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Brian Hoyer's accuracy has to improve for the Browns to achieve consistency on offense

Oct 21, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

The Morning Kickoff …

Consistently inconsistent: Brian Hoyer has had his moments in this young season, marked mostly by streaky runs of clutch throws during breath-taking comebacks.

He has etched his name in the history books twice in six games, authoring the biggest comeback win on the road in an NFL regular-season game and the largest Browns’ win over the Steelers in 25 years.

But those have been offset by some inexplicable stretches of misfires, rushed throws and bad aim.

There was a 4-of-11 first half in Pittsburgh, and a 5-of-11 first half in the rematch in Cleveland. There was a 9-of-19 first half against New Orleans, and an 8-of-21 first half against Jacksonville, which was followed by an 8-of-20 second half against the Jaguars.

The overall 16-of-41 day in Jacksonville came on the heels of an 8-of-17 effort in the big win over Pittsburgh. So, in the last two games, Hoyer is a 41.3 percent thrower. That is an amazing number.

Hoyer’s season completion mark of 55.8 percent ranks last among NFL starting quarterbacks – lower than Geno Smith’s 57.3 – in a season in which the league average is 63.3. And this in Kyle Shanahan’s “quarterback-friendly” offensive system that has seen past quarterbacks such as Matt Schaub, Sage Rosenfels, Robert Griffin 3 and Kirk Cousins post completion figures of 66.1, 66.7, 67.9, 65.6 and 68.8.

I asked Hoyer if he felt that completion percentage was a relevant statistic.

““Yeah,” he answered. “I mean, you go 16 of 41, regardless if there are batted balls or throwaways, even with those, you’d like to be in the 60s. I think it’s about being efficient. For me, I wasn’t efficient (Sunday) regardless of the situation. You’ve got to be able to get out there and complete the passes.”

The system: Shanahan’s offensive system sets up its quarterback with the wide-zone running scheme. When that gets rolling, the play-action and bootleg misdirection passing game can produce big plays from quarterbacks.

We’ve seen unheralded Browns receivers running wide open in secondaries as Ben Tate, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West took turns having big games – or, at least, big portions of games.

Hoyer, the quarterback, has been the beneficiary of the Browns’ highly-ranked offensive line and running game. So the questions not spoken have been: What happens when the running game is stopped? Can Hoyer make the plays from the pocket?

The answer on Sunday was no. A single play by Hoyer may have stolen that game in Jacksonville on a day in which the Jaguars “wanted it more than the Browns.”

The one play could have come on the pass to Jordan Cameron, open in the back of the end zone on the third-down play preceding the Browns’ second field goal. Or it could have come after Andrew Hawkins’ 65-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter.

But it didn’t come.

Hoyer’s pass for Cameron, which came not from play-action but from the pocket in “empty” formation – no backs – was high and uncatchable.

On Monday, Hoyer attributed “a few missed throws” to lack of patience in the pocket.

“Things felt like they were flying around a little bit more than usual,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve just got to hang in there a little bit longer even when you don’t think you can. It’s something that I need to work on.”

But on the misfire for Cameron, he said, “That wasn’t a thing with the pass rush or anything like that. It was just … I’m trying to look off a safety and I came back to throw to his spot. He kind of … it was kind of that he thought one thing and I thought another. We’ve just got to get on the same page with that, especially on a critical play like that.”

Hoyer was leveled to the ground by Jacksonville tackle Sen’Derrick Marks on the fifth play of the game. I asked him if that hit “accelerated” his mental time clock and caused his impatience.

“No, I think I always have a pretty good clock,” he responded. “I’ll hang in there and take a hit. But I don’t want to be taking sacks. I think sacks set you back. So I always do try to go through progressions pretty quickly and sometimes you get through them a little too quick, where somebody ends up popping up after you’ve already moved on from them. So, it’s just something that comes with repetition and just kind of slowing your mind down a little bit, especially when they are bringing a good pass rush. You still got to just be the same tempo in your mind.”

The leash: There is another statistic that speaks to Hoyer’s inconsistency and feeds the perception that he is more inaccurate when throwing from the pocket without the benefit of play-action.

