The Cleveland Browns are an intriguing opponent. They are one of the few teams who have somehow managed to post a worse record than the Ravens thus far. Despite a promising draft class, the Browns have still maintained their usual mediocrity and seemingly never-ending QB crisis this year.
For more insight on what exactly is happening in Cleveland, I went to Chris Pokorny, Executive Editor of Dawgs By Nature. Special thanks to Chris for answering my questions. You can find my answers on his blog right here.
1. There's a lot of QB drama going on in Cleveland. Do the fans think the team is better suited to win with either Manziel, or McCown?
Josh McCown has clearly been the more polished quarterback this year, so the fact that the team is going back to him doesn't speak doom-and-gloom for the position. At 2-8, though, the team had an opportunity to give Johnny Manziel some more experience so he could build upon the on-field improvements he's already made in his second year. After hearing the details of Manziel's situation during the bye week, fans seem to generally support Mike Pettine's decision to yank the starting job away from him. McCown gives the Browns the better chance to win this Monday's game, but long-term, a further-experienced Manziel might eventually be ahead of McCown. Unfortunately, we might not get the opportunity to see that with Manziel as a member of the Cleveland Browns.
2. The Browns were widely hailed as having selected a superb draft class this year. How have prospects like Danny Shelton, Duke Johnson, Jr., and Cameron Erving played thus far?
Danny Shelton has received the most playing time as the team's starting nose tackle. After a monstrous training camp and preseason, he's had a very pedestrian regular season. He has not been a liability, but if the team wanted a mediocre nose tackle, they could've just re-signed Ahtyba Rubin this offseason rather than spending a first-round pick on him. Shelton needs to take things up a notch and be a difference maker.
Duke Johnson has not had much of an impact rushing the ball, but he's been explosive out of the backfield. He has the hands and position versatility to be an asset to any team that uses him, and there haven't been any issues with him in the locker room (unlike Terrance West, who the team dumped at the beginning of the year). Cameron Erving was a backup all season, with the team training him at right guard, left tackle, and center. Last week, he saw his first start at left guard due to an injury on the line. Between the preseason and regular season, he's looked a bit lost, so we're wondering if he might just ultimately settle in at center in 2016 of Alex Mack opts out of his contract.
3. Coach Mike Pettine has led the Browns to a 9-17 record so far during his stint in Cleveland. While this is a little better than previous coaches Mangini, Shurmur, and Chudzinski, do you think there is reasonable cause to say that Pettine is on the hot seat?
I think there is a reasonable chance that Pettine sticks around for 2016, but while I was confident at the start of the regular season that he'd stick around, I'm a little closer to 50/50 now. The big negative mark on Pettine's resume is the fact that the defense has regressed significantly with no in-season adjustments being made. Pettine is a defensive coach, but he might be able to salvage his job if he shows the flexibility to fire defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil and adopt a new coordinator's defensive philosophy. Players have been vocal about the defensive scheme being broken, and if Pettine is too stubborn to adapt to his players, it's a sign of a bad coach.
4. The Browns now currently own the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft. Who are you eyeing to select with this coveted pick?
A good portion of our fan base is already eyeing who they want the Browns to draft, but I can't bring myself to do that every year until the regular season is complete. I'd probably lean toward a defensive prospect, but I haven't settled on a name just yet.
5. Gary Barnidge is a 30-year-old TE on an offense that quite frankly, many didn't expect was capable of producing many relevant receivers. What's the explanation for this seemingly improbable break out?
In terms of not breaking out in the past, I think it's about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He began his career with the Carolina Panthers, where Greg Olsen was clearly the No. 1 receiving tight end. Barnidge had a reputation for being a good receiver, but you're not going to see teams deploy two-tight-end-receiver systems very often. When Barnidge came to Cleveland, Jordan Cameron was receiving his first real opportunity to be the No. 1 receiving tight end, which pigeon-holed Barnidge as a backup again. This offseason, fans criticized general manager Ray Farmer for not addressing the tight end position after Cameron departed to Miami. Barnidge became the No. 1 receiving tight end by default, and he's making the same type of catches he's made over the past few years. The difference is that he's getting all the receiving reps, and since he's delivering with a higher sample size, the team has now started to work harder to get him the ball and opposing defenses still can't stop him. Barnidge is probably the one bright story to come from the 2015 Browns.