The Cleveland Browns Exist: 2015 Team Preview

The Cleveland Browns, an existential crisis manifesting as a football team. A city where the closest thing to a “franchise”quarterback this century would have to be Derek Anderson or worse… Brandon Weeden. They chose the name Browns, and no one in Cleveland seemed to mind. It has been a lonely existence for fans since that night when Art Modell left them at the altar. Shut out of the playoffs for thirteen years straight.

Last year was no different, where poor decision making was evident as early as draft night, when the team welcomed quarterback Johnny Manziel into the fold. Thus Manziel joined the ranks of quarterbacks the Browns have taken with the 22nd pick of the first round, a club featuring fellow members Brandon Weeden and Brady Quinn. In fact, when the Browns have taken a quarterback in the first round since 2000, they have done so only using the 22nd pick. Apart from losing the training camp competition for the starting spot to Brian Hoyer, who seems like a perfectly nice caretaker, when Manziel did see (brief) action the results were fairly unremarkable. Two interceptions, zero touchdowns, and a proclivity to tuck and run that made him more of a liability on the field than anything else. Ultimately, year one of The Johnny Football NFL Experience Presented by Bud Light Lime did not go particularly well for anyone involved.

Defensively, Cleveland improved from 23rd overall in total points scored in 2013 to ninth last year under new head coach Mike Pettine. Pettine was brought in expressly for his defensive knowledge, his background is based entirely within the realm of defense and with him came an immediate upgrade. Pettine worked for four years as the Jets defensive coordinator under Rex Ryan and one year as head coach of the Bills, where the defense went from 22nd in total yards allowed in the season preceding his hire to tenth in the year he spent in Buffalo. The rushing attack shuffled through diffuse options like Isaiah Crowell, Ben Tate, and Terrance West, none of whom managed to tally even 700 yards rushing or make an impact on a per play basis. The best of the three was Crowell, who managed to gain an average of 4.1 yards per rush, but even then his production amounted to less than 40 yards a game. Between the caretaker passing offense and a run game that failed to click in a meaningful way the Browns limped to a 7–9 record, losing their final five games when the defense eventually faltered. The treadmill of mediocrity continues ever onward without forward momentum.

Browns Head Coach Mike Pettine

Looking ahead, the problems of the past continue into the present, and the offense is most likely doomed to be (at best) middle of the pack. Brought in to compete are quarterback Josh McCown, formerly of Tampa Bay, receiver Dwayne Bowe from Kansas City, and Brian Hartline out of Miami, also a fairly pedestrian wide receiver. Both Bowe and Hartline function as possession receivers, lacking the quickness and acceleration to get open deep down the field. Hartline in particular, has seen his average depth of reception fall every year he has been in the league, from 16.3 yards per catch as a rookie in 2009, to 12.2 last year. The defense, which benefited from the fourth most turnovers forced in 2014 after ranking 24th the year before something that has proven over time to be a statistic of strong year to year variance across all teams. Basically, the amount of turnovers a team causes in a given year is not in any way a reliable indicator of whether they will force turnovers at an equal rate the following year.

Despite the unlikelihood of the 2014 performance at forcing turnovers to be repeated, the defense figures to remain the strength of the team. The offense lacks a quarterback with any sort of track record of success, and the offensive line is a wasteland apart from Joe Thomas and Alex Mack. Neither the run game or passing seem likely to deliver any sort of consistent success. The lack of impact players up and down the roster is fairly glaring and to have success the Browns will have to rely on their defense to an unhealthy degree. This is not likely to be an offense that delivers much help, and with very little receiving ability throughout the roster separation will be hard to come by and the likelihood of combacks are low. Until Cleveland finds an answer for their quarterback problem, the team is doomed to struggle to produce a winning record. But hey, it could be worse for Browns fans, at least your owner isn’t trying to move out in the middle of the night.

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