The Cleveland Browns got blasted yet again this Sunday, this time by the lowly Tampa Bay Buccanears. They are 4-11, have scored less than everyone but the Bucs and the Oakland Raiders (whom they barely defeated earlier in the season), and they lost every single division game they played.
But next year should not be a rebuilding year. As it stands now, a Browns’ road loss this coming Sunday at Houston would give them the second pick in next year’s draft. While they could draft a top player at a “skill position”, they’d be much better off following the pattern of other smart teams and trading that pick down for a number of low first-round and second-round picks – and draft a number of top offensive linemen.
The problems the Browns have are not because of their defense, which has actually played well in most every game this season despite an incredible amount of injuries. It’s not TE Kellen Winslow, who will end up with 80 receptions and 800+ yards after this Sunday. It’s not the wide receivers, though they have dropped a number of balls this season (including some crucial ones) – Braylon Edwards has over 800 yards in his first full season, and Joe Jurevicius should break 500 yards. The problem is not Charlie Frye, either. A 2nd-year quarterback who gets sacked 43 times in 12 games and still manages to complete 63+% of his passes (despite tens of drops over the season) deserves a commendation, not criticism. He does tend to hold onto the ball a bit long sometimes, but other than that has shown that if he has some time in the pocket, he can make plays. Many people point to his 16 picks – well, that’s very nice, but if you watch the Browns, you’ll notice that a number of those were tipped by his own players. It’s also easy to drop extra people into coverage when the running game is completely inept – with a good chunk of the blame falling on the terrible offensive line.
It’s true that LeCharles Bentley got hurt to start training camp, and he had been their major signing. But it’s also true that many Browns’ season ticket holders and fans (I am proud to be both) immediately thought, “That’s it. Season’s over.” The offensive line just isn’t all that good – and there was absolutely no depth. Phil Savage is no fool – hopefully, he will continue being a draft guru and make the right moves, establishing an offensive line that can push the opposition around. We haven’t yet seen just how good Edwards and Winslow can be, as the offense isn’t on the field long enough and the line isn’t giving enough time for them to truly get into the open.
The Browns’ special teams is one of the best in the NFL – they have a great kicker, a great punter, and incredible return men. Their defense has been solid even with the backups in, and rookie DE/LB Kamerion Wimbley showed how good he can be, recording 10 sacks. Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 is finally getting the players to fit it. There’s even a nice amount of depth, though a younger starting NT might be nice, as they have been poor against the run.
If the Browns can draft an offensive line, and perhaps pick up a couple of small defensive pieces and a running back, they could not just be an average team, but a strong playoff team. Most importantly, the Browns must draft linemen who can push around their divisional foes. The Browns are 4-5 outside of the division this year, and were 5-5 last year. But they’re 1-11 against the AFC North, and the line is why. Their rushing yards in six division games: 57, 38, 99, 51, 18, and 68. That’s an average of 56 yards a game… and that’s pathetic.
The Browns need an offensive line. It is Phil Savage’s job to make sure they get a good one… and fast. Trade down, Mr. Savage.
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