When it was announced yesterday afternoon that former St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur would be the next Cleveland Browns head coach, the future identity of the franchise was revealed, at least for the short term. Team president Mike Holmgren has made it clear that moving forward the Browns will employ a west coast style of offense with this hire.
This decision has not been without debate, as many fans and media personalities in Cleveland believe that Holmgren pulled the trigger too fast on this one, not allowing the job search to run its normal course before hiring Shurmur.
Nevertheless, the Browns have named a new head coach, and here five moves they must make this season in order to become more competitive in the AFC North, where, in the last two years, they have only won 2 games:
The first order of business when hiring any offensive minded coach should be to address the offensive side of the ball, right? Especially when that team''s offense ranked near last in the league in several statisical categories?
The Cleveland Browns defense, while making strides last season, is still among one of the worst in the league. Accentuating this fact is that the Browns were 27th in the league against the run, worse than their Ohio AFC North counterparts, the Cincinnati Bengals.
Rob Ryan has become a fan favorite in Cleveland among fans and media alike. Proponents of retaining Ryan would argue that he has the defense headed in the right direction, he just needs the proper personnel in place to successfully execute his schemes. They would go on to argue that comparing the Browns' defense to the Bengals is pointless since the Bengals clearly have more talent on both sides of the ball.
However, as team president of the Cleveland Browns, Mike Holmgren is in the unenviable position of making some tough choices that won't always be popular with fans and media. Firing Eric Mangini may have been one of those moves. And letting Rob Ryan go may also be one of those tough decisions.
The problem with running the 3-4 defense is that it requires a certain type of player to execute well, and finding the right personnel for the scheme could take years, if it at all. Add on to that the fact that most defenses in college run a 4-3 base, and that means the potential pool of players in this scheme shrinks even further.
The Browns would be wise to revert back to a 4-3 and add another explosive cornerback to go with Joe Haden. A 4-3 scheme would also allow the Browns to play Ahtyba Rubin and Shaun Rogers at the same time, thus increasing the likelihood of the d-ends getting to the quarterback, something that didn't happen very often last season.
Bottom line is that despite their progress last season, the Browns offense no experience some growing pains this season, and it will again place a burden on the defense. The defense did make some strides last season, but was still woefully inadequate against the run, and couldn't muster a decent pass rush either. These are things that could be easily remedied with a switch to a 4-3 scheme.
There is widespread opinion that the receiving corps in Cleveland is among the worst in the league, if not the worst. From a statisical perpesctive, that would not be a too far fetched assumption.
Yet, it appeared at least toward the end of the season, quarterback Colt McCoy was developing a rapport with some of the younger receivers on the squad, especially second year wideout Brian Robiskie. If there was one bright spot to Cleveland's offense in its final four games, it was that Robiskie, a second round pick in the 2009 draft, was starting to pay dividends.
The Browns enter this offseason with many holes to fill, but finding a number one wide receiver has to be near the top of the list. Last season the assumption was that second year player Mohamed Massaquoi would fill that void. MoMa, as he's often referred to, appears to be a nice possession receiver but lacks the speed to be a true vertical threat.
Despite the Browns lacking a clear cut number one receiver, this group isn't all that bad. With a little bit of coaching and a few player additions, this group could be really good.
Terry Robiskie, Brian's father and current Atlanta Falcons wide receiver coach, would be the perfect person to help this underachieving unit. Robiskie has been a successful wr coach with three different teams, including a previous stint with the Browns. The elder Robiskie just might help his son to the break out season, and improve one of the biggest weaknesses on the entire Cleveland team.
One of the other bright spots for the Browns this season was the running game, led by Peyton Hillis' almost 1200 yards and 11 touchdowns. Those numbers were in part due to the emergence of Hillis, an overachiever that even the Browns knew little about, but it also was a testament to one of the more dominant run-blocking offensive lines in the league.
For all the kudos that go to the o-line for its run game, on the whole, this unit was very inconsistent last season. For starters, despite Hillis' season, the Browns offensive line allowed 36 sacks last season. Protecting the quarterback will be paramount if the Browns plan on running the west coast offense next year.
The Browns also fell victim to the injury bug last season, especially on the o-line, and lack of depth combined with inconsistent play contributed to poor performance in the final four games of the season. Hillis would only manage to run for over 100 yards once, against Buffalo, and did not score a rushing touchdown.
The Browns have slowly begun to rebuild an offensive line that has been ridiculed since the team's return to the league in 1999, If they want to have any chance of being successful in the West Coast offense next year, the line will have to continue to improve.
There has been much debated about the future of Seneca Wallace with the Cleveland Browns.
Wallace's detractors say that he is not a team player, having whined when Jake Delhomme got the starting nod over him. They also point to the fact that Wallace was one of the few players not to publicly support Mangini, either.
Wallace's on the field exploits last season, however, cannot be questioned. His 63% completion percentage combined with four touchdown passes and only two interceptions were good for a 88.5 quarterback rating, best on the team. Wallace's mobility certainly gave him an added advantage when he was on the field, something that Delhomme didn't have.
But the biggest reason to keep Wallace is his familiarity with the west coast offense, having learned it while a backup at Seattle when Mike Holmgen was the coach. The Browns would be unwise to let go of a mobile quarterback that knows the offensive system they want to put in place, especially one with numbers as impressive as Wallace put up last season.
At the end of the season, many people still weren't convinced that Colt McCoy is the future of the Cleveland Browns franchise.
Indeed, there may come a day when the Browns decide that Colt McCoy isn't the best option they have at the quarterback position.
Yet, at the very least, the Browns need to give McCoy at least a season to prove whether he is the guy that can lead them into the playoffs and beyond. Colt McCoy was thrust into the starting position in the most unenviable of times--a road game against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers--and asked to help the team win some games. Along the way, McCoy impressed, leading the teams to wins over the defending Super Bowl Champions New Orleans Saints and the New England Patriots, but at the end of the season, his 2-5 record, along with questionable arm strength, left many Browns fans worried.
It should be noted that Peyton Manning didn't have much success either as a rookie, throwing more picks(28) than touchdown passes (26). Manning's team only won 1 game that season, the worst of his career. In fact, in his rookie season, Manning's quarterback rating(71.2) and completion percentage (56.7) were slightly worse than McCoy's rating (74.2) and completion percentage (60.8).
And as for McCoy's arm strength, it should be noted that many quarterbacks have gone on to be successful in the league without the strongest of arms, and one, Trent Dilfer with the Baltimore Ravens, even won a Super Bowl.
Holmgren did not select this kid in the third round of the draft last season because he was looking for depth. A man who has groomed both Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck, Browns fans must trust that he knows what he is talking about.