A lot of 'ifs' determine the future success of this football team, but there are some weaknesses on the team which have become clear. In order for the Browns to take the next step toward a title, which is the ultimate goal of every team, they must address the weakest links on the team.
The slides that follow analyze the weakest links and why they have been so troublesome to the Browns' success.
For the second straight year, a rookie leads the team in receiving yards.
Josh Gordon's 417 yards on 19 receptions are a personal highlight, but, once again, a glaring red flag for the franchise that help is needed at the wide receiver position.
Last year's leading receiver, Greg Little, is near pace to match his 2011 numbers (61 receptions, 709 yards, two TDs). Little currently has 27 catches for 301 yards and two TDs. If he doubles his numbers, there will be a disappointing drop in yardage. This team is starving for, in particular red-zone TDs, but a nominal increase in touchdowns just the same.
These numbers simply don't indicate the Browns are set for the future at the position.
This is a team that passes the ball 63 percent of the time, at one point in the season, almost 74 percent of the time. The team's leader in receptions is Trent Richardson, their rookie running back, who has 33 catches this season.
While both Gordon and Little have shown some bright spots, and Travis Benjamin has shown some value, it appears there are no reliable standouts at the position.
Adding another rookie to the fold isn't going to help; it's time to search free agency and bring in an established receiver that can reliably catch the football, stretch the field and command a double team.
The Browns simply don't have a difference maker at the linebacker position. D'Qwell Jackson has proven himself as a great facilitator. With 69 tackles, he is once again on pace for over 100 this year.
His support cast around him, however, have been a consistent disappointment.
The linebackers are responsible for 205 of the Browns 669 tackles this year. Subtracting Jackson's 69, a combined five players are responsible for the other 136 tackles for an average of 27 a piece.
Consider that rookie Craig Robertson has 50 and that throws things off even more.
Of the team's 20 sacks, only six have come from linebackers. Three of those are D'Qwell Jackson's. Scott Fujita most likely will not be back in 2013, Chris Gocong probably shouldn't be.
This is a unit that is in dire need of an identity. They need someone who can consistently make plays at one of the outside linebacker positions.
The failure to stop the run appears to be a team effort, or lack there of, and opponents seem to be aware of this. They rush the ball an average of 30.9 times a game—fifth most in the league.
Opponents probably do this because the run defense gives up 132.8 yards per game on the ground. That number is good for 27th in the league. Does the defensive line share some of the blame for not getting the initial push to allow the linebackers to get in on the ball? In many cases, sure.
It should be noted that the defensive tackle position has been a merry-go-round of starters due to injury. It started with Phil Taylor, who blew out a pec. This forced a rookie rotation of Billy Winn and John Hughes to fill in.
Now Ahtyba Rubin has missed time with a calf injury.
But it is clear, by the numbers, that the linebacking core has had a great share of the blame.
The Browns give up 248 yards a game through the air, good for 22nd in the NFL. They also rank 22nd in the league in average passing touchdowns per game at 1.8 per game.
There are actually several promising statistics regarding the pass defense, like average quarterback rating, 85.6. good for 15th in the NFL. They give up 12.2 passing first downs per game, on average, which is also good for 15th in the league. They rank seventh in the NFL in terms of opponent incompletions.
Yet when you look at opponent completions per game, the Browns are ranked 22nd.
In breaking down the weakness of the secondary, you need go only so far as the eye test.
When watching Browns games, it is clear the team has liabilities at corner and safety positions aside from Joe Haden. T.J. Ward is solid against the run, but questionable in pass coverage.
Usama Young is often out of position, fooled by play action. Both Skrine and Patterson (who's currently injured) are fine nickel/dime package corners, but are often successfully picked on when in the starting rotation.
Haden (along with Usama Young), leads the defensive backs with two interceptions. He missed four games this year to serve a suspension.