MHH: Josh McCown showed signs of being a legit pocket passer in 2013 with the Chicago Bears. He signed a nice contract to go to Tampa in 2014, but it didn't pan out. Now in Cleveland, he won the starting gig over Johnny Manziel. Is Mike Pettine making the right decision in keeping the 36-year-old McCown the starter over Johnny Football? At what point does the organization make a commitment for the future?
Grayshock: Mike Pettine is the fourth head coach of the Browns since 2010. He works for an owner (Jimmy Haslam) that came to town preaching stability, consistency and letting the process take shape. He has fired two coaches and a pair of GM/Team Presidents.
Pettine can't worry about developing anyone long term. He has to focus on trying to win. Last year the team lost the final five games to finish 7-9.
Another 4-win season would be a clear step back, and you have to wonder if Haslam would give Pettine a third chance. The Browns will likely hand the offense over to Johnny at some point this season when they don't have any realistic shot at the playoffs.
You also have to remember that Manziel was in rehab for a good portion of the offseason, and there were no real guarantees on what his mental and physical state would be coming out.
MHH: The Browns have a lot of young, exciting players on defense. Joe Haden, Justin Gilbert, Nate Orchard, Danny Shelton, Tashaun Gipson—and yet they're ranked No. 30 overall. What will it take for this talented, young unit to reach their potential?
Grayshock: Justin Gilbert thanks you for including him on this list. The Browns defense is a complete mystery. They have spent money on free agents—Paul Kruger, Donte Whitner, Karlos Dansby, to name a few, and also spent high draft picks on defensive players, like Gilbert and Shelton. They have a defensive head coach in Pettine and let him hand-pick his defensive coordinator in Jim O'Neil.
Yet they still can't stop the run, and they aren't getting pressure on the quarterback (aside from the Tennessee game against a rookie QB making his second start, and the first quarter of the San Diego game in which 60 percent of their offensive line were back-ups).
Gilbert has been a mess. He can play press-coverage, but gets lost in anything outside of that. In fact, Gilbert has been so bad that when Haden is out, 2014 fourth-round pick Pierre Desir starts in his spot.
Danny Shelton shows some promise, but it is hard to be a game changer at that spot. The linebackers have been a disappointment, especially Barkevious Mingo, who was the sixth overall pick in 2013. Against the Ravens on Sunday, Mingo was in the game for four defensive snaps.
Undrafted players have been a bright spot on Pettine's defense, including Tashaun Gibson and nickel-back K'Waun Williams.
MHH: The Browns took a big hit losing Josh Gordon for the season to another suspension. Have they been able to find another playmaker on the outside? Which player should the Broncos be aware of on defense—the big play guy?
Grayshock: The Browns have a serious lack of height at the WR position. Travis Benjamin is a 5-foot-10 speedster that has really been good for the Browns this season, leading the team with 6 touchdowns. But he still has to prove that he can be consistent. TE Gary Barnidge has been a big surprise this year.
The running game has not been what the team had hoped. Rookie Duke Johnson is a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, and has shown some ability to make defenders miss, but nobody has taken hold of the job the way running backs coach Montgomery had hoped.
Part of that can certainly be put on the offensive line, who has not looked like the unit that Pro Football Focus grades them out as.
MHH: It really seems like Pettine has done a good job drafting overall and has made some under-the-radar free agent pickups, especially on defense. But his approach hasn't translated to a lot of wins. The Browns are coming off a nice victory over the Ravens. What's holding Pettine's team back from winning like that consistently?
Grayshock: I'm not sure the draft has been as kind to the Browns as you give them credit for. (There are only two players from the 2013 draft left on the team, and only one of them starts—seventh round pick Armonty Bryant.)
The Tramon Williams (CB) free agent signing was a great one. He's actually been the most consistent player on this defense. (DE) Xavier Cooper showed promise in the preseason to be a pass rush specialist, but it hasn't quite carried over to the regular season yet.
They like Nate Orchard a lot, and he is athletic enough to cover TEs and maybe backs, but needs to improve his run defense.
As far as what the team needs to do in order to win consistently? Playmakers would certainly help the offense. They really don't have that one guy that defenses worry about.
Despite Gordon's ongoing suspensions, they refuse to really address the WR position in the draft. They picked Vince Mayle in the fourth round this year, and he didn't make the team. They didn't draft a WR in 2013 or 2014.
Defensively, they have got to get better at stopping the run. The Kruger signing was brutal in that regard. He really should be a pass-rush specialist. The team collectively hasn't set an edge since 2010. (Ok, maybe that is a slight exaggeration).
And let's face it, the Browns will never win consistently until they have a legitimate, top-half-of-the-league quarterback. McCown is having a nice three game run. He is clearly not the long term answer.
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