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While Browns' struggle vs. Pittsburgh, Josh Gordon chimes in

Nov 15, 2015 -- 3:20pm

By Tony Cartagena |


Photo/Cleveland Browns

CLEVELAND – He’s not allowed at games or team facilities but Cleveland Browns suspended wide receiver Josh Gordon is at least paying attention to their games.

Gordon tweeted the following while the Browns trailed the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-3 at halftime.

Sounds like he’s the only person not completely negative about the team – including the guys on the sidelines who look disgusted and uninterested at times.

He’s currently serving a one-year suspension for violating the NFL’s Policy and Program for Substances and Abuse.

Quarterback Johnny Manziel made his second consecutive start in place of the injured Josh McCown. Although the offense looked anemic, Gordon thought Manziel looked promising.

Even after they went backwards in the red-zone, thanks to penalties, Gordon still says Manziel is okay.

Moments later, optimism wearing thin? 

The real question is whether or not those two will connect for any touchdowns next season. Or even be on the same roster.

Members of the media did not follow suit, nor were they optimistic on the Browns’ outlook.

And for what it’s worth, don’t forget… 




Josh McCown joins Bruce Hooley and Dave DeNatale

Nov 10, 2015 -- 11:55pm

By ESPN Cleveland Staff |


Photo/ESPN Cleveland

Cleveland Browns' QB Josh McCown joined Bruce Hooley and Dave DeNatale LIVE on-air from their remote broadcast at Mazda of Wooster.

Below are some highlights of their conversation:  

Overall how are you feeling?

Better. Every day getting a little better. We’ll see how this week goes.

Mike Pettine said that if you’re healthy enough to play on Sunday, you’ll start in Pittsburgh. What are your thoughts on this weekend?

Have to see how these next few days go. I want to feel I can go out there and execute the game plan to help us win. These next few days we’ll have more information and will be better equipped to make that decision. Right now, I feel like I’ve improved and gotten better so that’s a good thing.

What are going to be some of the benchmarks to let you know that you’re going in the right direction?

Lack of pain and sleeping better. I’m gaining ground there. Moving forward, can you do all those things like throws, running around, moving, and do it at the level of winning football. I don’t know how you quantify that other than to say it’s a personal assessment.

Do you feel that Browns fans have embraced you despite Manziel’s popularity?

I don’t know and I try not to get caught up too much in that, because if you do it can slow you down with your process and goals. I understand completely the support for Johnny….he’s a first round pick…and an exciting young player so it doesn’t bother me at all. As a matter of fact I took this job with the understanding that part of it was going to help him and the other young QBs in the room to be better ballplayers and accomplish their goals as well.

Does Manziel understand the work that’s required to apply yourself to be a professional NFL quarterback?

Within the building in the way we go about our job, Johnny’s been everything that you’d expect from an NFL quarterback. He’s engaged in every meeting. We stay extra. He does everything we ask him to do. What he does away from the facility is some part his business but gets made public.

More on Manziel maturation:

He’s growing as a person and trying to make better choices. I feel in some respects he’s gained a lot of ground in that area. But he’s still a young kid. I think about myself like I was and was susceptible to making a bad choice every now and then. But for the most part, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do.

On Manziel’s on-field development:

I’m encouraged by what we see from him. From the first day I got here to now to what he did Thursday night (in Cincinnati) I know we didn’t win the game but there are things to take away that are encouraging in his development.

Listen to the full interview here and listen to The Bruce Hooley Show every weekday from 5 - 7 pm on ESPN 850 WKNR. 




Browns need to pay attention to detail, separates wins from losses

Oct 18, 2015 -- 9:16pm

By Tony Cartagena |


Photo/Getty Images 

CLEVELAND – The NFL is truly a league of parity, and the Cleveland Browns should be frustrated that they are a handful of late-game plays away from a potential five-game winning streak and conversations of relevancy.

Instead they sit at 2-4 through the perceived ‘easy’ portion of their 16-game schedule.

The line between top-draft choice and the post-season is so thin that it requires a strict attention to detail and an over-exaggerated emphasis on discipline and the small integral plays.

That’s what separates the Browns from competing with the 6-0 AFC North leading Cincinnati Bengals. Inversely, suffering multiple disheartening losses like the one that occurred Sunday afternoon against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.

“It would have been a season changer,” pass-rushing linebacker Paul Kruger said following the overtime defeat. “That’s why this is a brutal loss.”

The Browns’ defense picked off Manning three times, including a pick-six by Karlos Dansby that put Cleveland ahead early in the fourth quarter for the first time all game.

Head coach Mike Pettine opted for the two-point conversion, which ultimately failed. An extra point that would have come in handy at the end of regulation when the score was knotted at 23.

Manning threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders on the very next play. Beat in coverage was veteran cornerback Tramon Williams.

