The Browns seemed to be set to be one of the most active teams in free agency as the period began. They signed Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner very quickly and were off to the races. They followed that up with an offer sheet to Andrew Hawkins, a smaller move on special teamer Isaiah Trufant before making another marginally big splash over the weekend with running back Ben Tate. As I write all that out, it really does seem like they’ve been active, but there are a couple things that the Browns haven’t done which has surprised me and makes me curious about their strategy and plans. So let’s explore what the Browns have done and what it might mean for their plans from this point forward.
As rumored yesterday, the Tennessee Titans have now reportedly hired Ray Horton to be their new defensive coordinator.
In Tennessee, Horton will reunite with new head coach Ken Whisenhunt, a three-time interviewee over the past two seasons for the Browns opening. Horton was Whisenhunt’s defensive coordinator in Arizona from 2011-2012. They both have a background of working for the Pittsburgh Steelers organization.
Horton, 53, had a difficult year in Cleveland. Despite his reputation as a very good coordinator with an attacking hybrid defense, the team’s unit was one of the NFL’s worst in the second half of the season, the second half of games and in third-down situations. The pass rush — bolstered by new additions Paul Kruger, Desmond Bryant and rookie Barkevious Mingo — regressed mightily down the stretch.
Throughout the process, the Browns were letting Horton interview for any position, even lateral moves. Two weeks ago, he interviewed for the Minnesota Vikings vacancy. That position was later filled by Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. They then brought on former Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who also spent only one season in Cleveland..
Including those two, the Browns have now reportedly lost five members of its coaching staff from 2013. The other three: DL coach Joe Cullen to Tampa Bay, OLB coach Brian Baker to Washington and TE coach Jon Embree to Tampa Bay.
Photo: AP Photo/Tony Dejak
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the news earlier on Thursday morning. The connection had been rumored yesterday when Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer took the job in Minnesota, leaving the Browns as the final vacancy in the NFL.
Turner, 61, only spent one season in Cleveland after six years as the head coach in San Diego. The Browns offense finished the season No. 27 in scoring (19.3 per game) but No. 18 in yards per game (338.9). They were the second-most pass-happiest team in the league, throwing on 67.7% of offensive plays.
Overall, I don’t think that Turner had a bad season with the team. For goodness sake, he was working with Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell at quarterback for the bulk of the season. He had a sub-par assortment of runners. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who also had interviewed in Minnesota, was perhaps the bigger disappointment.
The long-time NFL veteran Turner was well-respected by players, according to the usual reports. It’s kind of a bummer that he’s leaving so easily. Now, it’ll be fascinating to see where the Browns eventually head not only in terms of a head coach, but also for their future offensive coordinator.
[Related: The Cleveland Browns have changed me]
Dave Bryan from Steelers Depot (@SteelersDepot) is one of the best podcast guests we have. He’s super knowledgable, and is always great at breaking down what’s happening without the rose-colored glasses.
- Dave Bryan and not being a homer for the Steelers
- Is there ever a justification for firing a coach after one year?
- Brian Hoyer and whether he can get the Browns to the next franchise QB
- The perception of the Browns head coaching job
- Adam Gase and why is he such an attractive candidate?
- Josh McDaniels and his taking his name out
- Jim Caldwell and Whisenhunt
- Jake Locker and what can become of it
- Chris Johnson and his poison contract
- Ray Horton ending up with Whisenhunt in Tennessee
- Ray Horton’s defense and Dick LeBeau’s defense
- Chud talking to other potential coaching candidates
- The hiring of Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh
- T.J. Ward and Alex Mack better be brought back
- Alex Mack and how the Browns need to bring him back
- Moving Schwartz to guard and getting a new right tackle
- The All-22 version of the national championship game
- Football attendance at games
- Making NFL stadiums smaller over time
- Browns fan experience in the stadium is far better
- The government attacking TV blackout policies
- Dave would be shocked if the Browns didn’t bring back Ward and Mack
- Did the Browns waste a year of not front-loading deals?
- The Browns can only franchise one player between Ward and Mack
- The Steelers and the Shamarko Thomas deal with Cleveland
- Johnny Football and whether the Steelers would be concerned about him
- Johnny Manziel is a guy that you root against
- Manziel as a boom or bust guy
- Could Brian Hoyer be that bridge to the QB of the future?
- The Ben Roethlisberger extension
While We’re Waiting is a space on the WaitingForNextYear website where we share links every day. We’ve been doing it for about four years or so. Denny Mayo used to be much more amusing with his intros, if you recall. You know the drill: Email us with suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phenomenal research here on the top QBs in the 2014 NFL draft class: “Most notable for Bridgewater is the lack of screens incorporated in the offense. Some have said that Bridgewater throws a high quantity of short passes, however the screens a QB normally utilizes have become short throws so that Bridgewater throws 53% of his passes in the 1-10 yard zones.” [Greg Peshek/Roto World]
I’ve assumed since the Browns fired Rob Chudzinski that Josh McDaniels was the favorite to be the next coach of the Cleveland Browns. Not to say that McDaniels is necessarily my preference, but his connections to Michael Lombardi seemed all the more indicative that he should be the favorite until I heard otherwise. Well, thanks to Adam Schefter of ESPN, I’ve now heard otherwise.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has withdrawn from consideration for the Cleveland Browns HC job, per a league source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 8, 2014
One person who knows Josh McDaniels said he had “an awesome” meeting with Browns, but it isn’t right time for him to become a head coach.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 8, 2014
Peter King also had a quick reaction…
Josh McDaniels withdraws in Cle, per @AdamSchefter … Two sides had 7.5-hour meeting Sat. Owner loved him, I hear. Probably for best.
— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) January 8, 2014
I say for the best because selection of McDaniels would have been ripped by many locals after how it ended in Denver. Bad for new regime.
— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) January 8, 2014
At least they had an “awesome” meeting though, right you guys?!
So, what does this mean? Does this mean that the Browns lost their number one candidate coming into the interview process? The Browns have never admitted missing out on Chip Kelly, so we’ll likely never know for sure. What this means is that the Browns will continue to scour ranks of coordinators and position coaches like Ben McAdoo of the Packers and potentially Adam Gase of the Denver Broncos.
Plenty of successful head coaches have been hired from those ranks, so it’s not necessarily a disaster, but you’ll have a tough time convincing me that one of the Browns’ presumed top options is now unavailable, having followed down the unavailability path of Gus Malzahn.
Horton, 53, had just one year with the Browns after serving in the same role with the Arizona Cardinals for two seasons. He honed his skills as the Pittsburgh Steelers secondary coach for seven years previously. His hybrid defensive style was hyped in the 2013 preseason, but struggled as did the Browns en route to a 4-12 season with the NFL’s 23rd-best defense by points allowed.
The Vikings also will be interviewing current Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles on Tuesday in Arizona. The Browns interviewed Bowles on Friday. Both teams have interest in Seattle D-coordinator Dan Quinn as well, with Minnesota meeting with him today and the Browns meeting with him earlier in the week.
Previously, Cleveland CEO Joe Banner announced that the team would not interview candidates that interviewed in the process one year ago. Thus, Horton is unlikely to garner an interview this time around. He still could theoretically be a candidate, although that has not been reported by the media just yet.
Josh McDaniels, New England’s offensive coordinator, appears to be the favorite for the team. They’re meeting with him today in Boston. The Browns also were rumored to be interested with a number of college coaches, as was reported earlier in the week.
Photo: Cleveland Browns
“I don’t even like talking about it. I know it’s a business and things change all the time, but as far as I’m concerned I haven’t thought about that one time. I feel good in my position where I am. From what I know, I’m part of the plans, I’ll be here next year.”
“Now I’m stuck to Cleveland. It’s going to be hard to go somewhere else and play. I know it’s the nature of the business, things may change and I’m fully aware of that. Right now, I’m a Cleveland Brown through and through.”
– Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, to the Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot, on his future status with the organization. The 30-year-old has a major $4.1 million roster bonus due in March, but would feel “absolutely shocked” if he’s not with the team in 2014, per Cabot.
Jackson’s overall cap hit for next year is $8.1 million. He signed a five-year extension through 2016 that included $19 million guarantees and bonuses. Cabot reports that Jackson’s camp currently is not expecting Cleveland to ask to restructure his contract.
This season, as seemingly always, the Maryland product leads the Browns in tackles with 134. He has played in all but one defensive snap this season for new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who called Jackson “coach’s dream as far as leadership, intelligence.”
The Browns also will have key offseason decisions to make on All-Pro center Alex Mack and alternate safety T.J. Ward. Jackson, as a beloved team captain, likely should remain in town despite some of the ongoing rumors.
As the Browns are stuck on four wins, having lost three consecutive games in the fourth quarter, the team’s coordinators have decided to place a chunk of the onus on the 53 players who wear orange and brown on every Sunday afternoon. Speaking during their usual Thursday afternoon media session, both Ray Horton and Norv Turner pulled no punches when it came to where the breakdowns have occurred.
“I think as the games go on, there’s more pressure to perform well and to not repeat a pattern that has happened in the past,” Horton said of his defensive unit, one which recently allowed 21 points to the Chicago Bears. This repeated pattern Horton is speaking of comes in the way of the ever-popular late-game collapse. At home against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Browns had a three point lead in the final minutes of the game only to give up a touchdown drive, the point-scoring play coming with 40 seconds remaining. With just over a minute remaining in New England, and the Browns having amassed a 12-point lead, Tom Brady and the Patriots rattled off two quick touchdowns. The Bears’ 21 points would come in the final 11 minutes of a game the Browns had been leading.
“It’s not acceptable at this point in the season,” said Horton. You have to do your job and you have to be accountable or at some point you move on.
Who caught your eye? Did someone stand out? Who blew it? That’s what were interested in this morning. Winners and losers.
LOSER: Fans. Let me be clear about this one: I’m not calling the fans losers. I’m saying that we lost. Again. The Browns finished the home slate with a 3-5 record this year. It could have been worse I suppose. The Browns could have won all four of their games on the road. The Browns made a big deal this year about improving the fan experience. In some ways they did, but at the end of the day I think fans will remember a dismal season more than wiener dog races and giant inflatable corn hole games.
