Before you get down to EverBank Field to watch the Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Cleveland Browns today, get to know the Browns a little bit. I was able to pick Chris Pokorny's brain. He's the editor of DawgsByNature.com.
Click the jump to find out all about the Browns.
Did you think this is what you were getting in Peyton Hillis when you shipped Brady Quinn for him?
It's a "yes" and "no" at the same time. When Josh McDaniels refused to play Peyton Hillis last year after the incredible rookie season he had in limited action, I thought it was a big mistake. It was baffling that a player who seemed to be a tough runner and a great receiver out of the backfield saw no playing time. When the Browns acquired him, I had hopes of Cleveland being able to unlock that potential again. However, Jerome Harrison was coming off an incredible finish to last season, and the Browns had just drafted Montario Hardesty in the second round.
It seemed like Hillis was in line to be the team's third-down back. The season-ending injury to Hardesty, coupled with Harrison being disgruntled that he didn't get a new contract, quickly opened the door for Hillis. While I'm not surprised with how he has performed, I never expected him to actually become the team's starting running back prior to the start of the season. In the end, it turned out to be a major "win" for Cleveland.
I wasn't a huge fan of Colt McCoy in the draft, but he seems to be finding some success. What are your thoughts on him so far?
I didn't have the opportunity to watch much of Colt McCoy in the draft either, but the thing I loved about the pick is that we drafted him in the third round. If he didn't work out, the Browns could easily cut ties with him because the investment wasn't significant. The primary scouting report on McCoy was that he was a very accurate passer. With that said, my mindset on him before the season started was that I didn't think he should play until his second or third year. Even after McCoy's first start against Pittsburgh, even though he played decent, I advocated the thought of Jake Delhomme or Seneca Wallace returning to the lineup.
Over McCoy's next three games against New Orleans, New England, and the New York Jets, I was stunned at how impressive he looked. While he isn't lighting up the scoreboard with touchdowns, he has been able to read opposing defenses very well and he puts the ball right on the mark. He has great mobility too and his accuracy isn't affected when he throws on the run. Last week, he calmly led a touchdown drive in the final two minutes of the game. We haven't had a quarterback do that in...let's just say the last guy I remember doing that was Tim Couch or Kelly Holcomb (note: I easily could be wrong on that fact). I am a firm supporter of McCoy remaining the starter now, because he looks a lot better than some of the other starting quarterbacks in the league right now.
Rob Ryan is the lesser known Ryan brother, but he's just as good a defensive coordinator. How's he changed the culture of the Browns defense?
While there have been some cases in which fans have been frustrated with Rob Ryan's playcalling (i.e. constantly bringing the house when we know our blitz will get picked up and our corners aren't good in man-to-man deep passes), overall he's been great at scheming with players who aren't known as being superstars. The effectiveness has come partially from trusting one lineman -- Shaun Rogers -- to do the dirty work up front, trusting one linebacker -- Scott Fujita -- to lead the other guys around him, and then dropping different guys back in coverage at different times to confuse the quarterback.
Cleveland's defense has tackled better this year than they have for years too. Gone are the days when we'd watch our defensive players slip off a running back. You might laugh if you read that last sentence and saw how three Browns defenders didn't tackle Santonio Holmes last week in overtime, but that's a different and rare case for our defense this year.
How has first round pick Joe Haden worked out thus far?
He's been good. Not great, but good. There have been enough times in which he has deflected a pass intended for his receiver, and generally he seems to have tight coverage and is a sound tackler. He is the team's third cornerback though, so he doesn't see the field every down and isn't lined up against the opposing team's best receivers. With the struggles that starter Eric Wright has had this year, there has been an outcry for Haden to receive playing time over him. Haden still hasn't received that opportunity, but I don't think that's because the coaches don't have faith in him. Instead, I think the coaching staff is just confused as to how Wright, who was by far the team's best cornerback last season, has been terrible this year, whether it comes to coverage or tackling.
If Josh Cribbs can't play, how big of a hit is that to the team?
Last year, I would have said it was a major hit to the team because the Wildcat was key in our offensive gameplan, and it seems like Cribbs was returning a kick for a touchdown per game. This year, it has been a different story. The offense can move the ball with Peyton Hillis, and the Wildcat has not been used very often. On kick returns, I have to say teams have done an outstanding job kicking away from Cribbs, whether it be for touchbacks, to our upbacks, or just making sure they contain Cribbs in coverage.
At the same time, Cribbs has matured as a wide receiver. He doesn't have a lot of catches, but he looked very awkward as a receiver in the past, compared to this year where he looks natural. Missing him is a hit because even though teams have been containing him, they still focus a lot of attention on him. That's how the Browns have pulled off a few trick plays -- using Cribbs as a decoy and then going elsewhere. For a game though, we can probably manage things without him. Cleveland signed Clifton Smith this week, a former Pro Bowl returner for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
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