Originally posted on The Sports Headquarters  |  Last updated 8/1/12

2011 in a Nutshell: 4-12

Someone had to bring up the rear of the AFC North and last year that was the Cleveland Browns, finishing with a miserable record and still in need of a serious overhaul in many key areas. After a breakout 2010 Browns fans were pinning their hopes on Madden 2012 cover boy Peyton Hillis to roll over defenders and carry the team to success. Unfortunately Hillis unravelled in many different ways and wound up leaving the team for Kansas City in the offseason looking for a fresh start. The rest of the team was not much better really as the quarterback play left a lot to be desired and, while the defense had its moments; it just wasn’t good enough when it needed to be.

2012 Season Motto: We have got to start somewhere

Personnel Performance

Cleveland made a lot of big moves in the draft to try and build a team for the future. Their first move was to swap picks with Minnesota to guarantee them a shot at the best running back in the draft Trent Richardson, the Alabama running back who will be a key player for the Browns to build their offense around. At the end of the first round the Browns had the Falcons first round pick putting them in position to draft their potential franchise quarterback with Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden. By the looks of things Weeden will be handed the starting job from day one as the Browns are looking at the success the Bengals had starting Andy Dalton last year and hoping that same fortune can be replicated. The rest of the Browns draft was nothing overly spectacular with no players looking like they could be late round steals. The player most likely to be a contributor this year from the remaining draft class could be Emmanuel Acho, the linebacker from Texas who was taken in the sixth round.

Cleveland only managed to pick up two players in free agency, both of whom were defensive ends, Juqua Parker and Frostee Rucker. Parker jumps ship from Philadelphia as he is at the point of his career at age 34 where he can’t be too fussy about where he plays (hence his signing with the Browns). Last year for the Browns he played in 12 games, starting none, and made all of 10 total tackles in his substitute role. Rucker meanwhile comes from the other Ohio team in the league and at age 28 could be primed for a big season if he is given enough of an opportunity. With 44 tackles and 4 sacks last year he has shown flashes of ability but has never been able to break through and this could be his big chance.

Key Player for 2012: Trent Richardson – RB

It’s a lot to expect a rookie running back to try and carry an entire team but if any position can do it, it’s the workhorse running back. As part of Alabama’s national championship season last year, Richardson took over the feature back role having lost his partner Mark Ingram to the NFL last year. For all the hype surrounding Ingram during his college career there were several scouts who believed that Richardson was actually a better running back prospect and his production during his final year certainly backs that belief up. In 13 games he ran for 1679 yards and 21 touchdowns which beat his combined totals from his first two seasons when he was splitting time.

A minor knee injury carried into the draft process was not enough to scare away the Browns who have picked him up to be the workhorse for the foreseeable future. Richardson possesses the rare combination of speed, power and elusiveness that has resulted in favourable comparisons to Adrian Peterson. While he won’t be a regular option in the passing game Richardson also can catch the ball very well and can be a threat if he can get in space on screens. Pass protection could still be a bit of a liability, especially while he is learning Pat Shurmur’s system however there will be someone else on the roster who can spell him from time to time.

Season Expectations

While the Browns have big hopes for what Richardson can produce, the offense still looks too one dimensional to have an sort of success. Behind Richardson there are plenty of solid, serviceable backups which should ease the pressure on the two rookies and make the running game something defenders have to worry about. As for the passing game, the best receiving threat remains as Josh Cribbs who still is not a 100 catch type of receiver but he is at least capable of producing big plays from time to time. Mohamed Massaquoi will need to make a big leap if he is to become the Browns number one receiver and someone Weeden can depend on but that may be an area that has to be addressed next offseason (unless they decide to sign T.O. which would be a stupid idea) to make the offense properly balanced. If this squad gets into a shootout then there could be trouble thanks to the lack of weapons on the outside.

From the start of the season the Browns defense will be handicapped as linebacker Scott Fujita will be suspended for the first three games of the year for his part in the Saints bounty scandal. D’Qwell Jackson is the mainstay in the middle of the linebacking corps and will be the tackle machine Browns fans are used to. Last year’s first round pick, tackle Phil Taylor will need a big second year having established himself as a contributor last season starting every game for the season while his fellow 2011 draftee Jabaal Sheard will be asked to provide the pass rush from the outside having lead the Browns in sacks (8.5) and forced fumbles (5) last season. Outside of Joe Haden the secondary has a lot of questions to it and could struggle when the Browns face a strong passing attack, especially if one of the two starting safeties is lost to injury. Overall this defense is similar to the offense in that it could be good but it still needs more pieces to really be effective, it could have its moments this year.

Looking at the Browns schedule you see plenty of tough games and wonder who in the league office they managed to piss off, especially with a brutal early season run that could see them with only one win going into their week 10 bye if everything goes wrong. In that stretch they face the Ravens twice, the Bengals twice as well as the Eagles, Giants and Chargers once. Their lone primetime appearance comes on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football in week four as they travel to Baltimore to face the Ravens who will be coming off a Sunday night game against the Patriots so the Browns will be hoping for an upset there. To close out the season they have to travel to Denver to face Peyton Manning followed by a week 17 trip to Pittsburgh who will likely be fighting for playoff seeding at least if not a division title.

Final: Will they be better or worse off than last year?

Last year they won four games and I think looking at that schedule even that could be a stretch. The best case scenario for the Browns this year could actually be finishing at 2-14 or 3-13, getting the top pick and trading it for a team desperate for Matt Barkley. Good luck Browns fans, this year will be a tough one to survive.


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