Tag Archives: Mitchell Schwartz

All I want for Christmas: Browns Edition

It’s the holiday season and children everywhere where will be making lists of all the things they want for Christmas. Some of these lists are short and others are longer than a government document. The Browns list is far more like the latter as they have many holes now and could be losing some key players to free agency. So in theme of lists (I love lists!!!!!) here’s a look at what I believe to be what the Browns and their fans what put on their Christmas list.

1. Josh Gordon to return to 2013 form. Number one for me was an easy pick with Manziel showing enough signs of being a quarterback that can turn this team around. Having Josh Gordon back and focused gives the Browns a dynamic play-maker. Plus if we retain future free agent Travis Benjamin and Gary Barnidge stays healthy Johnny Manziel will have an arsenal capable of putting a chill down the spine of opposing defenses.

2. Our offensive line to be fixed for next year. One of the most perplexing things about this team is figuring out how good the Browns O-Line is. Pro Football Focus has been adamant that the Browns offensive line has been good and that been issues are with the rest of the team are responsible for the offenses shortcomings. Others look at our high sack rate and sky-high rate of being stuffed and put it more on the O-line. Regardless, Mitchell Schwartz will be a free agent after the season. Schwartz is one of the best pass protecting right tackle in the NFL and could command a 7-9 million dollar a year contract. Alex Mack if he wants to can opt out of his contract and become a free agent. He could get more on the open market than the 8 million that’d he’d get if he stays with the Browns. The Browns knew this and drafted a Cameron Erving, a versatile lineman who could replace either if they left. Sadly Erving has been playing terribly lately and is not giving the fans any reason to believe that he can replace them without a significant dip in production. The offensive line has more complex parts than Santa’s workshop, and the Browns really hope they can figure it out, because a poor offensive line can hold back and otherwise competent offense.

3. A clean bill of health for Joe Haden. It’s been a tough year for Joe Haden injury wise. He started out the year with a bum hamstring and only got worse when he broke his finger and had a rib contusion. Then against the Ravens he suffered a concussion and has not seen the field since. Having Joe Haden come back healthy is the first step in making the pass defense worthy of the nickname Lock-down at the Lake.

4. Our young defensive players to continue improving. Danny Shelton started out the year a little slow but has shown more recently. Xavier Cooper is showing promise as a rotational defensive lineman. Armonty Bryant has had some really good games and has shown flashes of being a good pass rusher. And finally Christian Kirksey has shown he can do many things at the linebacker position. If these players can develop in to quality starters our defense will be greatly improved for next year.

Cleveland Browns Draft prospects: Ereck Flowers

Over the past several years the only thing the Browns can count on is having a decent offensive line headlined by center Alex Mack and future Hall of Fame left tackle Joe Thomas. Last was more of the same until Alex Mack got hurt. The left side of the line was solid with Thomas and surprising rookie Joel Bitonio, but the right side faltered a bit. It has been rumored that the Browns want to either draft a replacement for Mitchell Schwartz, who becomes a free agent after the 2015 season, or to move him over to right guard. This need at right tackle seems does not seem pressing right away, but  in a year it could be a huge need. There are a couple of prospects who could fill this gap at right tackle like La’El Collins of LSU, and Andrus Peat of Stanford but this scouting report is all about the most talented tackle in this years crop, Ereck Flowers of Miami (FL).

Flowers is a huge lineman at 6-foot-6 329 with strength to match. His 37 reps of 225 pounds led all players at the Combine. He uses his size and strength to be an intimidating run blocker as you can see in this Vine. (By fellow MTAF writer Dan Armelli.) His best in class run blocking ability is necessary to play on the right side. Flowers also has quick feet for his size along with good pass protecting. One issue with Flowers is that he struggles sometimes with those smaller, quicker pass rushers, but that can be expected for someone his size. His technique needs improvement and isn’t one of those franchise left tackle we see getting taken high in the draft.  Plus he’s only 20 so there is a lot of time and potential for improvement.

One thing I am concerned about with the Browns selecting Flowers is the scheme difference. Last year Kyle Shanahan implemented a zone-blocking scheme that had a deal of success despite having just 2 rookie running backs and losing Alex Mack. Our new offensive coordinator John Defilippo said he wants to keep the same scheme. A zone scheme generally uses smaller quicker lineman to force blocks on the second level. Despite all the talent Flowers has I think he might have some trouble fitting in the system. Perhaps a lineman like Andrus Peat would be better suited for this position.

After the season ended Flowers was looked at as a second round prospect, but strong workouts elevated his stock significantly. While most mocks have us taking Flowers at 19 it is not impossible for us to reach for him at 12 if guys like Danny Shelton, Devante Parker, Amari Cooper and Kevin White aren’t available. While I question how well he fits with in the scheme, Flowers would provide a boost to the Browns already good offensive line, that could turn the line from really good to elite.

Cleveland Browns Week Seven: The Good, Bad and Ugly

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

The Good

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

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

The Bad

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

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

The Ugly

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

Cleveland Browns: The Good, Bad and Ugly Through Week Five

Going into week six of the NFL season the Cleveland Browns are currently 2-2. As you would expect from a .500 team, the Browns season so far has been an up and down ride. As a team, their largest margin of victory has been two points while their largest defeat was only three points. However that really doesn’t tell the true story of the short season so far. On any given Sunday this year the Browns have looked like both a legitimate playoff team and a team that will own a top five draft pick. To recap this rollercoaster ride, let’s look at the good, the bad and the ugly for the Cleveland Browns as they’ve played a quarter of their games so far this year.

The Good

Offensively, the Browns are averaging 25.8 points per game so far this year. Last year’s offense averaged 19.2 points per game meaning that (so far) this team has increased its scoring by about a touchdown per game. Their 25.8 points per game average ranks them 11th in the league. On top of that the Browns are averaging 387 total yards per game (9th overall), 5.8 yards per play (9th) and 23 first downs per game (6th). Leading the way is Brian Hoyer and a strong ground attack. Statistically Hoyer hasn’t been dazzling. He’s completed 62.1% of his passes (21st) and has only thrown for 1,008 yards (20th) and 6 touchdowns (tied for 17th) on 132 pass attempts (23rd). Despite these rather pedestrian numbers, Hoyer has a passer rating of 97.7, which is 9th among qualified quarterbacks this season and ahead of guys like Matt Ryan (11th), Cam Newton (14th), Drew Brees (15th) and Matt Stafford (19th). He’s also been good when it matters. Hoyer has led two game winning drives for the Browns this year is extremely efficient late in games when behind. According to Pro-Football-Reference, Hoyer is 7/9 for 56 yards, 1 touchdown and has 5 passing first downs when trailing with less than four minutes to play. When trailing with less than two minutes to play Hoyer is 5/5 for 29 yards, a touchdown and 2 passing first downs.

Hoyer has been greatly aided by an impressive ground game. While his playing time has been limited due to injury, Ben Tate is currently averaging 5.9 yards per carry which ties his for second best in the league (with Baltimore’s Justin Forsett). Rookie Isaiah Crowell is averaging 4.8 yards per carry (12th) and fellow rookie Terrance West is averaging 4.4 yards per carry. As a team the Browns are 12th in the league in average yards per carry at 4.5 and 4th overall in rushing yards per game, averaging 143.3.

West (left), Crowell (right) and Tate (not pictured) have ran hard for Cleveland
West (left), Crowell (right) and Tate (not pictured) have ran hard for Cleveland so far

While Tate, Crowell, West and Hoyer deserve a lot of credit so does the Browns offensive line. Pro Football Focus ranked the Browns offensive line the best in football, giving every starter (yes, including Mitchell Schwartz) a positive grade.

The Bad

Despite the good overall rankings, the Browns offense has been a tale of two halves. Despite being second in the league in second half points per game (16.8) the Browns are only averaging 9 points per game in the first half (24th overall). The offense also has struggled to convert on third down, converting just 36% of their attempts (26th in the league).

While he has been battling injuries, Jordan Cameron has been unimpressive so far this season. Perhaps it’s due to (offensive coordinator) Kyle Shanahan’s scheme, or maybe opposing defenses are game planning for him but regardless Cameron hasn’t been a big factor in the Browns offense so far. Currently he has 6 receptions for 103 yards and is without a touchdown on 15 targets.

Overall, the Cleveland Browns have looked like a different team from half to half all season. It took a historic comeback for them to win last week and they routinely find themselves behind the eight ball at halftime. While it’s good that they are 2-2 it’s hard to believe that the Browns will consistently dig themselves out of trouble all year long.

