AFC North: Cleveland Browns

Buccaneers vs. Browns Preview

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
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The Cleveland Browns play the third game in a trio of games that are, generously stated, against struggling teams. The Browns lost to winless Jacksonville and beat winless Oakland. Now the 1-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to Cleveland.

The Bucs are like the Browns in that they are adjusting to a new coach. They are like the Browns used to be in that they are searching for a quarterback.

Cleveland is at home, where the temperature is expected to be a decidedly non-Tampa Bay like 40-some degrees.

Bucs reporter Pat Yasinskas and Browns reporter Pat McManamon join to discuss the game.

McManamon: Tampa Bay comes to Cleveland 1-6. Where exactly have the Bucs improved under Lovie Smith?

Yaskinskas: That’s a great question, and the honest answer is nowhere. Smith seemed like a great hire and has good pedigree with the Tampa 2 defense. The Bucs were active in free agency and they said that’s because they didn’t want to have to ask their fans to be patient. But none of the free-agent moves really have panned out and it’s taking a lot longer for Smith’s defensive and offensive schemes to take hold. I never thought I’d say this, but former coach Greg Schiano’s bunch from last year might be better than the current Bucs.

The Browns jumped into the national spotlight when they drafted Johnny Manziel. But Brian Hoyer has been able to hold him off for the starting quarterback job. How is Hoyer playing, and how firm is his grip on the job?

McManamon: As coach Mike Pettine said last week, good enough to win and be 4-3. Hoyer has hit a bit of a lull, with two off days in Jacksonville and at home against Oakland. But take the entire season together and he’s doing well. His rating is more than 90, he doesn’t throw interceptions, and he’s doing it without Josh Gordon and -- for the past two games -- without a running game. Hoyer’s only issue is that the Browns drafted Johnny Manziel. Because of that there will always be a vocal minority (or majority?) that will cry for Manziel at every error by Hoyer. He needs to win this game, but in the overall picture his play has been a bright spot for a team few thought would be 4-3 at this point of the season.

Is the Bucs' long-term quarterback on the roster, or will he be drafted in the offseason?

Yaskinskas: Josh McCown is 35, so he’s out as a long-term answer. But the jury still is out on second-year pro Mike Glennon. He has a big arm and some nice intangibles, but he hasn’t been met with a lot of success. I think Glennon could be fine if the Bucs improved his supporting cast. But, if this team keeps losing and gets an early draft pick, I think it’s going to be tough to not draft a guy that might be able to be a franchise quarterback.

The Browns haven’t been able to run the ball effectively the past few games. What’s gone wrong?

McManamon: The easy answer is to say the Browns lost their Pro Bowl center. Without Alex Mack the Browns aren’t even averaging 2 yards a carry the past two games. Clearly that’s a factor. But the other factor is that Jacksonville and Oakland dared the Browns to throw by loading the box with a safety to protect against the run. It’s no secret that Kyle Shanahan’s offense is built around the ability to run and play-action, so teams are trying to take the run away and negate play-action. Tampa is a Cover 2 team, though. It will be interesting to see if Smith goes against his bread-and-butter and plays eight in the box.

We live in a (Cleve)land where the coach got one season to prove himself last season with the Browns. Is it at all conceivable that would happen with Smith?

Yasinskas: That’s something I’ve started asking myself recently because it’s becoming a legitimate question. Smith signed a five-year contract and ownership still seems high on him. But let’s say the Bucs end up 1-15 or 2-14 and have some more embarrassing losses like they did against Atlanta and Baltimore. If the bottom really falls out of this thing, I think it’s possible that Smith could get only one year. He needs to get a few wins and show improvement down the stretch.

With Josh Gordon suspended, where do the Browns turn for a receiving threat if banged-up tight end Jordan Cameron isn’t ready to go?

McManamon: That’s a significant issue, Pat. If Cameron’s concussion keeps him on the sidelines the Browns will absolutely have to run the ball. That will help the passing game more than anything. To replace Gordon, the Browns have basically shared the wealth. Andrew Hawkins has played more than any receiver and has been a pleasant surprise. Miles Austin has come up with big catches and touchdowns. And undrafted rookie Taylor Gabriel ranks second in the league in yards per catch (19.8 yards). Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge would share time in place of Cameron. Both have good hands, but neither can get down the field the way Cameron can. One of Hoyer’s strengths is that he can read the field and make a decision quickly, which allows him to spread the ball around. I’d expect that approach to continue.

