AFC North: Cleveland Browns

The intrigue as to who will play center for the Cleveland Browns on Sunday -- if there is intrigue about a center -- increased a bit when the team activated Nick McDonald from the non-football injury list on Saturday.

McDonald injured his right wrist in a car accident in the offseason and was waived by San Diego. The Browns claimed him on July 22. McDonald says he is ready to play, so the possibility that he could start at center with John Greco sliding to his original right guard position remains on the table.

Coach Mike Pettine was coy about who would start, saying it would be revealed Sunday and he preferred not to say before then due to strategic reasons. The Browns are trying to find the right combination to replace Alex Mack, who broke his leg against Pittsburgh Oct. 12.

Greco moved to center and Paul McQuistan played right guard the rest of that game and in Jacksonville last week, but the Browns had their poorest game of the season running the ball in the 24-6 loss. Pettine said the team would evaluate the offensive line positions, then activated McDonald after seeing him in his second week of practice as he came back from the injury.

The team could stick with Greco at center and McQuistan at guard. It could use McDonald at guard. Or it could put McDonald at center and move Greco back to guard.
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns lost to a winless team in Jacksonville last Sunday.

They face another winless team -- the Oakland Raiders -- at FirstEnergy Stadium this Sunday.

No team in NFL history has lost consecutive games to winless teams this late in the season.

So the Browns have a chance to make more history.

Unfortunately.

Bottom line: If the Browns are going to make something of themselves and their season, they simply cannot afford another loss to a winless team starting a rookie quarterback for the second week in a row. Especially at home.

In other Browns matters:
  • The Browns are favored at home by seven. The website OddsShark.com reports that it’s just the seventh time in team history they have been favored by seven points or more.
  • Oakland comes to town having lost 12 in a row, the second-longest losing streak in team history. The Raiders lost 19 in a row from 1961-62.
  • Elias Sports Bureau reports that the Raiders have lost 15 day games in a row in the Eastern Time Zone, the sixth-longest streak in the Super Bowl era.
  • The last three seasons, Oakland is 2-16 on the road.
  • One could make the case that means the Raiders are due.
  • This really is a matchup of teams that have struggled more than any in recent seasons. The Raiders are 53-129 since they went to the Super Bowl in 2002. In the same time period, the Browns are 59-123.
  • Something must give: The Raiders rank 32nd in the league in third-down defense. They allow opponents to convert 52.9 percent of the time. Brian Hoyer ranks 26th in the league in third-down passing; he’s completing just 48.4 percent. That no doubt is part of the reason the Browns are 28th in the league on third down, with a conversion rate of 33.3 percent.
  • The Browns, though, rank last in the league in giving up 6.69 yards per play on first down.
  • A win would give the Browns one more win at home (three) than they had all of last season.
  • Other oddities from ESPN Stats & Information: The Raiders have won their last three games played in Week 8 of the season but have lost five of their last seven against the Browns. The Browns have lost three of their last four games against the AFC West and have not gone seven games into a season without consecutive losses since 2007.
If the Cleveland Browns ever call to the bullpen at quarterback, the season will get weird in a hurry. But that's not a reality this week. As written here, Brian Hoyer struggling against Oakland and Tampa Bay would qualify as a three-week stretch of bad play against inferior opposition, which might -- might -- be enough to nudge coach Mike Pettine to change. But Browns coaches don't foresee that. Johnny Manziel said Friday that he's the backup and "that's that." He knows nothing he says right now helps him or helps the situation, so he's not about to call for himself to play, even if he believes he could do better.

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The position that gets the most run in this offense is running back, and the competition remains as open as a soft spot in the zone. Kyle Shanahan said it Thursday, and running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery punctuated it Friday.

"Someone has to take charge," Montgomery told ESPN. "At some point you have to say, 'The job is mine.'"

The workload suggests Ben Tate is the primary option, with 63 carries in the three weeks since returning from injury. He's reliable. He doesn't fumble. He was strong in back-to-back games against Tennessee and Pittsburgh, recording 202 yards and two touchdowns on 47 carries.

But Tate did little to set up the passing game in Jacksonville, where the Browns lived in second-and-9 and third-and-8. Tate finished with 36 yards on 16 carries, signaling a drop-off in each of the last three weeks.

Undrafted rookie Isaiah Crowell leads all rushers with four touchdowns but he's still trying to wash the stain of three fumbles against Pittsburgh. Third-round rookie Terrance West watched his workload dwindle since his 168 combined yards in Weeks 1 and 2. In Jacksonville, West got back-to-back carries on second-and-2 and couldn't convert.

Still, the Browns are high on the potential of both rookies. If they weren't, Tate would have closed the door on the competition two weeks ago. All three want to be the workhorse, Montgomery says, but he doesn't know who will get there first.

"I think they've all got their own qualities," Montgomery said. "It can happen at any time. I've always said, you've got to get a hot hand. You’ve got to break a run for 7 or 8 yards and you’ve got to come back and get another one for 7 or 8. You’ve got to separate yourself from the other guys.

"Ben is the veteran of that group, but at some point you want to decide on one guy and let him ride. You’re looking for it."

My take: Coaches are publicly trying to motivate Crowell/West, who are still adjusting to life as professionals. The coaches didnt seem keen on West's comments earlier in the week that running backs need a rhythm to feel out a defense, and they are pouncing on it. Crowell and West offer big-play ability. Tate offers dependability. Why can't they have both? Not sure one guy needs to shoulder the entire burden. Two-back systems thrive in the NFL, so by November there might be one player left out.
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns likely will have defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin on the field when they play the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

“He’s had a good week,” said coach Mike Pettine. “He feels good. He’s been cleared. Obviously feel real good about him.”

Rubin missed the last two games with an ankle injury, but though Rubin is a confident guy, don’t expect the return of one player to be a panacea for the Browns' ailing run defense. In the four games Rubin played, the Browns gave up 152.5 yards rushing. For the season, they are giving up 155.5 yards. Improvement has to come from more than just one guy.

Pettine also said he had decided who would start at center and right guard, but declined to name them, citing a strategic advantage in withholding the information until Sunday.

John Greco, who started at center following the injury to Alex Mack, said he got reps at center and right guard, but didn't know how the Browns would line up. The team has until Saturday at 4 p.m. if it wants to activate Nick McDonald off the non-football injury list.

Backup safety and designated punt-catcher Jim Leonhard missed Friday’s practice after hurting his ankle in practice on Thursday. Pettine said he expected Leonhard would play.

There’s a chance Billy Winn could return from the quad injury that sidelined him for two games. Winn practiced Friday, and if healthy, he could improve the depth on the defensive front.
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BEREA, Ohio -- Brian Hoyer is finding out what life is like for a Cleveland Browns quarterback.

Win, and he’s celebrated. Lose, and he’s suddenly asked about the backup. It’s happened for 15 years in Cleveland, since Ty Detmer was given one game to hold off Tim Couch in 1999.

With Hoyer, the scrutiny becomes more intense because his backup is the darling of Instagram, Johnny Manziel, a guy who threw for 7,000 yards in college. That increases the scrutiny exponentially, which Hoyer learned in training camp.

Now the chatter about Manziel arises again after what Hoyer called the first bad start of his career. It’s not even stopped by coach Mike Pettine, who said that Hoyer is still “firmly” the team’s starter.

Which raises the question: How committed should the Browns be to Hoyer? How long is his leash? And how long should it be?

Browns reporters Jeremy Fowler and Pat McManamon take a look at that bubbling issue:

Pat McManamon says:
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 If the Browns backup’s last name was anything other than Manziel, this discussion would not take place. If Hoyer played anywhere other than Cleveland, this also might not be a discussion.

Hoyer simply has to deal with this.

What’s lost in the discussion is the judgment that’s made about every backup in the league -- that the backup will be better than the guy starting.

It’s illogical. No coach should keep a player on the bench if he’s clearly better than the starter.

Manziel is still working in a vastly different environment than what he did in college. In his preseason playing time, he struggled. Watching has no doubt helped Manziel grow and better understand the system, but he still is a rookie going from a fast-paced, one-read, one-side-of-the-field system to one that has paragraph-long plays.

Hoyer had one bad game. He admits it. But one bad game does not make a guy a bad player. Nor does it suddenly mean that a coach who a week earlier was praised for beating Pittsburgh has suddenly lost his mind.

Hoyer deserves to remain the starter until his bad games become a pattern, or until the playoffs are out of the picture. At that point seeing what Manziel offers is logical. But seeing what a guy can do does not always equate to trying to win.