On third downs, Hoyer is a 48.4 percent passer with a QB rating of 67.4. Third downs are generally when the play-action game is rendered ineffective because defenses aren’t going to respect handoffs in those situations.

I asked coach Mike Pettine if Hoyer’s low completion percentage was a concern.

“To me, I know this one severely dropped it, so, I don’t want to put it all (on the Jacksonville game),” he said. “If it becomes a couple more games, still a trend like that, that’s something to look at, but to me, we just looked at his effectiveness and the offense there.

“Sometimes, the completion percentage will be affected, whether you’re trying to throw the ball away or take some more shots downfield where your percentage isn’t going to be as high, but you don’t need to hit as many.

“That’s not something that, to me, is a concern … today.”

In the context of considering playing time for Johnny Manziel, Pettine said, “Nothing has changed … We’re not going to hit the panic button after one loss. We know that while the quarterback position needed to be more productive, it was more symptomatic of the entire offense. Brian is still firmly our starter.”

The statistic that governs that decision is wins and losses. In the meantime, the ones to watch are completion percentage and third-down passing. Hoyer’s have to improve.

 

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 want Terrance West to stop all the dancing, will review rotation at running back

Oct 20, 2014 -- 5:47pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Extra Points …

Go north: Terrance West didn’t like the “baby backs” nickname somebody coined for fellow rookie Isaiah Crowell and him after Game 1. If he doesn’t alter his running style in short yardage carries, people might start calling him Terrance East-West.

West failed to convert consecutive short-yardage carries in the first half in Jacksonville because he stuttered-stepped in search of bigger plays. He gained 1 yard on a second-and-2 carry at the Jaguars’ 25-yard line, and then was stacked up for no gain on third-and-1.

On Monday, West repeated a coaching point that the coaches have made to him.

“I was trying to go for the big play,” he said. “When it comes down to it, I should’ve just got the first down.

"If I’d have kept running outside on the (third) down, I’d probably have gotten seven yards more. I just stopped and tried to cut back in and go for the bigger play instead of going for the first down. I ran into the back of my offensive lineman. I wish I could get it back, just got to learn from it and let it be motivation.”

Those failed opportunities turned crucial when Mike Pettine elected to go for it on fourth down rather than try a 42-yard field goal and go up, 9-0. The Jaguars defended the play and converted the turnover on downs into a touchdown and a 7-6 lead at halftime. They never surrendered it.

And West never returned to the field in the second half. The first back in to relieve starter Ben Tate, West totaled 10 offensive snaps – all in the first half. Crowell had 23 and Tate had 41.

West attributed his desire to swing for the fences to his limited play time in the crowded Browns’ backfield.

“On that play right there, I know I’ve got limited reps,” he said. “So I know when I’m in the game, I’m trying to get that big play. I’ve got to go back to the books and take what the defense gives me. I’m a rookie, I’m going to learn from it. Some of the best running backs that ever played the game, they did the same mistakes. It’s all about how you react to it.”

Last week, Pettine remarked about distractions changing based on wins v. losses. The crowded backfield situation is a prime example. When the Browns win, it’s a good problem to have. When they lose, and the backs are stuffed for 2.3 a carry, it’s framed as a problem because none of the backs gets in a rhythm.

Pettine said Monday, “We’ll have discussions this week as to how best to rotate those guys. You can make the argument it’s a good problem to have.”

Upon further review: Pettine was asked if he second-guessed himself for not kicking the field goal to go up, 9-0.

“When it doesn’t work, absolutely,” he said.

Then he elaborated, “I thought we were playing well defensively. It turned out the worst-case scenario for us. The way the game was going and how they were defending us, we didn’t have a great feel for how many more times we’d get down to the 20. When it was second and 1, we made the decision it was four-down mode. You live with it.”

Roster changes: The Browns waived fullback Ray Agnew and replaced him with fullback Kiero Small.

Agnew, one of several undrafted rookies to make the opening day roster, had started all six games. Small, a seventh-round draft pick of Seattle, had been on the practice squad since the Seahawks cut him in July.

“As we talk about often, we’re built on the premise of competition,” Pettine said. “We’ve had Kiero here since the end of training camp. We debated drafting him and hoped we could get him. When he became available we signed him to practice squad. He’s been doing outstanding job for us on scout team and felt it was time to see what he could do.”

