Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 12/23/11
At times, the off-field drama surrounding the franchise overshadowed any positive aspects of the Browns’ on-field performance. Despite the fact that the season itself reflected the fact that Browns president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert made several quality off season moves to upgrade the team and the defense played much better than expected throughout the season, contract disputes, injuries, and poor play created a media circus of controversy that made the team resemble the Kardashian's instead of an NFL franchise.  
 

1) The Saga Of Peyton Hillis
 
Saying that expectations were sky-high for Peyton Hillis heading into the season would be a dramatic understatement. Last year, Hillis burst out of obscurity to rush for 1,117 yards, catch 61 passes for 477 yards, and score 13 total touchdowns. Hillis’ off season was even more eventful. Powered by a strong fan-based campaign, Hillis was elected to be the cover athlete for Madden 12. The hiring of new head coach Pat Shurmur meant that the West Coast offense would be installed as the Browns’ primary offensive package. Hillis is an extremely adept receiver, and the West Coast offense—which requires a running back who can catch passes—seemed tailored to meet Hillis’ strengths.
 
However, this season was nothing short of a complete and utter debacle for the Browns and Hillis. After two less-than-breathtaking performances in the first two games of the season, Hillis was diagnosed with a strep throat shortly before the Browns’ third game of the season against the Miami Dolphins. Hillis missed the game for reasons that are only truly known to Hillis himself. Despite the fact that quarterback Colt McCoy led the Browns to a thrilling comeback victory late in the fourth quarter, the drama surrounding Hillis’ absence swallowed up the positive emotion stemming from the Browns’ win. Rumors about whether Hillis was truly ill or whether Hillis sat out the game because he was frustrated about his contract situation swirled around Cleveland for weeks and created a major distraction for a team that had plenty of its own on-field issues. To make matters worse, Hillis suffered a hamstring injury immediately upon his return, further complicating the situation.
 
Eventually, Hillis returned later in the season against the Cincinnati Bengals. Dispelling all doubters who believed that the Browns had quit on him and that he had quit on the Browns, Hillis ran hard and made a notable difference in the Browns’ offensive attack. Although he has continued to be plagued at times with his hamstring injury, Hillis has run with the grit and toughness that endeared him to fans last season.
 
The Hillis saga is far from over. Hillis is scheduled to be a free agent in the off season, and speculation and debate will continue to rage about whether the Browns should re-sign him up until the moment that Hillis’ pen hits the paper on the new contract of whatever team signs him. Hillis’ unique skill set, toughness, and talent are hard to find. However, Hillis’ physical running style seemingly invites injuries, and Hillis has struggled with injuries in both of his seasons in Cleveland.
 

2) Colt McCoy’s Concussion-Gate
 
Questions can and should be posed about whether McCoy has what it takes to be the Browns’ quarterback of the future. Questions cannot and should not be posed about whether McCoy is one of the toughest quarterbacks in football. Despite not possessing the imposing physical stature of other NFL quarterbacks, McCoy has taken a beating this season and continued to play hard every game.
 
All season long, the Browns’ offensive line struggled with pass protection. McCoy has been pressured, knocked down, and sacked countless times each game. Nevertheless, McCoy has not spoken one bad word in public about his offensive line and rose up every time from each debilitating hit to take the next snap.
 
As NFL history has shown us, even the toughest and most determined players cannot escape the effects of a concussion, and McCoy found this out the hard way in the Browns’ first match up of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the fourth quarter, McCoy took a vicious hit from James Harrison and appeared to be out for the game. Implausibly, McCoy returned to action after missing only one snap.
 
Although heroic on paper, McCoy’s return was ill-advised and should not have happened. A firestorm of controversy erupted after the game as to whether the Browns should have permitted McCoy to re-enter the game. The Browns later revealed that they did not test McCoy for a concussion but rather focused on a possible hand injury instead. However, the Browns also appeared to claim that they complied with NFL procedures in their handling of the injury. While the NFL will inevitably determine if the Browns failed to follow required procedures in their handling of McCoy’s concussion, the fact that common sense should have reigned and that McCoy should remained on the sidelines for the rest of the game is undeniable.
 