The Browns have suffered too long with knee-jerk reactions and short-term quarterbacks.

Hoyer deserves the long term -- along with the team and the fans.

Jeremy Fowler says:

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 The Browns were never going to pull Hoyer after one bad game, just like they weren’t going to sign him to a lucrative contract after five good ones. Have to let this one breathe a bit until Browns coaches know exactly what they have, good or bad.

But the way the schedule is set up, it’s difficult to imagine Hoyer struggling three straight weeks -- and the Browns not at least giving Manziel serious consideration in meeting rooms. In other words, the leash is three bad games in a row.

Jacksonville (last week), Oakland (this week) and Tampa Bay (next week) are all considered inferior talent. Can’t lose to all three. Can’t look skittish against all three.

Even then, would the Browns want to start Manziel at Cincinnati on a Thursday night? Maybe, at 3-5 by that point, the Browns would be in season-salvage mode, with which Manziel would be happy to help.

Hoyer’s three-game leash is based on a few factors: the equity he built up with five good games, Pettine’s soft spot for Hoyer, and the Browns’ dump-happy nature with quarterbacks that has plagued the franchise.

Still, if Hoyer continues to struggle but finds a way to beat Oakland or Tampa Bay, the Browns would be .500 with eight games to go, setting up nicely for a veteran to manage the season. Hoyer should be able to handle that, right?

Crucial times in Berea, no doubt. Maybe the solution is playing Manziel for a series or two if the Browns find themselves in a significant hole again. You wouldn’t be pulling Hoyer outright but could see what type of spark Manziel is ready to provide.

Everyone wins.
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The Cleveland Browns face their second winless team in a row Sunday at 4:15 p.m. ET at FirstEnergy Stadium. Last Sunday in Jacksonville, the Browns took the Jaguars from the winless column, as the Jags completely outplayed the Browns.

Now the Oakland Raiders come to Cleveland. Oakland rookie Derek Carr is the starting quarterback and the long-term answer, while Brian Hoyer is trying to right his ship so he can keep staving off the more-celebrated rookie, Johnny Manziel.

The Browns won’t want to lose two in a row to winless teams. The Raiders will want to win a stinking game. Browns reporter Pat McManamon and Raiders reporter Bill Williamson take a look at Sunday’s game.

McManamon: Everyone asks me about Manziel, so I'll ask you about your rookie quarterback. What's your assessment of Carr, and can he be the long-term answer Oakland has long sought?

Williamson: I think, yes, Carr can be the long-term answer. I think the Raiders think so as well. He may not ever become elite, but he could be a guy who goes to more than a few Pro Bowls and who gives his team a chance to win for the long haul. The Raiders aren’t 0-6 because of Carr. He shows great poise and, when the Raiders get more talent around him and when he gets more experience, he could be dangerous. Finally, the Raiders look like they have a quarterback they can build around.

Are the Browns worried about Hoyer’s poor game against Jacksonville? Do you think it’s a sign of things to come?

McManamon: It could be, but not because of that one game but because of the past three. Hoyer started very well, with more than 60 percent on completions in three games (two close losses and one win). Since, he has been below 60 in one game, below 50 in the next and his completion percentage for the season is just below 56, that’s not trending well. Whether this is one of those mini-slumps that affect a guy during a season or a sign that defenses have figured out how to defend him will play out over the next two or three weeks. The Browns say they are not worried about Hoyer, but the concern will grow if he continues on the same path against Oakland and Tampa Bay.

The Browns and Raiders have been neck-and-neck in the past decade for clumsiness and ineptitude. Is there a reason to believe the Raiders are finally getting it right, or will the fire drill continue?

Williamson: Other than the hope for the quarterback, no, there isn’t any reason to think this team is turning the corner anytime soon. They are 0-6 and have holes everywhere. Add in the fact that they are the NFL’s oldest team and there are big long-term problems, the Raiders will start over again in the offseason. With luck, maybe they will be three years away. But they were supposed to be three years away when Reggie McKenzie took over a general manager in 2012. Little if any overall progress has been made.

Do you think the Browns have figured it out or do you think the playoffs are still a long way off?

