The 2011 NFL season is upon us – finally. Cleveland loves their Browns and this is a team looking toward the future. Mangini is out and Pat Shurmur is in and he brought with him his version of the West Coast Offense. This should cater to the strengths of the personnel on offense. New Defensive Coordinator Dick Jauron brought in the 4-3 Defense. While it will be tough to have multiple scheme changes, the Browns were sorely in need of positive change.
HC Pat Shurmur, DC Dick Jauron, Ray Rhodes, RB Brandon Jackson, G John Greco, CB Dimitri Patterson, S Usama Young, G Artis Hicks.
NT Phil Taylor, DE Jabaal Sheard, WR Greg Little, TE Jordan Cameron, FB Owen Marecic, CB Buster Skrine, OT Jason Pinkston.
Key Offseason Losses:
HC Eric Mangini, OC Brian Daboll, DC Rob Ryan, FB Lawrence Vickers, G Pork Chop Womack, DE/OLB Matt Roth, DE/DT Kenyon Coleman, DT Shaun Rogers, ILB Eric Barton, CB Eric Wright, S Abram Elam.
2011 Cleveland Browns Offense:
The weight of the offense will be put on the shoulders of young Colt McCoy. Though he won’t have to do everything the 2010 draft pick will be asked to do a good portion of the heavy lifting.
The backfield features McCoy and Peyton Hillis. Hillis was destructively effective last year, but wore down at the end partly due to lack of quality backups. Montario Hardesty is healthy and UDFA Armond Smith can be a factor. The Browns did lose 2 starters in Vickers (FA) and Eric Steinbach (Injury) on offense, but not at key positions so the losses can be hidden. Tony Pashos and Shawn Lauvao, who looked good last year, are both healthy again.
The Wide Receivers will not be world-beaters but they will have more chemistry this year with McCoy. Brian Robiskie showed flashes of talent near the end of the season and rookie Greg Little should contribute some speed. Mohammel Massoquoi and Josh Cribbs are the heart and soul of the receiving corps but still don’t have defined roles. The consistency at WR and RB and the change to the West Coast Offense should help spread out the weaponry and make best use of what’s here.
2011 Cleveland Browns Defense:
The scheme changed from a 3-4 to a 4-3 which meant some players that didn’t fit the scheme were gone. Lots of personnel turnover. The Browns addressed the scheme change by drafting 2 D-Lineman in the first 2 rounds. Both are slated to start along Jayme Mitchell and NT Ahtyba Rubin. Rubin and Phil Taylor have already shown they can form an effective run stuffing duo. Combined with the excellent D’Qwell Jackson, the Browns have one of the best defenses up the middle.
Some defensive question marks remain as this is a work in progress. Fujita is the only player who has proven to be a solid starter. Marcus Benard and Chris Gocong could be solid, but they need to show they can play in a 4-3.
In the secondary, Joe Haden is a pro bowl caliber player with the ability to be a shutdown CB. Sheldon Brown is slower, but is still a solid starter. Ward should improve and be one of the better Strong Safeties in the league. Free Safety will be interesting because Usama Young was slated to start, but got hurt. If he starts, Mike Adams can join Buster Skrine and Dimitri Patterson to provide solid CB depth
Josh Cribbs admits he was overweight last year. Getting injured certainly didn’t help and he will likely be back to his explosive form. Dawson will also be reliable. While Richmond McGee has looked okay so far, Reggie Hodges made a good case for being a pro bowl punter last year.
This schedule is easy. It is unwise to take teams too lightly, but the Browns will face several teams (Bengals, Titans, Dolphins, Sehawks, 49ers as examples) with turmoil at the QB position. There is not an “unwinnable” game among their first 7 – especially now that Peyton Manning will miss at least half the season. The hardest team they may face in their first 7 games is Oakland.
I think Pat Shurmur will be a good NFL coach. His demeanor works better on the sideline than Mangini. Mangini was not a bad coach, but too rigid, more inflexible and too much like Belichick who once bristled on the Browns sidelines. I think players play more freely under a coach who worries more about Xs and Os than being the disciplinarian all the time. Shurmur is a good offensive mind and should run the offense much better than Brian Daboll.
I also like Dick Jauron more than most. People in Cleveland liked Rob Ryan, but he’s only ranked in the top 20 in points allowed twice. Jauron did it 4 of the 6 years purely as a DC and 5 of the 10 years he served as HC/DC, including leading the league in 2001 in points allowed. We won’t see such exotic blitzes, but nontraditional pass rushers (DBs/LBs) in his systems got to the QB at a good rate. Ray Rhodes will be an excellent defensive mind too and was DC under Mike Holmgren in both Seattle and Green Bay.
Cleveland Browns Season Prediction: 8-8
Only 4 rookie QBs have won their first game since 1970. This doesn’t bode well for the Bengals, especially since 3 of those 4 QBs played on above .500 teams, which the Bengals are probably not.
Cedric Benson was able to run over a depleted Browns defense, but will have trouble against Rubin/Taylor/Jackson. They will put Haden on Green who should shut the rookie down and Brown can handle Jordan Shipley. The Bengals are tough on D, but there are some chinks in that armor. Reggie Nelson is not great and SS Chris Crocker is hurting right now. They also lost Johnathan Joseph, one of the top CBs in the league and their Rush Defense was 23rd last year.
Prediction: Browns 17, Bengals 7 and Dalton looks like a complete rookie.
About the Author
Written by Bradley Ross
Bradley Ross was born and lived most of his life in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. He grew up with a passion for sports and Cleveland teams, instilled in him by his father. He is currently studying Business/Journalism at Cuyahoga Community College and plans on transferring to the Ohio State University in the winter with an expected graduation date of 2013. He is currently a Staff Writer for the Tri-C Voice Newspaper, which was a recipient of an award for the best non-daily newspaper at a 2 year college (northeast region). He runs multiple blogs off of the blogger platform including The Take By The Lake, a sports blog. Sports is his passion and he enjoys being able to write about them and cover them. He also enjoys improvisational humor, long walks on the beach, and writing in the 3rd person. Follow him on Twitter @BRoss_Voice.