The Browns had another season to forget in 2013. Finishing 4-12, they have now not had a winning season since going 10-6 in 2007 (and even that was not good enough to make the postseason).
Having started the campaign with three wins in the first five games, hopes were high of a run into the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Yet from 4-5, seven successive defeats put that dream to bed early and eventually cost Head Coach Rob Chudzinski his job.
The Browns’ offence did not perform well as a unit throughout the season. Inconsistency and injuries at quarterback did not help, nor did the lack of a running game. 2012 first round pick Trent Richardson (selected third overall) was traded to Indianapolis after disappointing, he averaged just 3.4 yards per carry on 31 attempts pre trade. In his wake, veteran Willis McGahee was the featured back, but he racked up just 377 yards at 2.7 yards per rush. In total, the Browns put up a mere 1383 yards on the ground. Brandon Wheedon started the season at quarterback, but was replaced by Brian Hoyer. Hoyer impressed briefly (615 yards on 57 completions with a passer rating of 82.6) before a horrific knee injury curtailed his season. Wheedon (1731 yards and a rating of just 70.3) suffered the embarrassment of being benched again later in the year, with Jason Campbell (2015 yards, 11 touchdowns and eight picks) taking the reins. Receiver Josh Gordon was the standout performer, catching 87 passes for 1646 yards and nine touchdowns. He was ably supported by Jordan Cameron who caught 87 passes for 917 yards. Few others excelled for the Browns; expect the new coaching staff to overhaul the offensive personnel. Linemen Joe Thomas and Alex Mack may be exempt from this, having earned Pro Bowl selections despite the poor season (along with Gordon and Cameron).
Defensively, Cleveland performed reasonably well and ranked ninth in yards allowed per game (332.4). They averaged conceding 25.4 points however; a statistic that will need improving in 2014. D’Qwell Jackson and T.J. Ward lead the team with 75 tackles each. With Jabaal Sheard’s 5.5 sacks a team high, pass rushing is an area that needs serious attention. Perhaps because of this, the Browns gave up 4372 yards through the air. Tashaun Gipson (five interceptions and 11 passes defended) and Joe Haden (four picks and 20 passes defended) did their best to stop the aerial attack in the secondary.
Billy Cundiff hit 80.8% of his Field Goal attempts, whilst Travis Benjamin’s punt return touchdown was a highlight for the unit.
Rob Chudzinski lasted just one season in Cleveland before his services were no longer required. Having made a promising start, the form tailed away in the latter half of the season. It could be argued that the Richardson trade and Hoyer injury were contributing factors and therefore that Chudzinski deserved extra time, but the Borwns’ owners clearly did not think so. Having courted several candidates (most notably Patriots’ Offensive Co-ordinator Josh McDaniels), the Browns were the last team to appoint a new coach for 2014. They eventually chose the Buffalo Bills’ Mike Pettine as the man to guide the franchise forward. He will be hoping for a long tenure in charge than his predecessor.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
There has already been plenty of speculation about the Browns wanting to trade up in the draft. With an extra first round pick (courtesy of the Richardson trade) they have bargaining power that cannot be matched my many other needy teams and may be able to use that in part to persuade the Rams to give up the number two pick. Johnny Manziel as been heavily linked, providing Houston do not keep him in Texas with the first pick! All the talk does seem to suggest that the Browns are keen on a new direction at this key position, even if Hoyer recovers fully from injury.
Besides the issue at quarterback, Cleveland are crying out for a running back and help on the offensive line. These positions are essential in order to present the starting quarterback (whoever that may be) with a balanced offense. As mentioned earlier additional pass rushers may also be targeted.
Securing centre Mack and safety Ward to new contracts will be the first key piece of business to take care of in the off season. If either of these two players decide to test the market then they will leave big holes to fill behind them.