Leading the Way.
OK, there might be a few reasons: rookie QB, WRing mediocrity, D-line injury. But who’s counting?
To be brutally honest, the very best thing about the Dawg Pounders' 2012 schedule is that the “bye” is on Week 10.
Now that we have that reality check out of the way, there is still considerable room for hope—especially in these halcyon days before training camp.
The Indianapolis Colts will have a rookie quarterback, an aging WR who’s only caught passes from Peyton Manning, no running game, a new center and a piecemeal set of defenders. But other than that, they're a powerhouse.
By the seventh Sunday, it should be apparent whether Andrew Luck can play in the NFL. We won’t know if he's the second coming of Johnny Unitas, but we'll know if he can face a professional pass rush and deliver a ball. (Besides, you-know-who was the second coming of Johnny U.)
Luck’s talent, intellect, work ethic and character are well established at this point in his young life. But, like Eli Manning, Andrew isn’t going to be shattering any charisma records. He is not, and will never be, Cam Newton or Ray Lewis.
It remains to be seen whether Luck, like Eli, can transcend his milquetoast personality through QB brilliance. It’s possible. But it certainly won’t be with the younger Manning’s rocket launcher. Which makes Luck's savvy and accuracy even more important.
Did I mention that Mr. Luck will not have Jeff Saturday or Ryan Diem protecting him as he is introduced to NFL defenders? Yeah.
Even if Luck does make Hoosier dreams come true and fills Peyton Manning’s shoes for "The Horseshoe," it will not happen in 2012. Cam Newton’s dazzling rookie fireworks came down to a 6-10 record.
When the Browns show up at Lucas Oil Stadium, Luck will have played six games (the Colts’ bye is Week 4). Hmmm. Advantage Browns’ excellent secondary.
As for the Browns offensive scouting outlook—Indy has had a decent run defense exactly once since they drafted Peyton Manning. That was the year that safety Bob Sanders was healthy at the right time and the Colts went on to win it all.
Ah, but Jim Irsay hired defensively minded head coach Chuck Pagano to remedy all things D. As the former Ravens defensive coordinator, Pagano (in theory) has the knowledge to accomplish this.
Baltimore boasted 92.6 yards per game by opposing runners in 2011. Trent Richardson take note.
What Pagano doesn’t have are Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata. Pagano did succeed in bringing Cory Redding with him to the Corn Belt. This will be one of many 2012 tests for the new right side of the Browns O-line.
Pagano could be the new Tony Dungy of defensive coaching geniuses, but it will still be with a new group of players in a new system. Even if Brandon Weeden hasn’t become Andy Dalton by Week 7, Trent Richardson should be up to speed.
Luck’s “run support” isn’t quite so promising, with no disrespect to Mewelde Moore. There will be more pressure on Luck to carry the team. See Browns fans smiling as they circle this one as a win.
Kansas City’s offense improved quite a bit (on paper) this offseason. Peyton Hillis will again be working with coordinator Brian Dabol and should return to prominence as a power rusher. (You know he will, Cleveland-—he's petulant, not washed up.)
Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles says via the Kansas City Star that he’s 100 percent healthy and will fight for playing time by being as productive as humanly possible.
When they let that cape off me, I’m ready to go. I’m ready to put my cleats back on and punish everybody in my way,
Add in Dexter McCluster at scat back/WR and one would think that Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe should surely hook up enough times to make KC a credible offense. Surely.
Again, the fine Browns DBs may have something to say about this. The game will rest on Cleveland’s ability to stuff what will undoubtedly be an in-your-face and motivated Hillis. Get in his way at your own risk, guys.
Cleveland will be coming off a road win (hopefully) in Oakland, while the Chiefs will have entertained the dynamic Carolina Panthers in Week 13. The KC defense should be a tired bunch after facing Newton and Steve Smith—not to mention that Panthers running game.
Don’t forget that the Chiefs traded away CB Brandon Carr (even though they still have Eric Berry and Brandon Flowers). They have stars at every level of the D and coach Romeo Crennel is an accomplished and beloved master. Tamba Hali is already giving Brandon Weeden nightmares. I guarantee it.
