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.
It’s Steelers week, the one of the weeks each season we stop thinking about which quarterbacks we should
draft next year and pray the Browns can beat the Steelers and hurt their playoff odds. This year’s contest should be interesting because Ben Roethlisberger and Josh McCown are questionable for the game, which could lead to an unpredictable outcome.
When the Browns have the ball:
Pittsburgh’s defense has been declining in recent years, and this year is no different. They sometimes show the dominance of old like against the Cardinals, but often have major defensive meltdowns like last week when they gave up 35 points against a young but explosive Raider’s attack. Perhaps we can have somewhat similar success. If McCown starts, the biggest thing the Browns need to do is keep him upright, which could prove difficult with the injury to stud left guard Joel Bitonio.
First round pick Cameron Erving will likely replace him though he didn’t look that great in the Bengals game. If McCown is healthy he should have no problem slinging against a very poor secondary. Barnidge and Benjamin could have great days. If Manziel plays, as reports seem to indicate, the key is to get the running game going. The Robert Turbin experiment failed so I’m hoping that we can see more of Duke Johnson the runner, since we already have seen enough of the Crow. If we can establish the run we can let Johnny scramble a bit on play action rollouts. Hopefully Johnny can make exciting plays outside the pocket without taking humongous hits in the process. This is another big thing as we don’t want to see Manziel get hurt.
When the Steelers have the ball:
Like usual I expect the opposing team to be able to run all over us. DeAngelo Williams proved to me that he wasn’t washed up like I thought before the season began. He has actually been one of the most dynamic and consistent runners in the game when playing.
In passing situations Landry Jones has proven to be a competent quarterback and an excellent one when throwing to Antonio Brown. Joe Haden and Donte Whitner are still questionable but if they play they will be hungry to stop their longtime rival, Brown. If Big Ben plays odds are it will only be worse for Cleveland, as Roethlisberger always finds a new way to gouge our defense.
The Steelers seem to have finally found a kicker that they trust in Chris Boswell who has only missed one field goal all year-long. Like our own Travis Coons he is still untested on long field goals. The Browns do have an edge in punting as Andy Lee has proven himself to be a great punter despite last weeks performance. The Steelers coverage teams seem strong but when you have a good returner like Travis Benjamin anything could happen.
With all of the uncertainty regarding the injured QBs I decided to give four predictions for the price of one!
McCown vs Roethlisberger– 31-24 Steelers- Big Ben is too good to overcome.
McCown vs Landry Jones 27-21 Browns- Really our only shot of winning.
Manziel vs Roethlisberger 34-14 Steelers- I’m just not sold on Johnny being a legitimate starting QB. Especially with the lack of weapons on the offense.
Manziel vs Landry Jones 24- 17 Steelers-Landry Jones seems to have found his groove with Antonio Brown.
After an amazing victory over the Titans last week, the Browns now host the Raiders. The Raiders are coming off an impressive victory over the Ravens and will look to continue their success, especially on offense. Here are some things to look for when watching the game.
1. Josh McCown is back and starting after he has cleared concussion protocol. It wasn’t a popular decision to start him over Manziel but it could pay off. McCown looked really nice in the game against the Jets and has the complete confidence of his coaching staff. It will be interesting to see how McCown can play over a whole game, and I bet he surprises some people with good accuracy and decision making.
2. Travis Benjamin is off to an electric start but it is unlikely to continue. Look for Benjamin to fall down to earth against the Raiders. McCown prefers short consistent passes as opposed to trying to hit the long ball. Defenses will also be more prepared to cover him as a wide receiver and a returner after his recent success.
3. Against the Jets our running game looked anemic, but we turned things around quickly against the Titans. It will be important for us to win the battle at the line of scrimmage and get the running game going because we don’t have the weapons to consistently move the ball any other way. Plus it will be a delight to watch Joe Thomas go against Khalil Mack.
