Cleveland Browns: Brandon Weeden

The party's over for Johnny Manziel.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Browns would do well to give Johnny Manziel time to develop instead of thrusting him in as a starter.
The offseason of Vegas-Austin-Mexico-Los Angeles clubs and beverages/bottles has concluded. The social media photos with rolled bills are complete. Manziel reported for his first NFL training camp on Wednesday in Cleveland to try to become the Cleveland Browns' starting quarterback. On Thursday, workouts begin. It's not exactly a brave new world for the Browns' first-round draft pick -- he did manage himself quite well in college during the season while having a good time in the offseason, thank you very much -- but it is a more challenging situation than anything he has dealt with in his life. The young wunderkind who was simply always better than those around him finds himself at a whole new level, having to earn his place in the world of professionals.

But while attention will be focused on his every move, his coach has made no secret he'd prefer Manziel not be the team's immediate starter. Coach Mike Pettine told that in his "ideal world," Manziel would not start on opening day.

Go figure.

The Browns, a team in need of a new image, excite the area and the football world by drafting the most exciting player eligible, and they want him to wait.

But there's sound logic and strong precedent behind Pettine's thinking.

He talks about success stories for people who wait to start -- Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer -- and compares them to guys he has seen rushed into the starting lineup too soon -- Kyle Boller -- for a team not good enough to support them.

That's a scenario Cleveland fans know all too well, as they have seen quarterback after quarterback forced into the lineup, only to struggle with a bad team and fail: Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Charlie Frye and Brandon Weeden among them.

The other cycle that has been repeated in Cleveland is that a quarterback ballyhooed as a savior watches as the team drafts another. The public and media -- and eventually the team -- grow weary of the first "savior" struggling because the team is not equipped to help him. This starts the clamor for the next guy. He then is rushed in and struggles for the same reasons the first guy did.

Savior after savior has flamed out, quickly. Heck, a year ago in Cleveland, Jason Campbell was briefly considered a savior. He finished 1-7 as a starter.

"It's a bad cycle," Pettine said, "until you get the team around him."

Pettine has to balance a lot, starting with hype and expectation (multiplied exponentially because it's Manziel) that comes with any quarterback drafted in the first round. But he also has to balance what he has seen -- that a quarterback will struggle if the team around him struggles.

"There's no doubt [the quarterback is] the most important guy on the field," Pettine said. "But he's so much the product of his supporting cast."

In many past years, the Browns built the team from the inside out. Start with the quarterback and hope to add pieces. It can work, but the danger in that process showed constantly as a lack of a supporting cast left each young quarterback battered, shell-shocked and fragile.

Pettine wants to build from the outside in while still working with the best quarterback he can find.

That's why in the offseason the Browns rebuilt the running game with personnel and system. It is why they bolstered the offensive line, and why they've implemented a defensive scheme that has been successful everywhere it has been used. It's also why they brought in prominent defensive veterans Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby, guys used to winning who might change the vibe in a locker room accustomed to losing.

The final piece was a quarterback to compete with Brian Hoyer. In Manziel, the Browns got a guy who threw for 7,800 yards and 63 touchdowns at Texas A&M, a guy who for whatever reason has become a social media phenomenon.

"I don't think even he can get a handle on the why," Pettine said

At this point in his NFL career, Manziel has done nothing but be successful in college. As any Browns fan can attest, college success and/or a college resume does not automatically translate to wins in the NFL.

Pettine said Manziel was a great teammate in the previous time he was in Cleveland, calling him "very humble." The typical litany of positives followed: good in the weight room, attentive in meetings, smart.

Pettine then added this tidbit: "I think he's ahead of the learning curve."

In the world of hype, parsing and interpreting what has formed around Manziel, that comment would translate on the conversion chart to: "Holy smokes this guy is good."

But there are many factors at play, not the least of which are the beliefs and principles of the head coach. In organized team activities and minicamps, Manziel had his moments but never consistently looked like a no-brainer to be the starter. He never played like a guy who immediately had to be put in the lineup. Manziel himself admitted the Browns' offense is a lot more complex than the one he ran in college, where he didn't even have a playbook. There's the reality that the Browns open in Pittsburgh and then play at home against the New Orleans Saints and the Baltimore Ravens. Those are three very tough, physical and aggressive defenses that might make a team hesitate to start a rookie.

