By Bucky Brooks
March 27, 2009

The Cleveland Browns' decision to shop Braylon Edwards is a head scratcher.

The third-overall pick in the 2005 draft is the only difference maker on a team that ranked 31st in total offense a season ago. Edwards finished with 55 receptions, 873 yards and three touchdowns, a down year especially on the heels of his 80-1,289-16 career season of 2007. He also had four receptions of more than 40 yards for the third-straight season in '08 and ranked 12th in the league with 15 receptions of more than 20 yards.

Edwards' detractors point to his inconsistent hands, and rightly so. He has been among the league leaders in dropped passes the past three seasons. Another strike against him is his penchant for running the wrong routes and blowing assignments. Still, despite those flaws, the Browns would be wise to keep Edwards.

His production isn't easily replaced, and losing him would force the Browns to field an offensive lineup with far less talent than the 10-6 squad from 2007. They'll already be without Kellen Winslow, who was traded to Tampa early in the offseason and Joe Jurevicius, who was cut after failing to play a snap in 2008. Former Pro Bowl back Jamal Lewis will be 30 before Week 1 and is coming off a sub-par season in which he averaged less than four yards per carry.

Furthermore, the team is monitoring the investigation into a car accident in which wideout Donte' Stallworth hit a pedestrian, who died on the scene. No charges have been filed against Stallworth pending the outcome of blood tests.

Then there's the Browns' uncertain quarterback situation. Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn are battling for the starting job, and taking away a talented playmaker at receiver would make their lives increasingly difficult. Edwards' most productive season coincided with Anderson's breakout year, and the duo appears to have the kind of chemistry that exists between top quarterback/receiver tandems.

For a Browns-Giants deal to get done, it would need to approximate the Lions-Cowboys Roy Williams trade, in which the Cowboys gave up first-, third- and sixth-round picks for Williams and a seventh-round pick. Early reports had Cleveland getting the two picks New York received from the Saints in the Jeremy Shockey trade (second- and fifth-round selections). Steve Smith, Dominik Hixon and Mario Manningham were also mentioned as possible players included in the deal. While each of the Giants trio brings a special set of skills, there is not a potential No. 1 receiver in the bunch.

The Browns are attempting to retool a roster that underachieved in 2008, but the removal of their top offensive player would set them back for 2009 and beyond.

Can a tiger change its stripes? Marvin Lewis, the Bengals head coach, is giving it his best shot by making over the team's offensive identity in 2009.

The Bengals are set to unveil a new offense this fall that hopes to feature a power running game, complemented by a vertical play-action pass attack. The look will be similar to what Cincinnati ran in 2005, the last time the team made the playoffs.

Last season, the Bengals finished dead-last in total offense. Much of that can be attributed to starting quarterback Carson Palmer missing all but four games with injury. More alarming, however, is that the Bengals only scored two or more touchdowns in six of their past 35 games, despite fielding a roster that features Pro Bowlers at key offensive positions. Thus, Lewis had little choice but to revamp the team's offensive approach.

"We're going to get back to effectively running the football and throwing it downfield," he said in January.

In 2005, the Bengals ranked 11th in rush offense, led by Rudi Johnson's 1,458-yard season. The team averaged more than 119 yards on the ground and tallied 4.2 yards per carry. In the three seasons since, the Bengals have never ranked higher than 24th in rush offense, and the rushing yards per game have steadily declined in each season (from 101.8 to 97.2 to 95.0).

The inconsistency of the running game has affected Palmer, whose effectiveness has declined without the threat of a formidable rush offense. Since enjoying the best season of his career in 2005 (completing nearly 68 percent of his passes with 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions), Palmer's interception totals have increased in each subsequent season as he has been forced to shoulder more of the offensive load.

Additionally, the lack of an effective running game has hampered the team's explosive vertical passing game. Without the ability to force defenses to commit an extra defender to the running game (eight-man fronts), the Bengals' offense has been robbed of its most dangerous element: the deep ball.

Last season, the team only completed two passes of more than 40 yards and averaged an abysmal 5.2 yards per attempt. Five-time Pro Bowl receiver Chad Johnson averaged a career-low 10.2 yards per catch and saw his string of six-straight seasons with more than 1,000 receiving yards end.

Furthermore, Johnson only registered three receptions of more than 20 yards and didn't have a reception longer than 40 yards for the first time since his rookie season. For a player who has made a living on the big play (35 receptions greater than 40 yards in his nine-year career), Johnson saw the lack of a running game render him ineffective as an offensive weapon.

With his top players underachieving in the team's one-dimensional approach, Lewis has started to make the necessary changes to implement the power-running, vertical-passing philosophy he thinks has been lacking in Cincinnati.

The team re-signed Cedric Benson to a two-year, $7 million contract early in free agency after the former Chicago Bear rushed for 747 yards and two touchdowns in 10 starts for Cincinnati.

Benson, who was cut by the Bears prior to training camp following a series of off-field incidents, tallied three 100-yard games, including a spectacular 171-yard effort against the Browns. Although the former fourth-overall pick of the 2005 draft hasn't shed the "bust" label that has been attached to his name since entering the league, he flashed some of the talent that made him such a highly coveted prospect coming out of Texas.

As the Bengals' workhorse, Benson carried the ball 20 or more times in five contests, and the team sported an unbeaten record (4-0-1) in those games. Although the fifth-year pro averaged only 3.5 yards per carry, his ability to grind out tough yards between the tackles forced some eight-man fronts and eventually created some big-play opportunities for the team. With a full training camp under his belt, Benson could be even more dangerous.

The Bengals' acquisition of Laveranues Coles also signals the change in offensive philosophy. Coles, who has 631 career receptions in his nine-year career, replaces T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the lineup. While Houshmandzadeh is arguably one of the best possession receivers in the game, he rarely made big plays down the field and only averaged 9.8 yards per catch last season.

Coles, however, has averaged nearly 13 yards per catch throughout his career, and still possesses enough speed to slip past corners on vertical routes. Though he lost some of the explosiveness that made him a Pro Bowler in 2003, he has produced at least one play of more than 40 yards in each season of his career, including seven over the past three years.

While the aforementioned transactions look good on paper, the team's offensive line woes may render the moves moot. Plagued by injuries (Levi Jones), free agent defections (Eric Steinbach in 2007) and salary cap cuts (Willie Anderson), the unit has underachieved the past two seasons. The Bengals allowed 51 sacks last season and only enabled their rushers to average 3.7 yards a carry, which ranked 28th in the league. With the loss of Stacy Andrews in free agency, the team enters the season with the prospect of playing at least two new starters along the line next season.

While the team can upgrade its talent by using its first-round pick on one of several intriguing tackle prospects (Eugene Monroe, Jason Smith or Andre Smith), it still will take some time for the unit to jell with so many inexperienced players in the lineup.

However, the biggest factor in the success of Bengals' offensive transition rests with offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. The 17-year veteran is highly regarded in league circles due to his extensive knowledge of the passing game, and his offenses consistently rank among the top units in the league. (The Bengals' pass offense finished ranked seventh or higher in three of the past four seasons.)

To ask an esteemed passing game guru to deviate from his preferred method of moving the ball would appear to be a concern, but Bratkowski has done it before. He directed the Bengals' offense when Corey Dillon tallied back-to-back 1,300-yard seasons and was chiefly responsible for Rudi Johnson's ascension several seasons ago.

The Bengals are looking to claw their way back into postseason contention, but the jury is still out on whether Lewis' decision to revamp the offense will be enough to get them there.

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