AFC North: Derek Anderson

Browns vs. Panthers preview

December, 18, 2014
When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C. TV: CBS

Welcome to Johnny Football versus Who Will Get The Football.

There's still some uncertainty whether the Carolina Panthers will start Cam Newton or Derek Anderson at quarterback opposite the Cleveland Browns' Johnny Manziel.

If it's Newton, who broke two small bones in his lower back when his truck rolled in a two-vehicle accident last week, it will be the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner versus the 2012 winner.

If it's Anderson, it will be the Browns' quarterback of the past (2005-09) versus the Browns' quarterback of the future.

The Panthers remain in the hunt for the NFC South title. At 5-8-1, they need to win out and they need New Orleans to lose one of its final two games to repeat as division champions. The Browns (7-7) have lost three straight and four of their past five to fall out of playoff contention.

ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton and ESPN Browns reporter Pat McManamon are here to break this one down:

Newton: Pat, now that the Browns have opened up the Johnny Football can of worms, do you think he gives Cleveland the best chance to win this week?

McManamon: If it's based on hype and hope, sure. He can win. But so can Connor Shaw, and he's on the practice squad. If you base it on college achievement, Manziel should win. He was tremendous in college. But college achievement means less than nothing in the NFL. If you base it on reality and the way Manziel played against Cincinnati, he gives them less than a 1-in-10 chance to win. Not even Mike Pettine tried to sell the "best chance to win" card, as Monday he said Manziel gives the Browns "an opportunity to win."

Manziel should improve in his second start. Logic says there's nothing to do but improve. The Browns have to desperately hope he does, because if Manziel doesn't show more than he did in his debut there are serious issues at quarterback in 2015. As for winning, the final two games are about evaluating No. 2.

Let's flip the script on Manziel, David. The Bengals were nearly jumping out of their uniforms to hit, sack and taunt Manziel on Sunday, and they were largely successful. Do you feel that's an attitude the Panthers will share, and would you expect some money signs on Sunday?

Newton: I haven't gotten that sense. The Panthers simply are happy when they get to the quarterback this season. They have only 31 sacks after leading the league with 60 last season. The absence of 2013 sack leader Greg Hardy, who is on the commissioner's exempt list until his domestic violence case is heard in 2015, is a major factor there. And if anybody was going to do money signs it would be Hardy, who is all about the money. Perhaps cornerback Josh Norman would have a little fun with the money sign, but he'll be busy shadowing Josh Gordon. Never know, though.

Who do you think the Browns would rather see at quarterback for the Panthers? Newton and his running ability, if indeed the back injury will allow him to run? Or Anderson, who will face his former with something to prove?

McManamon: I'd guess they'd much rather see Anderson, because nobody wants to face an effective passer who also can run. If a quarterback is one or the other, defenses can take away what he does best. If a guy does things as well as Newton does throwing and running, the challenge increases. In the week leading up to Manziel's debut, Pettine admitted that it's easier when a defense can draw an X on the field and envision the quarterback being near that X most of the time. Newton is a 58 percent passer with 16 touchdowns. He averages 5 yards per carry. Anderson has a big arm and more experience than he had in Cleveland, and he'd be motivated to beat the Browns. But I'd still guess the Browns would rather face an immobile Anderson than a mobile Newton.

Are there any apologies taking place in Charlotte for the fact the Panthers are 5-8-1 and in the playoff hunt? Can they really win the division?

Newton: They hear the jokes nationally, but around here the fans and players are thankful there is a meaningful game in December. I'm pretty sure the Browns would trade places in a heartbeat if it meant they had a chance to make the playoffs. Can the Panthers really win the NFC South? As far as I'm concerned, it all comes down to what happens between New Orleans and Atlanta this Sunday. If the Falcons beat the Saints, as they did in Week 1, I can see Carolina winning out to take the division. If the Saints win, I can't see any way they lose to Tampa Bay in the regular-season finale. Then again, it has been a wacky season in the South, so predicting anything seems kind of silly.

What's the biggest reason for the Browns' skid after a solid start that had them looking like a contender to win the division?

McManamon: Three things. First, injuries depleted depth. The loss of center Alex Mack was crippling to the running game. Injuries to the defensive line and ILB Karlos Dansby affected the defense. Second, the running game took a serious turn south, which affected the play-action passing game. Finally, the uncertainty at quarterback affected Brian Hoyer, who pressed, and the team, which for the umpteenth year in a row found itself in the midst of a raging quarterback debate. One year the Browns will find themselves in a season when they know the starter and use the backup as a backup. Until that happens, real success will be elusive.

Luke Kuechly is an Ohio guy, from Cincinnati. His numbers seem nearly impossible. Is he that active, and does he rank among the best defensive players you've covered?

Newton: You're right, the numbers -- including 138 tackles this sesaon -- are ridiculous. At times it seems Kuechly is in on every play. While I'm partial to Carolina's original middle linebacker, Sam Mills, even at his best Sam wasn't in on the number of plays Kuechly is. I hesitate to say he's the best defensive player I ever covered. End Julius Peppers was pretty special. And when it came to sacks, Kevin Greene was a beast. But as far as all-around player, few can touch Kuechly. His work ethic is second to none, and he's always looking for ways to improve. He usually does, too. He'll be a factor in this game as he is in most for Carolina.

Observation Deck: Pittsburgh Steelers

August, 28, 2014

PITTSBURGH -- It certainly looked like a fourth preseason game, from the swaths of empty seats at Heinz Field to the uneven play with many starters from each side playing sparingly, if at all.

Carolina parlayed a big pass play into the game’s only touchdown ,and the Panthers beat the Steelers 10-0 Thursday night with the specter of final cuts looming for fringe players on each side.

Landry Jones started at quarterback and completed 14 of 18 passes for 97 yards before giving way to Brendon Kay midway through the third quarter. Jones, a fourth-round pick in 2013, didn’t lead any scoring drives but probably did enough to make the 53-man roster as the Steelers’ No. 3 quarterback.

