Is that hope I smell in the Dawg Pound Nation?

Let’s get this out of the way from the beginning.  This is going to be a bit more flowery, happy writing than you may be accustomed to from me.  I can’t help it.  The Browns got me excited in their 17-6 win over the Bengals.  Not just because it was a win.  Not just because it was their second solid win in a row.  Not just because it put them in to a 3 way tie for 1st place in the AFC North.  They got me excited because for once, what my eyes saw translated into a victory. 

Watching that game, I couldn’t help but get that feeling in my guy that nags all Cleveland sports fans.  That feeling that even though they had statistically dominated all day, that at some point they were going to blow it.  A pick six.  A boneheaded turnover.  An injury to someone important.  Brian Hoyer gets a hang nail and can’t throw the ball straight.  Willis McGahee has a heart attack (sorry, last old joke).  SOMETHING.  MUST.  GO.  WRONG. 
But it didn’t.  It didn’t.  Actually, as that feeling hit its apex, we got the ball on our 5 yard line.  This is it I thought.  A safety.  An interception.  Nope.  Brian Hoyer led the team on a sensational drive to score the touchdown that I knew would put the game out of reach.  And then, on the following Bengals possession, Buster Skrine picked off a ball that DQ tipped to seal the game.  My mind was on overload.  So many things were running through my mind.  The Cleveland Browns, the team that has let me down more than perhaps anything else over the course of my life, just gave me one.  A quarterback that I can’t help but believe in.  A defense that I trust to hold.  A defense that’s fun and tough and exciting to watch.  Receivers who make big plays (Gordon and Cameron), and a guy who is as sure handed in the middle of the field as the Browns have ever had (Bess).  Those daggone Browns just came through.

So how did this happen?  How did the Cleveland Browns finally smack fate in the face and do what they’ve rarely done before?  Well, it started a couple weeks ago, in the locker room after the Baltimore game. Brown’s Captain D’Qwell Jackson gave a passionate speech to the team in the locker room post game. Jackson, who has given his all, including two torn pectoral muscles, tough season, got fired up. He said he didn’t use a library voice when he addressed his teammates.

“At the time my mind was on getting my point across,” Jackson said. “I’ve been here longer than anyone on the team, so I know what it means to Cleveland, I know what it means to me. It needed to be said, something that needed to be said. I’ll do it again if I need to… It’s just a culmination of your emotions running wild. It was just something that felt like we were a better team. Don’t go in the tank. Remember our goals. Remember why we do this. If we don’t turn this thing around it can be a long season. I’ve been through that with some pretty bad teams, and this team is not that team.”

Something in that speech got across to this team. You can see it on every down sincr. They are playing like a team who believe in themselves. Like a team that knew it was better than the media and fans were saying.

And then, like the next logical step in the profession, Brian Hoyer gets the call to start for the much maligned Brandon Weeden when he was ruled out against the Vikings. If D’Qwell lit the match to start the fire, Brian Hoyer became the flames made manifest. In two straight games, when it was needed most, he took control of the offense and lead them on game winning fourth quarter drives. The offense clearly believes in Hoyer in a way they never did with Weeden. It’s not hard to see why. Hoyer is a leader. He doesn’t seem to leave the door open for this team to follow him or not.

And when it has mattered most, guys have stepped up. Whether it’s Josh Gordon fighting for a deep ball on the sidelines, or Cameron beating guys over the top, or McGahee beating up a worn down Bengals defense for big chunks of field. Joe Haden shutting down anyone who comes near him, Mingo eating quarterbacks, Phil Taylor dominating runners at the line of scrimmage, even Buster Skrine jarring the ball from receivers with big hits. These guys are playing like a team. It’s not an individual effort, but rather a collection of efforts earning it on every down.

For the first time in as long as I can remember, I’m ready to buy in to a Browns football team. I can see an identity forming here. A tough team that will shut you down on defense and will come up big on offense when needed. I see leaders on both sides of the ball stepping up, Hoyer and Thomas and D’Qwell, Taylor and Kruger. I can see future stars being born in Gordon, Cameron, Mingo and Shears. And so here we are, 4 weeks in to the season, and while I was ready to after the Richardson deal, I can’t quite write this team off. Because they haven’t written themselves off yet. They clearly believe, and I’m finding it harder and harder to not join them.


Why I Hate Brandon Weeden

From the beginning, let me say that I’m being a bit hyperbolic when I say that I hate Brandon Weeden. I don’t take sports seriously enough to actually hate human beings because of their performance. I’m sure the Brandon Weeden is a great guy , as he is demonstrated by his charity work and generally nice personality.

So for the purposes of this article, assume for a moment that we are not talking about Brandon Weeden the man, but rather what Brandon Weeden has come to represent to me. You see,  I have been a Cleveland Browns fan for most of my life. I have witnessed all of the stupid mistakes, the let downs, the disappointments, the failures. And the thing is, there is a common pattern among all of them. And to me, Brandon Weeden is the living embodiment of them all. 

Brandon Weeden is who the Browns drafted when they needed a young franchise quarterback to build around. Immediately you see the problem, Brandon Weeden was going to be 29 years old before his first NFL start. And, what’s worse, they used a first round draft pick on him. First, no one in the NFL thought Weeden was a first rounder. Or second rounder. Or this round. Many experts questioned if he would be drafted at all. So the Browns passed on guys like Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon, and reached heavily to get Weeden. To make matters worse, at the time the Browns were trying to employ the West Coast offense, and Weeden was a known slinger. The parts of Weeden’s skill set that was attractive didn’t fit in any way with a West Coast offense. Accuracy and quick decisions are key to a West Coast system, and Weeden is wildly inaccurate and exceptionally slow in his release. So the Browns picked the wrong type of quarterback, way older than was viable, way earlier than he should have ever been taken. Do you see where this is headed?

So, to me, Weeden became the walking, talking example of why the Browns have been so bad for so long. He was not just a guy who didn’t pan out. He was someone who could NEVER pan out. He was doomed to fail before he ever even practiced with the team. We all still had (or have) to sit back and hope against all odds that it would work, even when logic and experience told us otherwise. Brandon Weeden is not the problem as much as he’s a symptom of the condition, which is the absurd stupidity of countless failed Browns regimes. And so yes, I’ve honestly wanted to see him fail. Not because he’s a bad guy or anything, but because the sooner he’s gone, maybe the sooner we can move on and try again.

5 Questions the Browns Must Address Before Sunday

1.  How can we create production in the running game?

Look, we all knew the Browns were going to have a hole in the run game when they traded Trent Richardson to the Colts.  That said, asking QB Brian Hoyer to throw the ball 55+ times per game while limiting turnovers is not a long term solution in my opinion.  Especially in the second half (the Browns have been winning at halftime in all three games so far this season), having the ability to consistently eat up field and clock is invaluable.  I’m not saying it has to be a single back, but they Browns need to find a way to get some production out of their backfield.  Whether its alternating between the three runners (McGahee, Ogbonnaya, Rainey) to keep frseh legs, or whether they can find someone else to push the ball, the Browns simply cannot expect to throw the ball 60 times and not deal with a mess of turnovers.


2.  Is Barkevious Mingo capable of playing every down?

With Groves and Sheard both likely out or limited Sunday, rookie linebacker Barkevious Mingo is going to be expected to play every down.  This is going to either solidify his status as a rising star, or expose a vital weakness.  Because of his slender build, it has been questioned whether or not Mingo can run stop on every down.  He is an explosively quick pass rusher, and is sure to become a specialist at getting to the quarterback.  However, because of his size, it remains to be seen whether he can handle the grind of a consistent running attack.


3.  Can the right side of the offensive line hold?

Shawn Lauvao hasn’t been cleared to play just yet, but if he returns to the field on Sunday in place on Oniel Cousins, it could go a long way to providing some extra time in the pocket for QB Brian Hoyer.  Cousins has been absolutely dominated by just about every defensive lineman he’s faced off against this season.  He has allowed more sacks and tackles for loss than any two other offensive lineman, and he’s accounted for half the offensive penalties incurred so far.  I think a lot of Mitchell Schwartz’ struggles next to him have come from having no ability to trust Cousins to hold firm next to him.  If Lauvao is back, it remains to be seen whether he is at 100% or if he will have any rust from lack of playing time thus far this season.  If Lauvao is out, pressure is guarenteed to come from the right side, so Hoyer will have to make quick releases yet again.


4.  Can the Browns offense score in the second half?

So far this season the Browns have a total of 40 first half points, against a mere 7 in the second half.  The Browns scored their first second half points of the season in last Sunday’s thrilling win over the Vikings.  The Browns are going to have to find a way to deal with defensive adjustments and keep the pressure on during the second half.  It can’t keep falling to the defense to be flawless in the second half, especially with the offense pulling so many three and out. This is where is a productive running game would be so useful.

5. Is Brian Hoyer the Brown’s best option?

Don’t take this question the wrong way. I really like a lot of what I saw out of Brian Hoyer. Some of the turnovers and mistakes however make him far from a sure thing. While I love his story, and I thought he played a good game against Minnesota, we need to let it play out for a few more weeks to get a real idea of his true ceiling. That being said I am perfectly fine with him starting over Brandon Weeden for the rest of the season. We know with 100 percent certainty what Brandon Weeden is. Brian Hoyer at this point is still an unknown quantity, so seeing him in a more full spectrum of game situations will give us a better indication of his long term viability. The Bengals defense is considerably better than Minnesota’s, and will likely test Brian Hoyer far more frequently. Even after this week, we will still need to see Hoyer a couple of more times before we can reach a definitive conclusions about his abilities. That being said, the Bengals defense will certainly give a good idea of what we have with him.

Transcript of Coach Chud’s Press Conference Today

The Full Transcript of the Press Conference Coach Chud gave today:


Opening statement: “Back to work this week. Back at home, back in the division against an outstanding team. They’re extremely talented, well coached. I have a lot of respect for (Bengals Head) Coach (Marvin) Lewis. They’re well-coached in all three phases. They’ve won a couple in a row. Obviously, they had the huge win this past Sunday. You look at them from a team standpoint; you look at their offense, it starts with their quarterback Andy Dalton. I think he’s done a great job at managing the game, as well as making plays. They have a solid offensive line, two very good runners that complement each other and they’re loaded at the skill positions. Everybody knows about (WR) A.J. Green and what kind of player he is, outstanding player. They have a good wide receiver group, and they play a lot with two tight ends, two very good tight ends in (TE Jermaine) Gresham and (TE Tyler) Eifert. So it will be a real challenge for our defense this week. Defensively, they have an excellent scheme. Their personnel is outstanding as well. It sounds like a broken record every week, but again, the front-four that’s excellent outside in (DE Michael) Johnson and (DE Carlos) Dunlap and then inside with (DT Geno) Atkins and (DT Domata) Peko. They have an active group of linebackers. They’ve had some injuries in their secondary, but they’re deep there. We’ll see where (CB) Leon Hall is this week, but they have (CB Adam) ‘Pacman’ (Jones) and (CB) Terence Newman. Obviously, he made the big play in the last game for them, and (S Reggie) Nelson is playing great at the safety position. In special teams, they’re solid in all areas, two very good returners. This is a tremendous challenge for us. I expect our guys to be ready and respond to the challenge because we’ll need to be at our best as a team for this game. Additionally, Brian Hoyer will start at quarterback. (QB) Brandon (Weeden) will be out for this game. He’s making progress and expect that he’ll be throwing some and start throwing some this week.”

On when he ruled Weeden out for Sunday: “Just basically from the information we got yesterday. I talked to him last night.”

On if Weeden has thrown a football yet: “He’s going to start this week in the next few days with that and should be throwing a football, we’re hoping and expecting, by the end of the week.”

On confidence in Hoyer based on his performance against Minnesota: “Brian obviously was critical in that game. As I said before, I have confidence in all of those guys. I expect that Brian will be ready for this game, as well, and I’m looking forward to it.”

On steps to take now that Hoyer can be evaluated by other teams: “I think that our playbook is deep enough in terms of that and that we won’t have that issue. The biggest thing, really, I’m most concerned about is us and him getting better, us all getting better around him. Really, that’s the focus.”

On improved pass protection and Hoyer’s contribution to it: “He did a good job at getting the ball out, but the guys did play better and are improving in that area.”

On if Weeden was not getting the ball out fast enough in the first two games: “There was a little bit of everything, as I’ve mentioned before. I think we’re starting to improve around the quarterback, and that always makes a difference. I think (WR) Josh (Gordon) coming back made a difference, too. I think it’s a little bit of everything.”

On if leaving Hoyer in longer will make it harder to take him out: “Like I’ve said all along, we’ll just approach it from a week-to-week basis and see where everybody is at. We’ll make the best decision for what I’ve determined gives us the best chance to win.”

On if OL Shawn Lauvao will play this week: “He’s going to practice today. We’ll wait to see how he does.”

On LB Jabaal Sheard’s status: “He’s not going to practice today. We’ll take it day by day though.”

On WR Greg Little returning kickoffs and if he will remain there: “He’s done it before in college and was pretty effective at it. We looked at him earlier in the week and he looked good doing it. We’ll continue to work him there.”

On if K Billy Cundiff will kick today: “He won’t work out today, but as the week progresses, we’ll see how it goes.”

