The Browns Will Win If… – Calisthenics Edition

Every year when my church softball league re-starts, I go out and throw about 10 warm-up tosses. Then, when I have to make my first throw from deep in the outfield, my shoulder inevitably hurts like a mutha. Apparently, you can’t let your arm sit dormant for 10 months and expect to uncork frozen ropes from the warning track. Likewise, it’s getting to be time to dust off the BWWI columns for another season of Browns football. Lest I pull a hammie next month, let’s stretch out just a bit.

brownsnfl

This version is a little different, since I won’t be polling the WFNY staff or getting the pulse of our upcoming opponents’ blogosphere. And, since we’re not looking at a specific opponent, this will attempt to look at more generalities about what the Browns’ ideal game would look like in 2010. Given that we’re not even one full week into camp, the cart is definitely in front of the horse. But whatever. Let’s limber up. Without further ado…

The 2010 Browns Will Win If…

…Josh Cribbs touches the ball 10 times per game, not including kicks.

Here are the raw stats for kicking from last year: Cribbs returned 3.5 kickoffs per game, and 2.4 punts per game (again, those are returns; don’t read anything into the punt numbers vis-a-vis the defense’s ability to get off the field on third downs, though it’s definitely an issue whose symptoms we’ll cover later). So, right there, that’s six touches generally for Cribbs. I’d love to see 15 touches per game in all facets as a minimum for Cribbs, so I’m saying he should touch the ball 10 times a game on offense. And, here’s why: in 55 touches as a rusher (just under 3.5 per game) on the year, Cribbs rushed for 381 yards, which is almost 7 yards per carry and 24 yards per game. Some quick math: 10 carries at 7 yards per carry = 70 yards in the rushing game per week. Notice I’m not even factoring Cribbs in as a WR. This is intentional on my part. By extension…

…some combination of Jerome Harrison, Montario Hardesty, Josh Cribbs, Peyton Hillis, and James Davis carries the ball 40 times a game. 

If you don’t include the 34 carries totaling 109 yards by QBs, WRs-not-named-Cribbs, and punters, the Browns rushed 464 times (which is exactly 29 carries a game) for 1978 yards (123.6 yards per game). That’s also 4.26 yards per carry. Multiply that out by 40 times, and you’re looking at 170.5 yards per game. Consider this: in their final four games (all wins), the Browns rushed the ball 37, 49, 46, and 49 times. The Browns (overall, including all the stats I factored out above) were 8th in the league at 130.4 ypg in 2009. The Jets were #1 at 172.3 ypg. Think that helped the Jets’ defense at all? I know it’s pie-in-the-sky to suggest the Browns could/should shoot up to the top rushing offense in the league. I present this more to make the point that the more they can commit to the running game, the better it will make their defense just simply by keeping the opposing offenses off the field, and the better it will make them overall. And, it leads nicely into making someone else better…

…Jake Delhomme completes 60% of his passes.

From 2003 through 2008 when Delhomme was the primary starter (though, a bit of a caveat is that his 2007 year was just three games due to injury), he was 1402-for-2348, which is good for 59.7%. So, despite his miserable 2009 season, there is quite a bit of precedent for Delhomme basically being a 60% passer. It is my belief that if the Browns can run 40 times a game as I opined above, Delhomme will not be asked to “do too much” and therefore has a good chance of completing near this 60% marker. If he can do that, the Browns’ offense should be a unit that doesn’t shoot itself in the foot. And honestly, as long as Delhomme can get the ball within the same zip code as his receivers (glaring at you, DA), it would be an improvement. Which, should help with…

…one of the Browns’ young receivers steps up and catches more than 60 passes.

Mohammed Massaquoi led the team with 34 (34!!) receptions (tied with Jerome Harrison, though that certainly doesn’t help to make the WR corps look any better). I know that expecting a jump of almost twice the amount of catches is a bit crazy. But, one can only hope that better passing from a QB combined with a little more experience (and playing time) for someone like Massaquoi could lead to a big increase in catches. Just having a reliable wide receiver will help Delhomme, and will help the offense in general. One would hope that if the Browns attempt to run the ball as much as I’m prescribing, it will bring more of the secondary up into the box which can open up a play-action passing game. More one-on-one coverage will also help a guy like MoMass. At least, here in early August when rose-colored-glasses rule, that’s my assertion and I’m sticking by it.

