In the end, the Cleveland Browns 2012 season ended like so many others since 1995 - double digit losses.
The Browns finished 5-11, marking the 12th time in 15 seasons that the team finished with 10 or more losses. Yeah, it has been that bad. Of course, each offseason brings renewed hope. A decision here, a move there and the Browns could turn it around. Other teams have done it. When will it be the Browns turn?
What decisions or moves could change the Browns from a 5-11 team to a truly competitive team this fall?
For a team as young and as poorly coached as the 2012 Browns, 8-8 would have been a respectable finish. And within reach. Think back to the opener against Philadelphia, or the road games at Indianapolis and Dallas.
The Browns were so close to a victory, but one play - typically a mistake by a young player - cost the Browns that victory. In the end, the season finished with the ever-consistent double-digit loss total.
There is some talent on this roster, as evident by how the Browns were competitive in most games last season. Now, add a new front office and coaching staff, the Browns are in position to be one of those teams who transform from worst-to-first.
Before you start inviting Mike Holmgren to your playoff tailgate, these five things must happen.
Change in Coaching Mindset
This seems simple, but the last two years really drove the point home that coaches need to adjust their system to their players. Forcing Brandon Weeden to play as a West Coast quarterback simply doesn’t work. For years, the rookie quarterbacks struggled in the NFL because coaches forced their offensive system upon the player.
Now, with more dynamic quarterbacks entering the league, coaches are finding they need to adapt to their skill set and first-year quarterbacks are thriving. Mike Shanahan did it with Robert Griffin III. Pete Carroll did it with Russell Wilson. Rob Chudzinski did it with Cam Newton. Shurmur did not do it with Weeden.
Now, Chudzinski has an opportunity to bring what appears to be the right way to coach in the NFL to Cleveland. Hey, it’s a start and it brings us to the next thing that must happen…
Solve QB Question
Who will it be? Brandon Weeden? Joe Flacco? Derek Anderson? Colt McCoy? Case McCoy? Brad McCoy? At this point, just pick a quarterback and go with it. Weeden seems the obvious fit to Chudzinski’s penchant for downfield passing, but his age coupled with his inexperience could seal his fate in Cleveland.
Whoever the Browns go with as the starter in 2013, the good news is the Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner will develop an offense around his skill set. As mentioned before, that mindset has been lacking around Berea in recent seasons.
Cleveland has been a quarterback graveyard because of the mentality that a player must fit to a system. Now that the Browns have in place the idea to tailor what they do offensively to their players. A door may have finally been opened where, standing on the other side, is a dependable Browns quarterback for many seasons to come.
Veteran Wide Receiver
When not dropping balls or running poor routes, Josh Gordon and Greg Little appear to be a nice one-two punch for any quarterback. Gordon is the deep threat any offense would love to have. Little’s size and strength create the potential for him to be a go-to possession receiver.
But the Browns lack a veteran presence in the receiver room. He doesn’t have to be dynamic, just a pro’s pro. He needs to be someone who is dependable on and off the field and can provide an example to Gordon and Little on how to be an NFL wide receiver.
Capable Corner Opposite Haden
Or, really, anyone not named Sheldon Brown or Buster Skrine. In 2012, Joe Haden proved to be a difference maker. The Browns were 0-5 without Haden.
In today’s pass-happy NFL, it only seems proper to - if possible - have two solid corners.
The Browns need to find a replacement for the corner position opposite Haden, giving the defense an even greater advantage.
Even more localized, the AFC North features strong No. 1 receivers in Mike Wallace (Steelers), A.J. Green (Bengals) and Anquan Bolden (Ravens). In the past few seasons, those wide outs have primarily been Haden’s responsibility.
But as was evident over the course of the last few seasons, the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers have success in the air because they have multiple weapons. The Browns need to counter with two solid corners, not one really good one and Buster Skrine.
New owner. New CEO. New coach. New stadium name. New uniforms (coming soon). All these ancillary things add up to a movement toward culture change in Berea. Those are all nice, but the biggest factor in a culture change is to win. Sounds simple, right?
The Browns were a few plays away from an 8-8 season in 2012. Add these aforementioned moves and the chances of the Browns winning on a more frequent basis will occur and that’s when the culture change will be complete.
Unlike the NBA or MLB, the NFL small markets have the advantage when it comes to today’s athletes. The equal playing field means if you have a franchise that is going about things the right way, players will want to play for your team.
Do you think a multi-millionaire in his early 20s wants to live places like Green Bay or Baltimore? If you have that winning culture, those places can compete in the NFL.
Many past regimens have failed to change the culture, but in the few months Jimmy Haslam has owned the Browns, it appears to be changing and changing for the better.
Those are five changes I would make. What are yours? Let us know in the comments below.