Kansas City should have a rebound year after being thoroughly snakebit in 2011, but more than a few Browns might want to beat Hillis after StrepGate.
And don’t expect a lot of Dawg Pound love for new KC second-string QB Brady Quinn. Reaction may be a bit more positive for Romeo Crennel’s reappearance in the head coaching ranks, albeit on the opposite sideline.
Cleveland should be able to win this one at home.
Well, won’t this be fun? How many times this week do you think that Robert Griffin and Mike Holmgren will have to do the “media non-talking” exercise? Over/Under is set at 12 each.
The Browns 2011 defense tallied 32 sacks (five, surprisingly, by Ahtyba Rubin) and only nine interceptions (three of which were by Mike Adams—who is now a Bronco). Coupled with the fact that Cleveland ranked 30th in run defense last season, one might anticipate a Washington victory.
Half of the Browns' victory chances will rest on the manly shoulders of the offensive line. If they can keep Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan away from Weeden, then Cleveland’s rookie signal-caller might be able to avoid throwing the ball to DeAngelo Hall.
The other half will depend (and just write this in ink every week from now until further notice) entirely upon Trent Richardson. In 2011, the Redskins gave up an average of 117.8 yards per game on the ground. Advantage Browns.
Robert Griffin III has already sewn up the “most charismatic new player” award, but he can’t do it alone no matter what Capital fans would like to believe.
Washington appears committed to using all three of their top runners: Tim Hightower, Roy Helu and Evan Royster. Hightower has the edge as the guy who can excel in all aspects of the offense. But he tore his ACL last season, so the team is continuing to rotate in Helu and Royster.
Then there is intriguing rookie Alfred Morris, who caused much buzzing at OTAs for his versatility and receiving prowess. He may be Mike Shanahan's latest "give me any old back and I'll make him a star" showcase.
Don’t forget that Shanahan is one of those gentlemen who think that his system is king and that any given rusher can succeed behind those zone blocks. History may have proven him somewhat right. But it’s pretty ancient history at this point. Film at 11.
There is also the temptation to use RGIII as a runner. That makes five rushers for the Browns defense to worry about. This game will solidify whether the Cleveland run D is truly improved. It will certainly help if Phil Taylor is back in the lineup.
Ultimately, the game will come down to which team has a more successful day on the ground and which rookie QB makes the fewest mistakes.
If Darren McFadden is healthy and Carson Palmer has more than 10 minutes to learn the game plan, the Raiders are going to be better in 2012. Possibly a lot better.
One statistic of note is that the Raiders O-line only gave up 25 sacks in 2011. And that was protecting about 10 different quarterbacks who were running around doing heaven-knows-what back there.
So the Browns pass-rushers will have their work cut out for them. Especially since they will also be attempting to prevent McFadden from blowing by them with the ball.
Anyone who doesn’t think Carson Palmer is a better quarterback than Brandon Weeden for the 2012 season has been listening to too much Cincinnati talk radio. The man essentially walked from the tarmac onto the field and completed 60.7 percent of his passes. He’s 32 years old, and if he has anyone who can play WR as opposed to track star, he will surprise fans this season.
One would expect continued improvement from Darrius Heyward-Bey. If one didn't know about his offseason DUI. Seriously, dude—time to grow up.
Denarius Moore will probably emerge as the most dangerous Silver and Black ball catcher, although if you blink on Jacoby Ford, he'll be 10 yards past you.
However, despite the army of offensive coaching talent brought on board in Oakland (Al Saunders, Steve Wisniewski, Greg Knapp), it’s still a new staff and a new offensive plan. Again.
Theoretically, this should give Cleveland the edge as Pat Shurmur proves to us all that he is the West Coast prodigy Mike Holmgren assures the fanbase that he is. With a little help from buddy Brad Childress.
By Week 13, the fans should know whether this assertion holds water.
Did I mention that Da Raidas ranked 27th in rush D in 2011? Trent Richardson, come on down!
The Chargers will go one of two ways in 2012: They will circle the wagons, focus and save their coach’s job. Or they will fall apart after being gutted of talent the last three offseasons in a row.
