Monday, December 22, 2014
Postcard from Charlotte…I have no new information about the Browns 17-13 loss to Carolina. There is nothing new to tell you that I haven’t said before. The Browns have two guys who are not the answer at quarterback. They both showed you why today. One is an over hyped college superstar whose skills set does not work in the NFL. He’s too short, he can’t run away from defenders like he did in college, and he has yet to show that he has an NFL arm.
The other one definitely doesn’t have an NFL arm. He showed that today when Travis Benjamin had his guy beat by two strides on what would have been the winning touchdown but turned into an interception.
This was a big loss for the Browns. Going 8-8 after winning only four games last year would’ve been huge. Instead, with a loss to Baltimore next week the Browns will be 7-9, losing the last five. Ouch!
With all that has happened, most of it negative, 4-11 to 7-9 is a big jump. The Browns are in a good position to make a bigger jump next year, but it won’t happen without a real NFL quarterback. Simple as that.
The 2014 Browns were good enough to make it to the playoffs except for one position, the most important one, quarterback. The front office made several huge mistakes in regards to this position, and now it is still a mess. The best pro prospect on the team is the third string quarterback who is on the practice squad and did not make an appearance in a game this year.
Here’s a hunch I have…Mike Pettine had a limited pool of candidates to fill positions on his staff because of when he was hired. I will be really surprised if many of the assistants from this year will be retained. He will bring in his guys, guys he couldn’t hire last year because they were committed to coach someplace else. This will be a major change for the team. I especially think there will be a new offensive coordinator.
As has been said over and over in the last fifteen years, the fans deserve better. Even after what has happened over the last four weeks, there they were in Charlotte taking over the city. Wherever you went on Saturday you saw Brown and Orange. We met fans from all over the south and as far away as Rochester, New York, there to root on their team. There were a lot of sad rides on Monday morning back to where ever they live, but you still got the feeling that home will always be in Northern Ohio for most of them.
Monday, December 15, 2014
For the second December home game in a row, the weather was more than ideal for football. Temperatures in the forties, no wind or rain, tailgating was at a level unheard of in recent Browns seasons. Great weather and a team still in the running for the playoffs? It seemed too good to be true. And it was.
Enough has been said about Sunday’s game. I’ll just quote from my game notes for the start of the game. Browns kickoff. Cinci Scores. Cinci kicks off. Browns three and out. Cinci scores. Browns three and out. Cinci scores. Browns throw a pick. Cinci scores. Browns three and out. Cinci throws a pick, Craig Robertson with another big play. Browns actually start driving. Browns throw a pick. Cinci penalty, Browns keep the ball. First “Put in Hoyer” from the guy behind me. Browns throw pick on the goal line. Yada, yada, yada.
Sunday’s disaster against the Bengals brought into public knowledge what some people have known all along, that neither Brian Hoyer nor Johnny Manziel is the quarterback that will lead the Cleveland Browns to a championship. Hoyer is a career journeyman, with the brains but not the arm for the NFL. Manziel possesses the skills to be successful in college but those same skills do not translate to the pro game.
Hoyer’s journey in the NFL from New England to Pittsburgh to Arizona to the Browns, living off the “knowledge” he learned as a Tom Brady backup has suddenly stopped. Signing him was a good move, a stopped gap solution until the real quarterback would hopefully show up. The drafting of Menziel was a bad move, and tarnished an otherwise good draft and some solid free agency signings.
The graphic on the morning shows Sunday stated that Manziel is the 22nd starting quarterback since the team returned in 1999. The only for sure thing is number 23 is not that far in the future.
Quarterback is such a chance at draft time for most teams. The only for sure bet in recent history has been Andrew Luck. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, even with his Heisman, is as big of a risk as Manziel. Obviously a more mature person, he still spent most of his career using his feet as much as his arm. For all of his faults as a person, last year’s Heisman winner Jameis Winston has more of a pro skill set than both Manziel and Mariota. He has thrown more from the pocket, and shows he has the tangibles to keep winning. As of this writing in two seasons he has not lost a game as a starter.
Quarterback isn’t just a Browns problem. The NFL has a quarterback problem, there isn’t enough to go around. College and high school quarterbacks don’t learn to audiblize because their coaches do it for them. They don’t read their third or fourth receivers because if their first one isn’t open they take off running. During the off season they get the false sense that they can play in the NFL by participating in a sham called 7 on 7 football, which is nothing more than glorified touch football. Receivers are always open and catching the ball when they know they are not going to be hit, and quarterbacks can always find the open guy when they aren’t being chased by defensive linemen and blitzing backers.
The Browns coaches have to some how regroup their team and win one more game. An 8-8 season after the disasters of the last few would be a big step forward. Going 7-9 and losing the last five games is the same old stuff. The team has to win, no matter who is the quarterback.
Here’s their dilemma, this isn’t an expansion team or even the talented deficient team of a few years ago, this is actually a decently talented team on both sides of the ball. Sure it has some problems like kicker, but the talent to succeed is there. But not without a quarterback, a pro quarterback who can read defenses and has a strong arm enough to do what needs to be done in the NFL. We will have the whole off-season to talk about their options, but for now just win one more game.
Once again Browns fans will spend the playoffs watching what seems like the same old teams. Wonder why some organizations always seem to be good? They don’t draft popular running college quarterbacks like Manziel or Robert Griffith III because they know they can’t do it on the next level.
And when the season is finally finished, throw Manziel’s corpse onto that big, and getting bigger, pile of unsuccessful former running college over hyped college quarterbacks, right on top of Pat White, Vince Young, and RGIII.
