The Browns are now 2-9 and officially done with the playoffs, many fans have thrown in the
towel and are hoping we tank for a number one pick. I for one think tanking for a better draft pick is disrespectful to the leaders and veterans on the team.
Plus a lot of the teams that look to be a top the draft board, (Tennessee, Dallas, San Diego, Baltimore) are not in the market for QBs. It seems very likely a QB like Paxton Lynch or Jared Goff could be available to us at the 3rd to 5th pick. So now with tanking out of the question here is my plan for the rest of the season.
1. Start Duke Johnson at running back! Isaiah Crowell has been an absolute disaster as a RB. Right now he is last in the NFL among qualified runners in with 2.9 yards per attempt. The advanced stats do not treat him in any better as he last in the NFL in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) and Defense-adjusted Value over Average (DVOA) stats from Football Outsiders. Johnson has done better than Crow in all ares and he deserves to keep moving forward as our starter.
2. Play Austin Davis now but do not be reluctant to hand the keys to Johnny Manziel. Manziel had the job and lost it by lying about his partying. As a twenty year old college kid I sympathize with him a bit. Partying, getting drunk, and listening to Future at the club is quite fun honestly. The only difference is I’m not getting paid 1.8 million dollars to lead a professional football team.
This is the reason that I’d keep Manziel on the bench until Davis shows that he is not the quarterback that gives us the best chance to win. And perhaps Davis is a good quarterback, he seems to have a great attitude and has starting experience with the Rams. Perhaps he can bud into a decent QB with us.
3. Fire Jim O’Neill! We have the highest paid defense in terms of percent of team salary, yet we are the worst at stopping the run and second worst at keeping teams out of the end-zone. After this I would try to get younger guys like Nate Orchard and Ibraheim Campbell into the rotation more to see what kind of value they’ll hold in the future.
In the off-season my main goal would be to figure out if the Browns have a chance to go to the playoffs with either Manziel, Davis, or even McCown. If I don’t think these guys are capable of doing that I’d take a QB in the first round.
It’s still too early to tell which QB would be worth taking as every top guy has some key weaknesses but I’m sure some one will emerge as a top 5 pick. If I feel that one of these guys can take me to the playoffs my number one target is Joey Bosa. Now keep in mind I am not an OSU fan by any means, but I know that Joey Bosa has the capability to boost our run defense and our pass rush. Other options include upgrading our secondary by taking CB/S Jalen Ramsey of FSU or CB Vernon Hargreaves out of Florida. If I don’t feel that Josh Gordon is focused on football Laquon Treadwell would be a great option to help bolster the receiving corps which has been our weakness since Braylon Edwards decided to stink.
Joe “Turkey” Jones. Dave Mays. Chris Jennings. Gerald McNeil. David Grayson. Brian Hoyer. Trent Richardson. Tim Couch.
Most of the names on this list didn’t amount to very much during their Browns career. But their names are remembered because of the roles they played in victories over the team’s biggest and most bitter rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Lost in all the turmoil surrounding this year’s team – the seemingly impending dismissal of coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer, the quarterback controversy between veteran Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel, the possible trade of veteran captain Joe Thomas – is that this is “Steeler Week.” And, with Browns nemesis Ben Roethlisberger’s status for the game doubtful due to a leg injury, this Sunday’s game at Heinz Field suddenly looks to be a winnable one.
The Browns have only won one game at Heinz Field since it was opened in 2001, and it was also the site of one of the Browns’ biggest heartbreaks since the franchise returned in 1999 – their 36-33 come-from-ahead playoff loss to the Steelers in early 2003. And, wins for the Browns over the Steelers, and overall for that matter, have been few and far between since the franchise was reborn in 1999.
But, once upon a time, it wasn’t always like that. From 1950-70, the Browns got off to a 32-9 start in this series, winning the first eight games and 16 of the first 18 games the two teams played against each other. In the 80s, the Browns won seven straight games and went 14-8 over Pittsburgh.
However, thanks to the Steelers’ 26-6 record since 1999 – 34-10 dating back to 1990 – Pittsburgh has taken control in this rivalry.
A Jaded Steeler fan may wonder how someone like me could find 25 winning Browns games against the Steelers. I would like to remind Jaded Steeler Fan that your team only leads the series 66-58, not counting two playoff victories over our beloved Dawgs.
So, in honor of “Steeler Week” and the 127th meeting between the Browns and the Steelers, here are my top 25 games between these two squads in this rivalry. Who knows, maybe what happens Sunday can crack this list.
25. Browns 17, Steelers 9 (Oct. 11, 1992): Before Mike Tomczak ended his career as a long-time Steeler backup quarterback, he spent one year backing up Bernie Kosar with the Browns. And, when Kosar battled injuries in 1992, it was the former Ohio State Buckeye and Chicago Bear who stepped up and filled that void. Under second-year coach Bill Belichick, Tomczak did just enough to lead the Browns past the Steelers at the old Stadium, throwing for 171 yards and a touchdown.
The touchdown pass, a 47-yard strike to Michael Jackson midway through the fourth quarter, turned a 10-9 lead into a 17-9 advantage. Kevin Mack added a 1-yard touchdown run to start that second half, turning a 6-3 halftime deficit into a 10-6 advantage they never relinquished. Pittsburgh wound up going 11-5, while the Browns slumped to 7-9.
24. Browns 15, Steelers 7 (Oct. 3, 1970):Let the record show that the teams’ first showdown as members of the AFC went in Cleveland’s favor. While the Steelers wound wind up being the NFL’s “Team of the 70s,” they began the decade just 5-9. And, rookie Terry Bradshaw’s introduction to Cleveland on this Saturday night at the old Stadium was not a good one. He was sacked for a safety and threw three interceptions, including a pick-six to Erich Barnes that was returned 38 yards in the third quarter that wound up being the final points.
Fellow rookie Mike Phipps relieved an ineffective Don Gault, who went 1-of-16 for 44 yards and two interceptions, and made his NFL debut a winning one. He went 3-for-5 for 86 yards and a touchdown, a 53-yard pass to Reece Morrison. Yep, the Browns just completed four passes against the Steelers and won. Gault never took another NFL snap, but yet is credited with a 1-0 record as an NFL starter. Bradshaw did rush for a touchdown in the loss.
23. Browns 21, Steelers 16 (Nov. 25, 1973): Less than a month before I was born, the Browns handed
the Steelers an ugly loss. With Terry Bradshaw not in the lineup – Joe Gilliam started and Terry Hanratty came on in relief – the Steelers scored the first points of the game and led, 16-14, midway through the fourth quarter. Gilliam found Ron Shanklin for nine yards in the opening drive and then he led three drives that ended in Roy Gerela field goals in the second, third and fourth quarters.
Mike Phipps, who only completed 5 of 17 passes with three interceptions, scored on a one-yard sneak and found Greg Pruitt for a 15-yard touchdown early in the second quarter to give the Browns a 14-10 halftime lead. Pruitt, a rookie, scored the winning touchdown on a 19-yard gain in the fourth quarter. Hall of Famer Leroy Kelly, who would retire following the season, was held to just 12 yards on 11 carries. Franco Harris, in his second year, was held to 48 yards on 22 carries. The Steelers went 10-4, but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Raiders. The Browns went 7-5-2, their last winning season until they went 9-7 in 1979.
22. Browns 30, Steelers 17 (Nov. 1, 1964):En route to their final NFL Championship, the Browns rebounded from a 23-7 loss to the Steelers at home by coming into Pitt Stadium and dominating their rivals from pillar to post. The Steelers rallied from a 10-0 deficit to tie the score at halftime, but the second half was all Browns. Ernie Green rushed for two touchdowns in the second half, en route to 86 yards on 17 carries, while Hall of Famer Lou “The Toe” Groza added two of his three field goals during that 20-7 second half.
Jim Brown gained 149 yards on 23 carries and added five more receptions, while quarterback Frank Ryan completed 15 of 28 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown to Clifton McNeil. The Browns defense intercepted Steeler quarterback Ed Brown twice – both by Larry Benz – and held him to just 8 of 23 for 128 yards. The win improved the Browns to 6-1-1, en route to a 11-3-1 finish and a championship.
