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Blueprint for that First Win

Blueprint for that First Win

What’s it Going to Take to Finally Win?

Well, it does not get much easier for the Browns as they head east to play on Thursday night against the Ravens.  They are not expected to win, but that does not mean that an upset is impossible.  It will not be an easy contest, but if a few things break their way – who knows?  Let’s take a deeper look into what it will take:

#1 – Do You Job

This refers on the defense as a whole.  Sometimes they are keen on stopping the run, while at other times the unit is selling out to get to the quarterback.  Meanwhile, the opposing offense is gashing the Browns via the opposite way of moving the football.  The defense has got to get out of that mindset and refrain from beating itself.  Do I think they can be an excellent defense in this league?  No but perhaps they can be somewhat respectable for one night – which might be enough to win this matchup.

#2 – Be Smart, Play Smart

The Browns cannot afford to make mental mistakes and still anticipate a victory.  Whether it is critical penalties or simply not executing is costing this team severely.  The special teams are being penalized nearly every play, and the Browns’ offense is starting out in a hole.  The tables must be turned this week and the Browns must be the franchise putting their opponent in difficult positions.

#3 – Work in the Rookie

Corey Coleman had his only productive contest of the season last time they faced the Ravens.  He then hurt himself and is still working his way back into the swing of things.  I would like to see him featured in this offense, to both see if he can handle the workload and to also watch Terrelle Pryor and Gary Barnidge find openings in the defense.  A touchdown (or two, or more) by Coleman surely wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Browns’ offense.

#4 – Steal the Ball

I certainly do not see this one happening, but if the Browns can actually force turnovers by the Ravens’ offense – they will have a good shot at winning.  Not being at the right place at the right time would certainly not be a good recipe for the defense, but maybe Jamie Collins or Briean Boddy-Calhoun can swing the momentum by making a play for this defense.

Conclusion:  I will once again pick against the Browns in this contest, but feel they might not get blown out this time.  They are only a few players away from being decent – but that is not helping with the win-loss record.  I’m hoping for a miracle but we will find out shortly.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2016 in NFL Season, Players

 

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Cleveland Browns Training Camp – Offense – Competitions

Cleveland Browns Training Camp – Offense – Competitions

Top Training Camp Battles – Offense

Well, let’s face it – while all on the same roster, not everyone will play nice with other guys in their position group.  The NFL is a job and everyone is fighting for a gig, thus making for intriguing competitions in training camp.  Let’s review a few that will occur with the offense, which will amp up intensity this summer in Berea.

Quarterback:  Johnny Manziel vs. All Quarterbacks not Named Josh McCown

According to the media, it’s a foregone conclusion that Josh McCown is the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns in 2015.  That could be debated, but his play in minicamp and OTAs has reinforced this. While Manziel is still vying for a shot at the starting role, he must make sure he can hold off the likes of Connor Shaw (who had a decent start to close the 2014 campaign) and Thaddeus Lewis (who had a couple nice starts in the league).  Nothing is given in the NFL, but I would be disappointed to see Manziel struggle mightily in training camp while one of the other signal callers steals the backup job.

Running Back:  Terrance West vs. Duke Johnson

Is Isaiah Crowell the leader for a majority of carries with the Cleveland Browns?  He arguably played the best of the bunch in 2014 and was not called out onto the carpet the way West was by coach Pettine.  Therefore, the second-year pro from Towson will be tested against highly touted Duke Johnson to see who will shoulder the load when Crowell is not.  Their styles are a little bit different, but whoever can hit the lane quicker and can display catch-and-run ability better will have a leg up.

Wide Receiver:  Terrelle Pryor vs. Travis Benjamin vs. Vincent Mayle

The fifth and sixth spots at wide receiver appear to be up for grabs among this trio.  A year ago, Travis Benjamin was coming off an excellent year as a returner and a deep threat at wide out.  However, a tumultuous year returning punts and a quiet year as a receiver (sans the Titans victory) leaves his position with the team in doubt.  In comes rookie Vincent Mayle and former NFL quarterback Terrelle Pryor; there’s a chance that either two of these guys make the roster or none of them do. I am eager to find out which guy stands out and gets that opportunity to perform in the fall.

