Browns need to catch up to AFC North's best

Posted Dec. 27, 2010 @ 6:44 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

A 20-10 loss to Baltimore Sunday leaves Cleveland's record at 5-10 entering their season finale against rival Pittsburgh, which has won nine of 11 games all-time at Cleveland Browns Stadium and has won five of its past six games in 2010 en route to an 11-4 mark entering this game.

The Browns' third consecutive defeat leaves them with double-digit losses for a third season in a row and increases speculation about the future of head coach Eric Mangini in Cleveland. The Browns' record is 10-21 in Mangini's two seasons on the job.

The loss also left Mangini's Browns teams with a 2-9 mark against AFC North opposition. No matter who coaches the Browns next season, narrowing the gap between Cleveland and the powerful Steelers and Ravens looms one of the team's biggest challenges for 2011 and beyond.

The PFW Spin

There will be plenty of discussion of Mangini's future in the days to come, but that's far from the only decision the Browns are going to have to make in the offseason. Here's three areas Cleveland must address in the offseason if they are to catch up to the division's best.

Adding a dynamic playmaker at wide receiver. The Browns' division opponents have done much better finding such pass-catching talent. Baltimore struck to add Anquan Boldin in the offseason, and he carried the Ravens to victory in the first meeting with Cleveland with three TD catches. Pittsburgh found the speedy Mike Wallace in Round Three of the '09 draft. Cincinnati added Terrell Owens to complement Chad Ochocinco just before the start of the season and had to be pleased with Owens' productivity before a season-ending knee injury. The Browns like second-year WRs Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie, but neither has emerged as a consistent force, and Cleveland needs to add to its options at the position.

Improving their pass defense. The Browns have surrendered 23 passing TDs this season and gave up two to Baltimore Sunday on just 19 attempts. Rookie CB Joe Haden is a rising star, but opponents have picked on CBs Sheldon Brown and Eric Wright (now on injured reserve) at points this season. With Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati all having potent passing attacks, the Browns must continue to keep bolstering their pass defense. This includes their pass rush, which has faltered recently. 

Adding a few more difference makers in the front seven. The Browns have some capable players along the defensive line and at linebacker, with NT Ahtyba Rubin and OLBs Matt Roth and Marcus Benard the standouts. But they just don't have the starpower of Pittsburgh, which has the NFL's best LB corps; and Baltimore, which has game changers in DT Haloti Ngata and OLB Terrell Suggs.