The State of the Cleveland Browns
“The Big Show”, aka Mike Holmgren has had time to get his feet wet, and oversaw his first draft with the Cleveland Browns. 2 weeks into the 2010 NFL season though, the team has left much to be desired for Browns fans. With a break in the early season schedule, most fans and analysts though the first two games would be very “winnable” for the Browns and at the very least, they would split. Opening up against a 3-13 Tampa Bay team from a year ago, followed by a home opener against the 4-12 Chiefs, this gave the Browns a great opportunity to get some early momentum. HOWEVA (Stephen A. Smith voice)…. Browns fans were welcomed into the 2010 season with the same old Browns. Poor quarterback play, inconsistent and inexplicable play calling offensively, ridiculous fumbles and turnovers, too many penalties, an undisciplined team and a turnover laden offense.
As we all know, after jumping out to an early lead against Tampa, Jake Delhomme made some of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen from a quarterback. Let alone a veteran QB who was brought in to add stability and leadership. From the point that Jake threw the interception at the end of the first half that lead to a TB touchdown, it was all downhill. The play calling became oddly inconsistent, Brian Daboll (Browns Offensive Coordinator) suddenly stopped running the ball and allowed TB to stack the box and squat on short and intermediate routes by not challenging them deep and stretching the field. Now this is partially not his fault. The Browns have one the WORST WR corps in the NFL and have ZERO deep threat outside of Josh Cribbs or younger WR’s that they’re not ready to play. For whatever reason, Cribbs is rarely used in this manner (shockingly he was used this way against KC). But even with a lack of playmakers, its the responsibility of the play caller to punish the defense if they’re continually stacking 8, 9 and 10 players in the box and their DBs are squatting on the short passes. It may not be successful, but it will stretch the field and cause the defense to play honest.
Against KC, another winnable game, the offense, again was PUTRID. Too many turnovers, ineffective running attack, and inconsistent and predictable play calling. The only bright spot in my mind offensively was the one deep ball to Cribbs. Even though he’s a raw talent at WR, he’s our only WR with NFL speed. It’s my opinion that we need to use him consistently to stretch the field and keep opposing defenses honest. This will open up underneath passing routes and soften up the defense for the running game. The Browns had multiple chances to win this game, with a pretty strong showing from the young defense, but they were just so awful on offense that they never took advantage. If you look at the upcoming schedule, the Browns first win is hard to find. After throwing away 2 great opportunities at wins in the first 2 weeks, the first win might not come until around Thanksgiving.
So just how bad are the Browns?
Unfortunately, on paper… the Browns are going to be pretty awful. Like I mentioned before, unless they sneak up on a much better team and pull off an upset like they did last year against Pittsburgh, the first win isn’t even conceivable until around Thanksgiving against Jacksonville. Two straight years opening up 0-11? Seriously!? Recall the heat and pressure assigned to Eric Mangini last year, in his first year, going 0-11. Can you even IMAGINE the heat he’s going to face if they go 0-11 (or even 0-10) for two years in a row? I honestly hope, this doesn’t cost him his job and given Holmgren’s history of being patient and not making knee-jerk reactions, he may give Mangini the rest of the year. But honestly, in my opinion, its not even Mangini’s fault. Paul Brown, Bill Walsh, Vince Lombardi, Bill Parcells, you name the coach. No one could win consistently with the talent that’s in place and with the inconsistency that has plagued the organization for more than a decade.
I truly believe Mangini has done at least an “ok” job in his first two years. Obviously it doesn’t show in the record books, but there are more subtle things that I’ll point to that tells me that Mangini isn’t a bad coach. If you look at the most historically successful organizations they all have a few things in common:
-Consistent and Credible Leadership
-Continuity in the Head Coach and system
-Building through the draft/Talent evaluation
Unfortunately for Browns fans, perhaps the model franchise in the NFL is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Rooneys are arguably the best owners in all of sports. Since 1969, they’ve had THREE head coaches (Chuck Knoll, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin). If you look at their drafts, they continually find incredible, difference making players that fit their system and their organizational culture. Especially on defense. Just look to recent drafts to find James Harrison (Kent State), Lamar Woodley (The school up north), Troy Polamalu, Lawrence Timmons, Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, the list goes on and on. And while there have been some surprisingly questionable character issues by some recent draft picks, you can’t deny the talent they’ve accrued on the offensive side of the ball as well. Ben Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes, Heath Miller, Mike Wallace, Hines Ward. Sure they’ve had their share of misses on both sides of the ball, but the hits far outweigh the misses. And its vitally important to minimize your misses high in the draft. There are few high round picks aren’t still with the organization (Holmes being the one of note).