However, the Chargers have five nationally televised games in 2012, so perhaps the infamous “broadcast partners” know something.
Given half a chance, Philip Rivers is the fifth- or sixth-best quarterback in the NFL. (Yes, I am still counting Peyton Manning.)
The question is, once and always, whether Norv Turner is capable of giving Rivers that half a chance, between questionable game-management skills and A.J. Smith’s ego-based personnel decisions.
To be begrudgingly fair, Smith has been quite sensible this offseason and added two decent WRing options in Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal after losing unhappy Vincent Jackson.
Despite an acknowledged slump and some embarrassing gaffs, the Chargers offense still gained almost 400 yards and 26 points per game last year, so this is the break point for the Browns’ offense to come of age.
Shurmur, Childress, Weeden and the boys will have had the offseason and seven weeks together. They must score points to win this one.
Hopefully there will be an early snow and the Bolts will freeze.
The Cowboys have their own tough-schedule woes in 2012.
They have the same under-performing issues as the Chargers and the same coaching questions as the Browns. Except that the last good coach for the Browns was Marty Schottenheimer while Jason Garrett is trying to live up to two HOFers.
If Dallas can beat the Giants on opening night, it just might cruise along for a couple of weeks. The Cowboys are such head cases that winning early might establish a momentum that could carry them over the hump and back into the playoffs.
But if it starts badly at the Meadowlands, we’ll see how warm Garrett’s seat will get. Unfortunately for “America’s Team,” when the Super Bowl champs host a rival at home in the kickoff game—the champs almost always win.
Since they’ll be coming off the bye in Week 11, the Browns will have two weeks to figure out how not to let DeMarcus Ware kill Brandon Weeden. Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron will have spent the year working on both pass-rushing and run D. This would be a good week for that work to pay off.
The Cowboys will be coming off a road trip to Philly. And that could be a rough game, since the Eagles are on a mission to put last season’s soap opera behind them. LeSean McCoy will probably have frustrated the “you know what” out of the ‘Boys D and that might be a wonderful setup for some Trent Richardson awesomeness.
Two subplots not to be missed:
1) Much-beloved FB Lawrence Vickers is now a Cowboy
2) Much-respected defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is now a Cowboy. With a full offseason and some new defensive personnel, Ryan’s scheming should take flight in 2012. Expect many gratuitous sideline shots of the flowing grey locks and scowling face of the angrier (and currently more portly) Ryan twin.
Frankly, the Browns best chance is to be overlooked as Dallas slogs through its own NFC East battles on the way to a must-redeem season conclusion.
The only good thing about having to face the new Buffalo Bills defensive line is that Cleveland gets them in Week 3. This may be like facing the grizzly bear as an adolescent: It might be clumsy, but it could still kill you.
On the positive side, if new RT Mitchell Schwartz and promising RG Shawn Lauvao can handle this group—things will be looking considerably brighter by the Lake. Not to mention how relieved Brandon’s mama will be.
Buffalo spent a fortune in free agency, hoping to find a way past the Pats into the playoffs. Mario Williams’ new purpose in life is to sack Tom Brady. But he’ll probably find time to focus on Weeden this day.
The Bills kept several offensive weapons in-house, so Ryan Fitzpatrick will have another shot at earning his big payday.
Buffalo gave runner Fred Jackson his long-term contract and he is still The Man with the rock in Buffalo. This should be cause for celebration by Bills fans since C.J. Spiller is right up there with Shonn Greene and Knowshon Moreno when it comes to fizzle.
The Bills need that running game: It keeps the ball in your hands, it works in bad weather and Ryan Fitzpatrick may have gotten a $60 million contract last year, but he’s not making anyone forget Jim Kelly. (For you Buffalo Bills fans, let's add—yet.)
Keep your eyes on the Browns linebackers versus the Bills halfbacks.
Well, these games are a lot more frightening than in days past, aren’t they? It’s amazing what a decent defense and one good QB/WR combo can do for a team, isn’t it?
Referring here to the Bengals, of course, but one could just as easily mean the Browns in 2012, right? Too bad that Cincy actually knows who their good WR is, while the name of Cleveland’s new ball-catching hero is still shrouded in the mists of uncertainty.
Bengals 2011 rookie WR A.J. Green scored seven touchdowns on 65 receptions. Greg Little scored two TDs on 61 catches for almost 300 fewer yards. No one expects Green to slump, but Little (or someone) simply has to catch up or this rivalry isn’t taking a positive Browns swing any time soon.
With Trent Richardson projected to roll up the yards, if Weeden can develop any kind of chemistry with a WR (any WR), these contests with the Bengals may end in celebration rather than dejection. Granted, a Browns victory would be more likely in Week 6 than in Week 2, since Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will only improve on what is already an impressive partnership while Weeden and Mystery Man will be starting afresh.
Cedric Benson is out in Cincy, leaving Bernard Scott and free agent former Pat BenJarvus Green-Ellis. It’s easy to attribute Green-Ellis’ success (11TDs in 2011) to Tom Brady, but he still caught the balls and ran across the goal line. "The Law Firm" and Scott will be used more on third downs and red-zone plays than the pounding yardage delivered by Benson.
Benson may be a pain in the neck, but he was one of dying breed of tough runners. And nobody needs tough runners like the AFC North. The change at RB signals the official return of a passing offense to Cincy.
If Trent Richardson can control the ball, Cleveland can win. The Browns will try to replicate Cincy’s turnaround from last season. But no pressure or anything, dude.
Actually, Cleveland can win regardless, since even last year the games were not blowouts. Cleveland faithful would be just a tad bit more optimistic if several people wearing numbers in the 80s (or the teens—I'm not a purist) could hang onto footballs.
Since the Bengals passing unit has the advantage of having been, well—a unit, Cincy will probably win the Week 2 game in The Jungle. But Week 6 there will revenge in the Dawg Pound.
They say "revenge is a dish best served cold," right? It will be mid-October—hope for frost on the pumpkin.
Baltimore Ravens at home and away. Keep an eye on these two weeks.
If Cleveland is lucky enough to play the Ravens without both Ray Rice and Terrell Suggs, Week 4 suddenly has an entirely different scenario.
The game is in Baltimore, but with a more one-dimensional Ravens offense, Cleveland has a shot. Particularly since the Ravens will have just played the Eagles and Patriots and may not be entirely focused on Gang Orange.
Week 1: Philadelphia Eagles at home on opening day. Before Philly signed Demetress Bell to replace Jason Peters, Browns fans could hope that this was winnable, even versus the ‘Iggles beefed-up D.
One could try to believe that DeSean Jackson would do something immature (OK, that’s not a stretch) or that Cleveland’s secondary could pick off Michael Vick a couple of times since he wouldn’t have a solid O-line.
Now, not so much.
Week 5: New York Giants in the Big Apple. Seriously? It’s not bad enough that Cleveland has to play the defending Champs; they have to do it in the Meadowlands? Why not let the Giants play the Jaguars at home, too?
This is the official Browns "Travel Game" of the year and would be an excellent time to take that New York City vacation your family has always wanted.
This will be a tremendous test for the young Browns secondary (well, except for Sheldon Brown who is all too familiar with facing the Giants—and not so young). Eli threw for 308.3 yards per game in 2011.
The good news is that the Giants tend to lose focus in the middle third of the season. Despite Tom Coughlin’s skill and discipline, it is quite possible that Big Blue could look right past the Browns to what is potentially their toughest game of the season: Week 6 versus San Francisco. In Harbaugh territory.
Also, the ferocious sack masters on New York's defense did give up almost 122 yards per game to opposing rushers. As long as Richardson is the second coming of Jim Brown and Barry Sanders combined—Cleveland might make this a game.
All you need is to make sure that Ben Roethlisberger can’t walk, that the starting running back is on IR and that safety Ryan Clark is sidelined. Yeah, that’s going to happen twice.
Did I say “not a chance?” Shame on me. Perhaps a better title would be:
Best Days to Have Your Football Party and Miss the Game While Playing Host.
But set your Tivo. It’s football…you never know.
For more Browns analysis: