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Browns coach Mike Pettine 'gets it' when it comes to quarterbacks

Oct 30, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/USA Today

The Morning Kickoff …

As the quarterbacks turn: I can make the case that an NFL head coach is only as good as his quarterback. Which makes a coach’s handling of his quarterback probably his most important task.

Whether he is oriented in offense or defense, the head coach must be able to manage his quarterback situation correctly or his team has no chance. A coordinator can’t do it for him. It is the equivalent of a manager in baseball. He might know the game inside out, but if he can’t handle pitchers – when to trust them, when to pull them, how to build his rotation, etc. -- he’s finished.

The list of very good coaches is long. But the list of the great coaches includes only those who were expert in their management of their quarterback.

Marty Schottenheimer is one example. Very good coach. But clueless when it came to the position of quarterback. Mike Holmgren was the opposite. His great record as a coach was built almost entirely on his psychological command of his quarterbacks.

In my time, the best coach at handling quarterbacks was … get ready for this … Bill Parcells.

Parcells won Super Bowls with franchise-type Phil Simms and journeyman backup Jeff Hostetler with the Giants, and was the coach to produce the best seasons in the careers of Drew Bledsoe with New England and Vinny Testaverde with the Jets.

I’ve always felt the Cowboys would have reached a Super Bowl if Parcells would have stayed beyond the 2006 season and molded Tony Romo, whom he warned not to become a “celebrity quarterback.”

Parcells just had a feel for managing his team around the strengths of his quarterback, knew when to pull in the reins or loosen them, knew how to toughen his quarterback, and never let his quarterback get bigger than the team.

All of which leaves me encouraged that Mike Pettine just might have a future as a head coach. He seems to “get it” when it comes to the quarterback position.

Showing faith: I felt Pettine erred in declaring an “open competition” between Brian Hoyer and rookie Johnny Manziel in training camp. But maybe that wasn’t his fault. Manziel’s celebrity intoxicated a franchise famished for a savior. And Hoyer was coming off major knee surgery.

Pettine’s best move was staying true to his original timetable and naming his starter prior to preseason Game 3. That made Hoyer the only logical choice, even though Hoyer was struggling. Who knows? Another week and Manziel could have stolen the job even though he was clearly not ready.

So Hoyer relaxed and his confidence returned and he was able to keep the Browns from joining the ranks of the Raiders and Jaguars and Vikings – teams with no other choice but to cash in their seasons and hope their rookie quarterbacks magically turn into something they’re not.

Pettine’s faith in Hoyer was steeped in the hand-written note of admiration he sent Hoyer after watching him tear his knee in the game against the Buffalo Bills last year. Little did either know they would be united less than a year later, their relationship bonded in mutual trust.

So when Hoyer stumbled in Jacksonville, opening the conversation about Manziel taking over, Pettine did not waver. While the “noise” was louder externally, I don’t doubt that some conversation did exist internally.

If something becomes of this Browns season, and Hoyer is leading the team at the end, I believe Hoyer’s snappy touchdown drive after the Donte Whitner forced fumble in the fourth quarter against Oakland will be seen as the turning point.

Managing Manziel: The last few weeks have been increasingly frustrating for Manziel. He hasn’t appeared in a game since that hokey, illegal trick play against Baltimore four games ago, which Pettine took accountability for recommending.

All the while, Manziel has watched from the sideline as rookies Blake Bortles and Derek Carr – quarterbacks who didn’t win the Heisman Trophy as redshirt freshmen, or beat Alabama -- led their teams against the Browns.

On Wednesday, Tampa Bay rookie receiver Mike Evans, Manziel’s go-to guy at Texas A&M, asserted, “I know he wants to be out there bad, but he’ll do whatever the team needs him to do – sit back and learn or whatever they have him do, he’s going to do it. He’s a team player.”

Standing on the Browns’ own practice field at the NFL Rookie Symposium in June, Evans flatly stated that Manziel should start from Day 1 as a pro.