Also, nose tackle Jacobbi McDaniel, who was promoted from the practice squad last week and activated in Jacksonville, Tweeted that he was cut by the Browns on Monday. The Browns had no immediate announcement on that roster move.

Brownie bits: Pettine was asked if he considered using Johnny Manziel to spark the slumbering offense in Jacksonville. “We didn’t,” he said, adding, “It was discussed briefly, but it was a situation where we still wanted to end the game with Brian.”… The center-right guard combination will be under review again this week. Efforts are being made to prepare newly activated Nick McDonald to play center and move John Greco back to right guard. If McDonald needs more time, Greco would stay at center and Vinston Painter would join Paul McQuistan in competition at right guard … Pettine said that nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin sought a second opinion on his ankle injury and surgery has not been ruled out. Rubin's status for this week is uncertain ... This is what West had to say about the 24-6 loss to the previously winless Jaguars: “Yesterday they were the better team. They made a lot more plays than we did. They wanted it more than we did. When you look back at it, we looked like the 0-6 team and they looked like the 3-2 team.”

 

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: Always take the points on the road

Oct 19, 2014 -- 7:19pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

JACKSONVILLE, FL

Tony Grossi’s Take on Browns’ 24-6 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars

Offense: Skeptics wondered what was more responsible for Brian Hoyer’s success this year – the system’s unstoppable running game or Hoyer himself? This clunker fed the belief that it has been the running game. The Jaguars kept the run game to a 2.3-yard average. Ben Tate had an 18-yard run, and then 18 yards on his 15 other carries. Those stops created third-and-long situations for Hoyer, and he produced his worst game – 25 incompletions in 41 attempts. The offensive line, featuring John Greco at center for the injured Alex Mack and Paul McQuistan at right guard, was handled by Jacksonville’s front eight. When Hoyer’s passes weren’t batted down (four times), he was terribly off the mark, missing an open Jordan Cameron in the end zone early in the game, and turned the ball over twice on a fumble and interception. Another interception was dropped, as were more passes by his receivers than in any other game. Bottom line: Won’t be on Kyle Shanahan’s resume tape.

Defense: Some good, some bad. Three interceptions of Blake Bortles – two by Tashaun Gipson, one by Buster Skrine -- should have been enough to carry the day, but they weren’t. The short-handed defensive front got stampeded by the Jaguars running game. Denard Robinson, the former Michigan quarterback, gashed them for 127 yards and a touchdown on 22 attempts. Bortles had 37 yards on five designed zone-read option keepers. Cecil Shorts didn’t hurt anyone (3 catches for 12 yards on 9 targets), but rookie receiver Allen Robinson shook off Skrine at the 22-yard line to complete a 31-yard touchdown at the end of the first half. Bottom line: Three picks usually win a game.

Special teams: It was a draw except for one error – Jordan Poyer’s fumble of a Jacksonville punt while trying to field it at the 5-yard line. That fourth-quarter foible led to a touchdown to make it a two-score game with about 6 minutes to go. Poyer said he decided to try to field the ball because he felt he could get the offense another 15 yards. Possession-specialist Jim Leonhard normally would be in that spot, but the coaches didn’t feel that Poyer put them at risk of a turnover. Also on that play, Tank Carder jumped offsides. Jabaal Sheard looked like he was all over a block of a Josh Scobee 30-yard field goal, but somehow the ball eluded his outstretched mitts. Bottom line: One killer play in each of the three losses.

Coaching: Mike Pettine tried to be aggressive in eschewing a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the Jaguars 24 late in the first half. It was the wrong thing to do because a field goal there would have given the Browns a 9-0 lead at halftime. On a bad day for an offense and playing against a rookie quarterback, sometimes field goals do win games. It blew up in Pettine’s face as the Jaguars sped downfield for a 7-6 lead. Another questionable call was the hokey attempt in the fourth quarter to draw the Jaguars into a penalty on an apparent punt. The coaches rushed the offense back onto the field to try to draw the Jaguars into an illegal substitution situation, or offsides, or something. The Browns weren’t supposed to snap the ball, but it was snapped and Hoyer was forced to pitch the ball to a surprised Tate, who was crushed for a 2-yard loss near mid-field. Wasted opportunity there, though the Jaguars didn’t capitalize on a bonehead Browns play. Bottom line: Two coaching points for the coaches.

