The AFC North is always tough, and 2011 was no exception. All four teams were in the top 10 in overall defense. They made up half of the AFC playoff teams, going a combined 25-15 outside the division. Even the Browns were an almost respectable 4-6 outside the AFC North.
2012 should be similar. So getting a better look at the rest of the division to see what should be coming our way this year is wise. Let’s begin an examination of the division by looking at the team at the other end of I-71.
2012 DRAFT PICKS
A quick look at the results from the Browns’ 2011 campaign shows that they were all defense. All passing defense, actually. Their rushing defense was abysmal, with opponents running on them for 4.4 yds/carry and nearly 150 yds/game. However, they did do a good job of holding opponents to field goals.
The entire offense was just as bad. The Browns simply could not score, which makes winning difficult (as reflected in their 4-12 record). The loss of Peyton Hillis for much of the season hurt them significantly, and no other RB could pick up the slack. Greg Little also provided much less punch than the team had hoped.
This lack of potency on offense was the shaping factor in the Browns’ draft strategy. Six of their eleven picks went to the offense, including four of the first five picks. As we know, Trent Richardson was viewed as the best answer to the Browns’ offensive woes. To further aid the running game, they also used their 2nd round pick on a new right tackle and cut ties with Tony Pashos.
As I stated after the draft, the selection of Brandon Weeden was a terrible investment in my opinion and really hurt their draft. Blaming Colt McCoy for the offense was silly because he simply had no weapons around him. Greg Little led all receivers with 709 yds. I expect Weeden to be no better than McCoy and eventually just another entry on a long list of failed QBs in Cleveland.
Two other notable moves involve trying to improve the run-stopping ability of the defensive line by drafting DT John Hughes and DE Frostee Rucker. Hughes will be a good rotational player. (The Browns took him six spots ahead of Brandon Thompson, but I think the Bengals got the better player.)
The move I question more, though, is the planned use of Rucker. I don’t blame him for finding a starting gig, which he was not going to get in Cincinnati. But I’m not sure that using him as a starter is playing to his strength. Maybe he will prove me wrong, but I suspect the Browns will not get the full impact out of Rucker that they hope. I’m not saying he will be bad, but I am not sure he will be all that good either.
Any improvement for Cleveland will come almost entirely from Trent Richardson, a significant burden for a rookie. Weeden is just beginning the learning curve that McCoy had gotten through, and his mistakes will cost the team at times. He does not have as solid of a defense to bail him out like Dalton had, nor is he quite as tenacious as Dalton. And with no other real playmakers selected, the Browns will be left either depending heavily on TR or hoping that Little or Cribbs or Massaquoi or Moore emerge as a receiving threat (which I don’t see coming).
Bottom line, TR will make some impact for the team overall, but not so much against the stout defenses of the AFC North. Another draft picking in the top 10 is staring Cleveland in the face.