Steven King

Browns Have More At Stake Than Just QB Battle

Created on Aug. 16, 2014 5:00 AM EST

The top storylines for the Cleveland Browns heading into their nationally-televised Monday Night Football game against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field?

Well, duh? Quarterbacks, quarterbacks and more quarterbacks.

That’s been the team’s top storyline ever since QB Johnny Manziel was taken with the No. 22 overall pick in the NFL Draft, launching a battle for the starting job with veteran Brian Hoyer that, even as the third preseason game approaches, is still far from over. Anything can happen, and likely will, before this is finished – really finished -- whenever that is.

Coach Mike Pettine said, surprisingly so, that QB Brian Hoyer will start against the Redskins. It was thought, with Hoyer having started the preseason opener in Detroit last Saturday night and, with the presence of the spotlight of MNF, the kind of situation Johnny Football seems to always revel in, that he would get his shot against Washington. It appeared to be a sure thing, really.

But it didn’t work out that way. Pettine did say the reps between the two quarterbacks will be balanced, whatever that means, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Another storyline – albeit pretty miniscule from a Cleveland perspective – is that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will return to the place where he had the same role while working for his father, Mike, the last four years with little success -- three losing seasons and just one playoff appearance. You can bet he’s thinking about it, as is Redskins owner Dan Snyder and a lot of the fans.

The fans in northeast Ohio probably couldn’t care less.

But here’s a big storyline that ranks not just alongside the one involving the quarterbacks, but actually ahead of it, believe it or not. Yes, there is something in Cleveland bigger than the quarterbacks, even when one of them is the hottest thing under center to come into pro football since Joe Namath 49 years ago.

It involves the team, the franchise, the Browns. Certainly, finding a quarterback – whether it’s Hoyer or Manziel or someone who is not even on the roster now – is essential for the Browns to get better. This is, after all, a quarterback-driven league.

But no matter what happens in yet another of these seemingly endless quarterback derbies in this town, the Browns will go forward. They will still be standing. They will still show up at Heinz Field on Sept. 7 to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in the regular-season opener.

Because of that – the importance of team – the Browns have a golden opportunity to show what they have, who they are and, more importantly, who they can be going forward, to the rest of the country.

People living in far-away places look at the team and don’t think of Jim Brown, Otto Graham, Lou Groza, Ozzie Newsome and all the rest of the team’s 15 players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the success they and the franchise back in the day.

Instead, those people from Seattle to Miami, Boston to San Diego and Dallas to Minneapolis get a glimpse of those plain orange helmets and think of all the struggles Cleveland has had in the expansion era. There have been just two winning seasons and one playoff berth, that coming 12 years ago. The list of bad players – especially bad quarterbacks – and bad coaches and bad general managers and bad decisions in just about every facet of the organization on and off the field, is as long as the Terminal Tower is high.

The Browns can change that on Monday night. No, they can’t change it in just one night, but the process can surely begin. If they can perform well and make plays, score points and do some good things on defense – if they exhibit some of the traits of good teams, or at least teams on the rise – then they can make people think twice the next time they look at Cleveland and want to dismiss out of hand its chances to be relative.

The addition of Manziel has helped that effort. Oh, it most certainly has.

But the play on the field – scoring points, winning games and looking good doing it – will be the real indicator.

No, the game against the Redskins doesn’t count in the standings, but in a sense, it counts for a lot more – hope and change, to borrow a phrase from President Obama. The Browns are praying, or at least they should be, that this hope and change really happens

Do the Browns, especially Pettine, owner Jimmy Haslam and general manager Mike Farmer, understand that fully? Do they understand any of it?

And if so, will they take advantage of this chance?

Or will they reinforce what many people already believe, that nothing has changed?

In the very least, waiting to see how these questions are answered will make for good television.

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