The Ugly

Defensively, the Browns have been a train wreck. The pass defense is allowing an average of 269.3 passing yards and 152.5 rushing yards per game (28th and 30th respectively). The defense has only managed 8 sacks and is failing to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback. Furthermore, the Browns defense at times seems to have forgotten how to tackle.

HadenIndividually the biggest disappoint might be Joe Haden, who has been awful. Through four games Haden has only defensed (broken up) one pass and has been routinely beaten by opposing receivers. He is questionable for this Sunday with a hip injury so maybe that has something to do with his struggles this year (although reports are he injured it during last Sunday’s game) but regardless, Haden must play better.

Last year the defensive line was a strength for the Browns. For a detailed analysis click here, but in short the Browns big men on defense are failing to control the line of scrimmage (watch closely and you’ll see them regularly getting blown off of the line at the point of attack) and aren’t getting pressure on the quarterback.

In Conclusion

Despite the offensive inconsistencies and the defensive woes the Browns are still 2-2. It’s hard to say if they are 2-2 because they’ve overcame themselves or shot themselves in the foot. Perhaps it’s taking this team longer to adjust to new coaching schemes. Or maybe they are actually growing and the frustration and inconsistencies are a byproduct of that. The coming weeks will tell.

The Midweek Recap/Preview: Preseason Weeks 2 and 3

Well at least Connor Shaw looked good… Or actually, compared to the other two quarterbacks, he looked great.

But honestly, that game was painful to watch. The endless string of mistakes simply served to numb my brain and make me want to go curl up in my bed and sleep for about 12 hours. And mind you, this is after I recorded and watched the game two days late after a full night’s sleep. There just wasn’t a lot of good to take away from that game in my eyes, but I’ll discuss that in a little. First, the big news from yesterday:

Brian Hoyer was announced as the Week 1 starter for the Browns on Wednesday, barring an unexpected injury. And this, I believe, was the right decision, if only because Hoyer didn’t look quite as uncomfortable as Manziel, although that point is very debatable. Hoyer seems much more familiar than Manziel with the playbook, and he didn’t have any apparent mistakes or problems calling plays in the huddles on Monday. However, he by no means played well in either of the first two preseason games. His passes were constantly low or high or behind or in front of the receiver. Or, in other words, his passes were rarely where they were supposed to be. But I think that problem should lessen by the time the season actually starts.

During the game, there was much discussion among commentators about the fact that Manziel and Hoyer were sharing snaps with the first team during practice the last couple of weeks. The theory was that because neither of them had a whole lot of time with the starters, none of the receivers could build real chemistry with either quarterback. Combine that with the fact that the two quarterbacks in question have different arm motions, and it makes it much more difficult for a receiver to run timing routes and know where to expect the ball. I’m really hoping that this is all it is. Now that Hoyer has been named the Week 1 starter, he should get close to 100% of the first-team reps in practice. This should allow him to build more chemistry and understanding with his receivers, which will hopefully be on display on Saturday at 8:00 pm against the St. Louis Rams. All going well, Hoyer will put up better numbers than the 6/14 for 92 yards and the 2/6 for 16 yards of the past two games. Otherwise, this might end up proving to be a much longer season than most Cleveland fans expected.

As to my other takeaways from Monday as well as my expectations for Saturday:

– Armonty Bryant and Marqueis Gray continue to impress me. They are both having fantastic preseasons so far and are making cases to see significant playing time once the season truly starts. Neither is going to be able to force their way into the first team, but both are proving to be very talented and capable backups.

– Mitchell Schwartz is going to need help this year. Probably the weakest piece of this offensive line when it comes to pass protection, Ryan Kerrigan ran ragged over him on Monday. Now, not every defender he will be matched up against is going to be as talented as Kerrigan, but next week I’d expect to see a slight tweaking in the gameplan to give him a bit more help when Chris Long and Robert Quinn come to town.

– Jordan Cameron looked a bit rusty as he saw his first action of the season. Although the balls being delivered to him were by no means thrown well, there were a couple of catches that we would normally see him make. Look for him to keep progressing towards last season’s form as the preseason progresses.

– Special teams and tackling were both much improved from Week 1, a trend that should continue until these areas are two of the primary strengths of this year’s team.

– Ben Tate was one of the lone bright spots last week, showing himself quite worthy of a starting role in the NFL as he racked up 51 yards on 10 carries. If he continues that form into the season, the horror that is the Browns’ QB situation should be slightly balanced out.