McManamon: They’re figuring it out, but until they actually do it the playoffs are a distant dream. Mike Pettine’s moves make sense. The Browns run the ball well, and they have some talented people to build around. But the nagging quarterback question popped its head out of the gopher hole last week, and the defense is giving up 155.5 yards per game rushing. GM Ray Farmer does not try to prove he’s the smartest guy in the room; he merely makes logical decisions. On that hope and on the hope that Jimmy Haslam will probably give Pettine time, there is hope.

Williamson: What is the vibe around the Browns after that loss? They have to be a little tight about the prospect of losing back-to-back games to winless teams.

McManamon: The mood was pretty somber early in the week. A team desperate to prove it has grown past these gaffes laid a gigantic egg in Jacksonville. If the Browns truly had turned the corner to respectability, they’d have handled business. That they didn’t, raises concerns. But teams have lulls in seasons. The Browns' job now is to prove that game was just “one of those days” and show they can rebound. They do have two very real chances to get that done the next two weeks. If the Browns do take care of things against the Raiders and Bucs, they’d be 5-3 at the midway point and very happy about what they’d done to that point.

Jacksonville won their first game last week, naturally over the Browns. Do the Raiders believe they can match the magic in a road game?

Williamson: There is hope. Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano mentioned the Jacksonville win Monday. There is a lot of hope in the locker room. I will say this: The Raiders are professional. They work hard and they try. The team has not quit. They will go to Cleveland with the intention of winning. But can the Raiders finish? They have competed in the two games since Sparano took over for the fired Dennis Allen. But they haven’t played well enough to win. If the Browns stumble around the field, though, Oakland could perhaps take advantage.

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BEREA, Ohio -- Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan indirectly fired some pointed remarks to the Cleveland Browns running backs on Thursday.

Shanahan described the play of Ben Tate, Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell as "solid" and added "all have done a good job." But he wants more.

"I would love for one to step it up and separate himself from the others," Shanahan said.

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Shanahan’s comments came in the context of discussing the team’s three-headed rotation. It’s a system that doesn’t necessarily make all the backs happy, but it’s a system the Browns are using.

"We got a bunch of solid guys who do a good job," he said. "For one of those to get the bulk of the carries and take off, then that’s up to them. They got to show us they’re ahead of the other guys."

Shanahan does not buy that rotating backs might be an issue.

"I don’t ever worry about running backs getting into a rhythm," he said. "They’re not quarterbacks. When you hand them the ball they better run hard and do as good as they can. If they want to be out there more they need to separate themselves and show that they’re better than the other guy, and we’ll keep them out there more.

Which would indicate that nobody with the Browns has separated himself. In six games the play breakdown has gone 150 for Tate, 135 for West and 125 for Crowell. Tate missed two games because of injury, West was inactive for one.

Tate signed as a free agent in the offseason, ostensibly to be the team’s starter. He had 124 yards against Tennessee in his first game back after a knee injury, but has gained just 114 in the two games since. West is a third-round pick whose sideways running in Jacksonville set him back. And Crowell is an undrafted rookie who has had impressive moments.

"I’ve never had to rotate a bunch of running backs, because usually I’ve had a running back who’s usually able to separate himself from the others," Shanahan said.

In Washington the past two seasons it was Alfred Morris, who had 611 carries. Before Morris arrived Shanahan did not have a standout back, but did have a back who had at least twice as many carries as the others. In Houston in 2008, Steve Slaton had 268 carries, with the next highest amount guy at 74.

For the Browns, Tate has 69 carries, West 59 and Crowell 51.

Average it out by games played and Tate is at 17, West at 12 and Crowell at 8.5.

That tilts toward Tate, and seems comparable to Morris averaging 19 carries per game the past two seasons. But Morris averaged 90 yards per game while Tate has averaged 70 (with one game cut short by injury).

Shanahan said he’s ready, willing and anxious for one guy to separate from the pack.

"When one guy does a lot better than the other guys, it means one guy’s the man and you’re going to ride that guy," he said. "I think all of our guys are solid. They’ve all done a good job. I would love for one to step it up and separate himself from the others."
The Cleveland Browns have passed on nine easy points in the last two road games trying to continue drives on fourth-and-short. Three times, they failed to convert.

This shows coach Mike Pettine’s aggressiveness, which players can appreciate, but the calls can haunt a coach when they don’t work.

