Tag Archives: Karlos Dansby

Browns Prepare For A Tough Battle In Baltimore

Last week was one of the most frustrating losses I have ever witnessed in my young life. It was just shocked and angered me that the Browns just could not get pressure on the Chargers depleted offensive line. It just hurt my heart seeing the Browns completely unable to cover the Chargers two healthy receivers. Luckily for us the Ravens have a whole bunch of issues that will allow us to stay competitive in this game.

1. The Browns are so lucky that after one week of failing to take advantage of the Charger’s weak injury

Linebacker Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders sacks and forces quarterback Josh McCown #13 of the Cleveland Browns to fumble during a game . (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
Linebacker Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders sacks and forces quarterback Josh McCown #13 of the Cleveland Browns to fumble during a game . (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

ravaged O-Line we get the opportunity to redeem our selves by playing against the Ravens no name group of receivers. After the Steve Smith and Michael Campanaro injuries the only remaining healthy receivers the Ravens have are Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, recently acquired Chris Givens, and rookie Darren Waller. Joe Flacco struggled moving the ball through the air last Thursday against the Steelers poor pass defense so they could also struggle against Browns pass defense despite how awful they have been looking recently.

2. With the Ravens having practically no weapons at wide receiver the Ravens will look to throw the ball more to their tight ends and running backs. Their usual starting tight end Crockett Gilmore is questionable with a calf injury and if he can’t go rookies Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle will try make plays. Luckily for us we have Karlos Dansby one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL to neutralize them.

3. Perhaps an even more tantalizing option in the passing game for the Ravens could be running back Justin Forsett. Many people expected Forsett to catch tons of ball in the Marc Trestman offense that allowed Matt Forte 100 receptions a year ago. It hasn’t quite been like that so far this year as he is only averaging 3 catches a game so far this year. But injuries can change game-plans, and I would not be surprised if Forsett gets seven or more catches to go with 15-20 carries.

4. It will be really important to get off to a fast start against the Ravens. As of now it seems Josh McCown has most of his success in garbage time playing catch up. If he truly wants to silence his critics he’s going to need to get off to a fast start and win some games. He’ll have the opportunity to do so against a struggling Ravens defense allowing 26 points a game.

5. Duke Johnson had a great game last week against the Chargers. If Johnson could continue his success it will give the offense the versatile weapon it has been lacking for years. If he can develop into a Forte-style running back it could give the offense hope for an exciting future.

Prediction: The Browns will keep it close and cover the 6 point spread but fail to get the victory in some weird heartbreaking manner.

Ravens 26 Browns 24

Cleveland Browns Ten Best of 2014

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

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

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

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

10. Kyle Shanahan

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

9. “Scrap Heap” Wide Receiver Acquisitions

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

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

8. Karlos Dansby

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

7. Paul Kruger

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

6. The Baby Backs

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

5. Mike Pettine

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

4. Joe Thomas

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

3. Joel Bitonio

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

2. The Secondary

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

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

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

1. Alex Mack

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

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

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

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

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

Almost.

It's A Happy New Year For The Browns

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

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

1. Our Coaches Don’t Take Bullshit

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

2. The Injury Bug Can Only Eat So Much

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

3. Ray Farmer is Kind of a Minor Personnel Genius

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

4. The Curse of Eternal Browns Optimism

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

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

Cheers and Happy New Year.

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.

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

The Browns' Midweek Report, Week 12: The Personnel Edition

It’s Week 12, and the Browns have a very realistic chance (at least mathematically) of making it into the playoffs, something that many did not predict prior to the beginning of the season. However, to actually make the playoffs, the Browns will have to elevate their game significantly, especially considering the relative roster chaos of the past week. Since last Friday, a lot of significant changes have been made to the Browns roster and gameplan, most of which significantly affect the Browns’ winning potential in upcoming games:

– Phil Taylor – On Friday, the Browns unfortunately had to place Taylor on the season-ending IR due to a persisting knee issue. He only managed to appear in five games this season, racking up 10 tackles (6 solo, 2 for loss). However, despite what appear to be somewhat meager stats, he had a significant impact for the Browns’ defense, especially in the run game. Having a 6’3″, 335 pound frame to stuff up the middle of the field is something a squad ranked 30th in the league against the run could really use right now. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see whether he remains rostered or not going into next season. In 2015 he will be in the final year of his rookie contract and will carry a $5.477 million base salary. Prior to his injury he had been quite disruptive this season, especially against Cincinnati, but with a plethora of depth at defensive line, the Browns have a bit of flexibility in deciding whether to retain his services or attempt to move him this offseason.

– Ben Tate – Tate had failed to live up to expectations this season, but at the same time cutting him seemed to me to be a bit unnecessary. Granted that though, I don’t know the extent to which he was disrupting locker room cohesion. It has been apparent that he was unhappy with his role on the team and having to share time with the rookies, but to my eye it didn’t seem to be enough to warrant dropping him. Although he has been a non-factor in recent weeks, he still provided valuable depth and experience at the position, as well as a third option to turn to if the rookies struggle during a game. The Vikings were given an early Christmas present when they were able to pick up a talented player at a position of need this late in the season. I fully expect to hear his name and see him on a highlight reel again before the end of the season.

– Josh Gordon – Gordon is back! Gordon is back! Gordon is back! And I’m real excited. He will provide a much needed spark on offense, but I’m not really going to go into that too much right now. If you want to read about it, feel free to click here… Or here… Or here… Or here… Or here… Or… well you get the picture. He’s been covered a lot.