On Wednesday, Evans commented, “That’s their team’s decision because they’re winning now. I can’t talk too bad about that,” and added, “He’s a great player, and when he gets his shot I think he’s never going to come off the field.”

So when will that be? The temptation to see Manziel on the field is palpable.

“Brian’s our starting quarterback,” Pettine said. “That’s a difficult thing to say, ‘Let’s just go ahead.’ All our games are meaningful. If it ever gets to the point whether we’re potentially up big, down big, or if there’s a situation that calls for him to go in, we’ll get an opportunity to see him.

“But there’s a lot of football left to be played. You’re looking for an evaluation at some point, but what I’m saying is I don’t think you can force it.

 “To me, it's look at your roster and who gives you the best chance to win. If you have a guy on your roster that's doing that for you and somebody is sitting and waiting … I think the mistakes are made when teams get impatient. They have to know, and that guy has to play. I think it's easy in the coaching world because it's, 'Hey, who gives us the best chance to win today?' We'll worry about tomorrow down the road.”

The Browns are winning more than they’re losing. In order for that to continue, the quarterback has to play well.

How Pettine manages this situation going forward will say a lot about his future as a head coach.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Browns planning for loss of TE Jordan Cameron for a while

Oct 29, 2014 -- 3:11pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Extra Points …

Next men up: The next adjustment for the Browns’ offense is to deal with life without Jordan Cameron for a while.

The tight end has not been cleared for work after suffering a concussion Sunday on a violent hit to the head making a catch in the middle of the field.

The Browns won’t even speculate on a timetable for Cameron’s return. He may miss the next two games at least. Cameron has had three concussion injuries in the span of about two years.

So get ready for a healthy dose of Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray in place of Cameron. While they won’t stretch a defense as Cameron did (13 catches for 250 yards and a 19.2-yard average), they are proven receivers when called upon.

Some questioned the signing of Dray, formerly of Arizona, in free agency because he had similar traits to Barnidge – versatile in receiving and blocking, unspectacular after the ball. Now the move looks prescient.

“He and Gary both mean a lot,” coach Mike Pettine said. “Jim’s been the ultimate professional. Hardly says a word. All he does is work. Very intelligent. Very interactive with the staff. Knows all the different spots. Very versatile. And he’s made plays for us. He’s gotten open and when the ball’s thrown to him, he’s caught it. Nothing flashy. Fills a great role for us. He’ll have to step up when Jordan’s out, as will Gary.”

Dray’s 16-yard reception set up the fourth-quarter touchdown against Oakland after the Donte Whitner forced fumble. He has nine catches for 118 yards and had a touchdown against Tennessee. Barnidge had four of his five season catches in the win over New Orleans.

“We weren’t really sure about Gary coming in, what we had, and that’s one reason why we went after Dray in free agency,” Pettine said. “Then we realized this guy is a good fit for us and has played some significant reps for us.”

On Monday, the Browns claimed a third tight end, Ryan Taylor, who was waived by the Ravens – further indication they expect Cameron to be out for a while.

Exhibit A: GM Ray Farmer’s aversion to wide receivers taken high in the draft was a storyline since Josh Gordon’s future suspension was first reported on May 9. It has slowly faded as the Browns’ unheralded receivers rewarded Farmer’s faith.

Farmer’s point was that Super Bowl-winning teams generally don’t have “mega-receivers” on their roster. And the converse is that teams that load up on highly-drafted receivers aren’t helping their cause.

A case in point is the Buccaneers, the Browns’ foe on Sunday. Despite a starting high-wire tandem of 2012 free-agent catch Vincent Jackson and 2014 seventh overall draft pick Mike Evans, Tampa Bay comes to town sporting the NFL’s last-ranked offense and is 1-6.

(Another example is the Chicago Bears, who are 3-5 with elite wideouts Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey.)

