Tag Archives: Buster Skrine

Browns' Free Agency 2015: The Last Minute Preview

On Tuesday afternoon, the 2015 NFL free agency period officially opens. Since Saturday, teams have been able to begin talking to free-agents-to-be, however without agreeing to terms or explicitly discussing potential numbers. Nonetheless, expect to see a slew of big signings in the 15 minutes after free agency officially opens. It will be unlikely that any of these quick signings are by the Browns, as General Manager Ray Farmer tends to be a bit slower and more deliberate with his signings, although I guess you never really know. Do expect to see the Browns sign a few players over the next week though. If last year was any indication, a lot of these signings will be veteran players who can serve as role players and mentors and who will be on the somewhat cheaper side, although with just short of $50 million in cap space, the Browns could surprise everyone and make a big splash with a monster signing. Again, you never really know, definitely with a young GM at the helm. Anyway, here is who to keep an eye on this free agency period when discussing the Browns:

Browns’ Free-Agents-To-Be That Need To Be Re-signed:

Before we look at new players who the Browns could potentially sign, we need to take a quick look at players that the Browns need to keep in Cleveland. These are all guys who the Browns could let walk, but really shouldn’t:

CB Buster Skrine

Skrine reportedly wants to test the open waters, which seems to be a good decision. The Browns, however, need to keep him around. They will have to pay more for him than they otherwise would’ve, but I think he is easily worth the $8 million or so a year that they will have to dish out. Skrine has started the past two seasons and has been quite solid across from Joe Haden. As a bonus, he is an extremely talented nickelback, so if Justin Gilbert ever decides to start playing actual football, he can easily slide inside. Additionally, replacing him would end up costing just about as much as resigning him if the Browns want to sign a player close to his caliber. I expect him to be resigned, with a deal to the tune of 4 years and $30 million.

DL Ishmaa’ily Kitchen

I like Kitchen a lot. He played well last year when everyone else on the line went down with injuries. He wouldn’t cost that much to retain. And he is an Ohio native who would most likely enjoy remaining close to home. Plus he is the owner of what was voted the best sack dance in the NFL. Offer him a nice little 2 year, $1.5 million deal, and let him stick around.

 S Tashaun Gipson

He is one of the top safeties in the league, has an absurd affinity for creating turnovers, and is only  24. There is no doubt in my mind that he will remain among the top players at his position for at  least the next five years, and as such, the Browns need to sign him to a long term deal as soon as  possible. It would be cheaper to do this now, and they could probably keep him around for as little  as $4 million a year, which in a couple of years will look like a steal.

S Johnson Bademosi

Although he made a couple of really stupid mistakes during games last year, he still is one of the best special teams players in the NFL, and would be simple to retain.

LB Craig Robertson

He played well last year. He will play well this year. And he will serve as a good backup when Christian Kirksey is fully ready to start. He should remain on the team next year.

TE Andre Smith

Depth is always appreciated. There is no need to show him the door.

WR Miles Austin

He played well last year until his kidney decided to misbehave. He obviously is not a long term option, but he is a serviceable role player and can serve as a mentor for whichever receiver the Browns draft this year.

Now that we have handled that, and maintaining the assumption that all of those players are resigned, the Browns have a few areas of need that they can address in free agency…

Wide Receiver

This is clearly a monster need for the Browns, especially with Josh Gordon suspended once again. Currently, the Browns have Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, and Travis Benjamin as the only experienced receivers on the roster. They will also should have Austin. It is safe to assume that the Browns will probably spend at least one pick in the Draft on a receiver, leaving them with five players who can have impact at the position. They will, however, still be looking to sign another one in free agency. The question is merely “who?”

Randall Cobb (Packers)

Cobb is clearly the best receiver on the market, but it would be stupid to bring him too Cleveland. At 5’10” and 192 lbs, Cobb is another slot-type receiver, of which the Browns already have two in Hawkins and Gabriel. Although Cobb, being the best slot receiver in the NFL at the moment, would clearly be an upgrade, he would not be a practical or smart use of what would amount to a lot of money.

Torrey Smith (Ravens)

Pair him with a talented first round pick and Hawkins and Gabriel inside, and the Browns suddenly have a rather potent group of wideouts. Smith would essentially be a more versatile and effective version of Benjamin. Speedy as all hell (4.43 in the 40), Smith is a receiver who specializes in the deep ball and would be able to stretch out defenses so that Hawkins and Gabriel could work underneath. Personally, I think he would be a great player to bring in, although he will be on the slightly costlier side. It would be cool to use an old Ravens player against them though. There is nothing worse than seeing a player you let go of completely wreck you twice a year.

Michael Crabtree (49ers)

Crabtree is an option, but not a great one. He’s been largely ineffective since tearing his achilles in 2013, and even before that he was pretty consistently disappointing. He may come on the cheaper side though.

Cecil Shorts (Jaguars)

The Cleveland-area native is ready for a change in scenery from Jacksonville, and may be drawn to come home. The Browns have shown heightened interest in him, and might even be willing to fork over a few extra dollars to bring him onboard. The only hurdle is that Shorts has said he is tired of losing and that he just wants to win. Cleveland isn’t usually viewed as a team that wins a lot, but there is the chance that the blind faith that Clevelanders and Browns fans learn could make him turn a blind eye to the fact that the Browns aren’t sure-fire winners. I think that this is the receiver the Browns are most likely to sign. Even more so if they decide to not bring Austin back.

Hakeem Nicks (Colts)

Nicks was clearly talented at some point, and someone is going to sign him hoping that they can find that talent again. But it shouldn’t be the Browns. The Browns need to take safer steps that clearly move them forward, and signing a player who sat behind an aging and less effective Reggie Wayne for the past year doesn’t fit into that category of decisions.

Brian Hartline (Dolphins)

Only a year removed from consecutive 1000-yd campaigns, Hartline could be a nice option for the Browns. Despite his ineffectiveness last year, expect Hartline to bounce back and put up respectable numbers no matter where he lands this year. He has already visited with the Browns, but has also been the subject of interest from a number of other teams. I don’t think the Browns like him enough to engage in some kind of bidding war, so unless he comes cheap, expect him to land somewhere else.

Defensive Tackle

Without a doubt the Browns’ biggest area of need this offseason. Luckily, there is a slew of talented players available both in the Draft and in free agency. Ahtyba Rubin likely on the way out, the Browns will need to pick up a big body during free agency.

Ndamukong Suh (Lions)

There is not a better tackle on the market. There is no arguing with that statement. However, Suh will not land in Cleveland. I would really love him to, as it is extremely rare to be able to sign a hall-of-fame caliber player in his prime, but I don’t see Farmer being willing to spend the cash that would be necessary. Suh is looking to become the highest paid defender in the league, and there are teams who are willing to grant him his wish, just not the Browns.