Two things are steadfastly true, though. First is that if Manziel doesn't turn out the lights, his on-field party will be over. Because he won't be able to succeed on the field if he's living the extreme high life off it. Pettine said he expects the off-field to be a "non-story" soon.

The second is that Pettine is determined to not give Manziel the job simply because of who he is.

"It's very simple for us," Pettine said. "Who gives us the best chance to win?"
The break between offseason work and training camp provides a good time to assess the Cleveland Browns' roster with a position-by-position rundown comparing it to when the season ended to now.


Then: Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer.

Now: Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Tyler Thigpen

Thoughts: Hoyer remains the constant, and he will be the starter heading into camp. He was an unknown when last season ended, with two wins and one quarter of experience with the Browns before he hurt his knee. He remains an unknown, though the two games he started do give plenty of reason for hope. Manziel is a highly regarded draft pick, and as sexy as his name is, he is at this point like a lot of other highly regarded draft picks: unproven with potential. There’s a list of ex-Browns coaches who can say where potential got them. Manziel should be an upgrade over Weeden, who never recovered from a poor finish to his rookie season and the change to a new regime. Last season he looked nothing like the quarterback who was drafted first in 2012.

Positives: Hoyer is healthy and Manziel brings an excitement the team has lacked for years.

Negatives: Inexperience, with plenty of unknowns and hopes based on hope. Depth is a concern, as always.

Upgraded, level or downgraded: Upgrade, though until we see how Manziel plays, we can’t say for sure how much of an upgrade there is.

Next: Running back/fullback, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, secondary, coaching staff, front office.
Lost: Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell

Added: Nobody

Extra points: Mike Pettine said at the NFL scouting combine that the position was obviously a need, and since that day the Browns have released two quarterbacks and signed none. Clearly, the team needs to add someone, but whether they do it with the fourth pick, the 26th or a second- or third-round selection is the great unknown. Not even the National Security Agency has been able to determine the Browns' plans with the most important position on the team.

Draft likelihood: Is there a ranking on the high-medium-low scale that’s higher than high?

Then there's this ...

Last QB drafted by the Browns: Weeden, 22nd overall in 2012.

Last first-round QB drafted: Weeden.

Last QB taken fourth overall: Philip Rivers, by the Giants in 2004; Rivers was then traded to San Diego for Eli Manning.

Last three QBs taken fourth: Rivers, Art Schichter (1982), Bob Griese (1967).

Last QB taken 26th overall: Jim Druckenmiller, by San Francisco, in 1997. One of the poster boys for QB busts.

Last three QBs taken 26th: Druckenmiller, Jim Harbaugh (1987) -- they are the only two.
Jason Campbell and Brandon WeedenAP Photo/Tom UhlmanCleveland Browns quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell were both released in short order on Wednesday.

The team that once released two first-round draft picks on the same day has now released two quarterbacks in 34 minutes.

It’s a Cleveland thing. Though in the case of the quarterbacks, neither was really a surprise as the team parted ways with Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell.

Campbell was a one-year guy, signed as insurance for Weeden. Campbell wound up starting eight games, playing well in some but winning just one. That he was let go wasn’t a surprise, as a new coach usually prefers his own veteran backups.

Weeden’s release was also no surprise, but it does make the final first round of the Mike Holmgren era a complete washout. Running back Trent Richardson was traded early in the 2013 season, and Weeden was released. Both players were touted as the team’s future, but they joined the past faster than they could spell Richardson. Richardson struggled all season in Indianapolis, and the Colts say they still believe in him, but this season could be his last chance. Weeden will try to catch on, no doubt as someone’s backup.

Browns fans won’t miss him, but there's no need for Weeden jokes.

All the guy did was work his hardest and do his best and try to be professional after being drafted in the first round in 2012 by Holmgren. Even last season, after he was ineffective and booed lustily by the home crowd, Weeden tried to stay on the high road. When the season ended, he let the team know he preferred a fresh start elsewhere, and the Browns gave it to him.

In the team’s release announcing the move, General Manager Ray Farmer was gracious.

“First and foremost, the Browns would like to thank Brandon and his agent for being true professionals,” Farmer said in the statement. “The circumstances in which he found himself were not easy for him or the team. After discussions with Brandon and his agent, we’d like to give him the ability to pursue other opportunities.”

The decision to select Weeden now looks like the reach of all reaches. The Browns were so intent on getting a quarterback that they took Weeden with the 22nd overall pick even though he was 28 years old. The organization felt it was too risky to wait for the second round.

