Alright! Time to get back to football instead of talking about reports and videos. I sat down with Christopher Pokorny from SB Nation's own Dawgs by Nature, the Cleveland Browns website. Together, we discussed the Browns offseason and what they are expecting to do.
Q1: Hoyer seems to have a decent lock on the job, but media and fans outside of Cleveland are just counting down the time until Manziel gets the starting nod. Is that the general consensus in Cleveland as well, or is Hoyer the better player even if just for this year?
A: This is an ever-changing answer for most Browns fans. My personal opinion heading into the season was that I wanted to see Brian Hoyer receive the opportunity to play all 16 games, but that if we went to Johnny Manziel at some point, I wasn’t going to be upset by it. This is a results-oriented business, and through two weeks of the season, Hoyer has shown the same type of leadership and mental toughness that he displayed in limited action in 2013. I think that has tamed a lot of the fans who were vocal about Manziel starting from day one. Manziel still has a lot of things to work on. If Hoyer is even playing half-way decent, I’d like for Manziel to use his time as a backup to study Kyle Shanahan’s system and take notes on what’s working when Hoyer’s in the game. Although many fans are against inserting Manziel into the game for some special packages, I think that limited action is beneficial to him, especially because of Hoyer’s ability to stay focused after re-entering the game. There is no doubt that Manziel offers the upside when it comes to mobility and extending plays, but in terms of decision-making and some of the other intangibles, Hoyer’s the right person to lead the Browns this season.
Q2: With Josh Gordon being out, what is the Browns’ focus in the passing game? Do the Browns trust any of the other receiving options or is there someone emerging as a potential long term guy?
A: Heading into the season, we thought the Browns would be rather pitiful at the receiver position without Josh Gordon. Through two weeks, the unit has been "respectable" -- that is, the receivers aren’t going to make highlight reel plays, but they haven’t been dropping passes or had trouble getting open, and a lot of that falls on having a balanced offense. The only long-term option currently on the roster at wide receiver is Andrew Hawkins. The disadvantage the Browns faced in the preseason was that Hoyer was high on a few of his throws, and at 5’7", Hawkins isn’t able to go up and snag those balls out of the air. During the regular season, Hoyer’s chemistry with Hawkins has been much improved. Hawkins has not only been an effective third down option, he’s been effective at getting open on any down. He’s a tough match-up for defenses because you don’t want to double team him, but he’s also going to win a lot of those one-on-one battles with his quickness.
Q3: Ben Tate being hurt already has to be a sore spot for the team, but with Terrance West apparently coming on and playing incredibly so far, do the team and fans miss Tate or are they already looking forward to the West Era?
A: Tate put in a lot of work this offseason to engage fans on Twitter, but I think fans will be a little hesitant when the team goes back to him (presumably after the bye in Week 5), simply because the tandem of rookies Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell has led to the Browns having one of the best running games in the NFL. I think fans will quickly get over it once they see how effective Tate is in the system, too. All three backs possess good qualities, and this just assures that the team won’t miss a beat if one of them get injured later this season.
Q4: With the Steelers, Ravens and Browns all sitting at 1-1, do you see any of those three teams overtaking the Bengals by season’s end or is everyone just fighting for a wildcard spot at this point? Where specifically do you see the Browns at by the year’s end (no playoffs, one and done in the playoffs, or Super Bowl baby!)
A: It’s way too premature to crown the Bengals as the division winners. They’re off to a good start to the season, but I don’t see them running away with it. Similarly, I think it’s way too early to project where the rest of the teams in the AFC North will be in terms of wildcard contention, but if there was a team that was completely "out of it" by the end of the season, it’ll be Pittsburgh. For the Browns, coming off of a win over the Saints, the optimism is high right now -- we have a soft schedule coming up after the bye, and then Josh Gordon will return for those final six games of the season.
Q5: Ravens fans were laughing last year when the Browns coughed up a serious amount of money for former Raven Paul Kruger. Two games into the 2014 season, he seems to be a different player than what we remember. What happened to Kruger where he went from dud to stud and can he keep that going all year or is it a fluke?
A: I was critical of the Paul Kruger signing last year too, and by the end of the season, he looked like a middle-of-the-road player who was grossly overpaid. As you stated, he looks like a completely different player this year. He was always on the left side of the defense in 2013, but he put in the effort to learn multiple positions in Mike Pettine’s defense this year. He has made too many plays over the first two weeks with impressive individual effort that I think he’s definitely more of a stud than a fluke.
Q6: The Browns were in the media spotlight this season with their head coaching search. With reports of several potential coaches turning down the job, did the Browns still find the best guy for the job?
A: Personality-wise, Mike Pettine the closest thing to a tough-minded coach the Browns have had, but it comes as a bit of a dual package: I view Kyle Shanahan as the clear leader of the offense, and Pettine as the vocal leader with the defensive specialty. The team has responded well to Pettine thus far, but again, it’s too premature for me to really say they’ve found the best possible guy for the job.
Q7: What are the keys to a Ravens victory on Sunday?
A: Joe Flacco needs to target rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert extensively to see if he can expose him like Ben Roethlisberger did in Week 1, and the Ravens’ defense needs to zone in on stopping the Browns’ running game since it has allowed Hoyer to set up the entire passing game.
Q8: What are the keys to a Browns victory on Sunday?
A: Find a way to complete a deep pass on offense, since that is an element that has been missing over the first two weeks, and dial up some more unique blitz packages for our outside linebackers to get pressure on Joe Flacco.