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Tag Archives: Justin Gilbert
Browns general manager Ray Farmer has made some good decisions this season on acquiring talent, but when it mattered most, the first round of the draft, he dropped the ball big time!
Knowing he had a wide receiver who was going to be suspended for maybe the entire year and in a receiver rich draft, he bypassed highly rated wide outs for a cornerback and a quarterback that will make us all wonder about his grading system when the 2015 NFL draft comes around.
Who would have helped the Browns more this year and in the future, the two players Farmer selected in the first round in Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel, or any one of these four wide receivers Sammy Watkins, Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans or Kelvin Benjamin?
Justin Gilbert – 29 tackles – 1 interception – 1 td – 8 passes defensed
Johnny Manziel – 18-35-175 yards – 0 td passes – 2 interceptions/29 yards rushing – 1 td
Sammy Watkins – 62 receptions – 925 yards – 6 td’s
Odell Beckham Jr. – 79 receptions – 1,120 yards – 11 td’s
Mike Evans – 63 receptions – 997 yards – 11 td’s
Kelvin Benjamin – 72 receptions – 999 yards – 9 td’s
Plus there is one more game to play which gives all four wide receivers the opportunity to go over 1,000 yards receiving in their rookie year.
Ask yourself, who would have helped the Browns more this year and beyond?
On “Draft Day” 2014 all the hype and talk in Berea, Ohio was about one rookie selected by the Cleveland Browns, quarterback Johnny Manziel. But after 9 games into the 2014 season he is the least productive rookie to play in his class.
Manziel has thrown one incomplete pass, caught another pass that was nullified by a penalty and done nothing else but serve as Brian Hoyer’s back up, and that’s OK. Manziel hasn’t had to play because Brian Hoyer is playing above average football at the quarterback position by not making mistakes, connecting on timely throws and leading the Browns to a (6-3) record and into playoff contention for the first time since 2007 this late in the season.
While Manziel has had no impact on the Browns success this season, six other rookies either drafted or signed as free agents by G.M. Ray Farmer have made major contributions to the Browns best start since 1994.
Here’s what they’ve done:
1st round pick – CB – Justin Gilbert – Has started a number of games – 23 tackles – 5 passes defended
2nd round pick – LG – Joel Bitonio – Has started all 9 games and solidified the left side of the line.
3rd round pick – RB – Terrance West – Leads the team in rushing through 9 games with 396 yards and 3 touchdowns, plus he’s caught 7 passes for 39 yards and another score.
3rd round pick – LB – Christian Kirksey – 41 tackles – 2 sacks – 1 tackle for loss – 2 passes defended
Undrafted rookie – RB – Isaiah Crowell – 297 yards rushing with a 4.6 yards per carry average that leads the team. He also leads the squad with 5 rushing touchdowns.
Undrafted rookie – WR – Taylor Gabriel – 24 catches for 435 yards and 1 touchdown. He’s averaging 18.1 yards per catch. He also has 1 kickoff return for 30 yards.
When you combine all of the offensive numbers from the rookies, they have accounted for 1,192 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns. On defense, 64 tackles – 2 sacks – 1 tackle for loss – 7 passes defended. Not bad considering “Johnny Football”, the most celebrated rookie of the bunch has added nothing to this team through 9 games.
“He just has an issue with his lower back. (We) just gave him the day. We’ll see if he can go on Sunday.”
On if it happened during practice:
On if it happened during weightlifting:
“(He’s) just having an issue with his back.”
On if he’s glad to have DB Joe Haden back out there today:
“It was good. He got a little bit of work off to the side. He was limited, very limited. That’s a decision we’re going to have to…hopefully he has a good day tomorrow getting some treatment. We’re hopeful. It’s a game time decision, but we hope he’ll be able to go obviously.”
On who will start in that spot if he can’t play:
“It’ll be (DB Justin) Gilbert.”
On if he needs to make a move on the d-line with DLs Ahtyba Rubin, Billy Winn and Phil Taylor all injured:
“I mean, we have (DL) Jacobbi McDaniel. That’s something (GM) Ray (Farmer) and I have to talk about. We need to get a little more of an update from (head athletic trainer) Joe (Sheehan) about ‘Rube’ (Rubin) before we make that decision. We have (DLs) ‘Kitch’ (Ishmaa’ily Kitchen) and John (Hughes) who have been down, so those guys are naturals to be active. We’ll see if we have to go more than that.”
On if Rubin’s injury occurred today:
“No, it was yesterday.”
On what Gilbert showed in practice this week:
“He came out and did his job. He had a great attitude, competed, made some plays. (He) just raised his level of consistency. He still made some mistakes, but I would say it was his best week of practice.”
On what playing at home means to him and what kind of factor the fans can be:
“It’s just something from the day I got the job I was most pleased about. Having been here as a visitor and getting the feel for the Dawg Pound and just the passion, the loyalty – it was just something you admired from a far. Here’s a team that’s not experiencing much success, yet these fans come out in droves and are very supportive. That was proven, as I said the other day, on the road down in Tennessee. It was shocking to say the least to our guys when we pulled up to the hotel and when we got to the stadium. At home they’ve been great for us. Unfortunately, we came up short against Baltimore. The crowd was a huge part, huge part of our win against New Orleans. We’re looking for more of the same. It’s a situation where we tell our guys, ‘We control the volume.’ When we’re making plays and doing good things, that place will be rocking.”
