The Redskins on Thursday take on the Browns in Cleveland. ClevelandBrowns.com writer Kevin Jones (@Mr_KevinJones on Twitter) gives us an insider's look at the major storylines for the opposing team heading into the matchup.*
Redskins.com:The Browns started off hot last season and were 7-4 after a Week 12 victory against the Falcons in Atlanta. But they didn't win a game the rest of the way, finishing 7-9 and missing the playoffs. What was difference in those last five games for Cleveland?
Jones: "**It wasn't just one thing. Musical chairs at the quarterback position with Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel and Connor Shaw disrupted chemistry on offense – as did wide receiver Josh Gordon's arrival back from a 10-game suspension. Pro Bowl center Alex Mack suffered a broken leg and the offensive line play declined with his absence. Inexperience with being favored in big games late in the season also was something new for Cleveland that was problematic. Coach Mike Pettine has said the losing streak proved to be a valuable lesson for the Browns – both the players and coaches – and he's given the Dawg Pound reasons to believe the sour end to 2014 could actually strengthen the team's mental toughness this year."
Redskins.com:Josh McCown seems poised to be the man under center for the Browns this season. What has he brought to the table for Cleveland, and with some weapons around him, what kind of season could he have?
The Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns have met 45 times during the regular season. A look at some of those games.
Jones: **"McCown has 100 percent looked like the quarterback he was in 2013 for the Chicago Bears, when he tossed 13 touchdowns and just 1 interception while subbing for an injured Jay Cutler. McCown has brought essential leadership and tutelage to the position, willfully taking Manziel under his wing while also reminding the entire team how fun this sport can be – his energy at practice in unmatched. McCown's underrated accuracy and decision-making really have teammates convinced this offense can be more than just a boring, ground-and-pound style. If the stud-filled offensive line remains healthy, I think 20 touchdown passes and 10 or less interceptions is attainable for McCown."
Redskins.com:The Redskins could see a lot of Johnny Manziel on Thursday. Obviously Manziel's story has been told over and over again through some off-the-field issues, but how has he responded to the most recent of those issues, and what kind of player do you see out of Manziel in training camp?
Jones: **"Johnny Manziel has won over the respect of his teammates. He's a gym rat, he's grasping everything in the classroom and what he's found is that if he fully dedicates his time to becoming an NFL quarterback – a much different thing than slinging the rock around in college – the success he saw at Texas A&M could play itself out on Sunday's. Some of Manziel's issues last year were actually not off-the-field, but more that he thought Hoyer would be the quarterback all season. Suddenly, when he was thrust into the lineup as a rookie, he had relaxed on his preparation and fundamental things like memorizing the plays weren't coming as natural. His lesson was learned. He's had several days in training camp and at the team's intrasquad scrimmage where he not only looked like an NFL quarterback, but a player who could lead a dangerous offense. But with McCown entrenched as the starter, the 22-year-old Manziel will have to remain patient, again. At least for this season."
Redskins.com:Browns owner Jimmy Haslam recently gave head coach Mike Pettine a vote of confidence, vowing to stick with Pettine past this season no matter what happens. That speaks volumes about Pettine, obviously, and what he brings to the franchise – what exactly is it that Haslam sees in Pettine?
Jones:"Pettine is a man's-man: He's brutally honest to his players and the media, he's straight-to-the-point and he knows how to balance when to be serious and when to have light-hearted fun. He's also an X's and O's genius. His assistant coaches rave about the things he sees in the film room and how to use certain players in different positons on the field. In fact, his prowess is so renowned, Pettine (always known for his stingy defenses with the Ravens, Jets and Bills as Rex Ryan's pupil) is actually coaching offense this season. Many around the building think Pettine's switch has a ton to do with the Browns' surge on offense with McCown and Manziel during training camp."
REDSKINS ON TV: Don't forget to catch all the action between the Washington Redskins and the Cleveland Browns at 8 p.m. Thursday on NBC-4 and Comcast SportsNet!