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BEREA, Ohio -- Wednesday began with Cleveland Browns guard Joel Bitonio making fun of the media mania over Johnny Manziel.

It continued with Tampa Bay receiver and former Manziel teammate Mike Evans saying Manziel has future superstar written all over him.

And it wound down with coach Mike Pettine basically saying that Manziel won’t be playing for the Browns unless there is an injury or the team is out of the playoff hunt.

Meanwhile, the Browns got ready to play a game.

Monty Python had its “Life of Brian”; this is the “Life of Johnny,” with Brian relegated to supporting actor.

It’s a situation created by the team’s trade up in the first round to draft Manziel and molded by its decision to start Brian Hoyer and stick with him through good half and bad. Pettine said that has led to some frustration for Manziel as he watches.

“I can sense it,” Pettine said.

The coach didn’t mention specific conversations but intimated it’s a “feel thing,” the words Pettine used before the opener to keep the opposition guessing about whether Manziel would play.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Tony DejakAside from a couple of plays, Johnny Manziel has watched from the sideline this season.
“Maybe I’m imposing it, putting it on him,” Pettine said. “But you feel it because that’s the kind of competitor he is.”

Manziel’s role with the Browns at this point basically is to watch, learn and be ready. Hoyer is the starter, but as Jake Locker showed, Manziel is one helmet to the thumb away from being on the field.

Until then, fans can live with the fact that Pettine said there have been “glimpses” that Manziel can be a full-time starter.

Diving too deep into anything said about Manziel is dangerous. That’s what Bitonio was getting across in his first-person story for theMMQB.com when he wrote that “the media loves Johnny Manziel -- and Johnny just wants to be a normal guy.”

That may be impossible given that Manziel fuels website hits simply with his name. He garners mega-mouse clicks while not doing much of anything.

Like every player, Manziel should want to play. But Pettine gave no inkling it would happen anytime soon -- or that Manziel is completely ready.

“He’s certainly shown flashes of it,” Pettine said, “but we won’t truly know until he gets out there in an actual game and a meaningful time.”

Bitonio’s first-person narrative detailed the challenge for a guard going from one- and two-word play calls to Kyle Shanahan’s plays that are mini-lectures. Imagine how much more challenging it is for a quarterback.

Pettine said teams make mistakes forcing the issue because they feel they have to “find out” about a guy.

“Brian’s our starting quarterback,” Pettine said. “That’s a difficult thing to say, let’s just go ahead. All the games are meaningful.”

Evans provided the words of praise in a conference call with the Cleveland media.

“The game hasn't really seen a quarterback like him, I don't think,” Evans told a gaggle huddled around a speaker phone. “They say Doug Flutie and guys like that. But he can throw just as good as the 6-5 prototypical quarterbacks, and he can run like Michael Vick.”

Evans may be right. But it seems fair to assume the coaching staff has yet to see the guy Evans described, because if they had, he would be playing and not watching.

If Evans is right, the Browns have the best of both worlds. They are starting someone they believe can win while grooming the guy behind him. With Hoyer headed to free agency and whatever happens there, the Browns have covered their bases.

“I hate talking about contract stuff,” Pettine said. “But that’s the reality of the NFL, and we’ll see how it plays out down the road.”

Manziel admitted Friday that he’s the backup “and that’s that.” He added that there’s been enough drama about him the past two years and that he needs no more.

Clearly he’s searching for a new normalcy. But two days later he posted a tweet at 4:31 a.m. that prompted Pettine to make a crack about the post.

“I don’t know whether he was still up or whether he was waking up early and getting ready to come into work,” Pettine said.

It still marked the first time in-season that Manziel posted anything that might indicate his social life was picking up. Since the season began, and since the Browns spoke with Manziel, he has been laying pretty low -- aside from his every-Friday gaggle with the media.

On Thursday night, Manziel will be at Quicken Loans Arena welcoming LeBron James back to town. There will be several Browns there, but the rookie quarterback will probably be the one caught on TNT cameras.

