We finish up with our herculean Browns’ Training Camp Preview.
In case you’re new to the 99 Problems Browns’ Training Camp Preview, you can catch up with the following:
We’ve covered the basics and quarterbacks here, more quarterbacks here, talked some T-Rich and running backs here, lamented Jordan Cameron’s next injury here, celebrated the short career of Billy Yates here, explained why you can’t spank Josh Gordon here, for the thousandth f-ing time, talked about how Ray Horton doesn’t run a 3-4 here, wondered what exactly Barkevious Mingo will do in the NFL here and didn’t talk ourselves into Chris Owens here.
So, I Read in the PD That the Browns Are Going to be Really Good This Year, But You Seem to be Really Negative. Why Do You Hate the Browns?
First, if you’ve made it this far in the 99 Problems series, then you have two things going for you:
1) You either don’t have a demanding job/career, a bunch of kids, a significant other or anything else that eats into your free time.
2) You are the rare Browns’ fan who doesn’t buy everything the PR wing of the team is selling.
Or in the most precise terms I can muster, you are able to understand that different people have different opinions.
When I see, hear and read an avalanche of uber-positive offseason press devoted to the Browns, I know that something’s up. Again, this is the same team that has won 23 games over the past 5 seasons and during the same span has burned through four head coaches, six starting quarterbacks and tore up the roster four different times.
And add to that the new owner is under government investigation, the Team President is making football personnel decisions and the general manager has gone into hiding.
So yes, I would think that under these circumstances, it might be worthwhile to question the “everything is great” mantra that is continually spit out around these parts.
Okay. But Why Are You So Negative?
So What’s Good About the 2013 Browns?
One day in the future when I write my long-awaited Browns’ book and 13 people buy it, I will again reference the lowest point in Browns’ expansion era history – when the Detroit Lions and a one-armed Matthew Stafford bested Brady Quinn in a 2009 shootout. At the time, the Browns probably scored as many points in one game as it seemed they had all season. Yet, it wasn’t enough to beat an extraordinarily terrible Lions team – a team that had gone 0-16 the prior season.
And if that wasn’t disappointing enough, at the time the Browns featured exactly five promising players on the entire roster:
After barely half a season, Phil Savage’s bloated and largely talentless roster was gutted and the Browns became the oldest team in the league. In terms of real optimism – the kind that spawn phrases like “Believeland” – it couldn’t have been any worse.
Of course, then Mike Holmgren and his band of grifters waltzed in.
Why Will This Year Be Any Different Than the Last 15?
Using my 2009 Low Point as a reference, I would categorize the following players as promising:
It’s far from ideal, but at least the list is growing. Add in a couple of decent drafts (assuming the front office decides to draft players next year) and the list could double in time.
This is progress.
What it’s not is a consistent playoff team – which seems to be the general “let’s take average and blow it into greatness” theme that is playing around these parts.
Why Will This Year Be Any Different Than the Last?
This one is really simple.
Yes, the Browns made some big free agent signings, but largely the 2013 roster is pretty similar to the 2012 one. Naturally, the younger players on the roster are a year more experienced.
However, competent coaching should be the difference between squeaking out five wins a year ago (over some very bad teams) and maybe pulling out seven or eight in 2013.
Regardless of coaching scheme, philosophy, buzz words and media narratives applied to Norv Turner and Ray Horton, it cannot be said enough that Pat Shurmur was both the league’s worst Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator a year ago. Replacing Shurmur with Rob Chudzinski and Turner gives the Browns at least two more wins this season.
If you’re into sabermetrics, let’s call it WAP – or Wins Above Pat.
What About Ray Horton? Why Don’t You Acknowledge His Greatness?
Look – I’m very happy the Browns landed Horton. I think he’s a terrific coach and I truly hope that he uses the Browns to land a much deserved Head Coaching job. In fact, I kind of hoped that Horton would actually get the Browns’ Head Coaching job, then bring in a competent Offensive Coordinator. Either way, he’s here and I hope the Browns’ defense actually becomes a top unit.
