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Tony Grossi misfires on 2014 "mysteries" search

The 2015 calendar year began the same way 2014 ended: members of the mainstream Browns media used inaccurate facts, mysterious "sources" and a bevvy of misrepresented data to describe the mysteries of the 2014 season. Dawgs By Nature is going to provide some clarity on these "mysteries."

Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

10. What happened to Ahtyba Rubin?

Tony Grossi's gist: Ahtyba Rubin was supposed to be a premium player in the Browns 2014 scheme, but had a poor year.

Answer: Rubin has always been a high motor, low ceiling player. He plays hard on every play and is a stable force in the defensive huddle. He can be relied upon to execute his assignments and, "do his job." On a good day you hope for a replacement-level performance for Rubin, which is a tremendous result given his draft position.

Calling Rubin a crucial player in this scheme is an enormous reach. He has been exactly average or better during a season once: in 2009, as a non-impact NT that stuffed the run....adequately.

Grossi reports that, "Pettine said early on no tackle had better skills for his system than Rubin." While that may have been an accurate statement, it's because the Browns lack a quality Nose Tackle, not because Rubin is a revelation at the position. Phil Taylor's questionable conditioning, injury history, and problems executing his assignments properly led the coaches to believe that he might be better disrupting the line from the end position , in a rotation, not anchoring the middle. Rubin was better than the host of replacement level players behind him, and left few people surprised when he was dramatically outperformed in the finale by John Hughes.

9. Why did Ray Farmer give up so quickly on Charles Johnson?

Tony Grossi's gist: Charles Johnson's "measurables" and investment should have forced management into keeping him around to see if he'd break out.

Answer: The Browns DID keep Johnson around, after he passed through waivers on the way to the practice squad. (meaning that 31 NFL teams also passed on the opportunity to add him to their roster) The first 3-4 games of the season rewarded Ray Farmer's faith in his WR evals: Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins,Travis Benjamin, and Taylor Gabriel played inspired football, and the Browns passing offense proved capable. With Benjamin's (allegedly) added benefit on special teams, the roster spot for a 5th WR (with Gordon's suspension pending appeal) wasn't worth giving up another player. Seeing Johnson return to health and make an impact for the Vikings is absolutely using hindsight that wasn't available at the time.

8. Why didn't the Browns throw more to their backs?

Tony Grossi's gist: The Browns stink at throwing to their tailbacks!

Answer: Who cares? The receivers are open down field, and until the Browns proved incapable of hitting them on simple passing routes, coaches would rather the QB's focus on throwing it to them. The Shanahan system is not predicated on having to throw to the running backs at the same frequency the Shurmur WCO was, and having rookies in the backfield (who are inexperienced about when to leak out) means they took an element of risk OUT of the game.

7. Why did Justin Gilbert never get the chance to return kicks?

Tony Grossi's gist: When Gilbert took his interception during the Colts game to the end zone for a touchdown, he flashed the elite ball skills he had at Oklahoma State. Why didn't the Browns utilize this skill to "get him going?"

Answer: This is a popular gripe, and yet it only makes sense in a vacuum. The press conferences at the end of the season painted Gilbert (by ownership, coaches, and other players) as a spoiled and immature player who refused to buy into the team dynamic and take the 2014 season seriously. The coaches tried everything they could to get him in the rotation at his natural position, and that includes removing any other distractions. Kick returners are of only the most marginal importance in the league since ball was moved forward on kickoffs. (Only 2 players have 2 return TD's in the LEAGUE this season, and only 13 total return TD's)

It just isn't worth doing anything to take away from Gilbert's development, much less risk him for injuries. As far as punt returns go.....the expectation here that it's something that can be "picked up" as the season develops is not worth discussing. Glaringly wrong.

6. What pile of dung did Josh Gordon fall in during his 10-game suspension?

Tony Grossi's gist: Josh Gordon was a quiet and humble player before this season, and suddenly morphed into a team cancer and diva in 2014.

Answer: What? Josh Gordon is 100% responsible for his own actions this season. There isn't a conspiracy here: Gordon was unable to master the playbook during his suspension, and did not play well upon his return. The chutzpah he displayed by calling out his team mates for the way THEY treated him during his suspension speaks volumes about his character. A "humble" player would understand the damage he's done to the team's 2014 chances, and come back prepared and hungry. Rumors of his vocal support for the backup QB probably did little to endear himself to the locker room or coaches. (Rumors only)

5. Why did Pettine create a quarterback controversy?

Tony Grossi's gist: The season went into the crapper the moment Pettine invited the possibility of Manziel playing, which undermined his locker room and ruined his starting QB. He should have unequivocally stuck up for Brian Hoyer.

