2010-11 NFL Preview: Cleveland Browns

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Between now and the September 9th season kick-off, Hank Koebler, IV will be previewing all the NFL teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, division): 5-11, 1-5
Division finish: 4th AFC North
Offensive rank (Points, Total Yards, Passing Yards, Rushing Yards): 29th, 32nd, 32nd, 8th
Defensive rank (Points, Total Yards, Passing Yards, Rushing Yards): 22nd, 31st, 29th, 28th

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Jerome Harrison, 862 yards, 5 TD; Jamal Lewis, 500 yards, 0 TD; Josh Cribbs, 381 yards, 1 TD
Passing: Brady Quinn, 1,339 yards, 8 TD, 7 INT; Derek Anderson, 888 yards, 3 TD, 10 INT
Receiving: Mohamed Massaquoi, 624 yards, 3 TD; Jerome Harrison, 220 yards, 2 TD; Josh Cribbs, 135 yards, 1 TD
Tackles: Abram Elam, 74 total tackles, Mike Adams, 58 total tackles; Eric Wright, 57 total tackles
Sacks: Kamerion Wimbley, 6.5 sacks, David Bowens, 5.5 sacks, Corey Williams, 4.0 sacks, Matt Roth, 4.0 sacks
Interceptions: Eric Wright, 4 INT, 0 TD; Brodney Pool, 4 INT, 0 TD

2010 Season Outlook

(* denotes division game)

Key Matchups

October 17 at Pittsburgh: The Steelers may not even have Ben Roethlisberger available, and if they do, this will only be his second game back from his suspension, meaning he will have a lot of rust to shake off. For this reason, this game is the perfect opportunity for the Browns to make a huge statement and show that their upset over the Steelers last year was no fluke. Shaun Rogers should be back from whatever suspension he may face after having a gun in his bag in an airport, so the Browns' pass rush should have no problem hampering Pittsburgh's woeful offensive line.

November 21 vs. Jacksonville: Towards the end of 2009, the Browns started improving drastically, winning their last four games, including upsets over Jacksonville and the then-NFL champion Steelers. The Jaguars will be looking to avenge the loss, but will be hard-pressed to do so. While the Browns are getting better, the Jaguars appear to be rebuilding this year. Containing multi-positional threat Josh Cribbs and quarterback Seneca Wallace will be a tough test for the Jaguars’ defense, especially considering that Cleveland now has threats at the running back position as well. This should be a hard-fought game between the two teams, although neither have a high likelihood of having a shot at the playoffs.

December 12 at Buffalo: This game is a major litmus test for the Browns. If they are progressing on schedule, then they should be able to handily beat the Bills. However, if the Browns do lose to the Bills, then it would be a sign that they are nowhere near as far along in their rebuilding plans as they imagine themselves to be. While this matchup will likely have no playoff implications, it will be extremely telling for the Browns if they struggle against the lackluster Bills.

Key Losses

Mike Furrey, WR/DB; Brodney Pool, FS; Donte Stallworth, WR; Derek Anderson, QB; Corey Williams, DE; Brady Quinn, QB; Kamerion Wimbley, LB; Alex Hall, LB

Key Returning Players

Josh Cribbs, KR/WR; Mohamed Massaquoi, WR; Jerome Harrison, RB; D'Qwell Jackson, ILB; Joe Thomas, OT; Shaun Rogers, NT

Key Draft Picks

Joe Haden, CB; T.J. Ward, FS; Montario Hardesty, RB; Shaun Lauvao, OL; Larry Asante, SS

Key Free Agent Signings

Jake Delhomme, QB; Bobby Engram, WR; Scott Fujita, LB; Tony Pashos, OT; Ben Watson, TE

Key Acquisitions via Trade

Seneca Wallace, QB; Peyton Hillis, RB; Sheldon Brown, CB; Chris Gocong, LB

Offensive Overview

Jake Delhomme just isn't the answer at quarterback. He was never very smooth in the pocket, he pushes the ball too much when he throws, and after his playoff loss to the Cardinals he completely lost his edge, throwing a disastrous eight-to-eighteen touchdown to interception ratio. Neither Derek Anderson nor Brady Quinn was the answer, either, and they are now on new teams, so if the Browns want good quarterbacking they will probably have to get it from Seneca Wallace, an eighth-year pro obtained in a trade from the Seattle Seahawks.

Though Wallace's throwing motion is odd-looking, he is extremely accurate and throws the ball with a ton of zip on it. Because he only has 14 career starts, he hasn't taken the beatings that most 29-year-old quarterbacks have, and still has a ton of speed left in his legs. However, he will not be a great quarterback until he slows his game down. He drops back in the pocket super-fast, and if nobody's open, he immediately scrambles out of the pocket to find his checkdown or run for yardage. This prevents plays from developing, which leads to a low completion rate that belies Wallace's true accuracy. With that being said, he most definitely has potential: in eight starts in Seattle in 2008, Wallace threw for an incredible TD-INT ration of 11 to only 3. If he learns patience in the pocket, he truly can develop into an amazing quarterback, though it will take some time and 2010 will still be a rough year for him.

So far I haven't mentioned rookie quarterback Colt McCoy, selected towards the end of the third round out of the University of Texas. That is because I highly doubt McCoy will have a significant impact in the NFL, especially in his rookie season. First of all, his extremely high completion percentage in college was a reflection of the system he played in; his ball placement is mediocre at best and his receivers often had to make major adjustments to catch his passes. Secondly, he doesn't throw the ball anywhere near as hard as he needs to. Instead of throwing with the zip needed to thread the ball through small holes in NFL coverage, McCoy throws balls that seem to almost float to their target. In the NFL, defenders are a lot faster than they are in college, meaning holes in the coverage will close a lot faster, especially as his slow ball allows defensive backs more time to get in position to make a play on the ball. A lot of the reason he looked so good statistically is that he didn't play against tough defenses in the Big 12, and his line gave him tons of time in the pocket. However, this has created in him the habit of sitting in the pocket for far too long, which led to his disastrous performance against Nebraska, when his line didn't hold up for as long as usual, and he completed only 55.6 percent of his passes, threw no touchdowns, and tossed three interceptions. Last of all, his size and durability are concerns. lists him at 6'1” and 210 pounds, and that's generous. When he played against Alabama, the closest thing to an NFL defense that college football offers, he hurt his shoulder on a routine quarterback sneak in the first few minutes of the game, and had to miss the rest of the BCS Championship because of it. Simply put, McCoy has a bunch of factors working against his efforts to become a legitimate NFL quarterback.

Left tackle Joe Thomas earned a Pro Bowl spot at the young age of 25 last year. There are very few holes in his game, and he will anchor the Browns' line for years to come. Left guard Eric Steinbach is decent in pass protection, but his real strength is in the running game. He constantly pushes defenders several yards off of the ball, and at 295 pounds is still athletic enough to pull all the way to the right side for outside runs. Center Alex Mack was excellent as rookie last year, quickly getting to the second level of the defense to open holes for his running back. Right guard is in flux, especially since the Browns let Rex Hadnot walk after being the weakest link on the line. As of now, it seems third-round pick Shaun Lauvao, who played left tackle in college, is being vetted for the starting right guard position, while free-agent signee Tony Pashos looks to be an upgrade over the underwhelming John St. Clair. In the running game, the Browns often use fullback Lawrence Vickers as a lead blocker, and he does an excellent job of opening holes for his running backs, which helps the offensive line. Running back is an area of strength for the Browns as they have Jerome Harrison, who is extremely explosive, though it takes him approximately 3 or 4 yards to reach full speed. Once he hits full speed, he is nearly impossible to catch. Behind him is running back Chris Jennings, who has amazing change of direction skills and along with Harrison forms one of the top ten running back duos in the league. In exchange for quarterback Brady Quinn, the Browns received running back Peyton Hillis, a bruising back who catches the ball well when coming out of the backfield, from the Denver Broncos, giving them a three-pronged rushing attack. Their running game is further bolstered by the presence of former Kent State quarterback Josh Cribbs, who often took direct snaps last year and averaged 6.9 yards per carry. One part of the Browns' running game that will likely be a non-factor this year is the selection of rookie running back Montario Hardesty from Tennessee. He doesn't break tackles well and isn't fast enough that the speed makes up for that. He doesn't accelerate very well, and was held under 100 yards rushing by Florida, Auburn, Ole Miss, Memphis, Georgia, UCLA, and Alabama. It is really tough to see him making much of an impact. He has a nice spin move and cutback, but that's about it. He might be a decent goal-line back, but behind Jennings, Hillis, and Harrison it's hard to see him having much of a role in his first year. The Browns' receiving corps is OK, and will be a lot better if Mohammed Massaquoi improves on his impressive rookie season. At tight end, Robert Royal didn't have any major flaws, but there isn't anything he does exceptionally well, either. In order to upgrade at the position, the Browns signed former New England Patriot Ben Watson to be the team's primary pass-catching tight end. They also acquired former Seahawk Bobby Engram for depth at receiver. If Wallace is the quarterback, Cribbs will have to take a lot less direct snaps than he did last year, which will allow him to spend more time at receiver, occupying double coverage because of his athleticism. This should give the rest of the receiving corps more room to work with. As a whole, this offense's performance will likely be hindered by quarterback play, regardless of whether Delhomme or Wallace is the starter. However, they have a lot of pieces in place to be a talented offense, and when Seneca Wallace gets a year or two of starting experience under his belt, this could develop into a very good offense.

Defensive Overview

The team's four leading tacklers were all defensive backs, meaning way too many passes were completed. This was a combination of a weak pass rush and poor defensive back play. To address the defensive backfield, the Browns drafted a cornerback, free safety, and strong safety who all have a legitimate shot at starting this season. Cornerback Eric Wright played well last year, doing an excellent job of jumping routes to swat down passes and intercepting four. The Browns used the seventh overall pick on Joe Haden, and he will compete with former Eagle Sheldon Brown for the chance to start opposite Wright. Strong safety Abram Elam was better than anything else the Browns had at safety last year, but he didn't display quick responses when in zone coverage. Rookie Larry Asante could possibly push him for a starting job. Free safety Brodney Pool tied for the team lead in interceptions with four last year, but he is no longer with the Browns and rookie T.J. Ward looks like a lock to replace him. With as many as three rookies possibly starting in the defensive backfield on opening day, it's likely that the Browns will get burned often early in the season, but they definitely have the talent to be a great secondary towards the end of the season once they get over the rookie learning curve.