That was not Weeden’s fault. Nor was it Weeden’s fault he was named the starter in 2012 with little competition against Colt McCoy. Weeden’s arm and accuracy were too compelling for the Browns, so he started as a rookie. His opener against Philadelphia was a disaster, as he completed just 12 of 35 passes for 118 yards with four interceptions. His rating that day: 5.1.

The next nine games he showed promise, throwing 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. But he regressed in his last few rookie games, then was caught in the wash of the team’s ownership, front office and coaching changes. It was evident GM Mike Lombardi and CEO Joe Banner did not want Weeden, but with few options available they went with him and trusted Norv Turner and Rob Chudzinski to “coach him up.”

It did not go well, as Weeden played poorly and never had the support of the entire organization. Former GM Phil Savage used to say the entire organization had to be on board with the quarterback, and that was not the case with Weeden. He never helped himself either, as he became more hesitant to make a mistake and held the ball far too long. Fans turned on him, and he became the object of many Twitter jokes.

In the end, Weeden needed a new team, and the Browns would have had to deal with continued negativity if it kept him. A clean break was best, and that’s what Farmer provided. His release means the Browns will carry $4.2 million in dead money for him under the cap, and that he earned $7.5 million in guaranteed money. Campbell’s release saves the Browns his $3 million salary and $250,000 roster bonus.

It will be interesting to see if a team signs Weeden and where he winds up. He’s 30, which will work against him, but he does have a strong arm and some ability, which needs more coaching.

In the end, Weeden leaves the Browns like so many other quarterbacks before him (Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn, Tim Couch, Colt McCoy) -- as damaged goods, with confidence destroyed.

No team has chewed up and spit out quarterbacks like the post-1999 Cleveland Browns.

Ray Farmer evaluates Brandon Weeden

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
INDIANAPOLIS -- It appears that Brandon Weeden will get his wish.

The Cleveland Browns' first-round pick in 2012 wants a fresh start somewhere other than Cleveland, and though General Manager Ray Farmer didn’t say it outright, he had an interesting answer when asked at the NFL Scouting combine if Weeden can be a winning quarterback in the NFL.

This was his response:
“Do I think he can be a winning quarterback in the NFL? Umm ... I’ll say this. When we grade players we grade players on what they’ve done. Specifically when you’re in the National Football League. The college draft, in my opinion, is a projection. So you put the grade on a player based on what you think he becomes in one to two years time. Once you get into the National Football League you get graded upon your performance and what you’ve been able to achieve at that moment. With that being said, everybody’s performance warrants a grade that’s relative of that performance. We have a grade on Brandon. We know what that grade is. In time his agent and he will both know where we stand with Brandon.”

Clearly, this seems a matter of when, not if.

Let's be honest; it's not exactly a surprise.
A position by position rundown of the Cleveland Browns following the 2013 season.


2014 Free agents: None, though Brandon Weeden is expected to be given his “free agency” shortly after the Super Bowl.

The good: The best news at this position is that Brian Hoyer should be back in time for training camp after tearing his ACL in October. Hoyer’s emergence for the two games he played was the brightest spot at the position. That it was only two games matters, but it gives the Browns a small hook on which to hang some sort of hat.

The bad: This could also be called “the old.” The Browns do not know if they have their quarterback of the future and must decide if they want to use one of their two first-round picks for a quarterback, use both to trade up for a quarterback or be patient and find the right quarterback. There’s a lot of chatter already about Johnny Manziel, that GM Mike Lombardi likes him a lot. But nothing is certain yet, and pre-draft chatter can be misleading.

The money: Weeden will be cut, not because of money (his salary cap figure is $2.2 million), but because this regime didn’t want him and gave him a chance because it had no other options. Hoyer, Jason Campbell and Alex Tanney together do not account for $4 million under the cap, so their status with the team will depend on what the new coach wants and is not a financial decision.

Draft priority: High. At some point in the draft, the Browns will take a quarterback. It could be high -- a Manziel or a Blake Bortles -- or it could be mid-round -- someone like A.J. McCarron of Alabama. But with Josh McCown of Chicago the best projected free agent on the market, the Browns will turn to the draft when it comes to upgrading this spot.
Some lingering questions remain about the Cleveland Browns' season, and how certain things played out.

It doesn't take a lot more than common sense and logic to see why what happened did happen.

