Browns Season in Review

Cleveland has experienced an up-and-down season full of quarterback controversy, major injuries, money signs, and no playoffs. Yet, there is reason for Cleveland fans to be excited as ever for the direction the Browns organization is heading.

The Browns finish the season at 7-9 after losing to Baltimore in the final week of NFL regular season play. They finished the season losing 6 of their last 7 games, including 5 straight, after starting the year 6-3. But surprisingly, Cleveland is loaded with young talent on both sides of the ball and it won’t be long till they are in the playoffs.

This most recent draft the Browns selected cornerback Justin Gilbert and quarterback Johnny Manziel in the 1st round. Each player struggled during the season with their limited playing time but did show flashes of greatness. Manziel led a decisive touchdown drive late in the game against one of the NFL’s best defenses in Buffalo and Gilbert had an impressive pick-six versus the Colts. Both players were called out recently by veterans Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby for not taking this season as seriously as they should. They are playing two of the most difficult positions to translate into the NFL and will need another year or two to develop so hope is certainly not lost with these two. Their levels of maturity and commitment will be the deciding factors determining their future success. The other drafts picks OT Joel Bitonio, LB Christian Kirksey, RB Terrance West, and even CB Pierre Desir showed tremendous ability throughout the year. West, Kirksey, and Bitonio all played at some point during every single game this season with Bitonio having the best year by far from this group with an all-pro caliber season. Ray Farmer’s first draft class is strong and will get better. This offseason he will be armed with two more 1st round picks (#12 & #19) and a league high of 10 total picks, one in each round and two in rounds 1, 4, and 6. Look for Farmer to add more depth to the roster with these picks, specifically the WR, DL, ILB, and possibly QB in the mid to late rounds. The Browns will not likely use all 10 picks to draft but will utilize them as ammunition for trades for future picks to move up or down in this draft.

As far as this season goes, the Browns were a pleasant surprise to start the season with stunning 2nd half comebacks including the NFL’s greatest road comeback victory in Tennessee (25pts). A soft midseason schedule helped the Browns leap to the top of the AFC North, which only lasted one week. Losses to teams like the Jaguars, Texans, and Bills showed the Browns were still the Browns as their late season slide began. The events that were a catalyst to this late season skid encompass several key injuries to Jordan Cameron, Josh Gordon (suspension), Tashaun Gipson, the entire defensive front seven and most importantly center Alex Mack. When Mack went down in a 21-point rout of the Steelers the Browns offensive was never the same and they spent the rest of season rotating between three other severely inadequate replacements. The run game for the Browns never recovered fully after losing their Pro Bowl center and the run game is the reason for the Browns early season success on offense.

The defense this season proved to be opportunistic with Kruger brining in 11 sacks and 3 forced fumbles, Tashaun Gipson snagging 6 Int’s in 11 games, Haden and Skrine had a combined 7 Int’s, resulting in a +8 turnover differential even with turnover prone quarterback play. The Browns main defensive issue this season was stopping the run as they finished dead last in the league in terms of opponents rushing yards per game (141.6 yards). But the pass defense played at a top ten level for most the year with Joe Haden entrusted with the toughest assignments every week. Haden went up against the likes of Jimmy Graham, Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins, Julio Jones, T.Y. Hilton, plus Steve Smith Sr., AJ Green, and Antonio Brown twice each. He wasn’t able to shut them all down but he did do a good job of limiting their impact and opportunities. To be fair, Antonio Brown torched him this season with 100 yards in each game.

Overall the Browns improved on at basically every position on the field through development, draft picks, free agents, etc. Pettine proved to be a much needed stabilizing figure for the Browns organization showing zero emotion on the sidelines each game. At least his sideline demeanor is more comforting than say a Romeo Crennel or Pat Shurmur uneasiness. The Browns future is bright. The team is young and developing and finally has what appears to be some stability in Pettine and Farmer. This season ended poorly but look for Cleveland to make a splash next season and beyond.

 

~Aaron G. Guilkey

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About guilkey
Twitter @aaronguilkey for more - feel free to rudely comment on my poor writing skills or whatever offends you

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