Offensive Line:  Right side of the Offensive Line

In looking at John Greco, Mitchell Schwartz, Cameron Erving, and Michael Bowie – this is likely the least exciting offensive competition for two reasons.  One, all four (barring something wildly unexpected) will make the roster.  Two, not a ton of people will focus on the blocking upfront this July and August.  Nonetheless, two of these guys will likely start on the right side of the offensive line – while the others will be primary reserves.  Speed, athleticism, and versatility will be scrutinized to ensure the best five athletes are on the field a majority of the regular season for the Browns.

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2015 in Players, Training Camp

 

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The “New” Offense and Expectations

The “New” Offense and Expectations

Can DeFilippo’s Offense Work? 

Reading into the new offensive coordinator’s press conference, it appears that the Browns will be similar in some aspects while changing a few things up as well. The beginning of the 2014 campaign displayed a promising offensive unit, only for that to be very underwhelming during the last month. I think the Browns can utilize a successful offense next season – but by how much is the biggest question.

Continuity with the Zone Blocking Scheme 

Last year was the first campaign the orange and brown shifted away from man blocking and used a zone scheme. While the guy in charge is new, hopefully some of the same concepts will remain fresh in players’ minds. Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, and Alex Mack all should know what is expected to occur – in terms of blocking. The learning curve should be much smaller than it was a year ago. I anticipate Greco and Schwartz to have to fight for their starting jobs among free agents and potential draft selections. Whoever fills the unit upfront could struggle initially (if it’s their first season with the club), but there’s enough leadership that can overcome this.

Employing the Running Backs as Receivers

While I enjoy adding wrinkles to an offense that desperately needs it, I do not feel quite confident in the rushers running routes during passing plays. Assuming status quo, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West are going to be the main backs next season. The former was strictly a carrier, while the latter caught only a few passes while still in the backfield. Can both improve to be threats for the quarterback to hit down the field? Surely, but they will have to be leaps and bounds better than they were during their rookie campaigns. Perhaps the team will also look for a veteran who can expedite this transition.

Increased Vertical Routes

This is music to my ears; no matter who is under center, the threat of a long completion must be there to give defenders something to think about. Whether it was the personnel or the coach’s decision – the orange and brown flung the football downfield on rare occurrences. Josh Gordon is not going to be on the roster next season, so Ray Farmer must find a solid replacement (and by judging by the wide out’s 2014 output, that shouldn’t be too hard). Toss in a solid draft choice, and perhaps this offense can be dynamic and even potentially feared.

Conclusion: I’m not going to say that the Kyle Shanahan-led offense was horrific, but I am rather excited to see what the team can do under DeFilippo. 2014 was where the foundation was laid for this unit, now they must build upon this. Better personnel will help further aid this – along with correct coaching decisions.

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2015 in Front Office/Coaching, Players

 

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So Long, Farewell….

So Long, Farewell….

Browns @ Ravens – Review of Game #16

Well, the Browns gave everything they have in this contest. They had an early goal-line stand and a solid offensive drive leading to a touchdown. However, that was not enough – as the Browns fell once again to the dirty birds. I’m simply amazed at how the Browns can find new ways to blow it to division rivals, but here we are. There was improved quarterback play, and some decent defense – but the Browns are losers again. Let’s analyze…

Offense: I’m really intrigued to see Connor Shaw with this team next season. The undrafted rookie made a couple of plays, and was much better in the pocket than his rookie counterpart. He’s got a ton of room to grow if he wants to be a starter in the future – but it could have been a lot worse. While the former South Carolina star did not find the end zone passing, he was not awful. His early fumble was expected to be a tone-setter, but the quarterback managed to have a decent outing. I’m looking forward to his progress heading into 2015.

Returning back to Baltimore, Terrance West was there to impress. The rookie runner finished the contest with just under 100 yards and the only offensive touchdown. I’m intrigued to see how he and Isaiah Crowell matchup in the offseason and going forward. With better quarterback and offensive line play, the running attack should be solid.

My oh my, Andrew Hawkins is an enigma for the wide receiver corps. He made some nice, shifty plays for the offense – while still dropped a couple of easy tosses. Taylor Gabriel led the group with three grabs for sixty-six yards. Jordan Cameron also had three grabs. This team needs to dump Gordon and acquire a pair of stalwarts this offseason – doing so could lead to a solid group for whoever is under center.