4. The Browns pass rush looked great against the Titans and will need replicate that success to beat the Raiders. Last week the Raiders were able to move the ball because of the utter lack of pressure put on Derek Carr. Getting pressure could neutralize the Raiders budding receiving corps and give our secondary chances to make big plays.
5. Hometown hero Jamie Meder had a great game against Titans getting his first career sack and doing well stopping the run in limited reps. He should be in line to get more playing time and will continue making a difference.
Prediction: Browns 20 Raiders 16. The Browns use their great O-Line to neutralize Khalil Mack and run the ball well, and Josh McCown avoids mistakes and does well enough to win and earn another start.
Well, that one certainly went better than expected.
Not many people expected the Cleveland Browns to win Sunday’s home opener against the Tennessee Titans. There were a few you didn’t expect the Browns to even be COMPETITIVE, especially when starting quarterback Josh McCown wasn’t cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol by Friday.
That meant that beleaguered second-year quarterback Johnny Manziel – he of the dismal two starts as a rookie and the stay in substance-abuse rehab this past winter and the tendonitis in his throwing elbow that had him splitting first-team reps in practice this week – was going to make his first start of the regular season. And, after an up-and-down performance in relief during the Browns’ season-opening 31-10 loss to the New York Jets last Sunday, you really didn’t know what you were going to get.
With fellow Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, who threw four touchdown passes in his first half of NFL football (which was three more than Manziel had thrown in his entire NFL career) and compiled a perfect passer rating last Sunday, coming to town with the 1-0 Tennessee Titans, the story line looked to be how much better one Heisman winner would be than the other.
Well, not many people – except maybe the most diehard of “Johnny Football Fan” – expected that the Heisman Trophy winner who would be better – albeit not by much – was Manziel, and that Manziel’s team would wind up higher on the scoreboard than Mariota’s. But that’s what happened.
Despite going just 8 of 15 for 157 yards, two long touchdown passes to Travis Benjamin, a defense that
sacked Mariota seven times, and a running attack that carried the ball 30 times for 116 yards was enough for Manziel and the Browns to defeat the Titans, 28-14. It was the Browns’ second-straight win in a home opener, marking the first time that had happened since 1989-90.
What happened? Well, here are a few thoughts and observations from a guy who obsesses over everything Cleveland Browns:
1. Travis Benjamin was ‘The Man’: Benjamin came into this season with his spot on the Browns firmly on the bubble. Coming back from a torn ACL, he lost his punt returning job last season due to muffed kicks, fumbles and poor decisions. But he made enough plays during training camp and the preseason to keep his job, and, through two games, he’s made that decision a wise one. He made a great fingertip catch on the Browns’ second play from scrimmage for a 60-yard touchdown, ripped off a 78-yard punt return touchdown during the second quarter that also involved him hurdling the Titans’ punter, and improvised on a route that led to a game-clinching 50-yard touchdown catch with just under three minute remaining. Benjamin has scored four of the Browns’ five touchdowns this season and has caught every single one of Manziel’s TD passes – of 54, 60 and 50 yards, respectively. If Benjamin isn’t the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week at the very least, it’s a crime. On a team desperately seeking a playmaker, Benjamin has emerged as one through two games.
2. Manziel looked better, but had his moments: Forgive me if I’m not one of the several in the local media who are now clamoring for the Browns to turn the quarterback job over to Manziel. While it was clearly the best game of Manziel’s young career – and a victory, to boot – it wasn’t “outstanding.” Like the Jets game and the Bills game when he made his first rookie relief appearance, Manziel came out of the gate looking great. He hit Benjamin in stride for a 60-yard touchdown pass on the second play from scrimmage, but then looked mortal. He had trouble sustaining any semblance of a long drive all game. His fumbling problems continued, putting two more on the ground that, fortunately, his linemen were able to recover. The offensive gameplan seemed very conservative – calling twice as many run plays as passes. He failed to pick up a foot on a fourth-and-short inside the red zone during the second quarter that could have put the Browns up by three scores. And, after Mariota led a fourth-quarter scoring drive that cut the deficit to seven, things didn’t look good. But Manziel ended the game like he began it, hitting Benjamin for a long touchdown pass that seemed to catch the Titans off guard. His quarterback rating of 133.9 was the highest for a Browns quarterback since Derek Anderson on Oct. 28, 2007 (140.3). The bottom line is he won, which he did for the first time in his NFL career. But keep in mind that fans wanted the team to “Fail for Cardale” just days before this game.