Nick Fairley (Lions)

Suh’s soon-to-be-former teammate might be second to only Suh in terms of talent among free agents at the defensive tackle position. When he’s motivated, he can play like one of the best linemen in the league. However that whole “when he’s motivated” phrase is key. Fairley has shown a history of getting easily discouraged, and when that happens his level of play falls substantially. Playing for a program with the ups and downs that the Browns have probably wouldn’t be the best fit for him. Additionally, schematically there are better options.

 Terrance Knighton (Broncos)

A better option schematically. Knighton is one of the top nose tackles in the league  and is stellar against the run. After housing the worst run defense in the NFL in  2014, the Browns need to focus on picking up a run-stuffing tackle more than a pass-  rushing one, and Knighton would be a great option.

 Dan Williams (Cardinals)

Another great option, and one that might come slightly cheaper than Knighton. He  has gotten better every year that he has been in the NFL, is just hitting his prime,  and seems to be the kind of high value signing that Farmer likes to try to make. I  could see the Browns spending a few dollars to bring him in.

 BJ Raji (Packers)

Although he hasn’t really been effective since 2011, he is a player that is talented  enough that he could bounce back. If he does, he could be a bargain.

Barry Cofield (Redskins)

At 30, he is past his prime and is coming off an injury-plagued season. Nonetheless, he is still one of the better run stuffers in the NFL. Also, having grown up in Cleveland Heights, he may be interested in coming home.

Stephen Paea (Bears), Henry Melton (Cowboys), Kendall Langford (Rams)

While all talented, they are more pass-oriented linemen. None would be a great fit in Cleveland.

Kendrick Ellis (Jets)

He has worked with Pettine before, and thus might be inclined to come play for him again. He would probably serve in a backup’s role as he never has really had a large impact in the NFL.

Tight End

If the Browns are going to spend heavy money anywhere during free agency, it will be here. With Jordan Cameron out due to concussion issues and only Gary Barnidge, Jim Dray, and Andre Smith on the roster, the Browns need to pickup a high impact player who can spark their offense and give them a reliable option in the middle of the field.

Julius Thomas (Broncos)

He is one of the top 3 tight ends in the NFL and, at 26, is in his prime. It is unusual for a player of his caliber to hit the open market, and as a result he will demand big bucks. He has had some ankle issues over the past year or so, but still creates absurd mismatches over the middle. He isn’t the best blocker though, so he might be better suited for a more pass-oriented offense.

Virgil Green (Broncos)

Thomas’s sooon-to-be-former teammate is also set to hit the open market, although the Broncos seem to be trying to keep him in the Mile High City. He’s a decent enough blocker, is athletic enough to make an impact, and could come on the cheaper side due to his limited playtime and experience.

Rob Housler (Cardinals)

 Personally, I think that he is the most exciting tight end available this year. At 6’5″  and 250 lbs, he can run a 4.46 second 40. So basically he’s a freak athletically who is  going to emerge over the next two years to become one of the top 5 tight ends in the  NFL. Underutilization in Arizona due to his poor ability to block stymied his  development a little bit, but used in tandem with a better-blocking tight end such as  Jim Dray, I think Housler could be a very effective option.

 Jermaine Gresham (Bengals)

On the other end of the spectrum, Gresham is just about the blandest option at this  position. He has always been alright, but never special. Unfortunately, he has been  linked to the Browns more than any other tight end this offseason.

Pass Rusher (OLB/DE)

With Jabaal Sheard‘s likely departure, the Browns need to secure themselves a new outside linebacker. Pettine wouldn’t be too opposed to bringing in a strong pass-rushing defensive end as well, and there are plenty of options on both fronts.

Trent Cole (Eagles)

Although he is on the older side, he has the versatility to serve as a DE or an OLB in the Browns system. He still is a solid player, although he would only be able to contribute for a couple of years. He visited the Browns this weekend, so a deal may be in the works.

Jerry Hughes (Bills)

A soon-to-be-former member of the talented Bills defensive line, he has been overshadowed by his teammates. Despite that though, he has still racked up 10 sacks a year over the last couple, and he might could be interested in a reunion with his old boss.

Brian Orakpo (Redskins)

His career has been marred with injuries, but when he is healthy he is still one of the better players at his position. His injury history could make him a bit cheaper, but he is definitely a risky signing. High reward is everything works out though.

Brandon Graham (Eagles)

At 26, he is just entering his prime. He has shown that he can be an effective pass rusher when utilized, racking up 5.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles last season for the Eagles. His ability to create turnovers makes him an enticing option that Farmer and Pettine might be drawn to.

Pernell McPhee (Ravens)

The highest-rated outside linebacker available this year, he racked up 7.5 sacks in limited (540) snaps last season. Although there is a risk that he is simply a product of the system, he has shown an immense amount of talent and his just entering his prime. I think that he would be a high-impact player for the Browns, although he may take a season or so to fully develop into an effective player in the Browns system. Nonetheless, the combination of him and Paul Kruger (or Barkevious Mingo if he finally breaks out) has the potential to be rather lethal.

Quarterback

I still would like to see Hoyer remain in Cleveland, but with the Josh McCown signing that is unlikely. That, unfortunately, means that the Browns have no starting-caliber quarterbacks on their roster. So that will be fun…    There is still the possibility that the Browns sign another signal caller in free agency, and they will no doubt take a quarterback at some point in the Draft, but I honestly cannot really tell what Pettine is planning here.

Offensive Line

The right side of the line is not the strongest, and I would love to see someone like Bryan Bulaga come in and take over for Mitchell Schwartz. Pettine, however, has suggested that he doesn’t see a huge need to upgrade the position, so don’t be expecting to see any big signings in this department. A few depth-oriented signings could be made here, definitely at the center position.

…And that’s about it folks. There will no doubt be players signed that I didn’t cover here, since that is just how the NFL works. However, above are lists of some of the better options in the areas where the Browns most need help. Hopefully Farmer can repeat the success that he had last offseason, when he made a number of smart signings that didn’t break the bank. I guess we will see soon…

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.

11-on-11: The NFL Spoils Spaceballs

So, Lonestar was a prince the whole time. Forget the million spacebucks. That guy in the Winnebago is royalty.

Did I mention there would be spoilers? You’ve had almost 30 years to watch Spaceballs, so I’m not going to feel bad about this. It wasn’t my intention to do a Spaceballs thing, but my hand was forced when a laptop battery died and took two thousand righteous words about this weekend’s NFL action with it. So, today we’re going to bring you the short, short version.

