The Browns shouldn’t be so bad this season

by Cleveland Frowns on September 10, 2015

Let’s forget for a moment that the NFL is basically a five-month-long commercial for beer, pick-up trucks and the military-industrial complex, subsidized by taxpayers on the worst possible terms and powered by men willing to turn their brains into porridge on non-guaranteed contracts for the off-chance at dying with some money in the bank. Let’s also forget that hardly any of the people who manage the Cleveland Browns, play for the Cleveland Browns, or misappropriate an annual 8-plus-figure annuity from the Cleveland Browns would have a decent thing to do with Cleveland, Ohio if the NFL franchise didn’t happen to be based here. Let’s even forget that there probably won’t even be a Cleveland, Ohio, or any place else for too much longer. Football season is here so it’s time to talk about how it’s going to go.

Browns fan

The prediction here is that it won’t go so badly, at least not as far as Browns seasons go. At certain points in the NFL’s life cycle, consecutive seasons of high drafting by the weaker teams and the depreciation and increasing expense of the rosters of the stronger teams tend to result in a shift in the league’s balance of power. As impressively as the Browns have bucked this trend over the past 15 years, and as much as they’ve flushed at least 5 of their last 8 first-round picks down the sewer, they’ve still managed to collect some decent players over the last few years, and the roster is probably underrated heading into the new season.

It starts, of course, with an offensive line anchored by a Hall of Famer (Joe Thomas), two more Pro-Bowlers (Alex Mack and Joel Bitonio), a veteran whom Pro Football Focus graded as “excellent” last season (John Greco), and a high second-round pick from 2012 (Mitchell Schwartz) who was good enough to make PFF’s “all third year team” in 2014. This is one of those times when having a first-round pick (Cam Erving) who can’t crack the starting lineup is a good thing! The Browns offense started as one of the league’s best before Mack was lost to injury last season which should have been no surprise because teams with at least 3 Pro Bowl offensive linemen are never ever bad.

Apart from this guarantee of success, there are still other reasons for optimism. A secondary that was one of the best in the league last season should be improved with the addition of Tramon Williams and with Tashaun Gipson and K’Waun Williams returning to health. The defensive line should be better, too, with highly promising first-rounder Danny Shelton and free agent Randy Starks joining Desmond Bryant and a deep group of young backups. All of which should only help a linebacking corps led by Karlos Dansby, who was playing as well as any middle backer in the league before going down with a knee injury in week 11 in Houston. Notably, Dansby’s absence from the lineup corresponded with the team’s worst five game stretch of the season (1-4 from Nov. 16 to Dec. 14, with the 4 losses coming by a combined 63 points).

Yet all anyone wants to talk about is how the Browns don’t have a quarterback or wide receiver because fantasy football is making people stupid at an increasingly alarming rate. But if Josh McCown has proven anything in his 12 years in the league, it’s that he’s no McCoy/Weeden/Manziel-type dumpster conflagration. On a team like this, that should matter a lot. For example, 2015 McCown has to be at least as good as a rookie and second-year Mark Sanchez was when Sanchez went to two consecutive conference championship games with a Jets team constructed a lot like these Browns are. Looking back at McCown’s career, it’s easy enough to say that he’s never been put in as good a position to succeed as he’ll be in Cleveland this year.

It would of course be nice if there were a prototypical “number one” receiver for him to throw to, but Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins and Travis Benjamin are all proven to have the ability and inclination to perform the essential functions of the position, and Taylor Gabriel has shown promise. The offensive line should give these guys enough time to get open, and McCown enough time to find them. And the running game should open things up as well, whoever gets the carries (Note: Third-round pick Duke Johnson is the all-time leading rusher of a University of Miami program that’s turned out Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore, to name a few). If the offensive line stays healthy enough (hooray again for having Erving as a backup here), the Browns should be able to keep a top-third defense off the field long enough to make for a surprise playoff contender.

This preview is, of course, subject to the assumption that the front office learned anything at all from last season and will thus keep from texting plays to the sideline, forcing the coaching staff to pretend that Johnny Manziel has any business as a starting NFL quarterback, or otherwise interfering with the coaches’ jobs. It also contains no representations about what will happen next year once Haslam and his goons inevitably become intoxicated by this season’s success. We’re talking about 2015 here. The Redskins are running away with the mantle of league’s worst embarrassment. Plus, Cleveland Frowns season previews are never wrong. The orange helmets are back and this is our year.

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Related: Our friend at 603Brown has come up with an inspired and inspiring comparison to the 1974 Cardinals.

  • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

    Also, for fun, I’ll call a Ravens/Eagles Super Bowl. As for the colleges, I think UCLA could be a surprise title contender. The EDSBS season opener post might be his best ever and everyone should read it: http://www.everydayshouldbesaturday.com/2015/9/8/9249681/broke

    Also, it’s not too late to join the illustrious Cheddar Bay football picking contest: http://603brown.com/2015/09/09/cheddarbay-week-2-ducks-at-sparty/

    Which is all for now. I’ll check in here from time to time as the games play out if anyone wants to talk. Happy football season!

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  • Jordan Zirm

    My hope: The Browns use a favorable early season schedule (Jets, Titans, Raiders and Chargers) to work out exactly how they want the offense to go. 10 yards at a time with the occasional deep ball, which will hopefully connect more than Hoyer’s futile attempts at throwing the ball 20 yards or more last season. I worry about Crowell/Duke Johnson, but the point about the O-line giving the RB holes to run through and the collection of receivers time to get open is pertinent. The Browns were competent through most of last season, and that should continue again this season despite the lack of a serious playmaker on the offense side of the ball. And when they inevitable crash and burn by week ten you can find me in a Browns onesie crying into a pillow.

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      Duke Johnson was *really* good at Miami. He’s their all time leading rusher and this is a program that sprung Edgerrin James and Willis McGahee. The improved defensive line should help a lot, too.

      • Jordan Zirm

        Agreed. I guess it’s moreso the feeling I get that the Browns are banking on Johnson staying healthy so they can use him in a myriad of different ways, despite his injury history. I could say the same about Terrelle Pryor, though I admittedly think he’s going to surprise a lot of people. Keep those guys healthy, use them creatively, and let’s see what happens.

        • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

          I’m less optimistic about Pryor mainly because it just seems too good to be true. But who knows? Anyway, yeah, why shouldn’t they be banking on Johnson to do good things? A 3rd round pick is a high price these days for a running back. And again, he was really good at Miami.

          • Bryan

            Prior actually just got waived apparently. Weird.

          • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

            So that they could pick up Robert Turbin. https://twitter.com/AdamSchefter/status/642076397557575681

            OK?

          • Jordan Zirm

            Always need that Coming Off An Ankle Injury Third String Running Back, right? Sheesh.

          • nj0

            Turbin isn’t a sexy pick-up, but he’s a solid guy to have on your roster. Big north/south runner who can catch passes and protect in the passing game. I’d take him over a project like Pryor. (But then again, I’m not an OSU fan.)

            Though it is weird to sign an injured RB right now considering the current lack of depth at the position.

          • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

            I used to hear people say that the Seahawks should let Lynch go and let Turbin take over for him. Whatever else, at least we’re getting a guy who’s been in a Super Bowl locker room for the last two years.

          • Bryan

            I think Turbin is more valuable than Prior. Good move.

          • Bryan

            Grossi is his usual insighful self:

            Tony Grossi ‏@TonyGrossi 35m35 minutes ago
            So #Browns claim a RB with a high ankle sprain. When are the tryouts for peg-legged kickers?

          • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

            I hope Grossi hears from the National Disability Rights Network about this peg-leg slur.

  • Chris P.

    It’s also quite likely that we’ve (purely by accident) lucked into a really good head coach.

    I wouldn’t put it past Haslam to fire him or make his job so uncomfortable that he quits. I’ve seen no real reason to believe in his business acumen. I mean at least his brother accomplished something his dad didn’t hand to him by getting elected, no matter how he managed to do it.

    I’d love to list his litany of business nonsense, but the authorities and lawyers have done a better job with that than I ever could. It’s hard for me to come up with many real solid things the guy has done in his career, but he did divest himself of the Steelers, so there is that.

    This is a talented team with a good coach. Middling front office personel could kill it… I’m tempted to say 4-0 before Ray Farmer comes back and 0-12 after, but it feels like a 8-8 or better team and a fun winter. Here’s praying.

    • tigersbrowns2

      hi CHRIS … we can only hope mr. haslam learned about the “continuity” thing during his stint in pittsburgh. ray farmer will get the job done …

    • Chris P.

      or I could be wrong.

  • Jeff Rich

    Control-F: Pryor (no results found)
    Control-F: Bowe (no results found)

    If you’re buying on the Browns’ 2015 Receiving Corps, those are good names to omit.

    Control-F: James Jackson (no results found)

    Of the crop of NFL running backs from The U during the Butch Davis/early Coker years, he was the outlier. Of course, he’s the one Butch got in Cleveland. In the argument for Duke, he was playing against a much better ACC than the Big East of the early BCS era the others mentioned faced.

