Cleveland Browns: Norv Turner

Jimmy Haslam’s remake (i.e. streamlining) of the Cleveland Browns front office was a major bombshell.

But according to league sources familiar with the way things went with the Browns in 2013, the decision was a culmination of Haslam, the Browns' owner, coming to grips with several factors, primarily that the structure CEO Joe Banner convinced him to build was not working.

Whether that was because of the personality of the people involved or because of the structure itself is a matter of opinion.

Haslam spoke highly of Banner even as he was announcing his departure.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Haslam
AP Photo/Tony DejakTrading star WR Josh Gordon would likely have been a PR disaster for the Browns and owner Jimmy Haslam.
“It’s been a pleasure to work with him,” Haslam said. He then called former general manager Mike Lombardi a great friend who has “great football acumen.” Haslam added that he and Banner had been discussing this streamlining for two weeks. It would be tough to find a higher road for the owner, which is admirable.

The sources said the change in the team’s structure with both coach Mike Pettine and new GM Ray Farmer reporting directly to Haslam is a fallout from the former system, which had everyone providing information to Banner.

The owner prefers more direct channels.

The sources also addressed several reports of what happened with the Browns last season:

• One source said Lombardi favored trading Josh Gordon. On the day Gordon was selected in the second round of the supplemental draft in 2012, Lombardi -- then an analyst with -- criticized the selection. Former coach Rob Chudzinski, aware his receiving corps would have been left with Greg Little and Davone Bess and who knows, worked hard to keep Gordon. Eventually, Banner did not like the offers he received. Gordon went on to lead the league in receiving yards. He averaged 97 yards per game before the trade deadline in late October, 133 after.

Lombardi would not comment on his position on Gordon, and declined comment on other matters related to the team and season. Chudzinski now works for the Indianapolis Colts, who make their assistants available only at certain times of the year. Now is not one of those times.

• Banner did not ask Chudzinski to cut Little and guard Shawn Lauvao. However, Banner’s personnel moves did leave Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner frustrated. Bess was brought in by Lombardi to be the dependable third-down guy. He was anything but. At one point the Browns had Bess starting ahead of Little, an indicator of the coaches’ frustration and “what are we supposed to do” thinking. There was ongoing frustration about the running back position. Farmer was asked Tuesday if Banner was a good judge of football talent, and he thought a moment before answering: “I could tell you that Joe is a football guy. He would classify himself as a non-traditional football guy, and I would say that is a good representation.”

• The only time the team seriously discussed acquiring a back after the Trent Richardson trade was when the possibility of trading Gordon was discussed. When Richardson was traded, there was no other immediate plan to acquire a back.

• Banner tried to exert control over much -- from personnel to offensive system, which galled the former coaching staff given the experience of Turner.

• The coaching staff considered the draft a near waste. Barkevious Mingo at the sixth pick was a situational pass-rusher, and Leon McFadden was drafted two rounds earlier than the team’s scouts projected. The team also traded two picks in 2013 for picks in 2014. Those picks will benefit the new coaching staff at the expense of the old. “Ridiculous,” said one NFL coach.

• The mesh between the scouts held over from former GM Tom Heckert to Lombardi was difficult. No scouts were in the Browns' draft room during the ‘13 draft. Many transitions with a front office and scouts are tough; this one seemed tougher.

• The free agents and acquisitions were much touted, but league insiders point out that only Paul Kruger started with his former team. Quentin Groves, Desmond Bryant and Dion Lewis were backups. Quarterback Brian Hoyer played well and earned the respect of everyone, but there were very few coaches in the league who saw him as a starter when the Browns acquired him.

• In the news conference after Chudzinski was fired, Banner called Groves, Bryant and Lewis “excellent additions.” Haslam sat to Banner’s left as he spoke. All six of the team’s Pro Bowlers, though, were brought in by either Heckert, Eric Mangini or Phil Savage.

• Haslam gained much of his insight on the team from Banner, who was the voice between Lombardi, the coaches and Haslam.