3. Mariota looked better: Mariota struggled in his second pro start. The Browns put pressure on him all game, sacking him seven times and hurrying a lot of throws. He made some head-scratching decisions at times. However, in the second half, Mariota looked like the better quarterback. He led two long touchdown drives that turned a 21-0 halftime deficit into a 21-14 deficit. And, many fans feared that Mariota would gash the suddenly tired Browns defense for a third scoring drive if Manziel couldn’t get anything going. Fortunately, Manziel and Benjamin came through, preventing the unthinkable from happening. Mariota wound up 21 of 37 for 257 yards and two touchdowns. But he tasted defeat for the first time in his young career. He’s now lost to both Ohio State and the Browns in the same calendar year, just sayin’.
4. THAT’S our defense: The Browns came into this season expecting to be one of the NFL’s best defenses. After the hapless Jets tore them apart last week, many believed that the unit was overrated. However, for the most part Sunday, the Browns’ defense looked better than Dick LeBeau’s Titans defense. The Browns forced three turnovers and held Mariota scoreless in the first half a week after he erupted for four first-half touchdowns against the Buccaneers. They put the rookie on the ground seven times for sacks, harassed him into several hurried throws and into some mistakes that looked, dare I say it, Manziel-like. They were running out of gas in the second half, and Joe Haden was burned for a big touchdown by a rookie receiver late in the game, which was concerning. And, Dexter McCluster gashed the team for 98 rushing yards on just 10 carries. But it was a marked improvement from a week before.
5. West isn’t the best: Terrence West was literally given away to the Titans just days after the NFL’s final cut day due to what have been called attitude problems when he was with the Browns. Everyone knew that the Browns’ leading rusher from a year ago would be licking his chops at his first crack at his former team, and would nothing more than to do well against Mike Pettine and the team’s other decision makers who cast him aside so quickly. But it turned into a forgettable game for the Towson product. West fumbled on his first carry of the game, which led to the Browns’ second touchdown (scored by Isiah Crowell, to add insult to injury), and he finished with just three carries for 10 yards. Vindication, thy name is Pettine.
6. The kicking game looked awesome … again: Andy Lee may be one of the highest-paid punters in the NFL, and he deserves every single penny. Lee punted six times for a 53.2-yard average and put two inside the 20. He kept field position tipped in the Browns’ favor most of the day. Travis Coons didn’t attempt any field goals, but converted all three of his 33-yard extra points. And, Benjamin’s punt-return touchdown and 154 return yards certainly didn’t help a banner day for the special teams.
7. Feed The Crow: There were questions about Crowell heading into the season, and the second-year man out of Alabama State did little to answer those questions last Sunday. However, against the Titans, Crowell gained a team-best 72 yards on 15 carries (4.8 average) with a touchdown. His 15-yard run from the 20 on the first play following the Titans’ fourth quarter touchdown may have helped set up the big 50-yard touchdown pass six plays later.
It always feels good to be a fan after a victory Sunday. All of those “Fail for Cardale” cries and the fears of an 0-16 season are a distant memory. A lot of what was concerning last week was rectified this week. With an Oakland Raiders team coming to town riding high on their upset of the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, next Sunday’s game won’t be easy. Expect a week full of quarterback questions – with McCown expected to come off the NFL’s concussion protocol, the annual Browns QB controversy is about to return. Does McCown get his job back, or do the Browns give Manziel another look? We’ll see, but you already feel more optimistic about our chances next week no matter what the answer is.