21. Browns 17, Steelers 7 (Sept. 16, 1985):A new era of Browns football began with this Monday Night Football clash at Cleveland Stadium on the second week of the regular season. With Marty Schottenheimer in his first full-season as the head football coach and veteran Gary Danielson and rookie Bernie Kosar taking over at quarterback, the Browns needed to knock off their hated rivals after dropping a 27-24 overtime loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in last week’s season opener. Danielson, making his second start as a Brown, completed 18-of-30 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown and an interception. His 17-yard scoring pass to wideout Fred Banks in the second quarter opened the scoring for both teams, and an 18-yard field goal by Matt Bahr in the third made it a 10-0 Browns lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Mark Malone found John Stallworth for a 6-yard score in the fourth to cut the Browns’ lead to 10-7. But Cleveland put the game away on its ensuing possession with a 21-yard touchdown run by second-year running back Earnest Byner. Byner rushed for 82 yards on 18 carries, while rookie Kevin Mack added 40 yards on 12 carries. Both backs would go over 1,000 yards rushing –just the third time in NFL history a pair of running backs would accomplish the feat – and the Browns wound up winning the AFC Central Division with an 8-8 record, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 1982 and winning their first division title since 1980.
20. Browns 19, Steelers 13 (Dec. 26, 1987):Wins at Three Rivers Stadium could never be counted
on, especially since the Browns had just ended a 16-year losing streak the previous season. Yet the Browns needed to win at their perennial house of horrors in the 1987 season finale to clinch their second-straight division title over an 8-6 Steelers team. The Browns jumped out to a 9-0 lead on a 31-yard field goal from Matt Bahr and a two-yard touchdown pass from Bernie Kosar to backup tight end Derek Tennell, but a 39-yard field goal by Gary Anderson cut that lead to 9-3 at halftime. The Browns got a 30-yard field goal from Bahr to take a 12-3 lead heading into fourth quarter, and the Steelers cut that deficit to six with another Anderson field goal.
However, the Browns put the game away with two-yard touchdown run by Earnest Byner to take a 19-6 lead. Pittsburgh’s Cornell Gowdy made things interesting with a 45-yard interception return late in the fourth quarter to make it a six-point game, but the Browns were able to run out the clock and improve to 10-5. Hanford Dixon and linebacker Eddie Johnson each picked off Mark Malone once apiece, while Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome caught six passes for 94 yards to lead the Browns offense. The 10-5 Browns reached the AFC Championship game three weeks later, but lost a heartbreaking 38-33 game to the Denver Broncos when Byner fumbled on the 2 with just over a minute remaining in the game.
19. Browns 27, Steelers 7 (Nov. 20, 1988):The Browns, who had started four different quarterbacks during the season, were sitting at 6-5 with the hapless Steelers coming to town. If the Browns wanted to get back to the playoffs for the fourth-straight season, they needed to take care of business against Pittsburgh. With Bernie Kosar healthy and back under center, the Browns didn’t waste any time showing who the dominant team really was. After opening the scoring with a 32-yard field goal from Matt Bahr, Kosar found backup tight end Derek Tennell for a two-yard scoring pass to take a 10-0 lead into the second quarter. Frank Minnifield added to that lead when he blocked a Harry Newsom punt and returned it 11 yards to give the Browns a 17-0 lead that the Steelers cut to 17-7 just before the half.
Kosar, who threw for 204 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, found Reggie Langhorne for a 77-yard touchdown bomb early in the third quarter to put the game away, and Bahr added a 34-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. The Browns defense sacked Steelers starter Bubby Brister six times, led by rookie Michael Dean Perry’s two, and picked him off twice. Linebacker Eddie Johnson had a sack and an interception, while Minnifield had the other pick to go along with his huge blocked punt. The Browns used this performance to win five of their last six games and finish 10-6, qualifying for the playoffs as a wild-card team. This was also the last time the Browns swept the Steelers in a season series (until this year, perhaps).
18. Browns 23, Steelers 20 (Sept. 17, 2000):The Browns had just stunned the Steelers, 16-15, at Three Rivers Stadium in 1999 – one of just two victories for the expansion Browns that season – and had rebounded from a 27-7 thrashing by Jacksonville in the 2000 season opener to defeat the Bengals, 24-7, on the road to take a 1-1 record into Cleveland Browns Stadium and their next meeting with the hated Steelers. The Browns jumped out to a 14-0 lead behind two first quarter touchdown passes from Tim Couch to tight end Aaron Shea and fullback Mark Edwards, respectively. But the Steelers, behind former Ohio State quarterback Kent Graham, rallied to cut that lead to 14-10 at halftime with a field goal and a four-yard scoring run by Richard Huntley. A 23-yard field goal by Phil Dawson gave the Browns a 17-13 lead midway through the third quarter.
However, a 10-yard rush by Jerome Bettis gave the Steelers a 20-17 lead heading into the fourth. Instead of rolling over, the young Browns fought back with a pair of fourth-quarter Dawson field goals – the latter from 19-yards out with 2:48 remaining – to take a 23-20 lead. Graham had the Steelers marching into field goal territory on his final two-minute drive. However, with no timeouts, rookie No. 1 overall draft choice Courtney Brown sacked Graham for a four-yard loss with 13 seconds remaining, and the Steelers ran out of time before assembling the field goal team. It’s the last time the Browns have won two straight against the Steelers (hopefully, until this coming Sunday). The Browns couldn’t sustain that 2-1 start, finishing a dismal 3-13. Ironically, of Chris Palmer’s five wins as the Browns’ head coach in two seasons, two of those wins came against the Steelers. That loss dropped the Steelers to 0-3, but they rebounded to finish 9-7 (and missing the playoffs).
17. Browns 33, Steelers 13 (Oct. 5, 2003):This is still the only time the Browns have won at Heinz Field (until this Sunday, hopefully). More importantly, not only was this a nationally-televised Sunday night game, but this was the teams’ first meeting since the Steelers came back from deficits of 24-7 and 33-17 to escape with a 36-33 playoff victory. Tim Couch, playing arguably the best game of his short five-year career, completed 20-of-25 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. William Green gauged the vaunted Steeler defense for 115 yards on 33 carries. Couch’s six-yard touchdown pass to Andre Davis and a short Phil Dawson field goal gave the Browns a 10-0 first quarter lead, and a 9-yard scoring pass from Couch to Kevin Johnson made it a 16-3 advantage midway through the second quarter.
Jerome Bettis plunged in from the 1 to cut that lead to 16-10, but Couch capped a 9-play, 78-yard drive with a nine-yard touchdown run with 13 seconds left to give the Browns a 23-10 halftime advantage. Daylon McCutcheon’s 75-yard interception return off a Tommy Maddux pass early in the third quarter was the final nail in the Steelers’ coffin. The Browns improved to 2-3 with the win (same record as the Steelers). However, they would finish 5-11. It would be Couch’s final year in the NFL. This would also be the Browns’ last win over the Steelers for the next 12 games and six seasons.
16. Browns 45, Steelers 7 (Oct. 29, 1950):The rivalry made its first appearance on the shores of Lake Erie with the 4-2 Browns taking on the 2-4 Steelers. The Browns had beaten Pittsburgh three weeks prior, 30-17 (see No. 15 on this list) in a dominating effort, and actually were more dominant at home. Hall of Famer Marion Motley rushed for 188 yards on 11 carries and scored a 69-yard rushing touchdown and a 38-yard receiving touchdown from Otto Graham. Both scores helped the Browns open up a 24-0 lead midway through the third quarter, and a 14-yard scoring run by Don Phelps made it a 31-0 lead after three quarters.
After the Steelers scored, the Browns put the game away with an 80-yard touchdown pass from Graham to Dub Jones and a 38-yard TD pass from backup Cliff Lewis to Horace Gillom. The Browns defense forced eight turnovers in this romp, and the Cleveland offense outgained Pittsburgh, 533-349. The Browns wound wind up going 10-2 in their first NFL season and won the NFL Championship – their fifth title in their first five years of existence.
15. Browns 30, Steelers 17 (Oct. 7, 1950):This was the first-ever meeting between these two storied franchises, and the Browns – in their first year in the National Football League after dominating the All-American Football Conference from 1946-49 – quickly showed who the dominant force was.
Played at Pitt Stadium, Hall of Famer Otto Graham rushed for two one-yard touchdowns to give the Browns a 14-3 lead, followed by a Dub Jones 7-yard rush to make it a 21-3 halftime lead. Cleveland put the game away in the fourth quarter with a 48-yard touchdown run by Jones to make it a 30-10 advantage. The defense forced six Steeler turnovers, despite giving up 345 yards of total offense.
14. Browns 30, Steelers 17 (Dec. 18, 1983):This was Brian Sipe’s final game in a Cleveland Browns’ uniform, and he went out with a blaze of glory against their hated and bitter rival in this late-season showdown. With the Steelers at 10-5 and already clinched the division title, the 8-7 Browns needed to win just to get a chance at a playoff berth. Sipe completed 14-of-22 passes for 199 yards with four touchdowns
and no interceptions to lead this minor upset. Sipe opened things up with a 64-yard touchdown pass to rookie wideout Rocky Belk, and added a two-yard scoring toss to backup tight end Harry Holt and a three-yarder to wideout Ricky Feacher to give the Browns a 23-10 halftime lead.