“I think the driving force behind (Farmer’s) point is that you have to have a system that you believe in and you build your roster that way,” Pettine said. “You can do get it done with first-round receivers, but you build it a certain way based on all your circumstances – how are we going to move the ball, how we going to generate yards, how we going to generate points? It can be done a lot of different ways.

“I agree with Ray. When you do a study, the numbers bear it out. When you look at some of the best teams around, they have good players at receiver, and I also think that’s a position where you can find guys later. Some of the better receivers in the league aren’t necessarily top 15 picks.  You see teams that are very functional … (if) their system is good, quarterback’s good, you can get it done without them.”

Brownie bits: Defensive end Billy Winn was full-go at practice, but Pettine said Phil Taylor (knee) is still “a way’s out.” Taylor isn’t expected to be available until at least after the Cincinnati game … With nickel back K’Waun Williams also a full go at practice after suffering a stinger in the Oakland game, Pettine feels the secondary is as strong as it’s been. “K’Waun’s ability, I think, has really helped us because that doesn’t put so much on (Justin) Gilbert’s plate. I think if we can continue to work those four guys (including Joe Haden and Buster Skrine) in three spots, that will be good,” the coach said.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Tony Grossi's Scouting Report: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Oct 29, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

Browns vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

                        Sunday, 1 p.m., FirstEnergy Stadium

Record: 1-6.

Last game: Lost to Minnesota Vikings, 19-13 in OT, Oct. 27, in Tampa, FL.

Coach: Lovie Smith, 1-6, first year; 85-72 overall.

Series record: Browns lead, 5-2.

Last meeting: Bucs won, 17-14, Sept. 12, 2010, in Tampa.

League rankings: Offense is 32nd overall (29th rushing, 28th passing), defense is 32nd overall (23rd rushing, 30th passing), and turnover differential is minus-4.

Offensive overview: Offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford has been on a leave of absence since undergoing a heart procedure on Aug. 25. The offense hasn’t come out of ICU since. Quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo, a former Tedford assistant at University of California, has tried to take over. The result is an offense with no particular identity. Which is a shame because there are talented players in receivers Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans, running backs Doug Martin and Bobby Rainey and tight ends Brandon Myers and rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins. The offensive line is the weakest link and that is not a good thing because quarterback Mike Glennon is fairly immobile. Glennon (6-6 and 225 pounds) is a rangy pocket passer with a good arm who delivers a nice ball but doesn’t have a particularly quick release. He is strong and tough, but he takes a beating because of the line’s deficiencies.

Defensive overview: Lovie Smith was Tony Dungy’s linebackers coach in the late 1990s with Tampa Bay before taking the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl in the 2006 season. So Smith is wedded to the “Tampa 2” defensive system, which leaves the pass rush to a four-man front and drops the linebackers and secondary into pass coverage. Like the offense, this side of the ball has talent, but it hasn’t been able to totally adapt to Smith’s defense as a unit. The defense failed to put away games against the Vikings, Panthers and Saints. The marquee player here is defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who recently signed a contract extension for $51.5 million guaranteed and $95.2 million total. McCoy is a penetrating tackle who reminds Tampa fans of Hall of Famer Warren Sapp. Two others are weakside linebacker Lavonte David, who was All-Pro last season but has not adapted easily to the Smith defense, and cornerback Alterraun Verner.

Special teams overview: Rookie kicker Patrick Murray has only nine field goal attempts, converting seven, including three of three from 50-plus yards. His long is 55 yards. Punter Michael Koenen is 32nd in gross average (41.8 yards) and 30th in net (36.2). Koenen also handles kickoffs and is 23rd with 19 touchbacks. Return specialist Trindon Holliday only has one game under his belt since being picked up. He can hit the home run. The coverage team has given up a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown.

Players to watch:

1. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy: Newly minted as the highest-paid defensive tackle in NFL history, he kindles memories of Hall of Famer Warren Sapp with his ability to penetrate inside against the run and pass.

2. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson: Still a dangerous vertical threat at the age of 31, the 6-5, 230-pound target has the third-most receptions on third downs over the past three seasons.

3. Wide receiver Mike Evans: Johnny Manziel’s go-to guy at Texas A&M, he mirrors Jackson’s size and can outjump any NFL cornerback. The first-round rookie draft pick has had at least four receptions in each of his first six games.

Injury report: RB Doug Martin (ankle) had to leave during the last game.

Small world: Offensive line coach George Warhop held the same position with the Browns from 2009 to 2013 … defensive line coach Joe Cullen held the same position with the Browns last year … tight ends coach Jon Embree held the same position with the Browns last year … former Browns include guard Oniel Cousins (2011-13), running back Bobby Rainey (2013) and guard Garrett Gilkey (2013) … senior defensive assistant Larry Marmie spent two seasons as head coach at Berea High School.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

In the long run, the loss of center Alex Mack should not paralyze Browns' offense

Oct 28, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

The Morning Kickoff …

Center of attention: You can make the case that Alex Mack has done more for the position of center in the last six months than anyone since Jim Otto.

First, there was that gigantic contract earned through the unorthodox Browns strategy of giving him the transition tag. Jacksonville signed Mack to the largest contract for a center in NFL history -- $42 million over five years, with $26 million guaranteed – and the Browns matched.

They matched because they saw the mobile Mack as the perfect center in Kyle Shanahan’s wide zone blocking scheme. And they were right.

Mack, a two-time Pro Bowler in his previous five years, indeed was reaching another level in the Shanahan offense. Through five games, he anchored the NFL’s No. 3-ranked run offense and one of the best pass protection lines in the business.

In the two games since Mack was lost for the season with a fractured fibula, the Browns’ running game has done this:

* Against Jacksonville, 30 attempts for 69 yards, 2.3 average.

* Against Oakland, 25 attempts for 39 yards, 1.6 average.

And the Browns’ offense has sputtered to the tune of 6 and 23 points.

Alex Mack for MVP?

Time to regroup: “We talk about how you can’t replace a Pro Bowl player like Alex, but also I think teams know that (running the ball is) what we’re going to try to do. There’s a little bit of both in that,” quarterback Brian Hoyer said on Monday in response to a question about the running game’s slow-down.

Sure, Mack’s sudden absence was a blow. Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme calls for the five members of the line to act like a moving fence. It takes repetition and continuity to mold the necessary cohesion. Take away the middle cog of that moving fence and there is going to be an adjustment period to re-establish continuity and cohesion.

The necessary response by the Browns created two position changes – right guard John Greco moved to center and Paul McQuistan came off the bench and played right guard. The result was four-fifths of the line was disrupted – from left guard Joel Bitonio to right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.

So the Browns hurried reserve center Nick McDonald into the lineup against Oakland and Greco returned to right guard. The running game plummeted to a 1.6-yard average. The bottoming-out was inevitable.

By the end of the game, there were encouraging signs, however. Hoyer was able to complete three play-action passes on the pivotal offensive drive after the Donte Whitner forced fumble late in the third quarter. And Ben Tate did tack on a touchdown run in the fourth quarter, the Browns’ ninth of the season – five more than all of last year.

So it’s not as if the sky is falling.

“I think it’ll only get better as time goes on,” Hoyer said after the game on Sunday.

The adjustment needed: The running backs – Tate, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West – are not the problem. They did not suddenly lose their ability to plant and cut downfield. (Although West has to quit auditioning for an invitation to Dancing With the Stars.)

The problem is that defenses will now follow the lead of Jacksonville and Oakland and load the tackling box with eight -- sometimes nine – defenders to stop the run. It is simple math; too many defenders for the linemen to block.

“We played against two teams that came into the game saying, ‘We’re going to stop your run,’” coach Mike Pettine said on Monday. “We’re going to get some teams that’ll do that. If teams want to say, ‘Hey, that’s the blueprint,’ then we have to make them pay in the passing game.

