Tag Archives: Kyle Shanahan

Does Ray Farmer Text Too Much?

Well, according to the NFL, yes.

On Monday, the NFL announced that it was suspending Browns’ GM Ray Farmer for the first four games of the 2015 season, as well as fining the Browns $250,000, as punishment for violating the NFL’s electronic device policy during the 2014 season. Now, if you’re like me, you vaguely recall this texting scandal coming to light sometime around the middle of February. However, again if you’re like me, you probably never really understood what exactly occurred, or why it was that relevant. And honestly you probably didn’t care that much since you figured that it was inconsequential. Well, now is the point where I admit that I was wrong to assume that this scandal meant nothing. But for you all that still aren’t really sure what exactly happened, here’s the gist of it:

During a number of games last season, Ray Farmer exchanged text messages with former Browns’ QB Coach Dowell Loggains. Why? Well, they were supposedly talking about the ongoing games, as Farmer attempted to discern upcoming decisions by Loggains and former OC Kyle Shanahan and potentially influence ones he did not agree with.

But why? As in for what reason?

By the time that Farmer is able to compose a text message, send it, have Loggains read, and then have Loggains come up with a cogent and convincing argument to present to Shanahan as to why a certain decision should be made, the relevant decision is already null as the situation will have already passed. I mean, we are talking about the NFL here. There isn’t really time for a long back and forth arguing over playcalls and the like – those are kind of split-second decisions. And there really is no use in sitting around actively criticizing the calls of your OC during the game. I mean wait until Monday morning in the meeting room, or postgame in the locker room. Hell, if the calls bother you that much then fire the bastard, but don’t sit around texting the guy one rung below him on the ladder. That’s just stupid, and nowhere close to worth the associated risks.

At the same time though, four games?!! Are you serious!?! For using a mobile device during a game?! I mean correct me if I’m wrong here, but what is essentially happening is that a General Manager is being punished for being too involved in his team. That is, because he was attempting to manage his team in a close and hands-on way (and not in a general manner I guess?), he is being forced into missing one quarter of the season. And this is by no means the least important quarter of the year – this is the first quarter of the regular season. You know, the time of year when coaches and managers are still working out the kinks and quirks in their rosters and are having to cut players and sign casualties of preseason roster cuts. So yeah, now the Browns get to go through that without Ray Farmer. So yay for that dumb decision.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I love Ray Farmer. I personally think he is among the top tier of managers in the League right now, and although he is still working out being in the position in which he is, I trust his decision making abilities, and he very clearly has what is best for the time at the forefront of his mind. Who knows, maybe this texting thing was a whole elaborate hoax designed to make Shanahan angry and to force him to leave of his own decision. He could be taking one for the team right now, knowing that Shanahan wasn’t the correct fit for this team and that wasting another year with him running the offense would be a waste of time. I mean yes, that is a bit farfetched, but you never know…

Anyway, the point is, Ray Farmer made what appears to be a real dumb decision that will hurt the team somewhat next season during the suspension. But he is still a hell of a manager, and him and Mike Pettine are the future of this team. So, just as you did in February, go ahead and sweep this whole texting thing under the rug and forget about it. Come our wildcard victory over former Browns QB Brian Hoyer and the Texans, none of us fans are going to remember or care.

This, That, and Some More: Happenings with the Browns

Just like normal, the Browns’ offseason has been surprisingly action-packed thus far. I mean, why watch of focus on the playoffs and another occurrence of Brady and Belichick unnecessarily cheating their way to the top when instead we can focus our attention on yet another coaching search and our own inflated (unlike the Patriots’ balls) rumor mill. Screw the playoffs, we don’t need them anyway…

On Our New Coach…

So who exactly is he? I mean, who the hell is John DeFilippo? What kind of team goes to Oakland to scrounge for a new offensive coordinator?!?!

Wow, that kind of escalated quicker than I expected. I apologize. Despite the seemingly negative tone of the above, I think I kind of like this hire. At least compared to other options, which were slim and temporarily consisted of the likes of Marc Trestman. Sure, DeFilippo’s resumé consists of working extensively with (the bad version of) Carson Palmer, Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin, and Derek Carr, which isn’t the strongest group of quarterbacks (although what he did with Carr this past season was impressive). And sure, his name is much harder to write and pronounce than Shanahan. But despite the name problems (which I’m sure I’ll get over at some point), DeFilippo is an exciting hire. He has been widely lauded across the league as the next Adam Gase (the former Broncos OC), which is a very nice comparison to have. If he can come anywhere close to that, I think our offense will be vastly improved next year. Actually, even if he can’t come close to that, our offense should vastly improve next year. Alex Mack will be back. We have a high draft pick we can comfortably spend on a wide receiver. And we maybe will have a functional quarterback, depending on how well DeFilippo does his job. There are lots of reasons for hope. Maybe…

On Manziel…

Rumor has it Manziel is basically a god-awful teammate. So that’s nice, I guess.

