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Browns’ big question for 2015: Who plays QB?

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BEREA, Ohio — As far as record goes, 2014 has been a success for the Browns despite a four-game losing streak heading into the final game. But, looking ahead to 2015, they have some of the same questions they had when Mike Pettine took over as coach in January.

The biggest: Who will be the quarterback? Johnny Manziel on Monday was ruled out of the season finale in Baltimore because of a hamstring injury suffered Sunday in a 17-13 loss to Carolina.

Manziel played poorly in his debut on Dec. 14 against the Cincinnati Bengals and then was hurt late in the first half in Charlotte.

“He’s made strides. I know it was a lot to throw at him as a rookie just coming from the system (Texas A&M) in which he played,” Pettine said. “I just think it’s difficult sometimes to evaluate the player when you’re not necessarily playing at a high level around him.”

Brian Hoyer came off the bench against the Panthers and connected with tight end Jordan Cameron on a touchdown pass to give the Browns a brief lead. He suffered a shoulder injury and, though he finished the game, might not be able to play against the Ravens. Connor Shaw will take first-team snaps on Tuesday, Pettine said.

Hoyer was 7-6 as a starter before losing his job to Manziel. He is a free agent after this season. Even if the Browns re-sign him, he will not be looked at as the long-term answer.

The Browns have two first-round draft picks in 2015 — their own plus Buffalo’s pick. General manager Ray Farmer could go for a quarterback in the first round again, as he did when he picked Manziel 22nd this year. Manziel is confident he will come back a better quarterback next year and says he can be the guy.

“If anything, this has motivated me more heading into this offseason,” Manziel said immediately after the Carolina game. “We had a better team than we have had here in years past, and we need to capitalize on these guys that we have coming back next year and the talent that we do have on this roster that our coaching staff and our management has put on this team.”

“It makes me hungrier to work in this offseason and get with these guys and stay on top of this stuff and come back next year and come out and try to have some success early in the season and sustain that through a season.”

Pettine is not ready to talk about next season yet. He said his concentration is on the Ravens for the final game.

NOTES: NT Ahtyba Rubin played in his 100th career game but had to leave in the second quarter because of an ankle injury. … LB Karlos Dansby played in his first game after missing the previous four with a knee injury. He led the Browns with four tackles against the Panthers. … C Ryan Seymour was knocked out of the game with a hamstring injury and is being evaluated.

REPORT CARD VS. PANTHERS

–PASSING OFFENSE: C — Johnny Manziel was knocked out of the game with a hamstring injury in the second quarter. Brian Hoyer came off the bench without taking a single snap with the first offense in practice last week and hooked up with tight end Jordan Cameron for only the second touchdown pass in the last seven games. Scoring has been a struggle for the Browns since they beat the Bengals on Nov. 6 to raise their record to 6-3.

–RUNNING OFFENSE: C — Rookie running back Isiah Crowell broke out on a 26-yard run after Hoyer took over at quarterback; but, taking that play out, the Browns rushed for 58 yards on 21 carries (2.8 average). Rookie running back Terrance West had a subpar week of practice and did not touch the ball.

–RUNNING DEFENSE: D — Run defense has consistently been weak and it was again. The Panthers gouged the Browns for 209 yards on 45 carries a week after the Bengals ran over the Browns for 248 yards. It is the same story game in and game out — missed tackles and players out of position. The Browns have given up 2,133 rushing yards.

–PASSING DEFENSE: B — The Browns were without starting cornerback Joe Haden (shoulder), starting free safety Tashaun Gipson (knee) and nickel back K’Waun Williams (hamstring) but still held the Panthers to 201 yards passing and one touchdown. Rookie Pierre Desir has been a bright spot amid the injuries. He made seven tackles and broke up two passes by Cam Newton.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: C — Too late to make a difference this season, the return teams are finally starting to show signs of life. Travis Benjamin broke off a 24-yard punt return and Shawn Draughn returned a kick 39 yards. It was the longest kick return of the season for the Browns. Kicker Garrett Hartley was a perfect 2-for-2 on field goal tries of 31 and 43 yards. The grade would have been higher, but a fair catch interference penalty on Marlon Moore contributed to Carolina’s first touchdown.

–COACHING: B — Mike Pettine got his team to play hard after learning it had been eliminated from playoff contention 13 hours before kickoff. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan adjusted to being forced to switch from Manziel to Hoyer at quarterback. Some of the blame for the Browns giving up more than 500 yards rushing in two weeks goes to defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil.


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