I had high expectations for the 2015 version of the Cleveland Browns. Coming off a 7-9 record last season and with what was thought to be an improved roster from free agency and the draft, I expected the Browns to contend for a playoff spot in the AFC. Six games in, that expectation has been diminished and looking like we’re heading towards another losing season in Cleveland. Here’s my thoughts on certain areas of the franchise.
- Quarterback Josh McCown has been as good as expected. The 36 year old veteran is 1-4 but his play hasn’t been a complete indication of that record. Throwing for 64.4%, 1,416 yards, 8 touchdowns and 3 interceptions including for a franchise record 457 yards against Baltimore in Week 5. He’s had some bad moments though, throwing two poorly thrown interceptions late against Oakland and Denver. McCown hasn’t yet given the Browns a reason to bench him for backup Johnny Manziel (who’ll I get to later on)
- The running game was expected to be a strong point for this team. There’s been some flashes but no consistency amongst second year player Isaiah Crowell and rookie Duke Johnson. Crowell is only averaging 3.7 yards per carry and Johnson can’t stay healthy, suffering two concussions early in his career. Robert Turbin made his debut Sunday and showed his potential as a power back for the team but he’s still recovering from a sprained ankle.
- Travis Benjamin and Gary Barnidge have been the biggest surprises on offense. Wide receiver and tight end were big question marks coming into the season with no big time playmakers after Jordan Cameron left in free agency and Josh Gordon was once again suspended for substance abuse. The veteran players are the leading receivers on the Browns and have made clutch plays to help lead the Browns to their two wins this season. Benjamin leads the team with 528 receiving yards and four touchdowns and Barnidge has 413 yards and five touchdowns.
- The defense was expected to make a big leap into the elite category this season, but they have taken a huge step backwards. They continue to show they can’t stop the run, ranking last in run defense giving up almost 150 yards per game. 2015 first round pick Danny Shelton is struggling in his rookie season. The pass rush is nowhere to be found as Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo and Nate Orchard can’t seem to get to the quarterback. The secondary is dealing with injuries to safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerback Joe Haden, Donte Whitner isn’t playing up to his Pro Bowl potential. Many fans are calling for defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil to be fired but I don’t expect it due to the friendship between O’Neil and head coach Mike Pettine
- Mike Pettine’s second year as head coach has many scratching their heads. After giving the team basically a walk through in training camp, the Browns are showing it on the field. Penalties happening constantly at a high rate every week, one ultimately costing us a shot at the win against San Diego in Week 4. His in game decisions have been very questionable including going for a two point conversion being up four points with eight minutes left this past Sunday against the Denver Broncos. His clock management is starting to be reminiscent of former Browns coach Pat Shurmur (which we all know how his fate ended). Pettine is certainly on the hot seat and if his team’s performance doesn’t improve drastically, it’ll be another long offseason in Cleveland with more than likely changes coming.
- And now to Johnny Manziel. The second year quarterback has had a tumultuous year. After spending ten weeks in a rehab facility, Manziel was very quiet during the offseason which was a blessing for the organization and the fan base. Manziel started and had a fantastic performance against the Tennessee Titans throwing two long touchdowns to Travis Benjamin while leading the Browns to a 28-14 victory. I was one of many fans who called for Manziel to continue as the quarterback for the Browns but Coach Pettine stuck with Josh McCown which hasn’t looked like a bad decision yet. Manziel is now once again at the center of controversy following an alleged domestic dispute with his girlfriend Colleen Crowley last week. Crowley alleged that Manziel hit her several times after the two had been drinking, although a small abrasion was the only mark on Crowley after Manziel grabbed her arm while she tried to escape their moving vehicle. No charges have been filed, nor do I expect them to be although the NFL is currently investigating the incident. It’s another in a long growing list of off the field events involving Manziel. It’s a distraction to the franchise that it doesn’t really need. Coach Pettine was grilled by the media Monday about Manziel while owner Jimmy Haslam and general manager Ray Farmer have been hiding in the shadows. Local sports talk host Tony Rizzo reported Monday that the Browns are shopping Manziel. I don’t see the Browns getting any value for him nor do I see any team acquiring Manziel with all his off the field baggage.
There’s still ten games left in this 2015 season and anything can happen with this Cleveland Browns squad. The schedule is getting tougher though which means wins are starting to look less and less likely. Hopefully the team finds a spark or another fire sale in Berea is on the horizon.