On if the team will need to bring in another kicker: “We’ll just see how Billy progresses as the week goes on. We have a plan and we’ll be OK there. Obviously (P) Spencer (Lanning), AFC Special Teams Player of the Week, we have a lot of faith in him, as well.”

On if he told Lanning that he throws ‘like a girl’: “[Laughter] No, I have a daughter. I wouldn’t say that.”

On TE Jordan Cameron improving: “Like I said, he gets better every day out there. He’s a talented guy. You can see that physical part of it right from the beginning. It’s just a matter of him playing more, understanding the game better. He’s really worked at it to make those strides. He’s made plays. That’s the bottom line in this league at any position is when you have the opportunity, you make plays, and he’s been able to do that.”

On comparing Cameron to other TEs with whom he’s worked, including Antonio Gates: “They’re all different. As far as Jordan goes, he’s very athletic; he’s very smooth; he runs faster than what it appears he’s running and moving; he has tremendous hands and ball skills; and he can jump and get up and get balls. He’s just learning the nuances of the game and the position. As he continues to do that and get more reps with the attitude he’s taking and growing as a player, he’ll continue to get better and better.”

On TE’s learning his offense: “It starts with, from a formation standpoint, they’re always moving, they’re always in different spots. Sometimes they’re playing in essence a fullback position; sometimes they’re playing a receiver position; sometimes they’re playing at tight end. They have to know the run game; they have to know the pass game. Ultimately, you want those guys to understand what we’re trying to do like a quarterback would. As they’re in the offense, the longer they’re in the offense, they understand those things better and better.”

On how Cameron is grasping the offense: “It takes time, especially initially. I’ve been fortunate, and I know (offensive coordinator) Norv (Turner) has been fortunate to have guys in a system for a number of years where they really can refer back and ultimately have that kind of knowledge. That’s what you want.”

On it being overwhelming to grasp the offense: “It does. It takes a little bit of time to understand it. I think that as they understand what we can do, and the flexibility that we have, if they grasp and the more they can grasp, they want to do it. I think (tight ends coach) Jon Embree has done a great job in teach him and working with him to get it.”

On how far Gordon is from reach the status of Cincinnati WR A.J. Green: “I think Josh, everybody knows, he’s a young guy. He has ability. I think he’s made real strides and he’s matured as a person. I see him working harder than he has. Again, I go back to April, I’ve seen a lot of progress with him. It’s not been perfect, he’s not perfect, but he’s working at it. Ultimately, this is a process. It’s a process of becoming a player, the kind of player that he can become.”

On Gordon can be in the same class as Green: “I hate doing comparisons on guys, just because they’re all different and they bring different things to the table. But I think Josh could be a number one (receiver) in this league if he continues to work and progress and be the player that we all want him to be.”

On if backing up Patriots QB Tom Brady has helped Hoyer’s development: “I’m sure he did. When you’re playing around or behind a great player, the things that you pick up and you’re able to learn from them in all areas. I’m sure that was very valuable for him. He’s a quick decision maker on the field, and we have to continue to work in that area with him. Certainly, there were a few times where he made some throws that we don’t want him to make. He’ll grow in that area. Obviously, I’m pleased with that part of it and the part of it and the part of it of being able to put bad plays and things that happened to you in the course of the game behind you, and go to the next play or go to the next series or focus on what needs to be done at that particular time.”

On if WR Travis Benjamin is struggling on punt return: “No, I think he’s doing fine. I think he’ll have his opportunities to shine and he has. Some people are kicking away from him a little bit or hanging it up. But I’m excited about Travis every time he’s out there on the field.”

On if it will be running back by committee: “We’ll work all those guys. Again, we’ll have packages and different personnel groups and things like that that the guys are going to work in and continue to work through it that way.”

On if rookie LB Barkevious Mingo will be ready to start if Sheard cannot play: “I do. I mean, I have all of the confidence. We’ve been rolling and rotating those guys. Mingo has been getting his share of reps, especially this past game.”

On Mingo against the run: “He’s done well against the run. He’s improved in that area tremendously. He’s a guy that plays with really good leverage, and he plays stronger than what you would expect or think because he plays with such good leverage. Obviously, his athleticism allows him to do some things and create some problems with guys that are trying to block him.”

Browns Announce Hoyer Will Start Against Bengals

Browns Head Coach Rob Chudzinski announced Wednesday morning that the Browns will start QB Brian Hoyer over Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Officially, Brandon Weeden is listed as injured.

Coach Chud to meet with media at around 10:50 EST.  More to come.