Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Last View from the Dawg Pound/Winter Article for OBR

What Must be Done from Here
Every fan and everyone in the media, both local and national, has their own opinions about the Browns 2014 season and what has to be done to get better in 2015. The recently finished 7-9 season is a great improvement on a string of 4-12 campaigns. However, they way it finished might not have accomplished what this season should have been about: Getting rid of the team’s losing culture. I’m just not sure if this was accomplished, even in the increase in victories. 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 the Browns doing two things, acquiring a real NFL quarterback and finally putting all of the losing behind them. Simple as that.
When the dust finally settles this winter on the 2014 season, common sense and the real world will chase away a lot of the ideas and solutions talked about on sports talk radio or posted on internet message boards. No one is going to give a first or second round pick for Manziel. No one is going to sign Brian Hoyer for big money. And you can’t replay past drafts, so don’t even waste your time going there (where are all of you who have been saying for years the Browns should have drafted Adrian Peterson instead of Joe Thomas?).
Rationally, owner Jim Haslem, the front office lead by Ray Farmer, and Head Coach Mike Pettine all have things they must do this off-season.
For Haslem it should be simple, finally get your business problems away from football resolved, while staying away from all football decisions. If indeed he was involved in the decision to draft Johnny Manziel last year, hopefully he learned his lesson.
Ray Farmer has some big projects for this offseason. He must get 2-3 starters out of the 2015 draft; he must do better with the two first round picks than he did with last year’s first round picks; he must find a quality big receiver or two; he must sign several quality free agents; he has to get rid of Johnny Manziel; and, yes, he has to find a legitimate NFL quarterback.
By the time you read the team might have decided the fate of its prodigal sons: Manziel, Josh Gordon, and Justin Gilbert. They should cut Manziel, but the other two are unclear. Gordon has run out of second and third chances, but his contract and his mass amount of talent might make it beneficial for the team to hang on to him, at least for a while. Gilbert is an under performing rookie, but his upside is still huge and I would stick with him one more season. Defensive backs as tall, fast, and athletic as him are hard to come by.
The Browns spent the first fifteen games of 2014 playing two guys who are not the answer at quarterback. 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. 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 productive draft and off season.
           Conner Shaw showed something in his one start, but as the experts say in the media, the sample is too small. But at least he gave a few reasons for sticking around. Plus throw in the fact that he appears to be an adult; a stage in life Manziel has yet to reach.
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.
A balanced NFL offense is like an empty tick-tack-toe puzzle. The bottom three boxes represent the running game and the short passing game. The Browns have upgraded their running game tremendously over last year. The middle three boxes represent the short to medium passing game that Brian Hoyer is so good at. Play action passes, slant routes, out routes for first downs. The top three boxes represent the deep passing game, from passes in front of the safeties in zone coverage to deep routes against man-to-man coverage. It is that deep passing game a team must have in its arsenal if it is going to go deep in the playoffs. The Browns need someone who can throw the long ball, as well as the short stuff, consistently.
Where do the Browns go to find a quarterback? Recent history shows it might be off the beaten track a bit. Baltimore found its quarterback at 1-AA Delaware, while New England found its Tom Brady heir at 1-AA Eastern Illinois. The Steelers found their quarterback in the MAC, and San Francisco found theirs in the Mountain West Conference. The Browns are going to have to look everywhere until they find someone, until then the combo of Shaw and Hoyer might have to do. I don’t see any top level NFL quarterbacks becoming available and especially coming here.
In the big picture I hope that Brian Hoyer will remain part of the team. Because when the team does get deep in the playoffs, and the starting quarterback gets dinged up, there is no one else I would rather have to come off the bench for a game or two.  But to get to that point the week-by-week quarterback must be able to lead a balanced offense that includes a downfield passing attack.
Coach Mike Pettine has to convince the quality players the Browns have to stay, convincing them that better days are coming. He must get Justin Gilbert to improve just as Barkevous Mingo did in his second year. He must decide, along with Ray Farmer, who is committed to be champions and get rid of those who aren’t. Again, starting with Manziel.
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.
The Browns are not 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 holes to fill, but the talent to succeed is here. 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.
Once again Browns fans spent 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 Johnny Manziel because they know they can’t do it on the next level. And their locker rooms are filled with talented guys who hate to lose more than they like to win, for those players it is more than just a paycheck.
Sometime this off season throw Manziel’s NFL corpse onto that big, and getting bigger, pile of unsuccessful former running over hyped college spread offense quarterbacks, right on top of Pat White, Vince Young, Tim Tebow, and RGIII.
Some closing comments…You can’t buy class or develop it my using marketing consultants. Or by copying what everyone else is doing. The same people who will applaud the Browns new uniforms this off-season are the same ones who cheered last year when Johnny Manziel was drafted. People who live for the moment, but you don’t win Super Bowls that way. You don’t develop lasting success by following and reacting to Twitter and Instagram. Everything that goes on at Cleveland Stadium now before and during games is copied from somewhere else. Live mascots, drum lines, movie clips on the scoreboard, messages telling us when to stand and cheer, are all products of someone else’s marketing departments. That stuff goes on in almost every stadium in the NFL. The worse the team, the more of that stuff. The last original idea for Browns game day was the whole Dawg Pound thing, which was the fans reaction to a Hanford Dixon comment back in the early 80’s. No marketing consultants dreamed it up, and it became the envy of the whole NFL. s Lets get rid of all the copycat stuff and get back to who we are, the best fans in NFL and quit being just like everyone else. Part of the team’s losing culture is the whole copycat game day experience.

And speaking of uniforms…One of the highlights of the season was seeing the Raiders play here in Cleveland.  I’ve loved the Raiders uniforms since I started watching football in the Sixties as a small boy. The Raiders of today aren’t very good, but their uniforms still say class and remind you of when the Raiders were still the Raiders. The Packers, the Giants since they went back to their classic uniforms, the Chargers in their powder blues, the Cowboys, all of those teams whose uniforms have remained mostly unchanged over the years give off an aura of class about them. And it’s not just a football thing, think of the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Giants, and Cardinals in baseball; the Lakers, Celtics, and Spurs in basketball; the Canadians, Maple Leafs, Black Hawks, and Rangers in hockey. Even when one of those teams is down, their uniforms give them a touch of respect.  The Browns have been on that list too, since the team’s beginnings. But that will soon end. New uniforms from the team’s partner Nike are promised for next year. Filled with gray and pewter and stripes and who knows what else I’m sure. And when sports fans turn on the TV and see those uniforms they for the first time will say ‘who the hell is that? Tampa?’ Instead of saying, ‘Oh look, the Browns are on TV.’ Just something to think about.