No Steelers player battling for a roster spot made a particularly compelling argument to stay with the team beyond 4 p.m. ET Saturday, the NFL deadline for finalizing 53-man rosters.

Brad Wing looked like he was on his way to nailing down a roster spot after pinning the Panthers deep in their own territory several times. Then the Aussie unleashed a 25-yard clunker, something that will make the coaches ponder whether Wing is consistent enough to be trusted.

Players such as Wing have made their final argument as far as making the team.

The Steelers’ coaches and front office personnel will meet on Friday to start paring down the roster and could make some cuts then, with the rest coming on Saturday. The Steelers have to cut 22 players to get to the 53-man limit by late Saturday afternoon.

Some other thoughts from the Steelers’ fourth preseason game:
  • It was a very nice bounce-back game for starting outside linebacker Jarvis Jones after the second-year man struggled a week ago in Philadelphia. Jones made his presence felt early against the pass and the run, and the Steelers coaches had to love his hustle after a snap sailed over the head of Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson in the second quarter. Anderson tried to pick the ball up, and when he couldn’t get a handle on it Jones made a diving recovery. He then got up and started to rumble downfield, drawing a personal foul penalty when former Steelers center Fernando Velasco dragged Jones down by his hair. Jones recorded three tackles, including one for a loss, and the fumble recovery before calling it a night.
  • If the Steelers only keep five wide receivers Justin Brown might be headed back to the practice squad. The wide receiver who created such a buzz during offseason practices caught five passes for 32 yards in four preseason games despite playing more snaps than any other Steelers skill player. Hard-charging Darrius Heyward-Bey caught six passes for 44 yards against the Panthers and solidified his spot on the 53-man roster even if the Steelers only keep five wideouts. His speed and experience -- and his production in the Steelers' final two preseason games -- will make Heyward-Bey too difficult to cut
  • David Paulson and Rob Blanchflower needed to beat Michael Palmer for the No. 3 spot at tight end, and neither was able to do it. Palmer had a couple of nice blocks early when the Steelers were able to run the ball, and the fifth-year veteran is solid on special teams. He solidified his spot on the 53-man roster, and Blanchflower looks like a strong candidate for the practice squad.
  • Cornerback Antwon Blake had played well before getting beat badly on a 53-yard catch by wide receiver Philly Brown, setting up the Panthers’ only touchdown. Blake will make the Steelers as a core special-teams player but Brice McCain has clearly established himself as the No. 4 cornerback assuming the groin injury he suffered against the Panthers isn’t serious.
  • The Steelers showed an interesting defensive look late in the second quarter. Josh Mauro, Roy Philon, Daniel McCullers and Ethan Hemer were up front with Vince Williams and Terence Garvin as the only linebackers in the game. However, Shamarko Thomas played close enough to the line of scrimmage that it looked like the Steelers had their big nickel package on the field with four down linemen.

What a QB tale they've told

October, 23, 2013
The number 20 is special in many circles.

The 20th anniversary means a little more than the 16th, and a young man or woman who turns 20 feels a little more "adult."

[+] EnlargeJason Campbell
Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY SportsJason Campbell's play at quarterback is a key reason why the Browns are optimistic about making the AFC playoffs.
So when the Browns name their 20th starting quarterback since 1999 -- the year the team returned from a three-year hiatus -- it's worth taking a trip down memory lane (the screams in the background are from Browns fans whose memories are being jogged ... feel free to offer appropriate sympathies).


  • Ty Detmer -- The plan to have him hold the fort lasted for one blowout loss, in the season opener against Pittsburgh.
  • Tim Couch -- The original No. 1 choice, had a couple of good years but not enough.

  • Couch
  • Spergon Wynn -- Chris Palmer was lobbied to play him by the front office, and he produced two first downs in one game.
  • Doug Pederson -- Now Kansas City's offensive coordinator, started the Dennis Northcutt/Kevin Johnson quarterback game.

  • Couch -- The only season when one quarterback started every game.

  • Couch
  • Kelly Holcomb -- The year of the Dwayne Rudd helmet-removal game and the blown playoff game in Pittsburgh.

  • Holcomb -- Incurred the "teeny-tiny break of a non-weight bearing bone in his leg."
  • Couch -- Late this season, Butch Davis told Couch he was his quarterback for years to come; Couch was released in the offseason.

  • Jeff Garcia -- He never quite fit in, though he thinks he does now.
  • Holcomb
  • Luke McCown -- Interim coach Terry Robiskie admitted when McCown played, it was men against boys.

  • Trent Dilfer -- Good guy, but chewed up by the Cleveland system always looking for the next guy.
  • Charlie Frye -- Had moments as a rookie until the Christmas Eve massacre against Pittsburgh.

  • Frye -- Traded after the Browns lost the season opener.
  • Anderson -- Had the best season of a Browns QB since 1999, won 10 games, but didn't win the game needed to make the playoffs.

  • Anderson.
  • Brady Quinn -- The town was jubliant after Phil Savage traded up to get him and Joe Thomas in the first round.
  • Ken Dorsey -- At this point hopes were dimmed.
  • Bruce Gradkowski -- Signed to start the last game when everyone else was hurt.

  • Quinn and Anderson -- Yo-yoed back and forth by Eric Mangini.

  • Jake Delhomme -- Mike Holmgren's interim solution.
  • Seneca Wallace -- Holmgren's backup solution.
  • Colt McCoy -- Holmgren's drafted solution.

  • McCoy -- The year he was put back in the game with a concussion in Pittsburgh.
  • Wallace

  • Weeden
  • Brian Hoyer -- Showed promise before unfortunate injury.
  • Campbell -- Passed over twice, now starting.
Is it even newsworthy anymore when the Baltimore Ravens lose a starter from their Super Bowl team? It's more newsworthy when the Ravens don't lose a starter for a day. This time, however, it's different because the Ravens said goodbye to safety Ed Reed, the third-best player ever to wear their uniform. He reached an agreement with the Houston Texans on Wednesday night. Hopefully, Ravens fans will remember Reed's dramatic plays on the field and not his painful rendition of "Two Tickets To Paradise," which he sang repeatedly during the team's Super Bowl run. Here's your wake-up call ...