“If you’re one-dimensional in this league, you’ll get beat. I think that’s important for us to realize that if a team wants to take away one aspect of what you do, they can do it. You have to be able to find production elsewhere.

“You have to be effective in the pass game if you want to get teams to kind of back off putting eight and nine guys up.”

The solution to the running game falls on Hoyer’s ability to make plays in the passing game. This will improve when Josh Gordon returns for Game 11. Until then, Hoyer has to get the ball to Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel and Travis Benjamin and Miles Austin. And then those running lanes will widen again.

The mistake would be in not trying to run. Repeatedly. Despite the seeming lack of success.

“We’re not going to just run the ball four or five times and if it doesn’t work abandon it,” Hoyer said. “We’re going to keep going because that’s what our offense is. If we can do that, people still have to honor the run game, and that’s where the play-action passes show up.

“Even spreading it out a little bit – we opened the game yesterday in two empty (formation) passes – that’s not something people probably thought we could do. I think the beauty of this offense is you can attack from a lot of different ways, but I don’t think we’ll ever get away from our core scheme.”

I have a lot of respect for Mack. He played through an appendicitis attack in the 2010 season and didn’t miss a game after appendix surgery (thanks to a bye week). But no offense needs to be crippled by the loss of a center.

Browns fans have argued the importance of the position by pointing out that when Paul Brown started the Cincinnati Bengals from scratch in 1968, his first draft pick was a center, Bob Johnson.

My retort has always been that when Brown gathered up his first team in 1945 – the Browns of the upstart All-America Football Conference – the first player he signed was quarterback Otto Graham.

Ever the pioneer and visionary, Brown knew then that the sport of professional football would be quarterback-driven.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Josh Cribbs' final return -- to the Browns -- will not happen

Oct 27, 2014 -- 6:20pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Extra Points …

Sorry, Josh: Josh Cribbs has let everyone know he’d love to be called to rescue the Browns’ woeful punt return game, but …

“Josh’s name hasn’t come up,” coach Mike Pettine said, curtly, to my question on Monday.

Cribbs, who holds several NFL and Browns return records, was released by the Browns following the 2012 season. Cribbs has 11 career touchdown returns (three on punts, eight on kickoffs). Injuries sabotaged his last few years. He wound up appearing in six games for the Jets in 2013, returning eight punts for 96 yards. Cribbs, 31, still resides in Northeast Ohio.

It appears the Browns will give Travis Benjamin a third chance to reclaim his past form despite losing a fumble on Sunday. Benjamin, who lost the job after a muffed punt in Game 1, returned his first punt for 14 yards in the Oakland game and then lost the ball during his second return. The Browns recovered at their 30-yard line.

“We’ll evaluate it and see where we are,” Pettine said. “He has a pretty good history of being productive in this league. The fact he did catch the two … I know he put the one on the ground, but it didn’t cost us. We’ll go through practice this week and evaluate it.”

As a team, the Browns are 32nd in punt returns, averaging 2.8 yards on 13 returns, with three muffs or fumbles.

Pettine said the team is not considering looking for a punt returner.

“It hasn’t been brought up. I’m confident we can get it answered internally,” he said.

Down goes another D-lineman: The Browns placed defensive end John Hughes on injured reserve/designated for return.

Hughes suffered an injury to the medial collateral ligament of his right knee in the fourth quarter on Sunday. The Browns said it will not require surgery and they expect him to recover fully by the end of the season.

Hughes can return to practice after a minimum of six weeks and could be activated after a minimum of eight weeks. That timetable would allowe Hughes to be active for the final game in Baltimore on Dc. 28.

Interestingly, the Browns filled the roster spot by claiming tight end Ryan Taylor, who was waived by the Ravens. Taylor was a seventh-round draft pick in Green Bay in 2011. He was recently waived by the Packers and claimed by Baltimore.