Turn that around to the Browns, and there are very few high round picks are still with the organization. You just can’t build a team when your high round picks are misses and/or are no longer with the team. Just reference Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, Gerard Warren, William Green, Quincy Morgan, Travis Wilson, Braylon Edwards (post coming soon explaining why he didn’t work out), Kellen Winslow, Kamerion Wimbley, and Brady Quinn. I could probably write for days about the massive fail that is Brady Quinn, but its clear to me that he cares more about working out and how he looks than being an NFL QB. The few that have been hits include Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Eric Wright, and several TBD. There are several lower round or undrafted players that have been hits for the team as well obviously including Josh Cribbs.
Keeping this in mind, I would rather err on the side of consistency, than make a quick decision on Mangini and let him go during the year or in the offseason. It is my belief that a coach needs at least 3 years to get enough of a body of work to make a determination on the coach. However, there is one coaching change that I think is imminent and necessary. Brian Daboll must go. The sooner the better, assuming you have a viable option to fill in during the season. We consistently have one of the worst offenses in the NFL. The Browns continually have stalled drives due to inconsistent and predictable play calling, too many penalties, and are a perennial bottom feeder in the offensive statistical categories.
While I’m mostly pleased with the leadership and decision making of Holmgren and Heckert, there are a few glaring questions on the offensive side of the ball. It was their decision to bring in Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace and to draft Colt McCoy. While no one can question Delhomme’s leadership, his play has been questionable at best. Part of the reason to bring him in was veteran stability in leading the offense. I haven’t seen it. I saw several rookie mistakes and poor decision making that flat out cost the team a game. Seneca Wallace is probably one of the better backups in the league and under that assumption, I’m pleased with the move. Colt McCoy? Irrelevant for this year, but I don’t see him being an NFL QB. I have to question the lack of effort to bring in a legit #1 WR. Massaquoi is a solid WR but not a #1 and Robiskie is a #3 or #4 WR AT BEST. Cribbs is still developing but has raw ability. So how do you expect our QB’s to succeed with this WR corps? The inaction as it relates to either drafting or signing a free agent WR is puzzling to me.
On the other side of the ball, Holmgren, Heckert, Mangini, and Ryan have done a solid job in my opinion of evaluating talent, building through the draft, filling holes via free agency, and building a defensive scheme that will bring success. Its too early to give a final grade, but looking at the 2010 draft, the Browns got some real difference makers on the defensive side of the ball. Joe Haden looks to be a nice pickup (although at #7 it was a bit of a reach). He has dispelled the myth of lacking speed in my opinion after watching him throughout camp, preseason and the first two games. Whatever his 40 time, this guy has field speed and game speed and he has great instincts. With any rookie, there are tons of things he needs to improve upon, but I’m pleased with what I’ve seen. TJ Ward also seems to be a difference making safety that the Browns have lacked for years. He has delivered countless bone jarring hits and provides the physical presence we need in the middle of the field. Again, he needs to improve on ball skills, coverage, reading the offense and route combinations, but for a rookie, he looks great.
Defense: There are a lot of positives on the defensive side of the ball. Rob Ryan is a good Defensive Coordinator and given the proper personnel, I think he can create havoc for opposing offenses. We have a very underrated defensive line in Rubin, Smith, and Rogers. If Rogers can get motivated, he’s a FORCE. The Browns have a good mix of young and veteran linebackers. Roth and Benard are very promising and continue to grow under Ryan each week. Fujita offers great veteran leadership and stability and once D’Qwell is back it will only solidify the LB Corps. The secondary is also very promising. I love the move to bring Sheldon Brown in as he provides much needed veteran leadership and he can still make plays. Eric Wright is a top notch corner and is continuing to get better and Joe Haden is going to be a solid NFL CB at the least and a pro bowler at the best. TJ Ward is a THUMPER at the safety position and what a pick up by Holmgren/Heckert. The other safety position leaves much to be desired and in time, I’d personally rather see Sheldon Brown move back to safety and allow Joe Haden to fill in at the other CB position.
