AFC North: Pat Shumur

Remember when there were fans who were upset that the Browns chose running back Trent Richardson over wide receiver Justin Blackmon in the first round of the 2012 draft. In fact, you might have been one of them.

The Browns instead drafted Josh Gordon, a raw but talented receiver, in the second round of the supplemental draft. It looks like that was the right decision so far.

Gordon has been the NFL's most explosive rookie receiver this season and has outplayed Blackmon through seven weeks. Gordon has 14 catches for 333 yards (23.8-yard average) and four touchdowns. Blackmon has 14 receptions for 126 yards (9.0-yard average) and no touchdowns.

Here are some of Gordon's accomplishments:
  • Gordon is leading all NFL rookies in receiving touchdowns (4), receiving yards (333), receptions of 20 yards or longer (5) and ranks fourth in scoring (24) and is tied for fourth in receptions (14).
  • He has an NFL rookie-best 333 receiving yards. He is on pace to set the Browns’ rookie receiving yards record (Kevin Johnson had 986 yards in 1999).
  • After catching a 33-yard touchdown at Indianapolis on Sunday, he became the first Browns rookie to record three consecutive games with a touchdown reception of 30 yards or longer and first NFL rookie to accomplish that feat since Randy Moss did it in four straight games in 1998.
  • With four touchdowns on the season, Gordon is the first Browns rookie to score four or more receiving touchdowns since Andre’ Davis recorded six in 2002.

Gordon has been far from perfect, even during his current hot streak. His drop near the goal line in the fourth quarter Sunday likely cost Cleveland the game. But the Browns were impressed with how he handled that mistake.

"I talked to him and he’s a full-grown man," coach Pat Shurmur said. "He understands what’s going on and he’s hard on himself. I think that tells me that [he’s] got a chance to improve and we’ve seen great improvement from him. I expect that he’ll get better next week.”

Congratulations, Cleveland Browns

October, 14, 2012
It's taken 329 days but the Cleveland Browns are winners again.

The 11-game losing streak, which tied a franchise worst, is over. The 12-game losing stretch in the AFC North is done. The four-game losing skid at home is now gone.

There will be a change of ownership on Tuesday -- Jimmy Haslam III is expected to be voted in by the NFL owners -- and the Browns can only hope that Sunday's 34-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals can signal a change in fortunes.

“It felt like we won the Super Bowl,” cornerback Joe Haden told ESPN Radio in Cleveland.

The Browns (1-5) became the last NFL team to notch a win this season, but they have been on the verge all season. They were within one touchdown throw by Brandon Weeden to tie Baltimore on Sept. 27 and jumped out to a 14-0 lead at the New York Giants last Sunday.

Cleveland wasn't going to be denied this time. The Browns could have easily crumbled when running back Trent Richardson left in the third quarter with a rib injury. Instead, the Browns scored 24 points without him behind backup running back Montario Hardesty.

"You put a bunch of men together to go out and play a game so that you can feel the joy of winning, so when it happens, it’s terrific," coach Pat Shurmur said. "Not so much for me, but for my family, the players, really everybody who goes to work on Monday morning. Monday’s feel better when you win a game.”

The next challenge for the Browns isn't to end a losing streak but build a winning one. Cleveland hasn't won consecutive games since Sept. 2011.
The AFC North is known for bone-jarring hits, intense rivalries and verbal jabs among players. But bounties have never been an issue for any team in this division, according to the AFC North coaches.

"It's not something that's been a part of our culture in any situation I've been in," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review at the NFL owners meetings. "I don't know what generates that kind of atmosphere."

The NFL announced harsh penalties last week against the New Orleans Saints for paying cash bonuses to players for injuring opponents, including a year-long suspension for coach Sean Payton.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh called Payton "a great friend" having coached against him in college in the 1980s and coached with him as part the Eagles staff in 1998.

"I think he’s a great coach and he’ll be back winning a bunch of football games. But I respect what the league did, I respect what Roger did," Harbaugh said. "I think it sends a message. It’s smart, it’s courageous and it’s the right thing to do. I know one thing, me like everyone else will fight like crazy to make sure that that’s not an issue in the future. But it’s an important statement to make and player safety is the No. 1 issue. Integrity of the game is important.”

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said he's never had to deal with bounties in his 21 years of coaching in the NFL and doesn't feel the need to address it with his team.

"I never felt like I had to because I think our coaches already understood," Lewis said. "That's one of the things in our fine system."

Browns coach Pat Shumur said the team is in a wait-and-see mode on whether linebacker Scott Fujita will be disciplined by the NFL. Fujita recently said he paid teammates for big plays when he was a member of the Saints in 2009, but not for intentionally injuring players.

"We were not involved in that at all," Shumur said said. "I do think that player safety and the integrity of the game is very important for us to embrace that."
Browns coach Pat Shurmur confirmed that he will remain the Browns' playcaller on offense, which is the right decision. Actually, there wasn't really a decision to be made.

New offensive coordinator Brad Childress has only called plays for one season in the NFL. And there was a reason it was for one season. The Minnesota Vikings finished 23rd in yards and 26th in points (17.6 per game) in 2006, which led Childress to pass the play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell the next season.

When the subject of play calling was first asked, Shurmur said, "Here we go," because he doesn't understand the fuss over the duties. It shouldn't be a surprise that there's heightened interest in how the Browns will try to turn around an offense that scored the third-fewest points in the NFL last season. Until the Browns come up with some answers, there are going to be constant questions about the starting quarterback and the plays that are called.

So, on game days, Shurmur will call the plays on the field and Childress will sit up in the coaches' box.

"There's constant interaction between the playcaller and the other people on offense," Shurmur told Cleveland reporters Wednesday before heading to the NFL combine. "Every place I've been, that's always been the case. So, yeah, I'll be on the field right now and call [plays], but it's constant communication. People talk about halftime adjustments. Well, there's adjustments going on all the time, and that's why we wear the headsets so that we can communicate."

Shurmur was overwhelmed in his first year as an NFL head coach last season when he ran the offense without a coordinator. The perfect scenario would have been to hand off those duties to an experienced playcaller.

Childress addressed the challenge of having the dual role of head coach and playcaller.

"In my case, I didn't think I could do justice to all the preparation that I spent as an assistant coach doing what I needed to do," Childress said. "Did I have a fundamental knowledge of everything that was going on? Absolutely, but I felt like I wasn't that pinpoint laser. That's just me, and that's why I gave it to Darrell Bevell, who knew exactly how I wanted it and did a great job."

Childress said he has no problems in going from a head coach to coordinator.

"To be a good leader, you've got to have good followers. I do know that," he said. "I know what I'm charged with here and how I'm going to go about doing it. Pat's been real clear about that, and we're not going to have any trouble at all."
Every morning, grab a cup of coffee and get your AFC North wake-up call here:

His Browns team has lost five out its last six to clinch another non-winning season. His offense ranks in the bottom third in total yards and his defense ranks last in stopping the run. His team is also the only one in the AFC North not contending for a playoff spot.

Head coach Pat Shurmur, though, said he's "not discouraged. Not one bit."

“I don’t lose faith on things," he said, via The Canton Repository. "I would hope and I would think [fans] wouldn’t lose faith. We’re busting our fannies to get this thing right. And it will get right.”

Hensley's slant: If you could draw up the most brutal first season for a head coach, Shurmur would be close to living it this year. Injuries have piled up all season. Players are showing a lack of patience, whether it's over a contract (Peyton Hillis) or role on the team (Josh Cribbs). The problem is it's not going to get much better this year. The Browns finish the season by playing the Steelers twice and going to Baltimore.

BENGALS: Head coach Marvin Lewis decided to focus on corrections instead of ripping into his team after the worst performance of the season. "We all feel bad about what happened. He knows when to get on you and when not to get on you," wide receiver Andre Caldwell told The Cincinnati Enquirer. "We control our own destiny to a point. We just have to win all four games and see what happens." Hensley's slant: The key to reaching the playoffs is getting to 10 wins. For the seven-win Bengals, their next three games (home against Houston, at St. Louis and home against Arizona) are winnable and critical to their postseason hopes.

RAVENS: Head coach John Harbaugh hinted that backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor could see more playing time. The rookie sixth-round draft pick played his first snap of the season last Sunday, when he picked up 2 yards in the red zone on a Wildcat-style play. "We may see more of that going forward," Harbaugh said, via Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. That’s something we’d like to do.” Hensley's slant: Gimmick plays always come across as signs of desperation, and the Ravens really aren't to that point. In fact, that play with Taylor was a head-scratcher because the Ravens had been running it in the red zone with success lately. Ray Rice and Ricky Williams have combined for four red zone touchdowns in the past three games. That's where Baltimore's focus should be inside the opponents' 20-yard line.

STEELERS: Jason Worilds could continue to have a big role on defense if he splits snaps at outside linebacker with LaMarr Woodley, who is dealing with a hamstring injury. Asked if the second-round pick has made the expected jump from his first to second season, head coach Mike Tomlin said via The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "It's in progress. Check back with me." Hensley's slant: Worilds has been solid this year but not as spectacular as others from the Steelers' 2010 draft class. With Woodley not at full strength, Worilds will have his chance to make up some ground on the likes of center Maurkice Pouncey and wide receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North:
  • Cleveland Browns head coach Pat Shurmur gave second-year player Colt McCoy a strong endorsement as the starting quarterback.
Morning take: The Browns are all-in with McCoy this year. McCoy needs to verify that endorsement by winning games this upcoming season. That's the best way to keep his job.
Morning take: First-round corner Jimmy Smith will wear No. 22 and second-round receiver Torrey Smith will wear No. 82. Those are the key rookies to look out for.
  • Champion received a lot of publicity last week for its high-profile split with Pittsburgh Steelers tailback Rashard Mendenhall over his controversial tweets.
Morning take: There's a saying that all publicity is good publicity, but I disagree. Champion is often lost in the spotlight of bigger sports apparel companies. But I don't think this is how it wanted to get in the news.
Morning take: I'm intrigued by the outside linebacker and cornerback positions. Rey Maualuga is likely going inside, leaving a spot open at outside linebacker. Cincinnati may also have to find Johnathan Joseph's replacement at corner, with Adam Jones being the favorite.
Here are the most interesting stories Friday in the AFC North:
  • It's looking more like Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph will test free agency.
Morning take: Cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Stanford Routt both got at least $10 million per season this week in new contracts. If Joseph isn't getting the same offer from Cincinnati, there is no reason to sign before becoming a free agent.
Morning take: Hint, hint?
  • Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh says re-signing offensive lineman Marshal Yanda is a priority.
Morning take: Yanda is a better guard than tackle and could fill one hole on the right side. But Baltimore still needs to find a tackle to pair with Michael Oher.
  • Cleveland Browns backup running back Montario Hardesty is excited about new head coach Pat Shurmur.
Morning take: Hardesty is trying to return from a torn ACL. Hardesty could be a good addition to help starter Peyton Hillis if he can stay healthy.

Morning take: Haloti Ngata's contract

February, 11, 2011
Here are the most interesting stories Friday in the AFC North:
  • No matter how you cut it, this offseason will present a steep price tag for the Baltimore Ravens to keep Pro Bowl defensive lineman Haloti Ngata.
Morning take: Ngata is looking to become one of the NFL's highest-paid defensive linemen, and he's earned it. For Ravens fans thinking they can sign Ngata and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha in the same offseason, forget about it.
  • Could Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer land with the San Francisco 49ers?
Morning take: Palmer is from California and San Francisco needs a quarterback. It makes sense. But it remains to be seen if the Bengals will entertain trade possibilities.
  • Former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Deshea Townsend will join new Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
Morning take: Townsend and Horton spent plenty of time together in Pittsburgh and will bring some of that flavor to Arizona.
  • Cleveland Browns head coach Pat Shurmur confirmed he will serve dual role as offensive coordinator next season.
Morning take: It can be done, but this is a lot of responsibility for a first-year coach. This will be something to monitor closely next season.