So here we are again, the NFL Regular Season has come to an end and so has the Browns involvement in the league until free agency and draft season begins. Now is the time of year where we as fans get to put our speculating hats on, sit around and talk amongst ourselves and think about how miserable the season was, and come up with a million different ways that we can improve the team. Now, that is our civic duty as fans, so of course we must oblige. As my attention rapidly shifts towards the very fun to watch Cavaliers and the count down to Spring Training, I am paying less and less attention to the Browns. I barely paid attention in the build up to the final game of the season, and actually didn’t watch any of the game as I was stuck to work on New Year’s Day. There are many burning questions about the future of the franchise, where they will go this off season and whether or not they should continue on with Pat Shurmur as the head coach. We have nothing but questions right now, but let’s look at a few things from this season that we know moving in next year and the off season. Then, maybe, we’ll move on to some other things as well.
– Offensive coordinator should be the primary goal for this team as the off season starts, and based off of early indications and the Shurmur Press Conference it appears the team sees that as an area of need. They need someone to take some of the pressure and responsibility off of the shoulders of Shurmur if he is going to be the Head Coach moving forward. As a HC in the NFL you should be the one taking the responsibility and blame for the mis-firings of your team, and he was far too quick to put that on his players. I understand wanting to hold them accountable since the execution of plays comes down to them, but having an offensive coordinator will help him focus on the things he needs to focus on.
– Which Peyton Hillis is the real Peyton Hillis? This is one of the biggest questions that emerges for me after this season. The Madden cover boy had a rough year, that is no secret. He fought injuries and contract negotiations that turned sour very quickly. Is last year’s consistent bruiser who Hillis is? Or is it this year’s distracted, sometimes soft looking back who was just disappointing? Will the Browns be his employer next year? Or will they go to RB early in the draft and let Hillis walk? Hillis admitted that he thinks the Madden curse may have played a role in his struggles this season, and while part of that is obviously non-sense, he might have something working in his favor for next year. His game against baltimore in week 16 made me want to see him in the Browns back field next year, but I doubt one good game is enough for Holmgren and Heckert to justify keeping him around. I don’t really know why Hillis thought a huge contract was justified after just one good year, but maybe after this disaster he will play like he has something to prove next year, which could benefit the team.
– Is the offensive line that bad? Wasn’t that a strength of the team last year? I guess it was the Steinbeck injury playing a huge role and the random assortment of back ups turned starters, but it was pretty rough to watch throughout the season. They need to address that this off season, they have Joe Thomas, Alex Mack and maybe a healthy Steinbeck, but need to strengthen the right side and get some quality back ups.
– The defense should get better. This was a unit that really surprised me this year. I was shocked that they played so well for much of the season, and I think that is a tremendous sign moving into next season. D’Qwell Jackson proved that when healthy might be on of the best middle linebackers in the league, Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown were solid in pass defense, TJ Ward is a complete safety and the young defensive line has scary good potential. While the team is atrocious at stopping the run, they could defend the pass pretty well. That didn’t get them a lot of turnovers, but they didn’t give up a lot of points and yards. The two big guys will continue to mesh, Rubin and Taylor demand a lot of attention and Jabaal Sheard gets to the QB frequently. Even the line out with another good pass rusher and this unit can be really good. Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong are not world beaters at the outside linebacker positions, but they are very good veteran players. Gocong was huge on many goal line plays this season, and Fujita is a great team captain. They do need to get deeper at LB however and get some adequate backups and better athletes to rush the passer and drop back in pass coverage. I like the 3 starters we have there, but they are not the type to match up well with opposing tight ends or backs in coverage and are not young. There were many positives from the defense this season and I am excited about that side of the ball next year.
– Brad Maynard is a pretty good punter, maybe they should keep him for next year. Only 1 touchback this year, on all those punts! Wow. Maybe if the offense is better next year and we don’t punt as much he can be a weapon for a team that might actually get to play from ahead for a change.
– Phil Dawson is, and always will be, a true Brown. Class act guy and great kicker I hope if he leaves Cleveland and seeks another team, he get sot play on a team that he can win on.
– In or out? What skill position players will be around next year? Greg Little will be, he showed flashes this year but was inconsistent. Hillis is a huge question mark. Massaqouin I could go either way on. I wouldn’t be too sad to lose him, but I am not sure he is that good. I would love to keep him as a #3 option, but not as a #1 or a #2. Josh Cribbs is still a fan favorite and one of the best guys on the team, but there never seems to be a truly defined roll for him. His returning capabilities were lacking this year if you take away that one punt return touchdown, and he doesn’t seem to quite have it as a wideout. If the team would use him primarily as a slot guy and exploit match ups against opposing linebackers, I think they could be more successful with using him. Evan Moore got that contract but never really wowed this year. He had his moments here and there, but the offensive was so inconsistent that you never knew if he was going to get targets or not. I think Ben Watson might not be in town next year and they could go for more of receiving happy tight end duo of Moore and Cameron. Time will tell, but as always this is the biggest need on the team. Real WR, RB and TE options for the QB to get the ball to.
– The final thing I will harp on. Colt McCoy. We still don’t really know anything about him as a QB. He wasn’t good this year, but he really wasn’t that bad. I think the team is worried about that as well. They know a lot about him, but for me it is hard to make a judgement when there are no trust worthy options for him to throw the ball to. There is never a fully healthy slate of offensive players, and no one who catches or runs the ball consistently. I do think next season will be the last year of his tenure as a Browns QB unless he really shows improvement. I would not be shocked if they draft a QB early or go after Matt Flynn in free agency. Part of me wants to get behind that sort of move, but part of me really wants to keep McCoy. I really want to see what he does with a real WR option or a consistently good running game. He really did nothing to sell me on him in either direction, he was equally underwhelming and successful this year, and while he never really played that bad, he always seemed to make a few costly mistakes.
So much food for thought this off season. I have no idea what the team plans on doing, but I can’t wait to see where they go. I think they should do certain things, as highlighted above, add defensive depth, offensive line and skill players. They need to make their decisions early in the off season to know the direction of the team. I trust that Holmgren and Heckert have a plan, you have to trust them. They know better than any of us, and while I am finding so many flaws with the team and some of the decisions thus far, I think this off season might provide a lot of insight into the future of the organization.