In the NFL, predictions are worth about as much as wampum. Everyone makes them but most have very little merit. Predicting how a team like the Cleveland Browns will perform is even more of a craps shoot. New coaches, new systems and a shaky quarterback battle add to the mystery.
Now try and predict exactly what the Browns’ offense might do this season. Good luck with that.
The easy thing to do is say that they looked awful in the preseason, finishing 23rd in total offense with the starters scoring just two touchdowns. It would also be easy to say that quarterback Brian Hoyer finished 85th in quarterback rating this preseason, which was 20 spots behind Tajh Boyd, who no longer has a job in the NFL.
Looking deeper at the numbers, however, we see that preseason stats are very deceiving. First of all, Browns practice squad rookie Connor Shaw led all quarterbacks in QB rating with a near perfect 155.8 mark. Then you would see that Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Colin Kaepernick, Nick Foles and Alex Smith all had QB ratings below 76.
So how can we try to accurately predict what the Cleveland offense will do in the 2014 season? Let’s try and use two different methods: past production of Kyle Shanahan’s system and the eye test.
Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system has been utilized in the NFL for the past six seasons. It started in Houston for two years, then moved to Washington for four and now arrives in Cleveland. It is based in the West Coast passing style that his father Mike Shanahan has utilized for nearly 40 years at the collegiate and NFL levels.
While Kyle did not have the happiest of departures from Washington, his former players still had plenty of positive things to say about the play-caller.
"He's one of those guys who were going to put you in position to be successful,” Kirk Cousins told Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer. “There are those play callers that when you leave a drive you know the play calling put you in a good position.
"With Kyle, every time I came off the field I found myself going over to him and saying, 'Great calls.'"
Even Robert Griffin III, who had a rocky relationship with Shanahan during his two seasons in Washington, could not find anything negative to say about the coach’s play-calling.
"I think Kyle has a great, innovative mind and does some great things with the play calling and formations,” Griffin also told The Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Nobody can ever knock him for that."
The proof is in the results. Shanahan’s offensive systems have finished top 10 in total yards four of his six seasons and finished worse than 15th just once. The guy can call plays that move the ball.
He has had four receivers surpass the 1,000-yard mark under his direction and three receivers catch more than 100 passes. Running backs have also thrived under his tutelage. Three of the six years he has been a coordinator, he had a running back rush for more than 1,000 yards. They also rushed for more than seven touchdowns four of the six years.
|Offenisve Leaders Under Shanahan|
|2008 Houston||2009 Houston||2010 Washington||2011 Washington||2012 Washington||2013 Washington|
|Andre Johnson - 115 recs for 1575 yards and 8 TDs||Andre Johnson - 101 recs for 1569 yards and 9 TDs||Santana Moss - 93 recs for 1115 yards and 6 TDs||Jabar Gaffney - 68 recs for 947 yards and 5 TDs||Josh Morgan - 48 recs for 510 yards and 2 TDs||Pierre Garcon - 113 recs for 1346 yards and 5 TDs|
|Owen Daniels - 70 recs for 862 yards and 2 TDs||Kevin Walter - 53 recs for 611 yards and 2 TDs||Chris Cooley - 77 recs for 849 yards and 3 TDs||Fred Davis - 59 recs for 796 yards and 3 TDs||Pierre Garcon - 44 recs for 633 yards and 4 TDs||Jordan Reed - 45 recs for 499 yards and 3 TDs|
|Kevin Walter - 60 recs for 899 yards and 8 TDs||Steve Slaton - 44 recs for 417 yards and 4 TDs||Anthony Armstrong - 44 recs for 871 yards and 3 TDs||Roy Helu - 49 recs for 379 yards and 1 TD||Santana Moss - 41 recs for 573 yards and 8 TDs||Santana Moss - 42 recs for 452 yards and 2 TDs|
|Steve Slaton - 286 carries 1282 yards and 9 TDs||Slaton & Moats - 232 carries for 827 yards and 7 TDs||Ryan Torain - 164 carries for 742 yards and 4 TDs||Roy Helu - 151 carries for 640 yards and 2 TDs||Alfred Morris - 335 carries for 1613 yards and 13 TDs||Alfred Morris - 276 carries for 1275 yards and 7 TDs|
By using the offensive results of his former team, we can predict what the Browns might be able to do this season under Shanahan. By looking at the past, receiver Miles Austin, tight end Jordan Cameron and running back Ben Tate all should be in for huge years.
