So CBS Sports ranks the Cleveland Browns 30th in the NFL, and Peter King of Sports Illustrated ranks the Browns dead-last.
I must admit that I am a fan of CBS football coverage; it is far superior to that of Fox and better than ESPN, although I certainly enjoy the Monday Night Football broadcast.
Beware of putting too much emphasis on these rankings, however. Do not forget that Peter King ranked the Browns dead-last before they went 10-6 in 2007.
For an analogy as to how inaccurate these types of rankings can be, take the predictions for the Browns’ offensive line before the 2008 season. ESPN ranked our O-Line the very best in the NFL, ahead of the Cowboys at number two and the Vikings at number three.
I may have missed something last year, but we got beat up. Our quarterbacks were punished regularly by blitzes up the middle and on the right side. Our line was imbalanced and telegraphed most of our runs. We surrendered 24 sacks (to our 17) and seemed to be constantly hurrying our passes.
We could have used #66, Gene Hickerson, arguably the greatest run blocker of all time and the unsung hero (finally inducted into Canton not that long ago) of Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Kelly. Some followers of this website may not know much about the history of the Browns, but a few minutes watching old footage of Hickerson will show you in spades what an offensive lineman is meant to be. It is a crying shame that the League waited so long to put him in the Hall of Fame, long after Gene’s health had deteriorated.
The importance of the offensive line cannot be overstated. We saw what the Giants did in 2007 with a very solid offensive line to help Manning in the pocket and to punch holes for the trio of running backs. Those of us old enough to remember can think back to the Raiders in the 1970s leading up the Super Bowl vistory in 1977. That success began with a great offensive line in the early 1970s with Art Shell at left tackle, Gene Upshaw at left guard, Jim Otto in the middle, George Buehler at right guard and Rob Brown at right tackle. And nearly everyone would be able to recall the Cowboys of the 1990s with a truly awesome offensive line which led to Emmitt Smith becoming a superstar and Dallas winning 3 Super Bowls: Mark Tuinei at left tackle, Nate Newton at left guard, Mark Stepnoski at center, Larry Allen at right guard and Erik Williams at right tackle.
We have a good opportunity this season to have a better offensive line in Cleveland, and the future looks solid at center with the draft of Alex Mack. The advent of free agents Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack from Seattle and John St. Clair from the Bears will help provide some depth and experience. Womack plays a little lighter than his weight, and St. Clair is viewed as a significant loss in Chicago as he was the anchor of that offensive line. We will have no difficulty on the left side with Pro Bowler Thomas and Steinbach. “Hank the tank” appeared to have lost a step last season, but part of that may be because he had to compensate for a weak right side. He is still one of the better line callers in the league. If we can get more play from Ryan Tucker on the right side, who played just one game last season, that will also help give more balance to the O-Line.
Forget about these power rankings. We have a tough division, but our schedule looks pretty good, and with a better performance from our offensive line, we can put the cake back on Peter King’s face. Go Browns!