The Sipe-Holt connection put the game away early in the third quarter with a one-yard scoring toss and a 30-10 lead. Belk would only play that season, finishing with five receptions and two touchdowns. Franco Harris, in his final game as a Steeler, would be held to just 56 yards on 20 carries by a Browns defense that picked off quarterbacks Cliff Stoudt and Mark Malone once apiece. Alas, the 9-7 Browns finished second in the AFC Central with the win, but missed out on the playoffs by tiebreakers. It would be the last hurrah of the Kardiac Kid-era Browns — head coach Sam Rutigliano would be fired midway through the 1984 season after a 1-8 start.
13. Browns 10, Steelers 9 (Dec. 19, 1982):This one landed on my ninth birthday (it’s still the last time the Browns have won a game on my birthday). However, a closer look shows just how important this win really was. The Browns, in the strike-shortened season, were just 2-4 heading into this showdown at Cleveland Stadium with Paul McDonald at quarterback replacing an injured Brian Sipe. A loss would have essentially ended their season. However, the defense picked off Terry Bradshaw four times — three of which by rookie Hanford Dixon — and sacked him three times. The Steelers led, 7-3, at halftime on a six-yard TD pass from Bradshaw to John Stallworth.
However, McDonald, who completed 19-of-40 passes for 227 yards, led the Browns on a third-quarter scoring drive, capped by a 1-yard plunge by fullback Johnny Davis. An intentional safety taken when punter Steve Cox ran out of the end zone in the final seconds made it a one-point game, but it wasn’t enough. The win improved the Browns to 3-4 and led to a 4-5 season. It was good enough for them to make the playoffs under the expanded eight-team format, and this win propelled them to that playoff berth. It was also the last time the Browns beat a Bradshaw-led Steeler team – he retired after just one game in 1983.
12. Browns 20, Steelers 14 (Nov. 25, 2012):Prior to last year’s 31-10 win at home, this had been the most recent victory for the good guys. With the Steelers down to third-string quarterback Charlie Batch, the Browns defense forced a whopping eight turnovers – three of which occurred in the final three minutes of play. They intercepted three Batch passes, but recovered five fumbles from five different Steeler running backs. Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who had a batted pass intercepted and returned for a 53-yard touchdown by linebacker Lawrence Timmons on the fourth play from scrimmage, recovered to lead the Browns to 20 points. He threw a five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Cameron late in the second quarter off of a turnover, but the Steelers led, 14-13, at halftime on a Chris Rainey 1-yard run in the final seconds of the second quarter.
Kicker Phil Dawson connected from 28 and 32 yards out in the first half. But rookie Trent Richardson’s 15-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter gave the Browns a 20-14 lead, which was good enough for the long-awaited ‘W.’ Richardson finished with 85 yards on 29 carries, while Weeden (who was knocked out of the game late in the fourth quarter) threw for 153 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
11. Browns 13, Steelers 6 (Dec. 10, 2009):This one cracks our list because of how out-of-nowhere it really was. The Browns came into this Thursday Night home contest with a 1-11 record, and new coach Eric Mangini was on the hot seat with the rumored hiring of Mike Holmgren as team president earlier that week. However, instead of rolling over to the vaunted Steelers, the defending Super Bowl champions, they hit them in the mouth.
Ben Roethlisberger was sacked eight times – a season-best for the Browns’ beleaguered defense – and held them to just two field goals. Brady Quinn only threw for 90 yards and was offset a lot by receiver Josh Cribbs, who ran for a team-best 87 yards out of the Wildcat formation. But, he led two first quarter scoring drives (both Phil Dawson field goals) and another just before halftime, capped by rookie Chris Jennings’ 10-yard touchdown run to make it 13-0. The game wasn’t over until linebacker David Bowens batted away a fourth-down Roethlisberger pass with just over a minute remaining, and Santonio Holmes was leveled after a short punt return with no time remaining to cap one of the most satisfying Browns victory during the “Expansion Era.”
10. Browns 24, Steelers 19 (Oct. 9, 1965):The Browns came into 1965 as the defending NFL champions (alas, they haven’t been able to do that since then) and picked up right where they left off, winning two of their first three games before hosting the hated Steelers (0-4) on a Saturday night. However, the underdog Steelers hung tough with the vaunted Browns, rallying from a 10-0 first quarter deficit to take a 19-17 fourth quarter lead on a Dick Hoak 15-yard run. Jim Brown (who Cleveland drafted just one pick after the Steelers selected Len Dawson in the first round of the 1957 draft) scored two touchdowns, one receiving, and gained 168 yards on the ground.
However, it was his backup Leroy Kelly (who also wound up in the Hall of Fame), who made the biggest plays of the game-winning drive, which began on their own 22 with 3:35 remaining, catching passes of 22 and 21 yards. Following a four-yard run by Brown to put the ball on the Pittsburgh 14 with less than a minute to go, Frank Ryan found Gary Collins on a post pattern in the end zone for the game-winning score. The Browns wound up going 11-3 and reaching the NFL Championship game for the second-straight year, but lost to the Green Bay Packers in what turned out to be Brown’s final game of his storied career.
9. Browns 16, Steelers 15 (Nov. 14, 1999):After three years without football, the Browns were reborn
as an expansion team in 1999, playing in a sparkling new stadium in the exact spot that the old Cleveland Stadium stood. In their first game back, the Browns were humiliated by the Steelers, 43-0, at home. Just a few weeks later, on Nov. 14, the Browns played like a totally different team, keeping themselves in the game. The Browns scored first on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Tim Couch to Kevin Johnson (both rookies), but the Steelers battled back to take a 15-7 lead on a touchdown and three field goals.
But, with 6:26 left in the game, defensive lineman John Thierry intercepted Kordell Stewart and was brought down at the Steeler 15, setting up a Couch to Mark Edwards touchdown pass a few plays later. Karim Abdul-Jabbar’s two-point conversion run was stopped, but the Browns had one more chance. Taking over with no timeouts at his own 20 with 1:51 remaining, Couch drove the Browns 58 yards in five plays. Without stopping the clock and with 18 seconds left, Chris Palmer ran the field goal team out on to the field. The Browns snapped the ball with two seconds left, and rookie Phil Dawson, into an 18 mph wind, calmly drilled a 40-yard field goal to give Cleveland the stunning upset win. It turned out to be the Browns’ second-to-last visit to Three Rivers Stadium and their first win there since 1989’s 51-0 blowout.
8. Browns 26, Steelers 24 (Nov. 19, 1972): The suddenly resurgent Steelers, after decades of ineptitude, took a 7-2 record into this contest at Cleveland Stadium, with the Browns at 6-3. The Browns jumped out to a 20-3 lead behind two TD passes from Mike Phipps, but the Steelers scored just before halftime to make it 20-10, then got two touchdown runs – the latter a 75-yard run from Franco Harris – to take a 24-23 fourth quarter lead.
Don Cockroft missed a 27-yard field goal with just under two minutes remaining, but he got another chance thanks to the defense forcing a three-and-out and a clutch drive led by Phipps. With 13 seconds remaining, Cockroft earned his redemption with a 26-yard field goal, giving the Browns a much-needed victory. Both teams made the playoffs that season, but both were defeated by the undefeated Miami Dolphins.
7. Browns 27, Steelers 26 (Oct. 16, 1980):This game virtually signaled the death of the first Steeler dynasty and helped propel the “Kardiac Kids” to their first-ever AFC Central crown and first playoff berth since 1972. Despite the Steelers missing most of their regular offensive starters, Pittsburgh jumped out to a 26-14 fourth quarter lead with backup QB Cliff Stoudt, an Oberlin native, at the helm.
But Brian Sipe and Co., despite blowing a couple of golden scoring opportunities earlier in the game, came to life in the fourth quarter. Sipe found Greg Pruitt for a 7-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 9:21 remaining (Don Cockroft missed the extra point, keeping the Steelers ahead by six). Then, with 5:38 remaining, Sipe found a streaking Ozzie Newsome wide open for an 18-yard touchdown, sending 80,000 fans at Cleveland Stadium into a frenzy. Ron Bolton prevented Stoudt from making a late rally with an interception at the two-minute warning, and the Browns were able to run out the clock on this huge victory over the defending Super Bowl champs.
6. Browns 31, Steelers 10 (Oct. 12, 2014):What does Brian Hoyer have in common with Tim Couch, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden? They were all starting quarterbacks during the “Expansion Era” who manufactured wins over the hated Steelers. The Browns enter this Sunday’s game on a one-game winning streak over the Steelers thanks to this white-washing – the Browns biggest win over the Steelers since they went to Three Rivers and won, 51-0, in 1989. The Steelers took a 3-0 first quarter lead before Hoyer – a former Pittsburgh backup in 2012 – led three second-quarter touchdown drives to take a 21-3 halftime lead.
