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Five questions: Cleveland Browns

Manziel AP

Since returning to the NFL in 1999 after a three-year hiatus, the Browns have had more lows than highs.  One playoff appearance a dozen years ago, one other winning season, and otherwise futility.

In recent years, the futility has flowed in large part from inconsistency, with four coaches and four General Managers since 2009.  Before the Browns can contend, the front office and the coaching staff need to stabilize.  It’s unclear whether that will happen.  But that’s not one of the five specific questions I’ve selected to address as the season approaches.

These are.

1.  Who will be the quarterback?

After the Browns traded up from No. 26 to No. 22 in round one to snag Johnny Manziel, the Browns opted not to install Manziel as the starter.  It’s possible, if not likely, that it was part of the effort to short-circuit the immediate ascension of Manziel to the same kind of power Robert Griffin III had (and likely still has) in Washington.

Nevertheless empowered by the team’s apparent acceptance of a “Work Hard, Play Harder” two-sided offseason T-shirt motto, Manziel eventually took it too far, hanging out with Justin Bieber and rolling up a dollar bill after the team told him to tone it down.

With an owner who isn’t bashful about handing out pink slips but with termination not an option, the next best way to send a message to Manziel becomes sending him to the bench.  Which is what the Browns now apparently plan to do, given the ongoing praise heaped upon Brian Hoyer.

It’s a dangerous game, for multiple reasons.  First, making Manziel the backup means exposing him to injury in the preseason behind the No. 2 offensive line.  Second, it opens the door for another Derek Anderson/Brady Quinn do-si-do that could delay the date on which Manziel ascends to the job they surely want him to have.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t have drafted him.

2.  Who will run the ball?

Ben Tate arrived via free agency, Terrance West comes to Cleveland through the draft.  Tate presumably will get the first crack at becoming the primary ball carrier, but his contract doesn’t point inescapably to Tate being the clear-cut bell cow.

“Competition is needed to have a good team,” Tate recently told reporters.  “You look at San Francisco. You look at Seattle. There’s competition at every position. Obviously you know who their guy is, but there are guys behind them that are good that can push them.  That’s what’s needed so I don’t see it as a threat.”

It’s only a threat for Tate if the competition results in a conclusion that West is a better option that Tate.

3.  What’s the plan at receiver?

Josh Gordon may or may not be suspended for the year, and the Browns haven’t done much to plan for life without him.  Miles Austin and Nate Burleson arrived via free agency, but both guys aren’t who they used to be.

G.M. Ray Farmer has defended the failure to make a move to replace Gordon by explaining that Super Bowl champs rarely have dominant receivers.  Of course, Super Bowl champs also often don’t have elite left tackles, but it’s unlikely that the Browns will be cutting Joe Thomas any time soon.

Perhaps the Browns ultimately played it right, if Gordon’s low concentration of marijuana metabolites and luck-of-the-draw “A” bottle/”B” bottle discrepancy results in a short suspension or none at all.  One way or another, we’ll know the answer soon enough.

4.  Will Kyle Shanahan be more flexible with Manziel?

The Browns possibly would like a Mulligan when it comes to drafting Manziel.  New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan possibly would like a Mulligan of his own when it comes to taking a job with the team that drafted Manziel.

Kyle Shanahan ensured two years of RGIII in D.C., with plenty of dysfunction fueled by a quarterback who wouldn’t or couldn’t be coached the way Shanahan wanted to coach him to the degree that Shanahan likes to coach/control all of his quarterbacks.

Shanahan wants everything done according to his plan.  Manziel does some of his best work when the plan disintegrates into no plan at all.  Whenever Manziel plays, Shanahan will need to become more flexible, or he’ll lose whatever is left of his mind after 2012 and 2013.

5.  How good is the defense?

Pretty good.

Lost in all the talk about the team’s offense is a defense that finished in the top 10 both for yards and points allowed.  Sure, coordinator Ray Horton is gone after a year, and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and safety T.J. Ward have been swapped out for Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner, respectively.  But head coach Mike Pettine, who made a major impact during his only season with the Bills after stepping out of Rex Ryan’s shrinking shadow, could push the finished product to even greater heights.

To get there, Pettine needs to get more out of pass rushers Paul Kruger and Barkevious Mingo.  If forgotten top-10 cornerback Justin Gilbert can make a quick impact, he and Joe Haden could quickly become of the best tandems in the league.

The end result could be a defense that’s even better than it was a year ago, and in turn an offense that benefits from fewer points allowed, better field position, and more turnovers.

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29 Responses to “Five questions: Cleveland Browns”
  1. Ferdinand says: Jul 29, 2014 8:08 PM

    4. A more complete answer would ask if Manziel is willing to be coached because from what we have seen of him thus far, he does whatever he damn well pleases regardless of what his coaches, GM or owner tells him.

