When you think of Cleveland sports as a whole, most fans would have to laugh. Just when ten steps are taken forward twelve are taken right back. This statement is never more true than with the Cleveland Browns. Every year fans just want to believe in something and believe that change is coming. Even with the hope and belief of change they are still let down.
Coming into the season expectations were not high, but there was optimistic hope for change. A new owner came into the fold with Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam. Haslam candidly spoke out about bringing a winning culture to the team. He hired a new regime that had prior NFL experience in Mike Lombardi and Joe Banner. He hired a head coach that finally understood how the loyal, diehard fan base feels in Rob Chudzinski who is also a Toledo native.
Things looked like they were finally starting to come together for once with an owner that actually cared about the team rather than just spending money like crazy on mistakes and setbacks. However, it was business as usual and held true to the saying “the same old Browns.”
They ended the season by going 4-12 after a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 20-7. That now makes them 77-163 since coming back in 1999. That is the worst record combined in the NFL since that time. Bad quarterback play by Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell could be attributed to the struggles since Brian Hoyer went down against the Buffalo Bills in Week 5. A non-existent running game since the trade of Trent Richardson could also be the issue.
The Browns went through six different running backs, finally striking gold two weeks ago with Edwin Baker. They converted a running back who has always played the position into a fullback with Chris Ogbonnaya, and that failed miserably. Defensively the team was not bad, but down the stretch all the flaws came to light and showed how overrated they really were.
Paul Kruger, who was the big free agent signing, was a bust. He only amassed 47 tackles and 4.5 sacks. The team expected more from a player they signed for five years, $40.5 million. Barkevious Mingo, who was the 6th overall pick, was a huge disappointment with only 26 tackles and four sacks. D’Qwell Jackson had a good season, but Craig Robertson under achieved as an inside linebacker.
While Joe Haden was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, his counterpart Buster Skrine was terrible. He had games where he held his own, but he still lacked size and talent for the position and it showed. T.J. Ward played hard mainly because it was a contract year, and he is likely going to test the free agent market. The only stability the Browns have defensively is the defensive line led by Phil Taylor. They also had their ups and downs.
Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron emerged as the future of the AFC at their positions while Greg Little and Davone Bess regressed. Little was so bad that he lost his starting spot to Bess for a few games. Bess single-handedly lost the game against the then undefeated Kansas City Chiefs by dropping key passes on different drives.
It was a revolving door at the right and left guard spot all year, and it is another reason why the run game was as stagnant as it was. Mitchell Schwartz was a joke at right tackle and could not hold anybody or pick up any blitzes. That position was not addressed either. However, even with all the regression this season nothing will compare to how it finally ended. Not only did the Browns lose the game, but coach Rob Chudzinkski was fired right afterwards. This is the main reason the Browns do not have stability like other franchises. They have had 15 coaches since coming back in 1999, and the Steelers have had only three coaches since that time.
What looked like a promising change for the future is now a step back to the past that Browns fans know all to well. A new coach means a new system offensively and defensively along with a waiting period for everything to come together. This is just more agony and grief for a tortured fan base that deserves so much better. But as the adage goes, there’s always next year!