Chasing Your Tail: A 2015 Cleveland Browns Season Preview

Mr-Sports1In lieu of Mike’s recent hiatus, I figured it would be an appropriate time for my annual on the record Browns’ treatise.[1]  For those of you who still remember, I’m the guy behind Cleveland Reboot – which was the place for Isaac Sowell’s fat jokes, Neoclassical art and lamenting lost screen passes.  Of course, time and life pass – leaving us here in 2015, where once again Browns fans are being fed a dreamy media narrative ending in Santa Clara, California.  As such, I feel it necessary to yet again be that cranky guy lost in the woods of reason.

And so it goes….

In honor of all the great Browns blogs that have faded away over the years, I’ll start with a nod to Cleveland Frowns.

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Those glasses though.

If you watched, read or live-tweeted the recent Republican Super Early Presidential debate, you could have come away with this realization: the candidates who didn’t do or say anything really stupid were the victors. (Of course, those who did are paradoxically the front runners). However, this strategy – which is a real PR thing – basically sets the bar so low that only the most incompetent of candidates can stumble.[2]

Naturally, there is complicity with the moderators, network and media that produced the debate in the first place. There was a lot of back slapping and self-congratulations for a product that rewarded over-rehearsed one-liners over tangible, real government solutions to better people’s lives.

Seriously, no one could squeeze in a thought on climate change or public schools?  If the substance of that shit show and the resulting focus group insta-polls are our country’s future – then we are more permanently fucked than I already realized.[3]

Which brings us to our Browns’ season preview talking points:

1.  Johnny Manziel is Improving

First – for a contrast – these are the kinds of August stories written about perennial winners (click these to link to original stories):

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 11.07.29 AM

 

And here are the ones coming out of Berea:

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 11.09.13 AMScreen Shot 2015-08-15 at 11.11.07 AM

 

And check this headline after that scrimmage….

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 11.12.21 AM

 

manzielsacked

[Can’t get past the insance all-brown ensemble long enough even to snark.]

Yes, Manziel is clearly improving – if you measure such a thing by how a QB performs against second team defenders in a controlled preseason scrimmage environment. Or, if you value performing basic NFL QB tasks such as seeing over his offensive line and not being drunk. But again – compared to his rock bottom (for now), Manziel not urinating on himself is a huge positive.

He just hurdled that bar!

.

And Jesus! Did I just agree with 98-year old Bill Livingston???

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 11.14.19 AM

Key to success #1: Set bar as low as possible.

However, in terms of fulfilling his first round draft status, let’s slow down a bit. While I’m all for second chances, it’s still hard to shake how physically overmatched Manziel was in last year’s Carolina game. Simply put, the guy couldn’t turn a corner on an NFL defensive tackle and then was nearly broken in half. If you take away the athletic improvisation (which is minimized anyway against fast NFL defenses[4]), you’re left with a tiny, jittery QB who has shaky mechanics.

Seriously, if you watch nothing else – just pay attention to Manziel’s feet during his throws.

Anyone else see some Ty Detmer in Manziel? Except, we’ll give Manziel a stronger arm, but less accuracy and obviously lower marks for chastity.

 

2.  You’re Not Helping, Joe Thomas

manziel5Thomas is without question the best Browns player of the expansion era and in a few years, he should be considered the best of the last 50 years[5].  And of course, no one would deserve a playoff run more than Thomas. If you didn’t already – read this.

But seriously, Joe – Manziel hasn’t proven anything. He’s not ready now and he probably never will be. It’s one thing to be a supportive teammate. It’s quite another to start talking up a CFL-grade QB.

 

3.  The NFL is a Quarterback Game Manager League

McCown-HoyerI’m kind of numb towards McCown/Hoyer/Whoever Winds Up Here in 2016. Unless the name is Andrew Luck, the Browns aren’t winning more than 6 or 7 games a year. At this point, the front office is just chasing their tails[6] until they blindly fall into a player like Luck. Truly, I don’t care what McCown did or didn’t do over the past couple years. He’s basically a makeup for missing on Manziel and/or didn’t necessarily care about being the backup. Hoyer was probably penalized because of Manziel and really in the end, it doesn’t fucking matter and there’s no difference between either QB.

