Last season, the Cleveland Browns rode their running game to a four-game winning streak to close out the year. They did so despite an anemic aerial attack that netted over 100 yards just once during that stretch (a lackluster eight-completion, 121-yard effort by Derek Anderson in a Week 16 win over Oakland).
The offseason saw the addition of Mike Holmgren to the Browns front office. Holmgren identified the team's passing offense, ranked worst in the NFL in 2009, as an area in need of improvement. By cutting ties with both Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson he finally called a halt to the QB carousel that had gone on for far too long in Cleveland. Holmgren added two veteran QBs to the roster in the form of Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace. Both have proven to be improvements over their predecessors.
Leading into the current campaign, wide receiver seemed to be a position in need of bolstering. Trading away Braylon Edwards during the 2009 season left the Browns without a clear No. 1 wideout. At the time of the trade, rookie second-round draft pick Mohamed Massaquoi was thrust into the role. He achieved little success as the team's number one. Fellow rookie second-round pick Brian Robiskie could hardly crack the lineup and get on the field as the number two. With Holmgren's emphasis on the passing game wide receiver was a position sure to be addressed, right?
The draft came and went without the addition of a legitimate pass-catcher to the Cleveland Browns roster (my apologies to Carlton Mitchell). Big name wide receivers were added via trade and free agency to two of the Browns' division rivals as Baltimore added T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Anquan Boldin while Cincinnati snagged Terrell Owens off the NFL scrap heap. Fittingly Cleveland's secondary was torched by Boldin and Owens in consecutive weeks. Even Pittsburgh re-aquired Antwaan Randle El. Meanwhile, Cleveland added an aging Bobby Engram who failed to earn a roster spot, and more recently Sam Aiken who, contrary to popular belief, is not Clay Aiken's long lost brother.
So the season began with Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie penciled in as the Browns starters. Through four games Massaquoi has had four catches. Robiskie had two catches through the first two games before missing the last two weeks with a hamstring injury. Joshua Cribbs leads all wide receivers on the team with 12 catches, while Chansi Stuckey is close behind with 10.
By far the Browns have gotten most of their production in the passing game from TE Ben Watson and RB Peyton Hillis. The two have combined for 34 receptions. The Browns wide receivers have tallied just 29 total catches. As a point of comparison there are three WRs around the league, Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, and Roddy White, who each have more pass receptions than the Browns' entire wide receiving corp.
The Cleveland Browns passing offense has improved from a year ago thanks in large part to better QB play and the addition of Watson and Hillis. They currently boast the league's 22nd ranked passing offense. Not great, but at least not last. Once again, though, the Browns are finding it necessary to rely too heavily on the running game. If the Browns' offense hopes to continue to move the ball effectively they will need more production from their wideouts.
Four catches through four games from a "No. 1" receiver is laughable. With that type of production on the outside, opposing defenses can afford to load up the box against the Browns. In doing so they will take away not only the running game, but also many of those underneath passes to Hillis and Watson.
Massaquoi needs to either step up his game or step aside so another wide receiver can fill the number one spot. Unfortunately, with Cribbs already being asked to do so much, I don't see that this team has a better option than Massaquoi on their roster.