The biggest play was a 51-yard bomb to tight end Jordan Cameron with 9:35 left in the quarter, sandwiched between touchdown runs by rookie Isaiah Crowell and Ben Tate (who would wind up starting for Pittsburgh in a Wild Card game that year). Tate’s second touchdown of the season, a 1-yard plunge with 12:37 left in the game, made it a 31-3 lead. Hoyer went 8-for-17 for 215 yards and a touchdown, but the running game rolled up 138 yards on 38 carries. Defensively, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked just twice, but threw an interception and was thwarted on two fourth-down conversions. It snapped a four-game losing streak to the Steelers and was, arguably, the most satisfying victory for the Browns since 1999.
5. Browns 18, Steelers 16 (Oct. 10, 1976):This game is famous for Browns defensive end Joe “Turkey” Jones’ sack of Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, where Jones slammed Bradshaw right on his head and knocked him out of the game. The Steelers had won Super Bowl X the previous season and were poised to try to win it again.
They knocked out Brian Sipe early in the game, which resulted in little-used rookie Dave Mays (the Browns’ third-string QB) making his NFL debut. Mays – who was Cleveland’s first black quarterback – earned his way into Browns lore by calmly leading the Browns to two third-quarter scores – a 1-yard run by Cleo Miller and a 50-yard field goal by Don Cockroft – which gave them a 15-10 lead. Following Turkey’s sack, Cockroft added the game-clinching 40-yard field goal with less than two minutes remaining.
4. Browns 27, Steelers 24(Oct. 5, 1986): Since Three Rivers Stadium opened up in 1970, the Browns had never won there. They would always seem to lose in bizarre fashion as well, which perpetuated the local myth of the “Three Rivers Jinx.” The previous season, the Browns had the Steelers on the ropes before Gary Anderson’s last-second field goal gave Pittsburgh a 10-9 win. The Browns tried everything; staying in different hotels, busing instead of flying, bringing dirt from Cleveland Stadium and sprinkling it on the field during warm-ups, you name it. And, this one wasn’t without its bizarre moments as well.
The Browns took a quick 10-0 lead, but back-to-back turnovers gave Pittsburgh a 14-10 lead late in the first half. That’s when Gerald McNeil, nicknamed “The Ice Cube,” became a permanent fixture in Browns lore when he returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, giving the Browns a 17-14 halftime lead. At the time, it was the Browns’ first kickoff return touchdown in 12 years! However, the Steelers regained the lead early in the third quarter, and the two teams traded scores which resulted in Pittsburgh leading, 24-20, to start the fourth quarter. But, Mike Johnson recovered a muffed punt, and Earnest Byner’s four-yard TD run with eight minutes left gave the Browns the lead for good. It got interesting though – Matt Bahr missed a chip-shot field goal with just under five minutes to play, but Mark Malone’s pitch to Earnest Jackson on a bizarre option call from the Browns 35 was botched and the Browns recovered.
3. Browns 37, Steelers 31 OT (Nov. 23, 1986):The Browns had just ended their 16-year “Three Rivers Jinx” earlier in the season (see No. 4) and had come off a huge win over the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night at home. Bernie Kosar and Mark Malone engaged in a wild shootout. Kosar completed 28 of 46 passes for a then-career-best 414 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, just two days before his 23rd birthday. The Browns had taken a 31-28 lead with 1:51 left on a Matt Bahr field goal, but lost Bahr for the season on the ensuing kickoff when he made a game-saving tackle on the Steelers’ Lupe Sanchez at the Browns 40.
Gary Anderson made a 40-yard field goal to send the game into overtime, and the Browns did not have a healthy kicker. After both teams went three-and-out in the OT, Kosar went to work. With 6:37 remaining and the ball on the Steeler 36, Kosar pumped once and fired deep down the left sideline for rookie Webster Slaughter. Slaughter caught the ball in stride and scored the walk-off touchdown. The Browns’ 536 yards offense was the most a Pittsburgh defense had ever yielded up to that point.
2. Browns 51, Steelers 0 (Sept. 10, 1989):The Browns were in the midst of a five-season playoff streak, where they qualified for the AFC Championship game three times in a four-year span. This season
capped off both streaks and began with question marks concerning new head coach Bud Carson. Carson, who was the architect of the famed Pittsburgh “Steel Curtain” defense in the 1970s, had never been a head coach before. But, in this season opener at Three Rivers Stadium, Carson’s attack 4-3 defense stunned Bubby Brister and the Steelers by forcing six turnovers and scoring three defensive touchdowns – two of which by linebacker David Grayson and the other by veteran Clay Matthews.
Rookie running back Tim Worley fumbled the ball at least four times, and two of them were returned for touchdowns. This rout catapulted the Browns to a 9-6-1 season and their last AFC Championship game berth. The Steelers rebounded to finish 9-7 and came within a point of meeting the Browns in that AFC Title game.
1. Browns 28, Steelers 23 (Oct. 24, 1993):Just two weeks after this game, Bill Belichick and Art Modell touched off mass furor when they released regional icon Bernie Kosar. However, all was right in the world with this game, simply remembered as the ”Eric Metcalf Game.” The Browns jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, thanks to a 62-yard touchdown pass from Vinny Testaverde to Michael Jackson and a 91-yard punt return by Metcalf, but the Steelers tied at 14 just before halftime. The Browns led again, 21-17, on a short TD pass from Testaverde to fullback Ron Wolfley, but the Steelers came back to take a 23-21 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
With Testaverde knocked out of the game with a separated shoulder, Kosar was poised to direct one his patented two-minute drives. However, Metcalf never gave him the chance, weaving through the Steeler special teams for a breathtaking 75-yard touchdown with 2:05 remaining. Metcalf became just the first NFL player to have two punt return TDs in the same game. Stevon Moore clinched the win by recovering a fumble with less than a minute remaining, but everyone remembers the Metcalf return as the winning play. The win improved the Browns to 5-2, but Kosar’s release deflated this team that wound up a disappointing 7-9. It was also the last time the original Browns beat the Steelers. The Steelers wound up 9-7 and reached the playoffs.
The Cleveland Browns took a step back last week after beating the Tennessee Titans the week before. Here’s why the Browns will continue to go backwards this week against the San Diego Chargers.
First Down: Can someone please stop the run?
Fans have been getting on first round pick Danny Shelton for all of the issues relating to the Browns not stopping the run. It is not entirely his fault. Shelton has been busy and doing his job by taking up the double team in a 3-4 defense. Ideally, taking up two defenders in a 3-4 defense will allow the linebackers to step up and make a play. They clearly haven’t.
To me the linebackers are the biggest issue here. Did anyone hear Paul Kruger’s name last week? Anyone? Bueller? Kruger is in the third year of a 5-year, $40 million contract and right now he is no where to be found. If the Browns want to stop the run, especially to the outside, they need Kruger and another first round pick Barkevious Mingo to set the edge on the outside.
Mingo has been a big disappointment so far and is probably another first round bust. The typical sentiment about draft picks is that you will see the biggest growth of a player from year two in the NFL to year three. This is year three. He really needs to step up if he wants to be on this team next year. Mingo single-handedly changed the momentum of the game last week and in a negative way with the roughing the kicker penalty.
The Browns defense has the incredible task of stopping the multi-threat Danny Woodhead and rookie Melvin Gordon of the Chargers. San Diego is averaging over 100 yards of offense on the ground this year and with the way the Browns have defended the run (32nd in the NFL), both of these players could have huge games.
Second Down: Can someone please run the ball?
The Browns have not been able to run the ball this season effectively, they are 26th in the NFL in rushing. The offensive line has been struggling so far this year and it is a wonder if Alex Mack is not fully healthy yet. They have not yet been able to get in sync.
The Chargers, like the Browns are also not very good with stopping the run. This would be a good time for Isaiah Crowell to get a lot of carries and do some damage for the first time this season. Running the ball effectively will finally give the Browns an opportunity to pass the ball off the play-action.
Third Down: Josh McCown has something to prove
Josh McCown needs to prove that Mike Pettine made the right decision at starting quarterback. If McCown struggles again, I could definitely see a change at starting QB after the bye week. I am not a huge fan of Johnny Manziel, he still has a lot to prove to me.
However, he seems to make this offense click. The other players seem to feed off of his energy, including the defense. In the first and third games, we had no pass rush whatsoever. In the second game, the Browns had seven sacks, seven. I don’t know what it is exactly but Johnny seems to make this offense and defense click.