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
The Browns did not lose the game when the Colts scored with 32 seconds left on an Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton. The Browns did not lose the game when Josh Gordon could not haul in Brian Hoyer’s pass with 28 seconds left. They lost on their second drive of the game when they crossed the fifty for the first time and had to punt. They lost on their third drive of the game when they got down to the Colt’s nine-yard line and threw a pick. They lost on their second drive in the second quarter when they missed a 40-yard field goal. The Browns could’ve put the Colts away by halftime, but they didn’t. A touchdown or field goal in the first half counts just as much as one in the fourth quarter.
The Brian Hoyer era has come and gone. Johnny Manziel’s time might go just as fast, but we don’t know. It is time to find out. Hoyer’s time did not end with just the Colts game. It ended with losses in the Bills and Texans games. It ended with three interceptions against Atlanta, and two more picks against Tampa Bay. His play has been poor in both wins and losses. It is not all of his fault, but he has played poorly now for a good portion of the season.
My notes from the Colt’s game look like this: First offensive drive, punt. Second offensive series, bad passes. Did not take advantage of field position. Third offensive series, pick! Fourth offensive series, three and out. First offensive series in second quarter, three and out. Second series in the second quarter, missed field goal. You don’t win against quality teams like the Colts playing like this on offense. If it weren’t for two defensive scores the game would have been a blow out.
The Browns must win one of the three remaining games. Anything less than 8-8, or finishing the season with five straight losses, would be the same old stuff.
This team could be very, very good next year. They are going to end this year in contention, but probably not making, the playoffs. Next year could be a different story. Very soon big decisions have to be made. The team’s window is only going to be open for so long. Quarterback, kicker, depth at safety and linebacker, another big receiver, all have to be addressed. Winning and losing is a cold-hearted business at times. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We will have the whole off-season to talk about stuff like that.
I’m not writing off the playoffs this year. A lot can happen in these last three weeks. The Browns win all three it would seem they would be in the playoffs; winning 2 out of 3 is a maybe. Every game left is a winnable game.
In all the negativity that a loss will bring, don’t overlook the Browns defensive performance. Two defensive scores and one big play after another. Craig Robertson will another defensive score; Justin Gilbert with his first pick six; Jim Leonard with another big play. The Browns offense needed to get the defense off the field and they couldn’t.
The roller coaster continues…
Thursday, December 4, 2014
The Browns are at the crossroads. And I am not talking about all of this quarterback hoopla. I’m talking about a team that could be on the long road to someplace special. You got to remember the big picture. They have to win just one more game to go 8-8, a record any Browns fan would have died for back in August.
The Browns are at the crossroads because the #1 priority for this team this year was to put fifteen years of losing culture behind. Behind for the team, for the organization, and for the fans.
The season has been a roller coaster, and at 7-5 they are still in the running for a playoff spot, but more importantly they have to end the season perceived as winners. This season can’t end like almost all the others since 1999 in a mountain of disappointment and losing. This team, no matter who the quarterback, is too talented to implode.
Long after this loss will be forgotten, this game will be remembered for Johnny Manziel’s pro debut. I’m not getting caught up in the hoopla, because I’m not sure Manziel can do the things that needed to be done. Brian Hoyer has his limitations.
When the Browns first acquired Hoyer I wrote that it was no secret about how to defend him, and the Bills and the rest of the NFL all know about it now. Take away the running game and force him to use the whole field. It’s been the game plan against the Browns most of this season, and with the return of Josh Gordon it really sticks out as the team’s sore thumb. Gordon needs a home run arm to get him the ball down field where he can run away from safeties and corners.
Does Johnny Manziel have the arm to do it? Only time will tell. Recent history shows he is going to struggle throwing downfield from the pocket. One only has to look at how his college contemporaries have struggled, i.e. RGIII, Vince Young, Cam Newton, Tim Tebow, etc. Running spread offenses where the coaches call all the plays and checks, and where a quarterback takes off running when his primary receiver is covered, is not the best training for the drop back world of the NFL.
You have to play Manziel to see what he has, but no matter who the quarterback is the Browns can’t end the season losing the last five games. They need a win or two to finish up in the right direction for the future. The quarterback position will take care of itself, either Manziel can do it or he can’t. We should have a good idea by the end of the season if he plays the last four games.
The Bills loss was disappointing. The Browns had their chances in the first half to take charge, but they came away with a field goal and a blocked field goal instead of two touchdowns. Most of the game was very painful to watch.
I attended the game and it was the only low point in an otherwise fun road trip that included hanging out at the Seneca Allegheny casino in Salamanca, New York, about an hour south of Ralph Wilson Stadium.
We tailgated outside the stadium before the game, surrounded by many other Browns fans and some pretty cordial Bills fans. The stadium is out in the middle of nowhere, so everyone tailgates. It was a pretty festive environment.
However, it was disappointed to see the culture of “planned spontaneity” has spread to Buffalo. Yes, they have a drum line like everyone else. Yes, the play that stupid movie special effects on third down while their obnoxious announcer reminds you that it is third down. The Bills even take it to another level with a cheesy remake of “Shout,” including reworked lyrics they flash on the scoreboard, blasted each time they score. It isn’t even the Isley Brothers or Otis Day version of the song. It sounds like a second rate lounge singer.
All of this stuff thought up by marketing consultants in ‘idea sessions’ and now copied by almost every team in the NFL. It’s all part of the “fan experience.” And next year when the Browns are wearing their new disco uniforms they will be just like everyone else. And someone will call me an old fuddy duddy who doesn’t like change.
The Browns need at least one more victory. Don’t tell me they are banged up, everyone is banged up. Don’t tell me the schedule is tough, it’s been tough since week one. It’s time to do what this season started out to do, putting the culture of losing behind forever.
All of these great photos by Dave Hostetler.