• There is a belief that Haslam’s eyes were opened to how his team was viewed around the league as the 25-day coaching search took place. In talking with people from other teams, Haslam learned firsthand of the reluctance of some coaches to work in the Browns' old structure, and of the difficulty in dealing with the Browns in terms of trades. Peter King wrote on that the first question Ken Whisenhunt asked when the Browns interviewed him this year was why he was not hired a year ago. Banner told Whisenhunt he did not believe Whisenhunt was putting together a championship staff. “Who are you to tell me what makes up a championship staff?” Whisenhunt snapped.

• It may have meant something or nothing, but one of the last things Haslam said Tuesday was: “I think we got the best coach we could get.”

Piece everything together and it’s evident why Haslam preferred a more streamlined operation.

He wants people working together, reporting to him, with no filter between the voices.

The structure seems almost as clear as the reasons that prompted it.
The last three Cleveland Browns offensive coordinators have been Brad Childress, Norv Turner and, now, Kyle Shanahan.

Two were former head coaches who brought impressive résumés to their jobs.

Childress took Brett Favre and the Vikings to within a whisker of the Super Bowl in 2009, guiding Favre to one of his best seasons. He crashed and burned the following year, then took a year off before joining Pat Shurmur’s staff in Cleveland. Midway through that season, he had Brandon Weeden looking like he might work out as the Browns quarterback, but things fizzled -- as they usually do -- when a coaching staff and players pretty much know their days are numbered due to an ownership change.

[+] EnlargeNorv Turner
AP Photo/David RichardNorv Turner came to Cleveland with a sparkling resume, but still only lasted a season.
Enter Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner, who hired Rob Chudzinski as coach and touted the hire of Norv Turner as offensive coordinator as the veteran guy who could make it all work. Turner was a former coordinator for Jimmy Johnson in Dallas and a head coach in Washington and San Diego. His coaching résumé isn’t perfect, but few question his smarts and credentials.

Rarely were phrases like “reason for optimism” not used with Turner’s name. He got wins out of Brian Hoyer, but struggled without a running game and lack of continuity at quarterback. As the season droned on, Turner seemed to get more and more frustrated with the expectations for a team that lacked all the cards.

Childress and Turner are both good coaches. They’ve proven that. They know what they’re doing. They were both fired by the Browns.

The same was true on the defensive side of the ball. Dick Jauron was the coordinator two years ago. It’s impossible to find anyone who doesn’t respect Jauron. He’s a former head coach who knows the game, knows how to coach.

When Haslam and Banner made the change to a new staff, they touted Ray Horton as another great addition. Horton had interviewed to be the Browns' head coach, he spoke a good game and he attacked defensively. Horton knows what he’s doing, but his unit struggled with some poor end-of-game production.

Good coaches can struggle -- and they can lose. Bill Cowher had some very poor losing seasons. It happens.

But the spin that was put on the Turner-Horton tandem when they were hired bordered on the absurd. Horton and Turner were going to fill potholes citywide, balance the federal budget, win games and water and fertilize the stadium grass in their downtime. Some optimism wasn’t unfounded, but the public spin made them seem more like miracle workers than coaches working with a needy roster. And it wasn’t the public or media making these statements, it was the Browns.

That’s four very good coaches who were Browns coordinators the past two seasons, coaches with head-coaching experience, coaches with winning experience, coaches with impressive résumés. The difference between Josh McDaniels and Norv Turner last season may well be Tom Brady. The difference between Ray Horton and Dan Quinn starts with Richard Sherman.

Now the Browns have Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator and Jim O’Neil as defensive coordinator. Shanahan has five years experience as a coordinator, O’Neil has no experience but will have new coach Mike Pettine calling defensive signals for at least the first season.

This version of the Browns may work, and the new group deserves a chance.

But nobody can say it failed the previous two seasons because of a lack of qualified guys leading the offense and defense. The résumés for the coordinators the Browns had the past two years would stack up with any in the league.
Given the options and the timing, it would be tough to think of the Cleveland Browns doing better than hiring Kyle Shanahan as their offensive coordinator.

Given the guy they had last season, the Browns were better with Norv Turner.

Given the state of the team, it’s tough to see Shanahan automatically making the Browns better.