Well, I foolishly picked the Cleveland Browns to win last week and conquer their season opener streak. I couldn’t possibly pick them two weeks in a row could I? Well it may be foolish, but I believe the Browns will win this week against the Tennessee Titans.
First Down: Johnny Football is Starting
Head Coach Mike Pettine revealed on Friday that last week’s start Josh McCown had still not passed the concussion protocol and Johnny Manziel will make the start on Sunday.
Here you can see the awesome gif of why McCown is not starting this week.
Manziel, the former Heisman Trophy winner, will get another chance to start. This week, he will be going against another Heisman Trophy winner in Marcus Mariota. There was talk around the NFL Draft that the Browns could move up and take Mariota but that did not ultimately happen.
This will be Manziel’s third start of his career with his previous two not going so well. Some folks believe that this week is make it or break it for Manziel. That is entirely not the case. If Manziel performs well on Sunday, he will be on track to start the rest of the season. If he does poorly, once McCown passes the concussion test, McCown will be the starter going forward.
Look for Manziel to roll out a lot this week to try and move the pocket. But the key success for the Browns this week will be the running game.
Second Down: A Dwayne Bowe Sighting?
Dwayne Bowe was a surprise scratch last week before the game started and the Browns seemed to have missed him mightily.
The sole saving grace from the Browns receivers group last weekend was the move that Travis Benjamin put on his defender to get wide open for a long touchdown.
This group needs to step up and Dwayne Bowe needs to be the leader of this group. The only way he is going to do that is to get on the field.
Bowe is the biggest Browns receiver and would be a welcome target for Manziel as a red zone threat. They greatly missed that last week on the 19 play opening drive that ended in McCown getting concussed.
Third Down: Where did the pass rush go?
The Browns recorded zero, zilch, gooseegg in terms of sacks last week. The defense also only registered ONE hit on the quarterback.
They really need to get the pass rush going to be successful. I fully expect it to be back this week against a rookie quarterback in Mariota.
Throwing different pass rushes at Mariota should hopefully result into some rookie mistakes and by rookie mistakes I mean turnovers. The Browns did force one turnover last week but Tashaun Gipson was pickpocketed during the interception return.
Fourth Down: Prediction
The Browns will win this game in front of the Dawg Pound in their home opener.
The Browns will force Mariota into mistakes and make him turnover the ball while also playing ball control offense with the running game.
Hopefully this week I am not as foolish as I was last week.
Coming into Sunday’s opener against the New York Jets, the Cleveland Browns were hit with all kinds of media distractions … then played like a team that had to deal with those distractions.
From trading Terrance West and Billy Winn for conditional late-round draft picks to the whole Terrelle Pryor saga (keeping him over the clubhouse popular Josh Lenz and then cutting him for injured running back Robert Turbin) to the suspension of offensive line coach Andy Moeller over a domestic violence incident to the road-rage incident from maligned second-year cornerback Justin Gilbert – and that doesn’t even include the fact that general manager Ray Farmer began his league-imposed four-game suspension for texting coaches during games last season – the Browns were in the news for all the wrong reasons this past week.
All of that intensified following a dismal 31-10 loss to the Jets at MetLife Stadium – the Browns’ 11th
straight loss on opening day and dropping them to 1-16 in openers since they returned in 1999. And, despite playing with a backup quarterback who spent most of his offseason in substance-abuse rehab in Johnny Manziel, the Browns actually led 10-7 midway through the second quarter and looked like the better team up to that point.
But the wheels came off in a hurry, and when they did, the game tilted decidedly to the Jets’ favor. And let’s not forget the Jets went 4-12 last season, were being coached by a first-time head coach in Todd Bowles and playing with supposed backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. It was the Jets who looked like the team that went 7-9 last season while the Browns looked like the perennial 4-12 team they were before last season.