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Did Pettine second-guess the decision to go for fourth-and-1 in field goal range while up 6-0 at Jacksonville this past Sunday, especially after the Jaguars converted a touchdown off Cleveland's failed attempt?

“When it doesn’t work out, absolutely,” Pettine said.

Pettine is not afraid to take his chances. The Browns are 2-of-7 (28.6 percent) on fourth downs this season, good for 28th in the league.

Two conversion tries came while down double digits against the Titans, so the need for six points instead of field goals was understandable. The Jacksonville call was tough to digest for two reasons. One, the Browns gave up all momentum entering the half because of the gamble. And two, they didn’t use their strength, the running game, to try to get one yard. Instead, they ran a route for Jordan Cameron that looked doomed from the start.

Pettine said he gauges situational football with fourth-down calls but also goes by “feel.” In the case of the Jacksonville play, Pettine felt his defense was playing well enough to stop the Jaguars in case the Browns didn’t convert, plus he didn’t want to settle for field goals all game. Turns out the Jags marched 76 yards downfield in 57 seconds to make it 7-6, the worst possible outcome.

“I get the analytics behind it, but to me, all the circumstances are different,” Pettine said of going for fourth downs. “I know you can just look at paper and say, ‘Hey, they’re converted at this rate,’ but to me, you have to factor in the circumstances of the game. That’s what I do, but I think in general, I’ll tend to be a little more on the aggressive side. It’s somewhere in between.”

Once the Browns convert a crucial fourth down on the road, Pettine can be justified in his confidence in his offense. That doesn’t make the Jacksonville call any less painful.

Pettine has conviction regardless. He knew he was going for the fourth down two plays before.

“When it was second-and-1 we made a decision, ‘Hey, we’re in four-down mode,’” Pettine said. “That’s ... you live with it.”
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns might be without defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin for some time.

Coach Mike Pettine said Rubin went for a second opinion on an injured ankle. He has missed the last two games.

Pettine was asked if surgery could be a possibility.

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“I would think all options are on the table at this point,” he said. “I haven’t heard that brought up yet, but I’m assuming that could be the case.”

The Browns will have an update on Rubin’s status Wednesday.

Rubin’s injury highlights one of the more disappointing position groups on the team. The defensive line was supposed to be a team strength. But the defense ranks last in the league in run defense, giving 155.5 yards per game. Not all of that falls on the line, but it is the first ‘line’ of defense.

In a separate personnel move, the team waived fullback Ray Agnew and promoted Kiero Small from the practice squad.

“He’s been doing an outstanding job for us on the scout teams,” Pettine said. “We just felt it was time to promote him and see what he can do.”

There was also word that Seattle was about to sign Small to the Seahawks' active roster, which teams can do with practice squad players.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The ESPN Stats and Information crew puts this Cleveland Browns loss in perspective, and no matter how it's viewed the perspective is not pretty:

The Browns had not scored fewer than 21 points this season until the Jacksonville Jaguars held them to six. It ends a streak of five games in a row of scoring at least 21 points -- part of the reason the offensive struggles were surprising.

They failed to gain more than 1 yard on 65 percent of their plays (48 of 74). Entering the game, that figure was at 37 percent, meaning the Jaguars put the Browns in very bad down-and-distance situations.

To complicate matters, the Browns converted only 4 of 20 third downs. The 16 missed conversions is the most in the NFL this season.

Quarterback Brian Hoyer, he had a very poor day throwing -- being off target on 37 percent of his passes. Coming into the game, he missed on just 17 percent of his throws.

Finally, Jaguars' quarterback Blake Bortles' Total Quarterback Rating was a woeful 9.0. That's the lowest for a quarterback in a win since Andy Dalton won with a 3.7 QBR in Week 11 of last season. The common denominator: Both games were against the Browns.

It was one very long day.