Early on, I thought the five guys upfront did everything they were asked against the defensive line. Mitchell Schwartz made a bonehead penalty and Nick McDonald fumbled an early snap, to kill this offense. I desperately want to see the team get a new right guard and tackle between free agency and the upcoming draft.

Defense: At least the defensive line did not give up over 200 yards on the ground in this contest. They did surrender 119 rushing yards to Justin Forsett, but at least it was an improvement for the orange and brown. There was little to no pass rush upfront, which must be addressed in the coming months. No guy really stood out, even Scott Solomon was locked down on the edge.

Craig Robertson and Paul Kruger each had tremendous outings by the linebackers. The former had a couple of nice stops against the run, and was exceptional in coverage (outside of a few plays). The latter was disruptive on the outside and had a forced fumble, knocking the opponent out of field goal range. Karlos Dansby and Chris Kirksey each underwhelmed, but those things happen in the NFL.

Despite the fact that Joe Haden is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, the veteran gave up the deep toss on the go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter. It’s beyond frustrating, but unless #23 can step it up in crunch time, this will be his Achilles’ heel. Buster Skrine, K’Waun Williams, and Jordan Poyer each had their moments – I think they are reliable athletes who can be a part of the team going forward. Tip of the cap to Jim Leonhard; the newly retiree had a solid career and I wish him all the best (I just wish the Browns had him a few years ago).

Special Teams: Bringing out kickoffs nine yards deep has been killing this offense. The Browns lost the starting field position battle, and it did not help matters. Other than that, the special teams were on par with the Ravens’ – not terrible but not spectacular.

Coaching: Kyle Shanahan called a conservative game plan for this offense and it showed. While they held their own for a while, it was a dagger late in this contest. It was the best as they could have expected but still not enough. Defensively, the coaches could not generate a pass rush all day and it killed the defense. At the end of the day, it was another division loss and a losing season.

What’s Next: After a week break, we’ll look back at this 2014 season and all the excitement around this offseason after that. It is safe to say there are many important decisions to be made by Ray Farmer from now until May 2015.

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2014 in NFL Season

 

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On to Carolina – Previewing the Browns Next Opponent

On to Carolina – Previewing the Browns Next Opponent

Turning the Page to – Game #14 – Browns @ Panthers

I still cannot believe the Browns played that poorly last week; however, they must forge on and get ready for a Carolina Panthers squad coming off a narrow (and critical) win. Although the playoffs are out of reach, the Browns must continue to improve – especially the offense (who has miles to grow). Despite their most recent effort, I feel they have a shot in this contest. Let’s break down the matchup.

Offense: So game number two must be better for Johnny Manziel than the first one, right? Granted, he was put in some poor situations (play-call wise) – but he could not move the football down the field at all. I figure Kyle Shanahan will revert to more of a traditional shotgun look, and temper the zone read option. Additionally, I would like to see some longer routes run by Josh Gordon, Andrew Hawkins, and Travis Benjamin. Do I expect Manziel to hit these athletes for deeper gains? I hope so, but worst-case scenario is that he finds the open man underneath consistently.

Put back in the quick toss and off tackle plays already! The option plays killed any momentum for Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West. The aforementioned calls can get the athletes in space and actually allow them to pick up yards (provided there’s room to run). Additionally, I would hope the team looks for a quick handoff or a toss on third down and short – as opposed to a designed quarterback draw. The success of the running attack is highly dependent on the five guys upfront and their ability to do their jobs.

The Browns have not thrown a touchdown pass since Josh Gordon was reinstated to this team. I’m hoping this streak ends on Sunday; the wide outs are too talented to not be able to make a big play. I understand there was several three-step and five-step drop backs last week, but each receiver has the speed to bust a long gainer. And when Manziel actually has a seven-step drop, look for a guy or two to get behind an unsuspecting defender.

I really had no idea what was going on with the offensive line last week. If the Browns don’t fix what ailed them, then they won’t be able to beat anyone in the NFL. Penalties, missed assignments, and overall poor play are inexcusable – and this was not the preseason. The main problem is see is on right tackle, where Mitchell Schwartz has been struggling. Manziel must get the ball out early on several occasions, as he has been under pressure and looking for defenders to avoid. If Schwartz can get some help, maybe this offense has a chance.

