My Browns Christmas List

I feel so dirty making a list like this. I mean, I was never one for Christmas lists anyways; they just felt selfish and took the surprise out of Christmas morning as a kid. I know, I know – there are a ton people (myself included) that typically give the “I don’t know” or “nothing” answer when asked what they want for Christmas (Marshawn Lynch probably knows what I’m talking about) and that can be really frustrating for the gift-giver. I just never felt comfortable with the “lists of demands” even when my younger brother had me covered in the ridiculous request department (he legitimately thought writing down every gaming system on Earth would somehow work out for him).

This also feels wrong because the Browns have given all fans so much this year already. Raise your hand if you thought Cleveland would win seven games. With supposedly zero receivers for most of the year. And with a rookie GM. And a rookie head coach. And coordinators new to Cleveland. Those raising their hands are dirty liars. Santa’s watching.

Even the most optimistic of fans – which admittedly, is a category into which I fall – thought maybe five wins…six if the planets align. But SEVEN? With a chance (albeit a small chance) at eight next week? I don’t care when those victories came nor whom they were against. Seven victories led to meaningful football in December. That’s progress.

So without further ado, I present my list of Cleveland Browns-themed Christmas requests. I probably haven’t been good enough this year to get all of these, but a couple would satisfy me just fine.

1. A beefy, unsexy front end of the draft.

The Cleveland secondary is set. West and Crowell have shown promise at the running back position. What many were calling the worst receiving corps in the league to begin the season has morphed into one of the most dependable units. Johnny Manziel has started two games (more on him below). Two games is not nearly large enough of a sample size to project a man’s career so the QB position should be left alone early in the draft. That leaves the front seven and the offensive line.

Now the offensive line had to deal with a devastating injury to Alex Mack. But help on the right side plus some solid backups wouldn’t be a waste of a second round pick. The defensive front seven is just…meh…That’s not to say that there aren’t great players in that group. Dansby and Kruger have played superbly this year. Words can’t express how pleasantly Craig Robertson has surprised me. But the run defense as a whole? Eric Cartman’s sentiments towards gingers pretty accurately represent how I feel. Minus a stud pass rusher who may fall to us, I’m perfectly content with not knowing the names of Cleveland’s first four draft picks.

2. Patience at the quarterback position

Because the devil invented social media, the bile of humanity is always readily available. Johnny College Football. Johnny Backup. Johnny I’m-not-clever-enough-to-come-up-with-an-original-meme. I hate you, Hoyer. Brian Hoyer wants to MURDER JFB!!! Partner that with the Book of Revelation-esque scribbles for the local media, and all of a sudden Mondays feel like a great day to punch a brick wall.

For the purpose of this section, I am assuming that Johnny Manziel is the top QB on the roster come the draft. I won’t even open up the Hoyer vs. Manziel debate because of the 99% chance that Hoyer is not on the team next year. I don’t dislike Hoyer. I think he deserves his share of the praise for where the Browns are right now. I just think management has made it pretty clear that Johnny is the guy moving forward. At least that was the case before the Cincinnati game…

Admittedly, Manziel has looked a bit lost in his first couple chances as a professional QB. The speed of the game has seemed overwhelming to him and some of his second-guessing has come back to bite him. The silver lining to this though? It’s been two one-and-a-half games. Remember how good Brian Hoyer looked in two-and-a-half games last season? Remember how good RG3 looked in an entire season? Remember how we “lost out” on the RG3 sweepstakes? People have come to hyperbolic conclusions – good and bad – way too soon for all sorts of players. Most of the time, these same people get a healthy mouthful of foot down the road. Let’s not start wondering who the 22nd starting QB for the new Browns is just yet (well, it looks like out of necessity it could potentially be Connor Shaw).