All this is predicated on the fact that the Browns do actually hire Shanahan this week, which seems a fait accompli.

Not with this roster, not with uncertainty at the quarterback (spot) again and not with Shanahan bringing in an entire new system to run and throw the ball.

This is nothing against Shanahan, mind you. His running scheme comes from his father, and it’s one of the better run schemes in the league. It involves movement from linemen, trapping and pulling, and is far more than usual mush-push scheme used by a lot of teams.
That system has made many less-heralded backs into stars, from Terrell Davis and Mike Anderson in Denver with his father to Alfred Morris in Washington, a sixth-round pick.

That bodes well for the Browns -- once the players learn and are settled into the scheme.

In the passing game, Shanahan has done well with Matt Schaub and Robert Griffin III and struggled with Donovan McNabb and Rex Grossman. As his quarterback goes, so goes Shanahan.

And no matter how easily coaches and players promise it will go, adjusting to new players and a new system takes time.

When the word that Rob Chudzinski might be fired, the thinking was the Browns might promote Norv Turner to maintain some continuity. The Browns chose not to do that and blew everything up. When word broke that Turner had stood up to Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner at the farewell meeting, it became evident why.

Shanahan is a fine choice. With the options and the timing, his hire brings positives. He’s been there, done that, called plays and drawn up game plans. He’ll also have Dowell Loggains, a former Titans offensive coordinator, as his quarterback coach.

But an entire new staff means another reset and another restart. With possibly a new quarterback and running back and new interior of the line.

That’s a tall challenge for any team, much less one that has won 27 games the last six seasons.

Browns position outlook: Tight end

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
2014 Free agents: None.

The good: There are not a lot of positions of strength for the Browns, but this is one of them. Jordan Cameron developed into a legitimate Pro Bowl and downfield threat at tight end under Norv Turner. He figures to improve. There is a passel of backups, but Gary Barnidge, MarQueis Gray et al fill the roles well. The Browns really do not need to think about doing a lot to this spot other than perhaps finding a better blocking tight end for short yardage situations.

The bad: Cameron blossomed under Turner and in a system that benefits tight ends. Turner now is in Minnesota, where he is the offensive coordinator for the Vikings. How the new coach uses the tight ends or what his offensive system will be remains a guess.

The money: No significant financial decisions here. Any moves would be made on talent and depth.

Draft priority: Not high. Cameron is an excellent player who should be able to contribute for several years -- provided the Browns sign him before he becomes a free agent after the 2014 season.
One of the many points of contention in the Joe Banner-Jimmy Haslam press conference explaining the firing of Rob Chudzinski was whether the Browns were focused on winning in 2013, or building for 2014 and beyond.

To think a team would intentionally lose is silly. No team makes moves to lose. But a team can have a focus that says it understands it’s not an immediate playoff team, and build for the future.

By not adding any significant additions to the offense other than Brian Hoyer (who played well, but was a late addition in the offseason) and by trading for future draft picks, the Browns sent the message they were building for the long-term.

[+] EnlargeRob Chudzinski
David Richard/USA TODAY SportsLess than a year after introducing Rob Chudzinski, left, as his next head coach, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is looking for Chudzinski's replacement.
As far back as March, Haslam said this: “We’ve won 23 games in the last five years, won 14 games in the last three, so we’re not going to go 13-3 next year.”

At the same time, he also said the goal was “only to improve.”

“What’s the definition of improve?” he said. “I think we’ll all know. ... I think by Dec .30 or 31 we’ll all know if we’re a better football team.”

The lack of improvement was cited as the main reason a change was made.

Which begs the question: Did the Browns fade as the season went on because the coaching was lacking, or did they fade because the front office did not give the coaches the tools and personnel necessary to improve?

Clearly the coaches would argue the guys they were given were lacking, and it’s the reason offensive coordinator Norv Turner asked what happened to the long-term build the coaches were sold when Banner and Haslam met with the coaches.

Offensively, three quarterbacks started, as did five running backs. There was no dependable and productive second or even third receiver. Davone Bess was acquired and given a new contract. Turner talked all season about the patchwork approach he had to take -- and how he had to depend on asking guys like Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden to throw excessively.