As for the game manager argument, for every lame Brad Johnson reference you pull out, I have an Andy Dalton and three interceptions a game saying it doesn’t work anymore.

You don’t win without a QB.

 

4.  This Was a 7-9 Team a Year Ago and the Roster is Better

Bowe and Hartline.

Bowe and Hartline.

I don’t have too many problems with this argument. I think Ray Farmer has put in solid work over his first two Browns’ drafts[7] and he nailed undrafted free agency a season ago. Overall, the roster is younger, but better. The offensive line HAD to gain more depth and did with Cameron Erving and hopefully the return of Michael Bowie. Similarly, Farmer added more talent to the defensive line in one offseason than any Browns’ expansion era GM did in 15 years. Youth and depth along both lines are HUGE developments for this franchise.

Also, Farmer added a veteran starter to the secondary and three second-year corners will continue to develop. This is impressive for what has been a perennial Browns’ weakness. Perhaps a similar case can be made at outside linebacker – at least if Nate Orchard can overcome a rookie learning curve. Running back – at least a couple weeks ago – features some real talent.

The author and Joe Banner with healthy give and take.

The author and Joe Banner with healthy give and take.

But the problem is – Farmer is still dealing with the wreckage of Mike Holmgren and Joe Banner’s disastrous 2013 draft[8].  There’s only so much that can be done – even with 12 picks.

And in a weird way, I feel the free agent adds of Bowe and Hartline will actually cause some regression. Hartline is just a guy and Bowe hasn’t been a threat in a few years. I would much rather see their snaps given to young guys like Taylor Gabriel and my third favorite Brown, Travis Benjamin.

As for tight end – QUICK, name the Browns’ starting tight end!!![9]

But again, it goes back to QB and that’s basically a draw at this point. Remember how Browns QB’s tend to get hurt? There’s a great chance Connor Shaw is your Week 11 starter[10].

 

5.  The Defense Will Carry This Team

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Amazing quick twitch though.

Look, I’ll believe the Browns feature a strong run defense when I actually see it. And over the last 15 years, it just hasn’t happened. I really like a lot of the talent on this defense, but I’ve also seen WAY TOO MANY expansion era Browns’ games where the defense hangs for three quarters only to get wore out because an inept offense forces them to play 42 minutes a game.

 

6.  This Team Could Start Out 3-0

Very true. But it’s not the first few games I’m worried about.  Let’s not forget just who exactly those 7-9 Browns faced a year ago.

Essentially, we’re swapping:

  • Four games against the NFC South – a division won by a 7-8-1 team
  • Four games against the AFC South – a division with a .390 winning percentage
  • Oakland and Buffalo

For:

  • The NFC West – a division that features two legitimate Super Bowl contenders
  • The AFC West – a division with nearly three 2014 playoff teams
  • The Jets[11] and Tennessee
ck

December brings this visitor…

1679456-lynchnuts

… followed by a trip here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After those first three games (which are hardly gimmes – just reference last year’s Jacksonville game), the Browns face 8 playoff teams from a year ago over a 10 game stretch, before closing against the 49ers, Seahawks, Chiefs and Steelers.

Woof.

 

7.  But Terrelle Pryor, Right?

Wasn’t the whole Manziel-ian idea behind bringing Pryor in just to sell Columbus scrimmage tickets? Am I way off here? Is he still a thing come September?

And since I only do this a couple times a year, let me AGAIN remind you that Mary Kay:

  • Called Jason Campbell an “elite quarterback.”
  • Suggested the Browns should draft Justin Blackmon in 2012.
  • Complimented Jimmy Haslam on his “linebacker physique.”
  • Labeled Josh Gordon a “Miami Heat groupie.”

This is your team’s beat reporter, friends.

 

8.  “We’re Not Going to Blow Things Up, OK?”

I really appreciate Haslam going on the record with this statement.

We’re not going to blow things up, OK?” Haslam said Saturday after the Browns’ third practice of training camp. “I think we’re on the right track, so we’re not going to blow things up.

“[I] Understand why people might ask that after a couple bumps in the road the first couple years. I think we’re putting in place a good foundation.

And of course, I would love to believe him.

74BF0E49C4604DAF8D8079CEFFA11C75

Do Pilot employees call him ‘Mister Jimmy’ the same way Walmart associates reference Mr. Sam?

But this is Jimmy Haslam we’re talking about.

Obviously, it would be a huge mistake to tear everything down again – especially given how much young talent is on the roster. Yes, Farmer’s ego is already out of control and Pettine can be kind of a meathead[12] at times – but really, this team can’t keep self-destructing every 2-3 years. Hopefully, Haslam truly realizes this.

However, the fear goes beyond football and into the realm of image and profit. Haslam likes show and obviously, he bought into the league to make a ton of money. This basically explains the Manziel pick, new logos, new uniforms and all the little touches that make @thekardiackid and #brownstwitter collective pants wet. As much as Haslam is preaching stability and patience now, he will be burning for a new big splash in 2016 – especially if Pettine can only grind out 5 or 6 wins and Johnny Football is trying to win a backup job with the Hamilton Tiger Cats.

After all, Haslam’s in the sales business and he likely will need a new hook for 2016.

And you know what’s going to happen….

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Mister Peyton.

 

9.  Play Like a Brown – Get Lucky Like a Colt

Still more Banner banter...

Still more Banner banter…

If we’re taking the long view and projecting the Browns’ immediate future based on their expansion past, you know another change is coming. The only genuine hope to overcome this perpetual instability is that the Browns become one of those fortunate organizations that stumbles onto a franchise quarterback.

The model clearly is the Colts. Andrew Luck covers up a LOT of bad drafting[13], free agency misses and owner lunacy. Given how unstable the Browns are, only a star QB can save them from a lifetime of 5-11 seasons. Luck has already proven that a team can make a lot of really stupid decisions AND become an annual playoff contender.

 

10.  The Pick

Sometimes I wish I could I channel the simple boyhood sweetness of @hiramboyd and peg the Browns as a surprise playoff contender. But to do so would overlook a LOT of really obvious things. For example:

  • Perennial winners are merely tweaking their offenses this time of year – under the limited time available of a shorter camp schedule. The Browns are ONCE AGAIN installing a NEW OFFENSE and starting a NEW QUARTERBACK. It takes a long time for these things to come together.
  • It’s not even the middle of August and the Browns are down to street free agents at running back.
  • Mitchell Schwartz is STILL your starting right tackle.
  • We COULD see an improved run defense and pass rush this year. But expansion history doesn’t suggest this WILL happen.
  • The roster is getting younger, but the 2015 Browns are still relying on old players like McCown, Bowe, Hartline, Starks, Dansby, Williams and Whitner to survive a full NFL season.
  • The schedule is BRUTAL. I can maybe see a 2-1 start if the offense can do SOMETHING. But after that, I can’t envision more than a couple division wins, the Rams, 49ers and maybe an upset left. And that’s being generous.

I’m trying to be hopeful – which is why I’ll go with 6-10. However, the bigger win would be Haslam maintaining the front office status quo. Otherwise, Alec Scheiner is crowd sourcing a 5th round pick next April and/or Peyton is using Cleveland as a GM apprenticeship.


[1] Just to satisfy my own ego, I called 6-10 a year ago.

[2] For those who do stumble, just throw on a pair of “smart guy” glasses.

[3] Both major parties are garbage – but let’s see if anyone bites on a debate.1

[4] And by totalitarian NFL coaches….

[5] I’m sure this is sacrilegious, but let’s say Thomas plays another 3-5 All Pro years. In terms of consistency, does he topple Jim Brown as the greatest in team history?

[6] Insert your own #WeBarkTogether joke.

[7] I’m still citing Haslam for the Manziel pick and Pettine for Justin Gilbert.

[8] Armonty Bryant is it from that draft. Let’s face it – Mingo will never be healthy.

[9] No, really. Who is the starting tight end?

[10] I swear I had this before Deadspin put out their “Why Your Team Sucks” entry.

[11] Probably the best D-Line in the league.

[12] Given how shitty the Browns’ public image already is, maybe it’s best if Pettine just says, “No, we haven’t considered Ray Rice.” Good job, “straight shooter.”

[13] Throw out 2012 and this is some Banner-esque drafting. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/clt/draft.htm


 

  1. Please no. [back]

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