After two tries to knot up Prince Valium and Princess Vespa, the officiant did the nuptials in 30 seconds, “Do you? Do you? Good! You’re married, kiss her!”.

That said, here we go. It’s a turbo edition of the 11-on-11.

Game I Anticipated Most

In a battle of 4-4 teams at the Superdome, the 49ers were clearly more desperate to move to 5-4 than the Saints, who play in the god-awful NFC South. Trying to convince yourself there’d be quality football was like hoping there’d be a hip DJ at the first wedding, the one where the bride-to-be took her Droid of Honor and plotted here intergalactic escape from the altar.

As successful as they’ve been at home, there’s been something fishy about the Saints this season. At first, I thought it was just a matter of pass/fail surrounding their usage of Jimmy Graham, but there’s no question they need to run the ball to keep defenses off balance. The Saints ran the ball efficiently, but made too many mistakes and let Colin Kaepernick survive the ones he made in a 27-24 overtime loss to San Francisco on Sunday.

Thursday is a Good Night to Breathe

“As president of Planet Spaceball, I can assure both you and your viewers that there’s absolutely no air shortage whatsoever. Yes, of course. I’ve heard the same rumor myself. Yes, thanks for calling and not reversing the charges. Bye.”

I do sometimes wonder how many people in the entertainment industry were calling President Skroob collect, but the air shortage was a real thing and no one would be convinced otherwise. After Sunday’s NFL action, this rumor about the Browns owning sole possession of first place in the AFC North began to get legs.

An unfortunate beaming accident caused Andy Dalton’s ass to be put on backwards, and before Snotty could reverse the beam, he’d thrown 3 of his 33 pass attempts into the arms of Browns defenders. Two went to Buster Skrine, as the Browns showed they won’t simply lay down and die without the services of their All-Pro Center. In a game that answered the question, what if Mel Brooks would have cast the red-headed, yellow-eyed bully from A Christmas Story as Colonel Sandurz, the Browns left Cincinnati with a 24-3 victory. Three days later, they found themselves in a place that no Cleveland Brown has been in 19 years, alone in first place.

Comb the Desert

Try as they might, the experts “ain’t found shit” while combing the desert searching for reasons to doubt the Arizona Cardinals. Take away their starting quarterback, no problem. Suspend Darryl Washington, watch Karlos Dansby chase those Cleveland dollars, and lose Darnell Dockett for the year; they’ve got this.

While a loss to the Rams wouldn’t have exactly ended their season, the Cardinals were as cool as the soft drink Pizza The Hutt would consume while eating himself, trailing 14-10 in the 4th quarter on Sunday. Carson Palmer was probably learning that his ACL was torn to shreds, Drew Stanton came off the bench and hit the Pittsburg State rookie John Brown for 48 yards, which was good for another game-winner, Brown’s fourth such victory-clinching catch this season. A few defensive touchdowns made it look better, but the 31-14 final score means a lot less in these parts than the Birds overall record of 9-1.

Keep combing that desert though.

They’ve Gone to Plaid

The Packers 55-17 win over the Chicago Bears just skipped light speed and went straight to Ludicrous Speed. Aaron Rodgers’ 6 touchdown passes in the first half gave the Packers a 42-0 halftime lead, and as ugly as it was, it could have been worse.

Lovie Smith is 1-8 in Tampa Bay. Marc Trestman is 3-6 with the Bears. Bears fans want their old coach back now.

“No, no, no. Go past this. Pass this part. In fact, never play this again.”

– Marc Trestman in the filmroom on Monday…probably a few times

When Will Then Be Now? Soon.

If John Fox could only get his hands on the Super Bowl 49 DVD and look ahead to what awaits him in February, it would be a more efficient use of his time than having to game-plan for the Raiders. I’ll tell you, this would be really exciting to watch, but we’re all fatigued with regular season Denver.

We want to see playoff Denver, not “41-17 over the winless Raiders” Denver. Peyton Manning had 340 yards passing with 5 touchdowns, and a couple of young men with the surname of Thomas filled up the stat sheet once again…yawn.

I Knew It, I’m Surrounded By Assholes

assholesI’m just going to pat myself on the back for resisting the urge to make jokes about Dot’s virgin-alarm on anyone on the Steelers roster. However, they have now lost to the Jets and Tampa Bay this season after falling to Michael Vick and the New Jersey Green Team on Sunday. Of the five teams that play both the struggling Jets and inept Bucs, Pittsburgh will be the only team to lose to both this season.

So the combination is… one, two, three, four, five?

This is the section where we usually discuss who might end up with the top pick next May, and the reality is the top five picks might not help the 0-9 Raiders going forward. Maybe they need the change of scenery that Los Angeles can provide, but maybe Mark Davis should change the combination on his luggage before the migration to Southern California.

There Goes The Planet

This is our worst game of the week award, and it goes to the NFC South. What an epic battle between Tampa Bay and Atlanta! The final was 27-17; do you even care who won?

If advanced apes rode into Raymond James Stadium on horseback on Sunday for their first taste of the NFL, I think they’d turn around and contemplate a return to living like primates.

 

Dirty Laundry Award

“Thank you for pressing the self-destruct button”

Bears…11 penalties…163 yards. Green Bay ran the ball 32 times for 132 yards on Sunday night; even at a clip of 4.1 yards per carry, they were better off letting the Bears self-destruct at Lambeau.

For the Degenerates

“Careful you idiot! I said across her nose, not up it!”

The Eagles are giving Carolina a touchdown with the standard extra point at home on Monday Night Football. Let Cam and company have those points, Philly will make a statement tonight. The 48.5 Over/Under is tricky, but the Panthers will find the end zone a few times in defeat to help everyone playing the over.

Random, Perhaps Unimportant

So, there was this interception by Miami’s Brent Grimes in Detroit…

IMG_0045

Brokeback Romo isn’t just a tasteless slur for people who don’t like the Cowboys any more. With his vertebrae somewhat intact, the Dallas starter wowed a British audience with 3 touchdown passes in the team’s win over Jacksonville in London.

Hey! Those are the guys that stole our uniforms!
To be fair, the Titans stopped wearing the old Oilers uniforms after a few seasons in Nashville and the Ravens never wore orange and brown in any official capacity, but Nashville and Baltimore take NFL teams that didn’t belong to them in the 90s. The used-to-be-Browns beat the used-to-be-Oilers in Baltimore on Sunday, while the used-to-be-Baltimore-Colts and replacement Oilers took the week off.