“At the end of the day, no matter how well you play you have to find a way to finish these games and that’s what we are trying to get to,” he said. “Right down to the wire. It is just getting over that hump. I felt that we were there. Felt we were about to get there.

“There are only details between winning and losing. Everybody has good players on their team. Some teams just find out how to be better teams. We have to find out how to be a better team.”

Williams was called off-sides on a last second field goal attempt against San Diego – which led to a re-kick and a Chargers’ win as time expired in week 4.

Denver drove 72-yards in 13 plays on their second overtime possession before hitting the game winning 34-yard field goal.

The Browns had a chance in overtime after intercepting yet another Manning pass – but moved backwards, going three-and-out before punting. Their drive started at the Denver 39-yard line – inches outside of field goal range for a potential game winning kick.

“We just didn’t make the plays that we needed to, as a team down the stretch,” Dansby said. “We have to be opportunistic and take advantage of opportunities.”

Pettine said it was a “tough deal” to come within grasping distance of a defining win over an undefeated opponent.

“We’re here to win,” Williams added. “We’ve been losing by three points or less. We got to get those wins. That’s what we have to find. I don’t know how to explain how to get it but everybody will have to give just a little bit more.

“Whatever that means, just a little bit more and hopefully we start coming out with victories.”

The defense was a focal point over the shortened past week of practice. Quarterback Josh McCown was fresh off of a franchise-record 457-passing yards while the other side of the ball ranked dead last in yards surrendered and looked allergic to tackling opposing running backs.

The defense was solid and the offense played sporadic - the opposite of their recurring early season themes.

Regardless, the Browns’ last four games have been decided by a combined 16 points, with a 1-3 record.

“We have a lot of football left,” Krueger added. “It’s not a hang your head type of a loss but at the same time that was a really big game that would have created a lot of momentum for us.”

Between an emotional McCown at the podium. Stone-faced and disappointed Pettine. Quiet general manager Ray Farmer and the post-apocalyptic ghost-town feel in the locker room, the Browns look dejected and lost for hope.

An experienced team exhausted and scavenging for a step in the right direction.

When ‘good’ just isn’t quite good enough and ‘close’ should be measured in light years.




Merril Hoge holds up his end of the bargain

Sep 21, 2015 -- 9:51am

By Tony Cartagena |


Photo/Hannah Storm

CLEVELAND – ESPN NFL analyst Merril Hoge hasn’t wavered on his criticisms of former first-round draft pick Johnny Manziel.

Hoge told ESPN Cleveland on the Friday before the Cleveland Browns’ game against the Tennessee Titans that he knew – after watching film of just two college games – Manziel didn’t have the skill set to live up to first-round expectations.

He also said that he would color coordinate his neck wear in “honor of the Cleveland Browns” if Manziel had a solid performance and led the Browns to victory.

The wardrobe agreement was in response to Manziel saying Hoge needed to “worry about his big neckties,” and less about his quarterbacking.

A man of his word.

Still analytical after watching game film of Cleveland’s 28-14 win on Sunday afternoon, Hoge held up his end of the bargain.

In an effort for the Browns to figure out what they really have at quarterback with Manziel, Hoge stands by his belief that he needs to continue to start games, not Josh McCown.

“Without a doubt Johnny Manziel should start (against Oakland),” he said on SportsCenter.




Browns defense responds after disappointing opener

Sep 20, 2015 -- 6:43pm

By Tony Cartagena |


Photo/Cleveland Browns

CLEVELAND — A rebound performance for the Cleveland Browns defense proved to be more of a confidence boost than a slump buster.

Staring down the barrel of a dry 0-2 start to the season and squaring-off against a rookie quarterback who made national headlines for his record tying four-touchdown debut in week one, the Browns’ defensive unit — this time around — stuck together and maintained their composure throughout.

Complete opposite of their underwhelming performance last week in New York.

“We didn't want the same thing to happen two weeks in a row,” cornerback Tramon Williams told ESPN Cleveland. “Guys were a lot more focused on making sure the game goes the right way.”

Williams was critical of his teammates during the past week, citing that their morale appeared to decline as the first game progressed.

“You never know how it’s going to go, but we’re glad we were able to show something better today,” he added.

Pitching a first half shutout of the Tennessee Titans and recording seven total sacks in the game is definitely a step towards proving, and showing everyone, that they are worthy of their ‘elite’ reputation.

“(The defensive line) did an excellent job for us,” Williams said. “I tell the guys all of the time that it always works as a unit. Coverage and pressure. It works the same. I am just glad everyone was in-sync today.”

Marcus Mariota was forced outside the pocket to throw on the run repeatedly, completing just 21-of-37 attempts. He also fumbled three times, losing two.

