The final indictment for any team in almost any sport is the win-loss record. For a rebuilding team, however, the record of the team must be weighed against measurable improvement as well as intangible factors.
With job security a constant question for coach Eric Mangini in Cleveland, the debate rages on as to whether the Browns have improved enough for him to retain his job.
Mike Holmgren is going to have a difficult time weighing the good versus the bad at the end of the season, but as team overlord, it is his job to determine the future direction of the team.
Here's a look at many of the factors I'm sure Holmgren will assess at season's end.
Wins vs. Losses
As former head coach and current NFL analyst Herm Edwards famously or infamously
once stated, "You play to win the game."
Last year, the Browns finished 5-11 by winning the final four games of the season. Those four wins certainly saved Mangini's job.
This year, the Browns have a 4-7 record, and with five games remaining, have the opportunity to finish with a record near .500.
The Browns remaining schedule, while not easy, should be a slight reprieve from the schedule they played earlier in the season. However, as exhibited last week against Carolina, they must avoid playing down to the level of their competition, as teams like Buffalo and Cincinnati are much more dangerous than the declawed Panthers.
Expect the Browns to finish either 6-10 or 7-9. While the record would be an improvement over last year, many fans would not be satisfied with a losing record. The question is, will Holmgren be satisfied?
Last season, the Browns often looked as if they didn't belong on the field with the NFL teams they were playing. The numbers backed up the appearance of futility and the early season record, 1-11, also served as an indictment.
I'm not the first to point out that the Browns are 8-7 since then, but I will point out some very telling statistics that show just how different this year's team is.
Through 11 games last season, the Browns scored 122 points. Their opponents scored 279 points. That's a difference of 157 points! That run included six games in which the offense failed to score a touchdown.
This year, at the same time in the season, the Browns have scored 216 points to their opponents' 229 for a mere minus-13. While this has led to several heartbreakingly close losses, it also demonstrates significant improvement, especially on the offensive side of the football.
While this is not a measurable category, there are several factors that can be objectively measured. Mangini believes in players that play smart and do not hurt the team with individual mistakes and penalties. This year, the Browns are 10th in the league in penalties, which is not as high as last year, but still fairly clean.
The Browns have also done a better job taking care of the ball. Last year, they turned the ball over 31 times. This year, if they continue at the current pace, they will turn the ball over 26 times. While this is not huge improvement, if you take into account the much higher rate of pass attempts, along with the increase in scoring and yardage, the improvement is more significant.
This is the major strike on the coaching staff. On the whole, they have been able to prepare the team for success with excellent game plans. However, game management, particularly in the second half of games, has come up short. Whether the errors involved poor play-calling or clock and timeout management, this is one area that Mangini and the coaching staff need to improve.