Cleveland Browns: A Review of the Beginning of the 2011 Season

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Cleveland Browns: A Review of the Beginning of the 2011 Season
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Colt McCoy hugging Artis Hicks after scoring in the Browns' 17-16 win over the Dolphins.

Heading into their bye week, the Browns are a .500 team. When is the last time we've been able to say that?

There have certainly been some highlights and lowlights to this point. One of the big highlights is the rapid development of rookie defensive linemen and the Browns' first two draft picks in 2011, Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard.

Taylor has been looking dominant against some pretty good, if unspectacular, offensive lines. However, the disruption that Taylor has caused has resulted in better production of fellow defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin. Taylor eating up blocks in the middle has also spurred increased production from D'Qwell Jackson.

Likewise, Jabaal Sheard has simply outplayed many of the offensive tackles he's been matched up with off the edge. While Sheard has not yet had to contend with some of the better tackles in the league, this is only his first season in the league, and that is why it's so encouraging to see that level of production.

Another highlight is the development of second-year quarterback Colt McCoy. McCoy has been hot and cold through the first four games. Early on in the games, he seems to make a lot of mental errors and has had spotty accuracy. While McCoy has had his share of problems, he has also excelled in many unexpected things.

To this point in the season, McCoy has shown better arm strength than many have given him credit for. This past weekend against the Titans, McCoy and the Browns' offense threw the ball 61 times in the wind. While the number of times the Browns went to the air certainly inflated McCoy's stats, it certainly is lessened by the fact that he completed close to 66 percent of those 61 passes.

Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Colt McCoy is becoming a solid, if unspectacular quarterback in the league.

And while McCoy may never be the best quarterback in the league, he has shown the determination to stay in games and lead his team to victory, like we saw in the game against the Miami Dolphins. In that game, McCoy had looked truly awful all game until he led the Browns down the field 80 yards for a touchdown.

McCoy proved in the last few weeks that he is capable of being a solid starter in the league for years to come, and it's even more incredible that he's shown this in a season where he has had to learn an entire new offensive scheme.

Another huge check in the plus column has been the play of Joe Haden and D'Qwell Jackson, who are both playing like Pro Bowlers. Haden has simply shut down the other team's best receiver each week and is looking like one of the best young defensive backs in the league.

Jackson has looked to be in his 2007 form, racking up 40 total tackles and 2.5 sacks. Jackson is on course for 160 tackles this season, and as a situational pass rusher, Jackson has been doing very well. D'Qwell Jackson, up to this point, has been the best player in the front seven and is a major asset for the Browns' young team going forward.

With all of the things that are going right, there are many things that aren't going as well as they should. One of the things that has really killed the Browns is penalties. Through Week 4, the Browns have committed 28 penalties and have given up a grand total of 218 yards to opponents by having mental errors.

Ask any football coach what makes good teams lose big games, and he/she will say penalties. Penalties are one of the many reasons that the Browns are not 3-1 or even 4-0 heading into this weekend. Far too many of these penalties are mental errors on the part of the young Browns.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Penalties have been one of the reasons that the Browns' have been struggling to win games.

You can chalk a few of these errors up to overall inexperience, but it doesn't make them excusable.

For the Browns to succeed, they need to have more success with the offensive line. Some weeks, the line are going to make Colt McCoy and the ground game look terrific, like in Week 2 against the Colts  and other weeks will look like a completely different unit, as they did against the Miami Dolphins.

Whatever the reason, the offensive line needs to get more consistent and help the offense score more regularly.

Another very basic reason the Browns are losing is that they are constantly either playing from behind or playing with very little momentum, particularly in the run game.

It sometimes feels as though Shurmur is trying to get McCoy into a good rhythm; however in doing so, he is disregarding completely the ground game. This cannot happen.

Anybody with a basic understanding of the Cleveland Browns knows that their rushing game has been what has given them so much success in the past. Whether it was Jamal Lewis, Jerome Harrison, Chris Jennings or Peyton Hillis, the Browns have had success on the ground, especially in the games against division rivals Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

Similarly, the defense seems to give up a lot of big plays. The unit plays well overall and can be especially dominant at times, but when the game is on the line, the defense as a whole has failed to step up.

Marc Serota/Getty Images
Joe Haden has been one of the brightest young stars on a very inexperienced, but solid Browns defense

Whether it's a blown coverage or a stupid penalty, the inexperience of this team is ultimately what is making it suffer.

However, the youth of the unit is also one of its key strengths. While the Browns' may be less than stellar currently, the young base on both offense and defense are going to grow and become cornerstones to the once proud franchise.

Both offensively and defensively, the team has pieces that while not fully assembled just yet, have great potential.

The great drafting of Tom Heckert and Mike Holmgren has given the team an identity. Through two years, the duo has added seven starters to the team through the draft alone. Haden, Lauvao, Ward, McCoy, Hardesty, Pinkston and Little are all players that we are seeing every Sunday, and they are players that will help this team succeed in the very near future.

While many are seeing the "same old Browns," others, like myself, are seeing a completely different team. Right now, they're a middle of the road team. They're not going to win all 16 games this season, but they'll probably win more than four unless things go catastrophically wrong.

While we haven't seen a dream team yet, keep in mind that the team is young and transitioning to new systems, under a brand new coaching staff. There's going to be growing pains.

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