In other Browns news ...
  • The one throw Hoyer said he wished he had back was a wild overthrow of an open Jordan Cameron in the end zone prior to a Billy Cundiff field goal. "Who knows how that changes the outcome?" Hoyer said.
  • The common theme after the game was to praise Jacksonville's run defense and their front eight. But the Browns' poor run defense should not be ignored. They faced the league's worst rushing team, and gave up 185 yards. Former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson had 160 career rushing yards entering the game. He finished with 127. "It was good to do it against an Ohio team," Robinson joked, sort of, I think.
  • The Jaguars had lost their last 18 games played in September or October, and had lost nine in a row overall. Two of the Jaguars last six wins have come against the Browns.
  • Hoyer said he thought the Browns had a chance to sneak away with a win after he connected with Andrew Hawkins for a 65-yard pass and run in the fourth quarter. But after that catch, the offense lost four on a run, lost eight on a sack and then threw an incomplete pass. "Demoralizing," Hoyer said.
  • The Browns to a man insisted they did not take the Jaguars lightly after the emotional win over the Steelers. Hoyer said not taking anything for granted was overemphasized in practice during the week.
  • Joe Thomas on why he said the Jaguars were the best defense the Browns faced all season: "They sell out to stop the run. They've got great safeties who play in the box. They've got one of the best linebackers in the NFL, and a tremendous front."
  • Thomas on the loss following a big win and how the team avoids the "same old Browns" moniker: "It's the nature of the league. You win one game and you're crowned as Super Bowl champions. You lose one and you're announced as the worst team in the league. I hope that we have the perspective on this team to understand that that's the way it goes in the NFL."
  • The final word, from Ben Tate, on how to show these are not the same old Browns: "Come back and play. Come out and play ball. That's all."
videoJACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Browns are for real.

Address Brian Hoyer's contract situation.

AFC North sleeper.

Maybe Cleveland didn’t like those nifty storylines from earlier this week. The Browns opted instead to turn up the misery index once again with a 24-6 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field, sabotaging a perfectly good chance to go 4-2.

As if the Browns following their well-worn path of killing weeks of momentum with shoddy play on the road was not enough, the sheer comedic performance of one particular play Sunday in Jacksonville should suffice.

On fourth-and-5, Hoyer ran an option play from midfield, pitching it to Ben Tate for a two-yard loss. That’s not the Browns’ game. Hoyer is not a runner. But the offense wasn’t even supposed to snap the ball. It lined up to catch Jacksonville in a substitution timeout or offsides but center John Greco snapped it into Hoyer’s hands.

"Everybody was shocked, but I was like, 'Oh my God, what am I supposed to do?'" said Tate in the locker room.

Questions plagued a Browns lineup that too easily unraveled. Its vaunted rush averaged 2.3 yards per carry. Its defense created three turnovers but saw an additional three points on the scoreboard as a result. The offense turned a prime first-half opportunity -- second-and-2 from Jacksonville’s 33-yard line with 2:36 left and a 6-0 lead -- into seven points for the Jaguars.

Even with a win still attainable late in the second half, cornerback Jordan Poyer muffing a punt at Jacksonville's 2-yard line encapsulated an ugly day. The Browns replaced sure-handed Jim Leonhard for Poyer, who is a better playmaker but clearly shouldn't have been fielding a punt from the 2 unless he was sure to catch it.

The defense was serviceable, creating turnovers and holding Jacksonville to 10 points for most of the game. But it also allowed running back Denard Robinson to rush for 127 yards. That’s four more than the team’s previous leading rusher, Toby Gerhart, has all year.

All last week, coaches told players how good Jacksonville was despite its 0-6 start. All this week, the Browns will realize how good they made Jacksonville look.

"We knew they were good. They put it to us today," tight end Jordan Cameron said. "It’s unacceptable."

Cameron had the inside track on the Browns’ best chance for a touchdown, beating his man to the back of the end zone on a third-and-4 play in the second quarter, but Hoyer (16-of-41 passing, 215 yards) overthrew him.

Cleveland's entire day was one big overthrow to nobody in particular. Jacksonville was never an automatic springboard -- Pettine agreed the Jaguars had the best defensive front his team has faced -- but going 4-of-17 on third down wasn’t the way to show them respect.

No third down was more costly than Hoyer’s sack-fumble on the Browns’ opening drive of the first half.

"It is frustrating to see us go out and take a step back like we did," Pettine said.

Perhaps this could have been the Browns’ day had it avoided an ugly sequence late in the second half by either taking a field goal or running the ball on fourth-and-1.

Originally, the Browns needed two yards for a first down and had three plays to get it. But rookie running back Terrance West, who was inactive the previous week, got one yard off consecutive carries, one in which he danced around in the backfield unnecessarily.

On fourth-and-1 with a 6-0 lead, Hoyer rolled to his right and targeted Cameron, who ran an out toward the sideline but was covered all the way. The play was over before it started.

