Cleveland Browns Team On The Rise?


The Cleveland Browns haven’t had a lot of success since returning to the N.F.L., but at least one man (Vic Carucci) that could change in 2011.

The inexperience of first-year coach Pat Shurmur figures to be mitigated by the fact that he fully shares the offensive vision that Mike Holmgren managed to convey to Colt McCoy last season, even though Eric Mangini was the coach. Look for McCoy to take some big steps forward. The first two drafts of the Holmgren era appear strong. The 2010 draft class, highlighted by defensive tackle Phil Taylor, gives new defensive coordinator Dick Jauron more of the tools he needs to effectively lead the conversion from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme. Whether all of this is enough to break through the Pittsburgh SteelersBaltimore Ravens ceiling in the AFC North remains to be seen. But the Browns should put some pretty good dents in it.

My take:

I’m rooting for the Browns, except for the teams I root for I generally root for teams that are considered underdogs or don’t achieve great success. But I thin it’s borderline ludicrous  to think that the Browns will have a good season this year. It’s not impossible that teams can have a quick turn around under a new head coach, but the Browns have a lot of work to do and here’s why.

Talent Level On offense

Peyton Hillis is a nice football player, but he’s not the greatest football player. Last year he averaged 4.4 yards per carry and also added in 61 receptions for 477 yards, but he had fumblitis. Putting 8 balls on the ground losing five. He also seemed to wear down a bit towards the end of the season. In his first two matchups with the Ravens and Steelers he ran for a combined 245 yards (144 vs Baltimore) and had 13 catches. In his last two matchups at the end of the season he 48 yards and two catches. He hadn’t had more than 70 carries in his first two years. I’m rooting for him to have a huge year, but I am skeptical that those 270 carries won’t hurt him this year.

The WR/TE group

Isn’t pretty. Greg Little could be a nice addition, but the more the draft process dragged on the more we read and/or heard that Greg Little had way too little good personality. There was rumblings teams thought he was a borderline first round prospect on talent, but that they wouldn’t touch him until the fourth or fifth round. He’s talented as is Dez Bryant, but Bryant’s already had some tumultuous moments with the Cowboys. Can Little behave himself? Last year they’re leading wide receiver was Chansi Suckey with 40 receptions at 8.7 yards per reception. That’s beyond reproach. Little known Evan Moore averaged 20.1 yards per reception. Maybe there’s something there, but this group still needs a lot of infusion of talent unless you believe in Mohamed Massaquoi (I didn’t when he was drafted) or Brian Robiskie (I did think he could be a solid #2 for sure).

Ben Watson had a nice year last year 68 catches for 743 yards, but only 3 touchdowns. All players on the Browns combined for 13 receiving touchdowns (AWFUL). There are players that can do more than that one season.

Colt McCoy

A lot is riding on Colt McCoy who was surprisingly ready to play last year and had some nice moments. There is no questioning his leadership ability, which is a great thing to have for an N.F.L. quarterback. It seems the players on the Browns already believe in the Young McCoy. But we must remember McCoy had a good season for a rookie. Not a good season. He completed 60 percent of his passes at a 7.1 yards per attempt, which is very nice. But threw 6 TD to 9 INT and Took a TON of sacks. Last year he was sacked 23 times in 8 games (nearly 3 a game). Delhomme and Wallace behind the same line in the same amount of games were sacked 12 times. Josh Cribbs was also sacked once attempting a pass.

McCoy could develop into something nice, but I don’t think he’s there yet.

The biggest reason why the Browns could struggle mightily this year lies on defense.

They have bad fits for the 43 Defense

Last year playing in the 34 defense, which I think it’s easier to generate sacks from because of the creative blitz packages that can be deployed, the Cleveland Browns had 29 sacks, which is not great. They are now moving to a 43 defense, and I for one am not sure that they have the right personnel to make that move at the present time. It could even be argued that they didn’t draft the best fits for the 43 system either. Many people considered Jabaal Sheard a potential 43 DE as well as a 34 OLB, but few considered Phil Taylor an ideal fit for a 43 defense. The Browns are probably hoping to turn him into a Pat Williams type of 43 defensive tackle. Other than that the fits are bad all over the place. They don’t have the horses to yet effectively play 43 along the defensive line. An effective 43 defense is almost entirely reliant on excellent defensive line play. The Giants are able to mask adequate linebackers and cornerbacks because of how good their defense is behind it. The Colts are the same way (though it’s also their system). The Buccaneers have spent their last four first and 2nd round picks on (two each year) on defensive linemen because of how important the position is in a 43 defense. Matt Roth might be a solid fit as a 43 defensive end, but I don’t love the others like Athyba Rubin and the like.

Last year Marcus Bernard had a nice season as a pass rusher (7.5 sacks), but he could actually find himself out of place in the 43 defense. Scott Fujita has played a lot of 43 defense in his career, but he wasn’t that great before and he’s only getting older. D’qwell Jackson has a big transition as well.

A lot of defenses see big differences (positive and negative) when moving from one defensive coordinator to another, but a whole defensive overhaul is difficult to accomplish, especially through a lockout.

A Look at Their Schedule

The Browns don’t have a cakewalk of a schedule, but it’s not the most difficult schedule either. At least they’re not playing something like the N.F.C. East and N.F.C South in the same year. They have to play their division twice (Steelers, Bengals and Ravens), but outside of their division they will play: The Colts, Miami (not great), Titans (not great), At Oakland (difficult game), vs Sea (playoff team last year, but not great), @SF, @Hou, vs STL, Vs  Jacksonville, @Arizona.

Not bad. They get the N.F.C. West which gives them four games they could win. The Titans and Dolphins as well which is nothing special and two games vs the Bengals. If they can win all of those games they could definitely compete for a playoff spot.

And there in lies their saving grace. The Browns have too many adjustments to make on offense and defense this year to be serious contenders because of the lockout and because their talent level isn’t quite yet on par with their division, but their schedule is about as favorable as any fan could hope heading into a N.F.L. Season.  I think the Browns arrow is trending up, but I don’t think they’re going to surprise in 2011, but it’s possible with the schedule they face. Still, think there about two good offseasons away from having anything special.

What are your thoughts?

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