An ESPN report that came out last week revealed that close to 20 Browns sources that were interviewed discussed Manziel’s “lack of commitment and preparation, failure to be ready when given his chance in his first start against Cincinnati and continued commitment to nightlife.” According to the report, Manziel was consistently late to practice and meetings, and wasn’t a positive presence in the locker room. On the one hand, I mean we all kind of expected that – one doesn’t really grow up in a year, definitely at the age of 21 and with boatloads of fame and money. But on the other hand, we all have a right to be disappointed. He was drafted with the expectation that he would grow into the role of starting quarterback in the NFL, both in terms of on-field and off-field ability. Though he consistently presented his desire and efforts to do so in press conferences, he never managed to actually translate those words into actions, as evidenced by his being confined to the locker room for the final game of the season. DeFilippo has been extremely noncommittal about Manziel’s future as quarterback of the Browns, and rightly so. Unless Manziel has some sort of epiphany this offseason and comes back to camp as a newly focused and committed player, the Browns are going to have another Josh Gordon situation on their hands. Speaking of which…

On Josh Gordon…

If you were to put money on why Josh Gordon is in the news, what would you say?

If you answered “he probably failed another drug test”, then you would absolutely be correct; Josh Gordon is once again up for a year-long suspension. Now I have supported Gordon through this past year. I mean, he is an incredibly talented player, and he just had to grow up and realize what he was throwing away at some point, right? Nah, that would be too much to ask for these Cleveland Browns. He had a whole season to prove to coaches and fans that he was growing up and would be a valuable asset to this time, but once again he failed to do so. I believe that Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer have no choice but to cut him as soon as possible. If some other team picks him up and turns him into the best receiver in the NFL then great, but that is no longer a realistic expectation for the Browns. He is a bad stock that needs to be dumped, regardless of return on investment. He is a toxic asset that no longer belongs in Cleveland. It is time to move on, once and for all.

And yeah, that’s what’s up with the Browns. At least for now. This weekend I’ll be trying to focus on the Superbowl, assuming no more Browns-related drama pops up. Anyway, here’s to my least favorite NFL team going down in similar fashion to the Broncos last year. Cheers and Go Seahawks!!

The Shanahan Situation

While by no means the most surprising (see John Fox) or significant (see Rex Ryan, Todd Bowles) coaching news of the past week, Kyle Shanahan’s decision to leave the Browns clearly affects us, as Browns fans, more than any other.

One week ago, on January 8th, reports surfaced that Shanahan had decided to resign from his position as offensive coordinator, primarily due to friction among coaches and front office members. Two days later, on the 10th, the Browns held a press conference announcing that they were accepting Shanahan’s resignation and would be looking for a new offensive coordinator. Quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains was also let go of on Saturday. One week later, the Browns are once again searching for a new coach to fill a high-profile position in their organization, but before we get into that, let’s look at what Shanahan did iduring his short stint here in Cleveland.

The Browns’ offense was ranked 23rd in total offense and 27th in scoring for the 2014 season. A squad hindered by injuries and another year of disappointing quarterback play, the offense slowly declined as the season wore on. Alex Mack’s injury in late October had more impact than most anyone could’ve imagined, and Shanahan’s offense was largely ineffective in the second half of the season. Personally, I’m not all that bummed to see him go. Growing up in Denver, I have a special place in my heart for his last name, but I was more than a little disappointed in his playcalling in 2014. Having watched him lead Robert Griffin III to an Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2012, I expected Shanahan’s playbook to be just shy of brilliant if Johnny Manziel ever saw the field this past season. Brian Hoyer’s play quickly declined after Mack went down, and, inevitably, the overhyped rookie was given the opportunity to lead the team. Going into Manziel’s Week 15 debut as a starter, I was really really excited. The Browns had destroyed the Bengals in their earlier meeting, and with Shanahan calling plays for Manziel, I expected more of the same. Instead, Shanahan presented the Browns and their fans with what was probably one of the worst play books I have ever seen. The Browns got shutout, trampled, and humiliated. Manziel managed 80 yards through the air while putting up a 27.3 passer rating. Shanahan’s play calling wasn’t much better the following week either. As the season went on, Shanahan’s playcalling became less and less effective; as such, I don’t think his departure will be that much of a loss. As to Loggains, the Browns’ quarterbacks clearly underperformed this season, so I don’t have to much of a problem with that move either.

