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Cleveland Browns – December and Beyond

Cleveland Browns – December and Beyond

Turning that Corner

Just a few months ago, the Cleveland Browns appeared on the HBO Hard Knocks program with Hue Jackson as head coach, Todd Haley as the offensive coordinator, and Tyrod Taylor was the starting quarterback.  We all know those three men’s fate (in additional to other changes in personnel since) – but that time in Browns’ history feels like five years ago.  The elevation of Gregg Williams and Freddie Kitchens within this franchise has been rather refreshing; the sniping and apparent arguing (between Jackson and Haley) are gone from the building and all coaches seem to be on the same page.  Oh yea, that rookie quarterback is also playing much better now than he was just a month or two ago.  What can Browns’ fans look forward to the rest of the season?

Meaningful Games

Not since 2014 have the Cleveland Browns had any contests of consequence in the month of December.  The Browns, while two games under .500 are still “in the hunt”.  The odds are stacked against them to make the postseason, as the face a trio of formidable foes in as many weeks – but the games are nonetheless important and exciting.  Traveling to Houston (to face the Texans) and Denver historically has been less than ideal for the Cleveland Browns – as the only win over the Texans in Houston was the finale of the 2004 campaign, and the Browns last win in Denver was October 8th, 1990 (yep, you read that right).  In a season where streaks have been broken, it would be nice if the franchise could end those two droughts.

Head Coach Position

For the first time since 1962 (when Paul Brown was fired), the Browns’ head coaching job is viewed by many as extremely attractive.  I am very eager to see what John Dorsey does during the hiring process.  Will he keep the staff status quo, go with a current NFL coordinator, or current NFL or NCAA head coach?  There is an off chance that the next coach does not fit into any of these categories.  However, looking at what Dorsey did last March and April (acquiring on-field talent) – I have faith the general manager can do similar things with the coaching role.  It’s obviously critical that the next person in charge must be in synch with Baker Mayfield via personality and mission to excel.

What to Expect?

Looking short-term, the Browns play the two aforementioned away contests as well as a home matchup versus the Carolina Panthers.  It would be incredible but unlikely that the Browns win all three, and I am hopeful to come away with a 2 – 1 record after these contests.  They will go head-to-head with teams who are solid on both sides of the ball, something that could not be said a majority of last month.  Will Baker Mayfield and the offense continue to grow and excel?  Can the defense limit Deshaun Watson, Cam Newton, and the Broncos’ offense?  I’m looking forward to those answers (as well as the development of other rookies and second year players) unfolding.

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What Have I Missed?

What Have I Missed?

Latest Happenings from the Browns

It’s been a bit since I have shared my feelings regarding the multiple situations surrounding the Cleveland Browns since the end of September.  In that time, the Browns have dropped a few contests, the head coach and offensive coordinator were fired, and a handful of players went down via injury.  Also, it’s never too early to discuss the 2019 NFL Draft – let’s break it down:

The Losing Continues

In competing with the Los Angeles Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the past few games – the orange and brown were matching up with one of the best passing attacks in the league.  They went 0-4 in that stretch (though the Bucs game was very winnable for a multitude of reasons).  Alas, that was not the case and the team is now 2-6-1 and is staring down another ten loss season plus in 2018.  It appears that there will not be much of a let up in the coming weeks, as the team faces the Atlanta Falcons, Cincinnati Bengals, and the Carolina Panthers in the near future.  Maybe I should just focus on the development by the younger players as opposed to wins and losses in 2018.  The new coaches are appearing to putting the team in a spot to win, however.

Bye Hue

I cannot buy into the argument that Hue Jackson did not have the players to win games in his two-and-a-half years as head coach of the Cleveland Browns.  The Dolphins won games with Brock Osweiler and Nick Mullens is winning in San Francisco this year.  I liked the Jackson hire in 2016, but his time was an unmitigated disaster with apparent infighting with both Sashi Brown and Todd Haley.  This is not the first time this has occurred within the organization and I am looking for the next guy to be on the same page as both John Dorsey as well as his coaching staff (I cannot believe that the bar is so low at coach that this is the hope).

