Cleveland Browns: Systematically Speaking

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Cleveland Browns:  Systematically Speaking
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

One hundred and ninety one days since fans of the Cleveland Browns last witnessed their team stepping into an end zone scoring an official NFL touchdown. 

Now this count may not be entirely fair to the current roster and new staff, since their season did mercifully draw to a close on Dec. 28 of last year. 

A reminder is needed for the holdovers on said roster that ended last season with the longest team touchdown drought in National Football League history. Six full weeks, a total of twenty four quarters and some change, since anyone wearing an orange helmet with no logo tasted touchdown bliss. 

The advent of the off-season has only seemed to exacerbate this record-breaking futility. Usually when one side of the ball is struggling so mightily, a team often puts more emphasis on the opposite side of the football.  

Unfortunately, Cleveland’s defense was nearly as abysmal, finishing 26th in the league overall.  Plenty of room for improvement abounds for the 2009 Cleveland Browns in all facets of their game. 

An entirely new coaching staff will look to make modifications through more than just massive personnel changes, but by also severely altering overall game planning.

Cleveland served as the chic preseason pick by national pundits because of their explosive offensive firepower displayed a year earlier.   Instead of the top ten ranked offense seen in 2007, this once formidable unit simply proved atrocious in 2008.  

An eighth-ranked attack precipitously faltered, finishing next to last in the league appearing a mere shadow of its former self. 

Gone was the field stretching and dynamic presence in Braylon Edwards.   Gone was the match up nightmare in a fully healthy Kellen Winslow Jr.   Gone was the Pro Bowl caliber and once surprising play of quarterback Derek Anderson. 

Gone was the rock-steady offensive line.  As such, the once promising offensive coordinating career of one Rob Chudzinski and his Air Coryell deep passing tree roots are now gone permanently.

Enter Brian Daboll of New England lineage.   This former New York Jets quarterbacks’ coach was mentored under current Notre Dame head coach and former Patriot coordinator Charlie Weis.  

Many expect the same type of dink-and-dunk offense Weis often settled for, instead of the more explosive Josh McDaniels' vertical offense seen at Foxboro in recent seasons.

As Daboll’s first venture into coordinating, he should not be pigeonholed so quickly into one style.   Indications tend to lean towards maintaining a similar style to Weis’ standards.

Looking quickly at last season’s Jets passing totals, Daboll’s previous squad finished in the middle of the pack in almost every major passing statistic including average per completion, 20-plus yard completions, and 40-plus yard completions. 

With new head coach Eric Mangini already proclaiming Brady Quinn having an advantage as the team’s potential starter under center; this signal caller’s style of play certainly lends more to the Notre Dame product’s former coach rather than that of the more recent Chudzinski.

It is trenches which have seen the biggest change in personnel and mindset.    Coach Chudzinski’s blocking schemes often possessed multiple moving parts.  Centers and guards were asked to pull frequently.  Traps, counters, and screens were among favorite play calls.   

With the addition of talents like John St. Clair, Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack, and even recent first rounder Alex Mack; this unit will now more into more of a power blocking style preference. 

Now said unit will see more hat-on-hat blocking while certainly relying more heavily on simple zone runs.   All changes in this direction obviously caters strongly to declining running back Jamal Lewis, who too often was caught dancing in the hole a year ago and clearly did not spy cut-back lanes.  

Defensively, former Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker and his scheming were as dull, predictable, and ineffectual as that of area high school squads.  

Still in place is the ever present 3-4 base formation, which all New England Patriot protégés are known, but its usage shall be far different in grandeur. 

This side of the ball will be led by an experienced coordinator, Rob Ryan.   Ryan’s pedigree also dates back to his time as a New England linebackers’ coach.

While his four seasons saw a decline in Raider Nation’s once fabled defense, one has to wonder how much actual say and input he had to override quirky owner Al Davis.  

According to future Hall of Famer Warren Sapp based on his time on the roster, the answer was clearly not much at times. 

The staples of Ryan’s defense while in Oakland were his ability to devise pressure off the edge while employing a tough man coverage system.   Some of this was the byproduct of possessing talents such as end Derrick Burgess and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha.

Plenty of it had to do with design. While Rob Ryan’s defensive game planning will never be mistaken for his brother Rex’s overly aggressive attacking style; the mere addition of his coaching prowess to last season’s completely bland pass rushing attack will mark improvement. 

Also factor in Coach Mangini’s penchant for adding safeties to the box and sending them on designed delayed blitzes.  No longer will Cleveland supporters hope that amazing nose tackle Shaun Rogers collapses the pocket all by himself. 

There may just possibly be a coordinator with a clue finally lording over a unit which always instilled pride in their fan base decades earlier.

Overall, much will be hashed out in the upcoming months.   While it cannot be exactly dictated the type of minute modifications which will be employed by the new look Browns; one can certainly assert change is on the lips of those now involved. 

The telltale sign will appear Sept. 10 as Cleveland hopes to return to recent glory or could just as easily continue to count the clock of futility against the Minnesota Vikings.

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