Why the Cleveland Browns Have a Shock Run to the Playoffs in Them in 2012
The Cleveland Browns will make the playoffs in 2012. Yes, you read that correctly. No, I am not on drugs.
Despite the never-ending media negativity surrounding the Browns franchise, this is the year your Browns can shock the sports world and do something they have not done since 2002.
Recently, a series of negative events have devastated optimism throughout the Cleveland Browns nation. Let’s run down the list, acknowledging each of these blows to the hopeful Browns’ turn-around.
According to recent reporting by ESPN Cleveland, Joe Haden may be suspended for the first four games of the season after allegedly failing an offseason drug test.
Scott Fujita already is suspended for the first three games due to his involvement in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.
Trent Richardson JUST had arthroscopic surgery on the same knee he had an operation on February 3. In the same report, from ESPN.com, Dr. Michael Kaplan thinks it will take three or four weeks to fully heal despite optimistic accounts that he could be back in action in two weeks.
Chris Gocong suffered a season ending ruptured ACL during the first week of training camp
Phil Taylor will miss at least half the season after suffering a torn bicep while lifting weights during the offseason.
When the smoke clears and all of these events come to pass, there is STILL a lot to be optimistic about in Cleveland this year.
Every season there is turnover in the playoff picture. Teams fall by the wayside and other teams “shock” the NFL world with their unpredictable rises to the big stage.
This year, is the year, for the Cleveland Browns to provide that shock around the league.
Richardson and Weeden will catch lightning
Despite early set-backs on Trent Richardson, he will be a factor for the Browns in 2012. The arthroscopic knee surgery he underwent on August 9 will not linger because it was a pre-emptive procedure, unrelated to the previous surgery he had from an injury he sustained during the BCS Championship Game last January.
When Richardson gets on the field, hopefully by September 9th for the season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, he will remove all doubt. In the meantime, backups Montario Hardesty, Brandon Jackson and Chris Oggbonaya will carry the rock and help paint a picture of a backfield with depth, for once.
A series of unfortunate injuries crippled the Browns running game in 2011 but depth behind Richardson will be one of the team’s turnaround crutches in 2012.
Brandon Weeden has the arm of Derek Anderson and the intangibles of Colt McCoy. He’s not going to throw screen-passes into the grass and he won’t underthrow Greg Little streaking down the middle of the field. Weeden has the precision and velocity behind his throws that is necessary to fit balls into the tightest windows provided by NFL secondaries.
Weeden has the tools, but can he thread-the-needle?
He did it at Oklahoma State and he’s shown he can do it in practice to this point. He was named the starter over Seneca Wallace and Colt McCoy after only about a week of training camp.
"He gets with the program, he's accurate," Shurmur said in an ESPN.com report. "He's wired right to play the position."
The first true test for Weeden at the NFL level will come Friday night against the Detroit Lions. Watch for yourself, you be the judge.
New ownership, new attitude, new results
The “plan” from Mike Holmgren has been clear: Build through the draft. Holmgren and his staff have executed it to perfection, to this point.
Unfortunately for Holmgren, he and his staff may not be given the opportunity to see their project bear the fruits of their labors. While new owner Jimmy Haslam is not expected to make any immediate changes, you have to assume that he will take this season heavily into account when evaluating his new investment throughout this season.
As much as that sounds like a negative, it isn’t.
The Browns have been stagnant for so long under the leadership of Randy Lerner. His indecisive, hands-off approach to management has not returned dividends. Blame Lerner or blame the people he is entrusting with his business, the results are the same.
However, with the sale, a new energy and excitement reportedly sparked the Browns during a visit from Haslam to training camp, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer said.
That isn’t the only thing that he is going to be sparking.
Browns President Mike Holmgren, General Manager Tom Heckert, Head Coach Pat Shurmur and offensive coordinator Brad Childress all share Bob LaMonte as their agent. This type of nepotism may be under the magnifying glass of Haslam. LaMonte and friends will be looking for work if they cannot bring their project together in 2012.
They’ve got a lot riding on the success of their team, this year. NOT next year. Not in 2014. These guys need to win NOW and will be doing everything that they can to push their players above the competition.
An offense waiting to breakout
Since a breakout 2007, the Cleveland Browns offense has been idle and unable to repeat the spectacular performance of that season.
Tom Reed pointed out in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that there have only been three instances in NFL history in which a rookie quarterback and rookie running back started the season for a team—most recently in 2008. The 2008 Baltimore Ravens fielded Joe Flacco and Ray Rice and finished the season with an impressive 11-5 record.
Flacco and Rice share many of the same qualities with Richardson and Weeden. Looking at the two pairs, you can’t help but see the similarities in their play.
Richardson and Weeden, though, aren’t the only impact players who will be charged with turning around this offense in 2012. Flacco and Rice weren’t solely responsible for that, either. They had some help.
The Browns wide receiver corps is going to look very, very different than in recent memory. For once the group has multi-talented athletes who can catch, run and make plays with the football.
Second-year man Greg Little has an entire season and offseason of NFL practice and production. Mohammed Massaqoui is entering his fourth season and is actually beginning to click on offense. Second-round supplemental pick Josh Gordon may be the surprise player of the season if his training camp reviews translate to excellence on Sundays. Travis Benjamin’s blazing speed will make opposing defenses have to account for the downfield threat.
Jordan Cameron is turning heads in training camp and getting first-team repetitions in the absence of Benjamin Watson and Evan Moore. If Cameron can gain the trust of Weeden, he will provide a dynamic and athletic target for Weeden to turn to in times of trouble. For a rookie quarterback, there is nothing more valuable than a capable safety valve option that the tight end provides.
Mitchell Schwartz is the final piece to the puzzle for the Browns’ offensive line. Schwartz joins four starters from a season ago, including two Pro Bowlers in Alex Mack and Joe Thomas. The young guard duo of Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston wasn’t perfect in 2011, but did show promise. After an entire offseason to grow together, this line should be one of the better units in the NFL.
As bleak as things may momentarily feel; as much as it feels like everything that can possibly go wrong—is; as much as you’d like to get upset and give in this early—don’t.
There are plenty of things to be optimistic about. Success, like the rising sun, is clearing the horizon and getting brighter by the minute.
Take solace in my words Browns fans, better things are coming.
Follow me on Twitter @BigHoagowski, let's talk Browns.
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