Defense: The Browns’ defense better put a (figurative) target on the chest of Jonathan Stewart after that dismal performance against Jeremy Hill. Their goal should be realistic – hold the Panthers to under 100 yards on the ground. Anything better than that would be icing on the cake. The bottom line is that Desmond Bryant cannot do it all himself – the defensive end has been exceptional but has also been the only reliable guy upfront. Ahtyba Rubin and Billy Winn should be playing better – this week would be a good time to do so.

For the first time in awhile, someone outside of Paul Kruger is making plays at outside linebacker. Barkevious Mingo has been improving his play when getting to the edge on passing plays. The problem might come when the Panthers are handing it off a majority of the time – neutralizing Mingo’s effectiveness. I have liked what I have seen from Chris Kirksey and Craig Robertson recently. Both have been stout against the run and the pass. I anticipate at least three key plays from this duo; whether it’s a forcing of a turnover or causing the defense to get off the field in a key spot.

It will be interesting to see who lines up at cornerback and how often for the Browns this week. Both cornerbacks Joe Haden and Justin Gilbert left last week’s contest (with minor injuries), while K’Waun Williams did not participate at all. On the flip side, rookie Kelvin Benjamin has used his height and length to make opponents look foolish this year. I expect the wide out to have at least one score, but the Browns’ secondary to have a good performance otherwise. Tashaun Gipson’s possible return could be huge for the visitors.

Special Teams: Kicker Garrett Hartley never got his shot to kick last week – hopefully he can put some points on the board in Charlotte. The special teams overall have been resilient and consistent over the past few games. What I want to see in this contest is one huge break; a turnover forced or a very long return.

Coaching: My, oh my, the offensive staff must throw out last week’s playbook and put Manziel in spots to make plays. The quarterback cannot afford to be pegged in certain situations that will not lead to success. Defensively, aggression is the key – you better bet the Panthers will try to run it consistently. Stop it early and the whole complexion of this matchup changes. 

Prediction (My Record: 9 – 5): I envision a multitude of improvements by the Browns in this contest and can see them actually scoring points. However, the home team will make one more play and will pull this one out to the tune of

 
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Posted by on December 18, 2014 in NFL Season

 

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A Glance into the Browns Next Matchup

A Glance into the Browns Next Matchup

Browns @ Bills – Previewing Game #12

In the ever-competitive NFL, the Browns have another huge contest on Sunday. The defensive front of the opponent troubles me, especially with the recent poor outings by Brian Hoyer. The Browns can ill-afford to make the same type of mistakes as they did in Atlanta, doing so could lead to a defeat. Let’s go further into this matchup…

Offense: It goes without saying that Brian Hoyer must escape this funk that he currently is in. Committing four turnovers in the past two weeks is unacceptable in this league – the quarterback must get his mind right and his throws on target. Was he having tunnel vision when trying to find Josh Gordon? This could be argued, as the signal caller had multiple poorly thrown passes and a pair of interceptions when targeting the former Baylor star. He could not possibly have three straight bad games, can he? I expect a huge bounce back game for Brian Hoyer.

I believe the roles are becoming more and more defined for Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell. The former will be getting a majority of the carries, while the latter will get his shots near the end zone. As long as both backs embrace their roles, this running attack should be hitting on all cylinders. Going against a tough front with Kyle and Mario Williams is not going to be easy, but if both rookies can find a seam they will hit it and gallop forward.

The Josh Gordon reinstatement paid dividends last week for not only the former Baylor wide out, but also for his teammates. Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins had solid performances. I expect that to be close to the norm for Hawkins, who now will not face the top cornerback for the opposing team. You hear about Gordon stretching the defense, and I believe last week was a warm up for this passing game. Hoyer should find pay dirt at least twice in this contest – and all can be right again for Browns’ fans (at least for one week).

The guys upfront will have a tremendous challenge to keep Hoyer upright while paving running lanes for Crowell and West. The unit took a step forward in Atlanta, albeit against a subpar group. Should fans expect the Browns’ line to be lights out? Certainly not; there will be a few negative plays – but I anticipate those five holding their own. If the tight end position can get back Jordan Cameron this week – I will be excited to see how the offense can now perform .

