Optimistic – to be or not to be?

Predicting team records in July and August is useless. Nevertheless, every Harry, Dick and Tom wants to give you his 2 cents on what will occur in the upcoming season. Most “experts” outside of northeast Ohio are predicting another abysmal season for the Browns. For instance, CBS Columnist Pete Prisco predicted a record of 1-15. His colleague Jason LaCanfora was kind in comparison with his prediction of a 4-12 or 5-11 record. Local “experts” are significantly more optimistic (Mary Kay Cabot’s prediction in last Friday’s Starting Blocks was a record in the range of 6-10 to 8-8).

Every fan wants its team to do well and Browns fans are no different. After taking a beating in 2011 and adding some new pieces of the offensive puzzle, we want to hear that the Browns have finally found a what it takes to be respectful. Although there is no talk of making the playoffs, there is a huge difference in being 1-15 or 8-8. So, who is right? Pete Prisco and his 1-15 prediction or Mary Kay Cabot and her 8-8 guess?
First of all, every time I read an article from the national media, I force myself to think back to the 2007-2008 offseason. In 2007, the Browns did well on offense and the national media took notice. That team included Derek Anderson at QB with Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow and Joe Jurevicius as his targets. Jamal Lewis’ first year with the Browns was deemed a success. Following the season, then GM Phil savage added speedy Donte Stallworth to its receiving corps. The national and the local media bought the hype and predicted another explosive year.
We all know what happened in 2008. Derek Anderson had issues with his accuracy, Braylon Edwards had issues with his drops, Donte Stallworth was either injured or ineffective and Jamal Lewis unveiled an enhanced version of his signature stutter-step move. Did these issues arise from nowhere? Were the national and local media wrong in their predictions or was this as foreseeable as the ending of an Adam Sandler movie?
The truth is that Derek Anderson always had accuracy issues, even in 2007 when the offense, generally speaking, performed well. Braylon Edwards had issues with drops in college and they never fully disappeared as he entered the NFL. Donte Stallworth never lived up to his first round draft selection in 2002 and managed only one above-average season as a member of the Patriots, the ultimate plug-and-play team. Jamal Lewis was allowed to leave the Ravens (guided by Ozzie Newsome, one of the top talent evaluators in the NFL) due to his ineffectiveness and displayed some hesitation even during his bounce-back season in 2007. In conclusion, the 2008 collapse wasn’t necessarily crystal clear, but it was definitely foreseeable. Yet, no writer predicted it.
This brings me back to the early 2012 media predictions. They are utterly useless. The national media is placing way too much emphasis on the failed 2011 season. The local media seems more optimistic but nobody is capable of pointing out specific reasons for doing so (because it does not exist). The truth of the matter is that nobody knows because so many of the key pieces are rookies with zero NFL experience.
Here is how I see it. We will have some insight after a few preseason games. At that time, we will know if Weeden can play QB at the NFL level. Granted, we won’t know how well he can play QB at the NFL level, but we will at least know if he can play at all. (Just for clarification purposes – Colt McCoy can play QB at the NFL level, but not at a level sufficient to compensate for other weaknesses of the rest of the team.)  After the first two to three weeks of the regular season, we will be able to tell even more about the team and more importantly, QB Brandon Weeden. At that time, we can start making predictions for the rest of the 2012 season.

2 comments

  1. Swedish Nacho /

    In your opionion, do we have reasons to be a little bit more optimistic than the previous years?

  2. Yes, I think you can be a little more optimistic this year. The additions of Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson, Mitchell Schwartz and Josh Gordon are HUGE for the offense. Weeden alone can have a huge impact if his arm strength and accuracy materialize in Shurmur’s offense. Defenses play you much differently if they don’t respect the deep pass and quite frankly, defenses had little to fear last year because McCoy rarely connected on intermediate or deep throws. This means that they were able to play an extra defender near the line of scrimmage, which suffocated our running game (which lacked a stable performer to begin with). A defensive coordinator hates to give up a TD on one long play so when there is some fear of a long pass, they play further back from the line of scrimmage, which opens the underneath stuff up. If Weeden shows that he can connect on a few intermediate and deep passes, opponents will have to play the Browns offense differently compared to last year.

    The addition of Richardson is another reason for optimism. One analyst I really respect (Greg Cosell of NFL Films) called him the best player in the 2012 draft. By all accounts, he seems to be a unique talent, one that comes to the NFL once in every 10 years. Teams that can play offense without a good running game must have a great QB. When you don’t have a great QB, you MUST have a good running game or you are a dead duck. By adding Richardson, the Browns gave Weeden a much better chance of being a successful QB.

    As the season goes along, we will hopefully hear Mitchell Schwartz’s name once per game – when they introduce the starting lineup. That will show us that he is doing a decent job. By all accounts, he is a typical Tom Heckert lineman. Heckert’s lines in Philly have always been good and I think in about 2 years, this line might be a top 5 pass blocking line in the NFL. As far as run blocking, they were not very good last year but I believe that the running back makes the line and with Richardson carrying the ball, the line will look improved in that regard.

    The QB and his receivers hold the keys to this season. If Weeden turns out to be able to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball with velocity and accuracy (even when there is pressure in his face and bodies around him) and if the receivers are able to catch the ball, this can be an average NFL offense as soon as this year. On the other hand, if Weeden can play only when there is no pressure around him, it will likely be another long year much like the one we witnessed last year. Nobody knows how Weeden will react, which is why I always sigh when I see these stupid predictions of 1-15 or even 8-8.

    Little and Gordon are a tremendous upgrade for our outside receiving corps. They are both big and strong guys who aren’t easily jammed at the line of scrimmage. They have enough speed and as long as they catch catchable balls, they will represent a big upgrade. Out of the group of Norwood, Cribbs, Cooper and Benjamin, at least two receivers have to step up and have a decent year out of the slot. Norwood showed flashes of his abilities and he looks like he could do it, but I am not sure if he can stay healthy for anything close to a season. Cribbs will mainly be a special team player and it is not fair to expect him to play anything more than 30% of the snaps on offense. Cooper is a rookie and seems similar to Norwood, but we need to see him in live games to see how he will react to a few hard hits from NFL safeties. Benjamin is fast but much like Norwood and Cooper, I am not sure if he is physical enough to take some of the hard hits or get off the line of scrimmage against some of the more physical corners.

    To answer your question – yes, we have every right to be more optimistic this year because the quality of players on the team is better this year than it was last year. But, that does not mean that they will do better or have a better record. At the end of the day, the coaching staff has to be better and the players have to translate their abilities onto the field.

    Football is like chess. Last year, Shurmur had a bunch of pawns and a few knights to work with. This year, he has a queen, a few rooks and a few knights in addition to all the pawns. As a result, there is much more he can attempt. Whether his strategy works is a different question.

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