Continuing from the previous post, we preview the upcoming Browns season by setting over/under estimates for the team’s 2016 performance.
Last year’s Browns surrendered a 53 sacks, one off the league high. That amounted to 8% of the passing plays called. RGIII‘s career sack rate is a startling 8.7% of dropbacks. Camp observers have noted more quick-hitters and simplified reads, among the tactics designed to maximize the quarterback’s success and indeed survival.
Sacks by defense
Ray Horton‘s 2013 Browns defense notched 40 sacks, their highest total of the decade. No fewer than 16 players contributed to that total, including active Browns Barkevious Mingo (5), Paul Kruger (4.5), Armonty Bryant (2), and John Hughes (1). His units are known for bringing pressure from every angle and position. Given all the turnover and youth, no one really knows which Browns will reliably bring the heat. That could prove to be good or bad.
Team rushing average yards per carry
Last year’s team topped the four-yard-per-carry mark for just the fifth time in the 17 years of the new Browns era. But that was just barely, at 4.02 YPC, and inflated by excessive QB scrambling. Ineffective blocking from non-linemen was one big factor. Look for more of a power scheme on the O-line and improvement from the young stable of backs, especially Duke Johnson. Better blocking from tight ends/H-backs and a larger WR corps should help too. Hue Jackson has emphasized beefing up the rushing attack, and Kirby Wilson is a very experienced and well-regarded assistant.
Rushing average yards per carry allowed
No number condemned the previous supposedly defensive-minded coaching staff more than the Browns being gashed at the rate of 4.5 yards per rushing attempt each of the last two years. Horton’s 2013 unit was much better — allowing 3.9 YPC — but it yielded too many first downs on the ground: 103. The one man key to any turnaround here is big DT Danny Shelton. He must command double-teams and free up the ends and inside linebackers, particularly Demario Davis, to make tackles moving forward.
Offensive linemen to start at least one game
The answer here clearly depends on health, but it’s also far from settled whether C Alex Mack and RT Mitchell Schwartz will be replaced effectively. Will disappointing first-rounder Cameron Erving succeed at center, or might RG John Greco slide over? Will a veteran such as Austin Pasztor or Alvin Bailey get the nod at RT, and how long will that leash be before rookies Spencer Drango or Shon Coleman get a shot to prove themselves? With hopes of hewing as close to five as possible, we have to be realistic here.
Quarterbacks to start at least one game
Each year about half of NFL teams have the same quarterback start every game. Last year it was 17. For the Browns, it hasn’t happened at all since Tim Couch in 2001. The four QBs who have started every game this decade are all classic pocket passers (Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, and Philip Rivers). RGIII has never matched that description. But he’s been conspicuous in listening to coaching designed to preserve his health: throwing the ball away before the pocket collapses, sliding on scrambles to avoid contact. But again, we have to be realistic about a QB who’s never started 16 games, backed up by a 37-year-old who also hasn’t, behind a line with at least two new starters.
Individual 100-yard game performances (rushing or receiving)
Since 2010, the Browns have had 37 such efforts, or just north of six per year. With a new offensive-minded head coach and some big-play threats in the persons of Corey Coleman, Terrelle Pryor, and possibly Josh Gordon (who has nine career 100-plus-yard games), it’s reasonable to expect some standout statistical production.
Regular season Browns wins
This is the bottom line. And I’ll remind all Browns fans that no matter the importance of the draft, it is always better for the spirit to want your team to win.
What if you root for the Browns to lose, and then they win? Do you curse their success? Do you consider yourself a victim of yet another twist of the emotional dagger? Why rob yourself of the pure happiness of a Browns win (no matter how bittersweet or fleeting or overdue)? So you can hedge your heart’s bet? … It’s not when you draft, it’s whom you draft. And it’s how you develop the team.
This year is about developing a winning culture, cultivating winning habits, embodying winning character. It’s not about letting youngsters take their lumps while we jockey for a top pick and spout platitudes about “process.” The goal every season ought to be the playoffs at least. That’s surely a longshot this year, but the Browns should exceed the consensus expectation that they’ll again be on the short list of the very worst teams.