The pickup of Taylor indicates the Browns expect to be without Jordan Cameron for perhaps more than one game. Cameron is under NFL protocol after leaving Sunday’s game with a concussion after a hit by Oakland safety Brandian Ross in the second quarter.

Pettine would not speculate on how long Cameron might be out. He can’t return to practice until he is free of concussion symptoms, and that is impossible to predict.

Brownie bits: Pettine wouldn’t rule out a trade by the Tuesday NFL trade deadline. “I know a lot of stuff gets kicked around. That’s more in (GM Ray Farmer’s) court. I can’t say there’s nothing being kicked around, but the odds of it happening are not very high. I know the phone’s ringing … for all the talk that goes on, the number of trades that go on is minimal.” … The explanation for giving running back Isaiah Crowell only one carry: The plan was for more, but the way the game evolved, coaches felt better about keeping the ball in Ben Tate’s hands with a lead. Crowell fumbled two pitchouts and lost a fumble in the second Pittsburgh game. Pettine said Terrance West was second in the rotation based on the practice week. Going forward, “it’ll still come down to this week in practice. But I think we all would like to see Isaiah get more touches.” … Game balls for the victory over Oakland were awarded to receivers Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel on offense; safety Donte Whitner, cornerback Joe Haden and linebacker Paul Kruger on defense; and kicker Billy Cundiff on special teams.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

Tony Grossi's Take: Donte Whitner's turning-point forced fumble led a complete defensive effort

Oct 26, 2014 -- 10:03pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Tony’s Take on Browns’ 23-13 win over the Oakland Raiders

Offense: It didn’t look that good while it was going on, but Brian Hoyer’s final totals were a big bounce-back from his worst game – 19 of 28 for 275 yards, one TD and a 111.5 rating. “Good enough to win,” said Mike Pettine. “He made the plays when we needed them.” Although the running game was worse than in Jacksonville – 39 yards (one TD) on 25 attempts – the addition of Nick McDonald at center, which moved John Greco back to right guard, was a step forward. Tight end Jordan Cameron may miss the next game with a concussion. But the rest of the receiving corps stepped up. Andrew Hawkins had 7 catches for 88 yards, Taylor Gabriel 2 for 60, and Miles Austin made an acrobatic catch on third down setting up the last touchdown. Bottom line: Perseverance paid off.

Defense: The turning point of the game was a Donte Whitner forced fumble of Darren McFadden with Oakland driving and the Browns holding a nervous 9-6 lead. The fumble was recovered in mid-air and returned by Joe Haden late in the third quarter. There was also Tashaun Gipson’s league-leading fifth interception, a total of nine passes defensed – including two by Haden and two by Justin Gilbert – and three sacks by Paul Kruger. Derek Carr had only been sacked four times through his first six games. After early success, the Raiders were held to 71 rushing yards and a 3.2 average and Carr was forced to attempt 54 passes. Bottom line: Six turnovers the past two games.

Special teams: Travis Benjamin got his second chance at punt returner – and fumbled it away. After fielding and returning his first punt 13 yards, Benjamin lost a fumble on his second one. The Browns wound up with 3.5 net return yards for the game on only three opportunities. Spencer Lanning had a 40.0 net punt average and Billy Cundiff was 3 for 3 on field goals, including one from 52 yards – his longest since the 2005 season – and had 5 touchbacks in 6 kickoffs. Bottom line: Paging Josh Cribbs?

Coaching: They did a good job preparing Nick McDonald for his first start at center after only two weeks of practice. The decision to play Terrance West ahead of Isaiah Crowell was a surprise. That could be a week-to-week competition. Ultimately, Mike Pettine’s faith and trust in Hoyer was rewarded as Hoyer’s mental toughness transfused the team and produced a must-win on a day the offense struggled again. Bottom line: Equaled last year’s win total with nine games to play.

 

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtag #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@goodkarmabrands.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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