31 Days, 31 Teams: Cleveland Browns
Will the Cleveland Browns ever be able to pull it together? The Browns have made only one playoff appearance since the franchise was resurrected in 1999 and last year the Browns stumbled to a 1-11 start. But a four game winning streak to close out 2009 and a flurry of activity in the offseason might give the Browns a glimmer of hope in the rugged AFC North.
The Derek Anderson/Brady Quinn experiment is over in Cleveland. Anderson was let go in free agency and Quinn was traded to Denver as neither lived up to expectations. In their place is veteran Jake Delhomme who the Browns picked up via free agency. Delhomme is just a stopgap solution as the Browns are hoping third round pick Colt McCoy will eventually materialize into a legitimate NFL starter. Cleveland finished last in yardage and 28th in scoring in '09 but a few pieces might already be in place. Running back Jerome Harrison busted out for 561 rushing yards over the final three games of the season and he will be pushed by second year man James Davis and rookie Montario Hardesty. Second year man Mohamed Massaquoi led the Browns in receiving in 2009 and for good measure Cleveland signed veteran tight end Benjamin Watson in the offseason. One thing Cleveland did well was protect the quarterback with an offensive line led by Joe Thomas, one of the premiere left tackles in the game. Cleveland's most dangerous weapon is still Josh Cribbs, an extraordinary return man who scored four special teams touchdowns last year.
Cleveland couldn't seem to stop anybody defensively in 2009. The Browns were second to last in total defense but surprisingly finished 21st in scoring defense and registered 40 sacks, good for 8th in the league. Basically, when the Browns needed a stop they got it, thanks to a 3-4 defense that was able to generate a pass rush from both sides of the line. However, when the Browns couldn't reach the quarterback they became vulnerable. Cleveland's secondary tallied just ten interceptions and the need was addressed in the draft with cornerback Joe Haden and safety TJ Ward. To complement to the youth the Browns signed veteran Scott Fujita to compensate for the trading away of Kamerion Wimbley.
Coach Eric Mangini's job might have been spared thanks to that four game winning streak. Mike Holmgren is now the lead man in Cleveland, taking the job as team president, and he is not one who tolerates losing. Certainly there are up-and-comers on the roster and the Browns need more spark from both sides of the ball. The Browns might improve in 2010 if Delhomme doesn't implode like he did in Carolina. But with three playoff worthy teams in the AFC North it will be a tough climb out of the basement.