Long story short, there are tons of bright spots on the defense and they’ve performed very well thus far this year. They should continue to grow throughout the season, but they’ll likely be placed in many difficult positions due to the inept offense. Statistically, they will probably appear to be worse than they are, but make no mistake, this is a good, young defense!
Offense: *SIGH*…. there are ALOT of holes on the offense starting with the Offensive Coordinator and the QB which are the most integral parts to an offense. Starting with the assumption that the coaching situation will take its course and Holmgren will bring in a competent coordinator, we’ll deal with the QB’s. As discussed earlier, Holmgren and Heckert made the decision not to draft a QB in the high rounds of the 2010 draft. Instead he took a flyer on Colt McCoy and brought in Seneca Walace (a more than competent backup) and journeyman veteran QB Jake Delhomme. This could be because they weren’t enamored with any of the high round QB prospects and didn’t think the acquisition of any of them would make the team markedly better, because they were/are confident in Jake and Seneca or both. Colt McCoy, though, I do NOT see as a viable NFL QB, but I don’t mind the flyer given we got him in the 3rd round and he has a manageable contract. Sorry, I’m holding out hope that I’m wrong and he’ll develop and thrive. I just don’t see it. Bottom line…. there is no long-term solution in sight for the Browns at the QB position. I’m holding out hope for the 2011 draft as there are a number of potential NFL prospects in next year’s draft.
The next most important aspect of an offense has to be the offensive line and the Browns actually are in pretty good shape here. They hit an absolute home run with Joe Thomas where they found a perennial Pro Bowl left tackle and they have an anchor on the line for the next decade. Steinbach and Mack are viable options at LG and C respectively giving the Browns an extremely solid left side of the line. However, there is room for improvement on the right side of the line. If they can shore up the right side through the draft and/or free agency, the Browns will have one of the better offensive lines in the league which will position them for success in the future.
Aside from the QB, the most glaring hole on the offense is the WR corps. As mentioned before, Massaquoi is a solid NFL WR, but not a legit #1 WR. Robiskie is a nice situational WR and the jury is still out on him. He has size and good hands and he’s a smart kid. But he lacks speed and quickness and struggles greatly in getting any kind of separation from NFL DB’s. As he develops he has the chance of becoming a viable #3 WR to be used similarly to Joe Jurevicius. Cribbs obviously is still very raw and is trying to develop into an NFL WR. He certainly has the speed that we lack outside and hopefully we’ll see his role increased and at a minimum, he can be used to stretch the field. There is a nice prospect in Carlton Mitchell, but he is extremely raw and likely wont contribute in 2010. It’s troubling to me that Holmgren and Heckert made no moves to bring in a legit #1 WR for several reasons. First, it’s hard to expect any QB to succeed with no legitimate weapons. Second, this offense lacks playmakers and game changers. We need someone to stretch the field to keep the defense honest and someone who can get separation. Any offense also needs someone who can consistently move the chains and we may have that in Massaquoi. This position must be substantially upgraded going in to the 2011 season.
Running backs are certainly solid, and we don’t really know what we have. Jerome Harrison is at the least, a solid back, and has the potential to grow. Peyton Hillis was an incredible pick up for Holmgren/Heckert. They traded a useless QB in Brady Quinn and got back a BEAST on wheels in Hillis. Unfortunately due to injuries, we don’t really know much about Hardesty and James Davis, but they’ve both shown flashes. TE’s are also a solid position for the Browns with the addition of Ben Watson and the solid play of Evan Moore.
So, in conclusion…. If/when the Browns start of the season 0-8, 0-9, 0-10, 0-11 or worse, are they REALLY that bad? The short answer is no. There are massive holes on the team starting with the most important position in all of sports, the QB. The team threw away wins in its first two, and only real winnable games for quite a while, and the schedule for the next 7 or 8 weeks is BRUTAL. This part of the schedule looks like that of a returning Super Bowl champ, not a 5-11 team. There is a stable and credible leadership foundation in place and I believe we have a good coaching staff in place (with the exception of the Offensive Coordinator). There are some very solid areas of the team including defense, offensive line, running backs, and tight ends. The holes are mostly fixable in a short period of time with the exception of the QB. Holmgren and Heckert certainly have their work cut out for them, but the team is FINALLY heading in the right direction. There is tremendous pressure on them to earn their money and live up to their reputation to identify and develop a long-term viable solution at the QB position and to continue to accrue talent and depth on this team in order to make the Browns a contender.