Kolonich’s State of the Browns, December 2014.
Hands mic to Dave Kolonich.
Wait – what??
A real post on Kanicki.603-EveryDayShouldBeLobsterFest.com?? I’m confused.1
What’s the All Play??
Sorry, degenerates. Or in the words of Jim Nantz, “Hello, friends.”
Since my beloved Browns are beginning their annual descent into the nothingness of December football, I figured it was an opportune time to settle up the 2014 season. The narratives are lavish:
- Brian Hoyer’s transformation from seat warmer to legend,
- the sober aura of Mike Pettine occasionally challenged by his inner meathead,
- the undemanding brilliance that is a 22-year old Josh Gordon and,
- the inexplicable existence of a defense that has steadily improved throughout the season.
But if I were a betting man, I would have taken this guy’s advice months ago. Without Mike Smith wetting the bed in the fourth quarter a few weeks ago, I’m pretty much Nostradamus.
Either way, it’s choose your own adventure in The Time Cave at this point. You’re either:
- 7-9 is the new 11-5.
- Mike Pettine is the new Marty.
- Or, remember the Jaguars game?
And if you chose #2, congratulations! You’re now as lazy as a Plain Dealer sports writer. Hang in there until the next round of buyouts!
If you can acknowledge that Tennessee and the NFC South are major reasons why the Browns are fringe playoff contenders, you’ll understand that “New and Creative Ways to Finish in Last Place” was the working title of this review.
But that was before Tuesday’s announcement that Johnny Franchise was going to rocketship this team into another time and dimension.
I know what some of you are thinking – “Don’t tell me you’re all-in on Manziel?” And for the ones who aren’t reading this – “Really, Bro?”
At this point in my tenure as a Browns fan, I’ve given up both logic and raw passion and just want dumb entertainment. And it’s about to get explosive.
Of course, the exposition leading to Sunday has been fascinating.
We can all assume Mike Pettine was
incredibly loyal to locker room leader Brian Hoyer otherwise butt-hurt in some capacity regarding Manziel’s work ethic and/or is channeling his inner Coach Taylor by teaching Johnny Explosion the NFL’s most protracted life lesson. Or, according to the most recent and brilliant A to Z podcast, maybe Hoyer’s month-long implosion is more testament to how unready Manziel actually is to play NFL quarterback.
During the halcyon days of Cleveland Reboot, I ruminated on the litany of QB’s that we all childishly felt could be “the guy.” The phrase “only in Cleveland” could have been appropriated for Jake Delhomme’s preseason magic or Derek Anderson’s 100 mph swing passes. There is no more perfect descriptor as everyone from Brady Quinn to “elite” Jason Campbell could literally “only” start in Cleveland.2 As Mike Pettine continued to allow Hoyer’s season and career to unravel, we can probably add him to that list.
This is what makes Manziel so inherently fascinating – he is probably the only QB of the expansion era who doesn’t actually need the Browns. In fact, he likely doesn’t even need football at this point to maintain the legitimacy of being a celebrity in 2014. Manziel’s star will follow him like a Tebow-esque ascension, only this version includes doing rails of coke off a line of Ephesian co-eds. This story will be told for ages – far beyond the lakefront days and as I continue to suspect – under the LCD glow of Jerry Jones’ football palace.
For now, it’s inevitable Manziel flees a crowded pocket (remember, Mitch Schwartz is the Browns’ right tackle) and hurls his “midget”3 body into a frenzy of defenders before Marvin Lewis even has time to burn two timeouts. This blissful unawareness of the damage his body will endure over a few NFL games – let alone a season or two – will only capture the mythical essence of Manziel’s legend. In its purest sense, Manziel’s being as a Cleveland Brown is ethereal.
Catch him while you can – or in the words of Patton Oswalt (also owed an apology from Marvin Lewis):
“Momma, David Lee Roth loves me and he’s going to take me away from this town.
Oh no, honey. David Lee Roth was just using you for a blowjob. He’s never coming back.”
With Johnny Football, the crash is going to be spectacular.
In the meantime, Manziel might lift the Browns to some dizzying heights. It’s possible that “wreck this league” was more commandment than bluster. Or, maybe Manziel is just the digital version of Charlie Frye. Either way, there is never going to be a mellowing or a soft-focus Sunday morning ten years from now when Terry Pluto fondly recalls Manziel’s evolution from smashed rookie to sage veteran.
This cannot sustain. And it’s the most exciting thing to happen to this sad franchise in fifty years.
Speaking of Terry – allow me to channel some more agnostic thoughts on the Browns’ 2014 campaign. Apologies for any redundancies as my media consumption has been pleasantly sparse this year.
1. Compared to what came before him, Ray Farmer is basically the Ron Wolf of Browns’ expansion era GM’s. I can confidently state this – even knowing that Farmer’s first draft may not hold up in five years. Yet, the impact of grabbing Isaiah Crowell, Taylor Gabriel and K’Waun Williams off the NFL streets and adding productive free agent starters in Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin, Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner cannot be understated. For a team that has lacked true depth for 15 years, these moves were essential. As for the draft, Joel Bitonio is the team’s best second round pick in a decade and Terrance West and Chris Kirksey are the types of players consistent teams find in the middle rounds.
2. Of course, the first round picks are what will define Farmer. While many – possibly including Pettine – have written off Justin Gilbert, it’s worth remembering how difficult Pettine’s defense is for outside cover corners – let alone rookies from the Big 12. Gilbert will be fine – and there’s a good chance he could be a special player in time. It was only a couple months ago that dim fans were turning on Joe Haden and now the veteran corner is being mentioned as possibly the league’s best.
3. However, this offseason will be intriguing as even 7-9 buys both Farmer and Pettine some serious pull in Cleveland. With (relative) success comes the potential for some familiar expansion era power grabs. Read into it what you like, but most games featured Manziel and Gilbert on the bench and Ben Tate’s now in Minnesota. Although it’s not entirely fair, Farmer’s continued tenure in Cleveland will hinge on how Pettine develops four potential first-rounders this year and next. Farmer has done herculean work to fix the wreckage of the 2012 and 2013 drafts, yet it may not be enough to keep him in Cleveland long-term.
4. As for those 2015 draft picks, I’m staking the position now that the Browns badly need to upgrade the tackle spot. Joe Thomas is still an All-Pro, but he’s also eight years into his career. On the other side of the line, Mitch Schwartz has adopted Thomas’ ironman tendencies – never having missed a snap during his three years in the league. Yet, given how Schwartz gets abused by quick defensive ends, someone in the organization may want to offer some encouragement: “It’s okay, Mitch. Take today off.”
5. I know it’s really obvious at this point, but it turns out Alex Mack is a really good NFL center. It took Mack a few games to really excel in the new zone blocking scheme, but a mobile Mack is pure football joy. However, the bigger impact of Mack’s injury is how exposed John Greco became. Greco is decent as a run blocker, but is easily one of the league’s worst pass blocking guards. While Hoyer’s decline is based on many reasons – a diminished run and play action game being the primary reason – Greco and whichever center he’s next to have greatly contributed to the demise.
6. These final few games could be a predictor of how the Browns’ offense progresses with Josh Gordon. It’s obvious Kyle Shanahan is was in love with Gordon’s amazing potential. However, the mechanical fluidity of his offense can run counter to Gordon’s actual playing style. As most Browns’ fans know, Gordon is not a precise route runner – yet the underneath routes that defined Shanahan’s passing game a month ago demand such an approach. We’ll see if the problem resolves with the QB change, or becomes even more complicated given that Manziel and Gordon could be kindred freelance spirits.
7. Things I Love About the Browns – 2014 – Marlon Moore on Special Teams. With another few hits like the one against Josh Cribbs last week, Moore could join the Blake Costanzo All-Stars.
8. Things I’ve Learned to Love About the Browns – I’ve finally come around on Barkevious Mingo. Perhaps my disdain for Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi has colored my apathy towards Mingo. While he still looks as natural on a football field as Shaun Smith would at a vegan restaurant, Mingo’s wobbly, whirling, all arms attack is becoming more effective. Granted, he still needs to be put into advantageous situations as a pass rusher, but at this point – and with Jabaal Sheard’s tenuous free agent status, Mingo’s development is promising.
9. The Browns are indeed trending upward and there finally appears to be a stable organizational approach in place after the futility of Randy Lerner’s ownership. However, looming on the 2015 horizon is what appears to be a killer schedule. If the Browns are facing both Western divisions next year, there’s a potential for games against 6 playoff contenders, plus a Rams team who is a quarterback and third-down receiver away from becoming the next Seahawks. While again falling into a last-place schedule is preferable, this only gets the Browns matchups with the Jets and either the Jaguars or Titans. And as all should remember, the Jaguars are a terrible matchup for the Browns. At this point, it’s possible the only “bad” team the Browns face next year are the Raiders.
10. Finally – for some non-Browns closing thoughts.
a. For years under Lerner, the Browns were basically what other fans viewed as the worst case scenario of fandom. Now, you have to give that title to Washington. Everyone hates their logo and name and Dan Snyder is either stuck with a broken RG3 or a Gruden as a head coach.
b. Speaking of which, is it time to name the Grudens as the biggest fraud in the NFL? Or do we have to wait for Jon to ruin Derek Carr?
c. Only for pure hilarity, I’m hoping that the Mike Singletary rumors are more than just well-placed PR. I’m also hoping for an Eagles’ Super Bowl run. Sometime in my near future, I want to watch a game where Singletary tries to de-pants Pat Shurmur.
- Ed. note: Kolonich has generated almost as much original content as I have in the last several months. What is up with that? This came up separately this morning and I kicked it around here. It’s crazy but I haven’t found anything to work myself into a lather over. [back]
- Always remember, Browns fans: this is your team’s main beat reporter. She also referred to Josh Gordon as a “groupie” last year and called Andy Dalton a “ginger” a few days ago. JOURNALISM. [back]
- There’s so much that is so wrong and so funny about this statement. Life is good: “I’m aware that my comment on local radio last night was offensive to people of short stature and to their families and friends. It was thoughtless on my part to use the word I did, and not excusable, and I greatly regret it. I since have read about this issue on the Little People of America website. I understand it better, and as I have apologized to Johnny Manziel and the Cleveland Browns community, I offer the same to all others who I offended, and I pledge that I will learn from this. I hope that my mistake and the resultant publicity may serve at least to help others not make similar insensitive comments in the future.” [back]