Browns

Are the Cleveland Browns a better team than last year? — A WFNY Roundtable

WFNY_roundtable

A really simple question today for a Cleveland Browns roundtable discussion. Are the Browns better this year than last? I’m not talking about potential. I’m talking about on the field better.

Jacob: In the context of the broken down AFC North, it’s a fair question. But I do think the Browns are better this year. It’s a difference of 4-6 compared to 5-11. There seemed to be less of an identity last year. They were relying upon Brandon Weeden. This year’s team is undoubtedly streakier — some far better highs have made the collapses even more crushing. But the defense has played stretches like a top-10 unit. Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell have played entire games like above-average quarterbacks. With more talent and a soft schedule again in 2014, there’s certainly some optimism again for next year.

Looking back just three months ago, what did we all want out of this season? Improvement, some semblance of continued competitiveness and if all goes well, a 7-9 or 8-8 record. That’s where we’re headed right now. With two left against Pittsburgh, one against Jacksonville and one against the Jets, I think we’ll see the team finish with 6 or 7 wins. They can be darn frustrating to watch, but I think they’re far more competitive.

Scott: I would say that this Browns team is an improvement over last year’s edition, but almost solely due to the defense and coaching. They had a several-week span of bordering on interesting when Brian Hoyer was under center; the game against Baltimore was undoubtedly fun. But if you have to rely on cherry picking games or even certain plays to prove a point, things aren’t good. The defense, however, has been fun to watch. They’ve been incredibly frustrating in a lot of third-down situations, but at a macro level, they’re night and day compared to the bend-and-eventually-break defense of Dick Jauron. I appreciate that Rob Chudzinski is making bold moves—his players seem to really respond to his aggression which manifests into signs of trust. I agree with a lot of the plays called by Norv Turner and love the way he goes straight to the coffee cup when something isn’t done properly. But at the end of the day, the offense simply doesn’t execute at a high enough level for me to consider it anything more than marginal in comparison to a year ago.

I said it a few weeks ago, and I still believe it: I don’t see this team making it to 7-9, let alone 8-8. I’ll be pleasantly shocked if they pull that off.

Andrew: I think this year’s team is better, and I don’t think it’s even close. Last year, I don’t recall ever having confidence that the Browns would win games. This year, I feel confident almost every week that the Browns will have a chance to win the game. This defense looks like a real Top 10 Defense to me. Obviously, on offense, the Browns still don’t have their QB, and until they do there are always going to be issues. But Jordan Cameron emerged earlier in the season, especially when Brian Hoyer was playing. Josh Gordon is a legit #1 receiver. The offensive line looks pretty good in games that Brandon Weeden isn’t playing. The Browns have 6 games left. The only game I don’t give them a chance in is at New England. Out of games against Jacksonville, Chicago, the Jets, and two against Pittsburgh, there are some opportunities to win. I don’t know if they will or not. The QB play is too inconsistent. But for the first time in a very long time I can at least see how this could turn into a winning team. Plug a few holes on defense, and either hope Hoyer is the real thing or else draft a QB who is actually the right pick for once. In previous years, it has seemed like the Browns weren’t even playing the same sport. This year, they look like a run of the mill mediocre football team. To me, that’s a huge improvement.

TD Dery: This team is definitely better. You have the emergence of a stud Tight End in Jordan Cameron and a star WR in Josh Gordon. Even without any sort of consistent QB or RB play, the offense hasn’t been any worse than the last two seasons under the great Pat Shurmur.

The defense across the board has vastly improved. Of course they still need LB help, another CB, and another safety, but the move to the 3-4 have been completely seamless. the D- line has great depth and CB Joe Haden is playing like a first team All-Pro.

Up until last week’s debacle, the special teams have been very solid. Spencer Lanning has been a pleasant surprise as the new punter. Kicker Billy Cundiff has made himself inconspicuous, which is a good thing. I thought for sure the Browns would be playing the rotating kicker game all season long. Instead, Cundiff has made his kicks and is a solid kickoff guy. The return game could obviously be better, but punt returns were even better with Travis Benjamin before he tore his ACL.

The coaching staff is in control and respected by the players. That’s something I don’t think you could have said last year.

Kirk: They’re definitely better. My eyes tell me it’s not even close.

Of their six losses, how many times did the other team solidly dominate the Browns? Browns had a halftime lead at Baltimore, vs. Miami, and vs. Detroit. They nearly came back on Kansas City. Who knows what happens last week without the special teams implosion. Truly, the only game they were thoroughly beat was in Lambeau.

Most teams that have had three quarterbacks start multiple games are going to have some identity issues and problems closing games. But, the Browns new coaching staff has come in and delivered on the attacking style with blitzing, going for it on fourth, and opening up the passing game. The defensive line has been great, the linebackers have been OK on the outside, and the secondary has been good led by Haden and vast improvement from the others.

I still think the Browns have a chance at 8-8 still. Pittsburgh twice, the Jets, and Jacksonville are all winnable games, and I could see them competing against Chicago and the Patriots.

