Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Browns regular-season wrap-up
By Jamison Hensley
Arrow indicates direction team is trending.
Final Power Ranking: No. 28
Preseason Power Ranking: No. 29
Peyton Hillis' contract drama affected his play all season and his return to Cleveland is in doubt.
Biggest surprise: Cleveland changed defensive coordinators last offseason, going from the maverick ways of Rob Ryan to the calming influence of Dick Jauron. The style changed as well, from Ryan's frenetic schemes to Jauron's emphasis on fundamentals. The result: the Browns went from the 22nd-ranked defense in 2010 to the 10th-ranked this year. The yards and points went down and the sacks went up. The Browns allowed just 307 points this season, which is their lowest figure since allowing 301 in 2005. In Cleveland's four wins, the defense allowed an average of 12 points.
Biggest disappointment: Peyton Hillis went from being on the cover of the Madden video game to being the perfect example of what not to do in a contract season. The running back's frustrations over the lack of a new deal spilled onto the playing field, where his total yards dropped 56 percent from a year ago (1,654 to 717). It became a soap opera with Hillis this season when he missed a game on the advice of his agent because of strep throat, failed to show up for a scheduled appearance at a Halloween party for children, and got married in Arkansas instead of getting treatment at the Browns facility for his injured hamstring. It would be surprising to see the Browns invest a contract in Hillis after this year's antics.
Biggest need: The Browns desperately need offensive playmakers and lots of them. Their list includes: a strong-armed quarterback, a No. 1 receiver, a game-breaking running back and a big-play threat at tight end. It's easy to see why the Browns scored the third-fewest points in the NFL (13.6 points per game) under first-year coach Pat Shurmur. Cleveland produced only six pass plays for more than 40 yards (third-fewest in the league) and one run for that same distance. It seemed like the Browns ended up with more concussions than touchdowns this season.
Team MVP: The backbone of the NFL's second-ranked passing defense was cornerback Joe Haden. It was a breakout year for the seventh overall pick of the 2010 draft. He finished sixth in passes defensed and has the potential to be a shutdown corner. He didn't have an interception, but that will come if the Browns can increase the pressure on quarterbacks. Some would argue that linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is the Browns' MVP because he finished second in the NFL in tackles. But Cleveland allowed the third-most rushing yards in the league, which is a reflection of the middle linebacker.
Big decision: Look for the Browns to add a quarterback in the draft or free agency after Shumur said Colt McCoy will have to win the job next season. In his first full season as the starter, McCoy ranked 26th in completion percentage (57.2), 25th in passing yards per game (210.2), 32nd in yards per attempt (5.9) and 25th in passer rating (74.6). Some argue that McCoy's statistics are low because the Browns are tied for the most drops in the NFL (33), according to ESPN Stats & Information, and have struggled to protect him. Others say McCoy isn't a starting quarterback at this level because he lacks arm strength.