On how coaches learn how players will take coaching by interviewing players before the draft:
“That’s not something you necessarily ask them. You talk to the people that have coached them. You can go as far back to their high school days, but certainly their college coordinator, college position coach, college head coach. You should be able to get that information.”
On if Browns LB Eric Martin would play if Browns LB Paul Kruger was not able to play on Sunday or if it would just be more time for Browns LBs Barkevious Mingo and Jabaal Sheard:
“Eric would see more of a role. I think Eric only got two plays against Tennessee, and he had two really good rushes. So, it was already the plan to get him more reps. That’s something that if Krug is limited or can’t go, then he’s going to get those reps anyway.”
On if he saw something in the first half of the Tennessee game that caused Mingo to get fewer reps in the second half:
“No, it’s just we were in a little bit less of that personnel grouping that he was in. He’ll get his reps. Sometimes, the guys that are in certain packages their reps will vary based on what the opponent’s doing, and he was a little bit of a victim of that.”
On how big this division game is:
“That’s an understatement. It’s huge. You can’t fall to 0-3 in the division. As we said, the path to our goal is through the division. This is one – like you said – it’s only one, but this is a pretty big one.”
On if he sees a correlation between the AFC North teams all being .500 or better and all being able to run the ball:
“I just know when you’re looking…I was with (Bengals offensive coordinator) Hue Jackson. I know he has a commitment to want to run the ball. Pittsburgh had talked about wanting to get back to more balance on offense and then, (Ravens offensive coordinator Gary) Kubiak goes to Baltimore. I just think it was a natural thing there, him and (Browns offensive coordinator) Kyle (Shanahan) coming from that same system. I think it’s really a product of the mentality change in Pittsburgh of wanting to balance it out and take advantage of the backs that they have, particularly (Steelers RB Le’Veon) Bell. Then, I think the coordinator changes at the other three, I think, firmed that up.”
On if the Browns and Ravens’ commitment to the wide-zone running scheme makes the defenses in the division more familiar to it when going against it:
“I think so because if you’re Pittsburgh or your Cincinnati preparing for a division game, preparing for us or for Baltimore, I would say the pass games are different as I said during Baltimore week, but the run games are very similar. It does water that down a little bit, you’d like to be the only one, but just that’s the way it is.”
On what the message was in the team circle before practice:
On how he looks at the injuries on defense when going against an offense like Pittsburgh:
“We have to be ready to play. Hopefully we can get the guys that are listed out there. I know we have some guys already listed as out. We talked about next man up. As big of a cliché as it is, it’s very true. I always talked to the coaches don’t be that coach who’s starters are the only ones that are ready. To me, the true measure of a coach is how his backups play when they’re in there, and this week will be a good test to that.”
On the defense needing to create more turnovers:
“Yeah, I think that’s one of the reasons we are where we are. We’ve done a good job protecting it, but we need to do a better job of taking it away. It’s something that we emphasize and just like sacks, in turnovers they come in bunches; you’d like to get on that roll where you’re getting a lot of them but where hoping that will come. Our guys are very mindful of it. They’ve (been) given the percentages of it: if you’re even, the turnover percentage is this plus-one and plus-two. It is pretty much the number one indicator of wins and losses.”
On LB Paul Kruger play:
“He’s played well. I think he was a little bit anxious against Baltimore and tried to do a little more than what he needed to. But other than that, I think that he’s been real solid for us.”
On the pressure upfront provided by Kruger leading to DB Tashaun Gipson’s interception versus New Orleans:
“Yeah that was the play of the game against New Orleans but if he’s not getting sack production he’s at least causing the ball to get out earlier. Teams are aware of him and – he can beat guys on the edge and he can also power them which is a good combination.”
On his confidence in DL Ishmaa’ily Kitchen ability:
“To me he’s just a guy that, going back to when we started, fills his grade sheet with pluses. He’s not a flash guy, he’s not going to fill up the stat sheet, have a tone of tackles or sack production or anything like that but he’ll keep the linebackers clean, he’ll be where he’s supposed to be. He’s very dependable when it comes to, when we talk about ‘doing your job and things will happen.’ He’s very dependable that way.”
“Pittsburgh week – not much to say to our guys, as far as motivation, a division game. We all know what our division record is at this point. We need to get ourselves a win in the division. The second time around, you don’t want to get in the habit of overthinking it, too. That game was so recent that the teams haven’t really changed. I know they lost some guys defensively, but offensively, they’re very similar to what they were. A couple of the guys they had out are getting back. It’s a big challenge, and we’re hopeful that the Dawg Pound we know will be there for us. Even going back to Sunday – I think I was remiss in mentioning afterwards – that was shocking, but in a positive way, just how well our fans traveled. We had a huge group of fans waiting for us at the hotel. There were so many of them at the game and they were really loud at the end of the game. That was impressive. I know our guys appreciate it. We’re looking forward to getting back home and feeding off their energy and getting a victory. Our challenge still remains on defense to get some things cleaned up. We’ve talked about consistency, and that’s the key word. We’ve shown, at times, that we can be dominant, and we’ve shown, at times, that we can be where we are ranked, among the worst in the league. We’re not hitting the panic button. We know that the issues are very detail-oriented. We need to get them cleaned up, get them fixed so we can move forward and be the defense that we know we can be.
