The off-season isn’t over, but it’s not time to look at what the Browns have put together to try and figure out how they’re going to compete in 2013. When you’re caught up in all the details of free agency and the draft it’s much more difficult to get the overall picture, but now more than ever it seems readily apparent what the Browns are trying to do. It’s also apparent what this team could look like in 2013 as they look to improve on their 5-11 season with a whole new coaching staff and brand new looks on offense and defense.
It starts with the defense. The Browns spent almost all of their resources in free agency and the draft on defense. The combination of switching schemes and the defensive performance in 2012 demanded some serious attention. The Browns were second-worst in the NFL in terms of number of offensive plays that opposing teams ran against them. The Browns allowed opposing teams to run 1095 plays showing an inability to get off the field. They gave up the fifth-most number of first downs and the 14th most points. The Browns were truly middle of the road in terms of pressuring the quarterback with their 38 sacks and 6.0% sack rate.1
So take that group of defenders, put them with an aggressive coordinator, add Desmond Bryant, Paul Kruger, Quentin Groves and sixth overall pick Barkevious Mingo and all of a sudden I think we’ve seen pretty much exactly where the Browns hope to be able to compete in 2013. The fact that they signed guys pretty much still in their 20’s isn’t a bad sign either as long as they work out as players in orange and brown. So, what about the secondary and the Browns’ seeming lack of attention to safety and corner? Lombardi said yesterday that they could survive with a young secondary as long as the pass rush is good.
But what about the offense?
The Browns punted on a couple of draft picks and decided to bring back an offense that was 19th in yards, 29th in first downs, 22nd in the number of overall offensive plays, and 24th in points? You’re telling me that coming into the 2013 season with that group isn’t giving up on 2013?
I’ll admit it’s a much tougher sell. I like that the Browns made a trade for Davone Bess. I like the young players like Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon, Greg Little and potentially even Jordan Cameron and Travis Benjamin. I like the offensive line despite some questions about who will win the guard position battles. All that being said, I’d be lying if I said to you there were any sure things on this offensive side of the ball. Probably Joe Thomas, Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz, but that’s really it. Everyone else is too young and / or too questionable to project.
That’s where I think the Browns are hoping on offense. They’re hoping that Brandon Weeden can make strides in a new offense that accentuates his strengths. They’re hoping that Davone Bess can provide stability to a young and up and coming receiving corps. They’re hoping that Greg Little and even more so, Josh Gordon, can make jumps from potential to actual greatness. Nowhere are they hoping more than they are with Jordan Cameron who might be the most questionable depth chart leader on the entire team. Most of all, it seems that the Browns would only hope this hard with such a young crew of offensive players if three conditions were met.
1. They believe in the offensive minds of Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner
2. They couldn’t have done better in terms of upgrading (IE QB) without sacrificing
3. They believe that some or most of these young players have a real future
And that’s the important thing to watch on as a fanbase that wants to keep the front office accountable. Yesterday, Lombardi was quoted as saying that “the most critical thing is correctly evaluating our team. [You] don’t cut a player before you know him.” And after evaluating the offense, the Browns have chosen to enter 2013 with a young offense with question marks while definitively attempting to bolster the pass rush on defense.
Just as the front office is hoping for that offense to continue to develop, I hope they’re right when they say that the moves they’ve made haven’t sacrificed the 2013 season.
Sack rate is the number of sacks divided by pass attempts + sacks [↩]