Even the life of LeBron may pause momentarily for the life of Johnny.
BEREA, Ohio -- Nick McDonald played well enough in his first start for the Cleveland Browns that he will be the team's center going forward.

The Browns did not run the ball well, but coach Mike Pettine had enough appreciation for McDonald's effort to say it is the right move to keep him at center with John Greco at right guard.

"Solid," Pettine said of McDonald.

Solid for McDonald should have a bit of a curve. He had not played in a game since 2012, and did not have a training camp practice with the Browns. He had hurt his wrist in a car crash and only started practicing 11 days before the Raiders game.

"For the first opportunity, it wasn't near too big for him." Pettine said.

In other Browns happenings:
  • Pettine said the team's run game was "not acceptable, especially on the edge." One would have to say he's right. The Browns per-carry average of 1.56 yards was the lowest in the NFL for a game this season.
  • Pettine admitted the team held Isaiah Crowell out because of concern over his three fumbles against Pittsburgh, but admitted Crowell should get more than one carry.
  • Tight end Jordan Cameron is in the concussion protocol after the nasty hit he took following a reception. With the Browns playing Tampa Bay on Sunday and Cincinnati the following Thursday, Cameron could miss two games if concussion symptoms linger. The fact that the Browns claimed Ryan Taylor on waivers might be an indication that Cameron is iffy for Sunday.
  • The team will try to solve the punt return issue from within. Travis Benjamin caught two punts, but fumbled on a return. The Browns were fortunate to avoid a turnover, as Pettine said Benjamin simply tried to do too much. Josh Cribbs has not been discussed as an option, Pettine said.
  • Paul Kruger: "I feel like it's time to put it all together and have a similar showing each week because that's really what we're capable of."
  • In the second half Hoyer went 10-for-13 for 129 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Hoyer had his fifth game this season without an interception. Since he threw three in his first start against Minnesota last season, he's had eight starts when he finished the game, and had a total of two interceptions.
BEREA, Ohio -- Most NFL teams have one position that injuries decimate, and for the Cleveland Browns that's the defensive line.

John Hughes is the latest to leave the lineup. Hughes suffered a knee injury Sunday against Oakland and, according to the NFL transaction wire, will be placed on the reserve injured/designated to return list.

Hughes won't be able to practice for six weeks and can't play for eight, meaning he could return for the season finale at Baltimore. In exchange, the Browns picked up former Baltimore tight end Ryan Taylor.

Hughes, a third-round pick in 2012, has 78 tackles and four sacks in 35 career games.

The Browns already are without tackle Phil Taylor, who's missed three games after a knee scope, and end Armonty Bryant, who has a torn ACL. Starter Ahtyba Rubin missed two games with an ankle injury. Billy Winn has missed three games with a quad injury but could return this week.

Getting Taylor back healthy would offset the recent losses, but Desmond Bryant is the only true healthy defensive end. The Browns could move outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard to the inside or play Winn at end, if healthy.
BEREA, Ohio -- “We’re going to take this loss and run with it.”

Those immortal words from former Cleveland Browns receiver/returner Josh Cribbs come to mind because of the reaction and grumbling in Cleveland about the way the Browns beat the Raiders on Sunday.

It was not a pretty game, by any stretch.

It was not especially well played.

But the Browns won. And they are 4-3. And they followed a bad loss with a win, which in the present vernacular and recent history of this team is never really bad. And, as coach Mike Pettine pointed out, they have won three of four.

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“I’ll sit up here and talk about ugly wins for a lot of Mondays,” Pettine said.

Brian Hoyer's numbers prove the old saying that that there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Hoyer’s numbers against the Raiders were glittering, but his overall game was not. Hoyer had a pick-six dropped, another interception dropped and had some luck on a botched play when he and Miles Austin collided and Hoyer managed to drop the ball to Austin for a gain.

The team also recovered a Travis Benjamin fumbled punt return and took advantage of Derek Carr's fumble caused by his own offensive lineman.

One could refer to the old line that it’s better sometimes to be lucky than good.

But the week before, it was the Browns making the mistakes in Jacksonville, the Browns turning the ball over and giving up late touchdowns and the Browns walking to the plane shaking their heads.

