2014 Season Record: 7-9
It was a disappointing end to a promising start. I didn't really expect the Cleveland Browns to compete in 2014, but for several months it looked as though they would be in the play-off hunt. The Browns raced out to a 7-4 record with impressive wins over the likes of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals. Behind a very inspiring running attack of Ben Tate, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West, the Browns looked to be capable of running over any defense in the NFL. Brian Hoyer was doing enough to not lose games and win the occasional one, and the team was humming without star receiver Josh Gordon, who was suspended for the first 10 games of the NFL season. Then Ben Tate was gone, Alex Mack was injured and Brian Hoyer hit a wall. Gordon's return failed to spark anything and the Browns closed out the season with a 5 game losing streak.
All Change on the Offensive Front
Here is how they ranked in some of the key offensive statistical categories, followed by their NFL rank.
18.7 points per game. 27/32
216.6 passing yards per game. 20/32
12 passing touchdowns. 32/32
31 sacks allowed. 13/32
108 rushing yards a game. 17/32
17 rushing touchdowns 4/32
They ran the ball well. They protected the quarterback reasonably well, but they failed to put points on the board. Even with Josh Gordon and a change from Hoyer to Johnny Manziel, the team failed to put points on the board through the air. The loss of Jordan Cameron and Alex Mack didn't help the matter. They actually took a little dive towards the end of the season with their rushing attack, but I fully expect them to run the ball well this season.
However, there is a significant amount of change among the offensive coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan left the team due to disagreements. QB coach Dowell Loggains was fired, and wide receivers coach Mike McDaniel left by mutual consent. When you only throw 12 touchdowns in a season, the offensive staff should probably start packing their bags before the final game has finished.,
There is a New York Jets element to the new staff. John DeFilippo is the new offensive coordinator. He worked with Mike Pettine in New York, as did new Quarterbacks coach Kevin O'Connell. Joker Phillips was hired as the new wide receivers coach, and the new staff will try and ensure the output in 2015 far outweighs the output from 2014.
Key Player Losses
Miles Austin WR - 47 receptions, 568 yards, 2 touchdowns (2014 stats)
Jordan Cameron TE - 24 receptions, 424 yards, 2 touchdowns (2014 stats)
Brian Hoyer QB - 12 TD's, 13 INT's, 3,326 Yards, 76.5 Rating (2014 stats)
Ahtyba Rubin NT - 28 Tackles, 1 Sack, 11 game starter (2014 Stats)
Jabaal Sheard DE - 44 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 pass defences (2014 Stats)
Buster Skrine CB - 67 tackles, 4 interceptions, 18 pass defences (2014 Stats)
Josh McCown QB - 11 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 2,206 yards, 70.5 Rating (2014)
Brian Hartline WR - 39 receptions, 474 yards, 2 touchdowns (2014)
Tramon Williams CB - 70 tackles, 3 interceptions, 13 pass defences (2014)
Randy Starks DT - 28 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 1 pass defense (2014)
Dwayne Bowe WR - 60 receptions, 754 yards, 0 touchdowns (2014)
Rob Housler TE - 9 receptions, 129 yards, 0 touchdowns (2014)
Free Agency Thoughts
I actually thought Cleveland did a nice job in replacing the parts that they lost. I would take Hoyer over McCown, but I think everyone wants to see Manziel start for that franchise. They added a couple of nice receiving threats in Hartline and Bowe, and they will need them after Josh Gordon received a suspension for the entire 2015 NFL season. Buster Skrine got beat a lot but he also made a ton of plays for that team. He's obviously now in New York, but they brought in Williams who has a lot of talent and a lot of experience. They will be hoping that Justin Gilbert continues to improve. Randy Starks was a nice addition to that defensive line when you consider their draft class as well.
Losing Jordan Cameron is hard to take for the Browns. He was injured last year, but when he's on, he is a very talented tight end with a lot of potential. A lot of people are saying they will miss Rubin, but statistically speaking he was one of the worst nose tackles in the league. Again, I think the Browns have done a nice job replacing what they lost, but I'm not sold that they've got a lot better.
I rate Dwayne Bowe and always have. It's strange to see a player record 60 receptions without a single touchdown, but that highlights the bigger issue that the Kansas City Chiefs had throwing it in the red-zone. He was responsible for a fair few drops (7) last year, but if he can get some consistent QB play, he should be able to put up similar numbers in Cleveland with a few TD's thrown in.
We want to talk some Defense
Here is how they ranked in some of the key defensive statistical categories, followed by their NFL rank.
21.1 points per game allowed. 9/32
366.1 yards allowed per game. 23/32
22 passing touchdowns allowed . 6/32
21 interceptions. 2/32
224.5 passing yards allowed per game 8/32
31 sacks 27/32
141.6 rushing yards allowed per game 32/32
13 rushing touchdowns allowed 13/32
It doesn't take a genius to spot where the weakness was. Cleveland had a weak middle when it came to defending the run and they weren't able to get consistent pressure on the opposing QB's. A lot of the time if a team is struggling against the run, they will be on their heels on passing downs. This happened on a consistent basis with Cleveland and their inability to create 2nd and long and 3rd and long really hurt them.
The Browns had 5 selections in the first 3 rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft, and they spent 3 of those selections on the defensive line. With Cleveland adding Tramon Williams to Joe Haden, Justin Gilbert and K'Waun Williams, I expect them to be a lot better defensive unit overall in 2015.