With nose tackle Shaun Rogers in the game, the Browns' defensive line was decent. After he left the week 12 matchup against the Bengals with a broken leg, the Browns' defensive line was flat-out bad because nobody occupied double teams, which Rogers was able to do with moderate, but not great, success. There is talk that Eric Mangini may move Rogers to defensive end and let Ahtyba Rubin start at nose tackle. This would add more bulk to the team's line, which is almost always a good thing in a 3-4 defense. At the other defensive end spot would be either Kenyon Coleman or Robaire Smith. After both Rogers and Smith were each arrested this offseason in separate incidents involving leaving a gun in their bag when they went to the airport, it is possible one or both of them may face a game or two of suspension.

Despite the loss of both Kamerion Wimbley and Alex Hall, the Browns' linebacking corps is still extremely deep. Starting inside linebackers D'Qwell Jackson and Eric Barton are fully recovered from the injuries they suffered last year, and they will improve the defense's performance. David Bowen started off as the Browns' outside linebacker but moved inside and finished the season with 71 tackles and 5.5 sacks. Bowen is extremely athletic and can capably drop into pass coverage when necessary, as evidenced when he dropped back and intercepted a Charlie Frye pass intended for Darren McFadden on a slant in the Browns' game against the Raiders. Matt Roth and Marcus Benard didn't join the team until late in the season, but they were major contributors almost immediately – Benard had 3.5 sacks in only 6 games, and Roth had 4 in the same amount of games. Additionally, the Browns have added the Eagles' Chris Gocong and the Saints' Scott Fujita over the offseason. While it is not clear who will start at each linebacker position, it is definitely safe to say the Browns will field an incredibly talented and deep linebacking corps this season.

Although defensive line and secondary will be issues at the beginning of the season, this defensive unit could really start to gel towards the end of the season and play really well.

Special Teams Overview

The Browns kickoff and punt coverage units were absolutely stellar in 2009. Despite the league's second-lowest average kickoff distance, the Browns allowed less average yards per kickoff than any other team in the NFL. Similarly, even though they had the league's ninth-worst average punt distance, the Browns had the 5th-best average punt return yards allowed.

As well as being the Browns' best offensive player, Josh Cribbs gives the team a good chance of scoring before the offense even takes the field. He gave the Browns the league's 7th-best average kick return distance, averaging an impressive 27.5 yards per kickoff and returning three kicks for touchdowns. He also averaged 11.9 yards per punt return, bringing one punt back for a score.

Placekicker Phil Dawson didn't miss a single kick from within the 40-yard line in 2009, and he only missed one kick from between 40 and 49 yards, as well. Over the course of his career, 83.3 percent of his field goal attempts have been successful. However, he has been inconsistent from season to season, as his seasonal percentages have ranged from as high as 93.1 percent to as low as 66 percent. For this reason, it's difficult to tell how well Dawson will perform this year – he could be incredibly good, or incredibly bad, and neither would be a surprise.

Head Coach: Eric Mangini

Most people remember Mangini only for his firing from the New York Jets, after gambling the season on Brett Favre backfired as the Jets slid from 8-3 to 9-7 and fell short of the playoffs. What is often forgotten about Mangini is that he turned a 4-12 team into a 10-6 team and went to the playoffs in his first season as a head coach. After a 4-12 second season, Mangini realized he had to make drastic changes, and traded for one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. Although the Favre trade backfired when the Jets slumped late in the season, it showed that Mangini is unafraid to make drastic moves in order to improve his team. In today's NFL where most coaches are far too cautious and unwilling to innovate, Mangini's boldness is a welcome change. He brought it to Cleveland, where he traded malcontent tight end Kellen Winslow for two draft picks although Winslow had been the offense's most important player. He traded for former Jet Abram Elam, and Elam was better than any of the Browns' safeties, earning the starting strong safety job for the entire season. Mangini's brash nature paid off late in the season as the Browns won their final four games, including a 13-6 upset of the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Some of that success should continue into this upcoming season as well.

Top 2011 Free Agents

Seneca Wallace, QB; Shaun Rogers, NT; Eric Wright, CB; Brandon McDonald, CB; Phil Dawson, K

Season Prediction

3rd AFC North

The Browns have gotten better over the offseason, but not good enough to beat the Bengals or the Ravens. They play an absolutely brutal schedule with the AFC East and NFC South, and they're already in a tough division as it is. This makes it very unlikely that they will go to the playoffs, but they have made a ton of progress in the year and a half since Mangini's been their head coach, and they should only continue to get better in the coming years. - Hank Koebler, IV

Hank is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.

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