1) Why was so much time, effort and commitment dedicated to Brandon Weeden?

From the second the Browns hired Rob Chudzinski as coach and Norv Turner as offensive coordinator, the latter's addition was praised. This wise veteran coach would help Weeden with an offense better suited to him, an offense that would put him back in the shotgun and throw the ball down the field.

The praise was almost embarrassing to the point of making Turner sound like a miracle worker.

As the offseason progressed, no other quarterback was brought in to compete with Weeden other than Jason Campbell, a veteran backup whose career had been decidely mediocre.

Given the options, the organization, with the backing of Turner and Chudzinski, committed to giving Weeden a full chance. He was a former first-round pick, he had the big arm, he had played as a rookie. It made sense.

Brian Hoyer was added late in the offseason program, but at that point the Weeden train had long left the station, and Hoyer arrived with few credentials other than as a backup.

2) Why did Weeden receive the large majority of first-team reps in the offseason and training camp?

Even though your mother said never to answer a question with a question, this one begs a question: Is a team supposed to give the backup more reps than the projected starter?

The team and the organization as a whole committed to see what Weeden could do. Everyone gave him a chance. To give him the reps simply made sense.

3) Why was Hoyer not worked in immediately?

Because he was acquired to compete, not to start. The Browns can say this is not true, but Hoyer was a backup when he arrived -- and given reps accordingly. The word the team was given from those who knew him in places he had played was he was a backup.

At this point it's easy to say that Hoyer should have played sooner, but the case also could be made that eyebrows were raised when Hoyer was made the starter in Week No. 3.

Turner really didn't know what he had in Hoyer, and during the season he admitted everyone was surprised at his production. Who knows where the team would have wound up had he not torn his knee ligament?

Turner also thought highly of Hoyer for the future. Fox analyst Brian Billick said he talked to Turner before the Bears game and Turner expressed how much he thought of Hoyer.

4) Why not go to Jason Campbell after Hoyer was hurt rather than go back to Weeden?

Because Campbell is Campbell.

A guy with tape, a track record and a history is not going to transform into Otto Graham because he joins a new team. This is the fallacy of free agency -- that giving a guy money or signing him from another team will make him into a different player, just because.

Campbell's playing experience for the Browns illustrates the point. He played a couple of good games for the Browns, but he eventually settled into his career arc while lamenting being emotional over losing in New England, the cold, and the fact that he pressed against Chicago.

Campbell's completion percentage and his 76.9 rating were his lowest since his rookie season in 2006. Campbell is a good player, a good teammate, and a good backup quarterback.

When he arrived in Cleveland, there was film on him. A track record. That he did little to alter the track record should not be a surprise.

5) What happened with running back Bobby Rainey?

The Browns picked up Rainey after training camp, after the Ravens waived him. In a quirk of the present-day assessments, Rainey was tabbed the "best player cut," a double-edged sword if ever there was one.

He played six games for the Browns, ran 13 times and gained 34 yards.

He was picked up by Tampa, where he ran 137 times for 532 yards and five touchdowns.

If it weren't for injury, the Bucs may not have played Rainey much either. The Bucs turned to him after Doug Martin and Mike James were injured, and he responded.

The Browns waived Rainey on Oct. 18, six days after they had signed wide receiver Charles Johnson off the Green Bay practice squad. To make room for Johnson, the team put Hoyer on injured reserve.

Johnson, though, arrived with a torn knee ligament. Because Johnson was signed off a practice squad, the Browns had to leave his roster spot open for two weeks.

At that time, they hadn't added a third quarterback to replace Hoyer, and they needed to cut someone.

The team decided to cut Rainey and keep Fozzy Whittaker.

Clearly, that turned out to be a mistake, but it was a mistake forced by issues unrelated to Rainey.

At the same time Rainey was cut, safety Josh Aubrey was placed on injured reserve and the Browns promoted receiver Tori Gurley and cornerback Julian Posey from the practice squad. Posey was waived three days later, then re-signed to the practice squad two days after that.

Campbell laments missed opportunity

December, 24, 2013
Jason Campbell more or less admitted his emotions are getting the best of him as the Cleveland Browns' season winds to a painful end.

Campbell said he talked to his father, Larry, Monday night, and even his dad noticed the anguish in the quarterback’s voice.

“He said, ‘Hey you need to sound a little more enthused,’” Campbell said. “I told him it kind of hurts when you look at the opportunities that have been there.”

