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Five Good Questions with Dawgs by Nature

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Justin K. Aller

For this week's Five Good Questions I spoke with Chris Pokorny from SB Nation Browns site, Dawgs By Nature. Here is the transcript of that conversation.

1. What happened to the Browns last week? How do they go from a team who had the biggest road comeback in NFL history to looking utterly incompetent to give the Jaguars their first win of the season?

It's a two-part problem, and you may have inadvertently referenced one of the problems: the Browns' road issues. In order to achieve the biggest road comeback in NFL history, that means that at one point in the game, you were getting beat pretty badly. Cleveland's first two road games against the Steelers and Titans involved a tale of two halves, so clearly the team has some issues when it comes to not starting out flat on the road.

Against Jacksonville, I was optimistic that the Browns could overcome that because they had just blown out the Steelers at home (being on the winning side of blowouts is rare for Cleveland), and because the Jaguars were an 0-6 team that wasn't very impressive statistically. The element I underestimated heading into the game was the fact that Cleveland faced a bad matchup at an inopportune time.

The Browns' starting offensive line in the first five games was playing tremendous, but then, center Alex Mack broke his leg against the Steelers. That led to them having to make not just one, but two changes, on the offensive line -- the right guard, John Greco, would be shifting over to center for the first time in his career during the regular season. Paul McQuistan, a starter for the Seahawks last year who was absolutely ripped to shreds week in and week out by Pro Football Focus, would slide in at right guard. The Jaguars' best unit on either side of the ball was their defensive line, which had more sacks as a unit than Cleveland had as a team.

When the game started, Greco and McQuistan combined for more terribly blocked plays, both in run blocking and pass blocking, than I had seen all season from the offensive line. That threw off the running game, which made the playaction less effective. On top of that, Brian Hoyer and his receivers did not bring their A-game. Now that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has seen what liabilities exist after the injury to Mack, I expect significant adjustments to be made to the offensive gameplan this week.

2. With the way Brian Hoyer has played much of this season, do you see Johnny Manziel ever starting a game for the Browns? Does it kind of seem like a wasted pick right about now?

There are two cases in which I think we could see Johnny Manziel. The first case is the unlikely one, and that would be if Hoyer goes 0-3 in his next three games. He's coming off one bad game after playing quite well in all of his other starts, so I can't imagine him slipping into such an abysmal stretch. The second case would be if the Browns are mathematically out of the playoffs around the final 2-3 weeks of the season, at which point it would make sense to give Manziel some experience heading into next season.

I understand what you're asking about it being a wasted pick -- yes, of course having another player who could actively contribute right now on gameday would be valuable. But, I am perfectly willing to look past that and toward the long-term value that Manziel could provide to the Browns. Cleveland will have two first-round picks in 2015, so even if Manziel wasn't "the right pick," the Browns are in position to add more core pieces -- perhaps on the defensive line, for example -- next season.

3. Joe Haden seems to have struggled a bit this season. Derek Carr hasn't shied away from top corners this season and has had some decent success. Do you expect Haden to be at his Pro Bowl form?

When I look at Joe Haden, I actually don't see much of a different player than the Pro Bowl corner we are accustomed to. Statistically, he has been burned by a few plays in which the Browns' pass rush has allowed a quarterback to slip outside the pocket when they should have been sacked. Of course after ten seconds in coverage, any cornerback is going to be beat, but Haden has been knocked because of that. Haden also gave up two touchdown passes to Jimmy Graham back in Week 2 -- again, his coverage was solid, but it was just a bad matchup in terms of a size mismatch from a gameplanning aspect.

The other element that has hurt Haden's game is the illegal contact penalties. Haden has always been one of those cornerbacks who does a little tug of the receivers' jersey while they are running together downfield, or he jostles a bit with them. This year, the officials are calling that more often, and I think it's one of those instincts that Haden has been unable to break when the action is live. The penalties, coupled with several unfortunate plays that resulted in touchdowns, have led to a poor grade on PFF for Haden. If you're asking about any given snap, though, Haden's coverage still remains more than adequate to be a high-level cornerback. I'd look forward to seeing Derek Carr try to go after Haden to see how the veteran cornerback responds. Last week, Blake Bortles basically stayed away from Haden all game.

4. The Browns have a top ten offense right now. Aside from the play of Brian Hoyer, how has the Cleveland offense remained successful with the loss of Josh Gordon to suspension?

The formula has been a bit of a throwback style due to the Browns' commitment to staying with the running game. Even when the Browns were down by 24 and 25 points to the Steelers and Titans on the road, Cleveland actually got back into the game by running the ball in an up-tempo offensive attack. The Browns' run blocking was so effective during the hurry up that the running backs were picking up 10+ yards at a time. Then, at the right time, Brian Hoyer would sell the playaction fake well and run a bootleg. We'd only send two receivers into the route, but one or both of them would be wide open downfield.

Also, prior to last week, I believe the Browns had the fewest turnovers in the NFL and weren't dropping passes (they only had two drops entering the game). Everything spiraled out of control last week, but the hope is that the first five games are a better indicator of what the offense can and will be against the Raiders this week.

5. The Browns' defense is one of the five worst in the league in yards allowed. What has gone wrong?

That's a tough question to answer, and it's something I'm still scratching my head about. Heading into the season, the expectation was that the Browns would have a top-10 defense at the very least. We've seen the defense thrive at times in which we'll shut out the opposition or hold them to just a field goal for an entire half, but then the other half, our defense won't be able to stop them. At the beginning of the year, the secondary was getting roughed up, but the coverage has been better lately. For the investments the team has made at outside linebacker, the payoff hasn't been as lucrative as I would have hoped.

The biggest issue has been on the defensive line. At the start of the season, I thought it was the deepest unit on the team and one that could defend the run well. There were seven players who I felt could start on many teams in the NFL. The starters struggled to begin the year, and then the linemen started dropping like flies. Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, Billy Winn, and Armonty Bryant -- four of the seven linemen -- were out last week. That left the Browns with one starter, two backups elevated to starter status, and then two linemen who were signed off the street. When a team is putting a "third quarter of the preseason" type of defensive line out there, it becomes difficult to stop the run or get to the quarterback.

I'm optimistic that things will improve. The Browns held the Steelers to three points until a late garbage time touchdown two weeks ago. Last week against the Jaguars, the Browns faced a 10-6 deficit until there were about six minutes left in the game, at which point two turnovers inside the team's own ten yard line inflated the score to 24-6. This week, the Browns might get a couple of their defensive linemen back from injury. Fingers crossed!

To see my answers to his questions, click here.

Editor's Note: FanDuel is hosting a $500,000 one-week fantasy football league this weekend. It's $10 to join and first place wins $40,000. League starts Sunday 1 PM ET and ends on Monday night. Here's the link.