    On that note, not every high school kid recruited by NCAA coaches with an eye for talent at certain positions pans out like the notables. However, Mark Richt found Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb for his team in the other Athens, and there’s a way to mention Crowell in that same breath without really hesitating.

    I worry about chemistry on this offense, and can think of a lot of reasons why it won’t work. I think that’s going to carry over to the defensive side of the ball, how they’re going to be gassed late in games. I guess if they’re reminiscent of the ’85 Bears on defense (get to the QB), there’s a flip side to the coin. 1st half “3 & outs” = 4th quarter wind.

    If it put a number on the wins & losses, it would probably be bad, but if this team stays healthy and matches expectation on D, I might be able to laugh at that number in December. We can only hope.

    Go Browns

  • Bryan

    Glad to see you analyzing the Browns again, Frowns. Always a much needed fresh perspective.

    I share your optimism. This was a very good team last year before Mack got hurt. With Mack back and Erving giving us depth, we should be good again. And the depth on D is impressive.

    I worry about “Flip.” I like him so far, but I really really liked Shanahan last year and thought his run scheme was a big reason for our offensive success (pre-Mack injury(. We have seen bad O-Coordinators single-handedly destroy our offense. So I think Flip is a big X-factor here.

  • Mad_Elf

    Great to see you writing a Browns article, Frowns!
    (despite it probably being the end of the world)

  • Dave Kolonich

    I only ask for 2 things: 1) Somewhat entertaining games, 2) Haslam doesn’t blow it all up again and we get Peyton Manning as GM and Adam Gase as HC this time next year.

    • Dave Kolonich

      And we’ll go with a Baltimore/Seattle Super Bowl.

    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      Your request is more than reasonable.

  • whosevelt

    Good perspective, Frowns. The Kanicki article explains last season’s highlights and slide and gives hope for this season despite the lack of skill at the skill positions.

    I am less optimistic about the defense considering that they were terrible against the run last year and didn’t show much improvement in the preseason. But here’s hoping!

  • actovegin1armstrong

    “fantasy football is making people stupid at an increasingly amazingly alarming rate”…. Frownie, you know I love you! I have an acquaintance who knows nothing about football, but is an f-football savant, teaching me the subtle nuances of the game. Sorry that my aim has faltered and I put the ball into the back of his head instead of his hands during picnic games. To help the uninitiated, if you get the ball very wet, it has much more impact. Glad you are back Frownie.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1kbBmlAvdI PML
    • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

      I’m still holding out hope until I see McCown (or even Austin Davis) play quarterback for a whole game. I wrote at Kanick’s site earlier: It amazes me that people could watch the first Browns drive, then watch the rest of the game, and walk away thinking that Manziel was a bright spot and that the rest of the team didn’t give him a chance to succeed. I suppose it’s impossible for a third-party observer to see — other than by looking at the final results, of course — just how much the team lost with Johnny in there in terms of the playbook, setting the blocking schemes, and etc. This is even apart from the fact that the Jets were obviously stacking against the run and sending the house on passing downs as soon as he went in the game. Maybe this gets better once he gets a week of practice snaps, but I have serious doubts about how much better.

      Yesterday, for the first time since 2010, I was on Twitter trying to convince people that this team really isn’t that bad (and that the problem was the backup QB). I practically got lynched for it. It was incredible.

      • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1kbBmlAvdI PML

        Yeah, that was pretty encouraging. Until the Brownsiest ending to the drive happened, I was starting to think we might have something. My bigger concern was the D. Nothing I saw was a reason to believe we are in good shape except for the first 2 quarters of run D.

        • http://www.clevelandfrowns.com/ Cleveland Frowns

          Yeah, but when you can’t get anything going on offense it takes the steam out of the D. Plus, the Jets look like they might be good this year. Their offensive line has to be one of the best in the league, and Brandon Marshall is a freak.

          • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1kbBmlAvdI PML

            We’re going to be rock solid 6-10.

  • actovegin1armstrong

    “fantasy football is making people stupid at an increasingly alarming rate.” You know I love you Frownie!

  • actovegin1armstrong

    ” because fantasy football is making people stupid at an increasingly alarming rate. ”
    You know I love you Frownie!

  • jdcooper

    So…..how’s this prediction working out so far ??

  • HisFishHawk

    Cleveland Frowns has been included in the A Sunday Drive for this week. Be assured that we hope this helps to point even more new visitors in your direction.

    http://asthecrackerheadcrumbles.blogspot.com/2015/11/a-sunday-drive_29.html

  • rgrunds

    Peter. I just read this. You are a distressing imbecile and must be sterilized. Please call for an appointment.

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