Sunday it was Oakland’s turn.

The difference? The Browns won.

A week ago, Jacksonville loved Blake Bortles because he won. On Sunday, Bortles lost. In the win Bortles had a Total QBR of 9.0. In the loss he had a 2.8, worst in the league. Is one game appreciably worse than the other? No, but in one game a win was involved.

Hoyer had a 127 rating and was near perfect against Baltimore earlier this season, but the Browns lost. He wasn’t perfect against Oakland, but the Browns won. Which game would Hoyer take given the option?

Hoyer has steadfastly maintained since training camp started that he pays no attention to what is said or written about him. Last week especially he said he heard nothing about what was being said.

“I’m sure it was out there,” he said. “Being from here, I have enough people who check on the news.”

He admitted it was tough after losing so badly in a game the Browns were “supposed to win” in Jacksonville. But they won against Oakland.

Which beats the daylights out of taking the loss and running with it.

Browns overcome stagnant run game

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26
10:30
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CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Browns had one of their wackier offensive days of the season in Sunday’s 23-13 win over Oakland.

They ran for fewer than 40 yards, averaged fewer than 2 yards per carry, and had fewer rushing yards, passing yards, total yards and first downs than the Raiders. Yet they won by 10, with Oakland’s sole touchdown coming with fewer than 10 seconds left.

Hoyer
Brian Hoyer epitomized the day. He led an offense that had the ball eight times through three quarters and managed just three first-half field goals. The Browns’ first three possessions of the second half went for 2, 9 and 31 yards and ended with a punt after three, three and four plays. In the second and third quarters, the Browns had the ball six times and had one field goal and five punts. The offense -- and Hoyer -- seemed stuck in neutral.

Yet coach Mike Pettine described Hoyer’s game this way: “Good enough to win.”

It was said with a smile, not a smirk.

Hoyer’s numbers would never indicate the offense struggled. He completed 19-of-28 for 275 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a rating of 111.5. Because it didn’t feel that way, and because the Browns were fighting to beat a winless team for the second week in a row, the usual murmurs and grumblings involving one John Manziel arose.

But Manziel never took off the knit stocking cap (something many Browns wore on a 60-degree day) and Pettine never had him warming up.

In truth, Hoyer had some breaks, with three passes coming close to being intercepted. The offense, by his own admission, was “struggling, struggling, struggling.”

But it struggled because of the woeful running game, and the Browns stayed in the game because they were able to make plays in the passing game. Ben Tate had 26 yards on 15 carries, Terrance West 11 on seven and Isaiah Crowell 1 yard on one carry.

As a team, the Browns followed a 30-carry, 69-yard effort in Jacksonville with a worse day against Oakland: 25 carries, 39 yards. And Oakland began the game ranked 29th in the league against the run.

In the two games since Alex Mack was lost for the season, the Browns have started two centers (John Greco and Nick McDonald) and averaged 1.96 yards per carry.

Teams are selling out to stop the run and daring a passing offense that lacks Josh Gordon to win. Against Oakland, it got even tougher when Jordan Cameron left the game with a concussion in the second quarter.

Despite that, Hoyer managed to turn two late turnovers into touchdowns. The first was set up by Donte Whitner’s hit on Darren McFadden that led to a fumble, and when Derek Carr fumbled Tate turned that into a touchdown.

There will be no style points on this win. It was a grind. But with the win the Browns now are 4-3 for the first time since 2007, and they have as many wins in seven games as they had all of last season, and all of 2011, 2008, 2006 and 2004.

With Cincinnati’s win over Baltimore, the Browns are one-half game behind three teams in the AFC North. Hoyer has a chance against 1-6 Tampa Bay to guide the Browns to a 5-3 first-half.

“I think a lot of people only picked us to win four games this whole year,” Hoyer said.

Maybe fewer.

At this point, after all the double-digit loss seasons of the past few years and all those 20 quarterbacks who have started games, the Browns are more than justified to take this win and enjoy it.
CLEVELAND -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cleveland Browns' 23-13 win over the Oakland Raiders.