McCoy has been nothing less than a great teammate and honorable man during his two years with the Browns, and Browns fans should hope that he makes a full recovery from his concussion and that he does not suffer any long-term effects from the Browns’ mishandling of his injury.
 

3) Oh, Snap: The Struggles of Ryan Pontbriand
 
Over the past eight years, the Browns have had five head coaches, scores of starting quarterbacks, and abundant turbulence in just about every other aspect of the team. Except for one. Long snapper Ryan Pontbriand has remained under the radar for the majority of his tenure with the Browns, reliably delivering snaps that allowed the Browns’ kicking and punting game to excel. Despite the fact that he was named to the Pro Bowl on two occasions, Pontbriand was a player who renamed largely unknown both throughout the NFL and even amongst a sizable population of Browns fans.
 
This season, Pontbriand became a household name for all of the wrong reasons as his struggles with long snapping added yet another area of concern to the Browns’ already-long list of problems. Pontbriand’s struggles to reliably deliver the ball to the holder directly led to at least two crucial missed field goals late in games. His struggles would have been amplified if veteran Brad Maynard had not been able to recover some of Pontbriand’s bad snaps and successfully place them.
 
After Pontbriand’s bad snap cost the Browns a victory against the Cincinnati Bengals, Pontbriand was waived by the Browns late on a Tuesday afternoon. Although he had an uncharacteristically bad season, the abrupt end in which Pontbriand’s career ended was not a fitting ending for a player who had played a vital role in the Browns’ success on special teams during his tenure in Cleveland.
 

4) The Rebirth of D’Qwell Jackson
 
Heading into the season, D’Qwell Jackson was one of the biggest question marks for the Browns. There was no doubt about Jackson’s talent level—when he had been able to take the field in past seasons, he had been an outstanding player. However, Jackson had not been able to take the field very often over the past few seasons. A variety of injuries sent Jackson to injured reserve in 2009 and 2010, putting his status with the Browns in doubt.
 
Nevertheless, the Browns decided to re-sign him during the past off season. This decision is one of the best moves made by the Browns in recent years. Jackson’s successful return has been one of the NFL’s most positive stories this season, injecting a much-needed ray of hope into what has been a largely dismal season for the Browns.
 
Showing no signs of the injuries that have plagued him in the past, Jackson ranks second in the NFL with 138 tackles and provided veteran leadership as the team transitioned to the 4-3 defense. If Browns fans think that the offense has been scary this season, Browns fans should shudder even more when they think about how inept the Browns’ struggling run defense would be if Jackson was playing elsewhere. Fortunately, the Browns have expressed interest in signing Jackson to a long-term contract that will ensure that he will continue to wear the orange and brown far into the future.
 

5) The Cleveland Browns’ Offensive Offense
 
Last season, the Browns’ offense was one of the worst offenses in the NFL. The Browns’ struggles on offense were one of the biggest reasons that led to the firing of former head coach Eric Mangini and former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. The hiring of Shurmur was billed as a personnel move that would inject new life into the Browns’ moribund offense. Shurmur’s West Coast offense appeared to a perfect fit for McCoy and Hillis, the offense’s two key players.
 
Unfortunately for the Browns, the offense’s production this season has resembled the production of previous seasons. The offense’s problems stem from a variety of issues. The lockout limited the Browns’ ability to learn the new West Coast offense. Furthermore, the offensive line’s injuries and poor play have made life very difficult for McCoy. On the occasions when McCoy has had time to throw, his receivers have struggled to reliably catch the ball. The Browns have failed to score a touchdown in three games and have only managed to score a touchdown in three other games during garbage time in the fourth quarter. Additionally, the offense has failed to produce in the fourth quarter on multiple occasions when the Browns needed a score to win or tie the game.
 
The statistics speak for themselves. The Browns currently rank third from the bottom in the NFL in points per game with an average of 13.9. Additionally, the Browns are also ranked near the bottom of the league in yards per game and rushing yards per game.
 
Needless to say, changes will be made in the off season. Although Holmgren has announced that the Browns will hire an offensive coordinator, the Browns have also reported that Shurmur will continue to call plays on offense. More talent, especially at the wide receiver position, needs to be brought in as well.
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