Fourth Down: Prediction
The Browns will not be able to stop the run this week against the likes of Woodhead and Gordon. It will be a long day for the Browns defense after they try to stop the run and Rivers throws the ball over their heads.
Well, that one certainly went better than expected.
Not many people expected the Cleveland Browns to win Sunday’s home opener against the Tennessee Titans. There were a few you didn’t expect the Browns to even be COMPETITIVE, especially when starting quarterback Josh McCown wasn’t cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol by Friday.
That meant that beleaguered second-year quarterback Johnny Manziel – he of the dismal two starts as a rookie and the stay in substance-abuse rehab this past winter and the tendonitis in his throwing elbow that had him splitting first-team reps in practice this week – was going to make his first start of the regular season. And, after an up-and-down performance in relief during the Browns’ season-opening 31-10 loss to the New York Jets last Sunday, you really didn’t know what you were going to get.
With fellow Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, who threw four touchdown passes in his first half of NFL football (which was three more than Manziel had thrown in his entire NFL career) and compiled a perfect passer rating last Sunday, coming to town with the 1-0 Tennessee Titans, the story line looked to be how much better one Heisman winner would be than the other.
Well, not many people – except maybe the most diehard of “Johnny Football Fan” – expected that the Heisman Trophy winner who would be better – albeit not by much – was Manziel, and that Manziel’s team would wind up higher on the scoreboard than Mariota’s. But that’s what happened.
Despite going just 8 of 15 for 157 yards, two long touchdown passes to Travis Benjamin, a defense that
sacked Mariota seven times, and a running attack that carried the ball 30 times for 116 yards was enough for Manziel and the Browns to defeat the Titans, 28-14. It was the Browns’ second-straight win in a home opener, marking the first time that had happened since 1989-90.
What happened? Well, here are a few thoughts and observations from a guy who obsesses over everything Cleveland Browns:
1. Travis Benjamin was ‘The Man’: Benjamin came into this season with his spot on the Browns firmly on the bubble. Coming back from a torn ACL, he lost his punt returning job last season due to muffed kicks, fumbles and poor decisions. But he made enough plays during training camp and the preseason to keep his job, and, through two games, he’s made that decision a wise one. He made a great fingertip catch on the Browns’ second play from scrimmage for a 60-yard touchdown, ripped off a 78-yard punt return touchdown during the second quarter that also involved him hurdling the Titans’ punter, and improvised on a route that led to a game-clinching 50-yard touchdown catch with just under three minute remaining. Benjamin has scored four of the Browns’ five touchdowns this season and has caught every single one of Manziel’s TD passes – of 54, 60 and 50 yards, respectively. If Benjamin isn’t the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week at the very least, it’s a crime. On a team desperately seeking a playmaker, Benjamin has emerged as one through two games.
2. Manziel looked better, but had his moments: Forgive me if I’m not one of the several in the local media who are now clamoring for the Browns to turn the quarterback job over to Manziel. While it was clearly the best game of Manziel’s young career – and a victory, to boot – it wasn’t “outstanding.” Like the Jets game and the Bills game when he made his first rookie relief appearance, Manziel came out of the gate looking great. He hit Benjamin in stride for a 60-yard touchdown pass on the second play from scrimmage, but then looked mortal. He had trouble sustaining any semblance of a long drive all game. His fumbling problems continued, putting two more on the ground that, fortunately, his linemen were able to recover. The offensive gameplan seemed very conservative – calling twice as many run plays as passes. He failed to pick up a foot on a fourth-and-short inside the red zone during the second quarter that could have put the Browns up by three scores. And, after Mariota led a fourth-quarter scoring drive that cut the deficit to seven, things didn’t look good. But Manziel ended the game like he began it, hitting Benjamin for a long touchdown pass that seemed to catch the Titans off guard. His quarterback rating of 133.9 was the highest for a Browns quarterback since Derek Anderson on Oct. 28, 2007 (140.3). The bottom line is he won, which he did for the first time in his NFL career. But keep in mind that fans wanted the team to “Fail for Cardale” just days before this game.
3. Mariota looked better: Mariota struggled in his second pro start. The Browns put pressure on him all game, sacking him seven times and hurrying a lot of throws. He made some head-scratching decisions at times. However, in the second half, Mariota looked like the better quarterback. He led two long touchdown drives that turned a 21-0 halftime deficit into a 21-14 deficit. And, many fans feared that Mariota would gash the suddenly tired Browns defense for a third scoring drive if Manziel couldn’t get anything going. Fortunately, Manziel and Benjamin came through, preventing the unthinkable from happening. Mariota wound up 21 of 37 for 257 yards and two touchdowns. But he tasted defeat for the first time in his young career. He’s now lost to both Ohio State and the Browns in the same calendar year, just sayin’.
4. THAT’S our defense: The Browns came into this season expecting to be one of the NFL’s best defenses. After the hapless Jets tore them apart last week, many believed that the unit was overrated. However, for the most part Sunday, the Browns’ defense looked better than Dick LeBeau’s Titans defense. The Browns forced three turnovers and held Mariota scoreless in the first half a week after he erupted for four first-half touchdowns against the Buccaneers. They put the rookie on the ground seven times for sacks, harassed him into several hurried throws and into some mistakes that looked, dare I say it, Manziel-like. They were running out of gas in the second half, and Joe Haden was burned for a big touchdown by a rookie receiver late in the game, which was concerning. And, Dexter McCluster gashed the team for 98 rushing yards on just 10 carries. But it was a marked improvement from a week before.
5. West isn’t the best: Terrence West was literally given away to the Titans just days after the NFL’s final cut day due to what have been called attitude problems when he was with the Browns. Everyone knew that the Browns’ leading rusher from a year ago would be licking his chops at his first crack at his former team, and would nothing more than to do well against Mike Pettine and the team’s other decision makers who cast him aside so quickly. But it turned into a forgettable game for the Towson product. West fumbled on his first carry of the game, which led to the Browns’ second touchdown (scored by Isiah Crowell, to add insult to injury), and he finished with just three carries for 10 yards. Vindication, thy name is Pettine.
6. The kicking game looked awesome … again: Andy Lee may be one of the highest-paid punters in the NFL, and he deserves every single penny. Lee punted six times for a 53.2-yard average and put two inside the 20. He kept field position tipped in the Browns’ favor most of the day. Travis Coons didn’t attempt any field goals, but converted all three of his 33-yard extra points. And, Benjamin’s punt-return touchdown and 154 return yards certainly didn’t help a banner day for the special teams.
7. Feed The Crow: There were questions about Crowell heading into the season, and the second-year man out of Alabama State did little to answer those questions last Sunday. However, against the Titans, Crowell gained a team-best 72 yards on 15 carries (4.8 average) with a touchdown. His 15-yard run from the 20 on the first play following the Titans’ fourth quarter touchdown may have helped set up the big 50-yard touchdown pass six plays later.
It always feels good to be a fan after a victory Sunday. All of those “Fail for Cardale” cries and the fears of an 0-16 season are a distant memory. A lot of what was concerning last week was rectified this week. With an Oakland Raiders team coming to town riding high on their upset of the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, next Sunday’s game won’t be easy. Expect a week full of quarterback questions – with McCown expected to come off the NFL’s concussion protocol, the annual Browns QB controversy is about to return. Does McCown get his job back, or do the Browns give Manziel another look? We’ll see, but you already feel more optimistic about our chances next week no matter what the answer is.
Throughout my childhood I always remained optimistic about the Browns chances each and every year. But as I have grown older I find my optimism replaced with an ever-present feeling of hopelessness. This feeling is bothering me so much so I decided I was going to force myself to write about five things us Browns fans have to look forward to this year, that don’t involve the 2016 draft.
1. Our secondary is excellent. The Legion of Boom may get the most press but it was the Browns secondary which was graded the best in coverage by Pro Football Focus. This year they could improve with the addition of Tramon Williams and the continued development of K’Waun Williams, Pierre Desir, and hopefully Justin Gilbert. It will be fun to watch opposing quarterbacks try to beat this unit.
2. Joe Thomas and our offensive line could be dominant. For years now I claimed that Thomas was the best lineman in the league and on pace to be the greatest offensive lineman of ALL TIME. This man has been a top three tackle now eight years running and I know that the rumors of his decline are greatly exaggerated. Next to Thomas is Joel Bitonio, who is quickly looking like the only bright spot of the 2014 draft. He is an All-Pro candidate for this season as is center Alex Mack. The right side is solid with John Greco at guard, Mitchell Schwartz at tackle and Cameron Erving backing everyone up. Even though our offense will be tough to watch, if you just take your eye off the ball you will see some great work in the trenches.