Unfortunate Injuries

Linebacker Joe Schobert missed multiple weeks, safety Demarious Randle has been in and out of the lineup via injury, cornerback Terrance Mitchell went on injured reserve in week four, and linebacker Christian Kirksey and cornerback E.J. Gaines joined the injured reserve last week.  If you had not noticed, all of these players are on the defensive side of the football – where the team’s lack of depth is rearing its head.  At full strength this is a solid unit that forces many turnovers each contests.  Now at the midway point, the defense is featuring reserve players and guys recently picked up off the waiver wire.  It will be tough sledding against some of the league’s best offenses going forward.

Filling Holes

Where should the Browns focus their resources in next April’s draft?  It would appear that they are ok in a few position groups (quarterback, running back, and tight end) – but they could always be supplemented.  Continuing to bolster the front seven should be a priority; a rotational defensive lineman would be welcomed to spell Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah in games.  The linebackers’ depth is not great and the Browns could use one or two speedy guys who could chase down quarterbacks and receivers cutting across the field.  Despite some solid play opposite Denzel Ward, I would not be upset if the Browns found another lockdown cornerback in the draft as well.

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2018 in NFL Draft, NFL Season, Players

 

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Going from Here – Coming off a Win

Going from Here – Coming off a Win

Handling Success:  Next Steps

Now that the Browns have ended their long (long) losing streak, the main question is – how are they going to react to being successful?  With they assume the team has done their jobs and can go into cruise control?  Or is the young club hungry enough to start rattling off multiple victories in a row?  There are three vital areas surrounding the team that could help determine whether the team will win.

Baker’s First Start

Let’s start with the positive; Baker Mayfield will not enter this game with a fourteen point deficit (barring something wildly terrible
happening for the Browns).  On the other hand, this is the first opportunity for another franchise to game plan for the rookie.  I have faith Baker will have a solid performance, likely not as well as he did last Thursday however.  He should put together a winning output that can propel the offense to victory.

Different Stadium

Baseball dirt in a football stadium?  What year is it?  Where are we?  Ah yes, in Oakland we will see this on Sunday (as the Athletics will continue to use the field for some time).  The Browns will have to ensure they will not lose footing in those areas – be it a wide receiver, quarterback, or kicker.  The Raiders are used to this being their home stadium, but I hope it’s not their home field advantage.

Back to Being a Dog

Following being a home favorite for the first time in nearly three years, the Cleveland Browns are back to being underdogs on the road to a winless club.  I have to admit that I was surprised to see the line open up the way that it did – but perhaps that will put a chip on the shoulders of Baker Mayfield and the rest of the club.  I expect Derek Carr to play better than he has been so far this season, but the Browns’ defense should still make some plays.

Conclusion:  Immediately following the win over the Jets, I looked at the schedule and thought “oh, there’s a ton of wins on the horizon”.  After calming down and taking it week by week, I know that this will be a very tough matchup.  They could afford to get two to three more turnovers, as I fear that will lose at least one themselves.  Whether the offense or defense is on the field at the end of the game, I believe the Browns will win.  I shudder to think about this coming down to special teams – as the Browns have not had the upper hand in that department.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2018 in NFL Season, Players

 

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Pre-Season Takeaways

Pre-Season Takeaways

What We Have Learned through Week Three

The Cleveland Browns have now gone through three exhibition games and they have not been the same kind of embarrassment that fans have been accustomed to over the past few seasons.  Whether it was the efficient passing attack against the Giants, or the pounding running game over the past two weeks – the offense has displayed an ability to execute.  Defensively, the team looks a lot more physical than they were a season ago.  Let’s look further into what the Browns are showing.

Running Attack Looks Solid

Both Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb are making the most of their opportunities on the ground.  The duo has been getting chunks of yards in each of the last two outings – which is a great thing to see.  Unfortunately there have been multiple zero yards or negative plays, but those will happen in the NFL.  The goal will be to minimize these once the regular season begins.  I expect a healthy dose of rushing attempts this fall; something that has been only a rumor since Hue Jackson took over.  Additionally, Duke Johnson has not received ample opportunities with this offense.  The wildcard on offense will be utilized in the coming weeks, especially in the passing game – which can always use another target.

Waiting on Reinforcements

The wide receiver group has not stood out thus far in the preseason.  Jarvis Landry made a fine sideline catch early on, but has become a blocker ever since (I am not worried about him however).  With Josh Gordon and Antonio Callaway inactive on Friday night, there wasn’t  a guy making big plays.  The only two of note to haul in passes were C.J. Board and Derrick Willies; one of the two might make the team over the disappointing Jeff Janis.  Will rookie Damion Ratley find his way on to the team with a big role?  It is trending that way, but the team still needs some reliability in this part of the roster.

