Tag Archives: K’Waun Williams

Browns Look to End their Losing Streak

The Cleveland Browns enter week 8 on a two game losing streak and their playoff chances are looking as bad as Jeb Bush’s debate performance last night. The Rams game looked like a textbook performance from those numerous Browns teams that have finished in the 4 to 5 win range. The mistake prone offense could not buy a big play while the defense wore down as the game went on. The schedule will only get harder as they welcome the current first place team in the NFC West.

The Arizona Cardinals escaped the Ravens’ furious 4th quarter comeback to come away with another of their one-possession wins that has become a trademark of Bruce Arians’ coaching reign since 2012. Speaking of the Coach Who Wears That Funny Hat at Press Conferences, here’s a trivia question: who was the Brown’s defensive coordinator the last time they made the playoffs? That’s right. It’s the immortal Foge Fazio. He has absolutely nothing to do with this article. He just has a super cool alliterative name. Bruce Arians on the other hand, was the offensive architect of that one non-embarrassing Browns year. His Air-Coryell style passing strategy coupled with an unspectacular single-back rushing attack (remember William Green) have been trademarks of his offenses for two decades. He helped Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb look like decent quarterbacks at times. True to form today, the key for the Browns will be how they will stop the top rated Cards passing attack. The biggest matchup will be how the suddenly healthy secondary matches up to the three-headed receiver monster of John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, and Michael Floyd. Will K’Waun Williams follow the much larger Fitzgerald in his new slot position or stick to the much smaller John Brown no matter where he lines up? The Browns do match up very well against the Cardinals offense and the defense has had two much better performances in a row. With Haden, Robertson and Gipson looking to return to the starting lineup, the D is trending upward.

The offense on the other hand, is going in the opposite direction. Defenses have figured out the McCown enigma, cracking the code with heavy blitzes. This makes perfect sense as McCown is one of the league leaders in holding onto balls for too long (insert Liberace joke here). The Cardinals love to send the house as well, leaving their talented and versatile secondary led by the Honey Badger (who doesn’t care) to make plays. Anyway, it will be rough treading for the aerial attack. Is this the week that Robert Turbin becomes the number one back in terms of carries and Crowell sees his role drastically reduced? I see a low scoring affair that is decided by the last defensive team to create a turnover.

Final Score: Cardinals 18, Browns 16

Note: Thanks to my good friend Luke Ackerman for writing this piece. I had a finance exam to study for so I thought it would fun to let my old blogging partner write a preview for me this week! Hope you enjoyed it!

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.

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.

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

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.

Bridging the Gap: The Midweek Report, Week 5

In an apparent battle to be the losing side on Sunday, the Browns ended up losing to the Titans. But in doing so, they won, if that makes sense. What I am trying to say is that both teams looked pretty god awful at times on Sunday in Nashville. However, the Titans managed to do a much better job than the Browns at throwing away the game, leaving room for the Browns to score 26 points unanswered and set the NFL road record for largest comeback victory.

As much as I would like to say that they did, I’m not sure the Browns necessarily deserved that victory. Their defense once again looked terrible, and their offense took forever to get going. But first, before elaborating on that, let me focus on the good:

First off, we won, which at the end of the day is the thing that matters most. So points there. Second off, our offense, once it finally did get going, looked really really good. Ben Tate looked awesome, effectively silencing everybody who was saying that he will lose the starting job to the rookies by the end of the season by putting up 123 yards on 22 carries for a very solid 5.6 yards per carry. On top of that both of the rookies still looked good in the limited action they saw, and the team combined for 175 yards on 36 carries. Brian Hoyer played a solid game once the 3 minute mark in the second quarter came and went, racking up 292 yards and 3 touchdowns in the air with a completion rate of 56.8%. He did however throw his first interception in 187 pass attempts (+/- 2 attempts), so that was kind of a bummer, definitely because it came in the fourth quarter, although it could be argued that the Browns probably would’ve had to punt the ball the next play anyway, so the deep interception actually saved them a few seconds of clock time. Regardless, I was still pretty bummed to see the streak end. Oh well, I guess he will just have to start another. Let’s hope that he can top the last streak.

Other players that impressed me Sunday included:

– Undrafted rookie WR Taylor Gabriel, who brought in 4 receptions for 95 yards

– Undrafted rookie CB K’Waun Williams, who came in for benched rookie Justin Gilbert and proceeded to rack up 6 solo tackles, one pass defensed, and one sack

– DE Armonty Bryant, who also amassed 6 tackles, including one sack, and also happens to be one of my favorite Browns players

– LB Karlos Dansby, who was consistently in the right place at the right time, or at least was more so than other Browns defenders

– WR Travis Benjamin, but only in the fourth quarter as a receiver bringing in two huge touchdown grabs

And, as much as I hate to admit it…

– K Billy Cundiff, who managed to not miss a field goal all game. And he even made one that was longer than 40 yards!!!! So I was pleasantly surprised by that. I do have to say though that I was very bummed when the Browns didn’t swoop in to sign recently-released Broncos kicker Matt Prater. I am still praying for the day the Browns decide to sign a real kicker.

And that is about it for what impressed me. Despite getting the W, the Browns still looked like a lower-tier NFL team. They did manage to only get called for 7 penalties this week, so that was good, or at least better. But honestly, we got lucky as hell. The football gods were on our side. First with Travis Benjamin inexcusably muffing a punt that was recovered by Tennessee but then called back because Michael Huff thought it would be fun to run 25 yards down the field while out of bounds, and then with a would-be-drive-killing fourth quarter interception that was called back due to a questionable illegal contact penalty. I mean that’s a lot more luck than one team deserves in a single game, definitely when they played as poorly as we did in the first half. The defense once again looked more full of holes than swiss cheese, and the offense took much too long to get going. That being said, here are some of the players that I was especially disappointed with this weekend:

– CB Joe Haden, who has still not been able to shake the penalty bug. I’ll say it once again, the defense cannot be good until Haden is back to his 2013 form…

– CB and first round draft pick Justin Gilbert, who got benched and replaced by an undrafted rookie who had 5 tackles all season heading into the game

– CB and special teams specialist Johnson Bademosi, who was called for penalties on two consecutive kickoff returns

– WR Andrew Hawkins, who had a shabby 3 catches for only 26 yards despite being targeted 9 times, more than any other player on the team

– WR Travis Benjamin. I know I mentioned it above, but again muffing that punt is inexcusable. There is no other way to phrase it. With Jordan Poyer showing the ability to return punts, I don’t want to see Benjamin back there again this season.

And lastly, but certainly not least…

– Cleveland Browns coaches and management, who did not sign kicker Matt Prater to replace the consistently disappointing and almost completely untrustworthy Billy Cundiff.

So, what am I looking for this week against the Steelers?

Well, first off, I don’t think we will start off the game like we did against them Week 1 (if we do, we will no doubt lose again). Instead, I’m expecting us to continue riding the momentum we had at the end of the Titans game and start off similar to how we did against the Saints. I don’t expect the defense to hold up that well against a talented Steelers offense, but I think they will be able to make enough stops to give the Browns a good chance at winning. Joe Haden will probably rack up a couple of penalties while defending Antonio Brown though. As for the offense, the run game hasn’t failed us yet, and I don’t expect it to soon. I’m looking forward to another big day from Ben Tate as well as another solid performance from Brian Hoyer. I think that this is a very winnable game for the Browns, definitely given it is at home. However, looking at previous results this season, it would be ludicrous a spread of greater than two or three points, so here is Sunday’s final score:

Browns 27 – Steelers 24