The 2014 season for the Cleveland Browns was nothing short of tumultuous. Although they finished with their best record (7-9) since they went 10-6 in 2007, they managed to finish the season on an extremely low note. Not only did they lose their final five games, their QB situation heading into the 2016 National Football League (NFL) season is somehow an even bigger question mark than it was entering last year, as is their situation with their general manager, Ray Farmer. He currently finds himself caught up in the middle of a texting controversy that could result in some rather steep penalties for the Browns (loss of draft picks, perhaps).
So the question stands: What do the Browns have to do this offseason to help right the ship and get the team back on track?
Here are a few suggestions as to how they could get the Dawg Pound barking again:
First things first, despite the heavy overcast of negativity surrounding the team—from the players all the way up to ownership—bright spots do remain in regards to the team’s future. Even though they didn’t finish strongly last year, they still had one of the more successful seasons in recent memory. Rookie coach Mike Pettine showed immense promise and was even in talks for Coach of the Year candidacy at one point during the season. However, two glaring team statistics stand out that must be addressed in order for the team to take the next steps towards making the playoffs in the perennial heavyweight American Football Conference (AFC) North Division.
One such deficiency that has to be improved upon is the rush defense.
In 2014, the Browns were, for lack of better words, the worst rushing defense in the entire NFL; and that’s not an exaggeration. On average, they allowed 141.6 rushing yards per game on 4.5 yards per carry for opposing backs according to teamrankings.com. That’s good for 32nd ranking out of 32 teams. Opposing teams frequently elected to run the ball right down the gut of the Browns’ defense and often found immense success doing so. As a result, the Browns’ defense would gradually wear down throughout the game due to the constant shellacking from opposing halfbacks, fullbacks and quarterbacks running game.
Solution? One way is to beef up the interior line in free agency.
Enter another bright spot for the Browns: they are approximately $50.4 million under the salary cap. Translation: They have a lot of money to throw at top free agents to help improve the team.
One such free agent that could help reinforce the interior defensive line is defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh of the Detroit Lions.
Known for having a hot temper and recurring fines by the NFL, Suh is still very much a disruptive force on the defensive side of the football. In 2014, he compiled 8.5 sacks, despite facing frequent double teams and offensive schemes designed to prevent him from reaching the quarterback. His 8.5 sacks would rank second on the Browns current roster, behind Paul Kruger’s 11 in 2014. Desmond Bryant, with 5 total sacks, ranked second on the Browns’ current roster.
Suh would improve all areas of the defense with his affinity for pass rushing. Because of his ability to be a disruptive force, he would attract a lot of attention from opposing offenses, making his fellow defenders’ job easier. Offensive linemen would have to focus on both Suh and Kruger, leaving holes on the offensive line that Browns defenders could shoot through. This would both apply heightened pressure on the quarterback while also filling in the run lanes, leaving opposing halfbacks with less space to run through.
The other side of the ball could use some work, too.
Last year, the Browns’ pass offense ranked 20th in the NFL, with an average of 216.6 ypg and 12 total passing touchdowns on the year. In all actuality, the Browns received corps exceeded expectations, but now that superstar Josh Gordon will be serving a one-year ban from the league—and the Browns reportedly have now decided to move forward without Gordon being in their future plans—the time is now to add some talent to the receiver position.
Randall Cobb could be the answer to the Browns’ troubles. Last year in Green Bay, Cobb totaled 1,287 receiving yards off of 91 catches, and hauled in 12 touchdowns by himself (which equals the Browns’ passing touchdown total last year). He is a versatile, multi-talented receiver that can play the slot and is lethal in intermediate routes. He can also beat you over the top with his speed and athleticism.
Essentially, he is everything the current Browns receivers are not, and he would certainly fill a need if the Browns were able to sign him in free agency. However, NFL drafts have been notorious for having talented wide receivers—look no further than last year’s draft, which included instant stars such as Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans, amongst others—and so the Browns could elect to go that route and use their draft picks on receivers.
Either way, the Browns may be down, but they are by no means out. Even with the negative blemishes recently cast upon the franchise, they have the options and tools necessary to fix some of the major problems that have been holding the team back.
Hopefully, they’ll give the fans something to cheer for next season.