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?