  2. drfeelyouup says: Jul 29, 2014 8:11 PM

    Browns smash the Ratbirds, Squealers and Ben-gals this year. Sorry Charlie, it’s true.

  3. fanofbrowns17 says: Jul 29, 2014 8:11 PM

    All comes down to QB play. Hoyer should start, and if he stays healthy, will bring stability to the position Browns haven’t had since they left for Baltimore. If Gordon ends up playing, it’s my opinion they will compete for the division.

  4. The Pittsburgh Steelers are the reason you can enjoy football today. This is what we built. We are the NFL. We are football. We are God's team. says: Jul 29, 2014 8:13 PM

    A lot more than five.

  5. nickinneohio says: Jul 29, 2014 8:16 PM

    Optimism abound in Cleveland!
    Isn’t it always this time of year. (sigh)
    GO BROWNS!!!

  6. blacknole08 says: Jul 29, 2014 8:25 PM

    I think the answer right now at QB is Hoyer. I really think this guy can play.

    Manziel looks the part but until football becomes his #1 priority, I have some reservations.

  7. kwjsb says: Jul 29, 2014 8:27 PM

    The Pittsburgh Steelers are the reason you can enjoy football today. This is what we built. We are the NFL. We are football. We are God’s team. says: Jul 29, 2014 8:13 PM

    City of Pittsburgh …. 6 Rings
    City Of Cleveland …. 9 Rings

  8. qdog112 says: Jul 29, 2014 8:28 PM

    ” Before the Browns can contend, the front office and the coaching staff need to stabilize.”
    *********************
    The obvious omission of the owner must have been on purpose. I don’t know why. It’s clear that any stability required, starts there.

    The organization takes on the personality and attitude of ownership. Two things stand out:1) the last HC lasted less than 365 days, and 2) a homeless advisor influenced the drafting of Manziel.

  9. td40 says: Jul 29, 2014 8:42 PM

    You can tell, in just about every article PFT posts about the Browns, that they are positively desperate to see Manziel as the starter. I love the fact that it’s not happening.

  10. thestrategyexpert says: Jul 29, 2014 8:44 PM

    Let’s just make sure we keep Manziel’s stats separated into 2 columns:

    Plan C = Coach-designed plays
    Plan B = something else

  11. t8ertot says: Jul 29, 2014 9:02 PM

    1) 3rd or 4th in the division?
    2) manziel hurt by 2nd or 3rd game?
    3) when will gordon be arrested again?
    4) where is hoyer getting traded?
    5) who will the browns select with the first pick next year?

  12. greeksensation says: Jul 29, 2014 9:13 PM

    kwjsb says:
    Jul 29, 2014 8:27 PM
    The Pittsburgh Steelers are the reason you can enjoy football today. This is what we built. We are the NFL. We are football. We are God’s team. says: Jul 29, 2014 8:13 PM

    City of Pittsburgh …. 6 Rings
    City Of Cleveland …. 9 Rings

    And we know what his response will be… Until Goodell adds a team in London and the league becomes the IFL. What a joy it would be then to throw out all their championships for discussion purposes!

    Go Browns!

  13. fumblenuts says: Jul 29, 2014 9:15 PM

    If Mingo and Kruger step it up this year the defense can be ELITE.

  14. tomtravis76 says: Jul 29, 2014 9:36 PM

    It’s still Cleveland…

  15. mrfrostyj says: Jul 29, 2014 9:52 PM

    Quotes from Jason La Confora who attended Browns training camp today.

    “Brian Hoyer is considerably faster, and more nimble than Johnny Manziel”.

    He later goes on to say from what he’s seen barring injury “Hoyer will definitely be the starter opening day” then says that the job for starting running back will be much more competitive than the QB competition which isn’t close “by a considerable margin”.

    But hey, maybe La Confora is saying that because he’s mad at Johnny for his off season actions, or trying to motivate him, or trying to prevent him from getting RGIII head because according to all the PFT writers Hoyer starting just because he’s better apparently is not an option despite everyone saying that is the case right now.

  16. brownsmakemecrazy says: Jul 29, 2014 9:56 PM

    Way to waste another 1st round draft pick. Never have I seen an organization that bashes their 1st round draft as much as these clowns. You knew what you were getting in Johnny. If you couldn’t handle him then you shouldn’t have not only wasted a 1st round draft pick on him, and trade up to get him.

    Way to waste the draft pick you got for trading Richardson. And this is why they are the most incompetent franchise in all of professional sports.

    Enjoy a 2-14 season.

  17. brownsmakemecrazy says: Jul 29, 2014 10:07 PM

    If you can’t handle him then do him and yourselves a favor and trade him.

  18. johnnyb1976 says: Jul 29, 2014 10:28 PM

    Connor Shaw will be the starter by week 13, because the browns have had that kind of luck over the last decade.

  19. canucks30 says: Jul 29, 2014 10:31 PM

    The answer to all the questions posed is Johnny Football.