Defensively, the Browns did acquire new players in Paul Kruger, Desmond Bryant, Quentin Groves, and draft picks Barkevious Mingo and Leon McFadden. None were impact players. Kruger and Bryant are solid, but they were backups for their former teams who were made rich and starters in Cleveland. Groves is a backup, Mingo has room to grow, and McFadden was a big disappointment.

The Browns did have five Pro Bowlers and one alternate in Joe Haden, Alex Mack, Joe Thomas, Josh Gordon, and Jordan Cameron. T.J. Ward was the alternate. Banner referred to the Pro Bowlers as a “strong nucleus” to sell to a new coach.

The common denominator for all six: They became Browns before Haslam bought the team. This would no doubt be a key point for the coaching staff: The players acquired since Banner took over were not key contributors, the holdovers were.

Clearly Banner and Haslam feel the issue was coaching. If they didn’t, they would have kept Chudzinski. But Banner also is not going to sit and admit that any of his decisions were wrong at an explosive news conference with his boss sitting next to him. He made a pretty impassioned defense of personnel moves, and directly challenged the notion that the Browns were geared toward the future by mentioning his free agent signings.

“We were one of the most active teams in free agency in the entire NFL,” Banner said. “That’s not something geared toward 2014; it’s geared toward making progress and improving as the season went on.”

The Browns did add players, but nobody can say there was a difference-maker brought in. Banner then said the personnel moves needed to “be judged over time.”

“I’m very optimistic that over time, whether we are dealing with undrafted free agents, the players we claimed or the free agents we signed, that it will prove to have been a year in which we moved the needle forward in terms of the talent level on the team," he said.

Which pretty obviously means the personnel side gets the time the coaches did not. This also came up when Banner discussed injured players.

“I think there are a lot of names we could add to the list if you talk about some of the people who got injured. The (Brian) Hoyers, Dion Lewises, Desmond Bryants, (Quentin) Groves,” he said. “Some of those I think were and will prove to be excellent moves.”

The jury is out on Hoyer, who played very well. But there are very few personnel folks in the NFL who would call the other additions “excellent.” Nor would they say Kruger was “excellent.”

And Haslam added this:

“I think that we said all along that we felt like the draft of 2013 did not compare to the draft of 2014. We like the talent in the draft of 2014. We have 10 picks: two firsts, a second, two thirds and two fourths. We think that free agents, both free agents we signed and free agents we’ve picked up along the way, have considerable talent and ability. Do I think we’re where we need to be talent-wise now? No, I don’t. Do I think we can get there over the next couple three years? Yes, I do.”

On one level the statements are a logical defense of a team’s moves. On the other though, they clearly indicate that there is a feeling that everything the front office did was right and just about everything the coaches did was wrong. And the focus for the future seems clear -- with Haslam calling this offseason “the crucial offseason for the Cleveland Browns.”

Yet with this crucial offseason looming, the coaching staff was fired. Which Haslam admitted made it even more crucial.

Which indicates a deeper disconnect between front office and coaching staff existed than anyone really understood.
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.

A single point to ponder, with a bonus

December, 20, 2013
Two defensive starters left the Baltimore Ravens in the offseason. Paul Kruger went to the Cleveland Browns, Dannell Ellerbe to the Miami Dolphins. Playing for the Ravens defense a year ago, Kruger had nine sacks, and Ellerbe 4.5; playing for the Browns and Dolphins, Kruger has 4.5 sacks and Ellerbe has one.

And ... since the holidays are coming ... a bonus point to ponder, which technically makes this week “A Double Point to Ponder.”

Norv Turner scoffed when asked if the Browns should have run more against the Bears given Cleveland averaged five yards per carry and it was a windy day when Jason Campbell was struggling. Turner’s response was to basically say: Have you watched the other games?!?!? But in the eight games prior to the Browns running 17 times for 93 yards, the Bears gave up this in the run game: 198, 246, 258, 174, 145, 199, 209 and 123 yards. Average: 194 yards, more than double the Browns' total.
Norv Turner probably thought he had seen it all when his starting quarterback in Washington, Gus Frerotte, sprained his neck by head-butting a wall after a touchdown.

