State of the Browns: Do They Deserve Our Support?

A couple of disclaimers:

First.  This represents one fans view of the 2015 Cleveland Browns. My observations come from watching them for decades and my own experiences working in bureaucratic organizations.

Second.  None of this is any criticism of fans decisions to give up on them. After 50 years of failure including 15 years of futility and foolishness it is hard to understand that they have any fans left.  They are certainly in danger of losing a generation.

The easiest way to understand the last 15 years is that they are the results of bad decisions compounded by bad luck.  Keep this in mind as we discuss the current situation.

To understand any organization you must start at the top. For the Browns that means owner J Haslem.  The job of the head of an organization is to do the following:

  1. Set the organizational culture, structure and goals.
  2. Hire the right people and support them
  4. After allowing enough time for 1&2  make adjustments as needed.

One of the problems new owners often have is that being rich guys with huge egos they think what made them successful in business will make them successful in the NFL. Haslem is in the process of finding that out. He is also finding out his fellow owners may be partners but they are also competitors. Any advice must be taken with a grain of salt. One good sign is recent statements from Haslem seem to indicate he is realizing his time with the Steelers did not prepare him as much as he thought.

Judging him on the four musts:

  • Set the organizational culture, etc.: Incomplete 
    • The structure of having all the key football people report directly to him can be problematic.  It can create unhealthy competition and division.  It can work but depends on the people working well together.  It is too soon to know.
  • Hire the right people and support them: Incomplete
    • I am optimistic that he may have found a good coach and GM.  The coaches strengths are apparent. It will be interesting to see how he handles the second year and having more involvement in the offense.  A lot of people want the head of the GM I am not one of them.  You need at least 3 drafts to judge if he can evaluate talent.  As for textgate, it certainly reveals bad judgement but not a fatal flaw unless he is incapable of learning from it.  There is also the unanswered question of did anyone else know about this. Bottom line this is also an incomplete
    • Many examples the most obvious, one being J Manziel.
  • Allow enough time for 1 & 2, make adjustments as needed: Success
    • The best thing he has done this year is keep his leadership team together.  People forget how long it took the Steelers to set up the organization they now have in place.

One success, one failure, two incompletes 

Bottom line I feel it is too early to give up on this organization. So if the organization is still in development what is the biggest problem facing the Browns?

Look at the teams in last year’s playoffs and the answer is obvious.  The lack of a good to great QB.  With the rule changes to encourage scoring and reduce injuries, QB has evolved into the most important position in sports.  If Andrew Luck was their QB last year, the Browns would have made the playoffs.  Nothing is more important for this organization then finding their QB of the future.

What about Manziel?  We all know that was a huge mistake.  One way to make it a even worse mistake is to let it paralyze  the organization out of fear of repeating the mistake. The Browns actually need two QBs. A short term veteran and a young one the entire organization can get behind, develop and support for the future.

That being the case and the fact they have two number one draft picks you can expect them to be linked to rumors around the top QBs in this draft.  At this point I do not have enough information to have an opinion on whom they should pick and what they should pay to get him.  Getting him is the number one priority of the team.

In summary the Browns definitely have problems.  Many of them they helped to cause.  There are also some early signs of them trying to do the right thing.   I think this is the wrong time to give up on them.  With a little luck, something they have not had in a long time, they can still turn things around.

Sometimes even a bad movie can have a good ending…

Were You Surprised by Johnny Manziel’s Performance ??

I think the Browns and their fans were both faced firmly with the realization that Brian Hoyer, despite his local roots, was a big reason why the playoffs were slipping away. He has some leadership skills and talent for sure but his consistency was nowhere to be found. Hoyer showed that he was a “rhythm” quarterback. When he hit some throws and especially when they were in the hurry up offense, he would keep doing well and seem to make high quality throws. If the team or he hit a skid, he seemed to fight to find that rhythm and for the final 3 weeks he never found it.

That is why I called that the time was right for Manziel prior to the Colts game. However, I was never under the delusion that Manziel had a high chance of success. It is just that we needed a change and I had hoped that sitting on the bench all of those weeks might have helped him prepare. I guess I was wrong about that but I was hoping.

I want to reprise my “draft analysis” of the Johnny Manziel pick to clarify that I knew what we were up against from the beginning with “Johnny Football”. I suspect that many of my readers knew as well. Here it is:

Johnny Manziel, QB:

By some projections, Manziel was the best QB in the draft. He is also a lightning rod for controversy, scrutiny and another potential “black eye” for the city of Cleveland and it’s sports teams. If you wanted Manziel because he finally “puts Cleveland on the map”, you are in for a rude awakening. He will only put us “on the map” if he succeeds and the Browns win football games. That would have happened anyway if this storied franchise began to win and contend for titles. If he fails (which is a strong possibility), he will put Cleveland “on the map” again for late night jokes and ridicule. So watch what you wish for. It might not be what you think.

That being said, if the multiple flaws translatable to the NFL that Manziel possesses are conquered or controlled, his good traits could make this a draft to remember for our lifetime. He has a quick release, enough arm strength to function at the pro level, enough accuracy on short/intermediate throws to be successful, and an uncanny ability to sense pressure and escape it. Those traits are good a good fit with our scheme and he has enough talent to pull it off. If it weren’t for all of those critical talent/character flaws in his game, his chance of boom would be better than bust. I will outline the flaws in depth in a separate analysis but by way of summary here they are: 1) A sense he needs to escape when he doesn’t and then run 2) Inability to go through full progressions with his reads 3) Predictable methods of pocket escape that places his offensive tackles in “no win” scenarios 4) Questionable accuracy on deep throws 5) Instincts to run before finding open receivers 6) No demonstrated ability to slide and step up in the pocket to throw 7) No demonstrated ability to command the game from behind center – strictly shotgun/pistol 8) Virtually never pitching or handing the ball off on read options 9) No demonstrated ball skills to handle play-action sets and create deception without the ball 10) Serious questions about work ethic, sense of entitlement, ego getting in the way of progress, and willingness to be a student of the game (knowing playbook better than anyone, studying game film of opponent, etc.). I’ll stop there and save the rest for later. As a Brown’s fan, I am hopeful but far away from crowning “Johnny Football” as the savior of Cleveland sports.”

Here is my full draft analysis: Browns Draft Analysis

It is interesting to look back at what I thought and how things are working out thus far.  But I think the Manziel analysis clearly pointed out nearly everything you have seen from Manziel since he became a Brown, during his first start, and the “rumors” of poor preparation being circulated since his start. My point here is that this abysmal initial failure by Manziel should have been predicted by his characteristics before we drafted him. I was hoping he had fixed at least some but I saw no real evidence of that during the game. God help the Browns if he had started the season as our quarterback. I think it is safe to say we probably never sniff the playoffs if that had happened. At least now, after 13 games on the bench, there is some hope going forward.

My current opinion of Manziel has not changed. The 10 flaws pointed out were all in evidence since his arrival and in the Bengals game. However, I said then and will say now, if he can overcome these multiple flaws and learn from his mistakes, we have a chance to see a good quality and exciting quarterback for many years. I happen to think it is CRITICAL for the Browns to do well and hopefully win at least 1 out of their last 2 games. The fans and the organization cannot have another off-season of turmoil and change. Winning is only bred by winning and that is what the Browns must do. Losing to improve draft order is a worthless hope and an even more worthless goal.

So I happen to think that Manziel will show a significant improvement this week. The time on the bench and the utter humiliation suffered against Cincinnati is bound to wake him up a bit. He is not a dummy. He understands the concept of heroic legacy versus comical bust. If he does “bust out” as his flaws would suggest, he will be more than a forgettable bust. He will be a historic bust. I really think that might be just the motivation Johnny needs to improve.

If he uses his gifts that are transferrable to NFL play, he has a chance (if only a small one) to be “Johnny Football” again. I hope that is possible because I want to believe in him. I want the Browns to succeed. Needing to replace Manziel before he really gets a solid chance seems like a bad strategy. So I will root for him and hope we see a “new” Johnny Manziel on Sunday. And, even more importantly, I hope we see a new Browns team against the Panthers. The one that played against Cincinnati must be dead and buried forever.

Browns vs Colts: Drama Couldn’t Be Higher

Talk about a game bigger than “the game” this weeks Browns/Colts matchup certainly fits that bill. There will be many things to watch and look for in this game and here are just a few:

1)    Can the Browns prove on their home field that they deserve to reach the playoffs in 2014? This game really defines that question in  a clearer way than any other event on the field this year. The Colts are clearly a playoff team. They have the best young quarterback in the game and possibly the best quarterback in the game. It is unlikely that they will look past the 7-5 Browns. This is a real test of the Browns talent and toughness. Something Mike Pettine has stressed from the start is the need to develop a team with both mental and physical toughness. Beating the Colts after a tough loss to Buffalo would provide a resounding “yes” answer to the question of whether they embody that toughness.

2)    Can Brian Hoyer simultaneously save his job and save the Brown’s season? Everyone will be focused on the first part of this question I am afraid but I will be focused on the second part. The 2014 Browns have proven better than any Browns team I can remember since 1999 that they are able to stare adversity in the face and overcome it. They now own the all time NFL record for a visiting team comeback in a game. Can we actually fathom that fact? No team in the HISTORY of the NFL has come back from that deficit on the opposing teams field. Hoyer, with a winning performance today, has a chance to solidify not only a chance at the playoffs but a chance for this Browns team to be different than any since 1999. He will also solidify his position as the starting quarterback for the Browns in 2014 and make a great case to be a starter beyond 2014. The sad thing is that this might be in another city but so it is in the tough NFL.

3)    Can Brian Hoyer secure his family’s financial future by playing like a champion and winning an improbable game? This is not the question most Browns fans will be focused on, but it is an intriguing question. If Hoyer fails in this game, he has almost certainly lost his starting job for the rest of this season. He might sneak out one more game but that would likely be all. Johnny Manziel will finally become the focal point of the Browns quest to become a playoff team in the future and Hoyer will simply drop off the map. The chance of Hoyer getting a big contract after that will be slim to none. Even though he might command a decent raise, the amount of guaranteed money will be dramatically less. Make no mistake about it, this is a critical game for Hoyer personally and professionally.

4)    Can the Browns defense prove once and for all that they can play with the “big boys”? This is a dramatic test for them because they are facing such a dynamic triple threat quarterback. Luck is an underrated runner and a load to bring down. In addition, he has great intelligence and instincts as a quarterback. They have not faced this type of quarterback for many weeks. Andy Dalton is, quite frankly, a joke of a quarterback despite his yearly salary so don’t put him in that class. Matt Ryan is close to that caliber but the team around him is not. It has been since week 6 and Roethlisberger that the defense has faced a real threat at the quarterback position.

5)    Can the Browns actually find out what it is like to play meaningful games in December? This game would be a huge step in the development of the Browns franchise going forward. They need to prove to themselves, much more than anyone else, that they belong in the playoff conversation until the end of the year. This game will likely make that possible and give the organization and the fans a needed boost.

We all will be glued to the TV or the field watching this play out. It is another test for Cleveland in it’s ascendance as a city and sports relevancy. If the Browns can do anything close to what the Buckeye’s did last night, we all will have a great week ahead. GO BROWNS !!!

The Time for Johnny Manziel Is Now !!

I stand as one of the most persistent Brian Hoyer supporters because he gave us the best chance to win. I believed that before and I still feel I was absolutely correct. I do not believe that now.

I have been at nearly every home game since the Browns have come back to the NFL. I saw the personal dismantling of a fantastic quarterback prospect who was playing on a “minor league” team in the NFL. He was dismantled emotionally, eventually dismantled physically by the repeated beatings he took, and then “booed” out of town. The fans forgot what a real talent he was and how he was forced to play before he was ready.

I am not suggesting that the current Browns team is even remotely similar to  that embarrassing 1999 team. But Manziel and Couch both had little need to read defenses or go through progressions in their college careers. Manziel simply wasn’t ready and we had a quarterback ready that was very successful in his brief time on the 2013 Browns team. He deserved a chance to prove we could win with him. And win we have. The best start for the Browns since we have been back and we took a 7-4 record into what I knew would be a tough game.

However, as the Browns have become increasingly stagnant offensively, it became clear that the league has caught up with Brian Hoyer and the Browns. The matchup this week was especially troublesome considering it would be tough to run and the pass rush is solid. I knew Hoyer might struggle as he has for most of the time over the past several weeks. If he had been able to get us another win, I would have been supporting him continuing as the Browns quarterback. The reason would have been simple. The Browns were winning and winning is all that counts. Finding out if Manziel is the quarterback of the future is a sidebar that I care little about. Winning this year is the only thing that matters. Why??? Because the Browns need to start winning in order to advance as a team. No other statistic matters.

Early in the second half of the game with the Bills, I think the odds switched. And in my opinion, the odds are switched permanently. Johnny Manziel now gives the Browns the best chance to win. He has paid his dues as the backup and has had a chance to learn the offense and improve his ability to read defenses and go through progressions. Although, as I confidently say this, Manziel still admitted in his post game interview that his greatest concern was calling the plays correctly. He admitted that the veterans helped him with that during his time in the game. Although that sounds great that the veterans helped, I just wish they didn’t have to help Manziel by now. The only saving grace for Manziel is that he will have (I hope) a week to prepare as the starter. That will help.

Manziel will bring a layer of difficulty for the opposing defensive coordinators who don’t know exactly how to defend him yet. That will potentially divert the attention of the defenders from their assignments to Manziel. That can give the Browns an edge.