Defense: This is another matchup where the defensive line will have their hands full. Whether it’s C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson, or Bryce Brown – the Bills feature capable running backs that can really hurt the Browns. The home team should amass a fair amount of yardage on Sunday, but the defense should focus on making the Bills kick field goals in the red zone. Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Ahtyba Rubin, and Desmond Bryant all fared well last week. It might take a repeat performance by this trio to provide confidence that the Browns can win the contest.

I was mildly surprised to see Jabaal Sheard out there last contest. He was healthy enough to play but was far from disruptive. Veteran Paul Kruger appears to be the only man on the outside who can make his presence felt during contests. A sack and a fumble recovery were huge – he needs to replicate that against Kyle Orton. Craig Robertson and Chris Kirksey filled in admirably for Karlos Dansby. Who knows how long the veteran will be sidelined with his injury, but if both can continue to improve – the transition will be very smooth.

Another contest, another huge blow to the Browns’ defense. Jim Leonhard and Jordan Poyer will have their work cut out to fill the void left by Tashaun Gipson. However, the improvement of rookies K’Waun Williams and Justin Gilbert gives me faith that the secondary will not skip a beat. Veterans Buster Skrine, Joe Haden, and Donte Whitner have been downright nasty. I hope they come away with at least two interceptions of Orton – and, more importantly, turning them into touchdowns.

Special Teams: While they were far from dominant, the Browns’ special teams avoided a costly mistake last week (with the tackle on Devin Hester). The punt return game must get some sort of positive plays this contest. Making a difference there can really help out the offense.

Coaching: Coach Pettine needs to refrain from clock management mistakes. He got away with it last week, but they should not be the norm. As far as play calling goes, the trend towards the run needs to be strengthened. Hoyer should not be putting up over thirty throws, and the rushers will do their jobs well.

Prediction (My Record: 6 – 5): This will be a low scoring contest that could be ugly at times. I really want to pick the Browns, but the physicality of the Bills is a matchup nightmare. The Browns fall to the home team by the score of 20 – 14.

 

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2014 in NFL Season

 

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Browns @ Falcons – A Inside Look

Browns @ Falcons – A Inside Look

Browns @ Falcons – A Preview of Game #11 

Following that terrible outing last week, the Browns must dust themselves off and get ready for another tough contest. While losing more key members on their defense via injury (Karlos Dansby, Jabaal Sheard), they are getting a large part of the offense back (Josh Gordon). The Browns’ offense must get back on track, as they face a formidable counterpart. Here’s more of a synopsis into this contest.

Offense: I thought I was watching Brandon Weeden last week behind center. Brian Hoyer cannot toss thirty incompletions consistently and expect his team to have any sort of success. The offense will, more than likely, be tailored more to the running the football. Having an exceptional weapon available can slightly alter the team’s game plan, but there’s no way number six heaves it up fifty times this Sunday.

Well, now it’s squarely up to the pair of rookie running backs, following the release of Ben Tate. Glenn Winston (who has not carried for the Browns) will now have a shot at getting some playing time. At this point, Terrance West should get at least sixty-five percent of the carries, as he has done two things that Isaiah Crowell has not – hanging on the ball and pass blocking. I want to see this group go well over 100 yards against the Falcons, with a few scores.

What can Josh Gordon do for this offense? The obvious is provide a consistent deep threat on passing downs. The play calling can now change from horizontal routes to more vertical ones. Additionally, hopefully Gordon can change how the defense attacks – including moving safeties away from the line of scrimmage. Will the Browns’ running attack be improved as a result? We can only hope.

I would like to believe the offensive line will outperform their play facing the Texans. The opposition ranks in the bottom ten against the run (much like the Browns), so it would appear that the odds are in the guest’s favor. However, the five upfront (alongside Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray) must still do their job. The toss play had initial success early last week, but I want to see the Browns pound it in the middle and run more off-tackle in the Georgia Dome. I have a sneaking suspicion those two plays can work well.

Defense: Next man up applies (once again) to the Browns’ defensive line situation. I am eager to see how Jim O’Neil and Mike Pettine piece and part three guys at a time. Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant are the only two veterans remaining, but Sione Fua will get his shot to prove his worth in the NFL. They have not been able to shut down running backs all year long – veterans Steven Jackson and Jaquizz Rodgers will likely have a field day against this unit. My only hope is that the guests prevent the Falcons from many trips to the end zone.