Pettine went for it because “to come away with just another field goal” would have been disappointing, he says. He didn't want to stall another drive. Plus he believed his defense could stop the Jaguars, who needed less than a minute to march 76 yards downfield for a momentum-stealing score.

"As it turns out it couldn’t have gone worse for us," Pettine said.

As for the botched fourth-and-5 play, Browns players didn’t throw each other under the bus, which is a good sign, but Hoyer clearly wasn’t expecting the ball.

"We were trying to maybe catch them off guard," Greco said. "Just bad timing, a miscommunication. We were thinking one thing and Brian was telling us to do something else."

Despite a few missed tackles, the defense probably played well enough to win. But without its normal rushing prowess, the Browns were in third-and-long 10 times Sunday. Incredibly hard to win that way.

"Three turnovers [from the defense], you expect to win that football game," said Andrew Hawkins, who finished with 112 receiving yards. "It’s unfortunate."
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Of the many accurate statements Brian Hoyer uttered after a dismal Cleveland Browns effort Sunday, one in particular should be noticed.

"When you get beat like this, it's a copycat league and teams are going to try to do exactly what Jacksonville did," Hoyer said after his first real clunker in nine starts as the Browns' quarterback, a 24-6 drubbing by the previously winless Jacksonville Jaguars.

What Jacksonville did was not complex: The Jaguars stuffed the run and rushed with four defenders, leaving seven in coverage. That took away play-action and made Hoyer less effective because there always seemed to be two defenders for every receiver.

Some teams like to run the ball; the Browns need to.

They entered the game averaging 146 yards per game rushing; they got 69, less than half the season average.

"I think I said early in the week, actually, that this is the best defense we've played, and I think everyone kind of snickered," offensive tackle Joe Thomas said.

But to run that poorly put the Browns in a position where they needed someone to pick them up. And Hoyer did not provide it.

"Today is a good example of when a team wins a quarterback gets a lot of credit, but when they don't he gets a lot of blame," coach Mike Pettine said. "I know he missed some throws. We didn't play well enough around him."

It's one game, but addressing the formula the Jaguars provided will be Hoyer's next challenge as the starting quarterback.

"It's a long season," Hoyer said. "We're 3-3, and we blew an opportunity to be 4-2. We got two games at home [against Oakland and Tampa Bay]. Regroup and stick together."

Hoyer overthrew an open Jordan Cameron in the end zone, missing a touchdown. He had five passes knocked down by defensive linemen. He and his receivers were on different wavelengths at different times.

Hoyer's final numbers: 16-of-41 for 215 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. His rating: 46.3.

"A lot of those plays aren't his fault," wide receiver Andrew Hawkins said. "Plays that he's going to get blamed for aren't his fault. We all need to play better."

Pettine pointed to the pressure from Jacksonville's front four, which led to three sacks and numerous hits.

"With the inability to run the football," Pettine said, "it put us in some predictable down-and-distance situations where they maximized their coverage and teed off on their front four. ... You have to run the ball, get ahead on the sticks, and you have to protect him when he is throwing it, and we did neither."

The Browns were without Alex Mack, lost for the season with a broken leg a week ago. That had to matter -- "He's the best center in the NFL," Thomas said -- but they won't have him the rest of the season. And Hoyer's numbers for the past two games are not pretty: 24-for-58 for 432 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a two-game rating of 67.3.

The up-and-down nature of the NFL shows why the Browns can't judge Hoyer, his future and theirs on one game, two games or even five games. They need to keep playing, let the season play out and see what happens.

The Browns averaged 26 points in the seven games Hoyer finished before Jacksonville. If the Jaguars provided the blueprint to attack the Browns' offense, it's now up to Hoyer and coordinator Kyle Shanahan to counter.

It's still Hoyer's team.

The evidence?

Johnny Manziel never took his baseball cap or earpiece off on the sideline.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cleveland Browns' 24-6 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Hoyer
Outplayed: The Browns spent all week admonishing the proverbial "trap game." Didn’t matter. The Browns acknowledged they got beat all over the field -- up the middle, on the edge, in the headset. “It is frustrating to see us go out and take a step back like we did,” coach Mike Pettine said. That the Browns couldn’t score an offensive touchdown despite not overlooking the Jags’ physical front is “unacceptable,” tight end Jordan Cameron said.