…a linebacker leads the team in tackles.

Your 2009 leader in tackles for the Browns? Safety Abe Elam (91), and he had 20 more than anyone else. Even worse? Three of the top five players in tackle stats were members of the secondary: Elam (1), Mike Adams (t3, 69), and Eric Wright (5, 65). Part of that can be attributed to injuries in the LB corps (most notably to tackling machine D’Qwell Jackson), but part of it also is because of the fact that the Browns are giving up a lot of big plays in both facets of the game, which means more tackles by your secondary members. A very good sign for the Browns’ defense would be if the top three or four tacklers were all members of the LBs and/or D-linemen. Speaking of which…

…the defense can notch more than three sacks a game.

You probably know that the Browns greatly improved their sack numbers in 2009 (17.0 in 2008, 40.0 in 2009) and jumped from t30th to t8th in the league in sacks; 40 sacks is also 2.5 sacks per game. Here’s the rub, though: 16 of those came in the last four games (including 8 against the Steelers alone), and the Browns were still 28th in the league in passing yards allowed. Through the first 12 games (1-11 record) the Browns were getting only two sacks a game. Through the last four (4-0), they were getting four a game. Obviously, it’s not that simple. But, if you’re getting consistent pressure on the QB, it’s going to make your secondary that much better. And, pressure on the QB leads to more mistake throws, which also leads me to one more point…

…the Browns’ leader in interceptions has more than FOUR.

That’s right… the team leader in INTs in 2009 was a tie between Eric Wright and Brodney Pool with four (FOUR??) picks. The team as a whole had 10 interceptions, good for 29th in the league. For reference, the league leading team for interceptions was Green Bay with 30. Eight teams had 20 or more. On paper (hehehe), the Browns’ secondary should be A LOT better than last year. But, to truly make a leap into the top half of the NFL, someone needs to step up as a ball-hawk that can make 8-to-10 picks a year by himself. If the Browns can get one or two guys to step up and grab a few more picks, the effects on their overall defense—and by extension, their overall success as a team—will be very good.

…there are no crippling injuries.

Obviously, injuries happen. But the Browns just aren’t deep enough at a great many positions to sustain any season-enders to any of their “big” players (I’m not going to mention any names, lest any jinxes be thrown around). Part of what made the Browns so good on offense in 2007 was that literally NO ONE missed extended periods of time due to injury on that side of the ball. If the Browns can somehow avoid those totally crippling injuries, the continuity that will create can only help them.

Obviously, that’s a lot of things that need to happen for a successful season, and there’s literally no way any sane person (least of all, me) believes everything above is attainable. Rome wasn’t built in a day. But, if the Browns can make strides in all of these areas, they’ll win some games that maybe in years-past we would have expected them to lose. And honestly, that’s a big step for this team: winning some games they maybe generally wouldn’t be expected to win. Phil Savage always talked about changing the “losing culture” surrounding this franchise. That’s a good way to start doing it.

  • MattyFos

    Don’t knock on MoMass’ 34 receptions, he didn’t have a QB to throw the ball to him.
    D’qwell Jackson would have led the team in tackles last year, but he injured his shoulder (I believe) and he missed a huge chunk of the season.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com DP

    Matty–
    I wasn’t knocking on MoMass or his stats… it was more a knock on the lack of a veteran presence (even you, Braylon), as I don’t believe a rookie should ever lead your team in receptions unless he’s Randy Moss (and I bet even HE didn’t his rookie year); it was also a knock on the passing game as a whole that no one had more catches than that, which was also trying to indict the QB play much as you have done.

  • MattyFos

    Okey Dokey.

  • stin4u

    Nice piece DP. I’m hoping old man Delhomme can be an efficient game manager and that’s it. We have so many horses in the stable in the backfield we NEED to hit that 40 rpg total. Couldn’t agree more about Cribbs it was so frustrating last year to see him produce when given a chance then promptly taken right out of the game.

  • MattyFos

    Cribbs needs to be involved in the running game. I haven’t been impressed with his receiving skills. But maybe another offseason and training camp will help his receiving game. Last year he was essentially a rookie receiver. So I hope he take a huge step up from last year.
    Delhomme needs to take what the D gives him, that’s what the older QB’s do. Delhomme was forcing passes he used to be able to make for the past few seasons.

  • matt tag

    I agree w/ all your thoughts. If some of these things happen, let’s put the win total between 6-8 and call it a decent year.

  • swig

    … karma is real

  • http://www.redright88.com Titus Pullo

    On the mark here, especially with hoping the team runs the ball. Only good things can happen if the team commits to the run, not the least is, as you say, it makes Delhomme better and the defense better.

    Still not sold on the WRs putting up better numbers. They just don’t have the extra gear to get separation from the DBs.

    Your right, Moss didn’t lead the Vikings in receptions as a rookie (Chris Carter had 78 to his 69), but he did lead in yards and TDs.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Scott

    So, you’re saying you want these professional football players to play like professional football players? Craziness…

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com DP

    Well, considering they have been playing for the last few years, that would be a big step up!

  • REEPJP

    Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re going to see the 40 rpg number very many times this year. Although most people would agree that our running back situation is in better shape than our receivers (first time since they’ve been back?), the Walrus has been on record many times saying that this team is going to throw the ball. He said he was unsure how they won the last four games passing it as little (i.e. and running it as much)as they did. If we add flare passes and screens we might be a little closer to 40, but I doubt we top it more than once or twice the whole season.

  • REEPJP

    …..unless Jake gets hurt or yanked as the starter early. If Wallace is the QB for an extended period of time, I would expect the number of designed runs would go up quite a bit.

  • Tommy

    Its funny how Tressel is talking about throwing over 30 times a game this year in Columbus, but what we really all want for our Browns is Tresselball.

    I’m in agreement with everyone on running the ball. I’m very excited about our O-line and how deep our backfield is. But I think one thing to point out about Cribbs is that most of his runs come out of the the “flash” package, or other situations/formations where a large part of the success of it, is based on the element of surprise/deception. So the more you run those types of things, I think you start to get diminishing returns a lot faster than normal.

    Running the sweeps out of the flash package with the zone blocking where the O-line is forced to get all the way outside a lot of times, could also be tough if we ask our tackles to do that all game.

    We also know that Mangini is very clear about not wanting to take anything away from Cribbs contributions in the Special Teams game. If you start to hand it off 10-15 times a game to him from the backfield, we may see the effects of the extra beatings in his returns/kick covering by the end of the season.

  • Mark

    I think Ben Watson will be a huge part of our passing attack. I think he is a very underated TE. Watson was overlooked a lot in NE because that had so many weapons and, unfortunately, he was injured off and on. He will be one of our top 3 recievers and a beast in the red zone.

  • Mark

    I like your preview DP. It’s got me thinking that I need to get ready for the season too. So in honor of you I will spend my Sunday throwing things at the TV, cursing at the current Browns QB (sorry Jake), and stringing together an unhealthy combination of swear words. By Sept 12 I will be in midseason form.

  • hans

    TD, the Cleveland Browns have a softball league?

  • historycat

    …Jake Delhomme completes 60% of his passes (to his own team).

  • MattyFos

    @historycat- DA completes 45% of his passes (to the opposing team)

    @Mark- I think Watson will be head to head with MoMass for team leader in receptions.

  • Hans

    Wait, I meant DP, not TD.

  • jimkanicki

    ‘commit to the run.’

    what does that mean? sounds like the daboll/carthon run-run-pass strategy. i’m sour on that. i would like to see some run plays on a 3rd and 3 though.

    question becomes do we have the o-line for it? we might but i’m skeptical about building the o-line through cast-offs after the st. clair fiasco… ie, i am wary about pashos.

    it’s great that we have lots of new talent at RB. but.. i give you: emmitt smith. most yards in the history of the nfl. a pedestrian back who had the good fortune of running behind larry allen all his career and also the benefit of a competent passing game.

    my point is that until delhomme and company show a passing game, hardesty/harrison/davis wont make a difference when there’s 8 in the box. we can’t hang our hats on 40 carries a game.

    as it stands there’s no receiving threat that requires a double cover. unless we establish a threatening passing game, the run game will fail.

  • Cgutta

    “Every year when my church softball league re-starts, I go out and throw about 10 warm-up tosses. Then, when I have to make my first throw from deep in the outfield, my shoulder inevitably hurts like a mutha”

    Most hilarious opening lines to an article I’ve ever read.