The Seahawks have a big matchup with the Browns on Sunday so to get a scouting report on the enemy, I talked to Chris Pokorny, editor over at Dawgs By Nature (@DawgsByNature). My questions in bold italics, his responses follow.
1. The big story for the Browns right now is obviously Johnny Manziel - what is the outlook for Manziel and is there optimism he's the real deal?
Johnny Manziel has definitely drawn optimism from Browns fans, particularly following a stellar performance last week, albeit against a weak 49ers defense. Manziel certainly has an intangible, even magical at times, ability to make something out of nothing on broken plays. Manziel thrives on chaos and plays on which he can scramble out of the pocket and find an open wideout downfield.
The concerns surrounding Manziel are twofold: 1. His ability to thrive in a typical offense; and 2. His off-field shenanigans. Manziel played well in a traditional, almost West-coast style offense, on Sunday against the Niners. However, Browns fans are wondering if he keep it up against a better defense. Question number two is also very much in the air. We won't have this answer until after the offseason.
2. What are the Browns' biggest strengths and weaknesses on offense?
The Browns biggest strength is difficult to define. Perhaps it's tight end, as Gary Barnidge has enjoyed a phenomenal season, earning a big contract at age 30. Running back Duke Johnson is similarly a big weapon, but has not received enough touches this season. Theoretically, the offensive line should be a strength, but injuries and underperformance have plagued the unit.
The offense's biggest weakness is its lack of respectable options at wide receiver. Travis Benjamin is a speedy target, and a sure-handed receiver, but he's not a traditional #1. The Browns simply don't have a top-flight, go-to wide receiver, making the job of quarterback a much more difficult one.
3. What are the Browns' biggest strengths and weaknesses on defense?
In short, the defense does not have a strength: The Browns have one of the worst defenses in the NFL. The defensive line is not occupying double-teams as is necessary in a 3-4 defense, the linebackers are not shedding blockers on runs or defending well on passes, and the secondary -- supposed to be one of the best entering the season -- has suffered a host of injuries.
The weakness is also difficult to diagnose. I would say the unit's run defense is its weakness. As stated above, the linemen and linemen are not working together. Even worse, the front seven is taking a passive approach instead of attacking the gaps and playing aggressively. The defense has been a major disappointment this season.
4. Are there any under-the-radar players that will factor in this week against the Seahawks?
One player Browns fans will be watching intently is Terrelle Pryor. The former Ohio State quarterback turned wide receiver has incredible physical tools and is very athletic. Pryor has the potential to be a big weapon, but needs time to learn the position. Browns fans want to see what Pryor can do, but whether or not he will receive a chance on Sunday is questionable.
On defense, look for linebacker Nate Orchard. The rookie has pressing and playing up-tight this season, but made a major breakthrough against the Niners with two sacks. Orchard has the physical tools to succeed, and could play a significant role on defense, especially against a mobile quarterback such as Russell Wilson.
5. Danny Shelton is well known in Seattle because of his time at UW. How has he played so far? How has the Browns' rookie class fared this season?
Danny Shelton has proved to be average this season. The Washington grad has shown his potential and high motor, often chasing ballcarriers downfield. However, Shelton is not showcasing the quickness and athleticism inside the Browns were hoping for. Perhaps some of Shelton's struggles can be attributed to the high expectations the rookie faced coming into Cleveland, which were somewhat unfair, as nose tackles typically take a year or two to develop. Either way, Shelton has room to grow.
The rookie class as a whole has disappointed. Besides Shelton, first round pick Cameron Erving played awfully at left guard, leading Pettine to rightfully bench the FSU product. As mentioned above, Orchard and Johnson have shown potential, too, but not yet produced big results. A typical Browns draft crop.