But in this, his first season as the Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator, Turner has dealt with a lot of unusual situations.

He’s used a different word each week for some element of the Browns' offense.

He’s discussed the run game as something that needs to be managed, and said the situation with the backs he has has been different.

Now he’s talking about not knowing the Browns quarterback with a game three days away.

“It’s a challenge,” Turner said.

That’s one word for it.

If Jason Campbell does not recover in time for Sunday’s game, the Browns appear headed to starting either Alex Tanney or Caleb Hanie, neither of whom have been with the team two weeks.

Either way the Browns could be making their fifth quarterback change this season, and perhaps starting their fourth different quarterback.

“There’s a lot of firsts for us this year,” Turner said.

Which kind of sums up the season. The last time the Browns went through four quarterbacks in a season was 2008, when Ken Dorsey played the final three games and Bruce Gradkowski was brought in off the street to start the finale. Gradkowski’s rating in that game: 2.8.

Now Turner works with the Tanney-Hanie combination.

“It’s a challenge,” Turner said. “But it’s not as hard on the coaches as it is on the players.”

Because players have to adjust to different throwing styles, different cadences, different feels from different passers.

If Campbell is back, there is at least some familiarity.

But if he isn’t, well ...
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.

Sputtering run game enough for Browns

November, 14, 2013
Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner discussed the Browns' running game today -- or lack thereof -- and provided a little more insight as to why the team and the coaching staff are satisfied, for now, with its limited production.

The Browns rank 27th in the league in overall rushing with 734 yards in nine games, and they rank 27th in yards per carry with 3.7. Just about two-thirds of their offense comes via the passing game. They have one rushing touchdown, which ranks last.

In their last game, a win against Baltimore, Willis McGahee led the team with 31 yards on 21 carries. Since running for 72 yards on 26 carries in a win against Buffalo, McGahee has rushed for 37, 39, 28 and 31 yards -- and he leads the team in rushing. The best game in that stretch was a 45-yard effort, and it came from wide receiver Travis Benjamin on one carry on a reverse.

[+] EnlargeWillis McGahee
Ron Schwane/USA TODAY SportsRunning back Willis McGahee hasn't been churning out big yardage, but the Browns keep feeding him the ball to keep defenses honest.
The Browns will live with it, and keep managing it.

Turner said the Browns can work with what they’re getting because it poses enough of a threat to make the play-action passing effective.

In Turner’s offense, play-action passing is vital.

That’s why Turner keeps calling running plays even when he’s not getting a lot of yards. McGahee wasn’t averaging less than 1.5 yards per carry against Baltimore, but he kept getting the ball. It’ s the old belief that the number of carries in a game might be more important than the yards gained.

Turner said the Browns have to play that way, if only to keep defenses honest.

“That’s kind of where the run game has gone to in the NFL,” said left tackle Joe Thomas, who has become quite vocal about how irrelevant a sustained run game is in the NFL. “It’s not about getting points or yards per carry or anything like that, because you just don’t put up a lot of points running the ball anymore.

“It’s more about setting up your passing opportunities with the run game, and making the defense still respect it so you have opportunities to throw the ball down the field to get those chunk plays in the passing game. Nobody in the NFL wins games by running anymore.”

This from an offensive lineman from Wisconsin, where running the ball is sacred.

McGahee, a running back, went even further.

“It’s not football right now,” he said.

McGahee said he’s seen things change, though. He was in Denver when Tim Tebow ran the read-option and receivers had to adjust.

Now running backs have to adjust.

“The game changes, man,” he said. “You got the little backs coming and running the routes now. It’s rare that your’e going to go out and pound the ball. I think it all comes back in a circle.

“Eventually you need that run game to come back alive.”

Time ... as they often say ... will tell.
“Aren’t they doing kind of OK right now?”

That was the question posed about the Cleveland Browns this morning by my beautiful bride as she played Candy Crush on her iPad while we drank coffee (Yes, this is a marriage of the 21st century).

