*All statistics are prior to Sunday's game against the Giants.
The Cleveland Browns are off to another dismal season with Pat Shurmur sporting a 4-23 record. The Browns record is a combination of bad things coming together and leaving the team with the usual “Close, but no cigar” award. Closer inspection of some glaring stats show why Cleveland is in its 0-4 slump.
Cleveland’s offense is fixable with changes in who they distribute the ball to and their general game plan. A lot of their problems stem from personnel issues and play-calling, all of which fall at the feet of Pat Shurmur. Looking at certain stats reveals where Cleveland could be versus where they are offensively.
Attention would first have to start with the quarterback. Brandon Weeden has a quarterback rating of 60.4 percent, third lowest in the entire NFL. His overall quarterback rating was really adversely affected by that first game where he was abysmal. He has 167 pass attempts, which is third highest in the NFL.
As much as Cleveland likes to put the ball in the air, they are only completing only 53.9 percent of his passes, third worst in the NFL. Numbers don’t lie, and what they are saying is that Brandon Weeden is a below-average QB. But looking closer, it is less Brandon Weeden and more about the Browns' game plan and ball distribution.
Currently, the Browns average 5.97 yards per pass compared to Andy Dalton’s 8.82 yards per completion. He has thrown three touchdowns compared to seven interceptions. Brandon Weeden has passed for 997 yards, placing him 19th in total passing yards, which is terrible when you consider that Cleveland puts the ball in the air the third most in the NFL. This usually either means that they are not getting any yards or the receivers are not catching the passes; unfortunately for Browns fans, it is both.
Let’s take a brief look at the running game powered by third-round pick Trent Richardson. Trent Richardson is responsible for 344 yards from scrimmage thus far compared to the 512 yards from Jamaal Charles and 491 from Ray Rice. Both Richardson and Rice were handed the ball 64 times this season and both have only three touchdowns.
The big difference other than yards is that Ray Rice has 17 first downs compared to Richardson’s eight. Rice is keeping drives alive, and it would seem that Cam Cameron knows when to get the ball to his playmaking running back while Shurmur does not seem to be giving Trent Richardson the ball in ideal situations.
The Browns offensive line can boast two Pro Bowl linemen, yet their back averages 3.5 yards per carry compared to Ray Rice’s five yards per carry. Trent Richardson has shown flashes of what he can do, yet does not get the ball in his hands a lot. When we take a look at the receivers, the plight of the Cleveland Browns becomes crystal clear.
Below are how many times a particular receiver has caught the ball versus being targeted. Greg Little was targeted 25 times, but only caught the ball 11 times, yielding a completion percentage of 44. Studying how many times various receivers are targeted reveals why the Browns offense is not finding the end zone.
Travis Benjamin: 5 catches, targeted 15 times with a 33 percent completion ratio
Josh Gordon: 7 catches, targeted 14 times with a 50 percent completion ratio
Josh Cribbs: 4 catches, targeted five times with a 80 percent completion ratio
Jordon Norwood: 4 catches, targeted 10 times with a 40 percent completion ratio
Mohammed Massaquoi: 9 catches, targeted 18 times with a 50 percent completion ratio
Trent Richardson: 15 catches, targeted 21 times with a 71 percent completion ratio
Chris Ogbonnaya: 11 catches, targeted 13 times with a 84 percent completion ratio
Owen Marecic: 0 catches, targeted three times with a zero percent completion ratio
Jordan Cameron: 6 catches, targeted 14 times with a 42 percent completion ratio
Alex Smith: 4 catches, targeted five times with a 80 percent completion ratio
Ben Watson: 12 catches, targeted 17 times with a 70.5 percent completion ratio
The most targeted receiver on the Browns team is Greg Little, who yields the lowest completion ratio. Greg Little is a starter, but the Browns need to look at the amount of return versus the amount of opportunity he is given to make plays.
In contrast, Josh Cribbs usually catches the ball, yet is not given the opportunity very often. Shurmur views Cribbs as a special team ace and not a receiver, but out of all the receivers, he catches the ball at a higher ratio. At first glance, Josh Gordon's 50 percent catch ratio does not sound that good, but when compared to some other elite receives, it is not that bad and can improve.
Julio Jones has caught the ball at 51 percent and Larry Fitzgerald at 54 percent; both are considered elite receivers and are not catching the ball much more than Mohammed Massaquoi or Josh Gordon at 50 percent. The disturbing news for the Browns is that they throw the ball so much to the wrong receivers, which has everything to do with personnel.
Despite his physical prowess, Greg Little is not a No. 1 receiver if he cannot catch it when it is thrown his way. An inexperienced young team cannot afford drive-killing drops. This is not to say the team should give up on Little, but he should not be the No. 1 target at the wide out spot.
Based upon production, the Browns should be hitting backs out of the backfield, increasing the screen game and throwing much more to their tight ends. Weeden has shown that he can be accurate and deliver a timely ball, but would find more success hitting his tight ends on seam routes down the middle or crossing routes. He also would find success if the Browns would hand the ball off more to their backs and not abandon the run game.
Moving forward, Cleveland can build on the talent that is currently on the team. Pat Shurmur is only in his second year in building a team and his program. It would be easy to simply clean house and get rid of Pat Shurmur, Tom Heckert and Mike Holmgren, and once again start from scratch, but that may not be the answer in Cleveland.
A more detailed look at what has gone wrong will reveal a deeper understanding of the drafting strategy that failed to acquire RGIII, overdraft Brandon Weeden and not acquire a first-round talent at receiver. Heckert and the scouting department have found good talent deep in the draft and cannot be overlooked. The hope is that the mistakes do not outweigh the positive. The Browns have several great young talented players on both sides of the ball, have fought hard and are close to pushing through.
The hardest thing to ask a Browns fan is to be patient, but they are on the right track and can go into the next draft able to focus on going after a true No. 1 receiver. Once the dust settles, Mike Holmgren may be the odd man out, but Cleveland has just to make minor adjustments and they could start yielding bigger and better results as the season goes into the second quarter.