“On the injury front, I know it was out this morning: (DL) Phil (Taylor)’s going to miss some time, had a knee scope this morning. I think that best source for Browns news lately has become Phil Taylor’s Instagram, right next to our website. He’ll be shut down for a couple weeks. We’ll know a little bit in a few days kind of how that went as the beginning of his recovery starts. At this point, there’s really no more news on that. (DL) Billy Winn won’t practice today with a quad. Then, (DB) Joe (Haden)’s hip, we’re not quite sure. There is some soreness in it. He went through the walkthrough this morning. I think we’ll be very cautious with it. You get to the point with certain guys where you feel good about their practice habits and where they are. You get them into Sunday mode. We’ll keep a very close eye on that and update you guys as the week goes on.”
On who will start in Taylor’s spot:
“It depends on what grouping we’re in. We can be out there with Des (DL Desmond Bryant). We’ll probably have, if Billy’s down, that’s the one position where we felt we did have some depth. (DL) John Hughes who was inactive, will be active. ‘Kitch’ (DL Ishmaa’ily Kitchen) will likely be up. If I had to say who will replace Phil, it could be either one of those two. In run situations, it will likely be Kitch.”
On if Hughes was a healthy scratch from the lineup against the Titans:
“He was. It was just a numbers deal. We wanted to go with the fourth outside linebacker instead of the extra d-lineman.”
On if DBs K’Waun Williams or Justin Gilbert will be getting extra reps in practice in place of Haden:
“K’Waun’s more of a slot. It’ll be on Justin and ‘Nelly’ (DB Robert Nelson) will get a lot of the reps while Joe’s out.”
On his confidence level with the secondary:
“I’m not down on that group because they want to get it right. It’s a matter of going out there and putting the work in. There’s nothing magical about it. It’s going out there, putting in the work. We’ve shown that we can do it. If it was a situation where it was just a matter of what we were doing, we just couldn’t get it right and can’t make a play – that’s not the case. There are times we get it done, times we don’t. We need to – just the consistency thing that I’ve talked about – take a lot of those minuses and push them into the plus category.”
On the defense giving up an average of 7.3 yards on first down:
“We’re inconsistent on first down because it’s not like every first down is seven yards. You even look at the run defense. I thought we were playing pretty well against the run until they busted the 40-yarder on the jet sweep. You look at just the raw number and the average is what it is, but it’s the consistency thing. When we’re playing well for nine plays, and then the 10th one we give up a huge chunk, that’s a problem. You feel you’re much closer to getting it fixed as opposed to five a play, six a play, seven a play. Then, the average ends up being about the same. If we can eliminate the big ones, we feel we’ll be much closer to where we want to be.”
On how Williams and Nelson compare as cornerbacks:
“K’Waun’s more inside, more of a nickel. Nelly has played nickel, but he’s more of an outside corner.”
On Nelson and Williams playing against the Steelers as two undrafted rookies:
“It doesn’t matter to us how we acquire guys. We’re going to put guys out there that give us the best chance to win, and if they have to play we’re confident that they’ll be prepared. K’Waun – other than the early play in the game where he backed up too far in the red zone, and then giving too much cushion, gave up a touchdown – for the rest of the game, he was rock solid, made some huge plays, made the sack and then the tackle to end the game right there on the last one. We don’t get wrapped up into that. If they have to play, they have to play. I talked to the team today just about the whole theory of the phrase ‘next man up’, what it means and why it’s so prevalent in the league. Everybody talks about it because it’s true. You sometimes, especially if you’re a guy who’s on the practice squad or the perceived bottom of the roster and you’re not playing, you start to get into the routine. You get comfortable. We make sure we do it as a staff, but it’s also on them to make sure that I prepare myself to be a starter. That’s why we’re confident because those guys have been doing that, and when they get asked to do it, they’re ready to go. Injuries are a part of the league, and it happens. There are no excuses on Sundays.”
On if Nelson and Williams are outworking Gilbert:
“I wouldn’t say they’re outworking him. Justin’s been inconsistent. That’s a problem. Really to compare K’Waun to him, it’s like comparing a guard to a tackle. He’s an inside corner; Justin’s outside. He’s had his issues, and he knows that he’s been picked on when he’s in there. There are a lot of things that we need to get right with Justin, but we’re confident that we’re going to do it. Nobody’s bailing on him, and if he’s getting some tough love in the DB room so be it. We all recognize the talent, and he showed for long stretches he can do it. Then, he has his breakdowns. We just have to eliminate those, and that’s really indicative of why we are where we are as a defense.”
