Picking Browns-Falcons, Talking Josh Gordon and Offensive Upside

Josh GordonThis is more conversation than column as Rich and I email back and forth about a collection of things that interest us for the remainder of the season.

Rich: Mr. Hattery! What a week we are in the middle of, Browns-wise. We had the deflating loss to the Texans; The Return of Josh Gordon; and The Departure of Ben Tate. And, oh yeah, they play a game this coming Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. So much to talk about.

So let’s start with that loss on Sunday. I wrote afterwards that to me it was one game where the Browns were flat, and not a reflection on the team itself overall. What was your takeaway?

Mike: My takeaway is that over the past past ten years of watching Browns quarterbacks, Hoyer had one of the ten worst I have seen. Is this a one game sample against a strong defense? Yes. Should it be disregarded? No.

Going 20 for 50 in the passing game is just horrendous. Among qualified NFL starters Hoyer has the lowest completion percentage at 55.7.
The obvious response is that Hoyer has little around him talent wise until Gordon’s return but ultimately for someone who has to be efficient, precise, Hoyer simply hasn’t been very good.
Somehow this statement will draw a lot of ire, that is fine with me, I get it. After watching Weeden, Quinn, Wallace, Anderson, Frye and Jason Campbell our perception of competent quarterback play has been shifted so far below the norm that we have somehow created an attachment to Brian Hoyer.
I really like Hoyer, what he represents, the narrative he brings but when we start talk about extending him, I can only say that I need to see a hell of a lot more from him before I consider an extension.
I suppose I got off track, a proclivity of mine, however, I think this is a discussion we will be having every week the rest of the way. Does Josh Gordon change the passing game, free up Hoyer, improve offensive production substantially?
Rich: I agree with you on Hoyer, in that I don’t think he is the long-term solution. To me, he misses guys too often. He doesn’t normally make an impossible pass; more often it’s that the receiver did a great job of getting open. He can make some routine throws, and I’m not trying to say he is horrible, but I think you need a quarterback who can do more than he is capable of.

That said, you can’t replace him this season, unless he just tanks and winning games no longer matters. Everyone says that this is a blessing that their future starter gets to sit and watch, and I do agree, but I think they need to make a call when the season ends: Hoyer or Johnny Manziel?
I’ve gone with the popular opinion that, if the Browns have a good season, 10+ wins, that you just franchise Hoyer. I now say, Yes, you can keep them both, but I don’t think you should. One should go in the offseason, and I don’t think it should be Manziel.
Obviously, with Gordon’s return, I think everyone is thinking about Hoyer’s additional throwing options, but one thing I am really hoping it does is pull defensive guys away from the line of scrimmage. This will open more lanes for the running backs and give Hoyer more time to read his receivers. But the key will be to make defenses pay when they do fill the box. Can the Browns do that? And will losing one of our 3 running backs help or hurt the running game?
Mike: Before touching the running game, a comment on Manziel. It is important for me to note that it is well founded to be critical of Hoyer yet not want or prefer Manziel. I think Manziel is talented but I have distinct concerns and the issues with Hoyer for me are not based on Manziels existence on the roster. However, I agree that I would let one move in the offseason as Hoyer would not be satisfied as a backup and I don’t like him as a starter long term.

I think cutting Tate will absolutely help. Crowell has long been my guy, I love his talent and think he has tremendous upside. The fumble issues are what they are for me. If Gordon and Cameron and come back for six games, stretch the field clear an extra linebacker and safety, then the Browns will absolutely see an uptick in production for Crowell and West.
I really want to see how the secondary options produce once Gordon is on the field as well, specifically Taylor Gabriel. Gabriel has been really impressive and with more attention on Gordon, can his production be even better? I would expect that Gabriel has at least to big time games over the course of the last six.
I suppose the next question is, with the recent slew of injuries, specifically to Dansby, can the Browns defense be competent ?
Rich: The defense, the defense, the defense. Losing Dansby hurts. For all that rah-rah talk that coaches have to give about “next man up,” this hurts a defense that couldn’t afford to be hurt. That defense is fragile. Kudos to them, they figured out the secondary, but as we saw last week, stopping the pass is not going to be much of an advantage if you’re going to give up 200 yards on the ground.

Your question asked if I think they can be competent, which is a great over/under line, if that makes any sense. Expectations are not high based on this season’s performance where you have more than half a season played. Definitely no better than competent. I’m going to say slightly less than.
So then, the question becomes: Will the offense be able to compensate? Will the addition productivity of Gordon offset the loss in productivity from the defense?
Mike: Pretty bleak outlook for a 6 and 4 team. Ultimately, the Browns have simply been the best bad team so far, with perhaps the only quality win being the road win in Cincy. I simply don’t see the offense being able to compensate for the losses on the defensive side. Also if I hear another coach say “next man up” I might lose it, I can’t think of a more tired cliche in football.

The rest of the way this looks like a bottom ten defense. The offense has been pretty unpredictable and  unimpressive since the Mack injury. Which means do I think Josh Gordon can suddenly turn this into a top-10 offense and make them true contenders for the division? I don’t.
Josh Gordon is an absolute animal, a top ten wide receiver. Yet, he did a lot in garbage time last season, not that my fantasy team didn’t appreciate it. Was he an animal with Weeden and Campbell staring him down, throwing the ball to him 12 times a games? Yes.
I just don’t think he is a transcendent talent that suddenly causes this offense to be efficient again. Now they are facing a bad defense in Atlanta this week, I would bet on him having a big game and the offense looking solid. After that I don’t have a lot of optimism.
They have issues at quarterback, the running game has been borderline horrrendous since Mack went down. Can a single player hide those issues? I just don’t think so. What do you think Rich?  What score do you have for the Atlanta game? I have Falcons 27-Browns 24.
Rich: The problem with the Falcons is that the only thing they are good at is throwing the football. They rank near the bottom in rushing and in defense. They have 4 wins, but all of those wins are against the NFC South where those 4 wins puts the Falcons in 1st place. In other words, if the Raiders, who got their first win of the season Thursday night, were in the NFC South, they’d be 3 games out of 1st.

My pessimism about the Browns is mostly a macro look at the team. I still believe that they are a dangerous team who can take a game from you if you’re having a flat day.
I’m predicting a road win here. Browns control the clock and the tempo, come away a 23-13 winner.

Categories: Browns, News

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