Haden
Haden feeling fresh: Cornerback Joe Haden, fresh off his 34-yard fumble recovery return, two pass deflections and nine tackles, responded to Raiders quarterback Derek Carr trying to test him. "If throwing the ball at me, I feel I'm one of the best corners in the league, so I have to do my job and keep knocking the balls down."

Rush offense problematic: The Browns knew defenses would try to stop a rushing attack that flourished through the first five games. But running back Ben Tate didn’t expect Cleveland to average 1.6 yards per carry. Re-igniting the rush will be huge for Tampa Bay prep. "It's frustrating -- I don't know what other word to put it to," said Tate, who finished with 26 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.

Nice hat, dude: A funny postgame exchange between quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains and quarterback Brian Hoyer, who was wearing a green ivy cap … "What's up with the hat?" Loggains asked. "It's stylish,” Hoyer responded. Loggain's follow-up: "Is that a Tom Brady thing?" Brady and Hoyer were teammates in New England from 2009 to 2011.

Mack impresses Browns: Apparently, Oakland rookie linebacker Khalil Mack was one of the best players the Browns faced all year. "That's a unanimous decision in our locker room," Hoyer said. "He gained all of our respect."

The Browns missed Jordan Cameron: Cameron, who left the game with a concussion in the second quarter, will undergo concussion protocol during the week. He finished with 40 yards on three catches. "So much of what we do is anchored off of what Jordan has the ability to do," said receiver Andrew Hawkins, who set the tone in Cameron's absence with 88 yards and a score.
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James was in the house Sunday for the Cleveland Browns, watching from a suite as the Browns played the Oakland Raiders.

[+] EnlargeJames
AP Photo/David RichardNoted Cowboys fan LeBron James supported his hometown team on Sunday.
Joining James in his suite was his longtime friend Randy Mims, as well as several other of his closest acquaintances.

His presence drew an appreciative roar from the crowd, as did the fact James wore and tipped a Browns hat.

In his first tenure in Cleveland, James made no secret of his loyalty to the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees.

He has been far more supportive of the Browns on his return, visiting the team for a training camp practice and attending Sunday's game.

Of course, it helps Johnny Manziel is with the Browns. James' longtime friend and business partner Maverick Carter does Manziel's marketing.

Manziel said this past week that he and James have talked this season, and that the Browns' rookie quarterback has Cavs season tickets.

The NBA season opener in James' first game back with the Cleveland Cavaliers is Thursday against the New York Knicks.
The intrigue as to who will play center for the Cleveland Browns on Sunday -- if there is intrigue about a center -- increased a bit when the team activated Nick McDonald from the non-football injury list on Saturday.

McDonald injured his right wrist in a car accident in the offseason and was waived by San Diego. The Browns claimed him on July 22. McDonald says he is ready to play, so the possibility that he could start at center with John Greco sliding to his original right guard position remains on the table.

Coach Mike Pettine was coy about who would start, saying it would be revealed Sunday and he preferred not to say before then due to strategic reasons. The Browns are trying to find the right combination to replace Alex Mack, who broke his leg against Pittsburgh Oct. 12.

Greco moved to center and Paul McQuistan played right guard the rest of that game and in Jacksonville last week, but the Browns had their poorest game of the season running the ball in the 24-6 loss. Pettine said the team would evaluate the offensive line positions, then activated McDonald after seeing him in his second week of practice as he came back from the injury.

The team could stick with Greco at center and McQuistan at guard. It could use McDonald at guard. Or it could put McDonald at center and move Greco back to guard.
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns lost to a winless team in Jacksonville last Sunday.

They face another winless team -- the Oakland Raiders -- at FirstEnergy Stadium this Sunday.

No team in NFL history has lost consecutive games to winless teams this late in the season.

So the Browns have a chance to make more history.

Unfortunately.

Bottom line: If the Browns are going to make something of themselves and their season, they simply cannot afford another loss to a winless team starting a rookie quarterback for the second week in a row. Especially at home.