On if Gilbert thinks he already knows what to do:
“No, that’s not the case at all. I just think when you get into a game situation that sometimes young guys that haven’t had an extreme amount of reps in a system to get a coach and get it ingrained they fall back on old habits. That can tend to get you in trouble.”
On if Gilbert’s issues have to do with his attitude:
“It’s not an attitude thing at all, no.”
On if Gilbert has been addressing those issues behind the scenes:
On if he has warmed up to the idea of using Gilbert as a punt returner:
“No, because we just feel that the options that we have are better. We want him to focus still on…that’s pulling focus away from getting him right as a corner. That was briefly discussed, but that’s not a direction that we’re going to go.”
On if there is a mental component to losing consistently to a QB like Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and how to get over that:
“There could be. To me, it’s not you dealing with a quarterback. You’re just dealing with the team in general. You just look at the lack of success against Pittsburgh. That’s what we talked about that first week, but now that we’re into the season and we’re rolling, we’re onto the next one. That’s our next opponent. I don’t think you get caught up in the history at that point. We know how we played them the first game. The improvement that we can make, the things that we can continue to do well and the matchups and, ‘Hey, that’s who I played against’ – that’s all this game comes down to. I don’t think you can get tied up in it because I think it can only be a negative. I think it’s critical for our guys to—you get to the point where you use the cliché, ‘Just treat these guys as they are nameless and faceless.’ We’re more competing against our standards than we are anybody else in particular.”
On if he mentioned Brady’s success to the Bills defense last season:
“We talked about it briefly, but not to the extent that we did here. It was less just talking about Ben, specifically. It was more just the two teams, the franchises.”
On if he has a better understanding at this point in the season why the Browns came out like they did against Pittsburgh in Week 1:
“Obviously, we don’t because we came out that way against Tennessee. Still searching for it, but it’s something that we’ll look to get it corrected. That’s something that we’ve discussed. We’ve discussed amongst ourselves, as coaches. We’ve discussed it with the players because we know we’re close. If we can increase our level of consistency, we can very quickly get to where we want to be. That just doesn’t happen, and we’ve got to find the answers and we’ve got to get it corrected.”
On how much of a necessity it is that the defense straightens itself out this week against Roethlisberger and Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell:
“Again, I don’t think at this point for us defensively it matters who the opponent is. I think we play quality players every week. I think when guys just take it upon themselves to, ‘Hey, do my job. Get a plus on the grade sheet,’ and then the cumulative effect of that means we’ll have a positive result. That’s the important thing, I think, because when you get too wrapped up into who you’re playing, to me, I think we need to be much more introspective defensively. Just line up, do my job and trust that the guys around me are going to go theirs.”
On Gilbert and LB Barkevious Mingo getting off to slow starts and examples of guys that he’s coached that started slow and then came on strong:
“I think there are guys that progress at all different levels. I don’t know if I have any specific that just jump to mind, but it’s important for those guys to know that No. 1, we have their back. They wouldn’t be here if we didn’t believe in them, but at the same time, we have to do what’s best for the Browns. We have to do what’s best for the team and get guys out there that are going to maximize our chances to be successful. At the same time, they still have to play. I just think it’s important that they know that nobody’s giving up on them, and they’ve just got to keep playing. That’s the key thing. When you’re in a slump, you’ve got to play your way out of it.”
On how the Browns came upon Williams from Pittsburgh:
“(Secondary coach) Jeff Hafley coached him there. There were some other teams interested in him after the draft. The Steelers were one because the Steelers and Pitt share a building, share practice fields so they were very well aware of him. Jeff was there, and it was his position coach. He essentially recruited him after the draft.”
On if Haden was injured after a hit to his hip:
“I don’t know exactly how the injury occurred, but he didn’t miss a play. He went in; they looked at it. Then, he came right back out and went right from the tunnel straight onto the field.”
On if he expects Haden to be ready Sunday:
“I’m cautiously optimistic.”
On if Titans QB Jake Locker escaping the pocket is easy to fix in meeting rooms going up against Roethlisberger this week:
“It is easier said than done. I think their scramble, though, to compare the two is they’re very different. Locker is faster and looks more to run first, throw it second, whereas Ben constantly has his eyes downfield. They’ve perfected that to an art in Pittsburgh. Their receivers, they run the first route, the ball’s not there, he makes the first guy miss, gets out of the pocket and then they all break it off. You don’t have to go any further than Week 1, when we had a free runner, missed him, got out of the pocket and threw a perfect pass to (Steelers WR Antonio) Brown in the corner of the end zone.”
On if he thinks CBs have a difficult time adjusting to the officials being stricter on no-contact rules:
“I can’t speak for the league. I think our guys are probably better than most, as far as adjusting. I don’t know where the numbers are and where we are as being penalized, but it’s an educational thing, as well. I don’t like to discuss the details of the report that we send in, but we’ll ask questions and send them in. It’s not like, ‘Hey, we think you missed this call.’ It’s, ‘Please educate us. How can we coach our guys better?’ There’s been real good interaction. (NFL vice president of officiating) Dean Blandino put out a video every week to staffs and the first five, six minutes of it every week are usually about secondary play, plays that are, ‘Hey, this should be called. This shouldn’t be called.’ It’s good education for all of us, and I think as the year goes on it’ll settle down.”