3. Isaiah Crowell will have more opportunities to run the ball. Last year, Crowell showed lots of potential and became a bit of a fan favorite. But after Alex Mack’s injury Crowell’s production declined and Mike Pettine went all Bill Belichick and started rotating his running backs seemingly randomly. Now Terrance West is gone and Duke Johnson seems like he’s going to be the third down back when he gets healthy. Crowell will now have the chance to sink or swim behind one of the best offensive lines in the league.
4. Brian Hartline will be so much fun to cheer for. Cheering for Ohio guys is always fun especially if he becomes that one receiver who always seems to come through on critical third downs. Hopefully he can become like Joe Jurevicius in that way.
5. Lots of fresh faces will see playing time this year. The Browns have a few rookies that could really make a difference this from big defensive tackle Danny Shelton to not so big running back Duke Johnson. These players can quickly make a name for themselves and hopefully give the fans more hope for the future.
The Cleveland Browns take on the Chicago Bears tonight at 8:00pm at Soldier Field in Chicago. Here are four things to look for during this game.
First Down: A Terrelle Pryor sighting?
Will we finally see Terrelle Pryor tonight against the Bears? If we do, it would be a good and bad thing for the Browns.
First, the good. The Browns would finally get to see Pryor against other defensive backs and see how he has progressed. Pryor has made the transition from quarterback to wide receiver. He hopes to follow in the footsteps of players such as Josh Cribbs and Antwaan Randle El. The major difference with these players is that they made the switch coming out of college while Pryor is making his switch mid-NFL career.
Now the bad. Pryor has been battling a nagging hamstring injury throughout camp. When he spoke to reporters this week, he mentioned that he is only about 80-85% healthy. The fact is this, if he suffers another injury during the game tonight, he would likely find himself on the waiver wire. There is another option. Pryor could be placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. If Pryor is placed on the PUP list, he would not be eligible to be on the active roster until week seven of the season.
Second Down: Crowell – West – Johnson
Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West and Duke Johnson are all competing for the starting running back position. The Browns are looking for one of these players to step up. Crowell has been the best of the backs so far through the preseason, though that is not saying much. Through the first three games, Crowell has carried the ball 17 times for 47 yards, an average of just 2.7. However, he has also been significantly better in pass protection.
West still has the major problem of going east to west instead of north and south. He dances way too much in the backfield, very Trent Richardson-esque.
The other Browns running back, Duke Johnson, has hardly been on the field. He, much like many other Browns’ players, had been battling a hamstring injury throughout training camp. He finally got to participate in last week’s game against Tampa Bay, however it was short lived as he was concussed. He will not play in the preseason finale.
Third Down: Roster Battles
The Browns’ roster has to be cut down from 75 to 53 by 4:00pm EST on Saturday. It will not be easy to trim the roster down to 53. There will be some surprises as it seems there always are. I am no NFL General Manager but I can make a few predictions of some players that will get cut: QB Pat Devlin, RB Shaun Draughn, RB Timothy Flanders, WR Darius Jennings, WR Vince Mayle, WR Rodney Smith, TE Rob Housler, DT Jacobbi McDaniel, DT Dylan Wynn, LB Darius Eubanks just to start.
I am looking forward to seeing of Josh Lenz will make this team and tonight will be an important game for him. He reminds me of a player like Julian Edelman. Another player I believe who is on the bubble but I believe will make this team is Jamie Meder. He has been tearing up offensive lines so far this preseason and this game is really important for him as well. It will be interesting to see what the depth will look like on the defensive line after cutting Phil Taylor.
Fourth Down: Get out of the game healthy
You hate to see any kind of injuries in the preseason, especially in the final game where you are already resting your starters in hopes to prevent any major blows to the team. The last thing you want to see is key reserve players get hurt and miss any significant time.
Four Downs will be a weekly post leading up to each game.
Well, here we are again. The door has finally closed on the most recent Browns season. It may actually be more appropriate to say that the lid has finally been closed on the casket, but hey, semantics. 2014 ended much the same way that every season seemingly ends. The Browns strolled into one of their rival’s stadiums with their third string quarterback while nursing a massive losing streak, and proceeded to put up a valiant (pathetic) performance that came up short.
In what has become the saddest, most infuriating and depressing holiday tradition around these parts, the Browns train flew off the tracks halfway through the season and careened down the hillside in flames. The details of this particular fiery wreck were a little different than seasons past, as is normally the case, but the end result was eerily familiar. The only thing that is slightly unfamiliar to me is that I have to write about it this year for an adoring public clamoring for my thoughts on the year that was.
(Deliberate pause for everyone to get in their prolonged eye rolls)
As is the case with an NFL season, especially one involving the team that plays on the Northern edge of downtown Cleveland, there is so much that happens that trying to pack it all into one article would be borderline irresponsible. It would also eat up content that could be stretched out for a few weeks, but let’s go with the previous sentence. It sounds much better. That being said, over the next month or so I’ll be taking a look back at all things 2014 Cleveland Browns before we get to start talking about the offseason and our favorite civic past time which is, of course, the NFL Draft. Today I’ll be starting off with the positive and counting down the Cleveland Browns ten best of 2014.
10. Kyle Shanahan
We’ll start things off with the Browns young offensive coordinator. Granted, there were some issues with his offense that showed after starting center Alex Mack went down, but I have to say that I really do like his offense overall and saw a lot of positives that give me hope for the future. He’ll be getting interviews for Head Coaching jobs elsewhere, and I wouldn’t be all that surprised if he actually landed on of them, but if he comes back the Browns will have a year under their belt with him and I would be willing to bet the Browns offense improves come next season. If you look at what he did, especially early on, with some limitations at certain positions and his ability to adjust, I have to give a very positive review of Kyle Shanahan’s job in his first season with the team.
9. “Scrap Heap” Wide Receiver Acquisitions
I wasn’t exactly sure how to title this one. When I made my list for this I ended up with fourteen players and coaches that I wanted to mention. Unfortunately, a top fourteen list doesn’t quite have the ring to it that a top ten list does, so I had to make some edits. The first of those was combining three guys that I thought clearly needed to be mentioned into one item. Those guys, in no particular order, are Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, and Miles Austin. These three were each acquired through different ways and all made their mark at a position that was thought to be among the worst on the team.
To be clear, none of these receivers will be mistaken for an elite player. But each of them were extremely pleasant surprises that had very good first seasons with the Browns. There were big plays made by all of them, they brought a sure handedness that we had been sorely lacking, and I would wholeheartedly support all three of them being back next season. As sad as it is, there aren’t many receivers that have played for the Browns the past decade or so that I could say any of those things about, let alone all three.
8. Karlos Dansby
One of the big offseason acquisitions for the Browns, Dansby was brought in for both his on field performance and his veteran presence in the locker room. And he exceeded all expectations that I had for both of those things. He may have been higher on this list had his season not been cut short by injury, but there is no doubt that the signing of Karlos Dansby was an incredibly important one for the development of a winning culture, and there is also no doubt that he still has something left in the tank.
7. Paul Kruger
After signing a huge free agent deal and having a disappointing first season, Kruger came back in a big way this year. He was a guy that I thought could be gone if his second season went the same way as his first, but he turned things around and was one of the better players on the defensive side of the ball throughout 2014. Kruger ended up with 11.5 sacks and he was one of the only players, if not the only, who applied consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
6. The Baby Backs
You may know them by their given names Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell, but together they were known throughout the season as the Baby Backs. And while each of them had some issues during their rookie year, they both showed enough flashes that I think we can all be satisfied with the running back position going into next season. The talent is obvious and as long they can clean up their respective problems the Browns will have a great 1-2 punch for the foreseeable future.
5. Mike Pettine
There were definitely mistakes made by the Browns rookie Head Coach, but he is someone that I have to put in this top ten. I’m positive that I will have much more on Pettine in the very near future, but for now I’ll slot him right smack in the middle of this list. There are almost certainly other coaches that we all would have liked the Browns to have hired the past few years using hindsight, but we ended up with Mike Pettine. And I have to say that I have a much better feeling in my gut regarding him than I had for all of his predecessors dating back to Butch Davis. I love his honesty, I love his relatability, and I love the type of program that he’s trying to build here. I’m only hoping that he gets the time needed to build that program.
4. Joe Thomas
Joe Thomas, Pro Bowl, All Pro. Rinse, wash, repeat. The Browns veteran left tackle caught a lot of flack for having a down season and nearing the end of his career as an elite lineman. This Browns columnist would like to tell you that that is all a steaming pile of crap. Sure, he may not have had his best season, but let’s remember that his best season ranks among the elite for the entire history of the NFL. Rumors of his demise are far, far exaggerated and we should all continue to count our lucky stars that we have him on our team. Here’s hoping that he actually gets to play in the postseason before his Hall of Fame career ends.