What happened? Well, here are a few thoughts and observations from a guy who obsesses over everything Cleveland Browns:
1. The Browns missed Josh McCown: McCown, the 36-year-old veteran journeyman signed to replace Brian Hoyer in the offseason, looked more like the guy who stood out for the Bears two years ago and not the guy who struggled for the Buccaneers last season in his only drive with the Browns. McCown drove the Browns 90 yards in 17 plays, completing 5-of-8 passes for 49 yards, and melted almost 10 minutes off the clock before disaster struck. On a third-and-goal play, McCown took off toward the end zone and attempted to dive in for a touchdown. However, he was hit by two Jet defenders, was helicoptered and fumbled the ball just before he crossed the plane. He was taken to the locker room for concussion protocol and was ruled out for the game. I will not fault McCown for trying for the touchdown – had he slid down at the 2, I’m sure all the Manziel-honks would have been screaming about how he should have went for the touchdown and how they need to take him out. He’s a competitive player and that’s what competitive players do. Unfortunately, it not only cost the Browns a touchdown, but cost them their starting quarterback. While Manziel did OK in relief, one could imagine how much better the Browns’ offense would have looked with the steady McCown under center, considering how well he moved the team in his only possession.
2. Manziel faded fast: Those who know me know that I’m one of the biggest Manziel critics in Cleveland. And his play Sunday did little to make me ease up on that criticism. Sure, he came in and hit Travis Benjamin for a big 54-yard touchdown pass – the first of his career – and then led another scoring drive. However, Manziel quickly reverted to the guy we saw flounder in two starts against the Bengals and Panthers last year. He threw a costly interception on the first possession of the second half, which was turned into a Jets’ touchdown and helped switch momentum firmly to the hosts. He later lost two key fumbles on two ill-advised scrambles and took some big hits. The stats look decent – 13-of-24 for 182 yards and 35 more on five carries – but Manziel looked like a guy who is too small and too undisciplined to be a standout NFL quarterback. If anything, he did little to answer the questions folks may have had after his dismal rookie season and looks more like yet another first-round Browns quarterback bust than the potential savior. Some, like the Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot, tried to use his lack of first-team reps as an excuse, but I refuse to do that. I’d rather see Austin Davis next week if McCown isn’t cleared.
3. Running struggles: The Browns were a team that wanted to rely on the running game on offense and felt they would be better at stopping the run after the drafting of Danny Shelton in the first round last April, among other free agent signing. Instead, the run defense looked like the 32nd-ranked unit from last season, getting gashed by Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell en route to 154 yards allowed on the ground. And the Browns’ rushing offense? When your top two ground gainers are quarterbacks, that is inexcusable. Isaiah Crowell only averaged 1.7 yards-per-carry, which will not fly out of a No. 1 running back, and backups Duke Johnson and Shaun Draughn only had eight carries for 26 yards combined. If this running game is non-existent and we’re relying on McCown, Manziel or Davis to win games with their arms, it’s gonna be a long season.
4. Where’s the line?: Maybe getting their position coach suspended just days before the season opener led to their struggles. But the offensive line was dominated by the Jets’ defensive front all day long. Right guard John Greco was lost due to injury, pushing rookie first-rounder Cameron Erving into action, but the line struggled before this happened. Many false start and holding penalties did little to offset their struggles. Both McCown and Manziel had to run more than they intended due to the poor protection provided. For a line that boasts two perennial Pro Bowlers, three first-round picks (including Erving) and two second-rounders, including an All-Rookie selection, this performance is unacceptable.
5. Haden Island: Joe Haden has a reputation as one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks and has become a perennial Pro Bowler. However, the taller Brandon Marshall – a receiver viewed on the downside of his career – abused Haden all game long Sunday. The touchdown reception by Marshall over Haden was the highlight play. The secondary, as a whole, struggled mightily. Even when things went right, like Tashaun Gipson’s interception, it turned into a negative when Gipson allowed himself to get stripped by Marshall. The Browns defense allowed four touchdowns to the Jets. Imagine what a team with a good offense could do against them – scary thought. Titans’ rookie QB Marcus Mariota, who torched Tampa Bay for four first-half touchdown passes, is probably licking his chops for next Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
6. The kicking game looked awesome: If there ever was a bright spot from Sunday’s game, it is Browns veteran punter Andy Lee and rookie kicker Travis Coons. Coons’ first NFL point was the league’s longest extra point ever – 48 yards – thanks to two stupid penalties and he later drilled a 26-yard field goal. Lee, obtained for a seventh-round choice from the 49ers, only punted twice, but averaged 60.5 yards on the two kicks. The guy will likely be the AFC Pro Bowl punter this year, so at least the Browns will have one Pro Bowler this year.
