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Talking Cleveland Browns With Football Outsiders

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With the preseason about to begin for the Cleveland Browns, that means it is time to post our annual interview with Football Outsiders! This year, our interview was conducted with Rivers McCown. Also, be sure to check out the 2015 Football Outsiders Almanac.

The Almanac is only $15 in PDF format, and consists of 500 pages of unique analytical research for every team in the league, as well as many players. If you're looking to bone up on your knowledge about all 32 teams in the NFL before the season starts, this is certainly worth the purchase to buy, print out, and then read up on one team per day. The staff at Dawgs By Nature compiled a list of questions for Rivers, which are highlighted below.

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DBN: "Please explain your thoughts on Taylor Gabriel. He's generally a well regarded young player in football circles, but has a low score in the FO rankings. What would he need to do to improve in your rankings?"

Rivers: "Gabriel is a nice receiving prospect stuck in a bad passing situation. His "score" (I’m guessing either DYAR or DVOA) does not reflect his individual contributions to the team so much as what happens when you stick a receiver with Brian Hoyer. I think his future is fairly bright, though I’d be more sold on it if he were the same speed and about three inches taller. "

In their almanac, Football Outsiders didn't hold back any punches when it came to QB Brian Hoyer, saying, "Shanahan set up conditions that allowed Hoyer to avoid making difficult reads or mitigating pressure in the pocket. Despite this, Hoyer’s decision-making proved to be terrible both inside and outside of the pocket." In their individual write-up on Taylor Gabriel, they did praise his abilities, but noted that Andrew Hawkins' role on the team could diminish what he's fully capable of:

He was effective relying on his ball skills and precise route running in 2014. Maybe more significant, he also showed off enough athleticism and aggressiveness to suggest that he could be a quality third option, primarily playing in the slot.

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DBN: "I'm curious if you have blocking grades from last year on the Browns' running backs and tight ends, specifically with Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell and Jim Dray, Gary Barnidge, and Rob Housler."

Rivers: "We don’t grade blockers -- there’s definitely a site out there that does that though. I can tell you that of the players you’ve listed, we had Dray with the most blown blocks at 8, and West with the most blown blocks among the backs at 6. "

If the Browns keep the three tight ends we mentioned, Jim Dray would no doubt be utilized in more blocking situations than the other two players. At running back, both backs have had their ups and downs when it comes to blocking. I think Crowell is a little more consistent, but West has come up with a few big-time, clutch blocks.

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DBN: "With the Browns using a first-round pick on the offensive line, discussion has been on who will be replaced. Who should be worried about their job and how does the Browns offensive line (when healthy) stack up against the other teams in the NFL?"

Rivers: "Clearly the number one battle for Cameron Erving would be at right guard with John Greco. That’s how it has played out at training camp, and since Greco is 30, he’s at an age where no matter how good the production is, NFL teams begin to think about the future at a position. Long-term, I’m guessing he shifts back to center if Alex Mack is allowed to leave in free agency. "

In their almanac, Football Outsiders says, "Greco is the Browns' worst starting lineman, but he’s far from a bad football player." If I could've asked a follow-up question, it would've been about who graded better between Greco and Mitchell Schwarz while Alex Mack was still in the lineup.

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DBN: "Last year the Browns were in Shotgun/Pistol only 41% of the time. Do you see that changing with Shanahan now departed, and if so, by how much?"

Rivers: "I think you’ll see a similar amount of that if/when Johnny Manziel is under center, since he’s an actual running threat. It’s hard to know a whole bunch about what John DeFilippo wants as a first-time offensive coordinator who ran with a lot of different head coaches. He seems fairly flexible. I think the roster with McCown at quarterback probably sets up best with a power run game base set."

Even though Kyle Shanahan is gone, Football Outsiders pointed out, "Brian Hoyer only used shotgun or pistol on 37 percent of plays; Johnny Manziel was at 76 percent and Connor Shaw at 53 percent" in 2014.

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DBN: "The Browns drafted Duke Johnson to improve a lackluster ground game and give the offense a much-needed weapon. Statistically, based on the history of rookie RBs in the NFL, what can we expect out of Johnson this season?"

Rivers: "That’s a little like asking me to tell you tomorrow’s weather based on the last 300 days of data -- mining running back rookie seasons doesn’t necessarily apply to Johnson’s situation today. I like Johnson. If either of the three young backs on this roster are to be totally lost in the shuffle, I’d bet on Terrance West. I’d expect Crowell to get most of the early-down and goalline work, at least unless he plays his way out of the job. So I’m envisioning ~125 carries of Johnson that will mostly occur on third downs and in obvious passing situations, and a lot of clamoring for him to touch the ball more in the second half once he wows the fanbase."

If Duke Johnson isn't getting early down work, would he really have 125 carries in mostly third-down situations? I can see 125 touches, but I don't know about carries.

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Thanks to Rivers and Football Outsiders for their time.