December 13th 2015 …
Johnny Manziel threw 21-31 for 270 yards and a touchdown, Isaiah Crowell rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns, Brian Hartline registered 107 yards and the Cleveland Browns won a football game on Sunday.
It hasn’t happened since.
It will be 1,001 days since it has by the time the Browns suit up against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1.
15 free agent signings, 8 trades and 9 draft picks gave the Browns a much needed face-lift this offseason. Can September 9th 2018 be the day that Cleveland’s miserable winless streak finally comes to an end …
No longer with team, Key Player, Rookie, (FA) Free Agent, (T) Trade)
DeShone Kizer, Tyrod Taylor (T), Baker Mayfield, Drew Stanton (FA)
Bridge quarterback Tyrod Taylor is going to look after the football, he has a career record of 22-20 and is fresh off leading the Bills to the playoffs. In three seasons as a starter, Taylor has thrown just 16 interceptions, that’s 6 less than DeShone Kizer recorded in his 15 winless games as the starting quarterback last year.
Cleveland nailed it’s quarterback selection from this year’s draft class. Baker Mayfield brings top-level accuracy (when he get’s into a rhythm with Gordon/Landry watch out) and a winning mentality which should set the tone for the organisation. For more on Mayfield, click here.
Isaiah Crowell, Carlos Hyde (FA), Nick Chubb, Duke Johnson
Veteran free-agent signee Carlos Hyde arrives from the Bay Area after back-to-back seasons in which he almost reached the 4-digit mark. Hyde wasn’t a fit in second-year Head Coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense due to his adequacy in in the passing game, this won’t be an issue in Cleveland with Duke Johnson seeing significant snaps.
Draftee Nick Chubb has one-cut ability, explodes through contact, protects the football and is difficult to bring down, all were on display as he rushed for 1,345 yards and 15 touchdowns (on 223 carries) in 2017. As with Hyde, the primary criticism of Chubb is the lack of third-down value that in Cleveland’s offense shouldn’t be considered a major concern.
With two quality first and second-down backs to pair with Duke Johnson, Cleveland’s backfield is now in a position to take some pressure off the quarterback and grind down the clock in winnable games.
Wide Receiver: Corely Coleman, Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry (T), Antonio Callaway
With the talent of Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon, offensive coordinator Todd Haley could make it very difficult for defenses to stop what has the potential to be one of the best 1-2 wide receiver combos in the NFL.
The majority of Landry’s league-leading 112 receptions last year came when he was operating out of the slot. He specializes in running short and intermediate routes across the middle of the field as well as out routes.
The addition of Landry’s short passing game prowess and run-after-the-catch ability opens up a number of opportunities for Cleveland to use the man who led the NFL in receiving yards in 2013, Josh Gordon. For example:
- If Landry’s underneath routes and the quarterback’s eyes can hold the attention of a Safety for long enough, it will give Gordon the opportunity to go vertical.
- Landry’s skill at running out routes will force Cover 2 Cornerbacks into making a decision that will result in either a wide-open Landry or Gordon in one-on-one coverage.
If Todd Haley can call the right plays and the quarterback can manipulate and execute effectively, Landry and Gordon should both be afforded enough wide-open looks and one-on-one coverage to keep drives alive.
Tight End: David Njoku, Seth DeValve, Darren Fells (FA)
David Njoku and Seth DeValve have plenty of potential but have perhaps lacked the necessary consistency in their careers to date. New to the group is free agent acquisition Darren Fells, a reliable blocking tight end that could help open up the Brown’s running game.
Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, JC Tretter, Kevin Zeitler, Shon Coleman, Spencer Drango, Austin Corbett, Chris Hubbard (FA), Donald Stephenson (FA)
In 2015 the Carolina Panthers fielded an interior line playing at a Pro Bowl level: OG Trai Turner (PFF #14), C Ryan Kalil (PFF #1) and OG Andrew Norwell (PFF #13). However, Tackles Michael Oher and Mike Remmers were ranked #28 and #32 respectively at their position and allowed a combined 10 sacks between them, they would also allow two game-changing strip-sacks in SuperBowl 50. PFF’s #1 ranked tackle that year? Cleveland’s Joe Thomas who allowed just half a sack in 2015 and only a single sack last year.
Cleveland returns a strong interior line consisting of Joel Bitonio, JC Tretter and Kevin Zeitler for 2018 but finds itself in a similar situation after the retirement of Joe Thomas. It’s impossible to replace Thomas with a single player but questions abound for every member of the committee formed to help.
- Austin Corbett was projected to move from Tackle to Guard by most draft experts.
- Chris Hubbard was a backup in Pittsburgh and has started only 14 games.
- Shon Coleman struggled at right tackle for Cleveland last season.
- Donald Stephenson was a backup in both Kansas and Denver at right tackle.
- Spencer Drango was adequate at best and struggled when filling in for Thomas.
Cleveland needs to treat every game as a SuperBowl this upcoming season in order to register a win, they better hope their tackle committee is up to the task and doesn’t relinquish too many game-changing moments.
Danny Shelton, Myles Garrett, Emmanuel Ogbah, Trevon Coley, Carl Nassib, Caleb Brantley, Nate Orchard, Larry Ogunjobi, Chris Smith (FA), Chad Thomas
First-round draft pick Myles Garrett recorded 7 sacks in 11 games last year, while his 2016 compatriot Emmanuel Ogbah held the edge well in managing 4 sacks across 10 appearances. Overall the Cleveland defense recorded just 34 sacks last year (21st in the league), if Garrett and Ogbah can stay the course then this number is sure to increase.
Meanwhile, 2018 third-round selection Chad Thomas will enter as the third man in a three-player rotation that should contribute to keeping the starters fresh well into the fourth-quarter.
The offseason departure of starting tackle Danny Shelton should be offset by a combination of second-year players Caleb Brantley and Larry Ogunjobi, who played well as rookies. Along with underrated starter Trevon Coley, the Browns have enough talent and depth to feature a solid interior defensive line.
Linebackers: Christian Kirksey, Jamie Collins, Joe Schobert, Genard Avery
Joe Schobert was named as a Pro Bowl alternate in 2017 after finishing tied for first in the NFL with 144 tackles and Christian Kirksey is averaging 100+ tackles and 3+ sacks over the past four seasons, both played every single defensive snap last year.
The Browns missed the athletic former Second-team All-Pro Jamie Collins last year after he was injured in November, but in potential draft steal Genard Avery they have a versatile pass-rusher capable of providing depth and could step into a larger role if called upon.
Cornerback: TJ Carrie (FA), Denzel Ward, EJ Gaines (FA),
Jamar Taylor, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Terrance Mitchell (FA)
Gregg Williams needed a press cover cornerback for his scheme, the defensive coordinator claims to have “a video of 28 snaps of Myles Garrett pass-rushes last year where he gets within two steps or less of the quarterback when the ball comes out”.
Denzel Ward was selected fourth overall to fill this need, he can both press and shadow receivers and has the elite footwork and athleticism (4.32) to break routes and make plays. The learning curve for Ward will be steep however as he is scheduled to face Antonio Brown (twice), Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, AJ Green (twice), Mike Evans and Keenan Allen as a rookie.
EJ Gaines will likely start across from Ward due to his familiarity with Williams’ scheme, if the Browns are able to field a unit that can cover receivers long enough for Garrett and Ogbah to get to the quarterback, it will allow Williams to be less conservative with more aggressive blitzing.
Safety: Jabrill Peppers, Damarious Randall (T), Justin Currie, Derrick Kindred
Damarious Randall, an offseason trade acquistion, is expected to start in his natural position as a ball hawking Free Safety, allowing 2017 first-round pick Jabrill Peppers to move inside to the comfort of Strong Safety/Hybrid Linebacker. Peppers’ explosive athleticism is better suited to a position where Williams can use him to cover intermediate routes, match up with tight ends and blitz.
Week 1: Steelers – W
The Browns fell to the Steelers 21-18 in Week 1 of the 2017 season with Kizer, Coleman, Crowell and no Myles Garrett or Josh Gordon manning the trenches – in the Week 17 matchup Garrett recorded a sack and forced fumble while Gordon registered 115 receiving yards.
With Cleveland now boasting a significantly improved lineup/roster and Roethlisberger on the road against a divisional rival, this feels like an opportune time for Cleveland to register it’s first win since 2016.