7. Coach ‘em up: Mike Pettine blamed himself and his coaching staff for the loss following the game, and he won’t find many people disagreeing with him. The Browns looked undisciplined thanks to 12 penalties for 109 yards and four lost fumbles and five total turnovers. You can’t blame the officiating for these penalties – the Browns made mistake after mistake after mistake. They looked unorganized at times. The defense was atrocious and the offense wasn’t much better. The Jets looked like the better coached team, and that’s just sad. Their decision to roll with two QBs almost bit them in the butt on Sunday – Manziel took some tough shots, and that’s to be expected for the remainder of his career. I respect Pettine greatly and believe he is the man to coach this team over the hump. However, he and his coaches need to do a better job if they want to hold on to their jobs.
Hopefully, the week leading into the home opener against the Titans will not be rife with off-the-field distractions, but I doubt it. With McCown hurt, the QB controversy questions won’t go away, and surely the focus will go to veteran receiver Dwayne Bowe, who was deactivated for Sunday’s game and leaving a unit heavy on possession receivers to try to make plays against the Jets. Unlike last year’s season opener, which was a loss to the hated Steelers but included a dramatic second-half turnaround, there is not much optimism going forward
The Cleveland Browns have played themselves to a 6-3 record, but it has not always looked pretty. There have definitely been high and low wrinkles to this season—some that can be changed mid-season, some cannot. One of the changes that could (and should) be addressed is the role of the punt returner, averaging 3.2 yards per return for lowest average in the league.
The punt returning position has been a revolving door, depending on situation and coaching decision. Whether the answer is currently on the roster or if Ray Farmer needs to seek outside help, this switch needs to be done as soon as possible, in my opinion. I can’t sit and watch Jordan Poyer bounce a kick off of his face at the two yard line, giving Jacksonville the ball and control of momentum again. I’m not a fan of having Jim Leonhard back deep, just because he can catch the ball. As evidenced in the game vs. Cincinnati, he’s not very good with running with the ball after the catch. He looked scared and he also coughed up a fumble, allowing the Bengals to score their only three points of the game.
There are a couple of options currently on the Browns roster that I’d like to see returning punts. First, the obvious one, Travis Benjamin. Benjamin muffed a punt earlier in the year and was benched in favor of Poyer and has yet to regain the job. I’m not sure if this is because he has a bigger role in the pass game, or if the coaches just don’t trust him back there. Maybe they’re right for not trusting him after the muff and a fumble. At any rate, Benjamin is a game-changer in the return game when he holds on to the ball with his breakaway speed. The Steelers aren’t afraid to utilize arguably their best player to return punts, so why not Benjamin, a role player in the pass offense? Also, with Josh Gordon coming back after this upcoming game, the Browns will not be as receiver-needy, even though I have liked what I have seen from Benjamin in as a wide receiver this year.
Another player that could fill the role currently on the roster is Justin Gilbert. Gilbert returned kickoffs at Oklahoma State and should be considered to fill the punt returner role in Cleveland. In his collegiate career, Gilbert returned six kicks for touchdowns and ran a 4.37 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine. While he only attempted eight punt returns (in 2010), Gilbert should definitely be in the discussion to take over PR duties. An excuse that he was taken 8th overall isn’t a good excuse to be afraid he will get hurt receiving punts (see again: Brown, Antonio). Tony Grossi loves reminding everyone that Gilbert did not receive punts in college, only kicks, but these two positions are not mutually exclusive for a player.