In other Browns matters:
  • The Browns are favored at home by seven. The website OddsShark.com reports that it’s just the seventh time in team history they have been favored by seven points or more.
  • Oakland comes to town having lost 12 in a row, the second-longest losing streak in team history. The Raiders lost 19 in a row from 1961-62.
  • Elias Sports Bureau reports that the Raiders have lost 15 day games in a row in the Eastern Time Zone, the sixth-longest streak in the Super Bowl era.
  • The last three seasons, Oakland is 2-16 on the road.
  • One could make the case that means the Raiders are due.
  • This really is a matchup of teams that have struggled more than any in recent seasons. The Raiders are 53-129 since they went to the Super Bowl in 2002. In the same time period, the Browns are 59-123.
  • Something must give: The Raiders rank 32nd in the league in third-down defense. They allow opponents to convert 52.9 percent of the time. Brian Hoyer ranks 26th in the league in third-down passing; he’s completing just 48.4 percent. That no doubt is part of the reason the Browns are 28th in the league on third down, with a conversion rate of 33.3 percent.
  • The Browns, though, rank last in the league in giving up 6.69 yards per play on first down.
  • A win would give the Browns one more win at home (three) than they had all of last season.
  • Other oddities from ESPN Stats & Information: The Raiders have won their last three games played in Week 8 of the season but have lost five of their last seven against the Browns. The Browns have lost three of their last four games against the AFC West and have not gone seven games into a season without consecutive losses since 2007.
If the Cleveland Browns ever call to the bullpen at quarterback, the season will get weird in a hurry. But that's not a reality this week. As written here, Brian Hoyer struggling against Oakland and Tampa Bay would qualify as a three-week stretch of bad play against inferior opposition, which might -- might -- be enough to nudge coach Mike Pettine to change. But Browns coaches don't foresee that. Johnny Manziel said Friday that he's the backup and "that's that." He knows nothing he says right now helps him or helps the situation, so he's not about to call for himself to play, even if he believes he could do better.

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The position that gets the most run in this offense is running back, and the competition remains as open as a soft spot in the zone. Kyle Shanahan said it Thursday, and running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery punctuated it Friday.

"Someone has to take charge," Montgomery told ESPN. "At some point you have to say, 'The job is mine.'"

The workload suggests Ben Tate is the primary option, with 63 carries in the three weeks since returning from injury. He's reliable. He doesn't fumble. He was strong in back-to-back games against Tennessee and Pittsburgh, recording 202 yards and two touchdowns on 47 carries.

But Tate did little to set up the passing game in Jacksonville, where the Browns lived in second-and-9 and third-and-8. Tate finished with 36 yards on 16 carries, signaling a drop-off in each of the last three weeks.

Undrafted rookie Isaiah Crowell leads all rushers with four touchdowns but he's still trying to wash the stain of three fumbles against Pittsburgh. Third-round rookie Terrance West watched his workload dwindle since his 168 combined yards in Weeks 1 and 2. In Jacksonville, West got back-to-back carries on second-and-2 and couldn't convert.

Still, the Browns are high on the potential of both rookies. If they weren't, Tate would have closed the door on the competition two weeks ago. All three want to be the workhorse, Montgomery says, but he doesn't know who will get there first.

"I think they've all got their own qualities," Montgomery said. "It can happen at any time. I've always said, you've got to get a hot hand. You’ve got to break a run for 7 or 8 yards and you’ve got to come back and get another one for 7 or 8. You’ve got to separate yourself from the other guys.

"Ben is the veteran of that group, but at some point you want to decide on one guy and let him ride. You’re looking for it."

My take: Coaches are publicly trying to motivate Crowell/West, who are still adjusting to life as professionals. The coaches didnt seem keen on West's comments earlier in the week that running backs need a rhythm to feel out a defense, and they are pouncing on it. Crowell and West offer big-play ability. Tate offers dependability. Why can't they have both? Not sure one guy needs to shoulder the entire burden. Two-back systems thrive in the NFL, so by November there might be one player left out.
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns likely will have defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin on the field when they play the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

“He’s had a good week,” said coach Mike Pettine. “He feels good. He’s been cleared. Obviously feel real good about him.”

Rubin missed the last two games with an ankle injury, but though Rubin is a confident guy, don’t expect the return of one player to be a panacea for the Browns' ailing run defense. In the four games Rubin played, the Browns gave up 152.5 yards rushing. For the season, they are giving up 155.5 yards. Improvement has to come from more than just one guy.

