32 teams in 32 days: Cleveland
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 28, 2008
We continue our team-by-team early off-season look at the NFL with the ...
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This is one of the better bootleg NFL clip compilations on YouTube, or maybe we just like the song. No match for NFL Films, but gets you pumped up if you're a Brownie.
2007 record: 10-6 (402-382)
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 1-3
Expected W-L (based on PF/PA): 8.5-7.5
Last five seasons: 29-51 (.363)
All-time franchise record: 471-364-13 (.563)
Playoff record: 16-20 (.444)
Best game of 2007: 27-17 home win over Houston (Week 12). The Browns won two of the most extreme games of the season: 8-0 (in a blizzard vs. Buffalo) and 51-45 (vs. Cincy in sunny September). Pretty amazing stuff. But for all of Cleveland's success, they didn't have a single dominant effort where they really impressed against a Quality Opponent – in fact, they only had one win over a Quality Opponent, 33-30 over Seattle. The Week 12 win over the Texans was a good solid all-around effort, a 10-point win over a .500 team (Houston was 5-5 at the time) where they dominated most every phase of the game.
Silly-season activity: Cleveland kept everyone it wanted to keep and added some valuable new parts. However, the Browns dealt away the majority of their 2008 draft power (2nd- and 3rd-round picks) for DTs Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams, and also added WR Donte Stallworth.
Strength: Offensive line. The Browns went from 2.9 yards per carry in 2006 to 4.3 yards per carry last year, thanks to the amazing left side of LT Joe Thomas and LG Eric Steinbach. Both are signed for the next half-decade, and that's good news for Cleveland fans. Thomas was considered by some to be the best LT in the league last year as a rookie, and Steinbach has been nothing but successful as a pro. He's been a full-time starter for five years (four with Cincy, one with Cleveland), missing just two games and getting called for a grand total of six holding penalties. Steinbach's offenses have all scored at least 21.7 PPG, and only one averaged less than 4.2 YPA (2006 Bengals). Last year's performance by Jamal Lewis and the previously preposterous running game came largely off of Steinbach's success. Kevin Shaffer is also a rock at RT, and although the RG and C spots are up for grabs this fall, there are multiple qualified candidates to fill in the blanks.
Weakness: Defensive front seven. There's a reason Cleveland invested so heavily in DTs Rogers and Williams – the Browns were incredibly weak in the middle of their 3-4 with a rotation of NTs that just didn't work. Their defensive ends, Robaire Smith and Shaun Smith, combined for six sacks and OLB Kamerion Wimbley could only get five despite a big 11-sack year as a rookie in 2006. The Browns do have more options up front for 2008, but it'll be up to Romeo Crennel to find a way to make it work.
Most underrated player: G Eric Steinbach. Should have made the Pro Bowl. See above.
Unit on the rise: Quarterbacks. The Brady Quinn-Derek Anderson storyline will be ongoing as long as they're both wearing Brown. Anderson was good, not great in his breakout season – his final passer rating was only 82.5, and for a rare team that has blue-chippers at WR, TE and LT. Just because the Browns wisely kept Anderson with a long-term deal doesn't mean it's impossible Quinn will play in 2008. Having the two options is perfect for a team that has all the other offensive pieces in place.
2007 Draft grade: A. The success of Thomas at left tackle is a huge part of the grade here, but so is the pick of Quinn. Not only does he provide franchise QB insurance if Derek Anderson falters, he's probably worth a first-rounder or more in trade this year or next. With the talent the Browns have on offense, they have to feel great about having Quinn waiting (impatiently) in the wings. Cleveland also got a full season of starting from 2nd-round CB Eric Wright, another young player considered a possible future star.
2008 Draft power: 4th (118), 5th (147), 6th (180), 6th (181), 7th (213).
General Draft strategy: The Browns traded away their first three picks in 2008 for Quinn, Rogers and Williams, and that they can afford to make these moves is a tribute to the success of their recent drafts. Cleveland has done something few teams can boast of with their last four No. 1 picks (not including Quinn): they've drafted stars. Kellen Winslow Jr., Braylon Edwards, Wimbley and Thomas have all already had Pro Bowl-level seasons, and they're all 25 or younger. Cleveland's also nabbed starters with the No. 2 pick in each of the last four drafts, including potential Pro Bowl SS Sean Jones. And don't forget the great find they made in Josh Cribbs, an undrafted free agent from Kent who's now the AFC's version of Devin Hester: an explosive force in the return game. Cribbs led the NFL last year with 30.7 yards per kick return, including two TDs. He added another TD, and a strong 13.5 yards average, in the punt game.
That's a nice run for the organization, and GM Phil Savage (hired in 2005) has been masterful turning this franchise around. Cleveland has used six of its last seven first-rounders on offense, and if they decide to trade back into the early rounds it will probably be to fill a defensive need.
Youth/experience: The Browns were very low on newbies in 2008, with only six first-year men on the roster. Only seven players aged 23 and under played for the Browns, one of the lowest totals in the league. With only five draft picks in April, they will be one of the least green and most cohesive teams in the NFL this year with an overwhelming segment of the roster in the much-desired 23-28 range.
Coaching: Romeo Crennel needed a season like 2007 to keep his job, but he's not off the hot seat yet. Expectations are high – and should be – and a first-time head coach who hit 60 this year doesn't have a long leash. Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski should be a household name. He came to run Cleveland's offense after a stint as Antonio Gates' tight-ends coach in San Diego, and helped turn this team around. The Browns scored 10.2 PPG more in 2007 than they did in 2006 – a hell of a first serve. Defensive backs coach Mel Tucker replaces former rising star Todd Grantham as defensive coordinator behind Crennel. Another key man on staff is Rip Scherer, who has the all-important QB coach position and is also an assistant head coach in Crennel's inner circle.
Overview: There's a lot to be excited about in Cleveland. The offense is good, and all signs point to it getting better. Savage has been making all the right moves, and Crennel has the Super Bowl pedigree. But there are also a few caution signs. The Browns played more like a .500 team than a 10-6 team in 2007, yielding almost as many points as their high-powered offense provided. They beat no one of significance, and were playing with house money after the 4-12 stinker in 2006. They are no lock to improve on 10-6, even with their great young offensive talent. However, if Cleveland's young defensive players come of age and combine to shave 3-5 PPG off their average, this is a legitimate 10-win team with an extremely bright future. If the defense doesn't come around, a tougher schedule and increased expectations could knock the Browns back below .500.
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