Tag Archives: Justin Gilbert

Another one bites the dust

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 25: Defensive tackle Phillip Taylor #98 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates after the Cleveland Browns defeats the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game at Cleveland Browns Stadium on November 25, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns defeated the Steelers 20-14. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH – NOVEMBER 25: Defensive tackle Phillip Taylor #98 of the Cleveland Browns celebrates after the Cleveland Browns defeats the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game at Cleveland Browns Stadium on November 25, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Browns defeated the Steelers 20-14. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Another one bites the dust.

Phil Taylor has been cut by the Browns. The 21st selection of the first round in the 2011 NFL Draft was battling for a position on the defensive line. Taylor has been associated with Julio Jones because that is the pick that the Browns gave up to trade down and take Taylor.

Now look at the situation that the Browns now have with the defensive line and you can see why Taylor was expendable.

During the preseason, it appears that the Browns have hit a home run with Danny Shelton. The first round pick out of Washington has been a menace for offensive lines in the preseason. Shelton has been able to already command double teams by the opposing teams which has opened the pass rush for other players.

The Browns have 11 sacks in the first three preseason games. As a barometer, the Browns had four sacks in the first three preseason games last year. Shelton has been a big part of that.

The worry of Shelton before the NFL Draft was that he would only be a two-down player. He has quieted that worry so far. However, it is not only the emergence of Shelton, but the emergence of other players.

The Browns signed Randy Starks in the off-season and he has already paid dividends in the improvement of the run defense.

One of the biggest surprises in camp is fellow rookie Xavier Cooper. Cooper was the third round pick in the draft this year. Much like Shelton, he has been disrupting plays constantly.

Jamie Meder was a long shot to make this team after being undrafted out of Ashland. He was on the practice squad last season and has played well in camp and in the preseason games. He also is a favorite of Head Coach Mike Pettine. 

In the 31-7 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Meder registered five tackles (three solo), a sack, a tackle for loss and a QB hit in limited playing time. With the Browns also cutting Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Meder has a good shot at making this team.

The Browns have had eight first round picks in the past five years. Only one of which is starting this season, Danny Shelton.

Here is the list:

2011

Phil Taylor – Cut by the Browns today.

2012

Trent Richardson – Traded to Colts for first round pick.

Brandon Weeden – Backup to Tony Romo in Dallas.

2013

Barkevious Mingo – Battling injuries and will be a backup starting the season.

2014

Justin Gilbert – Will be a backup to start the season.

Johnny Manziel – Who knows what will happen here.

2015

Danny Shelton – The only player starting on this list.

Cameron Erving – A backup offensive lineman to start the season.

Despite the production of first round picks, the Browns have a really good defense and a highly-rated offensive line. The age old question for the Browns is if they have enough firepower on the offense to compete this season and help keep the defense off the field.

This is a make it or break it year for Mingo. The biggest jump for NFL players is between their second and third seasons and this is his third. If he does not improve this season, he will end up just like Taylor, Richardson, Weeden and so on and so on.

Browns End Of Season Awards

Now that I’ve had over a week to allow the Browns’ season, and specifically the rather disappointing end to it, to sink in, I am going to go ahead and declare who would win my awards for most valuable player, most valuable rookie, least valuable player (hint: he couldn’t put a ball through the uprights to save his life), and the players and rookies who most and least impressed me – that is the player who exceeded expectations the most, or fell the furthest short. So, here goes…

Most Valuable Player…

Joe Thomas

When trying to decide who most deserved this, I considered two factors: their leadership (both on and off the field), and their performance above their replacement level on the team (that is, how much better they played than the second stringer behind them). The perfect candidate would be someone like Alex Mack, who was not only a leader at center, but tremendously better than his backup, as was evidenced by the disintegration of the Browns’ running game post-Mack-injury. However, I could not pick Mack simply because he missed so much of the season. I narrowed my list of potential candidates down to Thomas – who was the only offensive player I thought was worthy of consideration – all four starters in the secondary, Craig Robertson, and Karlos Dansby. Dansby and Tashuan Gipson were the first two I eliminated, as both missed multiple games, during which time Christian Kirksey and Jim Leonhard stepped up to play at a high level, meaning there wasn’t a large dropoff in production at the position. Similarly, when Joe Haden missed a game, Pierre Desir filled in quite admirably. Additionally, both Buster Skrine and Haden committed too many penalties at big times, and both suffered bouts of inconsistency. That left me with Thomas, Robertson, and Donte Whitner. Whitner came in and did what he was supposed to do – provide a veteran presence in the secondary while performing at a very high level (he led the team in tackles). Roberston was second on the team in tackles, and consistently made big plays in both the passing and running games. However, he only started 12 games and had weeks where he made relatively little impact. In the end, I had to choose Thomas over Whitner because he is irreplaceable to the Browns. Thomas held together a line that started to collapse in on itself after Mack went down. He played at a Pro Bowl level at one of the most important positions in the NFL. And he helped Joel Bitonio (who had a wonderful season) play at a much higher level than he would’ve had anyone else been alongside him. Thomas was the only consistently bright spot on the Browns’ offense, and for that I have to give this to him.

Most Valuable Rookie…

Christian Kirksey

A very good argument could be made for Joel Bitonio, but I decided to go with Kirksey for the way in which he stepped into Karlos Dansby’s role when he got injured. Kirksey played well enough that Dansby’s absence was scantly noticed, at least among the common viewer. Not only that, but he played in every game this season and made big plays in most of them. He tied for fifth on the team in solo tackles (with 47), and had a forced fumble to go along. He was also very serviceable against the pass, covering athletic and talented tight ends quite well. I also considered K’Waun Williams, but because he only played in 13 games, I had to give the nod to Kirksey.


Least Valuable Player…

Billy Cundiff

If you have ever read my column before, you shouldn’t be at all surprised by this choice. I hate Cundiff with a fiery passion. I’m sure he’s a wonderful guy to talk to and all, but he is a god awful kicker. Just terrible, terrible, terrible. He kicked a mere 75.9% on the season, ranking him 30th out of 33 qualifying kickers (those who attempted at least 10 field goals). He missed more field goals from between 30 and 39 yards than any other kicker in the league. And he managed to miss in close games. In the Browns’ Week 2 loss to the Ravens (you know, that one that we lost by 2 points), he missed not one, but two field goal attempts. In the one-point Week 14 loss to the Colts, he missed from 40 yards out, giving the Colts solid field position (not to mention momentum) to start a drive in which they would score and tie the game up. He consistently let the team down, and for that he wins this prestigious LVP award, which from now on will be referred to as the Cundiff award.

Most Impressive Player…

 Paul Kruger

In 2013, Kruger was one of the most disappointing players on the Browns’ squad. He signed a large contract (5 years, $40 million), and completely failed to live up to it. This year was different; Kruger racked up 11 sacks along with 4 forced fumbles. He made numerous plays at big moments, and he was one of the few consistencies in a defensive front that was demolished by injuries. His hair and beard also were impressive this past season, just reinforcing the decision to put declare him the Browns’ most impressive player of the season. (I also considered putting Buster Skrine here, but lack of facial hair cost him).

Most Impressive Rookie…

K’Waun Williams

I also heavily considered putting Taylor Gabriel here, but I had to go with Williams because he was not on my radar. Like at all. I wrote about Gabriel joining the team during the summer, and although I did not expect him to perform at this level, I nonetheless was at least aware of his existence. Williams, on the other hand, came out of nowhere. I honestly had no idea who he was when he first took the field for the first time. Additionally, he made the Browns better in a way that Gabriel didn’t and couldn’t. Williams allowed Buster Skrine to move inside to the slot, a position that he is more effective at, making the secondary better as a whole. But individually, Williams was no slouch either, amassing 29 solo tackles, 8 passes defensed, and 1 sack in 13 appearances (4 starts).

Least Impressive Player…

Josh Gordon

This one was also very difficult to decide. I almost went with Ben Tate because…well, he lost his job to two rookies and got cut. That’s pretty low. I also thought about putting Jordan Cameron here due to his plethora of injuries that prevented him from playing anywhere close to the level where he was last year. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the only Gordon could truly sit in this spot. His time on the field was limited due to his suspension, but when he finally returned, I was nothing but disappointed. Granted I had huge expectations for him, but rightfully so, seeing as he was the best receiver in the NFL in 2013. In the few games he played, he was merely average. But that isn’t what won him this spot. Despite having nearly been suspended for a whole season, he showed no growth in maturity. Quite literally zero. I mean, what kind of player misses his first ten games, comes back, and then misses a walkthrough and gets suspended by his coach for the final game of the year. Honestly, grow up Gordon. You’re not in high school anymore, and this shit doesn’t make you cool. What makes you cool is leading your team to the playoffs. Figure things out and make that happen next year.

Least Impressive Rookie…

Justin Gilbert

This was a no-brainer for me. I didn’t expect Johnny Manziel to do much of anything this year, but I expected Gilbert to start across from Haden and be in the conversation for rookie of the year. Instead his season was a story of poor decision after poor decision. There was a constant storyline regarding his lack of effort in practice, and he too missed the final game due to what amount to poor decisions. He’s real talented, and I’d really like to write this year off as him adjusting to real life. Hopefully he can come back next year and make a real impact, but we will see I guess.

And that is it. I’d love to hear where y’all agree or disagree, so feel free to tweet at me (@nicstapig) or just comment here. Cheers.

 

NOTE: It was announced earlier this morning that both OC Kyle Shanahan and QB coach Dowell Loggains have parted ways with the Browns. I will discuss this in length next week, but for information about it now, you can check out here.

It's A Happy New Year For The Browns

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

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

1. Our Coaches Don’t Take Bullshit

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

2. The Injury Bug Can Only Eat So Much

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

3. Ray Farmer is Kind of a Minor Personnel Genius

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

4. The Curse of Eternal Browns Optimism

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

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

Cheers and Happy New Year.

Leadership at the Top Gives Browns Future Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Browns.

Annual Browns Mantra: There's Always Next Year

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

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

So why am I so upset?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Browns.

…and we might need a taller mannequin.
johnny-manziel-cleveland-browns-quarterback-jersey

Cleveland Browns Announce Brian Hoyer Will Remain Starter

After a few days of speculation and uncertainty, the Cleveland Browns and Head Coach Mike Pettine have announced that Brian Hoyer will remain the starting quarterback. This news was first reported by NFL Insider Jay Glazer.

Mike Pettine and his staff are clearly basing their decision on Hoyer’s overall body of work rather than his past several games.

“After thorough evaluation and talking to the staff, we feel Brian gives us the best opportunity to win on Sunday,” Pettine said.  “This is a football decision and those are always going to be based on what we think is best for our team. Brian has led our team to a 7-5 record. I’m confident that we can get the entire offense playing at the level needed to accomplish the goals we set at the beginning of the season. Those goals are still very much attainable.”

The Browns are enjoying one of their most successful seasons since 1999 with Hoyer under center. They are 7-5 so far and are in the mix for the post season. On the year, Hoyer has completed 56.2% of his passes (222/395) for 3,056 yards, 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He played about as well as you could ask a quarterback to play through the first seven weeks of the season (overlooking the Jacksonville game), however he has been much more erratic as of late. In the month of November Hoyer completed 54.8% of his passes (which is actually better than his October completion percentage) and has thrown for 1,342 yards (his highest monthly total). However November marks the first month he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, and the difference is discouraging. In September Hoyer threw 3 touchdowns with no interceptions, then in October he passed for 5 scores against just 2 interceptions. For November Hoyer has thrown 3 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. Following last week’s loss to the Buffalo Bills, a game in which Hoyer went 18 for 30 with 192 yards and 2 interceptions, the talk of starting Johnny Manziel escalated to screams, especially after Hoyer was benched for the last five minutes of the game and Manziel led a scoring drive in his first meaningful NFL action of his career.

Picking apart Pettine’s comments above, it’s interesting to note that he didn’t say Hoyer is the starter for the rest of the year, saying instead he gives the Browns the best opportunity to win on Sunday. This opens the door to many different things, like how short of a leash (if any) will Hoyer have and will the starting job be reevaluated on a weekly basis. All of that remains to be seen.

What is clear is that, despite some inaccuracy issues, the leadership collectively trusts Brian Hoyer to get the job done (at least more than they trust Manziel at this time). Pettine and company have played undrafted free agent K’Waun Williams over first round pick Justin Gilbert this year and have cut ties with Ben Tate, so clearly they aren’t afraid to stray from the path. Time will tell whether or not the vote of confidence will pay off.

A Cleveland Browns Thanksgiving

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

Dave Jack

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

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

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

Andy Metzger

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

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

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

Nico Ericksen-Deriso

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

Stephen Thomas

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

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

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

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

Ryan Jones

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

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

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


 

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving

Browns: Who Should Return Punts?

The Cleveland Browns have played themselves to a 6-3 record, but it has not always looked pretty. There have definitely been high and low wrinkles to this season—some that can be changed mid-season, some cannot. One of the changes that could (and should) be addressed is the role of the punt returner, averaging 3.2 yards per return for lowest average in the league.

The punt returning position has been a revolving door, depending on situation and coaching decision. Whether the answer is currently on the roster or if Ray Farmer needs to seek outside help, this switch needs to be done as soon as possible, in my opinion. I can’t sit and watch Jordan Poyer bounce a kick off of his face at the two yard line, giving Jacksonville the ball and control of momentum again. I’m not a fan of having Jim Leonhard back deep, just because he can catch the ball. As evidenced in the game vs. Cincinnati, he’s not very good with running with the ball after the catch. He looked scared and he also coughed up a fumble, allowing the Bengals to score their only three points of the game.

"I've made a huge mistake" - Jordan Poyer
Jordan Poyer: “I’ve made a huge mistake”

There are a couple of options currently on the Browns roster that I’d like to see returning punts. First, the obvious one, Travis Benjamin. Benjamin muffed a punt earlier in the year and was benched in favor of Poyer and has yet to regain the job. I’m not sure if this is because he has a bigger role in the pass game, or if the coaches just don’t trust him back there. Maybe they’re right for not trusting him after the muff and a fumble. At any rate, Benjamin is a game-changer in the return game when he holds on to the ball with his breakaway speed. The Steelers aren’t afraid to utilize arguably their best player to return punts, so why not Benjamin, a role player in the pass offense? Also, with Josh Gordon coming back after this upcoming game, the Browns will not be as receiver-needy, even though I have liked what I have seen from Benjamin in as a wide receiver this year.

Another player that could fill the role currently on the roster is Justin Gilbert. Gilbert returned kickoffs at Oklahoma State and should be considered to fill the punt returner role in Cleveland. In his collegiate career, Gilbert returned six kicks for touchdowns and ran a 4.37 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine. While he only attempted eight punt returns (in 2010), Gilbert should definitely be in the discussion to take over PR duties. An excuse that he was taken 8th overall isn’t a good excuse to be afraid he will get hurt receiving punts (see again: Brown, Antonio). Tony Grossi loves reminding everyone that Gilbert did not receive punts in college, only kicks, but these two positions are not mutually exclusive for a player.

One last name that should be in the conversation and possibly at the top of the list, is the current kick returner, Marlon Moore. Moore has shown great burst and reasonably good decision making in the return game. Giving someone like him more opportunities in the open field with the ball in his hands could help you win the battle of field position. He hasn’t helped much on offense, so I’d like to see him have a fair shot with punt return duties.

There are a few names that aren’t on the current 53-man roster that could also be considered. Now, I know Ray Farmer, when asked about signing Josh Cribbs to return kicks, replied, “Who do I want to let go to sign Josh Cribbs?” Now, I don’t think this was Farmer taking a shot on Josh and his talents, but more of an affirmation of the current talent on the team. While Farmer’s quote basically shuts down the idea of signing a player just to return kicks, it is not out of the realm of possibility to turn to outside help.

We are all familiar with Josh Cribbs, so we won’t delve too deep with stats. Cribbs, now 31 years of age, was released by the raiders in August 2013 after a poor showing in preseason. He was the picked up by the Jets in October of 2013 and was put on injured reserve after a shoulder injury not even two months later. Before being released from the Browns, he had noticeably lost a step or two. I will always be a Josh Cribbs fan (and the Browns are 6-0 this season when I wear my Cribbs jersey on gameday), I don’t think he’s the answer, unfortunately, but I’d love to be proved wrong on this one.

MarianiMarc Mariani was drafted by the Titans in 2010 and went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie out of Montana. Mariani broke his leg in the preseason of 2012, missing the entire year—he was just released by the Titans this past August. In the two seasons he played with the Titans, he returned two punts for touchdowns and averaged 11.2 yards per return. While he hasn’t played since 2011 due to injuries, the Browns could take a look to Mariani to help as an experienced returner who has had success in the NFL.

Broncos v PanthersAnother player the Browns should consider signing is return specialist Trindon Holliday. Holliday was just waived from the Buccaneers on October 31 of this year due to a hamstring issue. If healthy, the Browns may look his way to fill the current need. Holliday returned punts for touchdowns in in 2012 and 2013 on the Broncos, one in each year. He has a career 9.3 yards per return and is 28 years of age. The former LSU track star posted a 4.34 40-yard dash in the 2010 combine. Halliday is also the first player in NFL history with a punt return for a TD and kick return for a TD in the same postseason game.

BanksOne last name I’d like to mention is 26 year old Brandon Banks, who formerly played for Washington, now in the CFL. Banks will not help on offense, as Mike Shanahan hoped he would evolve into a better receiver, but he has game-breaking potential returning punts. While he averaged 11.3 yards per return in 2010, he regressed in 2011 and again in 2012 with 9.1 yards/return and 6.8 yards/return, respectively, giving him a 9.4 yard per return average in his NFL career. However, he has bounced his average back up this year to 10.3 yards per return on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It is my understanding an NFL team may buy out a contracted player from the CFL, so this is not out of the realm of possibility.

With the Browns offense being so up and down this year, the importance of a good return game should not be overlooked. It seems the coaching staff having Jim Leonard returning punts is due to other players’ errors, coupled with his ability to catch the ball. But as I mentioned before, he looked scared once he realized he had to run after the catch. It has a feel of playing to not lose, rather than playing to win.

Travis Benjamin, Justin Gilbert and Marlon Moore are all viable options that could give the Browns a playmaker back to receive the ball that are currently on the roster. Ray Farmer could have been genuine (probably not), but to imply there isn’t one expendable player on the Browns 53-man roster to sign a return specialist is kind of silly. Good for him for showing he believes in his current team, but a good General Manager should always be looking to upgrade his team. I’d personally prefer giving Benjamin another shot with support from the coaching staff, boosting his confidence.

You can’t fix many things on a football team mid-season, but placing a competent speedster back to return punts is something the Browns can, and should do. Whether that person is currently on the team or not, it’s time to make the switch (again).

Go Browns.

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.

Defense Provides Spark to Overcome Raiders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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