The Browns finished up a second straight 5-11 season Sunday with a 41-9 thrashing at the hands of their divisional rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers. Overall the 2010-11 season has felt like a mixture of heartbreak and promise. Early in the season it was a variety of losses by slim margins, but it was impossible to deny that the Browns were playing solid football. Then, wins against two of the leagues best, the Patriots and Saints, brought a feeling that the Browns might have been putting it all together and turning a corner. With four straight losses to end the season, however, the Browns showed no measurable improvement over last season. That was all Browns President Mike Holmgren needed to justify his firing of Coach Eric Mangini on Monday morning.
Lets start by grading the 2010-2011 Browns:
OFFENSE – C-
The Browns were second to last in the NFL averaging 16.9 points per game, and they were forth from last in total offense. Injuries played some part in the Browns offensive woes. All three of the Browns quarterbacks suffered ankle injuries that forced them to miss time. Joshua Cribbs, the Browns only dangerous wide receiver and Wild Cat QB, missed time with a foot injury. There was also a rash of injuries to the right side of the offensive line. You can’t point to injuries for this type of ineptitude though. First, the Browns need to find a quarterback who can get the job done. Could Colt McCoy be that guy? He showed flashes of brilliance this season, but he will need to continue to improve. Next, the Browns need some guys to throw the ball to. TE Benjamin Watson was the only true receiving threat. The Browns need a serious upgrade at wide receiver over Mohammed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie and Chansi Stuckey. Lastly, the Browns need to sure up their offensive line. Joe Thomas and Alex Mack are two great young players. They need more help though. If it wasn’t for the promise shown by McCoy, and the absolute destruction waged by RB Peyton Hillis, the Browns offensive would have been in the D range.
DEFENSE – B
The Browns were in the upper half of the league in points allowed despite being in the lower half in yardage allowed. This says that they had many take aways (19 ints) and that they buckled down in the red zone. Give credit to Rob Ryan, as the Browns defense certainly could have been much worse. The two best players on the defense, Joe Haden and TJ Ward, were both rookies. The defensive captain and most important player, Scott Fujita, missed the last seven games of the season with an injury. The Browns highest paid defensive player, former start DT Shaun Rogers, was basically relegated to a back up role due to lack of production. Rogers is clearly not the player he once was. Other than the flashes shown by Marcus Benard, the Browns lacked any form of a consistent pass rusher. With all this in mind, it is pretty safe to say that the Browns defense out performed their talent level.
Special Teams – B+
Kicker Phil Dawson was his regular consistent self. He was a perfect 20 for 20 on field goal attempts inside forty yards. From 40-50 yards he was 3 for 5. And unsurprisingly he was 0-3 on attempts of fifty yards or more. The veteran has been the only kicker the Browns have needed since returning to the league in 1999. During the 2010-11 season, Dawson passed Hall of Famer Lou Groza for the most field goals made in Browns history. Punter Reggie Hodges was also fantastic. He was in the top ten among punters in net average, and punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Hodges also had a 68-yard run on a fake punt that helped the Browns beat the Saints. The only true disappointment on special teams was in the return game where Joshua Cribbs was not his normal self. His 20.4 yard average on kickoff returns was over five yards below his career average. In addition, despite being the all time NFL leader with eight kickoff return TDs, Cribbs was not able to find the endzone once during the 2010-11 season.
COACHING – B+
It might seem weird to say in the wake of the firing of Eric Mangini, but I truly believe these coaches did a good job. The number one question when assessing an NFL coach is does his players play hard for him? Despite the fact that they had almost no hope of making the playoffs after a disappointing 0-3 start, the Browns showed up to play every single game of the season, aside from the final game against the Steelers. In his two years as Browns coach, Mangini has showed that he is a smart, hard working and a true professional. He takes blame when he does wrong, and deflects all praise onto his players. The players only have positive things to say about him. I would go so far as to say there is not a man on the planet who could win more than seven games with this roster against the hellacious schedule the Browns faced. Most important of all, if you watched the games closely, you could see a team that was coming together. A team that was much improved over the previous season. A team that could compete with much more talented teams.
OFFENSIVE MVP – Peyton Hillis
Lets get right to it, the Juggernaut was a beast all season. He rushed for 1,177 yards and had another 477 yards receiving, with thirteen total touchdowns. If it was not for a late season surge by Ben Watson, Hillis would have led the team with his 61 receptions. Did he fumble too much? Absolutely. But you can live with the fumbles this season because he brought an attitude, toughness and consistency to the Browns offense which had very little going in terms of a passing game. He didn’t leave one yard on the field. He reflected the working class values of his city, and the fans praised him for it. This is a man that you can go to war with, and he should be an important piece for the Browns as long as he can improve his ball security. Joe Thomas certainly deserves very honerable mention. The young left tackle cleared the way for Hillis and showed yet again why he is one of the best offensive linemen in the league.
DEFENSIVE MVP – TJ Ward
This would have went to Scott Fujita if he stayed healthy all year. It probably would have went to Joe Haden and his six interceptions, if he would have been a starter all year. And it could have went to Ahtyba “Tuba” Rubin who turned in a yeoman’s effort week in and week out at nosetackle. As it is, the rookie who started all sixteen games at safety gets the nod. Ward did for the Browns defense exactly what Hillis did for the offense. He brought an attitude of toughness and confidence. Not only did his 123 tackles by far lead the Browns (Matt Roth was in second with only 86), but it led all NFL rookies. Ward was one of only two safeties, the other being Donte Whitner, to crack the top fifteen in the NFL in tackling. It wasn’t just quantity though, Ward was the type of player who really made wide receivers feel uncomfortable when catching passes over the middle. He was the type of player who would take on any running back head to head at full speed. Did I mention that he is a rookie? Like Hillis, he certainly was a flawed player, his coverage skills could use some work. Ward, however, is the type of player who sets a tone of intensity which ripples through to the rest of the team.
With a high draft pick and a new coach to be selected, it should be an interesting off season for the Browns. Check back for news and updates. I always enjoy hearing others’ opinions so please post comments.
About the Author
Written by Fran Berkman
Francis (Fran) Berkman is a graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY with a BS in Human Development. He is currently working towards a master's degree in journalism at Hofstra University. He lives in Massapequa, NY.