At 0-2 the Browns seem hopeless, but this is not the season for Cleveland to look at making the playoffs. Instead this is the season to prepare to make them next year.
There are plenty of positive things for Browns fans to draw upon regardless of the current record. If the Browns organization looks at this season as a stepping-stone than there are positive things going on as well as some areas of improvement that need addressing.
Breaking down the team in units we can analyze what areas may need some fine-tuning and what areas need an overhaul.
TJ Ward was a solid find for Cleveland and has provided a much needed attitude adjustment in the defensive backfield, providing hard-hitting and deep coverage ability. He is fourth in combined tackles in the NFL with 22 so far.
Mike Adams and Sheldon Brown are also in the top 10 of all the defensive backs in passes defended and interceptions in
Linebackers and Defensive Line
Marcus Bernard is tied for eighth in the NFL with 2.5 sacks and it is only the second week of the season. Had the offense not given up points to the defense the Browns could be 2-0. Cleveland also finds itself 14th against the run, with teams only averaging 3.8 yards a carry. In 2010 the team averaged 4.6 yards a carry over the length of the season.
The run defense has improved by solidifying the defensive backfield. Four-yard runs do not turn into 50-yard touchdowns. All the defensive backs, corners, and safeties can tackle and present a physicality that was not present on any of the Browns teams since coming back in 1999.
The Browns are still not getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Cleveland had 40 sacks in 2009 tying them with eighth in the NFL, averaging 2.5 sacks a game, which is respectable at first glance. If the Steelers game in 2009 did not have eight sacks, last year’s numbers would have been much worse.
With the Browns averaging two sacks a game they would be below last year’s numbers. To better illustrate the point, the Minnesota Vikings had 48 sacks last year and the Steelers had 47, putting them at No. 1 and No. 2 in the entire NFL in sacks a year ago. If the Browns do not pick up the pace and continue to average two sacks a game they would end up with 32 total sacks. If 48 sacks still were considered tops by the end of the 2010 season their ranking would go from an eighth (in 2009) all the way down to a dismal 18th.
The Browns are not applying pressure to the quarter back but are stiffening up in the run game.
Cleveland has upgraded the quarterback position by adding two veterans that have on-field experience, but they have both lost two games for the team in back-to-back weeks.
Cleveland is 11th in total yards passing so far this season averaging 231 yards per game, but those are not turning into touchdowns with only two being scored thus far. Cleveland is in the middle of the pack at 16th averaging 319 total yards of offense a game.
Cleveland is currently 13th in total yards passing this season at 462 total yards. Last year the Browns passing attack had thrown for a total 2,076 over a 16-game season, or more importantly averaging 129 yards passing a game. Over two games Cleveland is averaging 231 yards a game. The passing attack has improved 102 yards per game. Still middle-of-the-pack statistics but a great improvement over 2009.
Cleveland is in a three-way tie at 18th, for the number of passing TDs this season at two. This dictates that the yards are not equating to touchdowns through the air. Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace have shown flashes of why the Browns brought them in, but have also shown why they are backups at this point in their careers.
Delhomme's leadership is crippled by his inability to not throw a pick. If he was brought in for his ability to manage a game than he should know how to throw the ball away when his team has the lead and his defense is playing well.
Wallace being brought in was a mystery to most fans since the Cleveland Browns had a chance to bring in Troy Smith. Smith is taller (only by an inch, but still) with a stronger arm and has as much elusiveness. Most importantly Smith knows the entire Ravens offense and their signals. That may be nice to have on your squad if you are going to face a team twice a year.
Seneca Wallace was brought in to back up Jake Delhomme, which is the same role Troy Smith could have played while offering insight on a divisional opponent. The organization may have been weary of the fans clamoring for Smith, much like the fans wanted Brady Quinn.
Peyton Hillis is the type of bruising AFC North back the Browns have been looking for. His soft hands and explosive runs will come in handy when the weather turns cold. Hillis will have to learn to protect the ball better, but he is not known as a fumbler and will more than likely get a “handle” on carrying the rock a bit more securely.
Jerome Harrison is gaining the reputation as a person that cannot hold onto the ball. So far this season his explosive runs have been minimal and mistakes plentiful.
If Harrison can get back on track, his quick burst through the hole and ability to make people miss on screens can get the Browns the precious first downs that they lacked last season. Harrison still has the potential to be a game-breaking running back or at the very least be akin to Kevin Faulk of the New England Patriots.
James Davis showed bursts of speed and some physicality in the preseason, but has yet to make it to the field. Davis deserves a chance to show what he can do in a real game. With Harrison and Hillis both fumbling it will be interesting to see if Brian Daboll pulls the trigger on Davis.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Mohammad Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, and Joshua Cribbs do not strike fear in opposing defenses, but have been capable when the ball has been thrown to them. The New England Patriots have proven time and time again that receivers do not have to be superstars to be effective. In fact, since the Patriots have had a premiere receiving core with Moss and Welker they have yet to win a Super Bowl.
The Cleveland Browns receiving corps is developing and seem to be getting better in their route-running. Brian Robiskie has very good hands and Mohammad Massaquoi can develop into a good No. 1 receiver. Cribbs has improved steadily at the position.
The tight ends have been steady this season so far as well with Watson and Evans providing good hands and an outlet to both quarterbacks. Watson has proven to be a great pick-up and Evans is a solid surprise. If the Browns can get a steady trigger-man the chemistry will become more stable between the quarterback and the receiving corps.
By next season the Browns receiving corps should be hitting its stride, but probably will have to learn an entirely new offense as Brian Daboll may not be there calling the plays, which leads me to the final component…
Eric Mangini has got to realize that his job is on the line with the likes of Jon Gruden, and Bill Cowher on the horizon, not to mention the “Big Show” Mike Holmgren. He can ill afford to allow Brian Daboll to call another bad game, or sit back while players fumble away his career. He will have to do more than tighten his jaw on the sidelines when a stupid play is called or a dumb interception takes place.
It is time for Mangini to become involved in the game while it is going on and learn that halftime adjustments work both ways. He no longer can sit back and let the other team come out and out-play his squad.
Brian Daboll is, in a word, terrible. His play-calling lacks originality and he has shown that he cannot adjust his offense in a game to counter defensive adjustments. If Mangini wants to keep his job and not be replaced by season’s end he may have to become an active force and not a spectator like any fan in “C” deck.
The one bright spot on the coaching staff is Rob Ryan. His defense plays with the passion that the offense seems to lack. Looking at him on the sidelines it is obvious he is active and on top of his unit's game plan and has shown to make adjustments on the fly better than his offensive counterpart. If there is a coaching change in Cleveland after the season I can only hope that Rob Ryan is one of the candidates or is at least retained on staff.
The Browns as an organization have made strides and regardless of record have been competitive. If not for two poorly thrown balls they would be 2-0. Even if they were 2-0 instead of 0-2 the same stats would define this team.
Cleveland Browns fans must understand that the goal is not to build a playoff team, but instead a Super Bowl-winning team. The Browns have been to the playoffs under Butch Davis, Marty Schottenheimer, and Sam Rutigliano and not won a Super Bowl.
Cleveland's fans have waited a long time and need to wait a little longer so that finally the organization can get it right. If this front office can deliver a Super Bowl the long wait will well be worth it.