  • Head coach John Harbaugh was complimentary of Reed after news spread that the free-agent safety agreed to a deal with the Texans. “Ed is a great guy and a very good friend,” Harbaugh told The Baltimore Sun. “We will always appreciate what he accomplished as a Raven. He has a lot of good football left and we wish him all the best.”
  • The Baltimore Sun is reporting that Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is a long shot to leave the team for Alabama's athletic-director vacancy. When asked about the job opening, Newsome replied: "I already have a great job."
  • Harbaugh said he is "very open" to bringing back free-agent left tackle Bryant McKinnie, according to the team's official website. "I hope that works out and we’ll just have to see," he said. I wouldn't read too much into this. Harbaugh was also "very hopeful" of Reed returning.
  • Wide receiver Anquan Boldin passed his physical in San Francisco, which completes his trade with the 49ers, according to The Baltimore Sun. The Ravens get a sixth-round pick from the 49ers for Boldin.
  • Owner Mike Brown wasn't available on Wednesday, but his comments earlier this week explain why the Bengals were the only team to vote against the helmet rule. "I view it as a difficult, if not impossible, play to call," Brown said, via USA Today. "We had a lot of this with the secondary plays last year. I didn't think those calls were always right," he said. "These plays happen in a flash. They're just a reaction to people did he hit him with his shoulder pad, did he hit him with his helmet? Was it intended? That's difficult to sort out. I'm not confident we should add another discretionary call."
  • Returner Ted Ginn Jr. might not end up with the Bengals after leaving his visit with the Panthers with a contract offer. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Panthers could have the edge over the Bengals because they can offer more playing time at receiver. The Bengals also offered a contract to Ginn.
  • The Bengals have a private workout scheduled with West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin, according to WVU Pros.
  • Linebacker James Harrison isn't drawing much interest in free agency, but The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac doesn't expect him to return to Pittsburgh. "Mike Tomlin effectively said today that the Steelers will play the 2013 season without James Harrison," Dulac wrote.
  • Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, the former Steelers offensive coordinator, is excited about reuniting with running back Rashard Mendenhall. "He's a legitimate big-time threat every time he touches the ball," Arians told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He's a big back who never has to come out of the game. He has a 230-pound body with 180-pound feet."
  • Running back Trent Richardson feels responsible for the new helmet rule. His crushing collision with Philadelphia's Kurt Coleman was the centerpiece of the NFL's decision to ban running backs from using their helmet against defenders. "I feel like I made it bad for all the backs," Richardson told The Plain Dealer. "I feel like it's my fault."
  • Phil Dawson officially signed a one-year deal with the 49ers worth $2.25 million, which includes a $1 million signing bonus, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. This inexpensive contract shows the Browns could've retained Dawson if they wanted to do so.
  • Panthers coach Ron Rivera was worried about losing backup quarterback Derek Anderson to the Browns and coach Rob Chudzinski, according to The Plain Dealer. Something tells me Browns fans were worried that Cleveland would get him.
Former Browns quarterback Derek Anderson is lobbying to return and rejoin coach Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland. Chudzinski and the Browns need to politely (or not-so politely, some Browns fans might say) decline.

The hiring of Chudzinski is a new start for owner Jimmy Haslam and bringing back Anderson only revisits a muddled past. Anderson is the quarterback who had a Pro Bowl season in 2007 and led the Browns to 10 wins. He's also the same quarterback who blasted Cleveland fans for cheering him when he was injured, saying they "didn't deserve a winner" when he left after the 2009 season. Not exactly the most gracious exit ever.

There are some reasons to bring back Anderson. He knows Chudzinski's system, having played under him in Cleveland (2007 and 2008) as well as this past season in Carolina. He has a similar skill set as Brandon Weeden, so the offense would remain the same for both quarterbacks.

But Chudzinski can't bring back someone who insulted the fan base like Anderson did. It would be a public relations nightmare for Chudzinski, especially after he made his passion for the Browns the theme of his introductory news conference.

All of the talk about a reunion with Anderson has been stirred up by Anderson. He posted on his Facebook account Friday: "Looks like it is time to make a return to a familiar place for some unfinished business. I would be honored to return to Cleveland to play football if the fans would have me." If you listen closely, you'll soon hear a collective "No" from Northern Ohio.

Sources told a Cleveland news station (News Net 5) that Anderson says his chances of returning to Cleveland are about 80 percent. But a source told The Plain Dealer that it's doubtful that Anderson would be re-signed.

Anderson is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but teams can't talk to other teams' free agents until March.
The Browns didn't buckle in guaranteeing a fourth year to first-round pick Brandon Weeden, and I can understand why given their quarterback history.

The last Browns quarterback to start more than eight games in four consecutive seasons was Bernie Kosar from 1985 to 1991. Cleveland reached a four-year, $8.1 million agreement with Weeden on Tuesday by guaranteeing more than $900,000 in 2015, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Someone has to tell Weeden that there's never been any guarantees when it comes to the Browns and their quarterbacks since returning to the NFL in 1999. Not with Tim Couch. Not with Derek Anderson. Not with Brady Quinn. And not with Colt McCoy.

Now, it's up to Weeden to break this two-decade streak and establish himself as a franchise quarterback. This deal allows Weeden to report on time with the rest of the Browns rookies today. This allows him to take snaps in the first full-team practice Friday. This also allows him to seize the starting job immediately.

The Browns have rebuilt their offense in a matter of months, drafting Trent Richardson with the third overall pick, taking right tackle Mitchell Schwartz in the second round and selecting wide receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft. But the key to turning around this offense quickly will be the play of Weeden, the 28-year-old quarterback who was drafted with the No. 22 pick.

While the Browns have yet to name Weeden as their starting quarterback, it's almost a given that he will beat out McCoy and start as a rookie. The bigger question is whether Weeden will establish himself for the long term.

BEREA, Ohio -- The Colt McCoy era is over. A new one -- make that older one -- began Thursday night when the Cleveland Browns selected Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden with the 22nd overall pick.

