By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Some perspective: Is this the worst Browns preseason ever?
The Browns fell to 0-3 in the Mike Pettine preseason era after their 33-14 loss to the St. Louis Rams. What does this foretell?
Records don’t mean anything in preseason, of course. Two classic examples: The Indianapolis Colts were blanked, 0-5, in the 2005 preseason, then marched on to a 14-2 record in the regular season. In 2008, the Detroit Lions played to a perfect 4-0 in the preseason, only to suffer the first 0-16 regular season in NFL history.
The Browns have had two winless preseasons in their history, and their regular-season results were mixed.
In 2008, the Browns were coming off a 10-6 year and were designated the up-and-coming team with five – five! – prime-time games on their regular schedule. They lost all four preseason games and proceeded to a 4-12 dumpster fire.
The other winless preseason came in 1972.
Back then, NFL teams played six exhibition games. The Browns lost them all, five of them on the road including contests in University of Michigan’s “Big House,” “the Shoe” at Ohio State, and in venerable old Yankee Stadium.
The one home game was a disaster. This was before the NFL mandated all season ticket-holders pay full price for preseason games. Owner Art Modell booked the Cleveland Orchestra to play before the game. Modell sold over 70,000 tickets. A storm of rain and lightning blew in and caused a lengthy delay before the concert was canceled.
“The stage was in the middle of the stadium and they finally pulled it off with tractors, and they made tracks all over the field,” remembered Doug Dieken, the club’s long-time offensive tackle and radio analyst. “The game didn’t end until about 12:30 at night.”
After an 0-6 preseason, the 1972 Browns went 10-4 and made the playoffs. That was the team that actually held a 14-13 lead in the fourth quarter over the Miami Dolphins in a playoff game. The Dolphins won, 20-14, on the way to the NFL’s only undefeated season.
So, you never know about these ugly preseasons.
“I don’t think it’s concerning enough to panic,” Pettine said. “We’re confident as we get going that we’ll improve by leaps and bounds, but there’s a process. We have to go through it, and certainly … there’s a strong sense of urgency to get it done.”
About that J-Package: In the span of 48 hours last week, Pettine told local media there would not be a two-quarterback system involving a special Johnny Manziel “package” of plays (at least not early), and then reversed field and told SIRIUS NFL Football that such a package was “on the table.”
Here’s the real story: It’s all up to Brian Hoyer.
While there is some internal pressure to get Manziel ready to play as soon as possible, Hoyer’s disappointing preseason performance accelerated the idea of incorporating a Manziel package to ease in the rookie as a precursor to his eventual first NFL start.
The dilemma facing the Browns’ coaches is this: It takes a commitment of practice time to properly develop a Manziel offensive package. At the same time, it’s obvious that Hoyer needs ample work with the first-team offense to manufacture cohesion and rhythm with his receivers – whomever they are – and the line and the running game.
So how do the Browns accomplish both while in their infant stage with the Kyle Shanahan offensive system? They can’t.
“I think that’s part of it,” Pettine told me on Sunday. “You only have so much time to practice, whether it’s real practice time or walk-through time. Because we went to the third week, we did feel that we were behind with Brian getting work with the ones exclusively, but (a Johnny package is) something that is an option for us.
“It’s just the timing of it will be the question – when we feel comfortable with it or is it even necessary.”
Is it even necessary? Only if Hoyer doesn’t produce.
Quick hitters: For the first time, Pettine conceded the team is fully expecting receiver Josh Gordon to miss some number of games in a league suspension. “We’re fairly certain that we’re not going to have him for a minimum of some part of the year,” Pettine said Sunday … Of all the Browns 2014 draft picks, the one who keeps getting better is linebacker Chris Kirksey. Against the Rams, Kirksey led the Browns with seven tackles and had a tip-drill interception that set up Manziel’s touchdown run … Pettine said that Dion Lewis has separated from the pack for the No. 3 running back spot. Tremendous comeback in the works for Lewis after a broken leg in the 2013 preseason and then a coaching change that didn’t figure to help him … I’m at a loss to explain why the Browns have thrown so many short passes through three preseason games. I’m also at a loss to explain why they send Gordon on so many crossing and inside routes and have yet to throw to Jordan Cameron down a seam. The passing game seems inept … I’m not worried about rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert. I am more concerned that second-year linebacker Barkevious Mingo still hasn’t learned how to tackle … The more I watch right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, the more I wonder why the team never challenged him in training camp … The new FirstEnergy Stadium HD video boards were brilliant, especially at night. However, a major blind-spot in the new presentation of the game was a dominant down-and-distance board. It’s impossible to locate the down and distance on every play. That has to be fixed.
|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 firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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