Friday, January 30, 2015

Cleveland Browns Season in Review-The Offense

A bit late,but I've been taking my time getting to this in order to give this series the attention that deserves.
Over the next few weeks (hopefully sooner),I'll be looking at the Browns on offense,defense,special teams and mixed in (or in a post of its own) some thoughts for the off-season.
Usually the free agent season and draft are about as good as it gets for Browns fans,so I always try to address that.

Quarterback once again bedeviled the Browns and looks even worse for the 2015 season.
Brian Hoyer has his supporters and share of good games,but even at his best,Hoyer consistently underthrew and overthrew receivers,left points on the board and drove me crazy with accuracy issues.
I still wouldn't mind bringing Hoyer back under the right contract and conditions,but there are two quarterbacks that I prefer in the free agent crop,although only one might have a chance to be more than a stopgap solution.
I admit that the frustration of watching Hoyer made me want to see Johnny Manziel,especially after his touchdown drive in Buffalo.
However,that was as good as it got for the diminutive Texas A&M product,who looked overmatched after Buffalo and was more noted for off the field antics than playing performance.
Frankly,I'm just not sure what to do about Manziel for 2015.
If you draft a quarterback high,you admit Manziel was a mistake without a second year,but on the other hand,a decision to play Manziel could end in disaster if he performs in the manner that he did last year.
If anyone wants to give anything for him,I think I'd take it,but a outright release such as some are calling for is a stretch....
I liked the grit and moxie shown by rookie Connor Shaw in the final game against Baltimore and want to keep him around,but a lack of arm strength limits the upside of Shaw to be more than a quality backup...

The running game showed a vast improvement over 2013,but still was inconsistent.
Terrence West,Isaiah Crowell and the departed Ben Tate each had their big games,but each were benched at times and each had issues holding onto the football.
Tate showed an alarming lack of burst around the corner and wasn't used enough in the passing game.
The lack of speed likely was the main reason (other than a reported locker room issue) that Tate was released,but not playing to his strengths did not put Tate in a position to succeed.
I think Crowell is the more skilled and talented of the two returning backs and if I was selecting the player to carry the load,I'd select Crowell,but West was solid as well-when he didn't tap dance behind the line of scrimmage.
I think the Browns will select one or the other as the main back in camp and the other will see carries at a reduced rate.
The team talked a good game at fullback with Ray Agnew bookending that position with a cameo from Kiero Small.
Neither showed much in the passing game and neither looked to be anything more than average as lead blockers.

Ray Farmer was criticized for not devoting draft picks to a wide receiver and for a while,Farmer looked quite smart.
As the season progressed,Farmer's group began to come back to the field like a six furlong horse running a mile and a quarter.
Josh Gordon was disappointing and uninspired in his return from suspension and considering Gordon will likely miss the 2015 season to another suspension,Farmer's hand will be forced to do something (and maybe more than one) in the draft and/or free agency.
Miles Austin performed well when he was able to play,but once again injuries bit the former Cowboy and he is a free agent.
I'd be fine with bringing him back at the right cost.
Andrew Hawkins was very productive when he was able to be used inside in the slot,but struggled when forced outside due to the rash of injuries and suspensions.
Hawkins size works against him in the outside positions.
Taylor Gabriel was a nice sign as an undrafted free agent,but is small for a larger role than a 4th receiver.
Travis Benjamin is the only other Browns WR to catch a ball and he too is on the smallish side.
Ray Farmer is going to have to do something in the next few months.
Jordan Cameron has the ability to be a huge part of any teams passing game,but Cameron is a free agent and between being a little underused (24 catches on 48 targets in ten games) along with persistent concussion issues and a reported desire to be on the Western side of the country makes tight end a upgrade as well.
The Browns got more than expected from veteran blocking types Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge as pass catchers (30 catches for just under 400 yards between the pair) and both are solid blockers,but neither are the type of players that you would want to hitch your horse to as a starter.

The Browns offensive line certainly missed Alex Mack at center after his injury and it really hurt the running game.
I think the Browns would have been best suited keeping John Greco at center for Mack instead using Nick McDonald and Ryan Seymour there.
I understand the value of keeping the solid Greco at right guard,but desperate times etc and both McDonald and Seymour were sieve-like at center.
Joe Thomas might have had his best year at left tackle and rookie Joel Bitonio deserved Rookie of the year consideration at left guard.Mitchell Schwartz was adequate at right tackle,but no more than that.
I'm still not against a better solution than Schwartz at the right tackle,someone that is more of a hard nosed run blocker than Schwartz,who is more of a finesse' blocker suited to the pass blocking/deflect the rusher away of the previous west coast era...

Brian Hoyer wasn't great,but he did win seven games-although I wouldn't credit him with winning all those with his arm.

Running Back: B-
Fast start,slow finish brought this bunch back to the pack.
Two quality rookies and somewhat of a learning curve allows this grade.

Wide Receiver C-
The Browns got about all they could have expected from Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins and wound up expecting too much by Hawkins playing him outside.
Taylor Gabriel was a huge surprise,but still this is a below average bunch.

Tight End C
Jordan Cameron's season was disappointing,injuries or not,although Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge gave all that they had to offer..

Offensive Line B+
Grade would have been higher had Alex Mack stayed healthy.
Overall,a above average year despite post-Mack issues at the center spot...

Stay tuned over the next week when I take a look at the defense.

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