Cleveland Browns Young Guns Face Uphill Battle This Season

Derek TalibContributor IIIJuly 30, 2012

Jul 29, 2012; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden (3) hands off to running back Trent Richardson (33) during training camp at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-US PRESSWIRE
David Richard-US PRESSWIRE

Cleveland is a team that has to build the offense around what Brandon Weeden is good at, much like what Carolina did for Cam Newton. He was drafted high for a reason; now it is up to the Browns offensive coordinator to make him successful.

One way to make him successful is to hand the ball off to Trent Richardson. Just because the league has become a passing league and it is fun to watch the ball being thrown around does not mean the Browns have to be a team that passes.

Cleveland has the personnel for ground-and-pound more so than the New York Jets. Just because every other team wants to air the ball out does not mean Cleveland has to. 

When Ben Roethlisberger came into the league, one of the reasons he had so much success was the fact that the Steelers relied so heavily on the run while Ben got acclimated to the league. Roethlisberger threw the ball 295 times as a rookie in 2004, and only 268 times in 2005, his second year in the league. Last year, he threw the ball 513 times.

Brandon Weeden needs to be right around 300 throws his first year. In Ben's first year, the Steelers ran the ball 618 times, compared to last year, when the team ran the ball only 434 times.

Ben was also supported by the No. 1-ranked defense his rookie year. Cleveland has a top-10 defense and should be able to compete against any of its opponents. If Cleveland were to follow the Pittsburgh formula, it would bolster its running game to insulate Weeden and allow him a real chance.

The whole “it’s a passing league” mantra is by choice, not by law. The Steelers and Ravens proved that a strong defense and good ground attack can keep a game close and a team within striking distance. The best medicine for Brandon Weeden is to concentrate on the ground game and then hit some deep passes to Travis Benjamin or Josh Gordon.

Cleveland only has to only become a middle-of-the-road offense to vastly improve some of its outcomes. Cleveland’s defense faces an uphill challenge as it goes against better offenses this year and must improve against the run. Its schedule this year is brutal, but this is a true measuring stick.

The problem with The Browns is the “IF” factor.  If Travis Benjamin turns into a deep threat, if Mitchell Schwartz can secure the right side, if Trent Richardson does not get hurt.  

Seven of Cleveland’s games this year are guaranteed to be low-scoring affairs. The Browns face the Bengals (seventh-ranked defense), the Steelers (first-ranked defense), the Ravens (third-ranked defense), the Eagles (eight-ranked defense), and the Chiefs (11th-ranked defense). When you add in the Cowboys (14th-ranked defense) and the Redskins (13th-ranked defense), Cleveland will struggle every week and get to test its new offense against some of the NFL’s toughest defensive units.

Another year of playing together will make this line a cohesive unit and could blossom into one of the best in the division or even the NFL. The Browns can couple the improved line with Trent Richardson and have the beginnings of a good formula.

One of Cleveland’s mistakes that it seems to keep repeating is not being proactive. Cleveland is often reactive in personnel issues. Cleveland should be bringing Cedric Benson to camp and giving a proven AFC North commodity a chance to play.  

Cedric Benson is not to come in and be the starter, but he would easily be the second-best back on the team. He is the immediate second weapon in the Browns' arsenal to spell Richardson.  Additionally, they know what production they can expect from him. This would allow the Browns to keep the same game plan should tragedy strike and Trent Richardson goes down with a knee injury or simply gets banged up.

Cleveland has a propensity to keep its fingers crossed instead of preparing for calamity. Players like Cedric Benson, Plaxico Burress and Terrell Owens are not to be considered for starting roles, but are very capable inexpensive insurance policies and role players. If Cleveland wants to help a youngish quarterback in a tough division playing an even tougher schedule, it needs to bolster some key positions in case of injury.

Bringing players like this into camp will increase competition and allow them to assess its young players against some veteran talent. If there are attitude problems or a lack of production, simply cut them, but they are talented and worthy of a look.

On the defensive side of the ball, Cleveland took a big hit when Phil Taylor went down, but has some rookies that may be able to help in John Hughes and Billy Winn. Adding Frostee Rucker should pay dividends, as he is seemingly on the upswing of his career. There is some added depth with Juqua Parker and with Marcus Bernard coming back from injury.

The Browns front seven needs more help at linebacker than anywhere else. Chris Gocong is not a world beater, but is decent…not good…not bad…just in the middle. Scott Fujita is very knowledgeable, but will be lost to the Browns early in the season due to being suspended. D’Qwell Jackson had his most healthy year as a Brown and showed what he can do when he is not injured.

Teams will logically try to run on the Browns, and until Cleveland can prove that it has a tough run defense, it could be in for some physical battles, but should be able to stand up if the offense can keep them off the field.

Cleveland’s improved defense will face the fourth, sixth, eight, ninth, 11th and 12th-ranked offenses in the NFL. The good news is, Cleveland is ranked 10th in the NFL on defense.

This will be a big year for Cleveland, and it may actually surprise some teams and fans with how successful it may turn out to be. If they keep building and adding pieces, the Browns will no longer be the punch line of the AFC North.