On if the way the secondary defends guys has changed because of the league’s rule changes:
“I don’t see any difference based on the rule changes.”
On if he got any clarification on DB Joe Haden’s pass interference call:
On if it made sense:
“It made sense. That’s a good answer.”
On not only going no-huddle in the second half against Tennessee but going faster than average, and how comfortable that is for QB Brian Hoyer and how much he can use that in the first half to spark production:
“We talked about this after Week 1 – how that wasn’t going to be our lifestyle – but I think that’s a great tool to have in the toolbox, to be able to go fast. When we’ve fallen behind, I think we’ve still been committed to the run because I think when you go that fast, you can still run the ball. We’ve proven that now twice. You can still run the ball and get back into a game. The average number of possessions, you can go up-tempo and still get back into it, especially if that’s your thing. It’s important for us to have it, and we can jump in and out of it. It’s tough on us. I can’t say it isn’t. It is tough on us, the physical part of it, but I think it’s much tougher on a defense. You’ll get some watered-down calls. You can catch them in some base groupings, and you can get them tired.”
On what the mindset of the defense is right now and what he wants the mindset to be as it gets closer to Sunday:
“The mindset is I think they’re getting a little pissed off. I think they’re tired of hearing it, but they know it’s on them. They’ve got to go out and play. They know as a unit that they’re better than where we are statistically and better than what we’ve put on tape. It’s a prideful group. I’ve said that – prideful, competitive. It’s not a happy group. That’ll show up on the practice field. It already did in the meetings and in the walkthrough. I’ll be surprised if we don’t make strides in the right direction.”
On what makes defending the wide zone so difficult and if part of it is that you don’t see it a lot throughout the course of the season:
“I think that’s part of it – the commitment to the zone-scheme that we have. I think most teams have some element of it, but because it’s our lifestyle, I think we’re really good at it. I think that’s difficult to prepare for in an opponent, especially if you don’t have the players to match that scheme. You might have tight ends that are more mauler types or even offensive linemen that are more built for gap-scheme and downhill and down blocks. The athleticism required in the zone-scheme, you might be able to practice those blocks, but they’re not going to be at the speed, the tempo where our guys can get on top of you.”
On if Baltimore has a similar commitment level to it and the Browns:
“Similar. They are similar.”
On why he thinks DB Buster Skrine struggled on Sunday and if he played better in the first three weeks:
“I don’t really have an explanation for that. Count him in with those other guys where it’s ultra-important to him. He’s passionate. When we talk about ‘Play like a Brown,’ he’s that guy. You don’t need to get on him about it because he’s as upset as anybody else is about it. I know the double-move is the one for sure that he’d want to have back, but as with the rest of the defense, I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t bounce back.”
On if he’s ever been on a team that had this much contribution from rookie free-agents:
“I doubt it. Going back to the Baltimore days, we had a bunch of guys. I don’t know if it was ever both sides of the ball, this big of a contribution. That’s a credit to them, and it’s a credit to our personnel staff that kind of put them on our radar and got them in here. As I said before, we’re going to coach everybody the same once there in here. If a guy is worthy of making the 53 and playing and being active on game day and playing then he’s going to be out there. I think it’s a function of the personnel staff, the coaching staff and the guys themselves. (If) you get a guy that has that ability, he’s going to have a chip on his shoulder for not being drafted and want to prove a point.”
Regardless of how they got here, the Browns are at .500 through 4 games at (2-2). Now what do they do moving forward will give us a better idea if they’re a good team, an improving team, a lucky team or still a bad team. We’ll start to get an answer to that debate starting this Sunday when they host their arch rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have beaten the Browns in 28 of the last 32 games.
Kudos to Chris Tabor’s special teams as they played a big part in the Browns historical comeback win yesterday at Tennessee. Tank Carter’s blocked punt was a momentum changer, and the fact they were perfect on all snaps for punts, field goals and extra points and they made all their kicks is huge. Plus their punt and kick coverage teams were outstanding.
Brian Hoyer is now (5-2) in 7 career starts for the Cleveland Browns. Of those 5 wins, he has led 3 game winning drives in the 4th quarter.
More Hoyer – he’s thrown for 1,008 yards with 6 touchdown passes and only 1 interception so far this season. That’s good for a 97.7 quarterback rating.
The Browns have outscored their opponents so far this season 67-30 in the second half of games.
While it is a victory Monday and as Mike Pettine pointed out in week #1 this is a Pass/Fail business, the Browns head coach can’t be happy with the way his team has started their road games (outscored 54-13 in 1st half), their inability to stop the run, the poor play of Joe Haden, Justin Gilbert and Buster Skrine and the horrendous tackling we’ve seen through 4 games.
The Browns defense, which was supposed to be its strength entering this season, is ranked 30th in run defense in the NFL at (152. Yards per game) and 28th in pass defense at ( 269.3 yards per game).
Having said all that, the Browns are only 1 game out of first in the AFC North.