That statement was about as good a way as any to sum up the 2013 Browns, especially when she added that “kind of OK” means the Browns have essentially made the playoffs.

Which, in Cleveland, makes sense.

Since there was no real way to answer her question, it seems fitting to ask three more about the Browns as they enjoy their bye week.

-- What might happen?

The other shoe drops on Jason Campbell.

The Browns quarterback who has played the last two games has been a different person from the rest of his career.

Campbell’s two-game rating of 110.9 is more than one-third better than his career rating of 82.5 in 77 games and 71 starts entering this season. He’s averaging 277.5 yards per game, compared to a career average of 190.7. He has yet to throw an interception.

He’s been a marvel.

But it’s not been his career path, and usually guys wind up back on that path -- the old “they are what they are” notion.

It could be that Campbell is the third arrival of Jim Plunkett or Doug Williams and has found himself in the perfect spot with the perfect coaches.

Or it could be that he’s the guy he’s been his whole career and he will find that level.

If so, the thud when he returns to earth could be loud.

--What can’t happen?

All that being said about Campbell, the Browns simply cannot afford to have him get hurt.

The Browns already are rolling the dice a bit by not signing a third quarterback -- though it’s not like Aaron Rodgers is waiting on the street. An injury to Campbell brings the Browns back to Brandon Weeden and a player to be named.

Based on the confidence level in the locker room with Weeden, that might not play well in Painesville.

A no-run order might be in order for the quarterback.

--What needs to happen?

With all respect to the talent and insight of Joe Thomas, it’s tough to see the Browns surviving the final seven games with such an anemic running game.

The NFL has become a passing league, yes, but there are times when a team needs to run the ball to win -- be it late when leading or in nasty weather, which is known to happen from time to time in Cleveland.

The Browns have what they have. Willis McGahee, Fozzy Whittaker and Chris Ogbonnaya are the backs -- and offensive coordinator Norv Turner revealed last week that Ogbonnaya has been playing with injured ribs.

It’s tough to make chicken salad from chicken feathers, as they say (OK ... no, not really), so the Browns have to make do.

The best that can be said is that it’s been good enough in the two games Campbell started.
Much was made of the Cleveland Browns slow start in Kansas City, when the offense went three-and-out on it first three possessions.

But that summary judgment is a classic case of letting the facts get in the way of a good story, because it ignores a convenient fact: Had Josh Gordon turned around in time to see the second pass Campbell threw the entire narrative would have changed.

Coach Norv Turner went aggressive on the Browns' first possession, and had Gordon run a deep route down the left sideline on third-and-7.

Campbell lofted a perfect pass that would have hit Gordon in stride -- but Gordon said he turned and looked in the wrong spot for the ball. Instead of a deep completion that had an excellent chance to be a touchdown because Gordon was past the defender, the ball fell to the ground.

"I thought it was a great throw," offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. "Just a little bit of miscommunication. I don’t think Josh thought he was going to throw it nearly that fast, and couldn’t find the ball."

Campbell’s next throw was also dropped (by Davone Bess), and it would have been an 11-or 12-yard gain on first down.

It’s convenient to say Campbell started slow. But had Gordon seen his first pass, and had Bess caught the first pass thrown his way, that slow start would have looked a lot different.

"I thought he (Campbell) was ready to go and he was ready to start fast," Turner said.
There has been a fair amount of talk that the Cleveland Browns don’t care about winning in 2013 and are instead concerned about the 2014 draft.

Clearly the latter half of that statement is correct.

The Browns have done all they could to load up on draft picks next May. They could still do more with the trade deadline approaching on Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeRob Chudzinski
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsRob Chudzinski and the Browns have managed a 3-4 record despite dealing with a lot of uncertainty.
But to say this season's team wants to lose … well that’s a bit much. A team can build and still try to win, it’s just tough to do while building. Or rebuilding. For the 761st time since 1999.

When it comes to coaches, their jobs depend on winning. Ask the last coach to be fired if a weak roster helped him keep his job. It’s tough to believe that a coaching staff will put in endless hours and time, watch all that video and make all those gameplans with the goal to lose. No coach without a few screws loose tries or wants to lose.