Shanahan’s departure leaves the Browns once again in the coaching hunt. As of Thursday morning, the Browns had interviewed former Bears head coach Marc Trestman. They also have set up interviews with John DeFilippo, the Raiders QB coach, and Anthony Lynn, the Jets assistant head coach and running backs coach. Other names that have surfaced in association with the job include Cowboys OC Bill Callahan and former Bills Coach Chan Gailey. Out of this list of names, Trestman would probably be the best hire, although it will be difficult to lure him to Cleveland. He is known around the NFL for his ability to coax good play out of QBs, a skill the Browns could really use. However, because of his profile, he is being interviewed for numerous jobs across the NFL, including serving as the Raiders new OC. If they Browns were unable to land him, it would be quite possible they bring on Lynn, someone who Mike Pettine worked with from 2009 to 2012 while in New York. In that case, the Browns would do well trying to bring on someone like Bears QB coach Matt Cavanaugh to replace Loggains. Although it will be difficult to convince any coach to join an organization with such an absurd history of turnover since Jimmy Haslam took ownership, the Browns might could leverage Johnny Manziel to draw someone in. Manziel’s first season was a massive failure, and there are many questioning whether he could even come close to making it on this level. A young coach with a lot of ambition might see a place to prove himself and fasttrack his career. If not…well then the Browns might end up having to claw for scraps when it comes to new coaching hires.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next couple weeks. I originally considered making a prediction as to who might be hired, but then I realized this was the Browns I was talking about. When it comes to coaching decisions, they are as unpredictable as it gets. As such, I’m going to go ahead and postpone making a fool of myself with a wildly incorrect guess…at least till next week that is.

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.

The Browns' Midweek Report, Week 16: On Pettine's Correct Decision

Disgusting disgusting disgusting. Just completely and utterly disgusting…

And no, I’m not talking about Johnny Manziel‘s first start, although that wasn’t really a pretty matter either. I’m talking about the ensuing reaction, about the endless stream of negativity. Hell, it was so bad that I marched myself to the airport yesterday morning and left the state of Ohio…

Ok, maybe that was going to happen anyway. But still. People, get a hold of yourselves. Pull your head out from that place the sun don’t shine. GET A GRIP!!!

Yes, Manziel’s numbers were extremely poor. And yes, he did not look anywhere close to ready to start an NFL game. But that doesn’t mean we should start shopping for a new quarterback, as way too many analysts and public figures are suggesting. It takes time to adjust to the NFL; that’s why not just anyone can waltz in from a college level and play. You have to work at it. And inevitably there are going to be mistakes, and lots of them. We as Browns fans just happened to get vastly unlucky; these mistakes decided to all show up at once in a game with playoff implications. And that sucks, but that’s how the league works. We can’t storm around calling for a veteran QB to be acquired in the offseason. Nor should we run around asking to spend a first round draft pick on one. That will just lead us to end up exactly how we did this year: with the veteran playing well enough but declining towards the end of the season only to watch a rookie come in and drop a nice and steamy deuce.

Personally, I still believe that Mike Pettine made the correct choice in starting Manziel on Sunday. Brian Hoyer was given what was clearly a last shot to prove he should finish the season out when he played the Colts two weeks ago. And he failed to rise to the occasion. With the offense having sputtered almost all of November, the Manziel was the right direction to take. I talked a bit about this last week, but going with Manziel against the Bengals was either going to be a great decision that payed huge dividends, or it was going to blow up and be termed as the worst decision Pettine made in his rookie season. It turned out to be the latter, but, regardless of that, it was still the right, and really only decision. Now we get to see what Manziel can do the rest of the season, giving us a nice short preview of what to expect next year and bringing to light areas that need to be worked on in the offseason. Anyway, even if Brian Hoyer had started Sunday, we would not have won. The Bengals came to win, and there was no way for us to stand in their way. They outplayed us at every position. And sometimes that just happens. It’s happened to many a team this year, as it does every year.