– Jabaal Sheard – Sheard suffered a foot injury last Sunday, but fortunately he is not going to require surgery. He is currently considered day-to-day, but it still appears likely that he won’t end up suiting up on Sunday. Sheard has been having his best season since his rookie year, racking up 36 tackles to go with a pair of sacks thus far. His absence from an already substantially weakened front seven will hurt this Sunday.

– Karlos Dansby – Sheard’s absence won’t hurt nearly as much as this loss though. Dansby has proven to be a major leader for the Browns’ defense, serving as their quarterback on defense. On top of that, he has 73 tackles on the year and has been dominant against the run. Combine this with the loss of Phil Taylor, and the Browns are going to be struggling against the rush in the coming weeks.

Speaking of which, if there ever were a time for the Browns to completely adopt and follow Coach Mike Pettine’s “Next Man Up” mantra, it is this week. The Browns are facing a fairly mediocre Falcons team, but one that has the talent to put together a strong game. Craig Robertson and Christian Kirksey will need to step up against the run in a way that they haven’t been able to yet this year. Barkevious Mingo will have to finally perform up to the potential that the Browns saw when they spent a first-round pick on him. And the rest of the defense will have to improve greatly upon their game last week.

Gordon should help the Browns get moving on offense against the league’s last ranked pass defense. And hopefully Shanahan will revert back to the run game that won the Browns the game against Cincinnati, not the one that was under utilized in a disappointing loss to the Texans. Overall, the Browns should bounce back from last week’s game to put forth another convincing performance:

Browns 31 – Falcons 20

Cleveland Browns: Karlos Dansby Out, Jabaal Sheard Day-to-Day

Defensively the Cleveland Browns have struggled this season. There have been some surprise bright spots here and there, like Tashaun Gipson and K’Waun Williams, but by and large the defense as a whole has struggled. The worst facet of the defense is undoubtedly the run defense. Currently the Browns run defense has allowed an average of 142.1 yards per game (30th in the league) and an average of 4.6 yards per carry (29th in the league). To make things worse, the Cleveland Browns had placed Phil Taylor on injured reserve, ending his season. As if it couldn’t get worse than that, this past Sunday the Browns lost Karlos Dansby and Jabaal Sheard to injuries. Dansby is expected to miss a month while Sheard is currently day-to-day, although at one point it was feared he could require surgery and miss the rest of the season.

The news now that Sheard doesn’t need surgery is good for the Browns. Should Sheard have missed any significant time then Barkevious Mingo would’ve likely started in his place with Eric Martin and/or Keith Pough possibly seeing an expanded role on defense. Mingo has been solid against the run in limited action, but Sheard has been a standout for the Browns. According to Pro Football Focus he was the Browns best run defender and the third best 3-4 OLB run defender in the league. For what it’s worth Mingo is PFF’s 4th best 3-4 OLB against the run, however he may struggle in that role given increased playing time as historically Mingo has not been great against the run.

Sheard and Mingo have been good against the run.
Sheard and Mingo have been good against the run.

The loss of Karlos Dansby is of bigger concern. He is ranked as the 5th best inside linebacker this season and is a major cog in the Browns defensive wheel. He is a vocal leader and helps get guys into position on the field. Going without him is a major blow, but is now something that Mike Pettine and (defensive coordinator) Jim O’Neil will have to deal with.

While it’s impossible (as the cliché goes) to replace a guy like Dansby, it’s extremely likely that the guy who will stand in Dansby’s place on the field is rookie Christian Kirksey. Kirksey has actually seen more defensive snaps than Craig Robertson (436 and 301 snaps, respectively) this season and while he is a solid coverage linebacker he has struggled so far against the run. This year Kirksey has 50 total tackles (25 solo, 25 assisted) as well as 2 sacks, but his -6.8 grade against the run (52nd among ILBs) from Pro Football Focus tells you all you need to know when it comes to his impact on defense versus the run. While Dansby wasn’t exactly a stalwart run stopper, he was ranked number 16 on that list with a +2.3 grade. Kirksey at least has some significant game experience this season to where he isn’t totally green, but in no way will the run defense improve with him starting (alongside Craig Robertson) in place of Karlos Dansby. The Browns may also give an expanded role to special teamer Tank Carder, although he has never been given an expanded role in the past.

Karlos Dansby has been very good for the Browns this year. Replacing him will be impossible.
Karlos Dansby has been very good for the Browns this year. Replacing him will be impossible.

So, what exactly does all of this mean?

Well, for the Browns, Jabaal Sheard’s injury not being as serious as it was originally thought is a silver lining to this grim news. While Phil Taylor seemed to struggle this season, the run defense did look noticeably better when he played against the Cincinnati Bengals as opposed to the couple weeks he was sidelined with an injury. Losing him and Dansby will undoubtedly weaken a struggling rush defense. The Browns can try and patch these holes using guys like Chris Kirksey, Tank Carder (both at ILB), Sione Fua and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen (both along the defensive line) will only add to the problem that is the Browns run defense. Unfortunately for the Cleveland Browns they have no other options.

Why the Browns Have Me Waiting For Next Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mackinjured
There goes the season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cleveland Browns Week Seven: The Good, Bad and Ugly

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

The Good

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

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

The Bad

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

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

The Ugly

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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