One last name that should be in the conversation and possibly at the top of the list, is the current kick returner, Marlon Moore. Moore has shown great burst and reasonably good decision making in the return game. Giving someone like him more opportunities in the open field with the ball in his hands could help you win the battle of field position. He hasn’t helped much on offense, so I’d like to see him have a fair shot with punt return duties.
There are a few names that aren’t on the current 53-man roster that could also be considered. Now, I know Ray Farmer, when asked about signing Josh Cribbs to return kicks, replied, “Who do I want to let go to sign Josh Cribbs?” Now, I don’t think this was Farmer taking a shot on Josh and his talents, but more of an affirmation of the current talent on the team. While Farmer’s quote basically shuts down the idea of signing a player just to return kicks, it is not out of the realm of possibility to turn to outside help.
We are all familiar with Josh Cribbs, so we won’t delve too deep with stats. Cribbs, now 31 years of age, was released by the raiders in August 2013 after a poor showing in preseason. He was the picked up by the Jets in October of 2013 and was put on injured reserve after a shoulder injury not even two months later. Before being released from the Browns, he had noticeably lost a step or two. I will always be a Josh Cribbs fan (and the Browns are 6-0 this season when I wear my Cribbs jersey on gameday), I don’t think he’s the answer, unfortunately, but I’d love to be proved wrong on this one.
Marc Mariani was drafted by the Titans in 2010 and went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie out of Montana. Mariani broke his leg in the preseason of 2012, missing the entire year—he was just released by the Titans this past August. In the two seasons he played with the Titans, he returned two punts for touchdowns and averaged 11.2 yards per return. While he hasn’t played since 2011 due to injuries, the Browns could take a look to Mariani to help as an experienced returner who has had success in the NFL.
Another player the Browns should consider signing is return specialist Trindon Holliday. Holliday was just waived from the Buccaneers on October 31 of this year due to a hamstring issue. If healthy, the Browns may look his way to fill the current need. Holliday returned punts for touchdowns in in 2012 and 2013 on the Broncos, one in each year. He has a career 9.3 yards per return and is 28 years of age. The former LSU track star posted a 4.34 40-yard dash in the 2010 combine. Halliday is also the first player in NFL history with a punt return for a TD and kick return for a TD in the same postseason game.
One last name I’d like to mention is 26 year old Brandon Banks, who formerly played for Washington, now in the CFL. Banks will not help on offense, as Mike Shanahan hoped he would evolve into a better receiver, but he has game-breaking potential returning punts. While he averaged 11.3 yards per return in 2010, he regressed in 2011 and again in 2012 with 9.1 yards/return and 6.8 yards/return, respectively, giving him a 9.4 yard per return average in his NFL career. However, he has bounced his average back up this year to 10.3 yards per return on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It is my understanding an NFL team may buy out a contracted player from the CFL, so this is not out of the realm of possibility.
With the Browns offense being so up and down this year, the importance of a good return game should not be overlooked. It seems the coaching staff having Jim Leonard returning punts is due to other players’ errors, coupled with his ability to catch the ball. But as I mentioned before, he looked scared once he realized he had to run after the catch. It has a feel of playing to not lose, rather than playing to win.
Travis Benjamin, Justin Gilbert and Marlon Moore are all viable options that could give the Browns a playmaker back to receive the ball that are currently on the roster. Ray Farmer could have been genuine (probably not), but to imply there isn’t one expendable player on the Browns 53-man roster to sign a return specialist is kind of silly. Good for him for showing he believes in his current team, but a good General Manager should always be looking to upgrade his team. I’d personally prefer giving Benjamin another shot with support from the coaching staff, boosting his confidence.
You can’t fix many things on a football team mid-season, but placing a competent speedster back to return punts is something the Browns can, and should do. Whether that person is currently on the team or not, it’s time to make the switch (again).
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.
Yes 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 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.
Offensively, 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.
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.