Taylor Gabriel has been the biggest surprise for me amongst the wide receivers. The undrafted rookie from Abilene Christian has been a big play guy for the offense, averaging 19.4 yards per catch on 10 grabs.
If you’re looking for the strength of this Browns football team, look no further than the offensive line. Joe Thomas, John Greco, Alex Mack, Joel Bitonio and Mitchell Schwartz are the main reason Brian Hoyer has been able to do what he’s done, as well as the running game. The team is averaging over 143 yards per game on the ground with a 4.5 average on every carry regardless of who the running back is.
(4-15), that’s the combined record of the Browns next 4 opponents with 3 of those 4 games at home. No less than 3 wins in the next 4 games is acceptable if this squad wants to be considered a good team and a playoff contender.
In years past this was an easy pick as the Steelers defense dominated because of its linebackers in Dick Lebeau’s “Blitzburgh” scheme. The pressure Pittsburgh’s LB’s would put on opposing quarterbacks allowed Troy Polamalu to do whatever he wanted and Ike Taylor was able to cover the opposition’s top wide out.
That is not the case anymore.
The Steelers linebackers are average at best, and Polamalu and Taylor are older and slower. That is not a good combination for the “Black and Gold”.
How bad are the Steelers linebackers? They drafted one in the first round in Ryan Shazier, and he’s starting on the inside! Mike Tomlin doesn’t like to start rookies on defense, or anywhere. That should tell you something. Last year’s first round pick, another linebacker in Jarvis Jones, underperformed based on the front office’s expectations and the other two starters, Jason Worilds and Lawrence Timmons have also been disappointments, even though Worilds led the team in sacks last year with 8. They are a downgrade from Steeler linebackers of the past.
Pittsburgh brought in Mike Mitchell to replace the ancient Ryan Clark at safety and that is an upgrade. However, without pressure and creating havoc in the backfield from the Steelers linebackers, Polamalu, Mitchell, Taylor and fellow starting corner Cortez Allen can be exposed by good passing attacks.
The Browns feel they’ve upgraded the middle of their linebacking core with the addition of veteran Karlos Dansby. He’s more of a play-maker than D’Qwell Jackson was, but doesn’t have many years left.
Last year’s number #1 pick Barkevious Mingo will be called upon to sack the quarterback. That’s why he was drafted. He’s very suspect against the run, so he has to make up for that with double-digit sacks this year.
Last year’s biggest disappointment was free agent linebacker Paul Kruger. He did not provide the pass rush that the Browns were expecting and needs to step his game up a lot or he’ll lose playing time to another guy that Jim O’Neil is hoping will get after the quarterback, Jabaal Sheard. The last starter right now is Craig Robertson on the inside, but for how long? He’s OK, but rookie third round pick Christian Kirksey was impressive in camp, in the preseason and is a better cover guy than Robertson, so don’t be surprised if the rookie from Iowa leap frogs Robertson and eventually becomes the starter.
Joe Haden is the best player on the Browns defense. When he’s at his best he can take away a quarter of the field and cover the opponent’s top receiver. It’s the other corner position the Browns were worried about so they passed on a much needed wide receiver at #4 and then at #8 in the draft, and selected defensive back Justin Gilbert to plug in opposite Haden. This has the potential to be an outstanding tandem even though Gilbert struggled at times in the preseason. The Browns believe he has the size, speed and instincts to be a top flight cover corner. This also moves Buster Skrine inside to cover the slot guys and it will benefit the team immensely, as Skrine was often picked on last year by opposing quarterbacks on the outside and beaten badly or flagged for a penalty.
The strong safety position will be led by hard hitting veteran Donte Whitner. He was brought here in free agency to replace T.J. Ward because of his experience and leadership, as well as delivering the big hit to make receivers think twice about coming into his area. The Browns also feel Whitner is a good compliment to free safety Tashaun Gipson who led the team with 5 interceptions last year.
The Steelers front office feels the linebacking core will take major steps forward this year with Shazier using his speed to make tackles and Jones his pass rush ability to sack the quarterback, but I’m not as sold on this group, especially when you compare it to what they’ve had in the past. Also the secondary has been a major problem for the Steelers for a number of years now and it’s just getting older. Yes the Steelers are using the same scheme, but do they have the players to make it work? Add in that Joe Haden is the best defensive player either of these two teams have, and the Browns have upgraded their talent and now have some depth, while it’s not a huge edge, I give the Browns linebackers and secondary the slight nod over the Steelers.
LINEBACKERS and SECONDARY ADVANTAGE – CLEVELAND
On how much he hopes this decision will ease whatever burden might have been on QB Brian Hoyer during this whole competition:
“Yeah, I think that’s part of it. I think he’s handled it well. I think if you asked him, there was some stress there, but that’s part of football. We want to distress our guys. We wanted to put them in tough situations. We talk to the team all the time about mental toughness and dealing with adverse conditions. That was something that they went through and had to deal with, and I think it will only make them stronger.”