The injury to Jabaal Sheard forces Barkevious Mingo into a larger role. He has made some plays this campaign, but is still wildly inconsistent to my liking. Ideally, they need a third guy to be included in this rotation – who’s going to step up? The leadership and solid play of Karlos Dansby will be greatly missed. I like Craig Robertson and Chris Kirksey, but am fearful that they will not be able to replicate the type of play before Dansby’s injury. This is definitely their opportunity to shine, hopefully they can impress.

This is a giant test for the secondary of the Cleveland Browns – they have not faced a tandem like Roddy White and Julio Jones all season long. In addition to big games needed by Joe Haden and Buster Skrine, K’Waun Williams must continue to grow as a rookie and develop into a reliable nickel cornerback. He has held off first-round pick Justin Gilbert, and I believe he can help this unit tremendously. Will Gilbert get into the starting rotation anytime soon? It doesn’t look that way, but he’s got plenty of shots to prove he ought to be on the field.

Special Teams: The Browns failed in every aspect of special teams last week. They cannot miss field goals, cover kicks poorly, and fail to return kicks themselves. Travis Benjamin did an adequate job, I envision him being better in the dome.

Coaching: It was refreshing hearing coach Pettine take accountability for his decisions versus the Texans. Now, he must correct those on the road. This will definitely occur, but will the talent on the field be enough to get back to their winning ways?

Prediction (My Record: 6 – 4): All the injuries will outweigh the success of the offense and defense for the visiting bunch. The Falcons take an early lead and never look back – by the score of 27 – 17.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2014 in NFL Season

 

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A Come from Ahead Defeat – How Many Times Can this Happen?

A Come from Ahead Defeat – How Many Times Can this Happen?

A Look Back – Ravens @ Browns – Game #3 

Well, that was fun for one week. It’s back to the motto of “same ol’ Browns” as the team goes 0-2 in the division once again and heads into the bye week at 1-2 overall. The team needed one play down the stretch to go their way, and unfortunately, they never got it. Let’s take a look at another loss snatched away from the jaws of victory.

Offense: This loss cannot be placed on the play of Brian Hoyer. The signal caller went nineteen of twenty-five for 290 yards and a touchdown. I can only think of two plays where they were not executed well enough. One was the illegal forward pass, which pushed back the distance of the field goal, which was blocked. The other was the incompletion on third down and seven to ice the game. Hoyer cannot seem to catch a break – hopefully the rest of the team will pick him up in future games.

Both Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell found the end zone and ran well in this game. Neither eclipsed the 100-yard mark, but they combined for just twenty-three attempts on the ground. They will continue to be utilized well this season, and there is no cause for concern at this point. After the bye week, veteran Ben Tate should return from injury. Therefore, the coaching staff will have some difficult decisions to make regarding the running back position.

The wide receivers played exceptionally well for about 99% of this contest. The Taylor Gabriel grab should have been a touchdown, but he fell after the catch and the Browns failed to convert a field goal. Andrew Hawkins could not come up with an easy grab late to seal the win. In a difficult game like the NFL, a play or two could be the difference. Those are two examples of why the Browns, once again, could not win. 290 yard receiving is amazing, but it is worthless if the team loses.

For the third consecutive game, the offensive line came to play on Sunday. They surrendered just one sack (for six yards) and opened up several running lanes for West and Crowell. None of the five upfront appeared to be outmanned and that was something this front office got right this offseason. On the edge, Jordan Cameron had just one grab for twenty-three yards. He was a decoy most of the day, but hopefully he can be more of a focal point in a few weeks – when he is closer to 100% healthy.

Defense: Outside of a tremendous third and fourth down stop during the fourth quarter, this defensive line continues to underwhelm. They made Lorenzo Taliaferro and Justin Forsett look like reliable running backs, and neither actually is. Billy Winn led all linemen with three tackles; proving that most of the Ravens’ plays were made a few yards past the line of scrimmage. The Browns have to determine what is wrong and need to make big changes (and fast).

The linebackers were silenced a majority of the afternoon. Paul Kruger and Craig Robertson each put a hit on Flacco, but not a single sack was recorded. Barkevious Mingo and Jabaal Sheard combined for nine tackles and had some fine stops. The one thing missing was the lack of an impactful play by this unit. It may not seem like much, but that is something critical that could be the difference between a win and a loss.