As Browns fans we should really not even be that uncomfortable with what happened Sunday. It was a low, but we are used to lows. And honestly we were sort of due one. The Browns have been terrible in recent years, and no matter how you want to look at it, turning around a franchise takes time. The fact that Pettine has come in and in his rookie season had us fighting for a playoff spot through Week 15 is incredible. This team is going places, and it is doing so quickly. But quickly means over a two or three year period, not in a single season. Honestly, the fact that Pettine has led this fanbase to a place where they get angry and upset when we are knocked from playoff contention in one of the final three games of the season is mind-blowing. A majority of that same fanbase would’ve laughed in your face if you told them that they would be in the playoff hunt through mid-December. So props to Pettine, his first year has been amazing, and he should be incredibly proud.

Looking ahead, the Browns still have an opportunity to finish the season with a winning record. Mathematically we aren’t yet eliminated from playoff contention, but we are effectively out. We would need every single miracle to occur over the next two weeks for us to get in. But, we can still play spoiler, which is, at least for me, usually quite motivating. The Panthers are beatable this weekend, although they will be playing for their playoff lives. But I think Manziel bounces back. Kyle Shanahan’s gameplan was real terrible last week, and I think after actually getting to see what didn’t work with Manziel running things, I expect a kick-ass gameplan this week. In fact, I’m expecting such a stellar gameplan that I am starting Manziel at QB in my fantasy football playoff matchup this week. As such…

Prediction: Browns 31 – Panthers 17

Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel Underwhelms, Overreaction Ensues

Unless you’ve been quarantined or have been living in isolation for the past week, I’m not breaking any news here by telling you that Johnny Manziel made his first NFL start for the Cleveland Browns on Sunday and that start was a disaster. Not that Sunday was all Manziel’s fault, because it wasn’t. Manziel wasn’t missing blocking assignments, dropping passes or letting (Bengals running back) Jeremy Hill rush for 148 yards and 2 touchdowns. He certainly wasn’t part of the solution either though, as he completed just 10/18 passes for 80 yards and 2 interceptions – one of them in the end zone. According to ESPN, he had a quarterback rating of 1.0 and a passer rating of 27.3. This poor start prompted a backlash where thought and reason were, at times, optional. Some are calling it the worst first start by a Heisman winning quarterback (which is hard to argue considering the numbers) and others (specifically Merril Hoge) to say that whoever drafted Manziel should be fired.

Before I go further, have some context. Back in April I outlined my thoughts on the Browns drafting Johnny Manziel. I wasn’t a fan of the former Aggies signal caller, and it had nothing to do with off the field antics. His pocket presence was questionable, his ability to read defenses was questionable (admittedly, as is the case of a lot of college football quarterbacks) and he took way too many risks that I didn’t see translating well to the NFL. Then, on draft day, the Browns decided not to listen to my advice and selected Johnny Manziel, however they didn’t do so until later in the first round. At that point I had a choice, get on board and support the team or try and convince everyone that the Browns made a huge mistake and sooner or later I’d be proven right. Like most Browns fans, I’m loyal to a fault. Manziel was a Brown, so I was a fan by default. I wasn’t a part of either the “Manziel Mafia” or “Hoyer’s Warriors”, as some in the fan base broke into factions that fought each other. I decided to stick with a more conventional practice, cheering for the team and hoping they would do what was best. The team started Hoyer, a move I happened to agree with, and that ran its course. Then Manziel got his shot, and I should be laughing because I was proven to be right, right?

This next part will be a bit of uncharted territory for me. I’m going to defend Johnny Manziel.

I wasn’t a Johnny Football fan, but I wouldn’t say I was a hater either. Sure, I saw Manziel play Sunday. I was at the game, I witnessed the debacle first hand. He was bad, but it’s not like those around him played great. I could point out that Kyle Shanahan might not have put together the best offensive attack. I could tell you that the defense put the team (and their rookie starter) in a huge hole, allowing 17 points 18 minutes into the game. This would all be true, and beyond Manziel’s control. But let’s be honest here too, Manziel didn’t help any. He was late on, or missed, multiple reads, couldn’t get the offense past the 50 yard line without the aid of Bengal penalties and was just flat out bad.

“Hey Dave, I thought you were going to defend him!”