Marcus Mariota will be off the board by the time the Browns are on the clock and would probably cost 10 years-worth of draft picks to move up to get. Jameis Winston has more off-the-field issues than Ryan Leaf…yet probably still will be gone by the time Cleveland is on the clock. Even if Cleveland had the opportunity to grab one of those guys, there are more glaring needs (see above). I’ve always subscribed to the school or building a good team first and inserting a QB later. There are way more average-to-below-average QBs out there than there are Mannings and Bradys. Bring in a vet / journeyman guy to compete with and back up Johnny. Please, Browns, don’t waste another high pick on a QB before you know what you have in this one. Which leads me to…

3. A real-life professional game plan for Johnny Manziel.

Ok…I hate couch coaches. At least 100% of everyone on Twitter thinks that they’d be better coaches than just about every coach in the league. Those people are severely mistaken. Just like the worst NFL team would demolish the best college football team, the worst coach in the league would embarrass all of us non-coaches in terms of knowledge of everything football. They’ve been living, breathing, and eating football for years. While we’re at work talking around the water cooler about those EPIC HIGHLIGHTS from last night, they’re studying intricacies of film that us normal folk would never even consider important. I will never ever for one second truly believe that I know more football than they do.

With that said, I’d love to see a game plan for Johnny Manziel that doesn’t treat him like a circus act. While there was blame to be had in all three phases of the game for the past couple games, the offense was particularly gut-wrenching to watch. Some of that was Mr. Football’s fault. Some of that was the offensive line’s (particularly from the center position) fault. However, I would argue that a lion’s share of the blame should fall onto Kyle Shanahan. Rather than go with a game plan that Cleveland had employed all year (with a fair amount of success), the coaches seemed to scrap it and run a college offense for Johnny Manziel. Rather than have one player learn something new, the coaches decided that the team was better served having 11+ players learn something new.

The one downfield throw Johnny threw against Carolina was a pretty damn good throw – a 28 yard completion to Hawkins. Yet, we kept running the same play action bootleg that didn’t fool Cincinnati nor Carolina once. And that play against the Panthers right before half with Johnny sprinting towards the sideline on a clearly designed run? I don’t think Shanahan could even give a reasonable explanation for that call. Best case scenario was a three yard gain with Johnny scampering out of bounds. Not even a running back taking a direct snap beats the defense to the edge on that one.

When Johnny got hurt and Hoyer entered the game, the plays once again resembled calls of a professional football offense.

Now there’s no denying Johnny’s mobility. But this is a dude who completed over 70% (!!!) of his passes from the pocket while in college. His arm is a weapon. Size aside, look at the recent history of mobile quarterbacks (non-exhaustive list) whose NFL teams tried to use their mobility as their primary weapon:

  • Robert Griffin III – Awesome first season running read option until his knee exploded. Brought back too soon. Continued to run read option. Ankle exploded. Colt McCoy started over him. Mind explosion coming soon.
  • Colin Kaepernick – Awesome first season. Ran a ton of read option. Plays in the conference with the best defenses in football. Conference adapted to his playing style. People openly wondering if he’ll be on an NFL roster in two years.
  • Tim Tebow – Took team to playoffs. Team still thought he was terrible. MANNINGED! SEC Network analyst.
  • Michael Vick – Was supposed to be the future of the NFL QB position. Played well but got hurt a ton. DOG FIGHTING CONVICTION. Played decently in Philly. Hurt again. Backing up Geno Smith.

How about the (non-exhaustive) list of mobile QBs whose mobility are more or less an “in case of emergency, break the glass” feature:

  • Cam Newton – Incredible rookie season. Can run when he needs to but is more of a pocket passer who can run. A couple designed runs per game keeps defenses guessing.
  • Russell Wilson – Impressive career so far. Extends plays behind the line with his legs. Runs when he has to if it’s open. Already has a Super Bowl Ring.
  • Aaron Rogers – Had to have been a sniper in a previous life. Has a Super Bowl ring. Can extend plays and runs if there’s something open.
  • Ben Roethlisberger – Extends plays behind the line of scrimmage with his legs. Has two Super Bowl Rings. Played and lost in one other Super Bowl. Looks like Shrek. Probably sexually assaulted a few women.

