As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to host their final AFC North matchup Sunday at Heinz Field, the Cleveland Browns will try to give Pittsburgh their 3rd home loss in the division for the first time since the AFC North was formed. To get the best look at this matchup from both sides of the fence, I sat down with Chris Pokorny from Dawgs By Nature (SB Nation's Browns site) to talk about the upcoming game, and whether fans are truly happy with the Johnny Manziel experiment thus far.
The Browns have had to bounce back between Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel this season due to injury. Have fans given up on the Johnny Football experiment, or is there still hope Manziel could be the QB the Browns have tried to find since returning to the NFL?
I wouldn't say that fans have given up on the Johnny Football experiment, but overall, they are certainly less passionate about it than they were a year ago. Once Manziel and the Browns were disastrous during his two starts in 2014, and then Manziel checked in to rehab this offseason, the expectations for the once-hyped quarterback were tamed significantly. Manziel has a much-improved offseason and training camp, but Josh McCown also played well in camp. McCown's positive play carried over to the regular season, where he set a couple of franchise records earlier this season. With nearly everybody else on the team, both on offense and defense, struggling around him, McCown suddenly looked like the lone bright spot amidst another losing season.
Now that the Browns are 2-7 and out of realistic playoff contention, fans are growing a bit irritated that Manziel isn't being named the starter for the rest of the season. Manziel is in his second year and is a first-round pick -- there is really no better time to evaluate him as a quarterback than now, because there's no risk to losing games when it matters. I think head coach Mike Pettine envisions McCown being the team's starter in 2015, if he remains the team's head coach. Whether Manziel finishes the 2015 season or not shouldn't affect that, though, and Pettine needs to consider that so we can make a determination on Manziel once and for all.
Outside of QBs, the Browns have gone through nearly as many head coaches throughout that time. What are your thoughts on Pettine as a head coach, and will the Browns be looking for a new coach after the 2015 season?
At the beginning of this year, I would have told you that Mike Pettine's job was very secure, even if the team suffered a letdown season. Now, I'm not so sure. He came in with a lot of energy in 2014, preaching things like toughness, accountability, and other buzzwords that formed what he called the, "Play Like a Brown" mentality. The belief was that in his second year (2015), the defense would start clicking on all cylinders, considering that is Pettine's specialization. Instead, nothing has worked defensively. The team can't stop the run, they can't rush the quarterback, and the one element that seemed like a definite -- having a shutdown secondary -- hasn't panned out either, for a variety of reasons.
With the losses piling up, other issues -- such as snap count distribution for certain players and time management -- have creeped to the forefront of discussion too often. The team is also often undisciplined with it comes to committing penalties. It's been a snowball effect of negativity, and Pettine has not attempted to do anything semi-drastic to attempt to stop the bleeding. I'd like Pettine to stick around just so we can at least make the effort to maintain continuity at the head coaching position, but I'd be all for the team making a change at defensive coordinator, where his long-time buddy was put in charge last year with little experience running a defense.
The Browns are 2-7 coming into Week 10, have fans become fed up with the team and their lack of success in the past decade? Or is there still hope this team can turn things around if they get healthy and stay healthy?
Are you talking about turning it around this season? No, there is virtually no hope of that. Even if a guy like Joe Haden recovers from his concussion, he's been a bizarre case this year, being beaten badly by opposing receivers pretty much every time he's targeted. The offense has been a bright spot, but runs too hot-and-cold from quarter to quarter. Defensively, it's just not working. The Browns have had four first-round draft picks in the past two years, and none of them have looked like high-caliber players, and most of them don't even play more than a few snaps on gameday. Fans will still watch, of course, but I can tell that many of them are just fed up, especially with the feeling that the season was "over" before the half-way point of the year.
The Steelers struggled with the Browns running attack in 2015, if you are the Steelers defensive coordinator, what are you doing to stop the Browns offense?
When the Browns' offense is at its best, their smaller wide receivers get space to work with and do damage with their short area quickness. Opposing teams have started to play more physical at the line of scrimmage with the receivers, though, to prevent them from every getting started. Also, while the Browns' offensive line is pretty stout, the blocking from the tight ends and fullback has been downright awful. Pittsburgh should and will do anything they can to get their best defensive players matched up against our tight ends and fullback, because it will surely help them disrupt plays in the backfield, particularly against the run.
How do you see this game playing out on Sunday? Do the Browns have an upset in their system, or is this a game with too much against them heading into Heinz Field? (Feel free to give a score prediction if you'd like...you don't have to though.)
I've probably sounded very pessimistic in my answers so far, but the fact that Pittsburgh might have to go with Landry Jones at quarterback provides me with some optimism that Cleveland could have an upset in their system this Sunday. The Browns should have beat the Broncos and had a 20-7 lead in the first half against Arizona, but collapsed at crunch time. Those teams had top-tier quarterbacks to take advantage of Cleveland's porous defense, and I'm not ready to give Jones that type of respect.
Be sure to get the best information on this Week 10 matchup from the other side of the fence by checking out Dawgs By Nature.