Wednesday, November 19, 2014

News & Views

News: Josh Gordon returns to the Browns after serving a 10-game suspension for abusing the National Football League’s drug substance program.

Views: How much of a difference in the struggling Cleveland offense will the wide receiver make? Certainly not what Browns fans expect.

Most fans expect Gordon, who stunned pro football last season with an incredible string of performances, to step right in and pick up where he left off. That’s not going to happen for any number of reasons.

First and foremost, he is rusty. He might be in good shape from a physical standpoint. From a mental and emotional standpoint, he isn’t even close to being game ready.

The most important aspect in the on-field relationship between a quarterback and his receivers is timing. All plays on that side of the ball require precision, mostly in the aerial game.

Mess with that just a little bit, disrupt it even the slightest, and the likelihood of executing a successful play shrinks. That’s what quarterback Brian Hoyer and Gordon have to guard against this week in preparation for Sunday’s game in Atlanta.

It won’t be easy. Gordon has no idea the kind of ball Hoyer throws this year. Watching him throw in the first 10 games is not the same as being on the field to see how much spin he puts on the ball.

Does it tail? Does it drift? Does Hoyer wait for his guy to make a break in running his route before throwing the ball or does he throw the ball to a specific area before the break and rely on his man to be there when it arrives? He’ll find out beginning Sunday.

It’s not as easy as a game of pitch and catch. Only the great quarterbacks can do that and Hoyer is still an NFL quarterback baby.

Don’t for a moment think opposing defenses won’t pay extra special attention to Gordon wherever he goes on the field. That target on his back starts out large and grows by the game for the next six games.

The opposition wants to minimize Hoyer’s options in the passing game. They see the wide receiver corps without Gordon has been mediocre at best in the first 10 games and will strive to keep it that way.

But what about last season. Didn’t Hoyer and Gordon, who sat out the first two games due to another suspension, do well last season? Yes and no, but briefly.

Hoyer debuted as the Browns’ starting quarterback in the third game last season against the Minnesota Vikings and targeted Gordon 19 times. He connected on 10 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown in a 31-27 victory.

In the next game against Cincinnati, also a victory, Hoyer threw nine passes Gordon’s way, connecting on four for 71 yards. One game later, Hoyer tore his ACL in the first quarter, targeting Gordon once.

What made the lanky wide receiver’s season so remarkable was he caught all but one of his nine touchdown passes and compiled most of his receiving yards from three different quarterbacks on a team that lost its last seven games after starting 4-5.

The overwhelming majority (86.8%) of his 1,646 yards and touchdowns were compiled when Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell were under center. They were the perfect quarterbacks for Gordon’s stretch-the-field talents.

That presents another problem. Weeden and Campbell have strong arms. Hoyer does not. It will be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan game plans for his newest wide receiver.

Also bear in mind the Browns threw the football on two of every three plays last season because they had no running game. Gordon was targeted a very generous 11.4 times a game, enabling him to pile up those great statistics.

This season, the Browns have a running game and do not throw the ball two-thirds of the time. So do not expect big things from Gordon right away. It might take as long as a few weeks for Hoyer and Gordon to establish the necessary rhythm to be successful.  

One thing is certain, though. Those Hoyer passes that have sailed over the smallish Cleveland receivers’ heads all season will not sail uncaught when thrown in the much taller Gordon’s direction.

News: The Browns release running back Ben Tate.

Views: What took them so long? Was it because he opened up his mouth last week and declared his unhappiness at being the third option at his position?

First of all, there are two reasons the Browns placed Tate behind Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West on the depth chart: They are better. And they are rookies.

None of this would have happened if Tate had displayed some of the talent he exhibited in his first three seasons with the Houston Texans when he ran for nearly 2,000 yards and 10 touchdowns while serving as Arian Foster’s backup.

That’s what the Browns expected when they signed him to an incentive-laden contract when no one else in the NFL showed any interest. All he had to do was come close to replicating those numbers and everything would have been all right.

After injuring a knee in the opening game and missing three games, he returned and played well in victories over Tennessee and Pittsburgh, piling up 202 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

After back-to-back lackluster efforts (62 yards on 31 carries), Mike Pettine decided his rookies couldn’t do any worse. That started Tate’s slide out of Cleveland.

His last contribution against his former team last Sunday: Two carries for minus-9 yards. How fitting.

Don’t let the door . . .

News: Karlos Dansby goes down with a knee injury. Could miss rest of the season.

Views: Bad news all the way around. The linebacker was the hub of the defense. He was the linchpin that made it somewhat respectable.

With Dansby gone for at least the next month, the Cleveland defense will not be the same. He played as much from the neck up as he did with his large body. The defense will miss the mental aspect of his contributions.

His ability to recognize certain offensive formations and call the correct defense against those formations will also be missed.

He tackled well, was superb with his pass drops and was the glue that held the defense together. He was the antithesis of his predecessor D’Qwell Jackson.

Big loss.

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