The Cleveland Browns took the loss yesterday in a game against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jags, who were expected most of the season to struggle to win a game and a shoe in for a the #1 overall pick, have won 3 out of their last 4 games. The Browns on the other hand have lost 7 out of 8 games and are far out of the playoff picture, but not quite bad enough to vie for the top pick.
Yesterday’s game may have been a perfect loss for the team though. In many ways this game showed the Browns what they have to build on going forward, and what they are missing. The loss also only improves their draft positioning.
What They Have
They have one of the best young, dynamic wide receivers in the game, Josh Gordon. Gordon set a record for most yards in 2 consecutive games, set a Browns record for yards for the second week in a row and showed resiliency in coming back from an apparent head injury. All of this with Brandon Weeden as the quarterback makes it more impressive.
They have a tight end to build around in Norv Turner’s passing game. While Cameron didn’t have an amazing game, 4 catches for 43 yards, he continues to be a threat. His numbers with Weeden as the quarterback are much lower then with Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell. With a new quarterback Gordon and Cameron comprise half of the needed skilled position players for a successful offense.
They have a defense that is of good quality, even if it struggles at times. Besides the first quarter touchdown and the Jags last possession touchdown for the win, both of 80 yards, the Browns defense wasn’t given much to work with. In the Jaguars other 4 scoring drives, 1 TD and 3 FGs, the Browns defense only gave up a total of 55 yards, an average of about 11 yards per drive.
They have Joe Haden a star, driven cornerback. While Haden has been beaten once each of the last 2 weeks, his post game, profanity laced interview showed his passion for winning. Both plays Haden has been beat on were due to overaggressive play. Its likely that Haden knows the limitations of his offense and is taking more chances to try to make game changing plays, thus leading to him getting beat. He saw his 2 early INTs, one for a touchdown, against the Bengals go for naught, which may have led to his current aggressive play.
What They Are Missing
They are missing a quarterback. While Weeden threw for 370 yards, over 70 percent of that went to Gordon. Weeden was also responsible for the 3 Browns turnovers with his 2 INTs and 1 fumble loss. Those plays led to 13 of the Jags points. While his quarterback rating was 94.8 his QBR, a ESPN stat that looks at the importance of the plays made, was only 29.0. Imagine a real franchise QB throwing to Gordon and Cameron.
They are missing a running back and complimentary wide receiver. The other half of the skilled position players needed for a successful offense is missing. Trent Richardson and Willis McGahee were not the answers at the RB position, while Greg Little and Davone Bess are not suited for the #2 role at WR.
They are missing a consistent pass rush. Even with all the money placed into Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant, draft pick with Barkevious Mingo and hope with Jabaal Sheard the Browns have been unable to sustain a consistent pass rush that leads to sacks. Yesterday against the barely mobile Chad Henne the Browns only got 2 sacks, but did hit him 5 other times. Part of this may be due to lack of confidence in the backside coverage, leading to less blitzing.
They are missing 2 quality coverage players. Between cornerback, linebacker and safety the Browns are in need of 2 more players who can provide quality coverage on the back end of the defense. Adding a quality corner and safety would allow more freedom for Ray Horton’s defense to attack in multiple ways.
They are missing strength on the offensive line. The Browns line has been pushed back from the line of scrimmage more often then they have pushed forward. Both in the running and passing games the Browns have struggled to move around defensive linemen. Adding a player, or two, either at guard or right tackle, that is a massive specimen could greatly increase the production in both phases of the offense.
The good news is that the Browns will have 2 first round picks as well as additional 3rd and 4th round picks, to add youth to their team. They also will have around $20 million dollars, or more, in cap space to spend to improve the team. The needs listed include 6 to 7 impact players. If 5 can be drafted in the first 3 rounds and 2 picked up in free agency, the biggest holes on the team could be filled this off-season quite reasonably. The key will be the QB, and it is very possible the Browns could trade multiple assets to fulfill this need, meaning a hole or 2 may be left unfilled.
So a perfect game in that the Browns clearly have certain pieces and are missing specific other pieces, but the loss continues to build the draft positioning. Clearly the Browns have needs but they have the resources to fill them this up coming off-season, whether they are able to or not is up to Joe Banner, Rob Chudzinski and Mike Lombardi.