In the aftermath following the disaster that was Johnny Manziel’s first start with the Cleveland Browns, a lot has been said in regard to the future of this organization. From being done with Manziel after one start to firing head coach Mike Pettine, the tides have certainly turned since the Browns were 6-3 coming off a dominating road victory.
While the rest of the Browns universe has turned to doom mode, some of us realize there are still two football games left this season. Sitting at 7-7, Cleveland has a date with the Carolina Panthers this Sunday in which they can secure their first non-losing record since 2007. Sure, it is a far cry from the playoffs we were talking a few weeks ago, but it would still be a major accomplishment nonetheless.
If the Browns hope to get back to their winning ways against the Panthers and secure their eighth win of the season, they will have to make sure to get a certain wide receiver involved early and often in the offense.
No, that wide receiver is not 2013 standout, Josh Gordon. It is free agent acquisition, Andrew Hawkins.
In the media all week long for voicing his personal views via wearing a shirt over his jersey when coming on the field, Hawkins has seemingly become an afterthought in the offense. Not surprisingly, the point where he became this afterthought was when Gordon returned against the Atlanta Falcons, as he has not topped six targets in any game since.
As you can see in the graphic below from Pro Football Focus, Hawkins received fewer than eight targets in a game just one time prior to the Atlanta game—becoming a trusted target for Brian Hoyer all season. But since Gordon’s return, he has only received 18 targets in four games—which is something that needs to change as soon as possible.
For a player like Manziel who needs a safety net thanks to his style of play, Hawkins should be a welcome sight and easy target. He has game-breaking speed, can run solid routes and always seems to find holes in the opponent’s zone defense. On top of the attributes, he has racked up 58 receptions for 764 yards and two touchdowns on the season—putting him at No. 36 in the NFL heading into this week’s matchups.
At 5’7” and 175-pounds, Hawkins has certainly played much bigger than his size would suggest this season. He has time and time again made big plays for this offense, which is why it is mind-boggling that he only has 69 yards receiving over the past three games. One would think with a player like Gordon on the field, the opportunity to hit a proven commodity like Hawkins would only be higher thanks to the increased attention on the big-play threat.
Instead, the Browns offense has completely shifted to working Gordon back into the game at any cost. He received 15 targets against Atlanta, 12 targets against Buffalo, seven targets against Indianapolis and four targets against Cincinnati—with those 38 targets netting 20 receptions for 258 yards, one win and three losses.
So as the Cleveland Browns head into their Week 16 road trip to Carolina, the focus will remain on how Manziel and Gordon can work together to get going. But if offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was smart, he would focus on getting Hawkins going again—because that is how the Browns offense got started back when they were winning.