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More Browns season mysteries to ponder

Jan 07, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

The Morning Kickoff …

2013 in review: Another in a periodic series reviewing the Browns’ season of 4-12.

On Monday, we presented six unresolved mysteries of the 2013 season. Today, we offer four more.

1. When did the front office sour on Ray Horton?

Horton was interviewed for the Browns head coach vacancy last January and for much of the season seemed on the fast track to another round of head coach interviews. There was conversation briefly about a succession plan in case he left, whether defensive line coach Joe Cullen or, more likely, defensive backs coach Lou Cioffi were legitimate candidates to replace Horton. The turning point, clearly, was the Jacksonville game, when Horton’s defense allowed Chad Henne to drive 80 yards for the game-winning score in the final 3 ½ minutes. That was the beginning of the three-game stretch in which Horton’s defense allowed seven scoring drives in nine possessions in the fourth quarter. In the final week, conversation about Horton’s future was spurred by his inclusion on a list of the top African-American head coach candidates. “I hope I’m back here. I hope they don’t fire me,” Horton said. It was an odd statement at the time, given his prior lofty standing, but it reflected the negative feedback he was receiving. Horton’s side of the ball received the majority of resources in the offseason -- Paul Kruger, Desmond Bryant, Quentin Groves, Chris Owens and Barkevious Mingo. Mingo’s conspicuous lack of progress, the epic defensive meltdowns and the defense’s stunning failures on third downs and in the red zone ultimately made Horton a one-and-done defensive coordinator – but not for the reason everyone expected.

2. Why did they go a whole season without a natural fullback?

When Owen Marecic was waived on Aug. 26 and then Brad Smelley on Sept. 1, it was considered a formality for the team to claim a fullback from among the batch of roster cuts league-wide. It never happened. Much to the chagrin of coach Rob Chudzinski and coordinator Norv Turner, each of whom historically favored a lead-blocking fullback to spring a power running game, the personnel department never delivered. The coaches stuck with 225-pound utility back Chris Ogbonnaya as the so-called fullback. As short-yardage running became increasingly unsuccessful, they tried end Billy Winn as a modern-day Refrigerator Perry. That experiment lasted all of three plays. The coaches responded to the front office’s snub by throwing relentlessly. The 681 pass attempts were a league high and obliterated the Browns’ franchise record. Another 49 pass calls resulted in sacks.

3. Why did they stock up with five tight ends?

The season started with Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge as the lone tight ends. On Sept. 1, the team was awarded off waivers MarQueis Gray from San Francisco and Keevon Milton from New Orleans. Gray, a 250-pound zone read quarterback at University of Minnesota, kind of intrigued the coaches and received some work as a Wildcat runner. Milton, 6-4 and 293 pounds, managed to be listed as active for seven games, but received scant playing time. Then, on Nov. 26, the Browns claimed another big blocking type, 270-pound Andre Smith from Dallas. He was active for two games and did little. Both Chudzinski and Turner loved tight ends – but carrying five, including two who were so one-dimensional, was a luxury the Browns couldn’t afford.

4. What happened after the bye week?

With the team at 4-5 after the win over Baltimore and poised for successive games against division rivals Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, the bye week fell at a perfect time. Chudzinski invited Hall of Famer and former Hurricane Michael Irvin to deliver a “stay out of trouble” bye week send-off speech. The team returned intact and actually took a 13-0 lead in the first quarter in Cincinnati. Then the world changed in the second quarter. The Bengals blocked two punts, returned a fumble for a touchdown and scored 31 ponts. The worst quarter of football in Browns history detonated an 0-7 finish to the season. It resulted in the shocking firing of Chudzinski after 16 games and launched the fifth coaching search in 10 Browns season.

 

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. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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