Before I go, I want to really pay a compliment to Mel Brooks for making this more than a spoof, giving mock-Chewbacca and mock-3PO some real personality of their own with John Candy as Barf and Joan Rivers as Dot Matrix. They were ancillary sidekick figures, but both late actors held their own in this flick. There’s a loose comparison to be made between those two and the Chiefs and Bills. Neither team is going to steal the show, but they sure could play spoiler, or even make a brief run of their own. Both were 5-3 entering play in Buffalo on Sunday, but the gap between 6-3 and 5-4 right now might be the difference between being in or being out in January. The Chiefs put themselves in a good position with a 17-13 road victory.

dotbarf
“The ring is bupkis! I found it in a Cracker Jack box!”
I never saw the Sea Chickens as a heel. They struggled a bit early, but you’d have a tough time convincing me of any Super Bowl hangover. It’s tough to win in a league where no one really knows anything, and even if it took Seattle catching a break in their schedule with Carolina, Oakland, and the Giants, they still have their eye on the prize. They trail the 8-1 Cardinals by two games in the NFC West standings, but have two shots at the Cardinals in their last six games, so they still control their own destiny in the division. It’s going to be a fun couple of weeks, so stay tuned out west.

Finally, today (November 10th) is the United States Marine Corps’ 239th birthday. The whole deal started at Tun Tavern on this date in 1775, in the city that hosts Monday Night Football tonight. Let’s see if ESPN pays homage on their telecast. Either way, happy birthday Marines and Semper Fi.

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OBB Presents Rapid React: Browns 22 Buccaneers 17

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Orange and Brown Breakdown and Rapid React: RSS (audio)iTunes (audio)StitcherTuneIn

As ugly as it may look sometimes, there’s something about Brian Hoyer throwing the ball back across the field for big chunks of yards that catches opposing secondaries off guard and it isn’t always pretty. Hoyer hit Taylor Gabriel for 34 yards and a score on the second play of that nature on Sunday to clinch the 22-17 victory over Tampa Bay at First Energy Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

Not pretty, but acceptable. That’s how the Browns have operated to date in 2014, whether they’re playing down to the level of their competition or not. We had our eyes on four things as the Browns improved to 5-3 at the halfway point in the season. In their third game without Alex Mack, will the offensive line improvise and improve? How will the undersized players in the Cleveland secondar handle the big, physical Tampa Bay receivers? Since there’s been a massive void in the return game this year, can the Browns win the field position game? Finally, Brian Hoyer has been challenged, what do we think at the halfway point?

Offensive Line

It looked bad early and mediocre late, but never good. Nick McDonald is not cutting the mustard in relief of Alex Mack, but there are few other options. You could see him being pushed around by Gerald McCoy and Akeem Spence in the first half, and you can see how ugly it is on the stat sheet anytime you want. A running team has to be better than 1.8 yards per carry.

Bucs’ Physical Receivers

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I think the actual scoreboard reveals this to be a victory for the Browns. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson both check-in at about 6’5″ 230 pounds, setting up difficult match-ups for sub-six-footers Buster Skrine and Joe Haden, which showed. Evans had his first multi-touchdown game as a pro, hauling in two scoring grabs among his 7 catches for 124 yards on the day. Jackson had 6 catches for 86 yards, but there wasn’t much more available to Mike Glennon than that, which meant something in the end.

Field Position

There was nothing conventional about how the Browns survived the fact they don’t return kickoffs well and they don’t return punts at all, but they were still fine on special teams. They blocked field goals and punts, got turnovers when they needed them, and managed to get Spencer Lanning out of the shadow of his goalposts. The offense did their defensive counterparts few favors, but they were still five points better on the scoreboard in the end.

Brian Hoyer

Didn’t play well, but he played well enough to win. Cost the team six on the first throwback to Ben Tate on a play that should have allowed him to walk in the endzone, but it was over-thrown and his running back had to tip-toe the sidelines just to complete the reception. He threw too many balls to the middle of the field behind his receivers, but still did enough to get them in the endzone twice on the day, and stepped up when it counted. The calls for Manziel aren’t coming with justification, but they might someday soon, and that won’t be a good day for the Browns.

Cleveland Browns Week Seven: The Good, Bad and Ugly

For the Cleveland Browns, last Sunday’s loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars was their worst defeat of the season thus far. Sure, losing to the Baltimore Ravens or the Pittsburgh Steelers in last minute fashion is heartbreaking, but to be embarrassed by (arguably) the worst team in the NFL when you are favored to win on the road is demoralizing. A lot went wrong this past Sunday in Jacksonville, but it wasn’t all bad. Here is the good, the bad and the ugly from last Sunday’s Browns game.

The Good

GipsonYes there was some good in this game, mostly on the defensive side of the ball. For starters, safety Tashaun Gipson intercepted two Blake Bortles passes and is now tied for the league lead in interceptions with four so far this season. Gipson, a player I admittedly wasn’t as high on as others, is proving himself to be a ball-hawking, centerfield type safety. While he does struggle a bit in run support, quarterbacks this season have just a 46.2 QB Rating when throwing into his coverage. Gipson was not alone in the secondary this week either. Despite having an up and down (with more down than up) rookie season, Justin Gilbert turned in a solid performance on Sunday. Gilbert started the game for the Browns and saw 46 of 74 possible defensive snaps, the most for him since week two. He managed to get a hit on Blake Bortles and, while he only saw three passes come into his coverage, just allowed one completion for three yards. Also, despite allowing a touchdown, Buster Skrine turned in a solid performance. He was targeted 12 times throughout the game, limiting the damage to just 6 catches for 70 yards. He also broke up one pass and intercepted another. Overall, this was probably the best the Browns secondary played all season (Joe Haden, paging Joe Haden).

Staying on the defensive side of the ball, Karlos Dansby continued to earn his paycheck. Dansby got to Bortles twice on Sunday, once for a hurry and once for a sack, and managed six stops. Chris Kirksey also played well in limited action (39 snaps), getting a positive grade from Pro Football Focus and leading the team in total tackles on Sunday with nine.

The Bad

The Browns rushing attack only managed 69 total yards on 30 rushing attempts. Ben Tate received the most carries with 16, but only managed 36 rushing yards. Combined, Tate, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West had 28 carries, 62 yards (2.2 yards per carry) and no touchdowns. This was in part due to Jacksonville’s commitment to stop the run and struggles along the offensive line, however there is plenty of blame to heap upon the running backs as they at times missed holes and generally failed to capitalize on what was considered to be a porous run defense in Jacksonville.

While Brian Hoyer was far from good Sunday, his receivers didn’t help matters either. Browns receivers, who had just four dropped passes coming into play Sunday, dropped four on Sunday. Andrew Hawkins, who otherwise had a fairly good day, dropped two passes while Miles Austin and Travis Benjamin each dropped one.