The obvious fact that Manziel can buy time and throw on the run will help when we face the tougher pass rush teams. But I think it will help against the teams with weaker pass rushes even more. The Colts and Bengals are not in the elite class of defensive front sevens. Not bad for sure, but not elite. I think that extra time to think and read will help Manziel in those games. Plus, his real threat to run might hold some linebackers from going as deep into their drops. Leaving the middle more open for throws.

Kyle Shanahan will be able to make changes in the playbook that might suit Manziel’s strengths and they will be wrinkles not seen thus far. I think we will see a more creative offense with Manziel at the helm.

I simply feel that Manziel will give us the best chance to win now. I am sad for Hoyer but I have no emotional attachment. He had his chance and has no one to blame but himself. His play left the door open and I believe it is time for Manziel to run though it. If Pettine gives him the chance, I think we will see both his strengths and weaknesses. It won’t be all pretty and exciting as Pollyanna Manziel supporter Chuck Booms believes, but it won’t be as stagnant and predictable as we have come to hate under Hoyer.

Things To Be Thankful For About Cleveland Sports Now

While you enjoy your turkey (or whatever tradition you have), here are a few thoughts on what I am thankful for this year as a Cleveland Sports Fanatic.

1.  Lebron Coming Home

Obviously the story of the summer, LeBron coming back to the Cavs makes them relevant again. He also lifts the region in so many ways that are well documented and don’t need to be spoken of here. Watching our team and expecting them to win again is something definitely to be thankful for.

  1. A Browns coach that gets us

Since Mike Pettine took over as the head coach of the Browns he has begun to change the culture of our football team. He has the team at 7-4 and no one will ever know how much difference the press conference after the first Steeler game made. Instead of praising a moral victory he clearly stated that losing was not acceptable. This set the tone for the Brown’s season. The team has had ups and downs but is “in the hunt” for the first time in a long time.

3.  Terry Francona

Terry since he has been the Indians manager has pushed the talent that he has been given and has gotten more out of them than any other manager could. He has done it with class, humility and humor. If the players on our team can step up and perform at their career average levels the team has tremendous potential.

  1. Ping Pong balls

Cleveland fans should petition to make ping pong the state sport after the plastic orbs fell correctly to give the Cavs the #1 pick this summer. Obviously the Cavs parlayed that into Kevin Love, who as he finds his way with his new team, will become a key cog for the Cavaliers championship machine.

  1. The National Media’s Love Affair with Johnny Manziel

Cleveland fans should be thankful for several reasons. It gave the Browns some preseason love in a disappointing Indians summer (except every 5th day when CY Kluber pitched.) He made Brian Hoyer come in more prepared (even though it didn’t look like it in the preseason.) Also, he has made #BrownsTwitter much more interesting during Browns games when Hoyer has struggled. We all wait to see what he will do on the field, but he sure has spiced up all Cleveland Browns discussions.

  1. Corey Kluber

The Cy Young award winner was fun to watch all summer and made every 5th day of the baseball season must see television. We were able to have fun with his lack of outward emotion and his stoic facial expressions. Who would ever forget the sunflower seed shower? If I make this a yearly post I should be able to write this one in until 2018.

7. Kyrie Irving Learning How to Play

It kind of started when he became the MVP of the NBA All Star Game and has become much clearer as this summer evolved. His play on the USA team began to unlock his full potential defensively and allow him to more effectively pick his spots on offense. It seems that has carried over to this season. Good for us!!!!! He is only 22!

8.  Michael Brantley

He was an inspiration this year to all Indian fans as he took on the challenge of simply being the best player on the field for the Tribe. As he drove toward a near AL MVP season, he remained calm and cool under pressure. Very rare for a young player who had just signed a huge contract extension.

9.  Kevin Love

Although not showing how dominant he can be quite yet, it was refreshing to see another NBA star coming to Cleveland. He gave no indication that he intended to leave after this year and he gives the Cavs one third of a nucleus that may be unmatched.

10. David Griffin

No one gives him any credit for putting the Cavaliers together because LeBron came home. And, to a degree, that is true. But in the early hours of free agency, he was able to ink Kyrie to a long term contract that set the tone for the entire off-season.  His ability to persuade Shawn Marion to take far less to play for Cleveland also cannot be minimized. Yes, LeBron had a strong hand in all of this but Griffin and Blatt had plotted the course long before LeBron actually signed.

This is my top 10, but I am sure you have your own. Feel free to leave your comments on what you are thankful for in Cleveland Sports.