Good news! There are advantages to being a Browns fan. Yeah, watching the games isn’t always fun and we can’t buy a jersey without fearing that the swipe of the credit card will undoubtedly jinx the one good player on the team, but the perpetual turmoil has turned many of us die hard fans into NFL front office executive wanna-bees, which is quite fun. Really! Browns fans are knee-deep in statistics and other metrics that predict what it might take for our Brownies to finally reach mediocrity. At a recent social gathering, my friend Rich Morehouse showed up with an Excel spreadsheet full of statistics showing that Colt McCoy was not the only problem with the 2011 Browns offense. I thought this was perfectly rational and had a great time debating the issue.
My latest musings further prove my point. Given the uncertainties of the 2012 season, I recently started wondering about what it takes to consistently win in the NFL. (Do fans of other NFL teams do stuff like this?) What do the perennially successful NFL teams all have in common? What is the best predictor of success? After some serious reading and mulling over, I arrived at two answers. The simple answer is quarterback. The long and complicated answer is also quarterback. It really is in the hands of the QB.
The QB is the single most important player on each NFL team. As a result, the team must protect the QB and help him do his job if it is to win games. When the team’s QB is on the sidelines, the team’s job (i.e., defense’s job) is to make the other team’s QB as uncomfortable as possible. That’s how you win consistently. If you think I am oversimplifying this or you simply don’t believe me, read this article from Brian Burke.
Following the 2011 season, I attempted to isolate the single biggest reason for the miserable offensive performance. Initially I struggled because I thought that it was a combination of issues, including, but not limited to, the fall of Peyton Hillis, the right side of the offensive line, receivers dropping passes, etc. It seemed to make sense at the time and even Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert seemed to indicate so in their interviews leading up to the 2012 draft. And then they selected Brandon Weeden in the first round of the draft…
My first thoughts were that Holmgren and Heckert probably panicked. But the more I looked at the addition of Brandon Weeden, the more I am glad that the things worked out exactly the way they did because the worst possible scenario for the 2012 season would have been a team with Colt McCoy at QB. There are several specific points that will clarify this statement, but before I go there, let me just say that I like Colt McCoy. I think Colt is a great guy with a superb character. I think he can play QB in the NFL, however, I think he needs a strong ground game to be an effective QB. I am no NFL scout, but I don’t feel like I am going out on a limb by saying that Colt’s best case scenario would be playing for an indoor team with a great defense and a strong running game. (I think Colt can be as effective as Alex Smith of the 49ers.) To my points…
First: The Browns offensive line has the talent to be one of the top 5 pass-protecting lines in the NFL (per Brent Sobleski’s analysis). Looking at it from this perspective makes me think that the line is geared for an offense that runs through the QB. Makes sense, right? Also, the Browns defense is a decent complementary defense and not a dominating unit capable of taking over games. So, rather than building a ground and pound team by adding more linemen on both side of the ball, another superb corner, two top level safeties and two top level linebackers, the Browns went the other way and selected a QB potentially capable of making a huge impact on offense. Makes a lot of sense, as far as I am concerned.
Second: Teams with average supporting casts without a great QB finish in the bottom third every year. Teams with a good quarterback and a suspect offensive cast can win double digit games and make the playoffs. (See Indianapolis Colts with versus without Peyton Manning as one example.) Once again, rather than adding numerous top talent pieces to the puzzle, the Browns went with a QB potentially capable of taking over the offense. This, too, makes sense.
Third: The value of a top 15 NFL QB is priceless. As the Redskins proved, three first round picks and a second round pick is not too much for a QB capable of being a top 15 QB. (Although RG3 is essentially already viewed as a savior, all he has at this moment is potential to be a top 15 QB. Nothing more.) A late fist round selection for a soon-to-be 29-year old QB is dirt cheap if the QB proves to be a top 15 player at his position for even 5 years. Without a top 15 QB, building a team takes years and frequently results in the firing of coaches and executives, which then brings in a new wave of decision makers who (if not capable of acquiring a top 15 QB) are also fired after another several years. Year after year, the bottom third of the league has one thing in common – no QB. It’s all about the QB.
So, I am fully on board with Holmgren and Heckert’s decision to acquire a new QB. And I no longer think that they panicked. They decided to get a new QB and started at the top with Luck and Griffin. They inquired about Bradford. When that didn’t work, they turned to the next best guy. Looking back, I understand why they had to say that they were fine with Colt McCoy while looking for a way to acquire Luck, Griffin, Bradford and Weeden. But, in reality, there was never a question – they knew all along that they would add a new starting QB one way or another. Evaluating and projecting a QB is tricky and it may turn out that Weeden (or even the other three mentioned) will never crack the top 15 QB status. However, that does not change the fact that they had to acquire someone with potential to be a top 15 QB because prior to the 2012 draft, the Browns roster did not have such a player.
Yep, it’s all about the QB. And the Browns’ 2012 season is in the hands of Brandon Weeden.