Under Pressure

I have been excited to see not only that the Browns are putting heat on opposing quarterbacks, but they are doing it with multiple guys in different points on the field.  It hasn’t been as simple as Myles Garrett off the edge or Mychael Kendricks blitzing through the “A” gap.  Witnessing Carl Nassib, Genard Avery (prior to injury), and B.J. Bello find the backfield gives me faith that Gregg Williams has enough reliable players to accomplish what he wants to.  The end result is a nasty defense that makes it difficult for opponents to operate.

Improved Secondary

Last season was painful to watch the Browns try to cover opponents in the passing game.  The addition of Denzel Ward, Terrance Mitchell, and Demarious Randall are a few of the moves to bolster this  unit.  The Browns are both no longer getting burned nor allowing pitch and catches by the opposition.  Granted this is occurring in preseason, but it is still encouraging to witness.  I will feel better once E.J. Gaines comes back at cornerback to provide solid depth, but I am not terribly fearful of these guys.  At safety, Derrick Kindred and Jabril Peppers are co-existing pretty well at the strong safety spot.  It will be refreshing watching safeties being in the right place at the right time for a change.

Conclusion:  I continue to feel better about the 2018 Cleveland Browns; I still anticipate six wins by the club (at least at this point) – however they will be in most games and their physical play will be the reason for that.  Perhaps the quarterback spot improves to where they can win tight games via solid performances.  Looking forward to the opener on September 9th!

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2018 in Cleveland Browns Fans, NFL Season, Players

 

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What to Watch for – Preseason Game #1

What to Watch for – Preseason Game #1

Preseason Game #1 – Browns @ Giants

The time is finally here; the Cleveland Browns are hitting the field and are beginning their exhibition season.  What’s done is done from 2017 and the roster has changed dramatically (thanks to John Dorsey).  The end result is a much improved team who should win games in 2018.  Looking forward to Thursday evening’s contest, what should Browns’ fans look forward to seeing in New Jersey?

Wolfpack and Offensive Line Depth

A few days ago, the Browns shifted former University of Nevada lineman Joel Bitonio from left guard to left tackle.  Meanwhile, his college teammate Austin Corbett fills in the vacated starting position across the line.  Will this be an improvement over an offensive line featuring Shon Coleman at left tackle?  At this point, the coaches believe so.  I want to see the five starters (outside of Kevin Zeitler who will be sidelined for a few weeks) play solidly while protecting Tyrod Taylor.  Meanwhile, having a guy or two stand out in the second team would be welcomed.

Stepping Up without Gordon

The wide receiver room took a shot with the departure of Josh Gordon (and his return time is still not know); in his absence Corey Coleman has elevated with Jarvis Landry in the first team.  This is a huge season for the veteran, who can secure his place with this team with a great year.  Rashard Higgins, Jeff Janis, and Antonio Callaway are a trio of wideouts who can carve out roles with this franchise.  I would love to see Callaway excel and become that third starer, but perhaps Higgins will come through in his third season (the way many are hoping Coleman will).

Secondary Spots

The starting spot opposite Denzel Ward remains up for grabs.  Many felt T.J. Carrie would have been this guy, however he is not playing exceptionally well this training camp.  The opportunity is there for Terrance Mitchell – who was a part-time starter last year in Kansas City.  I would like to see him defend Sterling Shepard for the Giants.  E.J. Gaines is another guy who can have a shot to start – how will he perform?

Conclusion:  Football is back!  And while it is very exciting, there is a ton to sort out for the Cleveland Browns.  Hopefully the starters hold their own in limited time.  Following that, one would expect to see multiple reserves pushing for starting jobs (including Baker Mayfield).  Obviously a win is not important – just look at last season; but avoiding sloppy play would be a good start to the exhibition season.

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2018 in NFL Season, Players, Training Camp

 

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Latest Before Training Camp

Latest Before Training Camp

What’s Going on Just Prior to Camp

Well, we are about a week and a half from the Browns beginning their training camp practices in Berea.  The excitement continues to build as articles are trickling out with positive reviews regarding the roster.  Meanwhile, an in-depth interview with one of the Browns’ owners makes me feel a little better about what has gone down over the past two seasons and the direction of the club.  Let’s take a gander into the two points.

