So, of late, I’ve been told I’m being too negative. I get it really. I’m pretty direct with my opinion on things, and I don’t predict that the Browns will win all the times. I said as soon as Hoyer went down that the Browns would have to have some luck to get through the next three games with a single win (Detroit, Green Bay, Kansas City). The fact is, Brandon Weeden is not an NFL level starting quarterback, and he has a negative impact on both sides of the ball. He consistently puts the defense in bad position, either by failing to move the ball or by turnovers. He has literally no ability to influence the offense in a positive way, and my takes on his inaccuracy, inability to read plays, and his statue like mobility are well known at this point. That being said, there are some things that I feel good about and think you should too.
1. The Browns Defense Could Easily Develop Into The Best In The NFL
Our defensive numbers have stumbled since Weeden has been back in at QB. As I mentioned, he’s left them in bad position after bad position, and kept them on the field for way too long. However, they’ve shown that they can be extremely dangerous plenty of times during the year. Phil Taylor and the defensive line, along with D’Qwell and Robertson can put a halt on most running teams. In games where Hoyer started and the Browns got out to an early lead, they effectively shut off most teams ability to run by the end of the first quarter. This included Adrian Peterson, arguably the best running back of his generation. Couple this with the fact that Ray Horton’s defense isn’t fully installed yet (mainly the pass rush/disruption plays), and you can see where its going. Guys are still developing (Mingo), or learning their role in the system (Kruger/Sheard/Groves), and they are going to keep getting better as they learn the defense and gel better. Add to this that another round of the draft and free agency is likely to see the depth get even better, and the Browns defense, already good, will be among the consistently elite units in the NFL.
2. There Are Playmakers On This Offense
I feel like most of us have forgotten in the short span since Hoyer got hurt, but the Browns have offensive weapons. Josh Gordon, with the right QB, can easily be a top 5 WR in the NFL in short time. Jordan Cameron was an emerging star, and I don’t buy that his struggles since Weeden took the reigns has as much to do with defenses adjusting to him as it does with Weeden just not looking in his direction. Chris Ogbonnaya showed that he can be a good multi dimension back, catching passes and getting extra yards out of the backfield, when he’s utilized properly. Willis McGahee showed that he can still be effective, especially late in games when defenses are most vulnerable to his nasty, punishing style of running. We’ve been down late in games with Hoyer out, and McGahee has suffered as a result. Davone Bess proved that when used in an actual slot role, running slot routes he is highly effective (he was catching 100% of passes from Hoyer on slot routes). Even Greg Little, when not drawing the coverage of opposing defenses #1 cornerbacks, was showing himself to be a versatile weapon thanks to his size mismatch and power running style. Even Travis Benjamin was getting fantastic production on offensive plays drawn up to maximize his explosive speed. The problem for Benji now is that Weeden just can’t finesse the ball to him, and he’s unlikely to see many looks deep because of his suspect nature in catching deep balls. But, when Hoyer gets back next season, or worst case when we draft our future QB in the coming draft, these guys should all still be around. Add Dion Lewis coming back from injury next year, and the Browns offense suddenly gets a lot more formidable.
3. We Have A Top Shelf Coaching Staff
Say what you will about the front office, but the Browns coaching staff is one of the best in the league. Chud has shown himself to be patient, daring and a skilled head coach already. Norv Turner is still arguably the best play caller in the NFL, and will only get more effective as his personnel start to reflect his system. And Ray Horton should have been a head coach last season. He is, in my opinion, the best defensive coordinator in the NFL right now. In less than half the season, Horton has turned the Browns defense, which never really had an identity, in to a mean, nasty, brutal, hard hitting attack machine. Like I mentioned earlier, Horton has repeatedly pointed out that his full defense isn’t nearly implemented yet. While the process is taking some time, it has to give you hope that they are going to keep getting better and better. What I’ve really liked the most is that this staff never seems to panic. They realize they’re building, realize they’re growing, and aren’t trying to cash everything in for an extra win or two. I believe in these guys.
4. Joe Banner And Mike Lombardi Can Be Trusted
I never really had doubts about Joe Banner. His resume and experience have been largely successful, and I had a good feeling that he would do a much better job than Holmgren did. The Lombardi hire I wasn’t very hot on at first, but his predictions have been pretty spot on thus far. He hated the Weeden draft pick (check), he brought Brian Hoyer in (check), and he was the guy responsible for picking up Kruger (check) and what looks like a steal in the Richardson trade (double check). His past draft history is still checkered, but with Banner and Chud ultimately calling the shots in the draft, I’m okay with Lombardi being in and having a say in the war room come draft night.
5. We’re Due
I mean, come on. No one can be as consistently awful as the Browns have been since ’99 forever. Things HAVE to turn around. In an NFL of parity, where good teams become bad teams, and bad teams become good teams almost annually, I feel like it just has to happen soon. Even perennial failures like the Detroit Lions have gotten better. And damn it, we’ve got a hell of a football town. Cleveland fans are second to none in loyalty and fervor for their team. I feel like all that positive energy and zealous support has to pay dividends eventually, right? Right?!?!?