On if he thinks everyone underestimated how much stress was put on Hoyer between battling for the starting job and trying to come back from injury:
“I think the injury was a big part of it. I mean, he’s really – he hasn’t had that many true reps with a live pass-rush. I think anybody – it took (WR) Travis (Benjamin) some time to get back, (WR) Charles (Johnson) some time to really start to feel it. I don’t think it’s any different at the quarterback spot.”
On how much more pressure is on guys when you go ahead and open it up into a competition as opposed to if you had named a starter back in June and if that pressure is real when guys are going through this:
“I think it is. That’s a big part of football is dealing with an adverse situation or a competitive one. We don’t ever want a guy to feel like, ‘Hey, I’m good.’ There’s no better motivating force in all of athletics than pure competition. I think that guys get a chance to kind of see where they are. When the heat is on, you see how guys react to it.”
On if there’s any indication on Hoyer’s film that his knee is affecting his throwing:
“I don’t see it.”
On if he thinks Hoyer’s knee affects him mentally or psychologically:
“That’s something you’ll have to ask him, and maybe it’s a subconscious thing. I’m not sure. The injury didn’t occur in the pocket. I don’t know how much there is to that, and I’m not sure how he would answer that.”
On if he told the quarterbacks his decision himself:
“I told them this morning.”
On how QB Johnny Manziel took the news:
On what that means:
“He’s a competitor. He wants to be out there, but he knows there are some things he needs to work on and it’s his job to press on and prepare every week as if he’s the starter. I think that’s on anybody that’s not in the starting position. They have to take that approach. I don’t care whether it’s a quarterback, a corner, a defensive lineman. They have to put themselves in that position to take those reps as the starter whether it’s mentally or physically. Physically, there will be fewer reps. I think he really has to dial in on the mental part, but he knows the task that’s ahead of him.”
On how he thinks Hoyer handled the pressure:
“I think he had a lot going on. We’ll see how things are for him now. I think maybe there’s some sense of relief or some re-found confidence. I just think he was dealing with a lot coming into camp where he was a hometown guy and was the starter, but he had a draft pick competing with him. Then, certainly we’ve already discussed it here, there’s just coming off the injury. I think that’s a lot on a young guy’s plate.”
On how, from the outside looking in, statistically, he didn’t handle it very well:
“Well statistically, I think I don’t get wrapped up in the numbers there. I think he had some drops that you could factor in, some routes that were run at the wrong depth, at the wrong angle. It’s easy to look at the numbers. I think when you look at the tape, it tells a very different picture.”
On if he could sense relief from the team that they finally know who the starting quarterback is:
“I couldn’t sense it when I announced it to the team this morning. There wasn’t anything that you could sense at that time, but yeah, I’m sure when you talk to the guys that will likely factor in.”
On if they seemed any more in sync on the practice field today:
“Today was our first day not in pads and I thought they handled it well. I thought we had good energy after coming off of a day off. I think we’ll go in the same format tomorrow because we showed we can still have a productive practice and not be in pads. I think, given the short week, we want to keep our energy up. I think that’s important to be able to practice like that. I thought we had a positive day. I think you can attribute it to a number of things.”
On why he ultimately decided to end the competition now instead of let it play out until after the next preseason game:
“Because of the reason before where I had kind of targeted this week. We wanted to have a starter in place because there’s no substitution for live game reps with the guys that you’re going to be playing with. There’s so many plays that involve being on the same page. If you never got a chance to practice them together, and more importantly, be in a game situation together, I think you’re doing yourself a disservice. We wanted to make sure it was – because I talked before when we announced that it would be a competition – finding that sweet spot between if you do it too early then they really didn’t compete at all and if you do it too late, you run the risk of now nobody is ready for the opener and you don’t have cohesion, chemistry, things that I’ve talked about. That’s why we had targeted it and felt when we met last night that we had enough information to go ahead.”
On if he would have done anything differently looking back:
“I know there are a lot of different ways to do it. This is the way that we chose. I think ultimately it depends on – because we’re all judged here on wins and losses – how it plays out. As far as coming up with a plan, formulating the plan and executing the plan and this is how we want to do it, I feel confident with it. I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Yeah, I regret doing it at this point.’ I know when you looked at the game, it’s easy for people to say, ‘Well, they can’t get in a rhythm because they’re not out there.’ That’s something that – we wanted to put them in tough situations and see how they handle it. I know there are a lot of different ways to do things, but we were confident in our plan and we stuck to it.”
On Hoyer’s leash and if there will be a package for Manziel or is this Hoyer’s job:
“No, this is Brian’s job. This is Brian’s job and I never think of it as a leash or we want a guy to be a game manager. We want him to be confident and go out and play. People looked at our roster. We’ve added running backs. We looked to improve the offensive line. We want to be a well-rounded all-weather offense. We need to be productive. You can’t have one without the other. I think you have to be productive in all phases. I think it starts with the run and it starts with pass protections, but I don’t want our guys on offense to feel like there’s any type of governor there and they can’t just cut it loose and be aggressive. I think when you feel like you’re going to be solid on defense, that allows you to be even more aggressive on offense.”
