn come to town.
– Jordan Cameron looked a bit rusty as he saw his first action of the season. Although the balls being delivered to him were by no means thrown well, there were a couple of catches that we would normally see him make. Look for him to keep progressing towards last season’s form as the preseason progresses.
– Special teams and tackling were both much improved from Week 1, a trend that should continue until these areas are two of the primary strengths of this year’s team.
– Ben Tate was one of the lone bright spots last week, showing himself quite worthy of a starting role in the NFL as he racked up 51 yards on 10 carries. If he continues that form into the season, the horror that is the Browns’ QB situation should be slightly balanced out.
– The battle for the second inside-linebacker spot raged on Monday. In my eyes, Craig Robertson outplayed Christian Kirksey, if only slightly. Robertson has a knack for elevating his game when it counts, and at this point I expect to see him on the field next to Karlos Dansby for the majority of the season.
– With Buster Skrine out with a thumb injury, Justin Gilbert made the most of his opportunity to start across from Joe Haden. Although he wasn’t perfect, he played well enough to raise the question of whether or not he could win the starting job from Skrine by the beginning of the season. With Skrine possibly out again next week, Gilbert will have a golden opportunity to leap Skrine on the depth chart.
Player That Most Impressed Me This Week: OLB Barkevious Mingo
– A bit of a disappointment last year, Mingo has been quite impactful so far this preseason. He has been hustling much more than many of his teammates and has been making plays all over the field. If he can keep that energy up all season, he has the chance of having a breakout year.
Player That Left Me Shaking My Head: CB Joe Haden
– “Holding. Defense, number 23. 5 yard penalty. Automatic first down.” “Holding. Defense, number 23. 5 yard penalty. Automatic first down.”
Those are not words I want to hearing ever in a Browns game, but on Monday we all had the pleasure of hearing that twice in the first quarter alone. I know that it will be hard for defensive backs to adjust to the new stringency when it comes to touching receivers after 5 yards, but I expected the best player on our defense to be able to adjust fairly seamlessly. So far that has not been the case. But hey, as long as he’s worked it out by the start of the regular season, everything will be forgotten. If not, well… let’s just not think about that.
So unfortunately folks, we have to wait all the way until Monday to see Manziel make his first NFL start. However, the good news for those of you like me who are currently outside of the Cleveland area is that the game will be nationally televised on ESPN (with kickoff scheduled for 8 pm ET), meaning that we won’t have to sit on our computers watching an extremely poor and fairly pixelated online stream of the game. So yay for that.
Anyway, here are a few little things that I will be looking for this week when Manziel and the Browns take on OC Kyle Shanahan’s old team in the Redskins:
– Johnny Manziel: While he saw significant action last week against the Lions, much of his time on the field was spent with the disgustingly porous second-team offensive line “attempting” to block for him. So, although he did put up 63 yards on 7/11 passing while also racking up 27 yards on the ground, I don’t really feel that we fans got a good feel for what he could do. Some of the things he’s been needing to work on going into this season include standing confidently in the pocket and going through his progressions before bolting, and he didn’t have as much of an opportunity to do that against the Lions as the pocket was regularly collapsing quite quickly. It will be interesting to see how Manziel reacts when he is given the time to stand in the pocket. Although I expect him to scramble early a few times during his time on the field, it will be nice to see whether he looks comfortable when he doesn’t tuck and run early.
– Terrance West: The past couple of weeks I’ve been reading about how West is going to be one of the breakout stars this year at the running back position for fantasy football. Last saturday, he didn’t live up to that expectation. Or even anywhere close to it. He ran for 22 yards on 10 carries with a long of 10 yards. Although he had a couple of nice looking runs, especially at the beginning of his time on the field, he just did not look that good to me. He threw down a couple of really nice little jukes to make defenders miss, but then he started to keep trying that. And it just wasn’t this working. This week I’m hoping to see him ground and pound a little more and put that size of his to use running through defenders, definitely against smaller corners on the outside.