  20. vottorific says: Jul 29, 2014 10:38 PM

    HA HA HA HA HA!!!! Good luck Brownies, yall gonna need it. What a mess.

  21. qdog112 says: Jul 29, 2014 10:41 PM

    I find it odd that NFL.com didn’t mention what Andre Reed said about Golden Boy, Johnny Manziel. It’s almost like they don’t want you to know:

    Reed was with the author of the story, Reeves Wiedeman, when LeBron James announced Decision 2.0 — that he was returning to Cleveland. A nearby television flashed Manziel’s tweet calling his good friend James “my guy,” which apparently incited Reed.

    “Who the (expletive) is Johnny Manziel?” Reed snaps in the article. “LeBron ain’t your guy! You’re not ‘Johnny Football.’ You’re ‘Johnny Rookie (expletive).’ ”

    Reed told Wiedeman that a blue-collar town like Buffalo would never put up with Manziel’s antics, some of which have “alarmed” members of the Browns organization, sources told cleveland.com last week.

    “They’d boo that (expletive) outta here,” Reed said. “The fans would put him in his place.”

    CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER

  22. florida76 says: Jul 29, 2014 11:51 PM

    Actually, the Browns have four NFL titles, and four AAFC titles, which just isn’t as impressive as six Super Bowl wins. Winning the Super Bowl is slightly more difficult than the old NFL titles, and let’s not forget the AAFC champion Browns never played the NFL winner until the AAFC folded.

    The Cleveland Browns were once a more accomplished franchise than the Pittsburgh Steelers, but not anymore.

  23. oldcracker says: Jul 30, 2014 1:41 AM

    I believe the biggest question is, “Is Pettine really ready to be a Head Coach?”

    There is no question that he’s been a good Defense Coordinator, as were Eric Mangini, Dick Jauron, and Chuck Noll. Yet, only Coach Noll had the time and support of the owner and the fans to learn and develope into one of football’s best modern-era coaches.

    As Florio pointed out, the organization must find some stability in its front office and coaching IF the Browns are EVER to improve.

    And, if Pettine falls flat, and is replaced, do they HAVE to change from long ball to West Coast to run-first/&/4-3 to 3-4 to cover 2, and completely rebuild the team every fricking 2 yrs? Why do they always insist on throwing out the baby with the bath water??? (No wonder PK Dawson wanted out!)

    Let’s decide what KIND of football will be played in Cleveland and let Ray Farmer build from there. (I really hope Mr. Farmer exceeds all expectations but, personally, I don’t know why he excepted the challenge and the circus.)

    7-9, if we’re lucky

  24. coachbeck says: Jul 30, 2014 2:48 AM

    Krueger isn’t elite. He is a roll player. Mingo is good I will give him that.

    The browns seem to have a good group. But they have always seemed to be close lately. All this talk about Gordon getting less of a suspension is nice but let’s be real here, it’s only a matter of time until he is busted again. He doesn’t want to be get right. Plus he has his DUI to go.

    Even if he gets a lesser suspension…. Does anyone actually think he will be clean for the rest of his career.???? Yes he is a beast but a ticking time bomb. They won’t be able to sustain constant winning with those being your best players.

  25. brownsmakemecrazy says: Jul 30, 2014 5:34 AM

    Trade him to the Cowboys for their 1st Round pick next year. Jerry Jones believes in Johnny, which obviously none of the 3 Stooges do. Then you would have 3 1st round picks next year.

    If these 3 morons would have listened to me in the first place they wouldnt be in this situation.

  26. realtimeeyes says: Jul 30, 2014 7:18 AM

    Did the Browns win the SB last year??…..

  27. knockknockwhosthereowen says: Jul 30, 2014 8:02 AM

    We’ve also seen failures at QB when they are drafted and immediately tabbed the starter. The highest success rate is when the rookie is the 2nd string QB and the veteran starter gets injured early in the season.

  28. brownoholic says: Jul 30, 2014 10:44 AM

    Hoyer! Hoyer! Hoyer!

    And Justin Gilbert is supposedly looking like the real deal!

  29. niles6590 says: Jul 30, 2014 12:06 PM

    Pettine’s plan for this team is to have a dominant defense (almost a certainty with the group and moves they’ve made) and a ball-control offense who’s only job will be to not turn the ball over and not lose the game. That plan does not require an elite, put-the-game-on-my-sholders quarterback – just one who can manage the game and not make mistakes. Hoyer is that guy just as Trent Dilfer was in Baltimore. There’s no question Baltimore won their first Super Bowl behind their defense. All their offense had to do was not lose the game. If Josh Gordon’s suspension is lifted or limited to a handful of games, the Browns could surprise a lot of people in the next few years. Keep in mind as well, the Browns could have 2 picks in the top ten in the draft next year – plenty of ammo to get a legitimate QB is required.

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