Bill Parcells once said “You are what the record says you are”. Well the 2011 season is over for the Cleveland Browns. There record is again dismal with 4 wins and 12 losses. Since they reentered the NFL they are now a collective 68 wins and 140 losses.Being a long time Browns fan it’s hard for me to say this but we stunk again this year. Those darn Steelers, Ravens and Bengals swept us in the all important division games. What hurts even more is the fact that these three teams all made the playoffs this year.
Looking closer It gets worse. Brown wins came against the Colts (2-14), Dolphins (6-10), Sea hawks (7-9) and the Jaguars (5-11), hardly the class of the league. How could this happen? There was so much promise for improvement last summer. Watching games from the cheap seats I have concluded there are still two major issues that were addressed but not corrected. These two issues have made the Browns a perennial punching bag in the AFC north.
First of all, we still can’t stop the run. The Browns ranked 30 against the run. They surrendered 184 yards per game. If you can’t stop the run you lose possession time. Your defense stays on the field too long. Eventually, a play action call burns the defense and the game slips away. To rectify this we need more depth on our defensive line. We also need improved linebacker play on the strong side. We desperately need more speed at that position. I think there is a good core on defense (ranked 2 against the pass and 10 overall). Rookies, Taylor and Sheard fit in well with Rubin. Jackson had a monster year. This year we have two round 4 picks in the draft. We should look for depth in those two areas.
Secondly, and still the biggest problem with the Browns was their inability to score points. The Browns scored 20 points once against the Bengals in their 23-20 loss. Their biggest explosion 27 points came against the lowly, Manningless, Colts. In the other 14 games they failed to reach the 20 point mark. The question is how do you fix this? In my opinion there are five major areas on offense that need to be improved for next season.
1) Can the West coast system be successful in the AFC North? The idea of the W.C.O. is to pass to set up the run. Too many times this season I witnessed receivers being “blown up” at the line of scrimmage. Not being able to get off the line kills any timing patterns resulting in incomplete passes and turnovers. During the last game the Steelers used crossing patterns all day against the Browns for 8 to 12 yard gains. The Browns spent the bulk of their offense running five yard passes to the sidelines getting their receivers punished with every catch.It was painful to watch.The W.C.O. needs some major tweaking. Our receivers must improve line release, route accuracy, catching the ball, and yards after the catch.
2) Lack of a big play receiver. The Browns lacked separation from the defenders this year. I cringed watching Cribbs, Little and Watson get drilled almost every time they caught a ball. Norwood has shown glimpses of separation speed. Few others have shown anything close to what is required. The dropped passes by the current crop of receivers has to be corrected. The Browns can definitely improve in this area by picking Oklahoma state man child, Justin Blackmon with their 1st pick. After watching what he did against Stanford, I am convinced he is scary good. He would immediately cause game plan adjustments that would open up a lot of play calling possibilities. At the very least, the Browns should use their 2nd round and 3rd round picks for Speedy WR’s that can catch. Here are the current receivers with their final rankings in the NFL:
WR Cribbs .Ranked 94 in the NFL
WR Little has a huge upside but had too many drops. Ranked 41
WR Norwood flashes, he can be special. Ranked 168
WR Massaquoi Concussion issues, Ranked 133
TE Watson too many concussions. Ranked 109
TE Moore Great hands but can’t block and is slow. Ranked 123
Not exactly murderer’s row for a defense coordinator.
3)The running game was decimated with injuries this year. Further, the fact is Hardesty doesn’t have the pop or breakaway speed he had shown in college. The Hillis situation is a mess. It would be a crime to let him walk and get nothing in return. The Browns should keep him, sign him and give him another year. They need more,” tough speed” at this position. I suggest a RB in the second round. Lets not forget that there were games in 2011 that our starting running back was from the Texans practice squad.
4) Offensive line. The loss of Eric Steinbach hurt the Browns immensely. He is the most fundamentally sound guard they have. He is a teacher and a mentor for JT and the young guys. Tony Pashos gets burned too many times. That’s the plain fact. We need a solid right tackle. Jason Pinkston developed nicely this season. I think he was a tackle in college. The brain trust needs to make improvement here. In 2010 we had the top ranked short yardage offensive line. This year they couldn’t do anything at the goal line.
5) Is Colt McCoy the guy? His stats are pedestrian. His rating is 74.8%. Ranked 22nd in the NFL. Given he would have passed for more than the 2,733 yards without the Harrison head butt. Personally, I like him. This is the biggest decision that management must make in 2012. It is official that Heisman trophy winner RG111 will be available in this year’s draft.. He’s smaller than Cam Newton. He’s about Mike Vick’s size. Will he get pounded by the AFC North? Perhaps just get Colt McCoy some real weapons and another year? Many complain about his arm strength. May I say, arm strength is overrated see (Breeze, Drew, QB, New Orleans). Perhaps they will go after Mike Flynn, free agent from Green Bay? He happened to throw 6 touch downs this week against the playoff bound Lions.I think we should trade our second number one pick for Flynn. Then let him and McCoy battle for the job.
These are the areas that the Brown’s front office must address. After another year of little progress we await some more wins. Browns fans need something to cheer about. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.Maybe I fit that description but I remain hopelessly optimistic that 2012 will be a better year.
All statistics from WWW.NFL.com