He also admitted: “I take things a little bit too hard at times.”

While this may sound like yet one more quarterback chewed up and spit out by the machinery that is the Cleveland Browns, for Campbell it’s a little more personal. He had a taste of starting two years ago in Oakland, but lost his job and his spot when he broke his collarbone. He backed up in Chicago for a year, then handpicked Cleveland where he thought he’d have a chance to revive his career because he may have a chance to play.

His decision was very calculated.

He got his chance thanks to injury and patience, but the Browns went 1-6 in the games he started and Campbell’s passer rating is 77.6.

In the past few weeks, Campbell has said he was emotionally let down after the loss in New England, struggling with the cold against Chicago and pressing against the Jets.

Though coach Rob Chudzinski said pressing can be a good sign because it shows a player cares, Campbell lamented the way things have gone.

“Because of everything that I’ve been through,” he said. “That probably plays a lot into it. The fact you still want to prove that you belong.”

Campbell is under contract this season for $1.5 million and is due to be paid $2.25 million in 2014. Campbell seems to have cemented his status, in Cleveland at least, as a backup and veteran mentor.

He’s an excellent guy, excellent teammate. But two things the Browns know from this season are that Campbell and Brandon Weeden are not the long-term answers. While Weeden likely will be released, Campbell could stay as a backup.

The irony, of course, is that Campbell lost his job in Oakland to injury, but most seem to feel that Brian Hoyer will be the Browns’ starter in 2014, even though he missed most of the season to injury.

“What’s going to happen,” Campbell said, “is going to happen.”
The Browns will be without guard John Greco and running back Willis McGahee in practice today.

Greco sprained his right medial collateral ligament on the first play of the game in New England when his foot caught in the turf. He tried to stay in the game, but was not effective. The Browns will see how his week goes, but it does not seem likely he will face Chicago on Sunday

Jason Pinkston replaced Greco in New England and would replace him against the Bears as well.

“We’ll see as we go along what his (Greco’s) status is,” coach Rob Chudzinski said.

McGahee suffered a concussion on a goal-line run in the fourth quarter. He was sent home Wednesday and must pass the NFL concussion protocols before returning. His return for Sunday seems very doubtful. The Browns signed Edwin Baker off the Houston practice squad.

Quarterback Brandon Weeden, meanhwhile, has been cleared to practice. Weeden has been sidelined since he received a concussion nine days ago against Jacksonville.

Chudzinski would not say whether Weeden or Alex Tanney would be the backup quarterback against the Bears.

“There’s some things that Brandon has to clear this week,” Chudzinski said.

Say goodbye to Caleb Hanie

December, 10, 2013
Caleb Hanie we hardly knew ye.

The Cleveland Browns released the quarterback one week after signing him, and just a couple days after he came sort of close to starting against New England.

To replace Hanie, the Browns signed running Edwin Baker off the Houston Texans' practice squad.

Baker’s signing likely means the concussion that sent Willis McGahee to the bench in the fourth quarter of the loss to New England will keep McGahee out against the Bears.

It also likely means that the Browns are comfortable with Jason Campbell’s health and with the recovery of Brandon Weeden. Both had been sidelined with concussions -- and Campbell didn’t return to practice until two days before the Patriots game.

Campbell figures to start against Chicago, with Weeden or Alex Tanney the backup.

Baker fits the mold of small backs brought in by Mike Lombardi. He’s 5-foot-8 and 210 pounds, about the same size as Fozzy Whittaker and Bobby Rainey (who was released).

He played at Michigan State before being a seventh-round choice out of San Diego in 2012.

Browns turn to Campbell ... again

December, 6, 2013
Jason Campbell gave the Cleveland Browns two starts this season, two days of practice this week and seven years of mostly uninspired play coming into 2013.

It was enough for the team to make Campbell the starter for Sunday's game in New England against the Patriots.

That's where the Browns are at the quarterback position, ready to send up fireworks when a guy who struggled his last two games after splitting his previous two was back on the field. Campbell's return does mean the Browns don't have to face Bill Belichick's defense with completely untested Alex Tanney or relatively untested Caleb Hanie.

Which is something.

Campbell spoke to the media for the first time since he was hit in the head by William Gay of the Steelers in the Browns' Nov. 24 loss to Pittsburgh. He said the hit to the head caused the injury, but he did not think the play was dirty.