 

 

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 lay egg in Jacksonville, lose, 24-6, to winless Jaguars

Oct 19, 2014 -- 4:17pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Updated at 6:43 p.m.

JACKSONVILLE, FL

It takes a total team effort to lose so badly to a previously winless team, and that’s what happened to the Browns on Sunday.

The offense was in preseason form, as Brian Hoyer experienced his worst game in a Cleveland uniform. The defense intercepted Blake Bortles three times, but allowed former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson to rush for a career-high 127 yards and a touchdown. And the special teams contributed a key fumble deep in their own end on a Jacksonville punt.

But the turning point of this abysmal 24-6 stinker came near the end of the first half. Mike Pettine suffered his first brain-lock as Browns coach.

The Browns were ahead, 6-0, and Tashaun Gipson’s second interception gave them the ball at Jacksonville’s 33-yard line. At the two-minute warning, it was third-and-1 at the 24. A handoff to Terrance West, newly released from the coaches’ doghouse, resulted in no gain as he stuttered at the wall in front of him.

A field goal would have given the Browns a two-score lead against a Jaguars team that didn’t look like it could score once, let alone twice.

But Pettine kept his offense on the field, and Hoyer’s fourth-down pass to the right sideline for tight end Jordan Cameron -- like a shocking majority of his passes on this day – fell off the mark.

Uplifted, Bortles and his offense sped 76 yards on only three pass plays for the touchdown.

7-6, Jaguars at halftime.

Ballgame.

Pettine took accountability for the call when pressed on it.

“It ended up playing out as bad as it could,” the coach said.

“We felt that we had less than a yard and two plays to get it. They defended us well. We’ve got to understand, with that short of distance, we’ve got to be able to get it.

“We’d been playing well defensively to that point. I just felt for the way we had moved the ball at times, to just come away with just another field goal … you get into that game where you’re just kicking field goals. Given the short distance, we felt we could get it and if we didn’t get it, that they were backed up enough.

“And it couldn’t have gone worse for us.”

No doubt the game was still winnable. But two things became clear early in the second half. The Jaguars weren’t going to loosen their vise grip on the Browns’ running game. Running back Ben Tate, the former Houston Texan, said Jacksonville always has defended the wide-zone run scheme well. And Hoyer wasn’t going to make any plays to mount another comeback.

A lost fumble on a sack occurred on Hoyer’s first possession of the third quarter, resulting in a 10-6 Jacksonville lead after a field goal.

And there were throws all over the place hitting the hard Bermuda grass field. Four of them were deflected at the line of scrimmage by a Jacksonville defensive front smelling blood in the first full game the Browns played without center Alex Mack in over five years.

Finally in the fourth quarter, with the score still at 10-6, somebody on the Browns’ offense made a play. Andrew Hawkins took a short pass on second-and-10 from the Browns’ 6 and accelerated through the middle of the field before being brought down at the Jaguars’ 29 after a 65-yard catch-and-run.

But the possession imploded on a 4-yard loss by Isaiah Crowell, an 8-yard sack of Hoyer and a fruitless throw by Hoyer while backpedaling from pressure.

That three-play sequence with 6:01 to play exterminated hopes of another Hoyer comeback.

“When you hit Hawk on a three-step drop on a 6-yard pass and he gains, what, 65 yards, and when they shut you done again, it’s demoralizing,” Hoyer said.

“Yeah,” agreed Hawkins. “In games like that, momentum can swing both ways and when you’re on the wrong side of momentum, things go bad quickly. As you can see out there.”

The Jaguars tacked on two touchdowns in the span of 1 minute, 23 seconds to make it a rout.

The first was set up when punt returner Jordan Poyer had the ball clank off his helmet visor while trying to field a Jacksonville punt inside the Browns’ 5.

“I thought when the ball was coming down I was on the 5,” Poyer said. “I felt I could get the offense at least another 15 yards. It was one of those plays I wish I had back. I felt I let my team down, the coaches down.”

Denard Robinson then scooted eight yards around the left edge for the touchdown on the very next play. Robinson, the former Michigan quarterback, spanked the Browns’ defense for a career-high 127 yards on 22 attempts.