The Chiefs got a quarterback (and yes, some other things), and they turned it around in one year. With some of the playmakers the Browns now have on both sides of the ball, there’s no reason to think that isn’t possible.

Craig: This Browns team is definitely better and you guys have hit on most of the same stuff that I would have also hit on. I would just put another vote in the coaching column. This is the best coaching we’ve seen in Cleveland since before Butch Davis had a nervous breakdown.

Chud handles gameday well and pretty much everything during the week well too. There’s no shortage of credit to go to his coordinators too, of course, but Chud looks like he was and is ready for this gig. It’s really nice. For Browns fans, even though it shouldn’t, I think it feels like a luxury.

—-

What is your take? Anyone think they are worse? About the same?

  • whosevelt

    Completely agree with Andrew, Kirk, and Craig. They look like a real football team, and Chud looks like a long term coach. That they have such a high quality defense with relatively few famous players means that the team has a chance to continue to compete through player turnover. The running game needs improvement, of course, and quarterback play does as well. But it’s not hard to envision the Browns as a playoff team.

  • MrCleaveland

    Hate to pile on, but the Browns with Weedie on the bench are better than the Browns with Weedie in the huddle. The rest is gravy.

  • mgbode

    Since everyone above used the eye test,
    let’s put some stats down to show how much we have improved on defense.

    2013 Browns Defense
    4.4 yds/play (1st)
    5.9yds/pass(1st)
    3.5yds/rush (3rd)
    306.5yds/game (5th)
    81.3 QBrating (13th)
    16passTDs(15th)
    9rushTDs(21st)
    43% 3rd down (28th)
    50% 4th down (18th)
    3.1 sacks/game (8th)

    As can be seen above, we have an amazing defense that gives up
    too many 1sts on 3rd down and too many TDs.

    2012 Browns Defense
    5.3 yds/play (16th)
    6.9yds/pass(12th)
    4.2yds/rush (13th)
    363.8yds/game (23rd)
    86.6 QBrating (16th)
    27passTDs(21st)
    14rushTDs(21st)
    38% 3rd down (16th)
    64% 4th down (27th)
    2.5 sacks/game (11th)

    And, as also can be seen, the only area we have been worse from
    last year is on those 3rd downs.

  • Harv 21

    in so many ways:

    -how much more organized they are (remember constant late play calls, bad challenges, general inexplicable stuff). What a difference a good staff makes.

    – playing to win, not playing to position for a 51-yard Dawson FG attempt once per quarter.

    – stopping the run, finally, after 13 years.

    – Team effort, as a whole.

    Can’t say the personnel is so dramatically better. Campbell/Hoyer are certainly better than Colt as back-ups, the d-line is upgraded, but Mingo has gone MIA once game tapes showed he has no countermove or bullrush and big bucks Kruger has been just solid at best.

    But this question asks us for a snapshot in time. More importantly for me, feel way more optimism about next year’s team and the FO than I did when Shurmur looked like a guy on death row, Holms showed up once every few months to bluster and I was praying that at least Heckert was competent enough to point the ship the right direction. It starts at the top, and I’m glad Haslam’s still rich and dour Banner ignores the non-stop neurotic fan braying.

  • Harv 21

    get a job

  • Harv 21

    but first fix your second heading

  • mgbode

    it was fixed before you typed this comment. I think you need to quit your job so that you can hit refresh more often 🙂

    and, I just happen to have a job that depends on my adult-adhd. if I’m not doing 10things, then i’m doing 0.

  • Harv 21

    well, hey, your condition provides a significant benefit to this site. I dare say more than the mindless windbaggery coming from most of the rest of us.

  • Big Z

    The key to the turnaround has been the competent QB play from Hoyer and Campbell.

  • mgbode

    what I lack in quality, I make up for in quantity 🙂

  • WFNY_DP

    “- stopping the run, finally, after 13 years.”

    This x1000. This has been my favorite development of this team. Granted, most teams are trending more toward a passing offense in today’s NFL, but it’s so nice to know that the Browns aren’t going to give up five yards a carry all day every day anymore.

  • Ben Frambaugh

    More organized and mentally tougher. There seems to be legit progress in all aspects. I am completely and unequivocally surprised at just how seamless the transition to the 3-4 defense was. Major props to Ray Horton for that.
    We still have some major holes to fill, but what team doesn’t? It really looks like there is a legit plan in place for this team. It looks like they are trying to attain an identity in all phases of the game. And it looks like they are further along in this process than at any point in time of any previous regime.

  • Big Z

    Think of how far along they’d be if Holmgren hadn’t given us Delhomme, McCoy, and Weeden *shudder*

  • Xerxes

    ssoo very wrong – Cleveland is playing like the Cleveland of last year or the year before or the year before or like any of the past 14 Cleveland teams. Poor play on the field, poor coaching on the sidelines, one long series of incredibly bad selections in the draft with one bust after the other. Sports commentators make their living by telling fans what they want to hear – they are exactly like politicians – lack sincerity, honesty, integrity and balls.