"He was coming in trying to hit me, and I think when I saw him at the last minute I kind of ducked down a little bit and that's when he hit me right across the face," Campbell said. "I don't think it was a dirty hit. I don't think he was trying to do it. It was just right in the middle of the action of the play."

Campbell said his symptoms included dizziness, being light-headed and an inability to look at glaring lights.

"I was quarantined for a little bit," he said.

The Auburn product was able to watch the school's win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl. He said he felt by Wednesday that he was confident he would play.

"[It's] probably the best I've felt since I had a chance to play," Campbell said.

He also admitted his injured ribs sent him to the sidelines in the Pittsburgh loss, and that he was in significant pain in the loss to Cincinnati.

The team said the ribs were not broken, so what was wrong?

"Just hurting," Campbell said.

The week of practice had the Browns scratching their heads and wondering if they would be facing the Patriots with one hand tied behind their back.

Campbell said he couldn't even try to do anything until he was symptom free, and that didn't happen until Monday.

But in a big way the Browns really only have themselves to thank for it.

It was the Browns, after all, who put Colt McCoy back into the game with a concussion after James Harrison's vicious and late hit in Pittsburgh in 2011.
Jason Campbell took a step closer to starting for the Cleveland Browns Sunday in New England.

Campbell, who has been out since receiving a concussion against Pittsburgh, was cleared by team doctors to practice. But he still must be cleared by an independent neurologist before he can play in a game.

That process will take place in the next day or two.

Teammates had said last week that Campbell was doing well, but coming back from a concussion brings a lot of uncertainty. The Browns hoped Campbell might practice Wednesday; he was deemed not ready.

Having him back Thursday is a help, but the team will not say how much Campbell did in practice until it releases the injury report, usually around 4 p.m. ET.

“He is cleared to practice, and that’s the next step,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “I’m not a doctor, but he’s been real sharp in the meetings and seems to be doing well. Obviously the doctors have to confirm that, and then we’ll see how he is.”

The one thing that seems clear is that Brandon Weeden will not play in New England. Weeden has yet to be cleared to practice.

The process the NFL uses in bringing folks back from concussions was partly of their own making. They put Colt McCoy back in a game in Pittsburgh after he had taken a vicious late hit to the jaw from linebacker James Harrison.

That contributed to the league strengthening testing to ensure nobody returned too early.

The Browns no doubt would welcome Campbell on the field in New England, but it is pretty much out of their hands.
The NFL season has reached the three-quarter pole, which is always a good time to compare one season to another.

And a look at the numbers from 2012 to 2013 shows in many ways the Browns are the same team they were a year ago after 12 games (see chart). They also show why the defense's overall ranking of fourth is not a fair reflection of how the Browns play, because the defense has two glaring numbers that show it gives back much of what it gains.

Offensively the Browns have improved four percent in yards, and six places in overall ranking.

They are not running the ball as well as they did year ago (down 14 percent), but have improved throwing it -- though the increase could be attributed to the fact they have passed 84 more times than a year ago.

The yards per attempt is down, the third-down conversion is up. But only a little in both cases.

And the Browns' scoring is virtually the same in the current Rob Chudzinski-Norv Turner-multiple quarterbacks season as it was in the Pat Shurmur-Brad Childress-Brandon Weeden season of 2012.

The view of the defense depends, as coordinator Ray Horton might say, on which stats a person decides are most important.

The team has reduced its yards per game by 16.5 percent and its rushing yards by 14.4 percent. The improvement in the rushing defense is real. The Browns haven't stopped the run since their return in 1999 -- until this season.

The Browns are giving up more passing yards per game than a year ago at this time, but fewer yards per attempt.

The problem comes on third down and red zone defense.

The Browns' defense was 10th on third down a year ago (37.3 percent). It now is 28th (41.6).

The red zone defense has also gone the wrong way, with teams scoring 64.7 percent of the time on the Browns this season as opposed to 54.1 percent a year ago.

Those givebacks affect the scoring total as well -- despite improving from 23rd to fourth overall in defense, the Browns have dropped in scoring defense. They've dropped from 16th in 2012 to 19th (22.1 points per game to 24.8), an increase of 10.8 percent per game.

The most telling number about the change in the team from 2012 to 2013 comes in the won-lost record.

It is unchanged at 4-8.

First and 10: Tanney and Hanie time?