– Inside Linebacker: This will be a very interesting and fun positional battle throughout the year, not only the preseason. Craig Robertson started the game and made a couple of great plays in run defense. He also looked much improved in coverage, which was something he struggled with at times last season. But then rookie Christian Kirksey came in. And he played great too. His coverage skills were phenomenal for a rookie inside linebacker, and while he didn’t make as many plays in the ground game as Robertson, he didn’t make any real big mistakes either. Look for both of them to keep putting together very respectable performances.
– Brian Hoyer: He too looked solid against the Lions, although he looked a bit shaky to start the game, especially on throws more than 10 yards or so downfield, as he consistently sent those sailing over the receiver’s head. I expect him to bounce back this week and show much better control on his longer throws, definitely as he will be seeing the field some against second-teamers.
– Special Teams: While there was good and bad in this area, it was mainly bad. The first kickoff honestly made me want to cry. That was really just not the way a team wants to start their season. Except for the Lions. They would’ve been pleased. But yeah, the Browns’ kickoff coverage did not look all that competent, neither on the first kickoff nor the second. Hopefully it will be different this week though. On the good side however, congratulations to Marlon Moore on earning himself another few days or weeks in a Browns’ uniform with that kick return to start the second half.
– Tackling: There were way too many missed tackles, especially among the first-teamers. A defense as talented as the Browns should be made to miss so easily. Wrapping up a player is arguably the most important part of defense, and the Browns were not able to do it. Hopefully they worked a lot on it this past week of practice so that we don’t have to experience that again against the Redskins. And speaking of missed tackles…
– Pierre Desir: Awful game. Just a terrible way to start an NFL career. Now, I still really like Desir and think he is talented, but everybody who was critical of his lack of experience playing “real” competition was proven correct. He was missing tackles all over the field as well as having problems staying with receivers in coverage. However, he has a strong work ethic, and I expect him to bounce back well this week as he showed flashes of excellence during the game against the Lions.
– Armonty Bryant: Wow. Just wow. Although solid last year, he looks like he has made big strides this offseason, and he had a hell of a game. He was consistently disrupting the quarterback, and I look forward to see him continue to that throughout the rest of the year.
– Contain: Another area the defense struggled on was containing at the line of scrimmage. There were a couple times where outside linebackers shirked their duties by overpursuing counters, leaving the running back with loads of room to run. We will need to see improvement in that area this week.
And that is more or less it. I’m really looking forward to being able to watch the game in HD this week. Anyway, I will leave you with this:
– Player That Most Impressed Me This Week: TE Marqueis Gray
Should Jordan Cameron suffer a serious injury this year, it appears that the Browns will have a capable backup to step up in his place.
– Player That I Am Waving Goodbye To: WR Jonathan Krause
Players who are battling for a last spot on the roster but are unaware and get hit in the knee by a very-well thrown ball while having space to run up the field don’t tend to win the battle for that spot.
As we enter the 15th season of the Cleveland Browns rebuilding project, the fans are still holding out hope that the team will be competitive eventually. Well I am done waiting and giving this team a free pass.
In their 14 seasons since returning in 1999, the Browns have won five games or less in 10 times – including five seasons in a row – and have made the playoffs just once. Overall, they are 73-151 for a winning percentage of .326. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize how terrible that is. The only team in the NFL that has won less games since 1999 are the Detroit Lions, who have gone 70-154. Of course, it took them going 0-16 in 2008 to bring down their winning percentage.
But forget about the Lions. Just take a look at the AFC North – the division in which the Browns play. We have heard all of the jokes about the Cincinnati Bengals over the years and have heard them called the “Bungles.” But take this into account – since 1999, the Bengals are 95-129 (22 more wins than the Browns) and have made the playoffs four times. Do you really want to look at the numbers for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens over that span of time? I didn’t think so.
But let’s look at the division over the last five seasons anyway.
Cleveland Browns: 23-57 0 Playoff appearances
Cincinnati Bengals: 37-43 3 Playoff appearances
Pittsburgh Steelers: 53-27 3 Playoff appearances, 1 Super Bowl win, 2 Super Bowl appearances
Baltimore Ravens: 54-26 5 Playoff appearances, 1 Super Bowl win
As if the last five seasons haven’t been painful enough, the Browns have decided that they aren’t going to win in 2013 either. How do I know this? Because they were more concerned with trading picks in the 2013 NFL Draft for picks in the 2014 NFL Draft than they were with actually picking players in the middle rounds of this year’s draft.
