Each Wednesday, we'll highlight a Browns player, coach, executive, personnel group or other area of the team that is most under scrutiny. This week, we take a closer look at the Browns' passing game.
Browns president Mike Holmgren made it quite clear Tuesday that he would like Cleveland's wide receivers, especially those lining up outside, to see more passes thrown their way. He said the group was better than the numbers suggested. However, he also suggested the group's collective poor statistics invited closer scrutiny of the wideouts.
Second-year pros Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie are listed as the starting wideouts, and they have primarily lined up outside. Both have missed time with injuries this season, but each has started at least four games. And, entering Week Nine neither has caught even 10 passes this season. Massaquoi has caught nine passes for 115 yards and a touchdown, while Robiskie has hauled in eight catches for 61 yards. (Joshua Cribbs, who also plays frequently at wideout, has caught 14-185-1.)
As Holmgren noted Tuesday, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll's scheme works the middle of the field more than the edges. And it is generally a conservative passing game, too. The Browns' three leading receivers are a tight end (Benjamin Watson), a running back (Peyton Hillis) and a receiver best in the slot (Chansi Stuckey).
That said, the clock is ticking on Massaquoi and Robiskie to show more than they have. More opportunities would help, certainly; Robiskie is getting 3.6 targets per game, according to the NFL's official game summaries, with Massaquoi getting 3.5 passes thrown his way on average. By contrast, Watson (6.6 targets), Hillis (4.9), Chansi Stuckey (4.4) and Cribbs (3.7) have all been thrown to more frequently.
It's a small sample size, and how the teams have defended the Browns, as well as Cleveland's game plan in a given week, certainly must be taken into account when looking at these numbers, too. Also, Massaquoi missed most of the second half at Pittsburgh with a concussion (as did Cribbs) when QB Colt McCoy attempted 23 passes. Finally, Massaquoi and Robiskie had a combined 10 targets in the season opener vs. Tampa Bay when QB Jake Delhomme played a full game, and he has played only a full half since.
This could be a week to get the wideouts more involved. The Patriots are surrendering 282.4 net passing yards per game and are allowing opponents to complete 69.8 percent of their passes. With an extra week of preparation and an opponent with a shaky secondary, perhaps the Browns give their wideouts more chances. For Robiskie and Massaquoi, both second-round picks in 2009, maximizing those opportunities will be key.