Monday, December 21, 2015

Monday leftovers

Add Johnny Manziel to the tiny list of Browns who would like the entire coaching staff back next season, joining safety Donte Whitner, who last week endorsed their return.

Shortly after Sunday’s 30-13 loss in Seattle, the Cleveland quarterback pointed to the immense success of the Seahawks and how stability has played such a vital role in that success.

“They have been doing this for a while at a really high level,” he said. “I think this is the best (Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson) has played probably throughout his career, so I don’t know if I can really picture that (stability) moving forward.

“Well see what happens (in Cleveland). I don’t think anybody really knows. I want these guys to be here next year.”

Manziel wants the players and coaching staff to return “so we can go through the spring and not have to learn what this call is and this play is and be able to go through spring and have some continuity.”

All well and good, but one has to wonder just how much longer it will take for that continuity to pay off because not much has worked the last two years with this group of guys.

The Browns still have arguably the worst corps of wide receivers in the National Football League. The prospect of Josh Gordon returning from his one-year ban is encouraging, but the X factor is whether he can be the Josh Gordon of 2013.

The offensive line has been mediocre at best this season. And the running game is a joke, their strong performance against the San Francisco 49ers eight days ago notwithstanding. That, as it turned out, was an aberration.

The defense is a bigger joke.  All season long, fans have been waiting for that side of the ball to live up to its advanced billing. Fourteen games in and they are still waiting. The club poured more money into the defense and the result has been extremely disappointing.

Right now, the fate of coach Mike Pettine and his coaching staff is in the hands of owner Jimmy Haslam III, who vowed at the beginning of training camp last summer that he was “not going to blow things up, OK? I think we’re on the right track, so we’re not going to blow things up.”

Of course, those remarks were made following a 7-9 season in Pettine’s first year as head coach. The question now is whether Haslam believes now as he did back in August that his team is still on the right track.

As the team staggers toward the conclusion of the 2015 season with a solid shot at finishing 3-13 with upcoming dates against Kansas City and Pittsburgh, the distinct possibility of blowing things up again has to be at least swimming around in Haslam’s mind.

And that’s where Manziel and Whitner enter the picture. How much influence will their opinions have on the direction Haslam chooses to take once the final game is played on Jan. 3?

About 10 days ago, Whitner strongly suggested that Haslam should retain Pettine and his crew, but acknowledged “the call is not up to me. (But) you always understand the second and third year in the system can change. Something can click.”

There is still a chance Haslam hasn’t yet made up his mind on what 2016 is going to look like with the Browns. Endorsements by Manziel and Whitner for coaching retention very well could be an influencing factor in his final decision. It certainly is food for thought for the owner.

If overhauling the staff is not the answer and Haslam does, indeed, heed Manziel’s and Whitner’s words and gives Pettine and his staff one more shot, he risks losing a segment of a rapidly shrinking fan base that is fed up. Empty seats at home games are a mute reminder.

That is what Haslam must weigh before deciding the fate of his front office. New faces mean new ideas, new culture, new approach, new everything. If he believes nothing is working now in year two of the Pettine-Ray Farmer regime, his decision will be easy.

Even if Manziel and Whitner disagree.
*        *        *
The lone shining light in the loss to the Seahawks was the work of rookie running back Raheem Mostert. The 5-10, 190-pound speedster did all his damage running back kickoffs, though, taking five of them back for 159 yards.

He fielded all five in the end zone, ranging from one yard in to nine yards deep, and reached at least the 20-yard line on every occasion. His second return early in the second quarter following Seattle’s second touchdown was fielded five yards in the end zone and brought back to the Cleveland 48.

The offense marched to the Seattle 16 before bogging down, wide receiver Travis Benjamin dropping a slant pass right in his hands inside the 10. The first of Travis Coons’ two field goals made it a 14-10 game. Mostert’s big return was the key factor.

It’s only one game, of course, but Mostert’s performance gives the Browns a dimension in that aspect of the kicking game that has been missing all season. At 159 yards, he is already statistically the second-best kick returner on the team this season.

The Browns have tried Justin Gilbert, Darius Jennings, Shaun Draughn, Marlon Moore and Duke Johnson Jr. in that role this season. Gilbert (12 returns for 339 yards) has been the best. Until Mostert, who showed no fear to make a play no matter where the kickoffs landed.

Mostert, who played with Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey at Purdue University, made a circuitous route to the Browns, his fourth team this season after going undrafted in the last National Football League college draft.

He signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles, but was cut and then signed to the practice squad despite a nice exhibition season when he compiled 510 total yards (348 yards rushing and receiving and 162 returning yards).

The Miami Dolphins signed him off the Eagles’ practice squad in mid-September. He returned two kicks in one game and then was placed on the practice squad. The Baltimore Ravens signed him to their regular roster in mid-October when a spate of injuries hit the running back position.

He dressed for seven games and returned five kicks for 164 yards for the Ravens, who cut him on Dec. 15. The Browns claimed him on waivers the next day. Considering his debut with the Browns, it is safe to assume Cleveland will be Mostert ‘s last stop this season.
*        *        *
Yes, that was Dwayne Bowe. No. 80 in your program, making a special guest appearance and couple of late-game catches for the Browns on their last possession of the game.

The seldom-used veteran wide receiver grabbed passes on the first two plays of the series for gains of seven and 15 yards after spending most of the season, according to Fox play-by-play man Thom Brennaman, “in the witness protection program.” Manziel targeted him again two plays later and was picked off by Seattle corner Marcus Burley.

The expensive (two-year contract for $12.5 million, $9 million guaranteed) free-agent signee upped his season total to five catches on 12 targets for 53 yards in mop-up duty. That breaks down to $1.8 million per catch so far. Nice signing.
*        *        *
The halftime score would have been 17-10 Seattle at halftime if not for a bonehead play by veteran cornerback Tramon Williams, whose play has been uneven this season. The Seahawks began their last possession of the half at their 27-yard line with 16 seconds left. No way can they score in such a short period, right? Guess again.

With two seconds left and the Browns clearly in prevent mode, Wilson and Jermaine Kearse hooked up for a 39-yard gain to the Cleveland 18 when the clock ran out. Williams was one of three Browns taking down Kearse and the only one who grabbed the wide receiver’s facemask, drawing a flag.

Since a half cannot end on a defensive penalty (it is an option, though), the Seahawks were awarded an untimed down and Steven Hauschka booted a 27-yard field. ’Twas an early Christmas gift from the Browns.
*        *        *
Notebook: Duke Johnson Jr. watch: Nine touches, 85 yards, including a 39-yard run and 22-yard pass reception on a well-executed play fake, fake reverse throwback by Manziel. Maybe by next season, the coaches, if they’re still around, will realize Johnson should be the club’s No. 1 running back. . . .  Manziel targeted Terrelle Pryor twice and failed to connect. The former Ohio State quarterback also took a direct snap from center and lost a yard midway through the first possession of the second half. . . . Rookie nose tackle Danny Shelton was aggressive all afternoon and logged his best game of the year with seven tackles (four solo). Perhaps it was because he was playing in front of the home folks. Shelton went to Auburn (Wash.) High School and the University of Washington. . . . The Seahawks’ defense in the last three games has allowed just 26 points, 40 first downs, 153 yards rushing and 657 total yards.


  1. The players or fans don't have a choice. Bottom line is if Haslams's ego won't allow him to swallow the embarrassment of starting over(admitting a mistake) nothing will change.

  2. It would make the third do-over for him and that's what might keep him from pulling the trigger. For all we know, too, this could turn out to be a power struggle between Farmer and Pettine. The political infighting could help Haslam to make up his mind.
    He has many options here. Maybe too many.

  3. Rich, what other options matter? Farmer is the absolute worst talent evaluator in the NFL, and Pettine coached DOWN every member of the team but Joe Thomas, who is so good he's resistant to the lousy coaching. And that's only mentioning his lack of coaching ability, not even bringing up his game management cluelessness. It truly sucks to keep having to start over, but isn't that better than sticking with guys who are so frighteningly inept at their jobs that they'll never get this team over .500?


    1. Better yes, but downright embarrassing. Three times in four years means Haslam still doesn't know how to put together a front office that is not dysfunctional. And if he listens to Alec Scheiner again, he's doomed to make the same mistakes. Stay tuned.

  4. kirksey if from Iowa fyi

    1. Oops. Tnx for catching it, anon. Didn't double check that one. Should have. Won't happen again. Apologies to all Hawkeye fans. Also tnx for reading. Pls identify yourself the next time.

    2. Not a whole lot of Browns fans want to "identify themselves" these days. Haslam's embarrassment is nothing compared to what he's caused Browns fans nationwide.
      Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!