After four weeks, the 2015 Cleveland Browns’ season is now one quarter of the way through. When the Cleveland Browns schedule was released, even the most skeptical of fans believed the first four games of the 2015 season offered the possibility that the Browns could be no worse than 2-2 with a shot at a 3-1 record. Why the early season optimism?
In 2014, the 7-9 Browns finished the season ranked 9th in Total Defense (8th in pass defense, 6th in scoring defense and dead last in the NFL in rushing defense). The obvious path to improvement was to fix the rush defense as every other aspect of defensive had the Browns ranked in the top 10 of the league.
To that end, the off season brought six new faces to Cleveland’s defense. Free Agents CB Tramon Williams (to replace departed Free Agent CB Buster Skrine) and DE Randy Starks were added to the roster along with four rookies; 1st round pick NT Danny Shelton, 2nd round pick OLB Nate Orchard, 3rd round pick DE Xavier Cooper, 4th round pick SS Ibraheim Campbell and 7th round pick DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (drafted with the intent of placing him on IR for the 2015 season). The intent of these additions was obvious. Shore up the defensive line, add players that can set the edge against the run and augment an already perceived to be a formidable secondary.
On the other side of the ball they finished the 2014 season ranked 27th in Total Offense (20th in pass offense, 27th in scoring offense and 17th in rushing offense). Don’t be fooled by that 17th ranked rush offense. Without even looking up the numbers, I would be willing to bet that Browns rushing offense ranked at or near the bottom of the league after Alex Mack went down with a broken leg and landed on IR after week 6 of the 2014 season.
The fan base was pretty well convinced that the next Otto Graham wasn’t going to be wearing an orange helmet in 2015. Often erratic Brian Hoyer opted to leave via free agency and was replaced by another free agent journeyman QB Josh McCown. However, they were buoyed by the early reports that 2014 1st round pick Johnny Manziel had addressed his internal demons and reported to training camp ready to take responsibility for his own actions and become an NFL caliber quarterback.
Add to that the Browns had apparently realized that the lack of depth on the offensive line had torpedoed their rushing attack mid-stream and with the second of their two 1st round draft picks selected multi-positional O-Lineman Cameron Erving. They already had two young capable running backs in Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West and still added 3rd round pick RB Duke Johnson to the stable along with 6th round draft pick FB Malcolm Johnson.
With the losses of TE Jordan Cameron to free agency and WR Josh Gordon to yet another suspension, the Browns went on to add free agents WR Brian Hartline, WR Dwayne Bowe and TE Rob Housler in an attempt to improve their anemic passing game.
The intent of the Browns’ front office for 2015 was clear. Run the ball and stop the run. And then they played the first four games.
The allegedly improved defense, which eats over 55% of the salary of the 53 man roster), so far ranks 22nd in Total Defense (22nd against the pass, 31st against the run and 13th in scoring defense). Apparently, Joe Haden forgot how to cover, Donte Whitner forgot how to tackle, Randy Starks learned how to become invisible and Tramon Williams has apparently lost a step and decided to make up for that by jumping off sides on a missed field goal giving the Chargers a second chance to kick a game winning field goal. Add to that, backup CB Johnson Bademosi (playing for an injured Joe Haden) has taken up where Buster Skrine left off in the penalty department.
Offensively, the Browns have unexpectedly incrementally improved over 2014. They rank 20th in total offense, a surprising 9th in pass offense, 20th in scoring offense and a disappointing 25th in rushing offense. This is after trading one of their rookie phenom running backs, Terrance West to the Titans and having two of their offensive free agent “weapons” (Dwayne Bowe and Rob Housler) combine for zero starts, 5 targets, zero receptions, zero yards and zero TD’s.
About the only bright spots in a so far dismal season for the Browns are WR Travis Benjamin and “blocking” TE Gary Barnidge. These two have combined for a total of 32 receptions for 563 yards and six of the seven touchdowns (RB Duke Johnson accounted for the seventh with a receiving TD of his own). To date, they have only a single rushing TD.
So far, the Browns have played against teams with a combined record of 8-7-0 (0.530). The balance of the season will be played against teams with a combined record through week 4 of 20-16-0 (0.560). It only gets harder from here on out.
New England Patriots Head Coach unveiled a team slogan of “Do Your Job” and then amended it by adding one word . . . “Do Your Job Well”. It might help if the Browns modified their slogan of “Play Like a Brown” to “Play Like a (20th Century) Brown”.