The Ugly

Brian Hoyer, Telvin SmithOffensively, the Browns were a train wreck. For starters, the absence of Alex Mack (out for the season) really showed as the Browns offensive line was generally bullied at the point of attack. Individually, Joe Thomas had a solid game (per usual) and Joel Bitonio wasn’t bad either (getting a barely positive grade from Pro Football Focus), however overall the unit struggled. The right side of the line may as well have been a red carpet to the backfield. Combined Paul McQuistan and Mitchell Schwartz allowed one sack, three QB hits and four QB hurries. The Browns offensive line also failed to consistently run block effectively, which is partly why the ground game suffered.

Despite being under some pressure, Brian Hoyer easily had the worst start of his career. Pressure was present, however only on 14 of his 44 drop backs. Hoyer was just 2/11 for 14 yards and an interception when under pressure. While statistically he hasn’t been great while under pressure all year (58 dropbacks under pressure this season, going just 16/49) Hoyer was obviously struggling more than usual. Even when he wasn’t under pressure (30 of his 44 dropbacks were pressure free) he still only completed 46.7% of his passes. Hoyer was also inaccurate, beyond just going 16/41 on the day. His passes were off target, most notably missing a wide open Jordan Cameron in the end zone from four yards out. He hasn’t been the most accurate passer all year anyway (completing just over 60% of his passes entering play), however Sunday was far and away his worst showing.

Browns special teams, and notably the return game, has been very underwhelming this season. That trend continued Sunday, however if Special Teams was just simply bland that would’ve been fine in hindsight. With the game still in the balance, Jordan Poyer went back to receive a punt with 6:12 left to play in the game. This could’ve/should’ve setup another Brian Hoyer game winning drive. What happened was pretty much the exact opposite. Poyer backed up to receive the ball on the two yard line. This alone should make anybody scratch their heads. With the ball looking to be extremely close to the end zone, why not let it bounce and (more than likely) go into the end zone for a touchback? Why fair catch the ball on the two yard line? Not only does Poyer stupidly call for the fair catch, the ball then bounces off of his facemask and is recovered by the Jaguars. On the very next play the Jags score a touchdown. If you aren’t going to be an electric retuner (Poyer isn’t) at least be a smart one. Poyar was neither.

In Conclusion

While overall the game on Sunday was a nightmare for the Browns, there were a handful of bright spots. Up to this point the Browns have (generally) played fairly well. Looking ahead, the Browns have two winnable games against the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If the Browns can make this past Sunday the exception instead of the rule, all will be forgiven. If not, well we all know what that means.

The Cleveland Browns: A Tragicomedy

The Cleveland Browns traveled to Jacksonville, but I’m not sure if they were prepared to play football. There were very few bright spots in this game for the Browns; so needless to say, it was very painful to watch this outing.

Before I get too far, credit needs to be given where credit is due—the coaching staff for the Jaguars just flat-out coached circles around the Browns. Jacksonville’s defensive line is one of the most underrated in the NFL. Pair that with the loss of Alex Mack, it was a recipe for disaster, as the offensive line looked lost and tired for most of the game. The Jaguars also effectively attacked on the ground, knowing the Browns rush defense is one of the worst in the league, with a defensive line marred with injuries. Former Michigan Wolverine Denard Robinson ended the day with 127 yards on the ground and one TD.

In my previous articles, I praised Kyle Shanahan for establishing the run, as it set up the entire offense. Well, Jacksonville made the Browns one-dimensional, taking away the running game and making Brian Hoyer beat them with his arm. Cleveland rushed 30 times for 69 yards. I repeat—the Cleveland Browns, as a team, rushed for only 69 yards on 30 attempts. That is a pitiful 2.3 yards per attempt. There were more than a few play-action pass plays that the defense bit on, but only a couple came with a completed pass.

The passing game was frustrating as well. Receivers were dropping balls, but we can only blame them for the few passes that Brian Hoyer actually hit them on target. Once again, Hoyer overthrew passes, underthrew passes, passes behind receivers—you name it, it happened. Most frustrating to me was the pass to a wide open Jordan Cameron in the end zone that sailed over the 6’5” TE’s head from the four yard line.

To be fair, I cannot blame every erratic pass on Hoyer. The o-line was simply over-matched and the QB was pressured more than a few times. However, Brian Hoyer had more than enough time on (roughly) half of his throws, but just could not deliver the ball properly. It is an ongoing issue that will have him looking over his shoulder for Johnny Manziel until the rookie finally supplants him once and for all. I’m not saying it is an inevitability, but I believe Hoyer will have a much shorter leash going forward after this performance. Missing open receivers will get you benched, you cannot blow that many opportunities in the NFL.

Maybe Brian was distracted all week by the false reports regarding his contract and future with the Browns that the local media ran with all week? Whether it affected his preparation and play or not, Hoyer is a professional athlete—he needs to put these things out of his mind and focus on the game. Completing just 16 of 41 attempts (39% completion) is just not going to win you games.

GipsonDo you remember that bright spot I mentioned at the beginning of the article? That came in the form of three interceptions—Buster Skrine collected one as Tashaun Gipson stole two away from Blake Bortles. While the picks were great, the offense failed to capitalize on them. As a matter of fact, both of Gipson’s interceptions gave the Browns offense the ball deep in their opponent’s territory at the 17 and 33 yard line, respectively.

Now for the cherry on top. The Browns defense forces a three and out with about 6:15 left to play in the game. The score is 6-10, advantage Jacksonville, but the momentum shift was palpable, especially for every Browns fan that had watched the previous five games. The Jaguars kick. Jordan Poyer, puzzlingly, attempts to field the punt at the two yard line as it bounces off of his face, Jacksonville recovers. This was the turning point, folks. Denard Robinson scores a touchdown the very next play and the game may as well be over. Why couldn’t Poyer just let the ball go for a touchback? You simply do not attempt to field a punt from your own two yard line. There were many frustrating moments throughout the entire game, but this was the biggest bonehead play of the day.

There are many factors that lead the Browns to a 24-6 loss, each of them more maddening than the last. As I mentioned in my previous article, if Cleveland wants to be taken seriously as a legitimate playoff contender, they will have to win against the teams they are “supposed” to beat. That being said, they gave a winless team their first victory. The real test is how will this team bounce back from a devastating loss like this? Another winless team is coming to your home stadium, take care of business from the opening snap and take out all your frustrations on the Raiders. Play as a team. Play angry. Show this fan base and the rest of the NFL what kind of team you are.