Manziel was terrible Sunday. Guess what, it was his first start in the NFL. Merril Hoge is going to say whoever drafted Manziel should be fired, based on this? The guy walking behind me as I leave the stadium is going to say that the Browns should just get rid of Manziel and draft Marcus Mariota, because of one start? Has the whole world gone insane? In 2012 Andrew Luck made his NFL debut. He completed just over 50% of his passes and, while he did throw a touchdown (and for 309 yards) he threw three interceptions as the Colts got spanked by the Bears 41-21. Sure that start wasn’t as bad as Manziel’s, but was it great? Not so much. Then, ESPN goes and does this.

ESPN Manziel

Huh? What does this even mean? The Cavs threw five touchdowns against the Charlotte Hornets? The Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team is a better quarterback than Manziel? Up next on SportsCenter, Peyton Manning and Kobe Bryant square off on a baseball diamond to see who would score more power play goals against Serena Williams.

Manziel has his flaws as a quarterback, I have my doubts about whether or not he can overcome them to be a successful NFL quarterback, but I’m not going to cast him out after one game. Especially a game in which the best play came by a fan who stopped Jeremy Hill from jumping into the stands. And I’m supposed to make up my mind about Manziel based on this one game? Let’s give Manziel the luxury of adjusting to the speed of the game first (or at least trying to) before we make him another notch on Cleveland’s quarterback belt.

Guys like Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Derek Carr were able to start much earlier in the year. Looking back, they struggled at times too. Here’s a shocking revelation, all rookie quarterbacks struggle in their first year. There are different degrees of struggling, but they all have growing pains. Johnny Manziel might not make it in this league, but to say you can tell this for sure after one game is a lie. You might end up being right, but that’s because you have a 50/50 chance.

The Browns' Midweek Report, Week 14: Pass Game Problems

So…..Johnny?

Mike Pettine’s choice to play Manziel last Sunday caught me off guard, but looking back now it really shouldn’t have. Pettine hasn’t proven to one to shy away from making decisions regardless of the opinions of fans and analysts, and with Hoyer playing as poorly as he was, the offense at a standstill, and the game basically lost, it was the perfect time to put in Manziel to see how the offense reacted. And it ended up working. Kind of. I mean he was able to move the ball, but it was against what was a soft prevent defense, so it only kind of counts. Nonetheless, Manziel provided the offense with an energy that hadn’t been seen all day. However, Pettine announced that Hoyer will again be in the driver’s seat this weekend against the Indianapolis Colts, which many are lauding as the correct decision…

…which it is. Hoyer is 10-5 in his career as a starter in Cleveland, and he has led the team this far. Sure, he has been sliding a bit the past few weeks, but he is still someone that the players and coaches trust in, and he is capable of running this offense adequately. The question becomes though, how much of a leash will he be given?, and how much should he actually get?. Here’s my guesses/opinions:

How much of a leash will Hoyer be given?

The Colts’ defense is not anywhere as strong as the Bills’, meaning that, at least in theory, the Browns offense should find more success moving the ball. Facing a front line that isn’t close to as dominant, the Browns should be able to get the ground game going this week. If this happens, Shanahan will be able to employ more play-action passes into his game plan, an area where Hoyer really excels. Given those opportunities, I think Hoyer will be given a somewhat short leash. This is a game that he should play well in, so, due to those high expectations, I feel the coaching staff will not give him too much room to screw up. Two interceptions off of poor throws, or a string of failed third down conversions due to poor execution or poor decision making, and we will be seeing Johnny take the field again.

That being said, I don’t expect to see Johnny this weekend, except for during the numerous camera shots of him pacing around the sidelines that will inevitably occur. Knowing that his job is probably on the line, Hoyer is going to elevate his game back to the level that we saw earlier on in the season in order to make sure he is able to remain on the field.

How much of a leash should Hoyer be given?

Not much. In an ideal world, Hoyer is given a short leash and is informed that he has a short leash. …Ok let me rephrase, ’cause in “an ideal world” right now, the Browns would be perfect and just rolling over everybody…. In my opinion, the correct decision would be to give Hoyer a short leash and inform him of that decision. This will put him under a significant amount of pressure, which is very important. You see, I believe that the Browns are going to make the playoffs this year, or are at least going to be in the running to through the final week of the season. As the season inches closer and closer to its conclusion, the pressure to perform well keeps rising higher. If Hoyer “Andy Dalton’s” under pressure, I would rather have the opportunity to correct that now and get Johnny a little experience than wait till the playoffs to implode.