The Browns have gone from a weak-armed quarterback to a geriatric one by NFL standards. At 28 years, 195 days, Weeden is the oldest player ever to be taken in the first round of the Common Draft era, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Weeden is only two years younger than Ben Roethlisberger. He's one year older than Brady Quinn, the last quarterback taken by the Browns in the first round.

Drafting running back Trent Richardson in the first round was a no-brainer. And, even though I think Weeden can be a quality starter in this league, taking him in the first round makes little sense for a team that is not a quarterback away from contending for a Super Bowl.

The Browns have too many other needs on offense to reach for a failed minor-league pitcher. The Cleveland front office believes it found a franchise quarterback in Weeden, but you have to wonder who is going to block for him at right tackle and who is going to catch the long passes from Weeden's big arm. The Browns are right that Weeden will be an upgrade over McCoy. But, like McCoy, he might have trouble reaching that potential with the holes surrounding him.

In a span of a few hours, the Dawg Pound went from high-fiving over the selection of Richardson to scratching their heads over Weeden.

Why didn't the Browns take a wide receiver like Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill? Why didn't Cleveland pick up Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff or Stanford guard David DeCastro? Why did a rebuilding franchise select an older quarterback?

"We went through the process of evaluating him, we became very fond of him," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. "We all did, from Randy [Lerner, owner] to Mike [Holmgren, team president] to Tom [Heckert, general manager] to myself. I came away saying this is a guy we'd like to have on our team. That's where we're at right now."

It was interesting that Shurmur pointed out that the owner had input on this decision. The pressure is on, and the clock is ticking.

At his age, Weeden has to start immediately. There's no time to let him sit and learn. And, because of his age, the expectation is to win immediately.

Browns officials shrugged off Weeden's age as being an issue. The number they concentrated on is 22, which is Weeden's wins in 25 starts in college.

"We feel like the kid's a winner," Shurmur said. "I wasn't concerned about his age."

The arrival of Weeden could mean the end of McCoy's days in Cleveland. The Browns gave McCoy a major vote of no confidence when they aggressively tried to trade up for Robert Griffin III last month.

The question now isn't whether McCoy will compete for the job. It's whether McCoy will even be on this team. Heckert didn't deny the possibility that the Browns could trade McCoy this weekend.

"To be honest, we haven't thought about that. We really haven't," Heckert said. "That's something we'll talk about tonight and tomorrow."

If it wasn't for Weeden's age, he would have been a top-10 pick. He has a strong arm. He's got a quick release. He is a hard worker. He is a respected leader.

There's a good chance that Weeden will be a productive quarterback and might end the string of other "franchise" quarterbacks like Tim Couch, Derek Anderson and Quinn. The problem is, teams draft quarterbacks in the first round to be the starter for the next decade. The odds are against that with Weeden, who will turn 30 in October next year.

The Browns have done such a great job in rebuilding the defense in the past two drafts that you want to give them the benefit of the doubt that they'll do the same on offense. When it came time for the Browns to pick at No. 22, Heckert said there was no decision to make especially after Baylor wide receiver Kendall Wright was drafted by Tennessee at No. 20.

"Brandon was by far the best player for us," Heckert said. "There wasn't really even an afterthought. As soon as a couple of guys went, we knew we were going to take him."

Weeden might have been the best player available at that point. He was just not the right player for the Browns.
Colt McCoyAP Photo/Mark DuncanColt McCoy's numbers suffered when he played in cold-weather conditions.
It sounds like a simple question: Can Colt McCoy play in cold, inclement weather?

But the subject of handling the cold continues to be a hot topic in Cleveland and one that will follow McCoy until he proves otherwise with the Browns.

Playing quarterback in Cleveland is not easy. It takes good arm strength -- one of McCoy's biggest weaknesses -- because the stadium is located right off Lake Erie. That makes for heavy winds and creates more snow than usual in the key games in November and December, when many teams try to make a push for the playoffs.

McCoy, college football's all-time winningest quarterback at the University of Texas, didn't play in many cold-weather games in the Big 12. And the few McCoy had were mild compared to what he will face every season as Cleveland's starting quarterback.

McCoy's first NFL experience last year playing in inclement weather didn't go well, leaving many to question if he is the answer for the Browns. According to ESPN's Stats & Information, McCoy played three games during his rookie season in which the temperature was below 40 degrees. In those games, McCoy was 0-3, losing to the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, and saw his passer rating drop almost 25 points compared to games played in warmer weather. McCoy also threw six of his nine interceptions in those three games.

If playing well in the cold is something McCoy cannot do, it will surely be his undoing in Cleveland.

"Even though we didn't go through with it, that was something in my year with the Browns that we very much believed in: You gotta have a [strong-armed] quarterback because we were next to the lake," said Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson, who worked for the Browns in 2004. "And you got to have kickers and punters that are used to playing in that type of weather. I was there with Jeff Garcia and he didn't do well."

Coming off his success in San Francisco, Garcia was just 3-7 in his only season in Cleveland and turned out to be a bad fit. But he isn't the only Browns quarterback who has struggled. Former first-round pick Brady Quinn also couldn't solve Cleveland's tricky weather conditions.

Quinn spent three years in Cleveland and his numbers were dreadful in cold-weather games. Quinn's completion percentage (46.2) and passer rating (57.8) in games in which the temperature was under 40 degrees were both significantly lower than his career averages (52.1 completion and 66.8 passer rating). That led to Quinn's eventual demise and trade out of Cleveland.

The only Browns quarterback to have a Pro Bowl season in Cleveland since the team returned in 1999 was Derek Anderson, and he had the strongest arm of any Browns quarterback of the past dozen years.

Despite his woes in cold-weather games, McCoy scoffed at the idea that Cleveland's weather would be a factor for him late last season.

"I've played in the snow and wind in Kansas a couple times. I've played in Nebraska," McCoy explained. "We had some real wet games back home [in Austin, Texas]."

McCoy added that playing in bad weather is more mental than physical. He clearly didn't enjoy the constant questions about whether his arm strength was good enough to thrive in poor conditions.