But what kind of team are the Browns, exactly? Did Cleveland play down to their opponent? Or is this the real Browns? That is a question many Browns fans are asking themselves and each other. I, for one, believe the Browns are much better than what they had showed us on Sunday, injuries or none. I hope they show us they are able succeed sooner rather than later.

The Midweek Recap/Preview: Preseason Weeks 2 and 3

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.

Cleveland Browns Preseason Game One: Position Battles

The countdown is over, Browns football is back! Well, sort of. The Cleveland Browns travel to Detroit to take on the Lions on Saturday night at Ford Field for their first preseason game of the season. Football hungry Browns fans will get their first game action since December 29th of last year and will finally get to see the 2014 draft picks in action against another team. The perception for this game, and the preseason in general, is that it’s meaningless. And to some degree that’s true. But don’t tell that to the Browns quarterbacks who are trying to learn Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system. Don’t tell that to player number 54, the first guy on the outside looking in at the active 53 man roster. Don’t tell that to Mike Pettine, this will be his first time being a NFL Head Coach in a game. In all reality, this is a fairly meaningful game, or set of games. While it might be painful to watch “no name” players in the fourth quarter, for the Cleveland Browns these games are very meaningful. If you’re looking to find some meaning in Saturday’s game, consider the following things to watch.

The Quarterback Competition

Brian Hoyer, Johnny ManzielProbably the first thing everyone will be looking to see on Saturday is what happens with the quarterback position, specifically the battle between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel. While it’s possible things could change between today and Saturday, it seems likely that Hoyer will get the starting nod for the Browns in their first preseason game. According to the preseason depth chart released by Coach Pettine, Hoyer is the guy for now. Pettine has said that the only reason he released that chart was because he had to, calling it very fluid. Despite this, we can still learn something from watching both Hoyer and Manziel play in Saturday’s game. For Hoyer, it’s his chance to come out and really put some distance between himself and Manziel. While it’s unlikely the Lions defense will throw a lot at Hoyer (or the Browns offense in general) this is still a big opportunity for Hoyer to shine with the first team offense against another team’s first team defense. For Manziel, even though he’s going to be playing with the second string, this is his first shot playing in an actual NFL game. If he can take advantage of this by showing he is more than just a run first quarterback and can play well in the pocket he could really help himself. He will also have to show he is comfortable running an offense and has knowledge of the playbook. Just last week Manziel himself said that right now it’s him versus the playbook as he tries to get all of the terminology down.

New Faces

The Browns first team offense and defense will also feature some new faces. According to the aforementioned depth chart, running back Ben Tate, wide receiver Miles Austin, left guard Joel Bitonio, inside linebacker Karlos Dansby and strong safety Donte Whitner will all be getting the start on Saturday. This will be their first start as Cleveland Browns, and for Bitonio his first NFL start. It wouldn’t be surprising to see running back Terrance West, receiver Andrew Hawkins and/or receiver Nate Burleson see some time with the first team offense in some packages as well.

Positional Battles

Quarterback isn’t the only position that doesn’t have a clear starter. The Browns offense and defense will have position battles throughout preseason, battles that will be settled on the field. While offensive guards Joel Bitonio and John Greco have been given the starting nod for Saturday, Garrett Gilkey still can’t be ruled out as a potential starter on this team. There is also the question of depth along the offensive line. Martin Wallace and Reid Fragel will compete for a backup offensive tackle position and veteran Paul McQuistan is also in the mix. Staying on the offensive side of the ball, the receiver position is far from set – especially considering the uncertainty surrounding Josh Gordon. Gordon and Miles Austin are currently listed as the starters, but with a plethora of unproven receivers somebody could emerge as a big contributor. Marlon Moore, Anthony Armstrong, Charles Johnson and rookie Willie Snead will all compete not just for depth but for a roster spot. Keep an eye on these players, who will likely see time later on in the game on Saturday. Lastly on offense, keep an eye on the running back trio of Edwin Baker, Dion Lewis and rookie Isaiah Crowell. They are currently buried on the depth chart, however it’s likely at least one of these ball carriers will make the roster. They probably won’t see any (significant) action until after halftime, but all of them will be looking to take advantage of their opportunity.

KirkseyDefensively, the Browns coaching staff will have to figure out how they want to rotate their defensive line and outside linebackers. There is also one position battle to watch unfold in the front seven, the inside linebacker position opposite of Karlos Dansby. According to the depth chart Craig Robertson will be Saturday’s starter. Despite Robertson being with the team since 2011 and making 17 starts (14 last year), this position is anything but solidified. Robertson was abysmal in pass coverage last season and wasn’t exactly a stalwart in run support either. Rookie Christian Kirksey is listed as Robertson’s backup, but could end up being the starter by the end of preseason. Kirksey is known as a coverage linebacker, at times lining up opposite of slot receivers last year for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Should Kirksey demonstrate adequate coverage skills as well as an ability to stop the run in Saturday’s game he could help turn the tide in his favor. Lastly on defense, first round pick Justin Gilbert is listed behind Buster Skrine on the depth chart at cornerback. Skrine, who was much improved last season, is probably best suited as a slot corner, however Gilbert will have to prove himself on the field to unseat Skrine. The rookie has shown flashes during training camp, now he will have a chance to prove himself in a game. Keep an eye open for rookie defensive back Pierre Desir as well. Desir probably won’t be competing for a starting job, but will try to move his way up the depth chart.

While preseason games obviously don’t count towards a team’s win/loss record, calling them meaningless isn’t completely fair. For the Browns, preseason will (once again) be a proving ground for multiple positions. One fumble, dropped pass or missed tackle can literally make or break a player’s chance of making the team.

Dear December 28th…

This morning, I woke up and decided to be skeptical.  I wanted to stick all of my optimism about the Browns, or anything Cleveland, back under the pillow and take everything the outsiders tell me at face value.  You see, I’m not allowed to feel good about anything, not when it comes to these Browns.  When fate doesn’t intervene, we need to draw pessimistic vibes from places they don’t necessarily exist.

I have decided to reach out to a place that doesn’t yet exist, the end of the 2014 regular season, because let’s face it, it would be foolish to consider the end of this particular road extending itself into 2015, or even a minute beyond the final gun on December 28th in Baltimore.

It wouldn’t exactly come with the nostalgia of Doc Brown’s letter to Marty that sat at a Western Union office for 70 years, but it might be fun to get Shooter McGavin’s cronie to come knocking on my door at, say, 4:07 PM on that 28th day of December with the following.  Hell, if he’s buying, I’d probably actually be game for some Sizzler, as the melancholy good-bye to my team for another off-season wrestles with the emotional relief that it’s once again over for another eight months.

