Very rarely do we find a Browns team worth getting excited about. It’s nearly impossible to. Since becoming a team again in 1999, Cleveland has gone through seven head coaches (the newest hire will be their eighth), 20 quarterbacks, and a whole lot of bottom shelf liquor.
The 2013 season looked promising, as the Browns started the season 3-2, beating divisional rival Cincinnati in the process. And then in typical Cleveland Browns fashion, the team collapsed and finished 4-12. As a result, they fired head coach Rob Chudzinski after one season.
Cleveland fans deserve better. Much better. And there certainly is some hope. But before we get into that, let’s first take a deeper look into this 2013 Browns team.
Perhaps I should just changed the heading to this section to, “Josh Gordon”. After all, seeing their second-year receiver go absolutely bonkers this season was the clear top-choice of the “good” section.
Gordon finished the year with the second-best Reception Net Expected Points total in the league, the fourth-highest Target NEP and a top-10 Reception NEP per target average among receivers with 50 or more receptions. In other words, Josh Gordon was good. Really good.
And he did it all in 14 games, with three different quarterbacks and Willis McGahee as his team’s primary running back. Oh, and did I mention the guy who lined up across from Gordon had the absolute worst Target NEP total of any receiver with 30 or more receptions?
An easy argument could be made in favor of Josh Gordon being the top receiver in the game this year.
It wasn’t just Gordon for Cleveland, though. The Browns offensive line sent Joe Thomas and Alex Mack (not the one who was drenched in GC-161) to the Pro Bowl, along with tight end breakout Jordan Cameron.
Cameron, who started the season off hotter than any other tight end in the league, still finished the 2013 campaign with the third-highest Reception NEP total of all relevant tight ends, only behind Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez.
The Browns secondary, like the rest of the team, started well, and they actually had the fifth-best pass defense according to numberFire metrics at the conclusion of Week 5. Joe Haden, T.J. Ward and company slowly got worse, however, and finished the year as the 16th-best unit. Not great, but since it’s the Browns, we’ll put that in the “good” section.
Overall, the Cleveland offense had some bright spots, and the defensive side of the ball showed signs that it could be solid as well. But trust me, there were some bad areas of this team in 2013, too. You don’t lose 10 of your last 11 games by doing many good things, right?
Cleveland fans: As you read this section of the article, continuously whisper the words “Josh Gordon." It’ll make things better, I promise.
Let’s get right to it – the Browns quarterback situation was bad this season. Jason Campbell (-25.60) and Brandon Weeden (-27.81) combined for a -53.41 Passing NEP total, which created the second-worst NFL quarterback behind only rookie Geno Smith. When adjusted for strength of schedule, the Browns passing game ranked 23rd in the league, despite having the most talented up-and-coming receiver in the game.
The running attack wasn’t any better. With two Pro Bowl offensive lineman, Cleveland still managed a bottom-half rush offense, led by the sixth-worst rusher in terms of Rushing NEP in the entire NFL, Willis McGahee. Though Chris Ogbonnaya showed some efficiency with his limited work, McGahee was anything but good throughout the season, finishing his first campaign in Cleveland with 138 carries and a 2.7 yards per carry average.
While the pass defense, mentioned above, was decent, the rush defense had some holes. Some of this was due to defensive end Desmond Bryant’s heart issues, but the team finished the season as the 24th-best run-stopping unit when adjusted for strength of schedule.
Josh Gordon, Josh Gordon, Josh Gordon…
What Should They Do?
The Browns have quite a busy offseason in front of them, especially considering they still haven’t filled their head coaching vacancy. They’ll also have to be ready to sign safety T.J. Ward and center Alex Mack, as both are set to be free agents.
As is the case for a lot of 4-12 teams, the top priority for the Browns will be figuring out what to do with the quarterback position. The Campbell and Weeden duo won’t work, and although Brian Hoyer could enter the season as a starter, doing that without any sort of backup plan wouldn’t be wise.
Both inside and outside linebacker will be a key for Cleveland this offseason, too, as they switched over to a 3-4 defense and will need to get a little better pass rush next year. Cleveland fans better hope D'Qwell Jackson sticks around.
The second wide receiver and top running back spots will both need to be looked at as well. Ben Tate’s been a name mentioned often with Cleveland, but given the value of a running back in today’s NFL, I’m not sure I’d want that as a Cleveland fan – going for one in the draft may be the better option. Davone Bess and Greg Little are of "little" value, though Bess did outperform Little in terms of Net Expected Points this season.
Keep your heads up, Cleveland fans. At least you have Josh Gordon.