Realistic Best- & Worst-Case Scenarios for Browns' 1st Year with Rob Chudzinski
In a bit of a shocking move, the Cleveland Browns hired Rob Chudzinski as their new head coach.
ESPN's Chris Mortensen broke the news:
Rob Chudzinksi is a done deal. He is the Browns new head coach. Confirmed.— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) January 11, 2013
Chudzinski, who served as offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers during the past two seasons, serves as an intriguing hire.
He has no head coaching experience, but the 44-year-old is an up-and-coming name in the coaching ranks and completely resurrected Carolina's offense over the past two years.
Will he bring a similar transformation to Cleveland, or will the Browns continue to live in mediocrity?
Let's take a look at some of the best- and worst-case scenarios for "Chud" in his first season as a head coach.
Best Case: Browns Finish 10-6
Not many people realize this, but the Cleveland Browns were a decent defensive team this year. They allowed 6.9 yards per pass (14th-lowest mark) and 4.2 yards per carry (13th).
With players such as D'Qwell Jackson, Jabaal Sheard, Joe Haden and Ahtyba Rubin, they should only improve on that side of the ball.
The problem with this team is on offense.
With Chudzinski (and possibly Norv Turner, who would serve much better as an offensive coordinator than a head coach), the chances of improving in the scoring department are high.
If he does in fact make the same improvements to this offense that he made instantly in Carolina, this will suddenly be a very balanced football team.
Worst Case: Browns Finish 5-11
Of course, there's a slight problem with assuming Chudzinski will do with this offense what he did with Carolina's: The personnel is much different.
Carolina had Cam Newton, an exciting signal-caller capable of making huge plays with his legs. Cleveland has Brandon Weeden, a pocket passer with a monster arm.
The Panthers were built on speed, while the Browns are built, for now, on power and a pro-style offense.
If Chudzinski's success proves to be a product of a speedy quarterback and an option offense, then it wouldn't be surprising to see the Browns spin their wheels and stay in the same place in the AFC North.
Best Case: Chudzinski Takes Brandon Weeden to the Next Level
No matter who's on the sideline, it's fairly clear that this team will go as far as its quarterback takes it. For now, that makes Brandon Weeden the most important Brown in the land.
While there will be an obvious concern about the 29-year-old being a much different player than Cam Newton, there are two things worth noting here.
First of all, during his stint as offensive coordinator with the Browns in 2007, Chudzinski led Derek Anderson to 3,787 passing yards, 29 touchdowns and 19 interceptions as Cleveland rolled to a 10-win season.
Second, while Cam Newton makes headlines for his ability to run the ball, he still threw for nearly 8,000 yards and 40 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
Chudzinski doesn't rely on a speed quarterback; he just adapted to that system because that was Newton's best strength. If he can find the right system for Weeden and lead him to a Derek Anderson-type season, that would be crucial for the Browns' development.
Worst Case: Brandon Weeden Doesn't Develop
For as good as Chudzinski made the Browns in 2007, he took that big of a step back in 2008.
Derek Anderson threw for 1,615 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. Ken Dorsey, Brady Quinn and Bruce Gradkowski were forced to log time under center, and they were all just as bad—if not worse—than Anderson.
Moreover, the Browns won just four games.
If Weeden takes a step back under Chudzinski like that this year, the Browns don't have the benefit of being patient. Weeden is obviously an old rookie, and should he do anything but improve, the pressure to replace him will be strong.
Should that happen, that means Chudzinski and Co. will likely have to go to the draft for yet another quarterback, which would be a true worst-case scenario.
You can't keep starting over.
Best Case: Trent Richardson Becomes a Pro Bowler
It was an up-and-down rookie season for Trent Richardson. He suffered through a lack of carries and several different injuries, but he still finished with more than 1,300 total yards and 12 touchdowns.
There's no questioning T-Pain's talent. His upside is top-three running back in the league.
In 2007, Chudzinski game-planned Jamal Lewis to 298 carries for 1,304 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. He may not have handled the dual-backfield situation in Carolina as well as many were hoping, but DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were productive nonetheless.
The potential for a monster year from Richardson is here.
Worst Case: Trent Richardson Doesn't Improve
I think it's probably safe to say that what Richardson did this season was his floor.
However, if Chudzinski gets too concerned with developing Weeden or keeping a balanced offense, Richardson won't get the carries he deserves and will fail to improve.
Essentially, while it's important that Weeden and the passing game is used to keep defenses honest, Richardson needs to be the focus of this offense. The worst-case scenario would be for Chudzinski to fail to make that happen.
Best Case: Browns Find an Instant-Impact Playmaker in the Draft
The Cleveland Browns have Trent Richardson and Josh Gordon. It's time to add another weapon, especially in the passing game.
It doesn't necessarily have to be with their first pick, but Chudzinski and his new staff would do well to give Brandon Weeden another reliable option to throw to.
While Chud often used a zone-read package with Newton and the Panthers, he also deployed a vertical spread attack through the air that he developed in Cleveland and San Diego.
If he wants to continue that scheme, finding a Steve Smith-type weapon or really any productive offensive player will be important in April.
Worse Case: Ignore Defense in the Draft
The temptation will be there.
Chudzinski is a brilliant offensive mind and will be focused on improving that side of the ball, especially when you consider how much the defense has improved over the past two years.
Still, though, there are holes all over this team, even on defense.
The new coaching staff needs to make sure it doesn't get too lopsided with its picks in April, despite being stronger on defense.
Best Case: Browns Average 24 Points Per Game
Let's not kid ourselves. This hire was all about offense. Chudzinski was successful in Cleveland, and he was successful in Carolina—both times as an offensive coordinator.
Now he'll be expected to do more of the same.
If Chud is as much of an offensive mastermind as he has proven to be in the past, this team has the potential to average 24 points per game, which would be an upgrade of about five points from the 2012 season.
Brandon Weeden to Josh Gordon can be one of the most dangerous deep threats in the game. Trent Richardson is a rare talent. The offensive line is improving quickly.
It's time for an offensive genius to put all of that together.
Worse Case: Browns Average 19 Points Per Game
It's hard to imagine this being possible, but there's always the chance of young players negatively responding to a new coaching staff.
Pairing young, talented offensive weapons with a new offensive-minded coach is a good recipe to live by, but if everyone doesn't gel together perfectly, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Browns produce similar numbers to what they did in 2012.
Still, though, that's a worse-case scenario.