As you can see in the chart above, Shanahan had a tight end be in the top three in receptions on his team three different times. It would have been four years, but Owen Daniels played just eight games for the Texans in 2009.
This means that Cameron, should he stay healthy, could post similar numbers to what he did last season. Last year he caught 80 passes. It would be unlikely that he catches that many balls again because teams will be keying on him, but he will still get his fair share of passes.
Here are the predictions for the Browns based on past production under Shanahan.
|Browns Offensive Leader Projections|
|Miles Austin||90 recs||1177 yards||6 TDs|
|Jordan Cameron||58 recs||708 yards||3 TDs|
|Andrew Hawkins||47 recs||599 yards||4 TDs|
|Ben Tate||238 carries||1063 yards||7 TDs|
|Average of past Shanahan offenses|
It is hard to imagine the team as a whole producing anywhere near Shanahan’s past teams based on how they looked this preseason. We will get to the eye test in a little bit, though. For now, let’s take the stats that his past teams produced and average them out to see what the Browns might do in 2014.
|Browns Team Offense Projections|
|Average of past Shanahan offenses|
I think any Browns fan would take those numbers and rankings in a heartbeat. After watching the team do their impersonation of an NFL offense this preseason most fans fear the worst. Admittedly, the predictions above seem quite lofty.
Now let’s judge the offense with the good old-fashioned eye test.
The first thing you have to question when doing the eye test is the amount of weapons the Browns have. Sure, past Shanahan offenses posted huge numbers and were among the elite in the NFL but they also had explosive players on the field.
Where is the Andre Johnson in Cleveland? Where is the Robert Griffin III? Where is the Santana Moss or Pierre Garcon? The Browns don’t seem to have the same type of guys on their roster, and that should drastically deviate the Browns’ production away from Shanahan’s average.
The first and most glaring issue is the quarterback spot. Say what you want about Matt Schaub now, but he was playing at a very high level for the two seasons Shanahan was in Houston. While Schaub’s best season was under Shanahan, he also passed for over 4,000 yards two more times after he left.
So was Schaub a product of Shanahan, or was it the other way around?
Also, Griffin is a completely different animal from anything the Browns will be running out on the field this season. Even if Johnny Manziel ends up starting games, which I believe he will, he is less of a running quarterback and more of a play extender.
Then you have Austin, who will be tasked with being the Johnson or Moss of this offense. Somehow I just don’t see that happening. If the Browns had been able to have Josh Gordon for the season, things may have been different.
Unfortunately, that is not the reality, and Austin will have to prove he can dominate on the outside like he did on the inside in Dallas four and five years ago.
Andrew Hawkins will have to play the role of Kevin Walter or Anthony Armstrong this season, and he may actually be able to do that. While he does not have the same body type as those players, he does have the speed, hands and route-running ability to be productive.
For him, however, the question is always his health. If he can stay on the field, he should be able to post decent numbers.
I also think that Cameron should have no problem duplicating the production of Daniels, Chris Cooley or Fred Davis. Cameron is a superior athlete to any of those guys and proved last season that he can be classified in the elite category.
The question remains, though: Can Austin produce from the primary receiver spot? If he is putrid or even slightly underwhelming, it will have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the receiving corps. If he struggles then it places the burden and defensive focus on the other guys which will limit their production.
Tate, on the other hand, looks like a guy who is ready to shine in Shanahan’s offense. Yes, he has some fumbling issues and yes he has an injury history. But even if Tate can only stay on the field a portion of the year, Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell should step in seamlessly.
In fact, I think the production out of the backfield will be more of a group effort, like it was in 2009 in Houston, than a singular product. Shanahan will need to pound the ball on the ground for the offense to be even relatively successful. I look for the group to break the 300-carry mark like Washington did under Shanahan in 2012.