This isn’t to say that Johnny Manziel is or will be anyone mentioned above. This also certainly isn’t a complete list of all mobile NFL QBs. This is just meant to illustrate that mobility should be a secondary trait of a professional quarterback rather than the primary option. I’d love to see how Jonny plays with the Hoyer playbook.

4. Patience from the front office.

The only constant recently has been change. I guess you’ll have that with a new President followed by a new owner who named a new President, realized that the new President muddied the chain of command waters, and quickly streamlined his organization (with the potential threat of Federal Prison on the horizon).

I do think Haslam has gotten a bad rap as an impatient coach firin’ machine. He’s a businessman who realized that his expensive new toy wasn’t set up properly and decided to correct it sooner rather than later. With that said, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF EVERYTHING HOLY DON’T FIRE ANYONE THIS YEAR! Coaches: DON’T BLOW UP THE ROSTER. Please. We have a good thing going. The team plays for Pettine. Most, if not all, of his “mistakes” this year can be attributed to his newness. The most successful organizations have one major common factor – stability. Pittsburgh. New England. Green Bay. Hell, even Dallas has kept pretty stable by Jerry Jones’s standards. You can probably count the times on one hand that a coach / GM deserved to be fired after one season. And those times probably happened in Oakland. Actually, I move this item to the top of my list. Let’s see where this group can take us.

And finally…

5. Patience from the fan base

Listen, ladies and gentlemen. Being a fan of the Browns is not easy. We’ve had our hearts ripped out, pissed on, fed back to us, and ripped out again. Whenever coaches and players speak of progress and improvement, I hear the “I’m sick of waiting” and “Why not us” moans from fans all the time. These past few years have especially been dark because of the lack of item four. But look at what we have this year. Seven wins. Progress. Deep down, you know you have to be happy with this. This is real, true progress. We’ve won games this year in fashions that some younger fans have never seen. We’ve fought back in games where it would have been perfectly acceptable to lay over and die. We were picked to win maybe a game and we won seven. Whoever isn’t happy with this doesn’t know what progress is. These people want progress without process. We all need to be patient with this regime and trust that their plan will play out. Worst-to-first is an exception to the rule rather than the norm.

We need to be patient with the players as well. Johnny Manziel is a rookie quarterback who never once asked that every media outlet in the world report on his daily bowel movements. Josh Gordon was suspended 10 games for failing a drug test simply due to rules void of reason for a drug that is legal in two states and will probably be legal country-wide within 10 years. Per the ugly minority though, these guys are Hitler and Stalin but lazier and more self-centered. Remember that Manziel was the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy and Gordon led the league in receiving playing in two less games than the rest of the league in 2013. Go easy on them. Let’s see how they do given some time.

No, Mike Pettine nor Ray Farmer should be fired. No, we should not start looking for a new QB after every interception. No, our receivers should not be burned at the stake for a dropped pass. Please realize what the team gave you this year and appreciate it. Hope for progress next year and stability from there on out. The best teams in the league lost games they should have won this year. Harsh reactions to isolated plays / games does no one any favors and makes the fan base look like it’s deserving of these years of ineptitude.

I love being a Browns fan because of all the other fans. We’re fun. We’re loyal. We legitimately care about the team. Please please please appreciate what we have going right now.

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I don’t think I’m asking for too much. I don’t think my requests are too ridiculous. I may have reached on the game plan one for Johnny, but I guess I definitely wouldn’t get it if I didn’t ask. I just hope this list finds its way to Berea because I think it would be pretty awkward if I showed up at Mike Pettine’s house and tried to sit on his lap.

Oh and one more late addition to the list...if it’s not too much to ask, beat the living hell out of Baltimore and keep them out of the playoffs.

Happy holidays.