2014 Season Preview: Cleveland Browns

2014 Season Preview:

cle-browns-helmet

Cleveland Browns

 

The Browns again stunk up the place last year.Pretty much what they have done this entire century. The past 5 years the Browns have won 5,5,4,5, and 4 games. The old regime is gone, again, high draft picks were used, again, and many busts have been made. Joe Thomas is of course, awesome. So how does this new coach and new QB come into play?

Offensive Linejoe thomas

Joe Thomas is still the MAN. Bottom line. If he’s even 80% He’s one of the best in the NFL.
Paul McQuistan got benched in Seattle, and should beat out John Greco, who lets be honest, kinda stunk last year. Joel Bitonio might also see some run here, but he’s supposed to play RG as long as Joe Thomas is a standout.
Alex Mack was resigned after coming into high demand after his Pro-Bowl season. The Browns were definitely smart to match that contract.
Joel Bitonio was a second round pick this year, and could flip to LG as well, but expect him to see the field quite often.
Mitchell Schwartz is the other bookend, and while not exactly doing what was expected of him as a second round pick, there are worse RTs in the NFL.

Quarterback

How bad have the Browns been? The Browns have drafted THREE QBs at #22, and has a good chance of being the best of the bunch, of course, its not the big a bar to cross. But not so fast! Brian Hoyer is penciled in as QB1 and he actually did a decent job last year- accounting for almost all the Browns wins. Hoyer isn’t the future, but if he’s 100% he could hold the fort until Manziel is just forced on the field late in the year.

Johnny Football had an amazing debut in the preseason, and who knows how much he will be able to do come the regular season. I do think he needs some serious coaching to be successful. For everyone at the World-Wide Leader who talk about his size, let me give you the ONE QB who Manziel can look down on- Russell Wilson.

UPDATE: The Browns have added Rex Grossman to the stable of QBs the Browns have that no one wants. I have to think he’s been added to the roster to mentor Manziel, and maybe Hoyer is chafing under that role.

Running Back

Ben Tate is back, and he didn’t get a lot of run with Arian Foster at the primary back in Houston. He could be a monster ground gainer, since Willis McGahee is gone. Edwin Baker is back, he of the two touchdown effort from last year. The Browns did add Terrance West in the draft, but this could be one of the better units on the team.

ReceiversJosh Gordon

With Josh Gordon? This could be one of the better units in the NFL. No Gordon? The Browns have problems. Its a little hard to describe just how awesome Josh Gordon can be with a good QB and a running game. I’m talking Randy Moss type numbers.  Problem is, he’s an idiot. How many guys that are 6-3, 225 with his speed are in the NFL, that can catch like he can? Not many. If he’s gone this takes a MAJOR hit. The Browns did add Miles Austin, who apparently is tired of going 8-8 and wants to see what its like to only win half that time. Austin could be a solid #2 guy, but with no Gordon, he’s going to be the #1 guy and he’s just not that good. Travis Benjamin, coming off injury, Earl Bennett and Nate Burleson (hands up, who knew he was still in the NFL) are looking to get playing time if Gordon is gone.
Jordan Cameron might be the best tight end in the NFL that never hits SportsCenter. 80 catches and 7 TDs with Josh Freeman, Brady Quinn, Jeff George, Akili Smith and whomever the heck else the Browns had out there at QB. If there is a chance in Hades the Browns have Gordon and a decent QB, this can be one of the better units in the AFC.

Defensive Line

Desmond Bryant was having his best year ever since being freed from Raiderland, but a heart condition put him on the shelf. If he’s healthy, and signs are that he is, he could be a beast. Phil Taylor played better in the 4-3 a few years ago, but is stuck in the middle here, and really needs to be the man here, but the Browns have faith in him, and picked up his 2015 option. Ahtyba Rubin also had his option picked up, he’s been an above average player for years.

This group has talent, has size and speed, but there is just something missing. Either its effort, or unity, or scheme, but there is something causing this unit from looking as good on the feild as it does on paper.

Linebackers

The outside linebackers are just  a mess. Paul Kruger was a free agent bust last year, but nothing compared to Barkevious Mingo who had problems staying on the feild and doing anything when he was playing. The other side is Jabaal Sheard, who was playing well in 2012, and had problems in the switch to the 3-4, and was also hurt. The Browns need to get something from this unit or trade the parts that don’t fit while they still have value.