Pettine also said he had decided who would start at center and right guard, but declined to name them, citing a strategic advantage in withholding the information until Sunday.

John Greco, who started at center following the injury to Alex Mack, said he got reps at center and right guard, but didn't know how the Browns would line up. The team has until Saturday at 4 p.m. if it wants to activate Nick McDonald off the non-football injury list.

Backup safety and designated punt-catcher Jim Leonhard missed Friday’s practice after hurting his ankle in practice on Thursday. Pettine said he expected Leonhard would play.

There’s a chance Billy Winn could return from the quad injury that sidelined him for two games. Winn practiced Friday, and if healthy, he could improve the depth on the defensive front.
 
BEREA, Ohio -- Brian Hoyer is finding out what life is like for a Cleveland Browns quarterback.

Win, and he’s celebrated. Lose, and he’s suddenly asked about the backup. It’s happened for 15 years in Cleveland, since Ty Detmer was given one game to hold off Tim Couch in 1999.

With Hoyer, the scrutiny becomes more intense because his backup is the darling of Instagram, Johnny Manziel, a guy who threw for 7,000 yards in college. That increases the scrutiny exponentially, which Hoyer learned in training camp.

Now the chatter about Manziel arises again after what Hoyer called the first bad start of his career. It’s not even stopped by coach Mike Pettine, who said that Hoyer is still “firmly” the team’s starter.

Which raises the question: How committed should the Browns be to Hoyer? How long is his leash? And how long should it be?

Browns reporters Jeremy Fowler and Pat McManamon take a look at that bubbling issue:

Pat McManamon says:
Hoyer
 If the Browns backup’s last name was anything other than Manziel, this discussion would not take place. If Hoyer played anywhere other than Cleveland, this also might not be a discussion.

Hoyer simply has to deal with this.

What’s lost in the discussion is the judgment that’s made about every backup in the league -- that the backup will be better than the guy starting.

It’s illogical. No coach should keep a player on the bench if he’s clearly better than the starter.

Manziel is still working in a vastly different environment than what he did in college. In his preseason playing time, he struggled. Watching has no doubt helped Manziel grow and better understand the system, but he still is a rookie going from a fast-paced, one-read, one-side-of-the-field system to one that has paragraph-long plays.

Hoyer had one bad game. He admits it. But one bad game does not make a guy a bad player. Nor does it suddenly mean that a coach who a week earlier was praised for beating Pittsburgh has suddenly lost his mind.

Hoyer deserves to remain the starter until his bad games become a pattern, or until the playoffs are out of the picture. At that point seeing what Manziel offers is logical. But seeing what a guy can do does not always equate to trying to win.

The Browns have suffered too long with knee-jerk reactions and short-term quarterbacks.

Hoyer deserves the long term -- along with the team and the fans.

Jeremy Fowler says:

Manziel
 The Browns were never going to pull Hoyer after one bad game, just like they weren’t going to sign him to a lucrative contract after five good ones. Have to let this one breathe a bit until Browns coaches know exactly what they have, good or bad.

But the way the schedule is set up, it’s difficult to imagine Hoyer struggling three straight weeks -- and the Browns not at least giving Manziel serious consideration in meeting rooms. In other words, the leash is three bad games in a row.

Jacksonville (last week), Oakland (this week) and Tampa Bay (next week) are all considered inferior talent. Can’t lose to all three. Can’t look skittish against all three.

Even then, would the Browns want to start Manziel at Cincinnati on a Thursday night? Maybe, at 3-5 by that point, the Browns would be in season-salvage mode, with which Manziel would be happy to help.

Hoyer’s three-game leash is based on a few factors: the equity he built up with five good games, Pettine’s soft spot for Hoyer, and the Browns’ dump-happy nature with quarterbacks that has plagued the franchise.

Still, if Hoyer continues to struggle but finds a way to beat Oakland or Tampa Bay, the Browns would be .500 with eight games to go, setting up nicely for a veteran to manage the season. Hoyer should be able to handle that, right?

Crucial times in Berea, no doubt. Maybe the solution is playing Manziel for a series or two if the Browns find themselves in a significant hole again. You wouldn’t be pulling Hoyer outright but could see what type of spark Manziel is ready to provide.