"I guess we'll find out, won't we?" McCoy fired back last December.

But the early returns suggests it is an issue. McCoy's numbers across the board took a significant dip when weather became a factor.

McCoy's two victories as a starter came in a dome against the New Orleans Saints and an early November win at home against the New England Patriots. But back-to-back home games against division rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the final two games of te season exposed McCoy's inexperience and lack of arm strength, as both teams combined for six interceptions.

Many of McCoy's passes fluttered and Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu easily intercepted his throws. McCoy, who showed good accuracy most of the year, also became erratic in the final two games and his arm wasn't strong enough to cut through the winds and fit the ball into tight windows.

According to Williamson, you may see more of the same from McCoy against Cleveland's division rivals, particularly late in the year.

"I think their passing game is still one of the worst in the league. How much offense can they generate?" Williamson said of the Browns. "Colt McCoy still has a lot to prove, and I don't think he has a real high ceiling. They don't have anyone dangerous that scares you."

The Browns have a lot riding on McCoy in 2011. If he turns out to be a bust, Cleveland's rebuilding process led by president Mike Holmgren, general manager Tom Heckert and rookie head coach Pat Shurmur could be pushed back even further.

Andy Dalton & Colt McCoyUS PresswireThe futures of the Bengals and Browns are tied to young QBs Andy Dalton, left, and Colt McCoy.
Since the AFC North was created during the 2002 realignment, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have been the biggest bullies within the conference. Those teams have combined for seven division titles in the past nine seasons.

With new eras beginning simultaneously for Ohio's two NFL franchises, young quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Colt McCoy will be aiming to shift the balance of power toward the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, respectively. Quarterback is the league's most important position, and if Dalton and McCoy turn out to be the long-term solutions, it could go a long way toward potentially turning the AFC North on its head.

The Steelers and Ravens have their answers at quarterback. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, 29, already has led his team to three Super Bowls, winning two, and is currently in the prime of his career. Baltimore's Joe Flacco, 26, has led the Ravens to three consecutive playoff appearances and continues to get better.

That puts an immense amount of pressure on Dalton and McCoy to catch up. Their futures directly tie into Cincinnati and Cleveland's ability or inability to close the gap within the division. If both are busts, there might not be an end in sight to the dominance by Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Neither the Bengals nor the Browns have any shot of overcoming these perennial contenders with shoddy quarterback play.

"It's horrible; there's nothing good about [inexperienced quarterbacks] facing the Ravens and Steelers," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "They're not carbon copies of each other, but their philosophy is pretty similar. They're going to take away your running game, and you're not going to outwork them in the trenches or move them. Then you're one-dimensional, and then you're in trouble."

Cleveland has had a number of quarterbacks eaten alive by Baltimore and Pittsburgh since returning to the NFL in 1999. Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn are just some of the players who were battered, beaten and couldn't maintain long-term success in the AFC North. McCoy is next in line to give it a shot this season.

Last season McCoy showed flashes of promise, but he got off to an inauspicious start against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. He went 0-3 against the Steelers and Ravens, throwing for two touchdowns and eight interceptions in those games. If McCoy has similar performances against Cleveland's biggest rivals in Year 2, he won't hold his starting job very long.

"I think he played like a rookie at times and then he far exceeded my expectations at other times," Browns president Mike Holmgren said recently of McCoy. "It coincided with the games we won and a couple games that we lost. ... Did he exceed expectations from me? I would have to say yes, because I didn't expect him to play. Is there a huge upside and much more to come? I would say yes to that, too, because he is a young man just learning to play the position in our league."

Holmgren echoes the sentiment of Cleveland's coaches and those in the front office, who remain optimistic about McCoy. But Williamson isn't convinced.

Williamson recently ranked the Browns last in his post-draft Power Rankings, leading Scouts Inc. to predict Cleveland will take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the top pick in the 2012 draft. If this scenario plays out, McCoy's first full season as a starter in 2011 projects to be a disaster.

"I really worry about the guy's arm strength. I just can't get around that," Williamson said. "When the weather gets bad, he's not going to be able to complete passes in Cleveland. I think he's a real good fit in the West Coast offense. I think he has some moxie to him and I like the way he plays. But when it's December and the Steelers and Ravens are in town, you better be able to complete a deep out."

Former No. 1 overall pick Carson Palmer did have success, which is why Cincinnati is the only team other than Baltimore and Pittsburgh to win the AFC North. The Bengals won division titles in 2005 and 2009.

Palmer, who demanded a trade and threatened to retire this offseason, was particularly tough against the Ravens. He was 9-4 as a starter versus Baltimore, and the Ravens certainly won't miss Palmer if he never plays another down in Cincinnati.

That is where Dalton comes in. Barring an unexpected change of heart by Palmer, Dalton is projected to be the Week 1 starter in Cincinnati after leading TCU to an undefeated season in 2010.

Dalton, like many successful quarterbacks, comes to Cincinnati with confidence and a very competitive attitude.

"Obviously, everyone knows about the current situation with Carson Palmer," Dalton said. "As far as I know, it's open [competition]. We're trying to figure out who will be the guy, and I’m looking forward to it."

Dalton's biggest strengths are his accuracy and leadership, which will be needed in Cincinnati. Dalton recently said he models his game after some of the top quarterbacks in the league.

"Growing up and watching the NFL, I saw what Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have done. They seem to have full control over their team," Dalton explained. "You see how well it's worked out for them. Recently, I watched Aaron Rodgers even before he won the Super Bowl. He's a guy who took advantage of his opportunity when it was his time. I think those are three guys that I've watched and studied. Hopefully I can take something from each of their games."

Neither McCoy nor Dalton was a top draft pick. McCoy was a third-rounder in 2010, and Dalton was taken in the second round last month. Yet both are projected to start very early in their careers and, thus, will carry pressure similar to being a first-round pick.

Time will tell if Dalton and McCoy will eventually lead to a quarterback changing of the guard in the AFC North. But count Williamson among the biggest skeptics.

"They both won a ton of games in college, were wonderful college players, and you want your daughter to marry them," Williamson explained. "But they just don't throw the football as well as they have to be 'The Guy' in that division."

