April 17, 2014

Three questions about the Browns off-season (so far)

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.

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Scott Raab discusses the Browns hiring of Mike Pettine – WFNY Podcast – 2014-01-25

WFNY Podcast LogoWe don’t do a regular Monday morning podcast with Scott Raab anymore, but whenever there’s something that needs to be discussed, he’s there for us. With the Browns’ hiring of Mike Pettine and ending the lengthy coaching search, it was a good time to catch up.

We discussed the Browns’ search. We discussed Mike Pettine as a candidate. We discussed the challenges facing the Browns going forward and we even fit in a bit of Cavs talk with Chris Grant and Anthony Bennett.

Enjoy!

Check out this episode

Ray Horton to join Tennessee Titans as defensive coordinator

Ray HortonAs rumored yesterday, the Tennessee Titans have now reportedly hired Ray Horton to be their new defensive coordinator.

Today’s confirmation was first reported by the Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot. On Friday, the rumor that Horton was the Titans’ preferred choice was shared by The Tennessean’s Jim Wyatt.

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.

[Related: The Demographic Debate: Which Browns fans have it worse?]

Photo: AP Photo/Tony Dejak

Norv Turner likely to jump to Minnesota

Norv Turner Press ConferenceBrowns offensive coordinator Norv Turner is close to a deal to take the same job with the Minnesota Vikings.

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]

Steelers Depot helps break down the Browns and their coaching search – WFNY Podcast – 2014-01-15

WFNY Podcast LogoDave 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

Check out this episode

While We’re Waiting… Charting top QB draft prospects

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 tips@waitingfornextyear.com.

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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]

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Patriots’ Josh McDaniels reportedly withdraws from Browns consideration

is this the last time I get to use this graphic?

Is this the last time I get to use this graphic?

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.

Peter King also had a quick reaction…

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.

[Related: Marla Ridenour on the state of the Browns, plus the Luol Deng trade – WFNY Podcast – 2014-01-08]

Vikings to interview Browns’ Ray Horton for head coaching job

ray horton brownsThe Minnesota Vikings will interview Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton for their open head coaching position on Tuesday next week.

The Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett first reported the story on Friday evening. ESPN’s Adam Schefter later confirmed it.

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.

[Related: Joe Banner, the 3-4 versus the 4-3 and agent Jimmy Sexton]

Photo: Cleveland Browns

Scott Raab talks about Rob Chudzinski being fired and Andrew Bynum – WFNY Podcast – 2013-12-30

WFNY Podcast LogoScott Raab couldn’t be finished with the WFNY Podcast for 2013 after what happened over the weekend, so we decided to do one more in 2013. We touched on all of the obvious topics including…

  • Scott Raab talking about the Browns
  • Dumpster fire’s use in the mainstream
  • Joe Banner and the ego that goes with firing Chud
  • Jimmy Haslam’s role in the firing
  • The informational path from Mike Lombardi to the media
  • How should fans react to this today?
  • Was Rob Chudzinski the wrong guy for the job?
  • Rob Chudzinski’s own issues and how they impacted his own firing
  • Tony Grossi’s post about Chud refusing to cut Greg Little and Shawn Lauvao
  • Professional sports leagues are cartels, not pizza parlors
  • Scott: “We’re prisoners, not customers”
  • Is there anything Haslam and Banner could say for Scott?
  • Media should have an adversarial relationship with the front office
  • The Kyrie Irving situation is going to end the same way the LeBron one did
  • The Art Modell move continues to haunt coverage of the Browns
  • Andrew Bynum, the media and the Cavaliers’ future
  • Brian Windhorst continues to be one of the best Cavs beat reporters
  • The Kyrie Irving scenario and how it’s playing out [Read more...]

If Rob Chudzinski is fired, it’s just another Browns embarrassment

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 3.33.49 PMI could sit here and break down what happened in the Steelers game, but I have no interest in doing that. The only thing on my mind right now is what an embarrassment the Cleveland Browns organization continues to be with today’s “one-and-done” rumors involving Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski. Granted nothing has happened yet, but just the fact that this rumor has legs across multiple analysts – From Chris Mortenson to John Clayton – is embarrassing. It may be even more embarrassing than the Browns’ bad record, which at 4-12 says so very much, but we’ve seen bad won-loss records plenty of times. I really hoped that the embarrassing Berea chaos of things like Mangini / Kokinis and even Phil Savage’s power struggle were long gone. If Rob Chudzinski gets fired after one year, it’ll be tough to believe that organizational dysfunction doesn’t flow through the pipes of even a renovated Browns complex in Berea.

Rob Chudzinski is not coming off of a good rookie head coaching campaign, to be sure. No matter what happened to the Cleveland Browns from a personnel standpoint, the fact is that only winning four games is a miserable failure. The Browns weren’t even able to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars at home. The fact that the Browns couldn’t win after having their bye week is miserable, but even given all that, I find it shocking to think that the Browns are going to fire Rob Chudzinski and his staff after just one year coaching a roster that wasn’t exactly loaded up on both sides of the ball by the front office. Yet, those are the rumors that persist today. [Read more...]

D’Qwell Jackson ‘shocked’ if he’s not with Browns in 2014

“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.

[Related: Browns hire Lombardi and Chudzinski — WFNY Top 10 Cleveland Sports Stories of 2013: No. 5]

Talking Browns with Mike Burgermeister (@jimkanicki) – WFNY Podcast – 2013-12-24

WFNY Podcast LogoThe very best Browns sports talk that money can buy, but you get it for free! I finally got Mike Burgermeister of JimKanicki.com back on the podcast to talk through the Browns’ miserable season. We talked about all the failings.

  • Cleveland Browns podcast with Mike Burgermeister (jimkanicki.com)
  • The Joe Banner press conferences
  • How do the Browns show accountability in a year where nobody needs to be fired
  • The cap rollover money that Tom Heckert left $12 million
  • How does the NFL cap rollover work?
  • Counting the Cleveland Browns’ holes
  • Does D’Qwell Jackson hold the team back?
  • Fixing the offensive line
  • Offensive guard and whether the Browns can fix it in a year
  • Not having scouts in the room
  • Barkevious Mingo and whether or not the Browns should have drafted him
  • How many games did the Browns think they could win?
  • Do you like the coaching staff?
  • Chud was their third choice
  • Did Banner turn off Chip Kelly?
  • How desperate are the Browns going into next year?
  • Could the Browns franchise either Alex Mack or T.J. Ward?
  • The Browns’ 3-4 and whether they like Ray Horton’s version of it
  • Colt McCoy is still better than Brandon Weeden

Check out this episode

Coordinators call out players for team’s shortcomings: Browns Notes

Norv Turner Press ConferenceAs 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.

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Cleveland Browns Game 14: Winners and Losers

Who caught your eye? Did someone stand out? Who blew it? That’s what were interested in this morning. Winners and losers.

WinnersLosers_WFNY

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...]

The media, the stadium and the front office – Cleveland Browns Survey Results Part 3

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.

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Cleveland Browns – What to watch for now that the games are meaningless

josh-gordon-nfl-record-cleveland-brownsIt’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...]

How popular is the Browns coaching staff? – Cleveland Browns Survey Results Part 1

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

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Rollercoaster ride has Browns on the cusp

Gordon and Cameron

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...]

NFL News: Leon McFadden’s snap count to increase

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.

[Related: Sweeping The Bengals: Can The Browns Pull It Off?]

Cleveland Browns Film Room: Blitzing the Ravens

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.

BrownsFilmRoom

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...]