Not all on Hoyer: Brian Hoyer’s game -- 16-of-41 passing, 215 yards and an interception -- was a problem but not the whole problem. Coaches and players stressed the Browns must play balanced, cohesive offense to have a chance every week. Hoyer and his receiver looked off on timing all game. “Plays that he’s going to get blamed for aren’t his fault,” receiver Andrew Hawkins said. “We all need to play better.”

Fourth and what? The confusing fourth-and-5 call early in the fourth quarter that resulted in a 2-yard loss by Ben Tate got even more confusing when the Browns tried to explain it. Basically, the Browns offense came off the field, then the punt unit came off while the offense came back. The Browns were trying to draw Jacksonville offsides, but center John Greco snapped the ball. Hoyer was left to scramble right before pitching it to Tate. “We were thinking one thing, and Brian was telling us something else and just bad timing,” Greco said.

Rapid Reaction: Cleveland Browns

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
4:19
PM ET

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 24-6 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field.

What it means: Belief in the NFL can last only one week when a team is not mentally sharp and plays poorly. The Browns, their fans and their media all felt pretty good about the team after a big win over Pittsburgh. As good as that game was, this effort against the Jaguars was poor, as the offense couldn't run or pass and the decisions on the field and the sideline cried for more explanation. It was a bad day for the entire team, as the Jaguars obviously took personally all the talk that the Browns could visit and beat them. This was Mike Pettine's first clunker. Now he and his team must respond.

Stock watch: This also was the first real clunker for Brian Hoyer in his nine starts for the Browns. He had several passes blocked at the line, was not on the same page with his receivers and simply seemed out of sorts, as the Jaguars almost seemed to know the Browns' plays. The Browns never, though, had Johnny Manziel warm up to come in the game. That would seem to indicate that the Browns feel, as Pettine said in the week leading up to the game, that Hoyer is “entrenched” as the Browns starter. The team gives every indication that is the case, but with Manziel on the sideline it will always be watched.

Crazy call: On fourth-and-5 at the Jacksonville 43 early in the fourth quarter, the Browns tried to catch the Jaguars napping and rushed the punt team off the field and offense back on. Hoyer wound up running an option play that went nowhere after he pitched to Ben Tate. What looked like a silly call, though, seemed intended more to catch Jacksonville off guard, as Hoyer snapped the ball as a Jaguars player scampered to the sideline. Clearly Hoyer thought the Jaguars had 12 on the field, and so did an official who threw a flag. When the ball was snapped, Hoyer ran and pitched probably figuring the Browns would get the first down to penalty. Except the player running off was Jacksonville’s 11th man. The Browns not only miscounted the number of players, but they also did not get the first down against 10 defenders.

Road woes start: One time is a quirk. Two times is a concern. Three times is a pattern. In every road game this season, the Browns have stared poorly. Very poorly. They trailed Pittsburgh 27-3 at halftime, and they trailed Tennessee 28-10 at the half. Jacksonville went to the locker room leading 7-6 in part thanks to Pettine’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Jaguars' 24. The Browns failed, Blake Bortles came to life, and the Jaguars scored a late touchdown to go ahead. In three road games, one against an 0-6 team, the Browns have been outscored 62-19 in the first half. The difference against the Jaguars: The offense never got going in the second half.

Interesting decision: The second-guessers were out in full force after the Browns failed to get 1 yard twice from the Jaguars' 24 late in the first half. The Browns led 6-0 and Jacksonville’s offense had done little when Pettine and Kyle Shanahan made some “interesting” calls. First they handed off to Terrance West from the pistol. West, who was jitterbugging way too much the first half, ran right into the back of center John Greco and was stopped. On fourth down, Pettine bypassed a field goal and nine-point lead and Shanahan ran play-action out of the pistol. Jacksonville ate the play up, and the throw was incomplete. The Jaguars followed with their first touchdown of the game, which opened up all the second-guessing discussion.

Game ball: Nobody deserves the game ball for the Browns. They played that poorly. Someone has to get it, though, and Billy Cundiff did make both of his field goal attempts. On an embarrassing day, the guy who made two field goals to account for all of the team's points gets the game ball.

What's next: The Browns return home for the second of three games against struggling teams as they face the Oakland Raiders in Cleveland.

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