The Draft Class
Round 1, #12 overall - Danny Shelton, NT, Washington
Round 1, #19 overall - Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State
Round 2, #51 overall - Nate Orchard, DE, Utah
Round 3, #77 overall - Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
Round 3. #88 overall - Xavier Cooper, DT, Washington State
Round 4: #115 Overall - Ibraheim Camobell, S, Northwestern
Round 4: #123 overall - Vince Mayle, WR, Washington State
Round 6: #189 overall - Charles Gaines, CB, Louisville
Round 6: #195 overall - Malcolm Johnson, FB, Mississippi State
Round 6: #198 overall - Randall Telfer, TE, USC
Round 7: #219 overall - Hayes Pullard, ILB, USC
Round 7: #241 overall - Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
I personally thought that the Cleveland Browns had a great draft in 2015. When you can get a 1st round talent in the 7th round in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, you're doing something right, even with the injury. All their selections make at least some sense, and they have some players in here who could help them immediately. Danny Shelton filled a massive need on that defensive line. Orchard will give them some speed in the pass rush, and I think Xavier Cooper is a really underrated prospect here. He has the quickness to cause problems inside. Duke Johnson is a great pass catching back and will provide a good outlet for whoever the QB is, and they picked up some excellent depth in their secondary.
The problem with all of this is that they didn't add a top of the line difference maker to that offense. I like Erving as a prospect, and he'll probably end up at center after a couple of years at guard, but I can't help but think that pick would have been better spent on someone like Breshad Perriman or even Devin Smith. I can see why they'd avoid someone like DGB after the problems with Gordon, but the Browns have a lot of #2 and #3 receivers but no game breaker to help a QB who will hardly be elite.
The Jets are a circus. This is something the NY media pushed for years, but thankfully the new GM/HC combination has added a little bit of respectability to the organization, at least for the short term. However, this off-season has been one of distraction for the Cleveland Browns and it's hard to not think of them as more of a circus than the Jets ever were.
First of all, you have the Josh Gordon suspension. Remember he was suspended for the entire 2014 season before having that reduced to 10 games. Now he is suspended for the entire 2015 season. This time it was due to a failed alcohol test, but with it being his 5th failed test, the suspension was severe.
Johnny Football voluntarily entered rehab due to his use and dependency on alcohol. We heard a lot about the lack of commitment that Johnny was showing in 2014. Joe Thomas said that Manziel had probably lost a lot of respect in the locker room by the way he conducted himself. In college he could get by on natural talent, but in the NFL, that just doesn't cut it. According to the most recent report, he is fully committed this year and the difference between 2015 Johnny Football and 2014 Johnny Football is night and day.
Browns GM Ray Farmer is suspended for the first 4 games of the 2015 NFL season after sending text messages to coaches during the games in 2014. This by league rules is prohibited. It's a small thing, but it's something the Browns could do without, considering everything else that is going on at the moment.
Cleveland have a lot of good players, but here are five who I consider to be the best of the best of the best
Joe Thomas - Tackle
Entering his 9th year in the league, Joe Thomas has never missed a single game. He is one of the absolute finest tackles in the game of football and is one of the best tackles over the last decade. He's just turned 30, so he'll have a fair few years left yet.
Joel Bitonio - Guard
Joel went straight into the starting lineup in 2014 after being drafted 35th overall. In his rookie year he was rated as one of the best guards in football, and that's not all that surprising. He has an enormous amount of talent and technique. There is a very good chance that he follows up his excellent first year with an even better second year.
Karlos Dansby - ILB
Dansby is the veteran of the group, and he's still performing at an elite level, even at age 33. Last year he was stout against the run, effective in coverage and able to make a difference with 3 sacks. He tallied 93 tackles last season and at some point he has to hit a decline. That may be this year, but until he hits that decline, I still consider him a very good player.
Joe Haden - CB
I personally don't consider Joe Haden to be an elite corner in this league. I consider him to be a very good corner, but not elite. Saying that, he is still one of the best players on this Browns roster. He'll take some chances now and again but he really can lock down a receiver on his day.
Tashaun Gipson - S
Gipson went to his first Pro Bowl last season and is currently a restricted free agent. In just 11 games he tallied 6 interceptions while allowing only 12 completed passes and 0 touchdowns in his coverage. His season ended in week 12 against the Atlanta Falcons with a sprained MCL. Remember his 6 interception 2014 came just a single year after his 5 interception 2013.
There is a lot to like about this Cleveland team, but they also have a lot of questions, similar to the Jets. They don't know what they have at the quarterback position, and Jonny Football has really struggled to gain the respect of anyone in the league and has spent some time this off-season in rehab. Their secondary is a promising unit, and if they get the expected production from their rookie class, their run defense should be considerably better. They will run the football a lot this year, but at some point they are going to be asked to throw, and I'm personally not sold on their ability to win through the air.
When they come to face the Jets, it will be a case of can their run defense stop Chris Ivory and company? Can their offensive line handle the Jets and the amount of pressure that will be coming, and can they get anything going against what will surely be one of the best secondaries, at least on paper?
For the Jets, Geno Smith will have a tough unit to face in his first game, but if it's too soon for the rookies, we may be able to run the ball better on Cleveland than they can run it on us. Overall, I think it will be a great game.
I hope you enjoyed our little Cleveland Browns preview, up next we'll be focusing in on the Indianapolis Colts.
Game: Week 1, Sunday September 13th, MetLife Stadium, 1:00pm EST