Hoyer took over after the kickoff, now down, 17-6. On second down, he was hit by tackle Abry Jones as he threw, and the ball was intercepted by linebacker Telvin Smith, who returned it 15 yards to the 7.

Two plays later, Storm Johnson scored on a 3-yard run to wrap up Jacksonville’s first win in seven games.

The Browns played into the cynical predictions of not being ready yet for consistent winning. They fell to 3-3 on their worst performance of the Pettine era.

“We just didn’t play well. We got our butts kicked. We just couldn’t get anything going,” said Hoyer, who could just have well been speaking of his individual play.

Hoyer, who entered the game ranked ninth in the NFL among starting quarterbacks with a 99.5 passer rating, finished with ugly numbers – 16 of 41 passing for 215 yards, three sacks, one interception, one lost fumble, and a rating of 46.3. Thud!

Take away Hawkins’ 65-yard catch-and-run and Hoyer had 150 yards passing.

It was a natural to point to the absence of Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, who missed the first start of his career after having season-ending surgery on a broken leg and torn ankle ligaments. It was obvious that the John Greco-Paul McQuistan center-right guard tandem had their hands full with Jacksonville’s jacked-up defensive front, led by tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, who was credited with two quarterback hits and one pass knockdown.

“It’s tough (recovering from the lineup changes),” Hoyer said. “That is probably the best front seven that we’ve played. But that’s no excuse. We’re more than capable of overcoming that. We knew coming in this could be tough sledding for us.”

“They schemed us pretty well, but I knew that. They always play our scheme really well,” said Tate, who led the Browns with 36 yards on 16 rushing attempts.

Crowell had 7 rushes for 18 yards and West five for 8 yards. As a team, the Browns, ranked third in the NFL in rushing, had 30 attempts for 69 yards – a 2.3-yard average.

“Offensively, we played our worst game,” Hoyer said. “Our defense played great. They could only do so much.

“We have to take this and learn everything from it. When you get beat like this, it’s a copycat league. Teams are going to do exactly what Jacksonville did. They handed it to us.”

Pettine warned everyone that the Jaguars were capable of doing exactly that. It turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

 

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 Four Downs: Joe Haden seeks revenge against Cecil Shorts, Browns meet Baby Ben, and more

Oct 18, 2014 -- 6:15pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/USAToday

Four Downs on Browns v. Jacksonville Jaguars

First down: Joe Haden’s revenge?

On Thursday, Haden got a little irritated with repeated questions about last year’s meeting with the Jaguars in Cleveland. Haden was beat by Cecil Shorts for a 20-yard TD to climax an 80-yard winning drive by quarterback Chad Henne. Haden had an interception in the game and had limited Shorts to 44 yards receiving prior to the TD – but the play became a metaphor for Haden’s occasional breakdowns with games on the line. The 32-28 loss obscured a 260-yard receiving game by Josh Gordon and all but sealed the firings of the former coaching staff. Shorts, a Cleveland native, returned to the Jacksonville lineup last week after a hamstring injury and was targeted 16 times, and had a career-high 10 receptions. During the week, Mike Pettine hailed Shorts as “an elite receiver.”

Second down: Browns meet Baby Ben.

Having finally slain Ben Roethlisberger, their franchise nemesis, a week ago, the Browns’ defense now gets its first look at rookie Blake Bortles, a.k.a. Baby Ben, because of his resemblance to the big, agile Pittsburgh quarterback. At the NFL Combine in February, Bortles presented himself as the anti-Manziel – a player who could be trusted to represent himself and his franchise in a positive light. Bortles wound up being taken No. 3 overall – 19 notches higher than Johnny Manziel. While Manziel has appeared on the field for only three plays, Bortles will be making his fourth consecutive start. He is 0-3.

Third down: Beware the block.

Blocked kicks in the NFL are up by almost 100 percent over a year ago. The Browns already have suffered one blocked field goal, which was the difference in a two-point loss to Baltimore. In the offseason, the Jaguars signed former Seattle defensive end Red Bryant to rejoin coach Gus Bradley, who was the Seahawks defensive coordinator prior to 2013. With the Seahawks, Bryant blocked two Browns field goals in a 6-3 Seattle loss to the Browns in 2011. Bryant also had two other blocks that season on a field goal and extra point.