After the Browns got manhandled by one of the worst teams in the NFL last week, now the Browns looks to bounce back against the awful Raiders at home. My forecast is positive in general, as I believe that their loss against Jacksonville will light a fire from beneath them that will help them to perform better in both the real world and the fantasy world in Week 8.
QB- Brian Hoyer: Where on earth did last week’s performance come from. After posting double digit points in each of his first five games Hoyer posted a 4. However I feel that Hoyer will bounceback strong against a weak Oakland defense.
QB- Johnny Manziel- Unless Hoyer blows it against the Raiders there is no reason to own him.
RB- Ben Tate: Ben Tate was the primary back against the Jaguars taking 16 carries, But unfortunately he only netted 38 yards. it will be interesting to see if the line can have more success in the next couple games despite not having stalwart center Alex Mack.
RB- Terrance West: Terrance West was a healthy scratch against the Steelers. I don’t know what he did but there is no need to hold the Brown’s third string RB unless someone gets hurt.
RB- Isaiah Crowell- Crowell had 7 carries against Jacksonville for a paltry 18 yards. Really think this lackluster performance was more about the offensive line play rather than his talent. If this line improves he will continue to be a valuable commodity.
WR- Andrew Hawkins- If it weren’t for his 64 yard reception the Browns passing numbers that game would’ve gone from bad to abysmal. Got a lot of targets at Jacksonville and still appears to be the Browns number one receiver.
WR- Miles Austin- Had 8 targets but was only able to convert them into 53 yards. Has yet to score while Ben Tate has been playing. Still not worth owning.
WR- Travis Benjamin- Had his first shutout last week.
WR- Taylor Gabriel- Had 7 targets last week and has a tendency to go deep. Shouldn’t get picked up in any league but he is worth watching.
TE- Jordan Cameron- If only Hoyer hit him when he was open in the endzone. (sigh) Cameron will bounceback and put up mid to low TE1 numbers for the rest of the year.
K- Billy Cundiff- The best kicker in modern Browns history not named Phil is only the 23rd best kicker in fantasy so far this year.
DEF- The Browns defense looked great against the Jaguars but should look even better at home versus the Raiders.
Before I update you guys on Browns players in Fantasy Football I must say how awesome it was that we destroyed the Pittsburgh Steelers. This dominating win shows the world that we are not the “same old Browns,” and that we are instead, a playoff contender. What makes this season really promising is that our next 3 teams have combined for one win this season (over the Steelers). This makes starting out the season at 6-2 likely, and 6-2 teams have an 81% shot at making the playoffs. This has been an exciting season so far and I know we’re all looking forward to making the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
QB- Brian Hoyer: Hoyer put up a respectable 12 points against the Steelers. Sadly for Hoyer the Browns tend to run in goal line situations. Hoyer should have some decent games against Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa that make him an ideal second quarterback but his upside is limited because Hoyer won’t need to pass as much on these weaker teams.
RB- Ben Tate: Ben Tate is officially an RB1 for the next 3 weeks. He should get loads of touches when the Browns are up for the next 3 games.
RB- Terrance West: Terrance West was a healthy scratch against the Steelers. I don’t know what he did but there is no need to hold the Brown’s third string RB unless someone gets hurt.
RB- Isaiah Crowell- Took over as the second running back and made the Browns look smart. Could definitely be worth a start if your having troubles at RB.
WR- Andrew Hawkins- Got zero catches on 2 targets against the Steelers. His fantasy stock goes down with a healthy Jordan Cameron.
WR- Miles Austin- Fun fact: The Browns WRs combined for 4 catches for 84 yards against the Steelers. Just goes to show that there really aren’t any fantasy relevant WRs on the Browns until Josh Gordon comes back.
WR- Travis Benjamin- Benjamin has the most fantasy points out of all Browns WRs despite having only 13 targets.
TE- Jordan Cameron- Jordan Cameron is back! Easy start at TE for the rest of the year.
DEF- Jaguars, Raiders and Buccaneers will make a Cleveland Defense owner smile from ear to ear!
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