Some fans were perfectly happy with this decision because they have been told that the draft next season is deeper and better in talent than the draft this year. Of course, there is no way to know that to be accurate because a lot of things can happen over the next 12 months. Just ask guys like Tyler Wilson and Matt Barkley. Hell, ask Marcus Lattimore.
Need more proof that the Browns were looking towards the future when they finally did decide to make picks this past weekend?
With the No. 175 overall pick in the sixth round, they selected safety Jamoris Slaughter from Notre Dame, who is coming off an Achilles injury that allowed him to play just three games in 2012. They did this while Bacarri Rambo from Georgia was still available – a player that would have fit well with the Browns.
Then with the No. 217 overall pick in the seventh round, the Browns selected defensive end Armonty Bryant from East Central and with the No. 227 pick, they took tackle Garrett Gilkey from Chardron State. That is two picks that were used on Division II players – and projects – while they traded away their picks in the fourth and fifth rounds.
Yes, the Browns were able to swing a deal with the Miami Dolphins that landed them wide receiver Davone Bess. And yes, the Browns used their second round pick from this year to select wide receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft last year (by the way – this was Tom Heckert and Mike Holmgren). And yes, the Browns made a few notable additions in free agency this offseason.
But at the end of the day, this is still not a very good football team. They can’t afford to not add players through the draft when they have as many holes as they have. It isn’t like this draft was completely devoid of talent. If that were the case, other teams would have traded all of their mid-round picks as well. But they didn’t. The Steelers traded WITH the Browns to get that fourth round pick and take safety Shamarko Thomas from Syracuse. I am sure you will understand why I trust the front office of the Pittsburgh Steelers more than I trust the people running the Cleveland Browns.
And don’t try to sell me on the whole “but it is a different front office” argument, either.
How many times have we seen this? The Browns go through front offices like Taylor Swift goes through boyfriends. And it always ends up the same. So I will not apologize for not trusting the Browns front office until I have something to prove to me that they are worthy of my trust.
General Manager and Vice President of Player Personnel Mike Lombardi has not been in the front office of an NFL team since 2007 and was part of the brain trust in Oakland that made Jamarcus Russell the No.1 overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft. CEO Joe Banner was basically relieved of his duties as President of the Philadelphia Eagles and made a “special advisor” to owner Jeffrey Lurie (his personal friend) prior to last season. That doesn’t exactly scream “success” to me.
But Lombardi and Banner aren’t stupid. They know they can make these moves and try to build for beyond 2013 because Browns fans for whatever reason will always be loyal and supportive, sometimes not even asking questions in the process. Fans will follow the Browns down the road to a five-win season and the land of constant mediocrity without ever asking where they are going or why they are taking this road instead of another one. Browns fans seem strangely content with watching their team pick in the top-10 of the NFL draft every season because they are so accustomed to the draft being a big deal – sometimes even a bigger deal than games.
This has been something I have never understood when it comes to Cleveland fans. The Indians and the Cavaliers are free game for criticism, but the Browns are off-limits.
The only answer I ever get is because Cleveland is a “Browns Town.” This excuse is complete and utter crap. What exactly have the Browns done to earn this title? Sure, they won the city’s last championship. In 1964. The Browns have done nothing but kill the hopes and dreams of sports fans in the city since their return to the NFL in 1999. And please don’t come with that “the league screwed the Browns from the start” argument. What the league did in 1999 is not playing a factor in what the Browns do in 2013. Or what they did in 2010. Or 2008. You get the picture.
Or maybe you don’t, because you can’t take those orange and brown colored glasses off long enough to see what is happening.
But it is time for Browns fans to ask more of their team. It is time to demand that this team try to win – and win now. Allowing them to continue to rebuild for years down the road when those years have never come before with this plan is unacceptable. But there will always be those Browns fans who refuse to hold the team accountable and will praise them for everything they do.
While those fans are busy drinking the Kool-Aid, the Browns make me want something stronger. Now where did I put that bottle of Gentleman Jack…