That does not mean, though, that coaches are not unaware of their situation. And the Browns know that this season’s team has problems. In a candid moment they might even admit it.

Coaches have to play the hand they are dealt (never heard that one before, I bet), and back in February Joe Banner said he was very aware the team would be short at certain positions this season because he was not going to surrender to a one-year or short-term fix. It would take time to build the team the way he wanted.

So the coaches have to scramble. Norv Turner has already said the running game situation is unusual, and this week Turner admitted it’s difficult to keep changing quarterbacks.

Defensive coordinator Ray Horton talked about keeping the game close, then admitted the offense isn’t scoring a lot.

This isn’t dissension, just reality.

So what does the guy in charge, Rob Chudzinski, do? Well he tries to win. He tried to win when he put Brian Hoyer in the starting lineup, he tried to win when Brandon Weeden went back in the lineup, and he tries to win now that he’s put Jason Campbell in the lineup.

Chudzinski has stressed that any decision he makes is based on what helps the team win, not on developing people or any of that garbage. He’s also established an aggressive tone, calling several trick plays and fake punts and eschewing the punt on some fourth downs by going for it.

It’s refreshing. A coach trying to “win” as opposed to “managing the game” (i.e. punting from the opponents 36-yard-line). In the long run the team will know what’s expected, and it might pay off.

The challenge is making that work within the limits he’s working with this season.

At this point the Browns are starting their third quarterback in eight games. Their defense has given up 24, 31 and 31 points in three games.

But they’re 3-4. They have more turmoil than Wile E. Coyote, but they have a better record than Houston, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Minnesota and the Giants.

That doesn’t mean they’re going to challenge for the Super Bowl, but the coaches no doubt would like to think if they can get to December at or near .500, they would have a chance to steal a win or two and sneak into something. On Sunday, Kansas City is unbeaten, but they live off the sack and doing just enough on offense to be effective. If -- and it's a gargantuan if -- the Browns pass protect, and if they play defense, they can be in this game, because Kansas City's offense is dependent on Jamaal Charles.


Of course.

Very long.

Especially because expectations for Campbell seem to be, at best, muted.

But it absolutely has to be the way the coaches look at it.

Otherwise, why are they doing it?
The future of Josh Gordon will be known in a few days.

No team will acquire Gordon without making sure he gets through the Cleveland Browns' game in Kansas City healthy. The trade deadline is two days later. The Browns have said that they don’t see themselves trading Gordon. But amid constant rumors and reports that the Browns are being called, the clear implication is that they are listening.

It’s a bit of an odd situation. Gordon is constantly being asked about reports of rumors even though the team itself has made it clear they aren’t interested in trading him.

[+] EnlargeJosh Gordon
Rich Gabrielson/ICON SMIJosh Gordon's talent is undeniable, but he's one strike away from a year-long suspension.
Nobody is saying the Browns are calling around trying to trade Gordon. Every report says they are being approached.

But the reports are there. And they are constant. Gordon showed the strain of the constant rumors this week when he said he wished if he was going to be traded that it would just happen. And offensive coordinator Norv Turner admitted the rumors could affect Gordon.

“I would hope not, but I’m realistic enough to know that yeah, it does,” Turner said.

Gordon is an immensely gifted receiver. He’s big, strong and fast. He has good hands and runs like a gazelle. He needs to grow, to play hard on every play -- Turner said Gordon is making good progress.

“I watch all this tape of other guys and they don't catch every ball and when it's a contested ball they don't jump over everybody every time,” Turner said.

Gordon’s future depends on whether he becomes a professional or a diva. At this point he could be seen on either path.

Gordon presents himself extremely well and speaks candidly to the media. But he’s also slipped twice in the NFL’s drug program and is one more misstep from a one-year suspension.

Which is the great complicating factor in Gordon’s future. Without this one-year issue, the Browns would make Gordon a key part of their future. With it, he’s a player drafted by the previous regime with baggage.

The Browns' situation is interesting. The coaching staff wants to win -- as all do -- but the front office wants to build something sustain -- wait for it -- able. Sustainable.