Everyone wins.

The Cleveland Browns face their second winless team in a row Sunday at 4:15 p.m. ET at FirstEnergy Stadium. Last Sunday in Jacksonville, the Browns took the Jaguars from the winless column, as the Jags completely outplayed the Browns.

Now the Oakland Raiders come to Cleveland. Oakland rookie Derek Carr is the starting quarterback and the long-term answer, while Brian Hoyer is trying to right his ship so he can keep staving off the more-celebrated rookie, Johnny Manziel.

The Browns won’t want to lose two in a row to winless teams. The Raiders will want to win a stinking game. Browns reporter Pat McManamon and Raiders reporter Bill Williamson take a look at Sunday’s game.

McManamon: Everyone asks me about Manziel, so I'll ask you about your rookie quarterback. What's your assessment of Carr, and can he be the long-term answer Oakland has long sought?

Williamson: I think, yes, Carr can be the long-term answer. I think the Raiders think so as well. He may not ever become elite, but he could be a guy who goes to more than a few Pro Bowls and who gives his team a chance to win for the long haul. The Raiders aren’t 0-6 because of Carr. He shows great poise and, when the Raiders get more talent around him and when he gets more experience, he could be dangerous. Finally, the Raiders look like they have a quarterback they can build around.

Are the Browns worried about Hoyer’s poor game against Jacksonville? Do you think it’s a sign of things to come?

McManamon: It could be, but not because of that one game but because of the past three. Hoyer started very well, with more than 60 percent on completions in three games (two close losses and one win). Since, he has been below 60 in one game, below 50 in the next and his completion percentage for the season is just below 56, that’s not trending well. Whether this is one of those mini-slumps that affect a guy during a season or a sign that defenses have figured out how to defend him will play out over the next two or three weeks. The Browns say they are not worried about Hoyer, but the concern will grow if he continues on the same path against Oakland and Tampa Bay.

The Browns and Raiders have been neck-and-neck in the past decade for clumsiness and ineptitude. Is there a reason to believe the Raiders are finally getting it right, or will the fire drill continue?

Williamson: Other than the hope for the quarterback, no, there isn’t any reason to think this team is turning the corner anytime soon. They are 0-6 and have holes everywhere. Add in the fact that they are the NFL’s oldest team and there are big long-term problems, the Raiders will start over again in the offseason. With luck, maybe they will be three years away. But they were supposed to be three years away when Reggie McKenzie took over a general manager in 2012. Little if any overall progress has been made.

Do you think the Browns have figured it out or do you think the playoffs are still a long way off?

McManamon: They’re figuring it out, but until they actually do it the playoffs are a distant dream. Mike Pettine’s moves make sense. The Browns run the ball well, and they have some talented people to build around. But the nagging quarterback question popped its head out of the gopher hole last week, and the defense is giving up 155.5 yards per game rushing. GM Ray Farmer does not try to prove he’s the smartest guy in the room; he merely makes logical decisions. On that hope and on the hope that Jimmy Haslam will probably give Pettine time, there is hope.

Williamson: What is the vibe around the Browns after that loss? They have to be a little tight about the prospect of losing back-to-back games to winless teams.

McManamon: The mood was pretty somber early in the week. A team desperate to prove it has grown past these gaffes laid a gigantic egg in Jacksonville. If the Browns truly had turned the corner to respectability, they’d have handled business. That they didn’t, raises concerns. But teams have lulls in seasons. The Browns' job now is to prove that game was just “one of those days” and show they can rebound. They do have two very real chances to get that done the next two weeks. If the Browns do take care of things against the Raiders and Bucs, they’d be 5-3 at the midway point and very happy about what they’d done to that point.

Jacksonville won their first game last week, naturally over the Browns. Do the Raiders believe they can match the magic in a road game?

Williamson: There is hope. Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano mentioned the Jacksonville win Monday. There is a lot of hope in the locker room. I will say this: The Raiders are professional. They work hard and they try. The team has not quit. They will go to Cleveland with the intention of winning. But can the Raiders finish? They have competed in the two games since Sparano took over for the fired Dennis Allen. But they haven’t played well enough to win. If the Browns stumble around the field, though, Oakland could perhaps take advantage.

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