I say that if the offense is fairly ineffective throughout the first half, then Pettine should throw in Manziel coming out the gate to start the second half. Manziel has the ability to spark an immobile offense, and coming out to start the second half with him would give the Colts less time to react, and the Browns would be given a few more minutes to prepare.

On top of letting Hoyer know he is on a short leash, Pettine should make the information public. It would help feed the ever-ravenous fans and analysts, and the real threat of having Manziel on the field will force the Colts to spend more time working on two defensive playbooks, which would be helpful for a Browns team that right now is looking like it’s going to need all the help it can get.

In other Browns passing game news, Miles Austin, our most reliable third down option, has been placed on IR due to a kidney problem, ending his season. So that sucks. A lot. Sure, his production was declining with Josh Gordon’s return, but he was one of the few players who actually moved the chains last week. For a team struggling on third down, this will not help in the least.

Despite all of that though, I still have faith in the Browns, especially this weekend. This game is huge, not only for the time, but for Brian Hoyer too. I’m expecting a performance on the level of the Bengals game. The defense is going to step up in big ways and force at least three turnovers. Hoyer is going to eclipse 300 yards passing to go with a pair of touchdowns in a very clean game, and Isaiah Crowell is going to top the century mark and find the endzone. The Josh Gordon of last year is going to pay the Dawg Pound a visit this weekend, and it is going to be glorious.

Prediction: Browns 38 – Colts 24

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

Attention Browns: Feed the Crow

Fans want the Browns to “Feed the Crow.” With Ben Tate gone, there is more room for both Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell to grow and show the coaching staff, the city of Cleveland and the entire NFL just what they can do.

As I wrote last week, I noted that with Josh Gordon coming back, he would help in many more ways than with the ball in his hands. A special talent like that has to be accounted for. That’s why I propose the Browns begin to start truly giving the reigns to Isaiah Crowell and let him run until he pukes.

In the last two games, Isaiah Crowell has played 63% offensive snaps, sporting a 7.73 yards per carry average. This, compared to Terrance West, who has played 26% snaps on offense the last two weeks with a 3,89 YPC. So, it seems the Browns are beginning to trend towards a Crowell takeover. However, in the game against Atlanta, West led with 14 carries and one reception, with Crowell getting twelve carries.

Ben Tate who? Now, I liked Ben Tate as an offseason signing for the Browns and wanted him coming out of Auburn. However, he has been riddled with injuries his entire career and has been ineffective in most games this season—most notably his -9 yards on two carries against the Houston Texans.

To be fair, the running game has been more off than on ever since losing Alex Mack for the season. Also, without Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron on the field, teams have been able to stack the box, taking away the running game and daring Brian Hoyer to defeat them with his inconsistent passing. With Gordon back (and hopefully Cameron soon), the Browns will need to throw less and pound the ground more, with teams loosening their grip of the line of scrimmage.

Kyle Shanahan’s offensive scheme has been built around a strong ‘X’ receiver (Josh Gordon, Pierre Garcon, Andre Johnson) that opens doors to all other players on offense, namely the running back. In Washington, we saw 6th round pick Alfred Morris reap the benefits and has now made a name for himself, as well as undrafted Arian Foster. Shanahan has been quoted saying he “would love for one of the [Browns running backs] to step it up and separate himself from the others.”

Crow2Well, Kyle, I believe Isaiah has stepped it up. This isn’t to say that Terrance West isn’t a good running back. I believe he is, but Crowell has shown special burst, vision and all around talent that it takes to be a #1 running back in the NFL. He was very impressive against the Falcons—albeit one of the weaker defenses in the NFL. Crowell’s 12 carry 88 yard day was highlighted by his Marshawn Lynch Beastmode-esque 26-yard touchdown in the third quarter, giving Cleveland a 23-14 lead.

With as much as I have stated the return of Josh Gordon will help the running game, the same is true of an effective running game having positive effects for the pass game. Kyle Shanahan seemingly now has a balanced offense.

Let’s go back to Kyle’s time in Washington one more time to illustrate what a balanced Kyle Shanahan offense brings. In 2012, Alfred Morris rushed for 1,613 yards on 335 attempts while Pierre Garcon caught 68 balls for 633 yards in 10 games (foot injury). Then, in 2013, a healthy Pierre Garcon caught 133 passes for 1,346 yards while Morris rushed for 1,275 yards on 276 carries. Pairing Shanahan with a bonafide ‘X’ receiver and a true #1 running back has proven to yield positive results.

