The hiring of Rob Chudzinski as the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns is an intriguing one. When I first heard that he was being interviewed, it naturally brought to mind the fond memories from that 2007 season.
Upon his hiring, I decided to look more into the 2007 numbers and see how Chudzinski might use the personnel that is currently on the roster. What I found was that the personnel on the two teams is actually quite comparable.
While I realize that a lot of Browns fans are already selling their Brandon Weeden stock after only 15 games, he is still the only viable starting QB on the roster and, just so we're clear, the words "Colt McCoy" and "vertical passing game" have never appeared together in a sentence that didn't also include the words "can't," "incapable," "ridiculous" or "laughable."
At the worst, in my humble opinion, Weeden is a middle-class man's Derek Anderson. They both possess cannons for arms, have demonstrated a propensity for taking chances throwing into tight coverage and would never be accused of having pinpoint accuracy on their throws. The one difference that I've seen is that, unlike Anderson, Weeden actually possesses at least a modicum of touch on his short throws, an area in which Anderson was inept.
We all remember how great Anderson looked in that 2007 season. Heck, he even was an alternate at the Pro Bowl. But take a look at the comparison of Anderson's 2007 season with Weeden's 2012 season:
Anderson: 16 G, 298 COMP, 527 ATT, 56.5 PCT, 3787 YDS, 7.2 AVG, 29 TD, 19 INT, 14 SACK, 82.5 RAT
Weeden: 15 G, 297 COMP, 517 ATT, 57.4 PCT, 3385 YDS, 6.5 AVG, 14 TD, 17 INT, 28 SACK, 72.6 RAT
The biggest deviations, or discrepancies, in the stats are the TDs and sacks, where Anderson had twice as good of numbers. The other difference of course is the yards per attempt, which obviouslystems from the fact that Chudzinski liked to throw down field, while Pat Shurmur liked to throw short. This also, unsurprisingly, led to Anderson scoring more touchdowns.
The receivers is an interesting point to look at. Weeden spread his 297 completions around, while Anderson was pretty honed in on two or three guys.
In 2007, Braylon Edwards had 80 receptions, Kellen Winslow Jr. hauled in 82 balls and Joe Jurevicius had 50. In 2012, Weeden needed five different targets to equal that production. His three leading receivers were Josh Gordon (50), Greg Little (53) and Trent Richardson (51).
It is also worth noting that in 2007, 23 percent of completions were to running backs compared to 25 percent in 2012, so it's not like Anderson never threw to the check-down. It's just that despite throwing a similar amount to running backs they were still able to pick up more total yards. In fact, Jamal Lewis and Jason Wright averaged 8.3 and 9.7 yards per catch respectively, while Richardson and Chris Ogbonnaya only averaged 7.2 and 7.8 respectively.
The interesting thing about that is that in a vacuum, I'd rather having Richardson and Ogbonnaya catching passes for me out of the backfield over Lewis and Wright. But Chudzinksi's offense picked up more yards on the passes to the backs, probably because the receivers were stretching the field.
I really feel like the current receiving corps is suited perfectly to do what Chudzinski did in 2007. Look at these comparisons:
Edwards: 80 REC, 154 TAR, 1289 YDS, 16.1 AVG, 16 TD, 322 YAC
Gordon: 50 REC, 96 TAR, 805 YDS, 16.1 AVG, 5 TD, 304 YAC
What stands out obviously is that the average is exactly the same which means that Gordon has every bit as much big-play potential as Edwards did. It's also noticeable that 38 percent of Gordon's yards came after the catch while only 25 percent of Edwards' did, which would argue the point that Gordon may even have more explosive potential.
Obviously for Gordon to equal that kind of production Weeden will need to look for those deeper throws more often. Or they just need to be called more often, which is probably more likely the case.
Little could fit very nicely into that role that Jurevicius excelled in as a possession receiver. Compare their numbers:
Jurevicius: 50 REC, 81 TAR, 614 YDS, 12.3 AVG, 3 TD, 222 YAC
Little: 53 REC, 91 TAR, 647 YDS, 12.2 AVG, 4 TD, 164 YAC
Remarkably similar. And when you consider that Little is just finishing up his second season in the NFL and for Jurevicius 2007 was his 10th and final, this role could be even more dynamic.
The tight end's role in Chudzinski's offense is expansive, which isn't surprising given that Chud himself played TE in college at Miami and that's his positional expertise as a coach. The steadily developing Jordan Cameron should really grow under the leadership of his new head coach.
There's no comparison for Cameron's 2012 numbers or even Watson's when stacked up against what Winslow did in 2007:
Winslow: 82 REC, 149 TAR, 1106 YDS, 13.5 AVG, 5 TD, 356 YAC
Watson: 49 REC, 82 TAR, 501 YDS, 10.2 AVG, 3 TD, 196 YAC
Cameron: 20 REC, 39 TAR, 226 YDS, 11.3 AVG, 1 TD, 106 YAC
While I don't know if Cameron can ever put up that kind of production, he has a better chance in this offense than he would elsewhere. Winslow was an absolute freak who caught everything within reach. If he could have stayed healthy, I believe that he would have been the best pass-catching TE ever.
But Cameron is an excellent athlete himself, highlighted by the fact that 47 percent of his yards came after the catch. Winslow's very impressive 356 YAC only constitute 32 percent of his total yards, which is still really good.
Watson is a free agent and there's a good chance that, at age 32, he will not be back next year. While I'm not in favor of this at all since I think he brings very needed veteran leadership, that's been Joe Banner's MO: cutting ties with players when they hit their 30's. If Watson does leave and Alex Smith is also a free agent, Cameron's role in the offense will be expanded.
Will he put up numbers like Winslow did in 2007? I doubt he will in 2013, but you never know how he'll continue to develop down the road.
While most people remember Chudzinski for airing the ball out a ton in 2007, it can't be lost that he did lean on Jamal Lewis a lot that season.
Check the comparisons for the total run/pass numbers from 2007 and 2012:
2007: 545 PASS, 3726 YDS, 7.1 AVG, 440 RUN, 1895 YDS, 4.3 AVG
2012: 566 PASS, 3435 YDS, 6.5 AVG, 396 RUN, 1593 YDS, 4.0 AVG
It's not hard to see that Chudzinski had better balance in his offense and it led to better results, not that I needed to remind you how bad Shurmur's offense was.
Now compare the production of Lewis and Richardson specifically:
Lewis: 298 ATT, 1304 YDS, 4.4 AVG, 9 TD, 4 FUM, 58 First Downs
Richardson: 267 ATT, 950 YDS, 3.6 AVG, 11 TD, 3 FUM, 36 First Downs
I realize that Richardson suffered from some injuries this past season which, no doubt, affected his production. At least hope that was the reason. With a 3.6 yards per carry average he'd better have a couple broken ribs.
But this coming season, there's no reason to believe that a healthy Trent Richardson won't be physically superior to a 28-year-old Jamal Lewis. If Lewis could put up those kind of numbers in Chudzinski's offense, then Richardson should go nuts. Because of the vertical passing game, it will stretch the defense and inevitably open up the offense more to allow for better running lanes.
I realize that this was quite academic and that anyone with a brain who watched the 2007 and 2012 seasons could tell you which one was better. But what I am primarily trying to convey is that the personnel of this offense has the potential to be very explosive. It just needs better coaching and game-planning, something I've been saying all year.
I'm a believer in Weeden. Whether you like him or not, he set several Browns rookie passing records and possesses all the physical tools that you want in a quarterback. I for one really want to see what he can do in a real offense that is tailored to his skills.
I believe that Chudzinksi's offense is not only a perfect fit for Weeden but it is also compatible with the receiving corps and Richardson.
I don't know if Rob Chudzinski will make a great head coach. But what I do know is that his offense has proven success in the NFL with the right personnel and the Browns have the right personnel.
You can follow Benjamin Flack on Twitter @ClevelandFlack.
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