December, 3, 2013
As the Browns stumble to the finish line, we present yet another First and 10:
  1. So it’s come to this. The Browns have two concussed quarterbacks, and they signed Caleb Hanie this morning, a guy they didn’t sign a week ago because they signed Alex Tanney. Neither have played a down for the Browns. Hanie has 116 career passes, three touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Tanney has never thrown a pass in his pro career, though he can hit a moving truck pretty well.
  2. Nothing is certain at this point. The Browns are hunkered down on “game plan day,” so they’re not releasing anything on the medical condition of Brandon Weeden or Jason Campbell except to say both have to be cleared by an independent doctor before they can practice. But the mere fact they signed Hanie indicates there is doubt, which makes Tanney-Hanie a clear possibility in New England on Sunday.
  3. Tanney-Hanie (potentially) against Bill Belichick. And Tom Brady. Wonder who gets the edge in the weekly matchup list. Yes ... it has come to this.
  4. Even if Weeden and Campbell are cleared, there’s always doubts about a guy returning from a concussion. Especially a quarterback who has to make fast decisions with a lot flying around him. A guy recently concussed might have issues with that part of the game.
  5. It’s reminiscent of Troy Aikman many years ago landing on his head for Dallas in the Championship Game against San Francisco. That’s the game Bernie Kosar finished the year he was cut by the Browns. Two weeks later, Aikman said he was fine, but he was not his usual self in the Super Bowl. The next season he admitted the effects from the concussions lingered.
  6. This quarterback situation is reminiscent of 2008, when Romeo Crennel had to start Ken Dorsey and Bruce Gradkowski in the final few games. It didn’t go well.
  7. Weeden had an absolutely awful final 2:30 of the first half, but let’s not junk the rest of his game because of two minutes. The turnovers count, they absolutely count, but at game’s end he had 370 yards and three touchdown -- which by most measures is a pretty good game. The turnovers were bad, though, so if a grade were forced it’d be a C-minus.
  8. Nobody can say Browns fans don’t have a great sense of humor. The latest example: A series of Cleveland Browns Christmas carols from an angry Browns fan on YouTube. It’s appropriate, and appropriately funny. My favorite: “Way up in your box Jimmy H ... Do you see what I see?”
  9. In my day, Browns Christmas Carols were a lot more fun. Like the Twelve Days of a Cleveland Browns Christmas. “Dave Logan leaping ... Brian Sipe a-passing.” Shame those days were, oh, 30 years ago.
  10. The Tanney-Hanie act. Say it out loud. Again. Got it? Now admit it -- it really sounds more like a law Congress passed in the 1840s, doesn’t it?

Explaining some mistakes vs. Jaguars

December, 2, 2013
There was plenty of accountability to spread around one day after the Browns lost to Jacksonville.

In two cases, things became clearer.

Cornerback Joe Haden said the entire defense is accountable for the Jaguars' 80-yard game-winning touchdown drive.

“We know at that time, no matter how it got there, [the game] was in our hands,” Haden said. “And we didn’t make the plays. It hurts. It sucks.”

On the other end, coach Rob Chudzinski said Brandon Weeden’s two interceptions go to the quarterback, not the receivers.

“They weren’t good decisions,” Chudzinski said. “The coverage was tight and, as I said before, those are the things that I know Brandon would want back.”

The first came on a seam route to Jordan Cameron that Chudzinski said was thrown into coverage. Cameron appeared open early in the route, but Chudzinski said Weeden threw the ball at the right time -- just into too many defenders.

“It wasn’t late,” Chudzinski said. ""It was just a tough throw to try and fit in there.”

The second was a deep out to a spot on the sideline, and Greg Little was not at the spot. The problem was Weeden again threw into coverage.

“It was a timing route that he threw to a spot and, again, coverage was too tight,” Chudzinski said.

Chudzinski also dismissed questions about being overly aggressive and that he should have played conservatively after Weeden’s first interception and go into the locker room with the game tied. He pointed out that when the protection broke down and Weeden fumbled, Josh Gordon was open down the sideline for a 25-yard gain.

“I want our guys, and we’re going to continue to develop that type of mentality, aggressive mentally,” Chudzinski said. “We’re going to play to win. We’re going to expect good things to happen and make good things happen, as opposed to being concerned about the bad things that might happen. There’s going to be times where it works out and there’s going to be times where it doesn’t work out. Obviously, hindsight is 20/20.”

As Forrest Gump might say, that’s all they have to say about that.