Week 2: @Saints – L
Back-to-back victories against high powered offenses might be a bit much to hope for, particularly against Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore in the Superdome.
Week 3: Jets – W
Another opponent which the Browns were separated from by just three points in 2017.
The Jets will field rookie Sam Darnold at quarterback in what will be his third NFL start after demonstrating an inability to protect the ball in college. There should be plenty of opportunities for an improved and aggressive Gregg Williams defense to put the Cleveland offense on the front foot.
Week 4: @Raiders – L
It will be interesting to watch these two rebuilt offenses square off against one another. The Raiders possess a Pro Bowl quarterback, an improved offensive line, a former DPOY in Khalil Mack, and will be expected to grind out a win.
Week 5: Ravens – W
Joe Flacco ranked as one of the worst quarterbacks statistically last year as he averaged just 5.7 YPA and relied heavily upon his defense to see off bad teams (barely 100 yards in the 40-0 Dolphins demolition).
The conservative ways of the 2017 Cleveland Browns defense can be long forgotten this week due to Flacco’s inability to toss the deep ball, expect lots of aggressive blitz packages.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Browns finish 2018 with more wins than the Ravens.
Week 6: Chargers – L
Cleveland’s last victory came against the then San Diego Chargers in 2016 but I don’t expect them to have such luck against the now Los Angeles team. The Chargers are a well-balanced team and the Browns aren’t quite at that level.
Week 7: @Buccaneers – W
The Buccaneers surrendered 4,169 yards to the pass in 2017 and have done little to improve the league’s worst secondary, the opportunities will be there for Haley, Gordon, Landry and company to find success.
Elsewhere, Denzel Ward’s college teammate Lattimore did an excellent job of wrapping up Mike Evans in 2017 and the fourth-overall draft pick will seek to emulate him.
Week 8: @Steelers – L
At the mid-point of the season the Steelers will likely have worked out any kinks in their system and the playoff-chasing high-powered offense will be too much of an ask for the Browns.
Week 9: Chiefs – L
First-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid have more than enough talent at their disposal to see off the Browns. Denzel Ward (4.32) lining up opposite Tyreek Hill (4.25) will be an interesting match-up, if your eyes can catch it.
Week 10: Falcons – L
The high-powered offenses keep on coming for the Browns. Second-year coordinator Steve Sarkisian has Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Devonta Freeman to call upon and should be able to set too high a pace for the Browns to match.
Week 11: Bye
After facing the Steelers (twice), Saints, Falcons and Chiefs, the Browns will be immensely satisfied with a 4-6 start to the season.
Week 12: @Bengals – L
Week 10 of the 2014 season was the last time Cleveland registered a win over the Cincinnati Bengals, it was also the last time they came within ten points of their divisional rivals. Just over four years later the Browns should come within ten, a win might just elude them though, for now.
Week 13: @Texans – L
With Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins leading the way on offense and J.J. Watt setting the tone on a defense featuring Tyrann Mathieu and Jadeveon Clowney, the Texans should be in the hunt for the playoffs and have enough to see off the Browns.
Week 14: Panthers – L
The Panthers finished 11-5 last year and have added some nice pieces this off-season in Dontari Poe, DJ Moore and CJ Anderson to what is already a solid core. Likely to still be in the playoff hunt, Carolina will be heavily favored.
Week 15: @Broncos – L
Both teams are likely to field bridge quarterbacks and Cleveland returns a strong interior line, unfortunately Von Miller and Bradley Chubb will soon expose any weaknesses at the Tackle position (remember the Carolina comparison?).
Week 16: Bengals – W
After 6-9-1 and 7-9 seasons, the Bengals don’t appear to be trending upward as they enter their 16th season under head coach Marvin Lewis, talent-wise a case can be made that the Browns now possess a superior roster to that of their divisional rivals.
There isn’t much between these two teams and after selecting the Bengals to emerge victorious in Week 12 the Browns should be able to return the favor in front of the Dawg Pound.
Week 17: @Ravens – L
The Chiefs gave their backup of the future Patrick Mahomes his first career start in their Week 17 match-up last season and the Ravens could well do the same with Lamar Jackson against Cleveland. Valuable reps for a motivated Jackson, an offensive upgrade on Flacco, should stack with enough defensive effort to secure the win for Baltimore.