Top Half of the League

In an article written by the four-letter network (which I continue to be arm’s length with), all thirty-two NFL teams were ranked by the strength of offensive skilled position personnel – excluding quarterbacks.  Therefore, looking at wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends – the sports mogul puts the Cleveland Browns as the thirteenth best group in the league.  I could argue a higher ranking, but the fact they jumped from the worst at this ranking a year ago (by a county mile) to better than middle of the road speaks volumes about what John Dorsey has done to this roster.  This gets me (and I’m sure many Browns’ fans) excited about this fall; as we look for long plays, touchdowns, and ultimately wins.  Obviously, they will have to prove it on the field – but I have faith they will live up to this ranking in 2018.  Exceeding it will be great, but that might have to require excellent quarterback play.

Discussion with Dee

Cleveland’s Business did a sit-down interview with Dee Haslam, wife of owner Jimmy Haslam.  In the piece, she admitted that the last two seasons (littered with losses) consisted of a tear-down approach of the roster in order to rebuild for the future.  Well, they succeeded in that plan, acquiring a pair of top draft picks (Myles Garrett and Baker Mayfield), in addition to accumulating a significant amount of salary cap space.  This was mainly used to acquire players like Jarvis Landry, Demarious Randall, Carlos Hyde, and Mychal Kendricks (to name a few).  Now that the talent has been improved, it’s time to look forward.  Dee came across as remorseful for the “sins” of the past and stated that she would not wish for any kinds of those mistakes again. Knowing this, I am hoping she and Jimmy can avoid poor decisions to build a solid franchise going forward.

Conclusion:  In just before the window of the Browns putting on the pads and getting ready to gear up for the season, a section of the roster gets reviewed and an owner speaks up.  The Cleveland Browns are starting to get a little bit more respect nationally; something that has not occurred for quite some time (and justifiably so).  Being able to admit mistakes and to learn from them is a sign of growth from the Haslam family.  I am not ready to say they will be great owners of the Browns for years to come, but a significant improvement would be welcomed.

 

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Getting Work Done

Getting Work Done

John Dorsey Putting in Work

The Browns announced a pair of signings earlier this week, which was music to my ears.  Following the overhaul of the roster a few months ago – general manager John Dorsey acquired a solid free agent and re-signed a reliable pass catching running back.  Not to belabor the point (but I will) – I am finally glad to see a front office acquiring and keeping talent as opposed to letting them walk out the door.  Let’s look into these signings a bit more.

Mychael Kendricks

The Browns added a fourth member to the linebacker corps and a good one at that.  Coming off a Super Bowl championship, Kendricks should help this franchise with his pass rushing ability.  I am eager to see how the rotation will go for this unit.  Will the newcomer supplant the team’s lone Pro Bowler from a season ago (in Joe Schobert)?  Could the Browns put all four linebackers on the field at the same time?  One thing is certain – depth was much needed for this group, and it was the only spot of the team that this was previously not the case.  It’s a shame to see Tank Carder being released as a result, as he was a tremendous special teams’ athlete.  However, upgrading the roster is the name of the game.

Duke Johnson

It was announced that running back Duke Johnson signed a three year contract extension, keeping him on the roster in a short-term window.  While the Browns have Nick Chubb and Carlos Hyde already in the running back room (a pair of capable backs), nothing is given at this position.  Injuries and underperformance should be accounted for – thus by having three options here, the team is hedging their bets that at least one guy will work out.  Historically, offensive coordinator Todd Haley utilizes a single back a.k.a. “bell cow” in his offense to carry (and catch) the load.  I am not sure this will be the case in 2018, as Johnson ought to be on the field as a receiver, while either Chubb or Hyde will be getting carries.  Whether that is the actual scenario or not, I am excited to see how the team’s offense shakes out.

Conclusion:  The signings continue for the team, and still might not be over (as there is over a month until training camp).  However, the infusion of talent and the reports that the locker room is drastically better than it was a year ago continue to give me faith that I will enjoy games in the fall.  I hope to make it out for camp next month, but more importantly to not hear about player X getting arrested or suspended for something avoidable.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2018 in NFL Season, Players, Training Camp

 

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