Friday, September 4, 2009

Turd Sandwich: Cleveland Browns Season Preview

2008 Record: 4-12

Cleveland redefined the art of crapping all over yourself last season. Not only was Cleveland the trendy pick to win the AFC North last preseason, they also had a slew of free agent acquisitions, led by Donte "DUI" Stallworth, that was supposed to make their offense even more dangerous. Just how dangerous was their offense? They were 30th in scoring offense, 31st in total and passing offense, and a blistering 26th in rushing offense. In short, they played like the Browns. To make matters worse, they didn't score an offensive touchdown after November 17, and produced under 200 yards of total offense in each of their last 5 games. They were shut out by Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to end the season.

Cleveland did suffer a slew of injuries, particularly at quarterback. The Browns started 4 different quarterbacks last season, including Bruce Gradkowski against the Steelers in the finale. Derek Anderson had the most success over his 9 games, before Brady Quinn took the helm. The two are currently locked in a dead-even quarterback battle that has left Browns fans...partially awake.

Jamal Lewis barely broke 1000 yards last season, despite playing in all 16 games and being the feature back. Lewis only had 4 rushing touchdowns, and is clearly no where near the bruising back he used to be. The Browns drafted James Davis from Clemson who might add another dimension to the run game, but it remains to be seen if he'll get on the field. The Browns draft was characterized by new coach Eric Mangini's incessant trading down in the first round before finally selecting center Alex Mack from Cal. To be honest, Mack is a decent player and gives their line a young core with tackle Joe Thomas. However, you have to wonder about the decision-making here. Cleveland obviously needed much, much more help in other areas, including a pass rusher, running back, or in the secondary.

Cleveland did make one good personel decision this offseason: the send Kellen Winslow, Jr packing. Steve Heiden is a much better all around tight end with much less ego than Winslow. Heiden has killed the Steelers in the past (mainly because the Steelers refuse to cover him), and should be a good addition to the offense both as a blocker and receiver.

At wide receiver, Braylon Edwards dropped more balls than the writers of Heroes last season. The Browns will be without Donte Stallworth who is suspended for the season for murdering a person while driving under the influence. (By the way, what does it say about the criminal justice system that Plaxico gets 20 months in jail for shooting himself and Stallworth gets 30 days in jail for DUI manslaughter?) The Browns did bring in two wide receivers via the draft: Brian Robiskie (Ohio State) and Mohamed Massaquoi (Georgia). Personally, I loved Massaquoi at Georgia and think he has the potential to develop into a very good pro (likely in a #2 receiving role).

Cleveland's defense is slightly better than their offensive counterparts. Nose tackle Shaun Rodgers is a mammoth of a man, but he can get tired out easily and isn't exactly content with his situation. Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson led the team in tackles last year, but that isn't exactly difficult for an inside linebacker in a 3-4. Jackson is a good tackler and flies around the field, but was also part of the league's 28th-ranked run defense.

The one bright spot on the Browns team was in the secondary. They had the 14th ranked pass defense and reeled in the 10th most interceptions. Three of four starters return, including INT leader CB Brandon McDonald. Safety Brodney Pool (3 INTs) and corner Eric Wright (3 INTs) also return this season. Their secondary should still be decent this year, but without pressure from their front 7, don't expect much from these 4. Only Kansas City had less sacks than Cleveland did last season, with no one on the Browns defense finishing with over 4.5 sacks.

Finally, it wouldn't be a Browns preview without mentioning Josh Cribbs, kick returner extraordinaire. Cribbs' ability to take kicks to the house tied him for second on the team in total TDs last season. Kicker Phil Dawson is solid and can make field goals from very deep, always giving Cleveland a chance to get on the board.

Ian's Prediction: 3-13

Cleveland doesn't have the defense to stop anyone, particularly anyone with a decent running game. With Minnesota, Chicago, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Oakland, and Jacksonville on the schedule, the Browns will have their hands full with some talented running backs. They also don't have the offensive power that they displayed 2 years ago in their 10-6 run. They do have enough bad teams on the schedule that they might be able to rack up a few wins, but let's not forget this is the team that hasn't found the end zone since mid-November. If they didn't have Cincinnati and Buffalo on the schedule, I would say that Cleveland has a very good chance to go into their November 22 game with Detroit winless. With some relatively bad teams on this schedule, I have no doubt that Cleveland will win a few games, and then be fully involved in discussions about whether or not they should draft Sam Bradford because Brady Quinn isn't accurate over 2 yards from the line of scrimage.

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