Cleveland Browns 2013 Offseason Preview
2012 Season Recap
The Browns haven't had a winning record since 2007, finishing no better than 5-11 in the past five seasons. They've had three head coaches during that span and finished in last place four times in the AFC North. The 2012 season was simply The Browns Way, which is a euphemism for utter dysfunction.
Rookie Brandon Weeden threw more interceptions (17) than touchdowns (14), and despite being 6-foot-4 had more passes batted down at the line of scrimmage (21) than any other quarterback in the league. The offense ranked 24th in points and 25th in yards, picking up fewer first downs than all but three other teams.
Cleveland opened with a heartbreaking 17-16 loss to the Eagles, with Michael Vick orchestrating a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter, and things only got worse from there. The Browns committed 12 turnovers (nearly half of the season's 26) during an 0-5 start. They had just one winning streak, stringing together three victories from Week 12 to Week 14 over the struggling Steelers, Raiders and Chiefs. But the momentum quickly shifted. They closed the slate with a three-game skid, finishing 5-11 and in last place. Ahem, The Browns Way.
Stat To Feel Good About
If It Ain't Broke ...
Rookie running backs Alfred Morris of the Redskins and Doug Martin of the Buccaneers finished among the league's top 10 rushers last season, making it easy to forget about Trent Richardson. Taken by the Browns with the third overall pick last April, Richardson rushed for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 51 passes for 367 yards and another TD. Had he picked up another 50 yards on the ground, he would have been the league's 17th back to rush for at least 1,000. Imagine what his production could have been with improved circumstances: he played nine games with broken ribs and ran behind a line that ranked 14th in run blocking efficiency, according to a Pro Football Focus analytics model. He was also a focal point for defenses. Excluding runs by quarterbacks, Richardson got the ball 73.4 percent of the time when Cleveland kept it on the ground.
The Browns should improve up front this offseason, and Richardson should get a boost next fall from new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Three players have led the league in rushing while playing for Turner. Emmitt Smith did it from 1991-93, when Turner was the offensive coordinator in Dallas. Ricky Williams did it in 2002, when Turner was the coordinator in Miami. LaDainian Tomlinson also did it in 2007 when Turner was the head coach in San Diego. Could Richardson blossom into one of the league's best backs?
Must Fix It
New defensive coordinator Ray Horton interviewed for head coaching positions this offseason, and he'll be a sure hire in 2014 if he can turn around the Browns' struggling unit. Where to begin? The Browns surrendered 3,923 passing yards, 25th in the league. The secondary did so despite being helped by a decent pass rush: The Browns ranked 11th with 38 sacks and held opposing quarterbacks to a 66.16 passer rating in blitz situations (the league average was 83.48). Signing a lockdown corner should be a priority.
According to Pro Football Focus, Cleveland had the league's second lowest percentage (15.6) of runs stopped for a loss or no gain. The unit struggled to get off the field -- opponents had a longer time of possession against the Browns than all but two other defenses allowed. The unit hardly ever set a tone (it ranked 30th in points allowed on the first possession of a half) and often failed in pressure-packed situations (it also ranked 30th in points allowed in the final two minutes of a half). The defense was ultimately liable to crumple at any moment: It ranked 27th in opponent quick strike drives, allowing 59 points on drives that lasted fewer than four plays.
More On The To-Do List
What We'll Be Saying In July
The Browns have had just one winning season in the past decade, so merely finishing .500 should be considered a success in 2013. The past two head coaches, Eric Mangini and Pat Shurmur, were each given just two years on the job, but the focus should now be more long-term. By the end of Rob Chudzinski's contract (a reported five years) this team should be a regular playoff contender. Patience, however, will be required. This year's two most important facets are the draft -- a topic that will be endlessly debated and graded throughout the summer -- and Brandon Weeden. The second-year quarterback isn't a lock to be the starter, but last year's first round pick should be given every opportunity to prove himself before the Browns write him off as a sunk cost.