On if he thinks if Manziel would have dedicated himself to sticking around the facility after the draft and working, he would have had a better chance at the starting job:
“I don’t question his dedication. I don’t. He made tremendous strides from an x’s and o’s standpoint from the time he left here after the, I think it was the rookie symposium, until the time he came back. I know there’s been a lot of discussion about his activity, but he clearly studied and studied a lot and came back significantly ahead of where he was when he left.”
On what comes next on the development of this team now that he has the quarterback situation settled:
“Chemistry is a big part of it – getting guys out, playing together, starting to narrow the package down to fit what we do well and then start to get a little more opponent specific. We’ll do that this weekend with the Saint Louis game. Then you’re always kind of looking at the season in chucks. We did some good work as a staff in the offseason on Pittsburgh and New Orleans and Baltimore. I think it’s getting to the point now with camp broken, where we need to go ahead and start to look ahead to that first part of the season.”
On if he’ll have a package for Manziel:
“I was already asked that.”
On not being present when the question was asked:
“It was asked while you were standing here. Didn’t you ask me that? No. The plays that he would run if he got into the game would be more suited to him, but I don’t foresee us now, especially early, being in a two-quarterback system.”
On if Manziel will play sometime this year:
“Give me a crystal ball. I’ll tell you that answer. The NFL season is so long. So much can happen. We don’t ever want our player – and I’ve talked about this already about the quarterbacks – we don’t want Brian looking over his shoulder thinking, ‘Hey, if I make one bad throw, I’m out.’ Over time if you feel you need to make a change – and it’s not just at quarterback; it’ll be at other positions as well. You have guys that you have penciled in who you’re hopeful can be that guy for you the whole year, but that rarely works out in the league. Time will only tell. You could foresee a scenario where he doesn’t play this year, and then there are other scenarios that are absolutely possible as well. It’s hard to tell.”
On if he’s figured out watching the tape why some of Hoyer’s throws have been inaccurate:
“Nothing from a true mechanical standpoint. Those guys would be able to answer that best. I just think they were two throws – I don’t know whether it was a case where he over-strided. The (WR Andrew) Hawkins one is tough because he was so explosive out of the break that Brian threw it to a spot and ‘Hawk’ (Hawkins) was so fast getting out of the break that he essentially over ran it. Brian knows, lesson learned, that Hawk is a guy who’s going to eat up some ground in a hurry. The plus is he’s going to be open. The minus is that it’s a tougher target to hit.”
On if his receivers are getting open enough:
“We are. I think we can get better. That’s part of having an inexperienced group in the system. I think we made strides with that in camp, and then hopefully we’ll take another step with that this weekend. We told our guys at halftime at the Washington game that we need to make plays. The NFL is about making plays. Our guys have to realize that – that somebody’s got to step up and we’ve got to put it all together. Whether it’s a quarterback making it, a running back making it, whatever it is, offensive football especially, is about guys making plays.”
On making a permanent commitment to a starter:
“No, I don’t want to make a permanent commitment to any starter. I just don’t think you can do that. I think you make more of a commitment to your quarterback because of circumstances that surround that position, but I think you need all your guys on your roster running scared a little bit that, ‘Hey listen, if I don’t perform – this is a performance based business – if I don’t perform, I’m not going to be in here.’”
On if he has any other positions that have been settled that he’d like to name:
“Yeah, the other ones we feel like we can kind of job-share a little bit. I thought (DB Justin) Gilbert played extremely well the other night. There was one coverage where I thought he played off a little bit too much, but I think for the most part, for his first time out there, he had a great look about him. He took the field. He was confident. He was smiling for a lot of the game. Sometimes rookies get that ‘dear in the headlights’ look. He didn’t have that at all. We haven’t decided yet. It’s a little bit uncertain with (DB) Buster (Skrine’s) injury, but Justin will likely be the starter on day one. I think (LB Chris) Kirksey and (LB Craig) Robertson have both earned a spot on this defense, so I think they’ll really both be starters based on what package we’re in. It really depends on what personnel group the opponent’s in.”
On who will start at right guard:
“You could say (OL John) Greco at this point. I think the starting five on the o-line has been solid for a while.”
On if he was happy with the running game last week:
“I thought we ran a little better. I thought (RB Ben) Tate showed up a little bit more. He averaged five yards per carry. There were a couple, you know, there was one four-yard run he turned into a seven-yard run. I thought that was good. (RB Terrance) West has done some good things. He’s learning. I think that competition is still wide open for that third running back spot.”
2) Brian Hoyer has to step up and take the starting quarterback job.
3) Johnny Manziel staying in the pocket and going through his progressions instead of being a one read and then run QB.
4) Whoever plays wide receiver, do your job and “CATCH THE DAMN BALL”!
5) The Browns defensive front seven has to put pressure on the quarterback.
6) Cut down on the penalties, especially on defense.
7) Miles Austin and Jordan Cameron play, make plays on offense and don’t get hurt.
8) For first round pick Justin Gilbert to impact the game like other top draft picks Blake Bortles, Jadeveon Clowney and Ryan Shazier did this weekend.
9) Ben Tate to maintain his 4.0 yards per carry average, but more importantly, don’t fumble the football.
10) For the defense to prove they can shut down someone’s offense other than their own!