Crow1

The big difference between Washington and Cleveland is, while Washington was effective on offense in 2013, it was their defense that let them down time and time again. That has not been the case for the 2014 Cleveland Browns.

The Browns have found their #1 running back in a Kyle Shanahan offense that just welcomed back the reigning receiving yard champion. I think it is time for the coaching staff to officially feed the Crow and for us, as Browns fans, to buckle up. It is going to be one hell of a ride the last five games of the season.

The Browns next game will prove to be a difficult one, with the Bills defense playing very solid football, terrorizing opposing offenses.

Feed the Crow. Go Browns.

Bridging the Gap: The Midweek Report, Week 10

When the Cincinnati Bengals roll into town in Week 15, there is one thing that I’ll be listening for from our home crowd. It is a chant that should sound something like this:

“Two-point-oh … Two-point oh … Two-point-oh”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the incredible and rarely-paralleled passer rating that Andy Dalton put up a week ago today. That, ladies and gentlemen, is also the lowest passer rating that a QB attempting at least 30 passes has posted since former New York Giants QB Scott Brunner finished with a 2.0 in a contest against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1983. Yep, that’s right folks. No quarterback has been given the opportunity to play that poorly for so long in a game since St. Louis was the home of two Cardinals teams (which, by the way, is real confusing in my opinion; why would you do that to yourself as a city? It’s just silly). At first I really was questioning why Marvin Lewis would keep an obviously useless Dalton in the game so long. But then I realized that Jason Campbell is Cincy’s backup, so…well, yeah, I don’t even need to explain that one.

Anyway, I think I am done ragging on the Bengals. Everyone witnessed the schellacking that took place, so I don’t need to go into it that much. Instead, I’m going to take this time to rag on myself:

Wow, Wow, Wow was I wrong!!! So so so so so so wrong!!!

Let me just show you a few direct quotes from my article last week:

I’m going to come out and say that the Browns have no running game anymore….We have no functional offense anymore….Thus, realistically, the Browns have very little chance of coming out on top tonight.”

“I think it is safe to expect a repeat of Jacksonville.” 

Yeah, my bad y’all. I was a bit off. I mean I’m really glad that I was wrong in this case, just a bit embarrassed to be. First off, the run game put up a very respectable 170 yards, so it is a bit hard to stand by the claim that we have no run game anymore. And then we obviously came out on top as well, so that was wrong too. In a way though it was a repeat of Jacksonville though. Just with the Browns acting as Jacksonville this time around. So I guess, at least when you take that quote out of context, I was actually on to something. Good work Nico. Self-five.

However, despite the running game getting going against the Bengals, I still am quite worried for this upcoming week for a few reasons:

– First, the Texans are coming off a bye, which means that they have had two weeks to prepare to take on the Browns, something that is always a little scary. However, this effect is somewhat lessened by the fact that the Browns had a long week this week after playing on Thursday.

– Second, JJ Watt is a scary scary human being. And Jadeveon Clowney is basically fully healthy again. And I still have doubts about our offensive line and running game. So, basically, my doubts from last week still, at least to an extent, hold for this week. The run game should be able to move the ball, but not on the level that they did last week. Plus, Brian Hoyer will not have much (if any) time in the pocket this week, so there is going to be high pressure on the receivers to get open quickly. Andrew Hawkins should be back this week though, which will be great as it will allow Kyle Shanahan the opportunity to utilize a game plan that features a fair number of quick dump-offs to both Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel. It is still unclear if Jordan Cameron will be returning this week, but in his absence both Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge should be able to handle things.

– Third, safety Tashaun Gipson may well be forced to miss the game due to concussion-like symptoms, leaving our defense without the league leader in interceptions. Houston QB Ryan Mallet has a monster arm, so having the slower and older Jim Leonhard, who can’t cover nearly as much ground as Gipson, in could possibly leave a few holes in the deep areas of the field. Considering the fact that the Texans’ run game is among the top 5 in the league and the Browns may have to stuff the box a little to slow it down, I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least a couple of big plays deep downfield off the play-action. These types of plays tend to swing momentum in a game, meaning they could be quite bad for the Browns.

After last week though, I can’t help but be hopeful. The Browns are in first place in the AFC North and have been playing like they deserve it. Houston is most definitely a beatable team, and I believe that the Browns will be able to win this game, albeit not in quite as convincing of a manner as last week:

Prediction: Browns 27 – Texans 20