All is not roses and happy clouds in the Dawg Pound. If it were, we wouldn’t have just come off a 5-11 season, fired our entire Front Office and Coaching Staff, and be looking at being termed “rebuilding” for yet another season. So, I gave you the good yesterday, now today is the suck. Here are the things that should make you weep at night, alone, in your beds…
1. The Quarterback(s)
While there may be a healthy debate over whether or not Brandon Weeden deserves another shot at developing into the Browns’ permanent solution at quarterback, there may be debate over whether or not he will be able to thrive in a Chud/Turner system. Weeden loves to point out his good size, cannon arm, and relatively high IQ. Weeden detractors point out his poor performance in his rookie season, his high number of interceptions, and his seeming timid on the field.
Whatever side of this debate you come down on, there is one thing that I believe we can all agree on. Brandon Weeden will not be an “elite” quarterback in 2013, and probably not in 2014. Weeden will be 30 years old in 2013, 31 in 2014. The average starting quarterback begins to decline significantly around 35. Knowing these things to be facts, Browns fans and the Browns organization need to accept that this guy is not the long term answer at the most important position on the team. So, even if he gets another year starting in 2013, don’t expect it to extend much further than that.
Also, many of the rumors leaking out indicate that the Browns intend to bring in other options to compete for the starting job with Weeden. Free Agents, possible draft picks, maybe even a trade for someone like Ryan Mallet or Alex Smith. Regardless, Browns fans should get ready for another inglorious showcase to see who’s less awful enough to “earn” the starting slot. It will not be pretty.
2. Mike Lombardi
Of all the front office hires recently made, this is the one that rubs most Browns fans the wrong way. Mike Lombardi was never a very popular figure when he was in Cleveland before, and has generally picked apart (typically accurately) the old regimes missteps very publicly. He is an outspoken critic of Brandon Weeden (making #1 even worse), and has a lot of enemies in the Cleveland media. He will be the drama epicenter until the regular season starts.
Here’s the thing. I haven’t made up my mind on if I am apathetic to or outright dislike the Mike Lombardi hire. I don’t love it though, I know that. And, given the fact that I think Tom Heckert did a solid job drafting, scouting and signing young talented players, Lombardi will have good sized shoes to fill. And Lombardi’s draft record (see Jamarcus Russell) certainly should leave Browns fans pretty wary.
3. Defensive Changes/Firing of Dick Jauron
The defense was a bright spot on an otherwise struggling team in 2012. They kept the Browns in games that could have easily turned into blowouts, they forced turnovers and gave the offense solid field position regularly. They got into a good rhythm throughout the season, and seemed to really come together under Dick Jauron’s coaching.
Now, since we should keep the majority of our defense team, and should see them back healthy next year, whats the problem? Well, first I feel like karma is bound to take a bite out of us for firing a good coach who did a great job last year. I don’t think that the football gods are likely to let that slide. And its not like Cleveland Football has been in their good graces since before my parents were even alive. Why, oh why, would we flick a lit match at the gasoline of fate? Will we never learn…
Seriously though, I don’t think Ray Horton is a bad coach. Quite the contrary, I think he’s a great d-coordinator. But, the 4-3 that we have established in Cleveland is not what he prefers to run, and its going to take time to get the personnel to run his system. YEARS. MORE YEARS OF SUCKING. That’s not speculation, its fact. As optimistic as I pretend to be about running a “hybrid” defense, the fact is that it will take some doing. And will cost us precious time.
4. Lack of Offensive Line Depth
For having a solid core along the offensive line, the Browns are desperately thin. Meaning, we have no back up Right Guard and no back up Center. The Browns should address some of this in the draft, perhaps by snagging up Larry Warford in the second or third round, the Browns are either going to have to dig late in the draft, or hope to make a few acquisitions in free agency. In any case, an injury to the somewhat injury prone Alex Mack, or god forbid an injury to Joe Thomas, and the Browns are going to be in serious trouble.
5. Lack of Passing Attack/Offensive Firepower
Even though I think the receiving corp will improve substantially from 2012, I by no means think this is going to be the multi-threat offense that most top teams have. Look around the league. New Orleans can kill you with the deep ball to several high caliber receivers, run the ball with a backfield full of speedy runners, toss the ball out to the flat to those RB’s with great hands, and eat you alive in the short game with their TE threat. New England has a similar approach, solid run game, fantastic deep ball threat, dangerous TE’s. Add in teams like Washington or San Francisco that have Quarterbacks who provide a valid run threat, and you see how the differences are highlighted to the Browns offense. Right now, the Browns offense has one dimension, the run (thanks Trent). The receivers don’t have chemistry with the quarterback, so the timing routes and the big down field throws don’t work. The TE’s have yet to show a consistent level of play. There is no threat of short yardage throws that eat up the field. And none of this is going to be fixed overnight. It can be improved, and we certainly can (see: should) in 2013. But it won’t be enough, it won’t be elite. Not yet.