Answer: Despite Grossi's insinuation that Hoyer's slide began against Houston, the reality was that Hoyer had begun trending in the wrong direction for 4 to 5 games. Defenses were run blitzing the Browns line, forcing the Browns to throw downfield, and Hoyer just wasn't able to punish them like he did earlier in the season. Brian's mechanics began to fall out of whack, and the interceptions began to mount. (Both the ones he threw that were dropped, and the ones he completed to the other team) The Browns were discussing the viability of Manziel long before they made the move, but it took consistently awful play from Hoyer to drive them to the decision. It's clear that the Browns desperately wanted to keep Manziel on the bench for the entire 2014 season, and it was only a HISTORIC failure on the part of Hoyer that led to the "controversy"

For reference, here's the PFF chart for Hoyer's season:

Grossi postulates that Hoyer's first "egg laying" experience was against Houston, but guess where the problems started? Not Week 12, but week 7. The fact that Pettine had the patience to wait until week 15 to make the change all but exhausted Hoyer's chances of righting the ship. There wasn't a "controversy" in Berea: the Browns were not left with another option.

I used the term "historic" to describe Hoyer's late season slide. Since PFF began charting QB's, the four game stretch shown here was one of the worst four games of data collected on ANY QB they've seen. Let that sink in.

4. Why was Hoyer so unloved inside the building?

Tony Grossi's gist: No one in Berea (besides the coaches) had any love or support for Brian Hoyer.

Answer: The hard facts and reality of the situation is that before the season even started, Brian Hoyer was already halfway out the door.

Ray Farmer and his staff correctly identified Brian Hoyer as a capable journeyman quarterback who could play well when the defense and running game could dominate the game. Farmer didn't have a problem with this analysis, as both he and Pettine envision an organization that is predicated on those two facets, making the QB's job as easy as possible. They offered Hoyer a chance to be a long term contributing member of the organization without guaranteeing him a starting role or starting quarterback money. Brian bet on his own talent and preparation to the game, and felt that he deserved to be compensated as such. Before the 2014 season started, it was considered likely that if Hoyer had a respectable season, he'd be gone afterward.

Brian Hoyer was well respected by his team mates and his coach for the way that he approaches the game. The insinuation that the owner has a vendetta against him for "playing well" is completely foolish, and ignores the direct quotes from Haslam about how Manziel needs to conduct himself. The way the season ENDED for Brian Hoyer should not take away from the magic of how it unfolded.

3. What did the Browns have against Josh Cribbs?

Tony Grossi's gist: The Browns could have addressed a critical need at PR/KR if they added Cribbs, but through a great conspiracy elected not to bring him in. Cribbs had a great year returning kicks!

Answer: Yes, the Browns and 31 other NFL organizations had zero faith in Cribbs diminishing ability to impact the game. They had these justifications based on empirical evidence of his play and injuries.

Also: Josh Cribbs 6.6 punt return average, used by Grossi here as a metric to evaluate performance, would place Cribbs FIFTY-SECOND on the list of all returners. Number fifty-three on that list? JIM LEONARD, the Browns "punt catcher." I also saw Cribbs fumble the ball as many times (or more) in the Colts game as Leonard did all season.

Using Cribbs as a story line to explain 2014 failures and great mysteries? Is this reasonable?

2. Who was responsible for drafting Manziel?

Tony Grossi's gist: More conspiracy theories about who REALLY drafted Manziel, here.  "In his post-season press conference, Farmer disputed Loggains’ account, but did not take accountability for drafting Manziel."

Answer: From the transcript of the Farmer press conference:

On if he (Manziel) was the top rated quarterback on his board heading into the draft:

"Again, I don't get into telling anybody what was on my board. At the end of the day, Jimmy did not make the call. I know a lot of people want to stick that on Jimmy, but for the world to hear, Jimmy Haslam did not make that call. He didn't try to influence the decision. He didn't try to push it in a different direction. He did none of those things."

Seems pretty clear that Farmer wants to take accountability for the pick and does so, whether it's true or not. This is not a mystery.

1. Who was responsible for starting Manziel in the second Cincinnati game – the biggest game of the year?

Tony Grossi's gist: Manziel wasn't ready to play, had a bad week of practice, and Pettine still made the decision to start him in Cincy.

Answer: This isn't debatable. Question Five discussed the reasoning behind why Manziel got the start, and the reality was that the team absolutely couldn't afford to play Hoyer any longer. Brian Hoyer was the delimiting factor on the offense for weeks before the Cincinnati game, and even a remotely average level of play in the Indianapolis game would have earned the team a win and likely another Hoyer start. With the Browns playoff hopes circling the drain, it was obvious to even the most ardent of Hoyer supporters that Manziel would give the team a shot to win a game they didn't have a prayer of winning without him.

The ugly reality showed that Manziel was not yet ready to play in the NFL, but few rookies are in their first game. Coaches lauded Manziel's week of practice, and were completely broadsided by the results on the field. Suggesting that someone other than Pettine made the call to start Manziel ignores all the evidence we have to the contrary, and is another chapter in the guesswork that makes the Cleveland beat such a difficult one to take seriously.