Draft Watch: AFC North

April, 14, 2011
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: draft philosophy.

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens often follow the philosophy of the right player at the right price. Therefore, Baltimore is not afraid to trade up in the draft or trade back if the value is right. As a result, Baltimore traditionally finds great players who were overlooked by other teams. The Ravens also are very good at scouting what I call "football character," which is somewhat different from regular character. Football character is having a certain toughness, confidence and an edge to fit into Baltimore's locker room full of strong personalities. The Ravens play with a certain attitude and swagger, particularly on defense, and it's not for everyone.

Cincinnati Bengals

Explaining the Bengals' draft philosophy can be tricky. Their approach is conservative. Rarely do you see a lot of wheeling and dealing coming from Cincinnati's draft room. The last time the Bengals pulled off a significant, draft-day trade in the first round was in 2004, when the St. Louis Rams moved up to draft tailback Steven Jackson and Cincinnati took Chris Perry. So expect Cincinnati to stay put this year at No. 4. But when it is time for the Bengals to pick players, they are not afraid to take character risks in exchange for talent. Sometimes it works out (Carlos Dunlap) for Cincinnati and sometimes it doesn't (Andre Smith).

Cleveland Browns

You didn't know what to expect from the Browns last year in the first draft under president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert. But the pair did a solid job working together for the first time. Cleveland landed solid rookies such as cornerback Joe Haden, safety T.J. Ward and quarterback Colt McCoy in the first three rounds. All three were starters by midseason. If any trend could be read from just one year, it's that the Browns will continue to attack their biggest needs. Last year the secondary and quarterback positions were thin after the new regime cleaned house, cutting quarterback Derek Anderson and trading Brady Quinn. This year the biggest needs are defensive line and wide receiver, which Holmgren and Heckert will surely address in this draft.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Philosophically, the Steelers are great at projecting two and three years ahead. For example, they will draft tailback Rashard Mendenhall in the first round, despite the fact Willie Parker rushed for 1,316 yards the previous year in 2007. Three seasons later, Mendenhall is a star in Pittsburgh and Parker has hit a wall. Or they will draft linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons, even if they don't need them right away. The Steelers are willing to groom players for a couple of seasons before they become productive. Defensive end Ziggy Hood, a first-round pick in 2009, is another good example. Usually Pittsburgh can afford the luxury of taking the best available players. But this year the team has well-defined needs, such as cornerback and the offensive line.
Let's see what's in our mailbag from the Dawgpound and Steeler Nation.

Brad from Corpus Christi, Texas, wants to know if the Cleveland Browns would be willing to trade down with teams interested in Auburn quarterback Cam Newton or Missouri's Blaine Gabbert.

James Walker: It's definitely a possibility, Brad. There is something curious about president Mike Holmgren's sudden interest in Newton, and I believe it's to get a feel for a quarterback teams may want to trade up for. Newton and Gabbert could be considered value picks if either drops out of the top five.

Matt from Ohio writes: Do you think if the Browns have a great draft, they might be able to contend for a playoff spot this upcoming season?

Walker: I still think the talent gap is pretty wide, Matt. I've said this before, but the Browns and Cincinnati Bengals are at least two years away from contending for the playoffs. Cleveland will be a team in transition this upcoming season. The players have to learn a new offense and a new defense under a rookie head coach. Unless the Browns catch lightning in a bottle and get really hot, I don't see them overcoming both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North. But Cleveland needs to focus on having another solid draft to make the team more competitive. Perhaps the Browns can give the big boys a run for their money in 2012.

Bob K. from Portsmouth, Ohio, writes: Do you feel Browns quarterback Colt McCoy will suffer the same fate as Derek Anderson, or do you think McCoy will have a better second season under the microscope?

Walker: Bob, there are a lot of differences between McCoy and Anderson. For starters, they are very different quarterbacks physically and mentally. They really couldn't be any different in those departments. Second, Anderson had a great Pro Bowl year in 2007. McCoy played decent for eight games. That does not make a great season. The jury is still very much out on McCoy. But the situations are not similar.

Amr Hosni from Hazleton, Pa., writes: I was wondering about Jason Worilds and Limas Sweed. What do you think their future with the Steelers looks like?

Walker: Worilds is fine, Amr. He's only entering his second season and has to wait his turn like most Steelers defenders. Worilds did a decent job on special teams and recorded a pair of sacks in limited playing time last season. Sweed's situation is more uncertain. He's entering his fourth season and young receivers like Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown have earned roles in the offense. It will be a tough numbers game for Sweed this year.

Andrew from Buffalo Grove, Ill., writes: Do you think the Steelers will go after ANY free agents, especially a cornerback?

Walker: The Steelers usually make a non-descript signing or two in free agency. But don't expect any big names like Nnamdi Asomugha. Pittsburgh has to worry about its own free-agent cornerback in Ike Taylor. To retain Taylor or let him go will be one of the biggest decisions the Steelers make this offseason.

How to rekindle Browns-Steelers rivalry

December, 30, 2010
Troy PolamaluIcon SMITroy Polamalu, left, and the Steelers have dominated the Browns for the past 12 seasons.
BEREA, Ohio -- For more than a decade, it's been the same old story in Cleveland.

The Steelers come to town, the city gets hyped for the rivalry and then Browns fans are disappointed after another Pittsburgh win. Rewind. Recycle. Repeat.

Sure, the Browns split last season's series (including a rare win at home). But including playoffs, Pittsburgh has won an astounding 20 of the past 24 meetings with the Browns, including a 28-10 victory this year at Heinz Field. Cleveland (5-10) has a long way to go to close the gap as the playoff-bound Steelers (11-4) once again are heavily favored in Sunday's regular-season finale at Browns Stadium.

This once-intense rivalry has been surpassed in the division by Pittsburgh's heated battles with the Baltimore Ravens -- and it's not even close. But there is hope for the Browns.

The AFC North blog offers five ways Cleveland can help rekindle this rivalry that dates to 1950:

1. Browns must take the rivalry more seriously

Don't believe the spin coming out of Cleveland. The Browns have not taken this game as seriously as Pittsburgh has recently.

In Cleveland's first game back in its return to the NFL in 1999, the Steelers pounded the Browns in Cleveland, 43-0. That set the tone for this stellar run by the Steelers the past 12 seasons.

"Ah, man, [we take it] very serious," Steelers receiver Mike Wallace said of games against the Browns. "We know that they don't like us there in Cleveland, and we don't like them very much over here either. So it's a big-time game."

"I was just telling someone the other day, it’s just such a unique game in a lot of aspects," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. " The close proximity -- I can't say I've been involved in a bus trip in any NFL city that I've been in. It's just not the nature of our business." (Pittsburgh and Cleveland are only 130 miles apart, roughly a 2 1/2-hour bus ride. Each team takes a bus to these games.)

Added Tomlin: "Of course, the history of the two organizations and the success that they’ve had in the history make it a unique matchup." (Pittsburgh leads the all-time series, 61-56, including two playoff wins.)

I've spent a lot of time in both locker rooms the past three years, and there is a significant difference in culture and expectation. Cleveland hopes to win this game, but Pittsburgh expects to win -- and win big.

The expectation level for both organizations is a world apart, and until that changes, the Browns will not close the gap on the Steelers. For example, Pittsburgh went 9-7 last year and you would think it was 0-16 by how upset the players were. Two assistant coaches also were let go after the Steelers' nine-win season.

How would the Browns react if they were 9-7? Think about that.

2. Cleveland must find a quarterback it can count on

Pittsburgh has an advantage over Cleveland in most personnel areas. But the most important position is quarterback, and that's been one of the biggest disparities the past several years.

On one side, the Steelers have two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. On the other, the Browns have had a revolving door that includes Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson, Charlie Frye, etc.

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
AP Photo/Tony DejakThe Browns hope rookie QB Colt McCoy develops into a worthy rival for Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger.
Cleveland might have found its counter in rookie quarterback Colt McCoy. The 2010 third-round pick has had only one awful game in seven starts.

In the first meeting with Pittsburgh, many expected McCoy to fail in his first NFL game. But McCoy looked poised at Heinz Field, throwing for a season-high 281 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He also completed 69.7 percent of his passes against the NFL's No. 2 defense. Afterward, the Steelers said they were impressed with the rookie.

"I watched the tape when we played earlier in the season, [and] I watched myself and thought, 'Man, I've come a long ways from that. I'm playing a lot better.'" McCoy said this week.

3. Develop continuity

The Browns are expected to get rid of another head coach (Eric Mangini) and make their fifth head-coaching hire in 12 years. With a new coach usually comes different players, and there has been a lot of roster turnover in Cleveland.

With so many people coming in and out of the organization, the importance of beating Pittsburgh can get lost. Meanwhile, the Steelers are a model for consistency. Pittsburgh has three head coaches since 1969. It makes good coaching and personnel decisions that provide stability, and it's understood that beating Cleveland is expected every year.

There are some career Browns such as kicker Phil Dawson, receiver Josh Cribbs and left tackle Joe Thomas who have a firm understanding of the rivalry. But too much turnover in Cleveland has made it difficult for that message to sink in with all 53 players.

4. Cleveland must win

A rivalry isn't strong unless both teams are winners. This has been one of the more lopsided division matchups in the league for the past decade.

The Browns have nine seasons with 10 or more losses and only two winning seasons since 1999. Mangini is 2-9 against AFC North opponents since joining the Browns in 2009. In their win against Pittsburgh last season, the Browns found a winning formula by making the game low-scoring and not making many mistakes. They likely will look to win that way Sunday. Cleveland isn’t good enough now to sweep the Steelers, but winning more home games against Pittsburgh would start to develop confidence and momentum.

"We've had success against them a lot of different ways in the past. Some of it's scheme," Mangini explained. "Josh has done a good job against them in the past with some of the Wildcat stuff. ... Now being able to do it consistently, that's the important thing and that’s the challenging thing."

5. The Browns must become a contender

This final step is perhaps the most difficult. Not only must the Browns beat Pittsburgh consistently to make it a rivalry, but Cleveland must win marquee games. This is what makes the Steelers-Ravens rivalry special. When those teams play, first place in the AFC North and playoff implications are in play. Ravens-Steelers games get national exposure because both organizations are consistently good.

The Browns have a long way to go for this final step, as evidenced by their one playoff appearance in the past 12 seasons. But if Cleveland is going to turn the franchise around, it must get by Pittsburgh -- and lately that's been nearly impossible.

Browns have a lot riding on Colt McCoy

December, 17, 2010
Colt McCoyScott A. Miller/US PresswireColt McCoy has three more games to prove he deserves to be the Browns' starting quarterback beyond the 2010 season.
BEREA, Ohio -- It felt as if there was a changing of the guard at the Cleveland Browns' training facility this week. After talking it over with president Mike Holmgren and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Browns head coach Eric Mangini named rookie quarterback Colt McCoy the starter for the remainder of the 2010 season.

Mangini gushed about McCoy's work ethic, quick learning curve and how the rookie wouldn't accept it when everyone in the organization -- from Holmgren on down -- said they didn't plan for McCoy to see the field this year. Instead, McCoy is projected to play eight games, which is half of the Browns' season.

McCoy landed his initial opportunity through injury, but he's regaining the starting job with solid play in five starts. He threw for 975 yards, completed 63.8 percent of his passes and had an 85.3 passer rating. The rookie proved to be the best quarterback on the roster and essentially forced the team into this decision.

"I wasn't really looking at this as just being the case where we're throwing a young guy in to see whether or not a young guy can do it," Mangini said. "I think Colt really did a good job with the opportunities that he had. I think he's earned the chance to play these three games."

Is McCoy the long-term solution in Cleveland? It's too early to tell.

But the Browns (5-8) and the rest of the NFL are about to learn a lot more about McCoy in the next three games against AFC North opponents. The first test is Sunday, a road game against the Cincinnati Bengals (2-11) and then there's back-to-back home games against the playoff-bound Baltimore Ravens (9-4) and Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3).