Dear Jeff (on December 28th),

If my calculations are correct, you just watched the conclusion of yet another chapter in the annals of the Expansion Cleveland Browns, one that left fans feeling unfulfilled once again, for whatever reason.  I’d also say it’s highly likely that some once-believed bizzarre scenario is playing itself out, setting the stage for the Ravens or Steelers to back themselves into the playoffs.  They both missed last year, but it took a Chiefs team losing a game that was meaningless to them on a missed field goal  that came with its share of controversy.

Isn’t it awful how the spite has consumed us?  Is it really all we have left, because this organization has been lacking in the department of making us proud for so long?  I caught myself doing it during the draft, childishly hoping that every player that’s going to earn their pay in Western PA ends up being a bust.  Those jokers have played in as many playoff games as the Browns the past two season, and fell victim to a Tebow-aided one-and-done cameo the year before that; that would be something to celebrate if they weren’t still light years ahead of the Browns.

For a while, it seemed like the Browns were stuck in the starting blocks, but the agony has reached a point where I’m pretty sure they stopped being invited to the race.  It’s this damn draft, the actual root of Cleveland Sports Misery, because in the NFL’s case, it’s a Browns fan’s excuse to party and be overly optimistic, but in reality it’s why the teams we love are so terrible, always and forever.

Still, I have a hard time convincing myself; this is different from the year they took Brady Quinn or Brandon Weeden with the 22nd pick, just because it is.  Ray Farmer is a different type of talent evaluator, so he’s done his diligence to alleviate our concerns that Johnny Football is Colt 2.0.  We have to believe that Joel Bitonio isn’t another attempt to do what the previous regime was trying to do with Mitchell Schwartz on the right side fo the offensive line, though we should really be hoping for better results above all else.

Then, there’s the never-ending saga of Josh Gordon’s urine and the circumstances that made said pee a little less than pristine…allegedly.  You obviously know more than I do, whether he played 16 games, 8, or 0.  I am thinking he played as many snaps as I did this season, but can’t really make anything of rumors until we actually hear something official.  Rumors became truth for the elite receiver last spring, and for Joe Haden at the start of the 2012 season.

Those truths equaled six games worth of lost checks for Cleveland’s versions of star players, which ultimately equaled a loss on all six occasions.  For Haden, a clean track record since dictates isolated incident, and there’s $45 million in guaranteed money that proclaims he’s worthy of trust, both from the fans and his bosses in Berea.  Gordon, on the other hand, might never wear the orange helmet again.

The defense is supposed to be better, but are they healthy?  Are they staying out of the law’s way?  Are there discussions about whether Paul Kruger is a bigger bust as a 2013 Free Agent than Barkevius Mingo was as the #6 overall pick in the 2013 draft?  Has Justin Gilbert played well enough to have kept Buster Skrine on the slot receiver, and not in over his head in a place he’s not physically built to play?  Look, the potential of Karlos Dansby and rookie Christian Kirksey as a tandem at inside linebacker intrigues me, but there’s a very real possibility it’s a marriage made in Hell.

I’m curious about so many things, and that’s why I watch, though 5.5 seems to be easy money if anyone will still take your action on the under, if we’re talking about total wins.  I’m anxious to see how well Brian Hoyer plays, coming back from the ACL in jury.  I’m also curious if it’s going to matter, with all of #2 jerseys in the crowd and a fan-base that’s going to insist (as if they have that authority) on seeing Mr. Excitement–pardon me, Mr. Football–play right away.  When will we see him?  Remember, it was an essentially meaningless Week 17 game against the 49ers in 2007 that we first saw Brady Quinn take the field, despite similar pleas to then-head coach Romeo Crennel.

I’m more interested in how empty I’m going to feel at that moment, the one where the season ends and I’m taking it much worse than my father and my wife.  They approach me with more caution when I’m more likely to reach my boiling point; to their credit, they do a pretty good measuring that sort of thing.  Seriously though, it’s probably a good way to tell how many games they’ve won.  If it’s six, I’m not doing back-flips or thinking Super Bowl for the next year, but maybe I can smile for a few minutes and just take in the best season they’ve offered us in seven years.

Did they win the opener, for just the second time in sixteen years, and the first time on the road in their expansion history?  That gets them part of the way to a place I’ve been hoping they can get to eventually, a place where they beat every division opponent at least once; it’s something they’ve never been able to do in their expansion history.

I don’t want to assume they dropped the opener in Pittsburgh, but I can easily see that coming.  I just don’t need that feeling of emptiness to hit me that soon, but what I need and what the NFL offers me are two entirely different things.  Someday, they’ll avoid being swept by one of the division rivals, but between the Steelers and Bengals, one of them will take both games against Cleveland.

Working with only the limited information I currently have, I don’t have any reason to be thrilled with anything Browns-related right now.  On May 15th, I have to seriously entertain the possiblity that Earl Bennett might be the best option Hoyer and Manziel have to throw to in 2014.  I have keep the possibility of a Jimmy Haslam indictment being a major distraction, and give weight to the idea that Mike Pettine is no more qualified to be a head coach in this league than Pat Shurmur.  

I really hope I’m wrong.  I hope someone throws this in my face as we’re getting ready to watch the playoffs.  If it’s printed out on tasty paper stock, I might even volunteer to eat this rubbish, but history is certainly on the side of these words staying out of my stomach.

I suppose I’ve been rambling on, when everything I’ve said could have been addressed with a single question.  The win total, will it be 5 or 6?

Regards,

Jeff Rich (May 15th, 2014)

There are some things to consider, mostly the schedule, in trying to figure out where the wins are going to come.  They should be good enough to beat Baltimore at least once, and I think they get at least one of the other four in the division, so if they need four or five wins to come from the other ten games, where are those games?

I mean, they couldn’t lose to Jacksonville two years in a row, even with the game at Jacksonville, right?  You never actually know, but you have to imagine an improved team, as the Browns allegedly are, not being expected to win that one.  Oakland and Tampa Bay at home both sound promising, but there are factors at play, like how quickly Lovie Smith can turn things around on Florida’s west coast.

Houston and their new tandem of Jadaveon Clowney and JJ Watt come to town, and we don’t know what their quarterback plan is just yet.  Atlanta and Buffalo both host the Browns in late-November, and each will feature an offense with a playmaker at receiver, they have these play-makers because the Browns traded away Top 10 picks to enable these 2014 opponents to select them.  This point becomes more relevant when you consider what the Browns have put out there in recent years and what they think they’re putting out there in 2014, given how Plan A is really up in the air right now.

