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Recent posts by Mike Wilkening
With the bye week upon us, here are seven reflections on the Browns entering their off week:
• Even at 2-5, the Browns are showing more promise than they have in two years. Let's turn back the clock to two years ago today. The Browns were 3-4 after a victory at Jacksonville and were favored to beat Baltimore. However, they surrendered 37 points in a loss to the Ravens on Nov. 2, 2008, and then head coach Romeo Crennel elected to bench Derek Anderson in favor of Brady Quinn. Both Quinn and Anderson would eventually suffer season-ending injuries, and the Browns would fail to score an offensive touchdown in their final six games. GM Phil Savage and Crennel were fired at season's end.
Last season at this time, the Browns were 1-6 entering a Nov. 1 game vs. Chicago, a game they lost 30-6, with Mangini benching Anderson in place of Quinn. The next day, GM George Kokinis left the organization.
• The Browns significantly helped themselves in free agency and via trade. The signings of OLB Scott Fujita (three years, $14 million, $8 million guaranteed) and TE Benjamin Watson (three years, $12 million, $6.4 million guaranteed) were two of the better ones in free agency; Fujita and Watson have been valuable additions to the roster. In trade, the Browns acquired three starters: RB Peyton Hillis, LB Chris Gocong and CB Sheldon Brown. Hillis, acquired in the trade that sent Quinn to Denver, has been the Browns' offensive MVP to this point.
• Along those same lines, with the signings of Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace and rookie Colt McCoy faring well in two starts, the Browns have significantly better QB depth than they have had in recent years. Wallace was a capable replacement for Delhomme, and McCoy was a capable replacement for Wallace. There has been no marked drop-off when any of the quarterbacks have left the lineup, and that has helped keep the Browns competitive.
• The rookie class has shown potential. Forced into the lineup earlier than expected, McCoy took advantage of the opportunity. S T.J. Ward, a second-round pick from Oregon, leads the team in tackles. CB Joe Haden, the club's first-round pick, has been a reliable third cornerback, and he's likely to be a starter in 2011, if not sooner. RB Montario Hardesty, who the Browns traded one third-round pick and two fifth-round picks to trade back into Round Two to select, is out for the season with a knee injury. Two other rookies — ORG Shawn Lauvao and WR Carlton Mitchell — have yet to play much as reserves.
Those are all positives, but here are a few things the Browns need to work on:
• Adding explosiveness to the offense has to be an offseason priority. The Browns aren't adept at stretching the field in the passing game and lack speed at running back. In the interim, the Browns must try to keep defenses honest as best as they can with some downfield throws. Their running game, if effective, can lead to some opportunities with play-action.
• The pass defense remains a concern. Brown and Eric Wright, the starting cornerbacks, both have been beaten for big plays this season. The Browns are allowing 6.89 yards per pass play (attempts and sacks included), all of three-hundredths lower than what they surrendered last season.
• They need to get more out of their kickoff returns. Joshua Cribbs is too good, and the Browns too strong in the kicking game, for the Browns not to break out of their kickoff-return slump at some point. But as it stands, they are tied with the Giants for last in the NFL in kickoff-return average (17.5 avg). Note that Cleveland averaged 24.2 yards on kickoffs in 2009.