WINNER: Tashaun Gipson. When Ray Horton called Gipson the defensive MVP a few weeks back, I admit that I laughed it off. I’m not laughing anymore.
Gipson had a pair of interceptions including a 44-yard return for a touchdown. He also had a pair of tackles for loss and several good plays in the passing game. His ability has given the Browns the freedom to use T.J. Ward as a Troy Polamalu-type player, blitzing and playing the run almost as an extra linebacker. [Read more...]
Here’s the final bit of survey data from our Browns fan survey. It’s really a catch-all of the remaining preferences. First up is the Media.
It’s officially past the point of the Cleveland Browns football season where the games matter anymore. Instead of rooting for good teams ahead of the Browns in the standings to lose, now all that matters is if the bad teams below them win. Once again December football is meaningless on the shores of Lake Erie, but because we just can’t help but watch here are some things to keep an eye on.
Josh Gordon’s statistical superiority
Heading into week 14 Josh Gordon has amassed 1249 yards, leaving him 40 yards shy of Braylon Edwards single season franchise record of 1289. Edwards record setting season came over the course of 16 games while Gordon has come within one long play of breaking the record after playing in just 10 games. Gordon’s big play ability has him at 19.5 yards per catch, putting him second in the NFL behind the Saints’ Kenny Still who is averaging 20.6 yards per catch, but only over 23 catches.
Gordon not only has a chance to break the Browns’ single season mark for receiving yards, he has a real shot at leading the league in receiving yards. Currently Gordon sits third in the league, 50 yards behind Calvin Johnson and 28 yards behind Andre Johnson (with one game in hand). For a team who has been miserable to watch offensively for the last 14 season it would be a nice consolation price to boast the league’s leading receiver. [Read more...]
Yesterday, I decided to poll Browns fans on a variety of topics. After collecting 421 responses, the voting is closed. Here are the first part of the results.
First things first, the Browns are sitting at four wins and nobody has any idea who is going to play QB just yet. So how’s the opinion registering on the current year?
The Current Year
Why not them? Why not now?
Decades ago, former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle badly sought out and used a word that has become part of our regular vernacular – parity. He wanted it for his league. He needed it. Now, the late, great former commissioner would be loving that the NFL has turned into exactly what he wanted it to be. Anyone who doesn’t believe this to be true only needs to look at the current AFC Wild Card standings.
The top six teams in each conference get in. Right now the sixth spot is being held by the 5-4 New York Jets. This is a team that got destroyed 49-9 in Cincinnati three weeks ago and has traded wins and losses each week this season. Chasing them are five teams one game back at 4-5 heading into last night: Miami, Tennessee, Baltimore, San Diego, and Cleveland. Oakland and Pittsburgh are 3-6 and right there as well. That means 13 of the 16 AFC teams are within two games of a playoff spot. [Read more...]
As the Cleveland Browns continue to have one of the better defensive units in the NFL, it may soon see an increased snap presence from rookie cornerback Leon McFadden.
In a recent edition of “Hey Mary,” Cleveland Plain Dealer beat writer stated that McFadden should have a larger role once the Browns come out of their bye week.
“I have complete confidence in him.” said Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton on the 23-year old out of San Diego State. “[I have] no reservations whatsoever. He’s ready to play.”
What an “increase” represents remains to be seen as McFadden has only seen three snaps as a cornerback, recording his only statistics as a member of the special teams unit. Any playing time McFadden gets would likely come at the expense of Chris Owens or Buster Skrine. Per Pro Football Focus, 68.2 percent of passes thrown to a receiver covered by Owens have been caught, representing the seventh-worst mark amongst cornerbacks to play in at least 50 percent of his team’s snaps. Only two players in the league (Baltimore’s Corey Graham, Detroit’s Rashean Mathis) have been thrown at more often while having played fewer total snaps.
McFadden missed a portion of training camp thanks to a pulled groin and had yet to get his name in the mix for passing packages. NFL Films guru Greg Cosell called him “an absolutely terrific player” in the pre-draft process, despite his small stature (5-foot-9 5/8, 193). Whether or not he can capitlalize on this potential playing time will soon be determined.
Gang I wish I had more opportunities for film rooms. I really do. Part of the problem is that the all-22 and end zone views aren’t available until the middle of the week, and my schedule has gotten crazy from Wednesday on. Life just gets in the way.
I wanted to highlight something that Craig and I talked about in our podcast from this past Tuesday: The defense has been terrific over the last six quarters of football going back to the second half of the Kansas City game. They have gotten pressure on the quarterback and have recorded 11 sacks over those two games.
Early in the season, most of the sacks came when the team rushed just four and had seven in coverage. The past two weeks we have seen more of Ray Horton’s more exotic blitz schemes. Safety T.J. Ward has two sacks over those games, and cornerback Chris Owens got into the action with a sack himself against the ravens.
During Baltimore’s only real possession of the fourth quarter, the Browns pulled out all the stops to get pressure on Flacco. The Browns were up by only three points, 21-18. Two blitzes in particular I wanted to highlight, mostly because they came on third downs. [Read more...]