3. Joel Bitonio
It would make sense that the high second round draft pick that practically no one in Cleveland had ever heard of would be higher on this list than the future Hall of Famer that he played next to, right? In Browns world, of course it would. The pick of Bitonio either enraged fans because he wasn’t a wide receiver or befuddled fans because they had no clue who he was. There really wasn’t much in between, me included. I fell into the second category, but instantly fell in love with the guy after listening to his conference call after the second day of the Draft and reading up on him. And then he went out and had himself a fantastic rookie season at left guard. He’s the kind of person you want in the locker room, and judging by his first year with the Browns he’s also the kind of player you want on the field. Barring injury, you can set it in stone that he’ll be playing in some Pro Bowls and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he’s the guy who ends up taking over at left tackle when Joe Thomas calls it quits.
2. The Secondary
Again, this is kind of cheating. I had three players that definitely needed to be mentioned, and a couple others who were close to making the list. But, for the sake of not leaving out some of the others, I have combined them all and will talk about them as a unit. The Browns secondary in 2014 contained two players who made the Pro Bowl in Joe Haden and Tashaun Gipson, two steadfast veterans who played well in Buster Skrine and Donte Whitner, and a surprising undrafted rookie who was fantastic before getting hurt in K’Waun Williams.
I mainly wanted to make sure that Haden, Gipson, and Williams were mentioned, but it seems fitting for me to include the unit as a whole. Gipson had his coming out party this year, leading the league in interceptions before suffering a season ending injury, and K’Waun Williams was an incredibly pleasant surprise, vastly outplaying first round pick Justin Gilbert.
But mostly, I have to talk about Joe Haden. After a slow start that could probably be attributed to being banged up out of the gate and adjusting to the new restrictive rules for defenders, Haden played at as high a level as anyone could given the restrictions on defensive backs in today’s NFL. To put it much more simply, Joe Haden was out of this world fantastic and showed why he continues to be among the best at his position in all of the NFL. He came up with a couple of the more ridiculous pass break ups and interceptions that you’ll ever see and, as far as I can tell, continues to be a great presence in the locker room. I should probably qualify everything I write about him with the fact that he will probably go down as one of my favorite Cleveland athletes of all time, but I won’t right now because his play on the field doesn’t need any qualifiers.
1. Alex Mack
I stewed over whether the secondary or Mack should earn the number one spot on this list. After all, the secondary encompassed a half dozen players who ranged from fantastic to good, had two Pro Bowl nominations, and a myriad of other points for other players going for it. As much of a cop out as it may have been, part of me couldn’t see how anything from the 2014 Browns could top the resume of that unit.
But then there was that other part of me. The part that saw the offense in the first five games before Alex Mack went down with a season ending injury. The part that saw an offensive line, a unit, and an entire team that could impose their will on any team and dictate the tempo. The same part of me that saw a team with a new identity that could play with any team in the league, and was winning more than they were losing.
Sadly, that part of me, and all parts of me really, were slowly devastated in the weeks and months following Mack’s injury. Sure, there were some wins against bad teams and a few good performances against playoff bound squads, but for all intents and purposes the season ended when Alex Mack was carted off the field in October during the bludgeoning of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
I would never have believed that a center could have such a monumental impact on a team. Hell, I think I even wrote as much last offseason when talking about whether the Browns should keep T.J. Ward or Mack. But I have never seen an injury, aside from a quarterback, affect a team as much as Mack’s injury did to the Browns. I honestly still can’t believe how staggering the difference was. I’ll have more on this in the next few weeks, but there is not a shred of doubt in my mind that Alex Mack was the most valuable player on the Browns in 2014. There’s no way we would have ever known it had he not gotten hurt and had he stayed healthy it would have certainly been someone else.
But, unfortunately for all of us, he did get hurt. His season was ended prematurely. And the team went into a tailspin that was impressive even for the Browns. And a center who didn’t even play five games ends up atop my list of the best of the 2014 Cleveland Browns. It’s almost unbelievable.
Mike Pettine’s choice to play Manziel last Sunday caught me off guard, but looking back now it really shouldn’t have. Pettine hasn’t proven to one to shy away from making decisions regardless of the opinions of fans and analysts, and with Hoyer playing as poorly as he was, the offense at a standstill, and the game basically lost, it was the perfect time to put in Manziel to see how the offense reacted. And it ended up working. Kind of. I mean he was able to move the ball, but it was against what was a soft prevent defense, so it only kind of counts. Nonetheless, Manziel provided the offense with an energy that hadn’t been seen all day. However, Pettine announced that Hoyer will again be in the driver’s seat this weekend against the Indianapolis Colts, which many are lauding as the correct decision…
…which it is. Hoyer is 10-5 in his career as a starter in Cleveland, and he has led the team this far. Sure, he has been sliding a bit the past few weeks, but he is still someone that the players and coaches trust in, and he is capable of running this offense adequately. The question becomes though, how much of a leash will he be given?, and how much should he actually get?. Here’s my guesses/opinions:
How much of a leash will Hoyer be given?
The Colts’ defense is not anywhere as strong as the Bills’, meaning that, at least in theory, the Browns offense should find more success moving the ball. Facing a front line that isn’t close to as dominant, the Browns should be able to get the ground game going this week. If this happens, Shanahan will be able to employ more play-action passes into his game plan, an area where Hoyer really excels. Given those opportunities, I think Hoyer will be given a somewhat short leash. This is a game that he should play well in, so, due to those high expectations, I feel the coaching staff will not give him too much room to screw up. Two interceptions off of poor throws, or a string of failed third down conversions due to poor execution or poor decision making, and we will be seeing Johnny take the field again.
That being said, I don’t expect to see Johnny this weekend, except for during the numerous camera shots of him pacing around the sidelines that will inevitably occur. Knowing that his job is probably on the line, Hoyer is going to elevate his game back to the level that we saw earlier on in the season in order to make sure he is able to remain on the field.
How much of a leash should Hoyer be given?
Not much. In an ideal world, Hoyer is given a short leash and is informed that he has a short leash. …Ok let me rephrase, ’cause in “an ideal world” right now, the Browns would be perfect and just rolling over everybody…. In my opinion, the correct decision would be to give Hoyer a short leash and inform him of that decision. This will put him under a significant amount of pressure, which is very important. You see, I believe that the Browns are going to make the playoffs this year, or are at least going to be in the running to through the final week of the season. As the season inches closer and closer to its conclusion, the pressure to perform well keeps rising higher. If Hoyer “Andy Dalton’s” under pressure, I would rather have the opportunity to correct that now and get Johnny a little experience than wait till the playoffs to implode.
I say that if the offense is fairly ineffective throughout the first half, then Pettine should throw in Manziel coming out the gate to start the second half. Manziel has the ability to spark an immobile offense, and coming out to start the second half with him would give the Colts less time to react, and the Browns would be given a few more minutes to prepare.
On top of letting Hoyer know he is on a short leash, Pettine should make the information public. It would help feed the ever-ravenous fans and analysts, and the real threat of having Manziel on the field will force the Colts to spend more time working on two defensive playbooks, which would be helpful for a Browns team that right now is looking like it’s going to need all the help it can get.
In other Browns passing game news, Miles Austin, our most reliable third down option, has been placed on IR due to a kidney problem, ending his season. So that sucks. A lot. Sure, his production was declining with Josh Gordon’s return, but he was one of the few players who actually moved the chains last week. For a team struggling on third down, this will not help in the least.
Despite all of that though, I still have faith in the Browns, especially this weekend. This game is huge, not only for the time, but for Brian Hoyer too. I’m expecting a performance on the level of the Bengals game. The defense is going to step up in big ways and force at least three turnovers. Hoyer is going to eclipse 300 yards passing to go with a pair of touchdowns in a very clean game, and Isaiah Crowell is going to top the century mark and find the endzone. The Josh Gordon of last year is going to pay the Dawg Pound a visit this weekend, and it is going to be glorious.
Despite the spark that Johnny Manziel provided against the Bills the Browns decided to stay with Brian Hoyer. Hopefully Hoyer can play with a little more fire now that he knows Johnny Football is breathing down his neck. It also helps that the Colts defense is a lot weaker than the Bills.
QB- Brian Hoyer: A crucial game for him. Is high risk QB2 because of the possibility that he gets benched in favor for Manziel.
QB- Johnny Manziel- Once he starts he becomes a QB1 immediately. Must add if you don’t have one of the top 6 QBs right now regardless. Running quarterbacks are almost always quality fantasy quarterbacks, even awful passers like Vince Young and Tim Tebow were good fantasy quarterbacks. Until he starts playing he shouldn’t be starting but he should be added because it looks like he could start playing real soon.