Karlos Dansby is still trying to hang on in the NFL, but had a good year with Arizona last year, but he’d be better served as a rotation guy rather than a major starter, Craig Robertson could be in the mix as he was a starter last year, but Christian Kirksey should be getting a lot of playing time this year. This unit is just awful. D’Qwell Jackson will be missed.

Secondary

Joe Haden is just a star. He’s one of the better corners in the NFL, and deserves to be left alone on his island. If Justin Gilbert can be even close to being worthy of the #8 pick, just as Haden was at #7, then the Browns could have one of the best tandems in the NFL. Gilbert replaces Buster Skrine, who had problems last year, but relies on his top gear to cover for his lapses. Leon McFaddin is still there, another third round pick that so far has been a failure.

The final level starts with  . . .Donte Whitner! Holy Moley! The guy that Marv Levy should not be a GM is still in the NFL! He’s pretty good in run support, but stinks in coverage. Tashaun Gipson is a little on the slow side, but doesn’t bite on moves and might not be a star, but is having a solid career.

Special Teams

Travis Benjamin is a very good return man, If he’s 100%. Billy Cundiff didn’t do a bad job replacing Phil Dawson, and Spencer Lanning is a pretty good punter. The return teams are decent, but not exactly standouts.

DraftManziel

The Browns did a VERY smart thing, they didn’t bite early on a QB and got a guy that should play for a decade. I’s much rather have a top-3 QB prospect at 22 than at 8. If Gilbert is the real deal, and Johnny Football can learn to read NFL defenses then they had a great draft. Joel Bitonio was a need pick, and Kirksey is going to get every chance to play early. The Browns only had 6 picks, but they did a great job of filling needs. I don’t like taking a RB in the third round since they have Tate, another LB would have been a better path, but this draft comes down to Gilbert and Manziel.

Outlook

The Browns have 2 very good units on offense. The Line and the Receivers, and a unit on paper that should be solid- running backs. Then a unit that is going to be problematic.
Then we have a unit that should be good- the secondary, a unit that is better on paper than on grass- the defensive line, and a unit that sucks- the linebackers.
So what do the Browns do? I can’t see a 4-12 season coming. I just can’t. The problem is, you look at the NFC South- That’s 0-4, or 1-3 at best. The AFC South is better, could be 2 wins there, and then the Bills and Raiders could get a win or even 2. I can see 2 wins in the division, since they do play the Bengals and Ravens pretty well, and I’m not sold on the Steelers. (Spoilers) so is 7-9 a possibility? Sure. I’ll go 6-10, and hopefully a top inside linebacker falls to them in the draft for all the Browns fans out there.

DJ’s second look:

I like what the Browns are doing, I love the selection of Johnny Football with their draft pick. He has reminded me of Jeff Garcia and I think he’ll end up starting the season as their quarterback. Brian Hoyer looked okay last season but his four career starts (58.3%, 228.8ypg, 6.1ypa, 6 TD’s, 5 INT’s and 78.4 Passer Rating) are rather pedestrian. People say he’s 3-1 as a starter, but the QB is always given way too much credit for the record of a team in games played.

They also brought in Rex Grossman and cut Tyler Thigpen so if they need him….he’s available. And make no mistake, Grossman can play, he’s a solid backup and insurance policy to have in case of injury or ineffectiveness.

The defense is very good (DE Desmont Bryant, LB’s Karlos Dansby and Paul Kruger, CB Joe Haden, and SS Donte Whitner) and that’s why Manziel won’t have to do too much. The defense will put them in position to be competitive and Manziel has a couple good RB’s to rely on in Ben Tate and West.

Josh Gordon’s availability is up in the air but he’s most likely going to miss most of the season. And that’s a huge loss for the offense. But, Austin and Burleson should be able to help offset some of his numbers….if Austin is healthy. A player to watch is Anthony Armstrong, he had 44 receptions and averaged 19.8ypc in 2010 with the Washington Redskins before he fell off the map. However, at 31 he may have had his 15 minutes of fame. But, if he gets a chance Manziel may help him repeat that 2010 season.

Hawkins and Benjamin will also get more playing time and will have every chance to show they can play with Gordon out. They have potential here and if Manziel can put the ball where it needs to be….it wouldn’t surprise me if they have some players shine.

I think the Browns will show a lot of improvement and go 6-10 or 7-9. They play in the always brutal AFC North with Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, three teams that are better than them. But, next season this could be a team to watch out for.

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