I don’t know what to make of this secondary; they continue to wilt in the face of pressure. No matter if it’s Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, or Justin Gilbert, they cannot stop opponents from moving the ball through the air. Tashaun Gipson notched his second interception of the season. While he is not dominating all game long, he seems to be at the right place at the right time. Like other parts of the defense, this coaching staff needs to work their magic during the off week to make the secondary more reliable.

Special Teams: One could argue that the field goal unit lost this contest. Billy Cundiff got a field goal blocked, and had another hit the upright. Should he make those and the Ravens’ would have needed a touchdown to tie this contest. Travis Benjamin letting the punt sail over his head late cost the Browns about twenty yards and possibly the game.

Coaching: Offensively, this team continues to put Brian Hoyer in the best possible spot to succeed. I liked the play calls, but the execution was not always there. Defensively, I wish they could have been a little more aggressive in getting pressure on the quarterback. It was not meant to be and the Browns’ fans once again hang their heads heading into the bye week.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2014 in NFL Season

 

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Browns @ Lions – Preseason Game #1 Preview

Browns @ Lions – Preseason Game #1 Preview

Cleveland Browns @ Detroit Lions – Preview of Preseason Game #1

Here we go – yet another installment of the Great Lakes Classic between the Browns and the Lions.  As with all exhibition games go, the final outcome is not extremely important – it’s more about how the first and second teams perform.  I can’t wait to see the guys in orange and brown come out between the sidelines; even if they make a mistake or two.

Offense:  Brian Hoyer will more than likely get the nod with the starting unit.  I anticipate an efficient night for him – i.e. one touchdown and no interceptions.  The Browns will keep him from troublesome situations (those that could lead to another injury), during a limited number of snaps.  Johnny Manziel should garner a few highlights but an interception could also be included in his final stat line.  It’s safe to say Connor Shaw and Tyler Thigpen are fighting for the third-string spot, with the loser looking for work.

The running game will not implemented regularly in this contest – for fear of possible injury.  The Terrance West/Ben Tate battle will be confined more within Berea and the winner still might not be the full-time rusher.  The zone-blocking scheme has been talked about positively; I look forward to a solid campaign from this unit.  The third-string spot is still up for grabs between Dion Lewis, Isaiah Crowell, and Chris Ogbonnaya – that could be something to watch during this matchup.

With Josh Gordon’s appeal still unknown, there are many questions surrounding the wide receiver corps.  Andrew Hawkins and Miles Austin are the leading producers during camp, but who will join them?  Charles Johnson and Anthony Armstrong possess the size and ability, but have been inconsistent.  Undrafted rookie Kenny Shaw has been turning heads; I look for a big catch out of him in this contest.

It was sad to hear about Jason Pinkston having another blood clot in his lungs – forcing the young lineman to retire.  Can Garrett Gilkey and Joel Bitonio shoulder the load at guard?  I believe they can, but I would prefer my confidence to be confirmed on the field.  More importantly, depth should be on display on Saturday night.  Too many years have gone by where reserve linemen have played extremely poor, been forced into regular season action, and continued to underwhelm.  Without the likely services of Jordan Cameron, Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge have an opportunity to prove they can pick up some of the slack (at tight end).

Defense:  As the Browns refrain from utilizing the running game in the exhibition season, anticipate the same for their opponents.  The result is that Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, Desmond Bryant, and other guys upfront will be limited statistically.  Taylor has been held out of several training camp practices after failing his conditioning test – a reduced role on Saturday night should follow.  Young guys like Calvin Barnett, Jacobbi McDaniel, and Armonty Bryant should get their opportunities to impress the coaching staff.  All three have received positive marks so far, but with the defensive line being so deep, nothing is guaranteed.

I hope we get a glimpse of the difference between a Mike Pettine defense and his predecessor’s.  The linebackers underachieved tremendously in 2013, and the current staff sees this unit as critical for success in their 3-4 system.  I’d love to see a Mingo or Sheard garner a sack in the contest, or at least get a few hurries.  The Chris Kirksey/Craig Robertson faceoff starts on Saturday – fundamental football is vital (and that may not have been the case last year) for the starting Will linebacker.  I’m intrigued to know if Zac Diles can be a viable fill-in for spot duty when Karlos Dansby needs a breather this season.

The secondary will get a solid workout in this contest; besides the three guys at the top of the depth chart, I want to see what Isaiah Trufant, Pierre Desir, and Leon McFadden bring to the table at the cornerback spot.  Many believe Jordan Poyer (a mid-season add in 2013) has a stranglehold on this roster in 2014.  The signing of Jim Leonhard makes it a little bit harder, but if the former Oregon State athlete can excel both at safety and on special teams, then he can breathe a little bit easier.  

Special Teams:  For the first time in a few years, the Browns return the same kicker and punter from the prior season.  I figure both to knock off the rust in this contest; they are veterans but can still use the practice.  Several returners will be used against the Lions.  These guys will likely not be pulling the duties in the regular season, but they could be a luxury (or a security blanket) down the road.

Coaching:  Being as vanilla as a preseason typically is, coaching decisions are never scrutinized.  No one wants to reveal any possible secret, and sometimes the exhibition season seems too much covert.  Nonetheless, all I want to see is some passion from the guys on the sideline – hopefully visibly celebrating after successfully plays.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2014 in NFL Season

 

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An early review of the Cleveland Browns’ Draft

An early review of the Cleveland Browns’ Draft

Initial Thoughts on the 2014 NFL Draft:  The Cleveland Browns

It was an up-and-down weekend for the Cleveland Browns franchise (and that’s a huge understatement).  There were trades, draft picks, and the national spotlight given from the media.  Let’s take a look at at what occurred between Thursday and Saturday of last week.

The first two selections:

After a huge trade from the fourth selection, Ray farmer dropped down five spots to ninth overall.  In doing so, the shrewd move allowed his team two additional picks in 2015 – a first rounder and a fourth rounder.  That move alone should merit praise, as the Bills now surrender two picks – their recent history suggest these will be early selections.  The Browns then traded up to the eighth spot (forgoing a fifth rounder) and nabbed cornerback Justin Gilbert.  Many scouts and pundits felt he was the best available athlete at his position.

The twenty-sixth draft position was eventually traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for a third-round choice.  Now having the twenty-second pick, the general manager opted for the most polarizing figure in the draft – Johnny Manziel.  While he was not my favorite signal caller of the draft, the Browns got great value for him and may have gotten a steal.  The Browns made several superb decisions and hit a home run during the first round of the draft.

Josh Gordon and the second day:

Just before the second day of the draft began, news broke out that Josh Gordon failed another drug test and will likely be suspended for the entire 2014 season.  The deflating news really took away the positive momentum the franchise built the day before.  Without the services of the top offensive weapon, many felt the Browns would select another athlete at the receiver position.

However, the front office opted to choose Joel Bitonio (an offensive lineman), Christian Kirksey (a linebacker), and Terrance West (a running back).  The latter was following a trade, where the Browns gave up their additional fourth and sixth round selections.  I believe the first two players can be immediate starters with this team, while West can rotate with Ben Tate to carry the load.  I was a bit surprised the Browns passed up talents like Marquise Lee, Allen Robinson, and Jordan Matthews – all could have been solid wide outs for this team.  However, Ray Farmer felt the guys he chose were better overall players – so I can not blame him for that.

The final day

Only two picks remained for the Cleveland Browns on the final day of the draft.  In the fourth round, the team selected Pierre Desir – a cornerback from Lindenwood.  He will likely start on special teams but could possibly start (in nickel packages) down the road.  After no picks in the fifth and sixth rounds, the Browns traded away their seventh round pick to the Ravens for a future sixth rounder.  All in all, they went from ten picks to just six (with three additional choices in 2015).  I still wished they had nabbed a receiver, but I will have to have faith in the quarterback getting the most from his targets.

Conclusion:  I really liked what the Browns’ general manager did with his first draft.  Despite omitting a now obvious weakness, the man in charge made this team better in many aspects.  Maybe a Kenny Shaw (from Florida State), Chandler Jones (San Jose State), or Willie Snead (Ball State) can make the team and produce as a replacement for Josh Gordon.  Initially, I would rate this as a very good draft (or about an 8/10) – which is obviously subject to change.

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2014 in NFL Draft, Players

 

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