The training wheels are officially off for McCoy.

"It's no landmark day," McCoy said Thursday. "Today is the day that I know I'm the starter and I have to go out and play. I have to go out and get better and I have to go out and help us win."

McCoy's play down the stretch will affect a lot with the Browns, starting with the NFL draft. Quarterback is the league's most important position, and Cleveland has lacked stability there since returning to the NFL in 1999.

A lot of quarterbacks have passed through Cleveland's revolving door, including Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn and now Jake Delhomme. Poor quarterback play is one of the biggest reasons Cleveland has just one playoff appearance in more than a decade.

McCoy showed promise, going 2-3 in five starts. But five games do not make a solid season. Three more contests will provide a half-season's worth of film to evaluate the rookie.

"The No. 1 goal of the Cleveland Browns right now has to be finding out what they have in McCoy," said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. "They like what they've seen from him, but can he be the guy? Or do the Browns need to draft a guy or bring in a free agent? I think the Browns need to have a clear picture of that going into the offseason."

The Browns also need to find out whether McCoy can play in inclement weather. Garcia, Frye and Quinn didn't have the arm strength to throw against the heavy winds that come off Lake Erie in Browns Stadium during the winter.

McCoy's biggest asset is his accuracy, not arm strength, which raised some red flags when the Browns drafted the University of Texas product in the third round. McCoy didn't see a lot of bad weather as a four-year starter in the Big 12.

"I've played in the snow and wind in Kansas a couple times. I've played in Nebraska," McCoy explained. "We had some real wet games back home [in Austin]."

McCoy believes playing in bad weather is more mental than physical. But when he was pressed by the media this week regarding his arm strength, a confident McCoy fired back.

"I guess we'll find out, won't we?" McCoy scoffed.

Running the carousel in the AFC North also will be a great learning tool for McCoy. If Cleveland is to turn the franchise around and make a run at the postseason, it first has to win within the division.

The past three seasons the Browns are just 3-12 against AFC North opponents. It's a major reason former head coach Romeo Crennel was fired in Cleveland and Mangini is currently on the hot seat. If McCoy can get hot and pick up two or three wins against Cleveland's biggest rivals, everyone in the organization looks better heading into the offseason.

It's obvious the Browns have a lot riding on McCoy's performance in these final three games.
This week's "Thought of the Day" in the AFC North focused on the Cleveland Browns. We asked Browns fans if they're sold on the resurgence of quarterback Jake Delhomme after he put together a near-perfect drive in last week's preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers.

Here were the responses from our division inbox and AFC North Twitter:

Delhomme for president!

Dick B. from Berea, Ohio, writes: There was no reason to expect that Delhomme wouldn't be able to bounce back. Everybody has a bad year now and then. And let's face it, Mike Holmgren made the call to take Delhomme as the QB for the time being, and he has a pretty good track record doing so.

GW Bear from Lakewood, Ohio, writes: Jake is exactly what I hoped he would be -- a veteran presence in the huddle who will be a game manager throwing short, accurate passes with an occasional bomb. With our improved line, he should keep his uniform clean and provide needed leadership and stability.

Jon from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Delhomme is what he is: A good quarterback who will have a decent year. Browns fans are understandably skewed when it comes to outlooks on quarterbacks. If he can give us one or two years of solid veteran presence and leadership, that's just what the Browns need. I like Jake's demeanor and team concept, as well.

Scott from Cleveland writes: Whatever Jake has left in the tank at this point in his career is a lot better than Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn.

Ryan from Bowling Green, Ohio, writes: I think that Delhomme showed us that he still has some stuff left in the tank. I am not saying that he is going to have a Pro Bowl season. But I think that he can be a solid starter at quarterback and be a good example for rookie Colt McCoy.

Not buying it!

Steve from Milltown, N.J., writes: How can anyone be sold on Delhomme after one game when the very definition of his career has been STREAKY? He puts together a few nice games and you think he finally settled down, then BAM, five interceptions in a game and two or three more [bad games] to follow. I am far from sold after a decent performance in part of a MEANINGLESS game.

MWyche2 via Twitter writes: Ever since he went to the Super Bowl, Delhomme has gone downhill. I just can't back him until I see better results.

Jonathan from Willowick, Ohio, writes: I am not completely sold on Delhomme. While his performance was great against a solid defense, I'd rather hold the cheering for the regular season. More so, I want to see how he responds after he's thrown an interception and the Browns are down. Still a lot of questions regarding this team and offense. Save the cheering for the regular season Dawgpound!!!

Mike Crum from Columbus, Ohio, writes: As a Browns fan, I'd like nothing more than to be sold on Delhomme at this point. But one series of seven passes isn't enough to convince me he is going to be the answer for the Browns. While I am extremely encouraged by his play Saturday, I have been a fan too long of the Browns to get my hopes up too high when it comes to their QB.

J.P. from Erie, Pa., writes: I think Delhomme deserves a chance, but I'm not sold on anything until the regular season.

AFC North Homer of the Week

John Finley from Easley, South Carolina, writes: I am one of the guys that has been on the Jake Delhomme bandwagon since day one. We have needed a veteran QB for such a long time, and Jake is the right guy at the right time for the Cleveland Browns. I honestly think Jake will have one of his best seasons in his career. I will also go as far to say that Jake may just do what John Elway did his last two seasons in the NFL before retiring, and that is win two Super Bowls back-to-back. Jake deserves it and the Cleveland Browns loyal fans deserve it.

AFC North final say

James Walker: I had my reservations about this $7 million move coming into the season, and I still need to see more before I'm sold on Delhomme. He was inconsistent during my time in Cleveland's training camp, but perhaps he's more of a gamer. Still, it's going to take more than one series of the first preseason game to prove Delhomme is all the way back. But if Delhomme does return to form, which would make Cleveland competitive this season, credit last weekend's brief outing against Green Bay as the beginning of the vet getting his groove back.

If you have any future "Thought of the Day" ideas, send them to our AFC North inbox.