“We preach that a lot, stripping the ball and getting the ball out, we practice that a couple of times a week,” said lineman John Hughes. “It’s one of the things that we do individually in practice and we do it in team (drills) too.”

Hughes was credited with one-and-a-half sacks in the game, one of six players to earn tallies in that column.

Mariota had an additional fumble and threw an interception — both of which were called back for irrelevant defensive penalties on Cleveland occurring away from the play’s action.

“There was also a cumulative effect with that we hit (Mariota) a bunch too,” Browns head coach Mike Pettine said of their suffocating pressure. “We did a good job and there were a lot of pass plays. When I looked back, he’s picking himself up off the ground.

“Anytime you can do that to a quarterback, not just get the production with the sacks but also affect him, you like to think that it has a cumulative effect over the course of the game.”

There was an instance in the first quarter where Mariota scrambled for a first down but was unable to slide before being hit so hard his helmet popped off and he waited on the ground for an extra second or two before walking gingerly to the sidelines. He also lost his shoe on the play.

“For the most part we knew where the pressures were coming from,” Mariota said of the discomfort he faced in the pocket. “I’ve got to do a better job with the football. Throwing the ball away, getting the ball out of my hand quicker so that we’re not taking unnecessary sacks and losing the football.”

Despite giving up a fourth quarter touchdown to Dorial Green-Beckham, defensive back and team leader Joe Haden bounced back from a dreadful opening performance as well — totaling six tackles and a pass deflection.

“Everybody had such a sour taste in their mouth from the first game and we knew that’s not how we want to play defense,” Haden said. “That’s not our identity and that’s not how we want to play.

“We came out with a passion and an energy that we were ready to go today.”

Karlos Dansby led the way with nine tackles while Armonty Bryant set the volume with two-and-a-half sacks. Rookie Danny Shelton had four tackles playing in front of the regular season home crowd for the first time.

“It was the home opener. Everyone wanted to go out there and do their best,” Shelton said while sporting an orange lava-lava at his locker post-game. “Not only for ourselves but for the fans, the ‘Dawg Pound.’

“I just felt like our defense executed. We did a great job of staying focused and doing our own job. Not worrying about our teammates and making sure the offense is doing anything right. Or if, each other are doing stuff right. We did a great job of staying in the game.”

The Titans did stack 385 total yards and 21 first downs, but areas of improvement are always plentiful after an early season game. Tennessee managed to cut a 21-point lead to just seven midway through the fourth quarter before Johnny Manziel delivered the deciding touchdown strike to Travis Benjamin — a 50-yard pass.

“There is definitely some things to get cleaned up,” Pettine said. “But, overall anytime you hold an offense down for that long you are going to be successful.

“That (defensive) group took the challenge. I think the whole team did.”  




Merril Hoge: Cut Johnny Manziel

Sep 18, 2015 -- 11:57pm

By Tony Cartagena |


Photo/ESPN Cleveland 

CLEVELAND – If Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel thinks ESPN NFL analyst Merril Hoge should worry more about his own “big neckties” and show less concern for his quarterbacking skills – Hoge is willing to take the high road and pay homage to the former first-round draft pick.

During an appearance with ESPN 850 WKNR, Hoge declared that he was picking an “orange and brown” tie out of his extensive collection and would gladly wear it Sunday if Manziel “lights it up” as a starter in their game against the Tennessee Titans.

Manziel’s headline “neckties” remark came in response to Hoge saying that the Browns should “cut bait” and be done with the polarizing second-year quarterback following a three turnover performance in his season debut against the New York Jets.

He defended that opinion with ESPN Cleveland’s Aaron Goldhammer and Emmett Golden.

The lack of success for Manziel thus far was foreseen by Hoge who studied his film and recognized patterns that would prevent him from being a franchise quarterback.

Don’t blame Manziel.

Over-drafting players happens every year in every sport. It is up to the teams’ general managers and scouts to properly evaluate prospects, but sometimes they also have to do what they are told. 

Throw the misconception of Hoge being a “Johnny Hater” out the window. He’s not. He’s an analyst who refused to buy into the hype – instead making judgment for himself. 

His critiques include:

Manziel’s inability to understand elementary fundamentals.

He can’t play under center. 

When things go bad, Manziel panics. 

So what should the Browns do with Johnny? 

But he was a first round pick… 

So much for building the team around him. 

Manziel isn’t really holding the team back though, is he? 

That being said, there is only one way to find out who’s right and who’s wrong. 

How can the Browns avoid being embarrassed, again? 

Sunday will be the test for Manziel, head coach Mike Pettine, owner Jimmy Haslam and suspended general manager Ray Farmer. If he succeeds, and shows flashes of vast improvement, maybe Manziel can string together a solid season and offer glimpses of hope for the future.

If not? What happens next?

Listen to the full interview with Merril Hoge here




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