Browns coach Mike Pettine
Let's put all of this incessant quarterback talk on hold for a moment.
Let's forget about Johnny and Teddy, Blake and Derek, Jimmy and A.J. … and even Brian, for that matter.
If you're going to have a realistic conversation about the Cleveland Browns' offense under coach Mike Pettine, you actually shouldn't start with the man behind center.
You should start with who's rushing the passer and stuffing the run. And with who's running the ball and opening holes.
You should start with the places Pettine believes will give the Browns their best chance to win in the immediate/near future: dominant defense and a strong running game.
"Ground and Pound." That's what it was called on the New York Jets, where Pettine served as defensive coordinator for Rex Ryan, the man behind the mantra.
Pettine embraced it for the same reason Ryan embraced it – they're defensive-minded coaches. They believe winning is achieved, first, by preventing the opponent from scoring. They believe offense should be complementary, which means controlling the clock and taking good care of the football.
They're not opposed to a quarterback making big plays. They just would prefer that he keep big mistakes to a minimum, which tends to be easier when he's handing off to a running back who makes a significant contribution to moving the chains.
Where's the proof that this approach can work in the pass-happy NFL? Pettine watched it help the Jets reach the AFC Championship Game twice with the much-maligned Mark Sanchez as their quarterback.
"I think football is the ultimate team game and too much is put on the quarterback," Pettine said during a recent interview with NFL Network.
It is reasonable to conclude, then, that the Browns have no intention of putting too much on their quarterback this season, whether Brian Hoyer is able to retain the starting job he had before suffering a season-ending knee injury last year or whether the team drafts Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, A.J. McCarron or someone else who emerges as the starter.
It would be different if the Browns had their version of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, or knew they were getting that kind of quarterback from the draft. By all indications, they don't.
In all likelihood, they're going to line up with a quarterback who, at least for the foreseeable future, will require a fair share of propping up from his supporting cast on both sides of the ball. The pass-catching of Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron, and Andrew Hawkins will be a part of that, for certain. But it probably won't be a dramatically larger part than the running of Ben Tate and another back or two.
"From the quarterback standpoint, if you don't feel you have the guy that you feel like is that guy, or one of the top two or three in the league, you have to model it differently," Pettine said.
"Differently" would be the Seattle Seahawks, who overwhelmed the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXVIII without needing anything more than a mostly efficient performance from quarterback Russell Wilson, who was a third-round draft pick. As they did all season, the Seahawks relied on the NFL's top-ranked defense and on the explosive running of Marshawn Lynch to take home the Lombardi Trophy.
"And that," Pettine said, "minimizes the impact of that (quarterback) position."
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