It’s easy to be skeptical about this, about them, but it ends up being so much more fun to believe.  To think that, maybe just once, everything could bounce the right way for us, for our teams, is a better approach to all of this.  To think of how little it has mattered whether or not players have done the right thing, it makes it a little easier to keep a clean conscious while I sincerely hope Gordon beats the system, even if it comes across slimy, like I think a lot of people see Ryan Braun’s victory by technicality.  Once could look at the cases of Ray Lewis and Ben Roethlisberger and easily laugh off dirty urine.

However, I’m not laughing at anything, with it being so hard to muster up joy for such an act in this context; it’s the real world, where we wait for the of the season to know if we were watching a 4-12 or 5-11 team.  What’s the difference?

Cleveland Browns 2014 Draft Recap

It’s safe to say that General Manager Ray Farmer’s first draft with the Cleveland Browns was a success. Farmer had many guessing as the draft got closer and closer, and he navigated the three days like a seasoned professional. Coming into the 2014 draft with ten picks, Farmer wheeled and dealed his way up and down, ultimately selecting six players. All six of the players selected by the Browns came within the top 130 picks (the final selection was at pick 126 in the fourth round) and all six have one thing in common, they’re physical with a great work ethic. Clearly Farmer had a blueprint he stuck to, not deviating even with the news that Josh Gordon (reportedly) failed yet another drug test and could possibly suspended indefinitely (with the possibility of reinstatement after 12 months). While it may have been nice to draft a receiver, the odds of a day two or day three receiving prospect coming in and filling the void left by Gordon are slim to none. This was a deep receiver class, but the class was also made up of a lot of project prospects that have high ceilings. Often times these high ceiling projects never fully materialize on the field (Carlton Mitchell). With that said, here’s a recap of the Cleveland Browns 2014 draft picks and how they figure to fit in with the team.

Round 4, Pick 126 – Pierre Desir, CB Lindenwood

Nicknamed the French Assassin, Pierre Desir is a small school standout with big time upside. He has good size for the position (6’1″ 198 pounds) and is very athletic. In his senior season he won the Cliff Harris award, which is given annually to the nation’s top small college cornerback. He has 25 interceptions in his four year collage career and attacks the ball in the air. So how does Desir fit in with the Browns defensive backfield made up already of Joe Haden, Buster Skrine and first round pick Justin Gilbert? More than likely, Desir will be used as a depth player initially and a special teams player. It’s unlikely he won’t see the field however, but it will probably be in nickel and dime packages. Ultimately, Desir has the talent to be a team’s second corner in the NFL, however he is likely a few years away from realizing that potential.

Round 3, Pick 94 – Terrance West, RB Towson

The Browns traded up with the San Francisco 49ers (the teams swapped fourth round selections and Cleveland gave up a sixth round pick) to select Terrance West. West is a physical runner who also has the ability to make would be tacklers miss. In his 2013 junior season, West ran for 2,509 yards and 41 touchdowns (both FCS records) and for his career has over 4,800 yards rushing along with 84 touchdowns. His workload was heavy (802 carries including 413 his junior year) but look for West to be the Browns backup running back behind free agent Ben Tate. In West and Tate the Browns have a strong one-two punch at running back who can wear down defenses over the course of a game. West also showed some ability to catch the ball his junior season, catching 26 passes for 258 yards and a touchdown.

Round 3, Pick 71 – Christian Kirksey, OLB Iowa

The Browns addressed a major need in a cover linebacker in Christian Kirksey. Kirksey was asked to cover tight ends as well as slot receivers in college, and did so very well. He is fast enough to stay with NFL tight ends and athletic enough to not just tackle his assignment but make a play on the ball, notching four interceptions in his career at Iowa. Kirksey isn’t the biggest linebacker (6’2″ 233 pounds) but he can hold his own in the run game, taking on blockers and using his quickness to his advantage. He will need to do a better job of consistently reading the run, but he wasn’t drafted to be a run stopper. Kirksey initially may be a special teamer but could see some time in third down or other passing situations because of his ability to cover.

Round 2, Pick 35 – Joel Bitonio, OL Nevada

Cleveland has been looking for a physical, mauler type of lineman and may have just found their man in the form of 6’4″ 302 pound Joel Bitonio. Bitonio spent the majority of his college career at offensive tackle, but played the guard position during the Senior Bowl and looked comfortable doing so. Bitonio, who also took some snaps at the Senior Bowl at center, has the ability to play anywhere on the offensive line and will challenge for a starting spot at offensive guard. His combination of strength, intelligence and quickness makes his a perfect fit for Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme. Bitonio is also reliable in pass protection and will not let up on his man, even if he’s already been taken out of the play. He has a relentless motor and brings a touch of nasty to the Browns offensive line.

Round 1, Pick 22 – Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M

The Browns traded up from pick 26 and hope to have solved their quarterback struggles by drafting Johnny Manziel in the first round. While I felt there were better options available for the Browns (specifically Teddy Bridgewater), Manziel does possess several desirable traits that teams look for in a franchise quarterback. Manziel is as competitive as they come. He has a plus arm and can make something out of nothing. He will likely challenge Brian Hoyer to be the week one starter and will ultimately be the team’s leader.

Round 1, Pick 8 – Justin Gilbert, CB Oklahoma State

The Browns originally owned pick number four overall, however traded with the Buffalo Bills netting them the ninth overall pick in this year’s draft as well as Buffalo’s first and fourth round pick in next year’s draft. Then, the Browns traded up to pick number eight with the Minnesota Vikings (which also cost the Browns pick 145 overall) to select Justin Gilbert. Gilbert is a fast, physical cornerback who projects to be the teams number two corner opposite of Joe Haden. He also will act as an insurance policy should the Browns and Haden be unable to make a deal on a contract extension and could be an asset in the return game.

Manziel Gilbert
For my full breakdown of the Browns picks in the first round, click here.

The Browns addressed multiple needs on both sides of the ball. On the offensive side, they added quality players in West and Bitonio and star power in Manziel. On the defensive side, they brought in some much needed cornerback depth and a potential week one starter in Gilbert. Kirksey also figures to be a special teams contributor and a solid coverage linebacker. Ray Farmer also did a nice job setting up the Browns for the 2015 draft, where they now have ten selections (the two selections from the Bills and a 2015 6th round selection from Baltimore). It’s unfortunate that the actions of Josh Gordon could potentially cost the Browns their number one receiver, but credit Farmer and company for sticking to their plan and executing it, as they were reportedly aware of the situation before the draft. Cleveland has also reportedly been active in bringing in undrafted free agents. Click here for a list of Browns undrafted free agents and mini-camp invitees.