Fourth down: Setting up Jordan Cameron.

The one thing the Jaguars do relatively well is stop the run. Despite being on the field an average of 7 minutes longer per game than their opponents, the Jaguars rank 19th in run defense, yielding 117 rushing yards a game and 4.0 per rush. Those figures are well below the Browns’ rushing averages of 146.4 and 4.4. Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said the Jaguars field eight defenders “in the box” about 95 percent of the time. Which means they use only one safety in coverage. Which means the Browns may make a concerted effort to get the ball to tight end Jordan Cameron, who had his first 100-yard receiving game last week against Pittsburgh on only three catches.

 

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 Game 6 Preview: Browns face test of character as road favorites in hot and humid Jacksonville

Oct 18, 2014 -- 6:05pm

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

What: Browns (3-2) v. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-6), 1 p.m.

TV: CBS, WOIO Channel 19 with Andrew Catalon, Steve Beuerlein and Steve Tasker.

The set-up: This is the first of three games in a row for the Browns against teams with a combined record of 1-16. If they take care of business, they could reach the halfway point of the season and their prime-time game in Cincinnati on Nov. 6 with a 6-2 record. Of the three games, this may be the most difficult because it is: 1. On the road, 2. Expected to be played in hot and humid conditions, and 3. Against a young team that recently has played Pittsburgh and Tennessee tough and down to the wire.

Series history: Jaguars lead, 10-5.

Historical footnote: The Browns, only four years old in the expansion era, stayed alive in the their first playoff chase with a storybook 21-20 win in Jacksonville on a 50-yard Tim Couch Hail Mary pass to Quincy Morgan as time ran out. The victory was only assured, however, after Phil Dawson converted the PAT, which was no cinch on a day that Dawson missed one field goal, had another blocked and also shanked a kickoff out of bounds. It was Couch’s second win on a last-play Hail Mary in his career, which, to this day, is an NFL record. Morgan’s catch survived a controversial replay review. The next morning, the local newspaper captured an image of a tumbling Morgan trapping the ball on the ground. That was sweet revenge for Morgan and the Browns. A year earlier, another controversial Morgan catch was overturned in a game against the Jaguars in Cleveland, which spawned “Bottlegate.” “What goes around comes around,” remarked Browns safety Earl Little.

Jaguars update: After they defeated the Browns in Cleveland last Dec. 1, and then followed with a Thursday night win for their third in a row, many felt the Jaguars and coach Gus Bradley were turning the corner on their rebuilding job. But they followed a 4-12 season with an 0-6 start. Though their last two games have been competitive losses to Pittsburgh and Tennessee, the Jags are too young on offense – six rookies often are on the field – and mistake-prone to keep their defense from tiring out from overuse. This will be rookie quarterback Blake Bortles’ fourth consecutive start. He has thrown seven interceptions – two returned for touchdowns – in 3 ½ games.

Browns update: After filling in capably for injured center Alex Mack in the Pittsburgh game, John Greco gets his first career start at the position. Greco’s vacated spot at right guard will be filled by veteran swingman Paul McQuistan. All eyes will be on the Browns’ unstoppable wide-zone running scheme to see if it can be slowed by the Jaguars and the heat. After a one-week demotion due to bad practices, rookie running back Terrance West is expected to be activated as a backup. The defensive front also receives a boost by the return of nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin, but it loses nickel back K’Waun Williams (concussion). That means rookie Justin Gilbert will have another opportunity to begin overcoming a rough introduction to the NFL.

Injury report: Browns – C Alex Mack (leg) is on injured reserve; WR Rodney Smith (hamstring), DE Phil Taylor (knee), DE Billy Winn (quad) and CB K’Waun Williams (concussion) are out; FS Tashaun Gipson (thigh) and NT Ahtyba Rubin (ankle) are questionable. Jaguars – RB Toby Gerhart (foot) is out.

Our take: Coach Mike Pettine views this game as a solid test of his team’s character. All the ingredients are there for a rough day for the Browns – on the road against a winless team, in steamy weather conditions that could strain their endurance, but overall a game which they are favored to win.

Prediction: Browns sweat it out, 23-13.

 

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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