However, what I saw from Horton’s Arizona defense a year ago doesn’t match the hype surrounding what Browns’ media and fans actually think Horton’s defense will be.
What I saw was a very fast defense that relied on defensive line pressure and downfield coverage matchups. Yes, Horton will bring extra pass rushers – but not to the point that opposing quarterbacks will run off the field crying. Horton’s Cardinals’ defense operated out of a four-man front on most downs and relied on two linebackers to switch between blitzing, coverage and containment.
Yet, what will make Horton’s defense work in Cleveland is the exact same thing that makes every successful NFL defense work:
Horton’s defenders have to take good angles, beat blocks, tackle and survive man on man coverage matchups. When Horton’s Cardinals’ defense did this last year, they were a very good unit. When they didn’t, they were very average.
But You Have to Be Positive About Norv Turner, Right?
I just don’t want Turner having to do anything with Fourth Quarter clock management decisions. In fact, if Chudzinski wanted to pull a Shurmur and call his own plays during the Fourth Quarter, I would probably be okay with that.
Anyway, Turner is an accomplished NFL coach and an experienced play caller. He’s absolutely the kind of coordinator a first-time NFL Head Coach needs. However, Turner’s lengthy history suggests that he’s not football royalty. Instead – like Horton – he’s a solid, competent coach that should deliver the kind of consistency the Browns haven’t experienced during the expansion era.
And most importantly, he’s not Pat Shurmur.
Why Have You Not Mentioned the Special Teams?
Back in 2009, Special Teams was pretty much all I had. Joe Thomas and Special Teams. I pretty much burned myself out on Special Teams for the next decade.
This must be why I love watching the 49ers now. And somehow I still have a dream that Brad Seely gets a Head Coaching job – maybe here in Cleveland when the next front office moves in.
Anyway, I don’t fully understand the Chris Tabor love. His 2011 Special Teams units were among the worst in the NFL – which made his 2012 units look incredibly good by comparison. In terms of continuity, I guess it’s good to keep Tabor around. However, since Special Teams players constantly change from year to year, I’m not sure what the real impact will be.
That being said, this is going to be a challenging year for Tabor – given that Josh Cribbs is in Oakland and Phil Dawson is looking for a ring in San Francisco. Losing Cribbs hurts the kickoff coverage and if Johnson Bademosi winds up as a starting safety, I can’t imagine him covering as many kicks as he did last year. While most people think Travis Benjamin is an easy replacement for Cribbs, I have to suggest that it’s going to be hard for Benjamin to stay healthy doing double return duty.
As for the kicking situation, if the Browns really do keep two kickers to replace Dawson, then it’s time to bring back George Kokinis – because we’ve hit a new low.
So What’s the Worst Case Scenario for the Browns?
First, I really like a lot of Browns on this roster. Beyond the veterans who have taken years off their lives for football – guys like Thomas, Mack, Rubin and Jackson – and the younger, hard-working players – guys like Richardson, Little, Schwartz, Taylor, Haden, Robertson, Ward and Bademosi – there are a lot of players worth rooting for who will make watching games enjoyable.
Yet, the absolute key to the Browns’ 2013 season comes down to Quarterback play. As much as I hate to say that in this town – given how the Browns’ media only notice Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers, if Brandon Weeden can prove to be more than an overly politically correct, rocket-armed dullard, then the Browns have a real shot to compete in every game they play in 2013.
If not, then the offense stalls and the defense gets exhausted playing forty minutes a game for the 15th year in a row.
Speaking of the defense, there is a great chance that the Browns could boast their best pass rush of the expansion era. However, to be a truly great defense, the Browns have to tackle, cover and stop the run. While blitzes are great, so is downfield coverage and shedding blocks.
So, Let’s End on an Upbeat Note
If anything, the Browns will be a fun team to watch in 2013.
And in the perfect circle that is 99 Problems, let’s save the best for last: