If you were to ask Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner where it all went wrong in 2013, they would probably tell you it started with the head coach. While that may have been part of the issue, there were many more factors in play.
It takes more than a failed coaching staff to create a team that was 27th in the league in scoring and 23rd in opponents' points allowed. It takes more than a team not progressing to rattle off seven straight losses and finish losing 10 or your last 11.
The very first factor that went wrong in 2013 was a lack of talent on the offensive side of the football. The front office made a concerted effort last offseason to bolster the defense and just try to make do with what it had on offense.
It didn’t work.
The offensive line could not run block even when it was healthy. The Browns finished 23rd in the league at four yards per carry. At times, the line couldn't pass block either, allowing 49 sacks. That was third-worst in the NFL.
The front office also traded away 2012 first-round draft pick and face-of-the-franchise running back Trent Richardson. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it never replaced him with anyone of substance.
The Browns' leading rusher in 2013 was Willis McGahee, who had 377 yards on 138 carries for a 2.9 yards-per-carry average. He may be a nice guy and good leader, but he looked like he was ready for the glue factory.
Edwin Baker, who played just three games as the Browns running back, rushed for the highest yards-per-carry average on the team (4.0) and was tied for the most rushing touchdowns with two.
The biggest factor in the Browns' offensive struggles, and really the overall struggles of the team, was quarterback play. Besides Brian Hoyer’s game against Cincinnati, Brandon Weeden’s game against Buffalo and Jason Campbell’s game at New England, the quarterback play left a ton to be desired.
Campbell, who has had as inconsistent a career as anyone in NFL history, continued his trend in 2013 by taking the Browns offense on a roller-coaster ride.
In his eight starts, the Browns posted a 1-7 record. He threw for 2,015 yards with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He was just good enough to keep the Browns in games but never good enough to close them out.
If Hoyer had never torn his ACL, then maybe would things would have been different. Then again, maybe not.
All we saw of Hoyer was a shaky performance against the Minnesota Vikings that ended with him orchestrating a fantastic game-winning drive in the final minutes, and a brilliant performance against Cincinnati, whose defense was reeling at the time.
Teams might have figured Hoyer out after a few starts. Or perhaps he would have led the Browns to three or four more victories. We’ll never know.
Defensively, the Browns started off red-hot as one of the most dominating units in the NFL. Unfortunately, that didn’t hold.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton seemed more interested in campaigning for a head coaching job in 2014 and preaching about his defense’s statistics than actually focusing on fixing his defense’s major issues.
The Browns finished 31st in the NFL in stopping opponents on third downs. They allowed a gaudy 44.7 percent conversion rate.
He was also overly aggressive—some think in order to bolster his statistics—at the end of halves. Instead of using the clock as an ally and keeping offenses in front of the defense, Horton would dial up wild blitzes and constantly get burned by teams looking for big plays.
This led to an inordinate number of leads blown in the second and fourth quarters. Just look at the three-game stretch from Week 13 to Week 15 when they blew fourth-quarter leads.
Another major issue on defense was the linebackers. While the outside linebackers started off hot, injuries and a lack of depth derailed their season quickly.
When Quentin Groves and Jabaal Sheard went down with injuries, rookie Barkevious Mingo was thrust into an every-down pass-rushing role. He wasn’t ready.
This resulted in him hitting a major “rookie wall.” He had just two sacks over his final 13 games and finished with five on the season. This made Paul Kruger’s 4.5 sacks even more glaring despite the fact the Browns brought him in to stop the run and be a leader much more than to post big-time sack totals.
The weakest link on the defense was at inside linebacker, however. Craig Robertson was such a great success story heading into 2013. He was the undrafted free agent-turned-starter who was set to receive a huge payday at the end of the season.
Not so much.
Once offensive coordinators got some film of Robertson, they attacked him relentlessly through the air. Running backs and tight ends had a field day receiving against the Browns for most of the season.
Running back Reggie Bush had 57 yards and a touchdown in Week 6 for Detroit, tight end Jermichael Finley had 72 yards and a touchdown in Week 7 for Green Bay, and the Jacksonville tight ends combined for 49 yards and two touchdowns in Week 13. Those are just a few of the examples to be named.
Then there was head coach Rob Chudzinski. For all the good things he did early in the season, like rallying the team to beat Minnesota after the Richardson trade and picking Hoyer to start over Campbell in Week 3, it was all wasted in the final seven games.
As a former Browns fan, he seemed to feel the pressure of 14 years of losing in every decision he made down the stretch. He was overly aggressive and it cost the Browns on multiple occasions. They were three fourth-down attempts away from tying the NFL record.
The undeniable fact is that under Chudzinski, the team lost seven straight games and 10 of its last 11 and seemed to regress heavily over the final two weeks.
Losses to teams with less talent, like Jacksonville and the New York Jets, were glaring black marks on his resume.
So while the 2013 season obviously was not all Chudzinski’s fault, the front office felt it necessary for someone to be punished. And in the NFL, the buck always stops with the head coach.