– The battle for the second inside-linebacker spot raged on Monday. In my eyes, Craig Robertson outplayed Christian Kirksey, if only slightly. Robertson has a knack for elevating his game when it counts, and at this point I expect to see him on the field next to Karlos Dansby for the majority of the season.

– With Buster Skrine out with a thumb injury, Justin Gilbert made the most of his opportunity to start across from Joe Haden. Although he wasn’t perfect, he played well enough to raise the question of whether or not he could win the starting job from Skrine by the beginning of the season. With Skrine possibly out again next week, Gilbert will have a golden opportunity to leap Skrine on the depth chart.

Player That Most Impressed Me This Week: OLB Barkevious Mingo

– A bit of a disappointment last year, Mingo has been quite impactful so far this preseason. He has been hustling much more than many of his teammates and has been making plays all over the field. If he can keep that energy up all season, he has the chance of having a breakout year.

Player That Left Me Shaking My Head: CB Joe Haden

– “Holding. Defense, number 23. 5 yard penalty. Automatic first down.”    “Holding. Defense, number 23. 5 yard penalty. Automatic first down.”

Those are not words I want to hearing ever in a Browns game, but on Monday we all had the pleasure of hearing that twice in the first quarter alone. I know that it will be hard for defensive backs to adjust to the new stringency when it comes to touching receivers after 5 yards, but I expected the best player on our defense to be able to adjust fairly seamlessly. So far that has not been the case. But hey, as long as he’s worked it out by the start of the regular season, everything will be forgotten. If not, well… let’s just not think about that.

Cleveland Browns Training Camp: Storylines and Position Battles

Training camp is underway around the NFL and for the Cleveland Browns camp will once again be a battle ground where a starting job can be won (or lost). While the Browns roster does appear to have some stability at certain positions there are other spots where the starting job is up in the air. First year Head Coach Mike Pettine and his staff will also continue installing new offensive and defensive philosophies. With that being said, here are five storylines to watch during Cleveland Browns training camp this year.

Brian Hoyer vs. Johnny Manziel

As it’s been since the Browns came back in 1999, this year’s camp will feature a quarterback competition for the starting job. This year rookie Johnny Manziel will battle hometown favorite Brian Hoyer to be the starting quarterback. Early reports from camp are saying Hoyer is winning the battle and I fully expect him to be named the starter by the third preseason game (when Coach Pettine said he would name a starter), possibly sooner. That doesn’t mean Johnny can’t put pressure on Hoyer, but Manziel has exactly zero snaps in the NFL and it’s not like he was a can’t miss franchise changing prospect in the draft. Manziel has his shortcomings, and he could really benefit from being eased into the job. Having a player like Hoyer on the roster, a younger guy with some NFL experience and a little upside, allows the Browns to do just that. There is no doubt that Manziel is probably the future of the franchise, however that future just might not be right now. Until that future comes, Hoyer has the ability to be a serviceable stop-gap.

Hoyer and Manziel will battle for starting QB job during camp.
Hoyer and Manziel will battle for the starting QB job during camp.

 

The Offensive Line

While left tackle, center and (more or less) right tackle is pretty much set, there will be some competition at the starting guard spots along the offensive line. Obviously depth along the offensive line will be determined as camp progresses and preseason games start, but John Greco, Garrett Gilkey and rookie Joel Bitonio will compete for a starting job at left and right guard. This went from a four horse race to a three horse race with the news and uncertainty surrounding Jason Pinkston. The Browns and Pinkston’s camp released a joint statement indicating he has not been medically cleared for football activities. Pinkston has a medical history that includes a blood clot in his lung. The Browns also cut ties with Chris Faulk, the former LSU lineman whose stock plummeted due to a knee injury. It was thought by some that Faulk could challenge Mitchell Schwartz for the starting right tackle job.

Back to the guard spots, John Greco may have a leg up on Gilkey and Bitonio as he was as starter last season and did a decent enough job, although he didn’t exactly blow the doors off either, getting a positive overall grade from Pro Football Focus. Assuming Greco starts, that leaves Garrett Gilkey and rookie Joel Bitonio to battle for the last starting spot on the offensive line. I believe Bitonio is the favorite to win the job. Gilkey has the physical attributes and the nastiness you look for in a starting lineman, but Bitonio shares those same traits and might be sounder from a technical standpoint. Also, the Browns might not draft an offensive lineman (Bitonio) so high (second round) if they had complete faith in Gilkey as a future starter.

The Receiving Corps

Charles Johnson
Could Charles Johnson emerge as a starter?

According to Ourlads Scouting Service, Josh Gordon is still listed as the number one receiver on the Browns depth chart. Obviously we will learn more about Gordon’s fate over the next few days, but at least for now the Browns will have to plan for life without Gordon for the foreseeable future. Should Gordon be forced to serve a lengthy suspension (possibly a full season according to NFL policy) that leaves a mess at the receiver position. Andrew Hawkins will likely be a starter, but he is best suited as a slot receiver. Veterans Miles Austin and Nate Burleson are on the roster but neither one of these veterans could be considered a team’s number one receiving option. This means either Anthony Armstrong or Charles Johnson could emerge from camp as a starter. Of the two, I’d put my money on Johnson. A seventh round selection by the Green Bay Packers in last year’s draft, Johnson has the intangibles one would look for in a receiver. He has good size (6’2” 215 pounds) is quick and athletic (4.4 forty yard dash), is physical and put up good numbers in college (128 receptions for 2,229 yards and 31 touchdowns in two seasons at D-II Grand Valley State). Johnson was signed by the Browns in October of last season, but the team then found out he had a torn ACL. Assuming he’s fully recovered and there are no complications with his knee, don’t be surprised to see Johnson playing with the first team offense in preseason games.

The Linebacker Corps

Karlos Dansby has been brought in to replace D’Qwell Jackson, however the other inside linebacker spot (assuming the Browns stay with a base 3-4 defense) is still up for grabs and Pettine and his staff will have to figure out how to rotate Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo at outside linebacker. The most concerning of these position battles is inside linebacker. Assuming the Browns run a 3-4 again, the two starting inside linebackers currently are Dansby and Craig Robertson. Last season Robertson was rated as one of the worst inside linebackers in the league according to Pro Football Focus, and was also the worst inside linebacker in pass coverage. Enter Christian Kirksey. The rookie linebacker was asked to cover slot receivers at Iowa last year and did an admirable job. That’s not to say he will absolutely come in and be an excellent coverage linebacker, but it’s hard to fathom he could do much worse than Robertson. Dansby’s presence will greatly assist either Robertson or Kirksey as he is a good coverage linebacker, but somebody is going to have to emerge as a solid compliment to the ten year veteran. If Kirksey shows he can stop the run the job might be his.

The Run Game

The Browns rushing attack last season was terrible, but saw a big upgrade this offseason with the signing of Ben Tate. While Tate is more than likely going to be the starting running back for the Browns, the question of depth remains. Tate has a history of injuries and in today’s NFL teams tend to utilize more than one running back anyway. The Browns have plenty of options. Terrance West was a relative unknown when he was taken by the Browns in the third round out of Towson (unless of course you read this). Now the hard running West might end up being the number two running back on the Browns depth chart. He will have to contend with rookie Isaiah Crowell as well as Dion Lewis and Edwin Baker. While he’s listed as a fullback, Chris Ogbonnaya may also be in that mix. With the excitement about Tate and the buzz around West, Dion Lewis seems to be the forgotten man with something to prove. Lewis would be an ideal change of pace/third down back for the Browns and a great compliment to the more physical styles of Tate and West. A broken leg in the preseason last year forced Lewis to miss the entire season. His presence gives the Browns a different dimension in their running attack, provided he earns the playing time in the preseason.

Dear December 28th…

This morning, I woke up and decided to be skeptical.  I wanted to stick all of my optimism about the Browns, or anything Cleveland, back under the pillow and take everything the outsiders tell me at face value.  You see, I’m not allowed to feel good about anything, not when it comes to these Browns.  When fate doesn’t intervene, we need to draw pessimistic vibes from places they don’t necessarily exist.

I have decided to reach out to a place that doesn’t yet exist, the end of the 2014 regular season, because let’s face it, it would be foolish to consider the end of this particular road extending itself into 2015, or even a minute beyond the final gun on December 28th in Baltimore.

It wouldn’t exactly come with the nostalgia of Doc Brown’s letter to Marty that sat at a Western Union office for 70 years, but it might be fun to get Shooter McGavin’s cronie to come knocking on my door at, say, 4:07 PM on that 28th day of December with the following.  Hell, if he’s buying, I’d probably actually be game for some Sizzler, as the melancholy good-bye to my team for another off-season wrestles with the emotional relief that it’s once again over for another eight months.

Dear Jeff (on December 28th),

If my calculations are correct, you just watched the conclusion of yet another chapter in the annals of the Expansion Cleveland Browns, one that left fans feeling unfulfilled once again, for whatever reason.  I’d also say it’s highly likely that some once-believed bizzarre scenario is playing itself out, setting the stage for the Ravens or Steelers to back themselves into the playoffs.  They both missed last year, but it took a Chiefs team losing a game that was meaningless to them on a missed field goal  that came with its share of controversy.

Isn’t it awful how the spite has consumed us?  Is it really all we have left, because this organization has been lacking in the department of making us proud for so long?  I caught myself doing it during the draft, childishly hoping that every player that’s going to earn their pay in Western PA ends up being a bust.  Those jokers have played in as many playoff games as the Browns the past two season, and fell victim to a Tebow-aided one-and-done cameo the year before that; that would be something to celebrate if they weren’t still light years ahead of the Browns.

For a while, it seemed like the Browns were stuck in the starting blocks, but the agony has reached a point where I’m pretty sure they stopped being invited to the race.  It’s this damn draft, the actual root of Cleveland Sports Misery, because in the NFL’s case, it’s a Browns fan’s excuse to party and be overly optimistic, but in reality it’s why the teams we love are so terrible, always and forever.

Still, I have a hard time convincing myself; this is different from the year they took Brady Quinn or Brandon Weeden with the 22nd pick, just because it is.  Ray Farmer is a different type of talent evaluator, so he’s done his diligence to alleviate our concerns that Johnny Football is Colt 2.0.  We have to believe that Joel Bitonio isn’t another attempt to do what the previous regime was trying to do with Mitchell Schwartz on the right side fo the offensive line, though we should really be hoping for better results above all else.

Then, there’s the never-ending saga of Josh Gordon’s urine and the circumstances that made said pee a little less than pristine…allegedly.  You obviously know more than I do, whether he played 16 games, 8, or 0.  I am thinking he played as many snaps as I did this season, but can’t really make anything of rumors until we actually hear something official.  Rumors became truth for the elite receiver last spring, and for Joe Haden at the start of the 2012 season.

Those truths equaled six games worth of lost checks for Cleveland’s versions of star players, which ultimately equaled a loss on all six occasions.  For Haden, a clean track record since dictates isolated incident, and there’s $45 million in guaranteed money that proclaims he’s worthy of trust, both from the fans and his bosses in Berea.  Gordon, on the other hand, might never wear the orange helmet again.

The defense is supposed to be better, but are they healthy?  Are they staying out of the law’s way?  Are there discussions about whether Paul Kruger is a bigger bust as a 2013 Free Agent than Barkevius Mingo was as the #6 overall pick in the 2013 draft?  Has Justin Gilbert played well enough to have kept Buster Skrine on the slot receiver, and not in over his head in a place he’s not physically built to play?  Look, the potential of Karlos Dansby and rookie Christian Kirksey as a tandem at inside linebacker intrigues me, but there’s a very real possibility it’s a marriage made in Hell.

I’m curious about so many things, and that’s why I watch, though 5.5 seems to be easy money if anyone will still take your action on the under, if we’re talking about total wins.  I’m anxious to see how well Brian Hoyer plays, coming back from the ACL in jury.  I’m also curious if it’s going to matter, with all of #2 jerseys in the crowd and a fan-base that’s going to insist (as if they have that authority) on seeing Mr. Excitement–pardon me, Mr. Football–play right away.  When will we see him?  Remember, it was an essentially meaningless Week 17 game against the 49ers in 2007 that we first saw Brady Quinn take the field, despite similar pleas to then-head coach Romeo Crennel.

I’m more interested in how empty I’m going to feel at that moment, the one where the season ends and I’m taking it much worse than my father and my wife.  They approach me with more caution when I’m more likely to reach my boiling point; to their credit, they do a pretty good measuring that sort of thing.  Seriously though, it’s probably a good way to tell how many games they’ve won.  If it’s six, I’m not doing back-flips or thinking Super Bowl for the next year, but maybe I can smile for a few minutes and just take in the best season they’ve offered us in seven years.

Did they win the opener, for just the second time in sixteen years, and the first time on the road in their expansion history?  That gets them part of the way to a place I’ve been hoping they can get to eventually, a place where they beat every division opponent at least once; it’s something they’ve never been able to do in their expansion history.

I don’t want to assume they dropped the opener in Pittsburgh, but I can easily see that coming.  I just don’t need that feeling of emptiness to hit me that soon, but what I need and what the NFL offers me are two entirely different things.  Someday, they’ll avoid being swept by one of the division rivals, but between the Steelers and Bengals, one of them will take both games against Cleveland.

Working with only the limited information I currently have, I don’t have any reason to be thrilled with anything Browns-related right now.  On May 15th, I have to seriously entertain the possiblity that Earl Bennett might be the best option Hoyer and Manziel have to throw to in 2014.  I have keep the possibility of a Jimmy Haslam indictment being a major distraction, and give weight to the idea that Mike Pettine is no more qualified to be a head coach in this league than Pat Shurmur.  

I really hope I’m wrong.  I hope someone throws this in my face as we’re getting ready to watch the playoffs.  If it’s printed out on tasty paper stock, I might even volunteer to eat this rubbish, but history is certainly on the side of these words staying out of my stomach.

I suppose I’ve been rambling on, when everything I’ve said could have been addressed with a single question.  The win total, will it be 5 or 6?

Regards,

Jeff Rich (May 15th, 2014)

There are some things to consider, mostly the schedule, in trying to figure out where the wins are going to come.  They should be good enough to beat Baltimore at least once, and I think they get at least one of the other four in the division, so if they need four or five wins to come from the other ten games, where are those games?

I mean, they couldn’t lose to Jacksonville two years in a row, even with the game at Jacksonville, right?  You never actually know, but you have to imagine an improved team, as the Browns allegedly are, not being expected to win that one.  Oakland and Tampa Bay at home both sound promising, but there are factors at play, like how quickly Lovie Smith can turn things around on Florida’s west coast.

Houston and their new tandem of Jadaveon Clowney and JJ Watt come to town, and we don’t know what their quarterback plan is just yet.  Atlanta and Buffalo both host the Browns in late-November, and each will feature an offense with a playmaker at receiver, they have these play-makers because the Browns traded away Top 10 picks to enable these 2014 opponents to select them.  This point becomes more relevant when you consider what the Browns have put out there in recent years and what they think they’re putting out there in 2014, given how Plan A is really up in the air right now.

It’s easy to be skeptical about this, about them, but it ends up being so much more fun to believe.  To think that, maybe just once, everything could bounce the right way for us, for our teams, is a better approach to all of this.  To think of how little it has mattered whether or not players have done the right thing, it makes it a little easier to keep a clean conscious while I sincerely hope Gordon beats the system, even if it comes across slimy, like I think a lot of people see Ryan Braun’s victory by technicality.  Once could look at the cases of Ray Lewis and Ben Roethlisberger and easily laugh off dirty urine.

However, I’m not laughing at anything, with it being so hard to muster up joy for such an act in this context; it’s the real world, where we wait for the of the season to know if we were watching a 4-12 or 5-11 team.  What’s the difference?

Looking back at the trade that wasn't: RGIII

As of about a month ago, my office has been relocated to Washington D.C.  Although I still live in Baltimore, I make the nice long hour plus commute every morning.  As anyone who reads my columns knows, I very truly enjoy listening to local sports talk radio.  My commute to D.C. has opened my ears to a new market and it has been quite enjoyable.

Washington D.C. and Baltimore are two incredibly different cities.  D.C. has a very corporate and political feel to it while Baltimore has a thriving blue collar working class culture.  One thing is true of both cities; they live and die by their NFL teams.  Since I began working down here I really started enjoying the Redskins talk, especially of that concerning RG3.  RG3 is a special talent who quickly stole the hearts of all ‘skins fans. 

As a diehard Browns fan I know how close we were to landing RG3.  Following the college bowl season, he was a player whom I really wanted.  A guy that could immediately improve a teams win total, I however did not view him as a franchise saver and felt that the Browns couldn’t give up too much for him.  As we know the ‘skins made the deal and the Browns ended up with the luxury of drafting Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Mitchell Schwartz and Josh Gordon (those picks as well as next year’s number one likely would have been needed to secure the Rams pick).

Continue reading Looking back at the trade that wasn't: RGIII