Previewing the NFL, from A to Z
With things once again not turning out how the fans wanted or expected, the Cleveland Browns have started to once again do a complete make over. The Browns have not won a division title since returning to NFL play in 1999, and they have made the postseason only once. Nine seasons have passed since that lone playoff appearance, a loss to division-rival Pittsburgh in the 2002 wild-card round. Let’s fast forward to the 2012/2013 season. The Cleveland Browns have a new owner, a new quarterback, an actual running back, some young up and coming receivers, and a solid defense. Last season was a let down, many expected this Browns team to go 8-8 and finish above that joke of a team from the bottom part of the state. Instead, we watched the defense stand there with their thumbs up their butts as the Bengals went to the line, snapped the ball, and watched AJ Green score on a wide up pass. That was how the season began and pretty much how it finished for the Browns last season. The Browns finished at 4-12, but left the season with hope and potential. I am not expecting a complete turn around this season, but I am expecting a 6-10 season.
With the Browns already squashing any chance of a quarterback controversy, they named Brandon Weeden the starting quarterback before week one. That is week one of the preseason, before they really had a chance to see what he can do against NFL teams and players. Don’t get me wrong, Colt McCoy is not the answer nor is he that good of a quarterback, but at the same time the unknowns on Weeden scare me. The Browns are banking on the former minor league baseball player to be a stabilizing and playmaking force at a position of great need. Now Weeden is bigger and stronger than McCoy and has a better arm, but lacks the experience and the NFL knowledge that McCoy posses. The Browns also believe the accuracy he showed at Oklahoma State, where he completed 69.8 percent of his passes in two seasons as a starter, can carry over with him in the NFL. The Browns are also confident that Weeden, who turns 29 in October, will be a quick study in the West Coast offense. There are some changes that Weeden is going to have to work at. For instance, Weeden primarily worked out of the shotgun at Oklahoma State and will have to learn to take more snaps under center in this offense. Weeden also struggles against pass-rush pressure and will suffer greatly against the toughest division in the NFL until he can improve in the area. Also, the West Coast offense can take years to master. Will the Browns actually hold on to a quarterback long enough to do this? Now with Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace being Weeden’s backups he doesn’t have to fear for his job, but Cleveland fans will have to worry if Brandon Weeden gets injured. This would set them back many steps and could cause a controversy.
Trent Richardson is supposed to be the focal point of the running game and could have a tremendous impact on the offense. But an old nagging injury keeps showing its ugly head. Richardson, by far the best running back available in the 2012 draft and the most highly regarded back the team had added since its return in 1999. Richardson is a ferocious competitor and a dynamic playmaker. He is strong, physical, hammering inside force as a runner and a good pass receiver. Montario Hardesty will be Richardson’s top backup, but his durability has been a big concern. Last season Hardesty, just like most of the Browns, suffered and had a bad year. If Hardesty can return to his best form, he could be a nice complementary player in this offense.
Greg Little led the Browns in receptions (61) and yards (709) as a rookie and fits this offense well. Athletic and physical, Little has a nice catching radius. Little is not a burner but does have some run-after-the-catch ability. The Browns added a couple of key pieces to this receiving group. Josh Gordon was picked up in the supplementary draft. Gordon has a lot of potential and is expected to be a big contributor to this offense. They also added Travis Benjamin, who has field-stretching speed but is slightly built. These additions can help slide Joshua Cribbs back to strictly special teams and not so much as a wideout. I am sure Brandon Weeden will be utilizing his tight ends e gets comfortable in the NFL. Benjamin Watson, the top target at the position, suffered three concusions in 2011 but reportedly is expected to play this season. Evan Moore is a converted wideout whose pass catching is his strength. Alex Smith is the most versatile of the tight ends. Jordan Cameron is a size-speed prospect. (Yes I know I left out Massaquoi, but so should the Browns!)
Until last week, the defense was the most promising piece to this Cleveland team. Then Joe Haden potentially messed that up by not passing a drug test. The verdict is not 100% sure, but I would guess he is guilty just like everyone else who has come up positive on their “A” sample. But luckily it is just four games and with the addition of DE Juqua Parker and DE Frostee Rucker, things are looking even better on the defensive ball than last year. You throw in the steal of the draft, DT Billy Winn, a sixth round gem and this defense is as tough as they come. Cleveland successfully transitioned from a 3-4 to a 4-3 last year. Last year the Browns usually played man coverage on the back end. This defense rarely was outclassed last season, although it did have problems against the run. But with those additions, this season will be a different story.
RS Joshua Cribbs reputation as a special-teams star precedes him, and he’s one of few players on this Cleveland Browns team that the opposition respects for his game breaking abilities. This season as Cribbs is able to focus more on special teams and less on the offense, his numbers so shine even greater. Reliable Phil Dawson will be once again knocking them through the uprights for us this season. Even though the special teams took a beating last year, you should expect the things to get back to par this season.
The Browns are in a tough spot in the AFC North. The Steelers and Ravens, while each battling Father Time, are still formidable, and the Bengals are no slouches, either. If the offense perks up and the defense is the strength it was a season ago, the Browns could draw closer to making the playoffs.