As has happened so often with the Browns since 1999, the front office in place finds little to like about the decisions of their predecessors. A year ago Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden were cornerstone first-round picks. Richardson has been traded for a future first-round pick that looks like it will be in the 20s, and Weeden’s future clearly is elsewhere.

Gordon was a second-round supplemental pick, and the opinions on him leading up to that supplemental draft were as varied then as they are now. The one difference now is that teams have seen a glimpse of what Gordon can do.

The talent is the lure. And no NFL team lacks the arrogance to believe it can keep Gordon on the straight-and-narrow, no matter the fact he failed three tests and went to two schools in college and now has two strikes in the NFL.

What can the Browns get for Gordon?

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported three teams have offers of a player and draft pick on the table. Details on the pick are not available, but if it’s not a second-round pick the Browns would be foolish to pay attention -- which evidently they are not.

A first-round pick … now that’s another story.

But what team is desperate enough to give up a first-round pick for a guy one step from a year’s suspension?

At least Gordon knows it will all be over, one way or another, in a few days.

First and 10: On Josh Gordon, halls

October, 22, 2013

Proud to announce the return of First and 10, at a new place but old time, each Tuesday, in a slightly abbreviated form from the past:
  1. There seems to be two types of receiver in the NFL. There's the "Jerry Rice Group," the guys who work like mad and never settle for good or better or even great. They want to be the best. Guys like Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne. They're elite.
  2. Then there is the group we shall call the "Terrell Owens Group." They're immensely talented, but they sometimes can't get out of their own Diva way. Due to subjectivity, present individuals in this group shall go nameless, though it's not tough to think Braylon Edwards in his Cleveland heyday fit this description.
  3. Then there's Josh Gordon, an immensely talented 22-year-old still learning the position, but a guy with a one-year suspension looming the rest of his career for any misstep in the league's drug program. If the team believes Gordon will eventually fit in the "Jerry Rice Group," it doesn't pay much to heed trade offers. If it feels, though, that the combined risk of him becoming a Diva with the one-year threat makes him too risky, it makes sense to listen to offers.
  4. Clearly, as Adam Schefter's reports indicate, teams around the league feel it's worth calling about Gordon. The Browns owe it to themselves to listen, but they continue to say they don't want to trade him. Expect these rumors to continue right up to the Oct. 29 trade deadline -- or until someone offers the Browns a first-round pick (if any team is daft enough to do so).
  5. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner said last week that the team's running back situation is "unusual." That's one word for it. Let's also call it patchwork. Even in a passing league this will become a problem over the course of the season, especially since no immediate and glaring solution is readily available.
  6. Spent some time pregame at storied Lambeau Field touring the Packers Hall of Fame. It's way impressive with all kinds of interesting information, memorabilia and life-size player casts of the formation with Bart Starr about to sneak in against Dallas in the Ice Bowl. After touring, a kind lady named Kristen Broderick, the Hall's assistant/educational coordinator, said she once gave Jerry Jones a private tour. She concluded by saying to him, "Now Mr. Jones, as one owner to another ... " Yes, she owns a single share of the Packers.
  7. The Packers Hall raises a simple question: Why don't the Browns have something similar? Paul Brown, Otto Graham, Jim Brown, the greatness of the 2000s (OK ... not that one) ... It would be a real draw for fans before and after games. Many teams could learn a thing or two from that community-owned group up north.
  8. If Brandon Weeden starts at quarterback in Kansas City, the Browns will be starting a guy who ranks 32nd in the league in completion percentage, 31st in yards per attempt, 30th in ranking (a woeful 66.5) and is tied for 27th in touchdowns and third in sacks (with two games missed to injury).
  9. As Joe Friday would say, just the facts ma'am.
  10. The Browns' struggles on third down mesh with the struggles on offense. A team that can't get off the field on third down lets the other extend drives, and when the offense can't extend drives it leads to a team that ranks seventh in pass defense and ninth in run defense giving up 24, 31 and 31 points. The Browns' inability to run the ball only feeds a vitamin to this monster.