RB- Isaiah Crowell- He will do better against the Colts than what he did against the stout Buffalo. Still a decent RB2 option for this week and the rest of the season.
RB- Terrance West: Still getting carries, but remains a risky flex play. Cannot continue fumbling.
WR- Josh Gordon- Hoyer and Gordon just don’t seem to be on the same page, but hopefully another good week of practice will help. Because if it does watch out, Gordon could be deadly.
WR- Andrew Hawkins- Hawkins will continue to get the second looks as long as Cameron is hurt.
TE- Jordan Cameron- If he comes back this weekend he’ll has a good matchup against a Colt defense that struggles against TEs.
K- Billy Cundiff- Billy Cundiff has been awful lately, if you own him as a joke the joke is probably awful.
DEF- The defense will struggle against the Colts explosive offense, but Luck is turnover prone so they could get some points.
After years of mediocrity, it finally looks like (knock on wood) Cleveland Browns fans have a team they can be thankful for and proud of this year. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the team is currently 7-4 and right in the thick of the playoff hunt. All of this got some of the Browns writers here at More Than A Fan: Cleveland thinking, what should the Cleveland Browns be thankful for this year? Here is what we came up with.
-For starters, the Browns as an organization should still be thankful for the Indianapolis Colts. While the current administration had nothing to do with executing the Trent Richardson deal, they certainly did benefit from it. It’s far too early to determine whether the trade ultimately worked out in their favor, but the added first round pick allowed the Browns flexibility to move around in that round and do what they wanted.
-To piggyback off of that, Ray Farmer and company should propose a Thanksgiving toast to Joe Banner. Banner wasn’t perfect, but he did have the foresight to stockpile draft picks for the 2014 NFL Draft (much to the detriment of the 2013 draft), one that he predicted (so far, correctly) would have much more talent. He also left the new regime in a very good position financially.
-We found out the hard way that everyone should be thankful for center Alex Mack. The offensive line as a whole took a noticeable step back in the couple games following his injury. This was no doubt partly due to chemistry, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that was it. Joe Thomas is probably the better lineman at a more integral position, but Mack was the general and possibly the best run blocker out of the bunch. Missing him shows that Mack is worth every penny of his $42 million contract.
First and foremost, the Browns should be thankful for the defensive secondary unit. If it hadn’t been for their stellar play all season, the Browns record would be much different. The secondary has collected 13 total interceptions this season, led by Tashaun Gipson with six of them. Joe Haden has played lights out this season and is earning that big contract. While he had early struggles, Justin Gilbert has shown tremendous progress the last few games and made a huge pass defense against the Falcons in a tight game. It is because of the secondary unit that Brian Hoyer has had extra opportunities per game.
Second, the Browns should be thankful for Johnny Manziel *ducks*. Now, hear me out on this. When the Browns selected Johnny Manziel in the first round in the draft, the Browns suddenly became a relevant team in the NFL in the eyes of the national media. With that, Brian Hoyer knew he needed to work his butt off to be the starting QB of the Cleveland Browns. This is just speculation, but I assume Hoyer also brought his game up on the intangibles that rookies have a hard time with. Namely, leadership. There’s no doubt that Brian Hoyer is the leader of the offense. He has command of the huddle and the respect of his peers. Sometimes it is that confidence that boosts your game to another level. The Browns should be thankful for Johnny Manziel, it lit a fire under Brian Hoyer. I just hope his inconsistent passes don’t lock us out of the playoffs *ducks*.
Last, but certainly not least, the Browns should be thankful for Ray Farmer. More specifically, Ray Farmer and his scout team. Where older regimes refused to bring in free agents because “they’re free agents for a reason,” Ray Farmer brought in Donte Whitner, Karlos Dansby, Jim Dray, Ben Tate, Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins. As for the draft, they snagged Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel, Joel Bitonio, Christian Kirksey, Terrance West, Pierre Desir as well as gaining extra 2015 1st, 4th and a 6th round draft pics. For undrafted rookies, the Browns collected an impressive haul that are major contributors on both sides of the ball. Cleveland signed Ray Agnew, Isaiah Crowell, Taylor Gabriel and K’Waun Williams. Without the players Ray Farmer signed, this would be a very different looking team. So, not only the Browns, but I, too, am thankful for Ray Farmer and his scout team. They did a fantastic job in the first year and cannot wait to see what they can do in the years to come.
Local(ish) High Schools – With four players from the Youngstown and Cleveland areas, the Browns ought to be thankful for the local talent that has reached them. Brian Hoyer went to high school at local powerhouse St. Ignatius. After spending time working behind Tom Brady in New England, Hoyer has emerged in Cleveland to lead the team’s offense, racking up 2864 yards through the air on a 55.9% completion rate to go along with 11 touchdowns thus far this year. On defense, one of his counterparts is also a Cleveland native. Donte Whitner attended Glenville High School before heading to Ohio State. In his first year with the Browns, he has been instrumental so far, finding himself second on the team in tackles with 73. He also has an interception and a forced fumble to go along. Two Browns linemen hail from the Youngstown area: Ishmaa’ily Kitchen on defense, and John Greco on offense. Kitchen attended Cardinal Mooney High before pursuing a career in the NFL. After seeing little time on the field in September, Kitchen has stepped up to the tune of 23 tackles since Week 6 as injuries have slowly decimated the Browns’ defensive line. On the other hand, John Greco, who attended Boardman High in Youngstown, has started every game for the Browns this season, primarily at right guard.
A Kyle Shanahan Offense – Shanahan’s offense has created a functional unit for the Browns. Despite losing one of their best players in Alex Mack, Cleveland has still been able to produce at a greater rate than last year, often powered to victory on the backs of their duo of rookie running backs and Hoyer’s mistake-minimizing arm. However, I can’t say that this has been all good, as their have been a few games when the offense has just straight up failed. However, overall, Shanahan’s presence in Cleveland has been a blessing.
The Cincinnati Bengals – “Wait what?! The Bengals? That makes so much sense, being thankful for one of our rivals and the division leader. Except not!”…Well, if you really think about it, it does. The Browns have three big reasons to be thankful for the Bengals. First off, former Bengal Andrew Hawkins leads the team in receiving with 50 receptions for 694 yards and two touchdowns. Secondly, the Bengals were kind enough to drop a huge deuce on Thursday Night Football. And lastly, the Bengals were dumb enough to help make sure the Browns improved this year by signing Greg “Brickhand” Little, guaranteeing that Cleveland’s worst nightmare would never haunt the team again. As hard as it is to admit, the Browns owe the Bengals a polite nod at dinner this Thanksgiving.
Mike Pettine – I routinely make jokes about the corpses that have roamed the sidelines for the Cleveland Browns over the past two or so decades, but know that I make those jokes in the most masochistic way imaginable. It kills me every time that I do it, but I think we might just be able to move on from all of that. Granted, Mike Pettine has had a couple time management blunders during his rookie campaign, but I get the feeling that he is an actual NFL caliber head coach. It’s a relatively small sample size but I’m absolutely loving him at the helm of my team thus far.
Josh Gordon – Quite simply the most talented football player that I have ever seen play for the Browns during my lifetime. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Josh Gordon was the singular reason that I was able to watch and enjoy the second half of last season. He is that good. And the Browns were that bad. There were quite a few local media members who advocated for his release this offseason. You most likely won’t hear them address that, but you will hear me reaffirm my love of Josh Gordon and the fact that I wrote a series of articles championing the fact that releasing him would have been a disastrous mistake. Seeing number twelve out on the field in Brown and Orange might just be the best thing in my life right now. Please don’t tell my girlfriend.
Seven and four. Seven wins and four losses. Seven wins at Thanksgiving and a team that is squarely in the mix for a playoff spot. I’m sorry, but after the putrid and depressing football that I have been subjected to my entire life, that is definitely the thing that I am most thankful for. Again, please don’t let my girlfriend or loved ones read this. Or, actually, let them read this. They know I have an irrational love for this football team. They’ll understand. All of us understand. Or, at least, should. The Browns have a huge game against Buffalo on Sunday, and they are poised to enter the month of December fighting for the division and the playoffs. How can we not be thankful for that?
As you can see, the Browns organization has a lot to be thankful for. One consensus among all of the writers was that the Browns should be thankful for their fans. These are fans who have stuck it out through multiple two, three and four win seasons. Fans who have begged just to have a team with a .500 record. Fans who can boast that they are some of the best fans in the NFL, as well as the most numerous.
The staff at More Than A Fan: Cleveland would like to wish all of you, our readers, a very Happy Thanksgiving. Even if you’ve only read one post or disagree with everything we say on a regular basis, we are still thankful for taking the time to do so.
Archives of sports websites no longer available on the Internet