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Forget About These “Power Rankings”

o-line

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!

-Clayton

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  • Coop

    I’m fully aware that the Browns are not one of the NFL’s elite teams at the moment, but it’s absurd for guys like Peter King to rank them as the worst team in the league. Let’s review a few facts.

    Fact 1. The Browns weren’t the worst team in the league last year, and since that time they’ve added several new starters — and no, I’m not talking about untested rookies, I’m talking about guys like Abram Elam, guys who are in the prime of their careers and have proven that they can play in the NFL. Peter King, who thinks that the 2009 Browns will be the worst team in the league, even wrote that he thinks Elam will become a Pro Bowl safety in Cleveland. So if we weren’t the worst team in the league last year, and we’ve added proven contributors since that time, including a guy who is supposedly good enough to go to the Pro Bowl, how can we suddenly be even worse than we were last year?

    Fact 2. Whenever an NFL team hires a new head coach, the odds are very high that the team will improve. See the 2008 standings following coaching changes in Baltimore, Atlanta, Miami, and some others I’m probably forgetting. This is not a coincidence. A new coach is replacing a guy who did a bad enough job to get fired. A new coach comes in and makes changes — in many cases, changes that needed to be made a long time ago. The players see that there’s a new sheriff in town, one who didn’t draft them and doesn’t owe them anything, and they realize that they either need to get their act together or head for the unemployment line. For these and probably many other reasons, the arrival of a new head coach almost always signals an improvement in a team’s won-lost record. I’m not saying that teams automatically turn into playoff contenders when they hire a new head coach, but their records tend to improve. So, since the Browns have a new head coach, their record should improve … and therefore it’s idiotic to rank them as the worst team in the league.

    Fact 3. The Browns’ 2008 season was ruined by injuries. They lost not only their starting QB, but also their backup QB. They played a large chunk of the season with the #3 and #4 QBs, who simply could not get the job done (and are no longer with the team as a result). Take any team you want, remove both of their best QBs for half the season, and see how great of a record they have. How good are the Colts if they lose Peyton Manning AND his backup and end up playing some guy they just pulled off the street? The Browns were bad in 2008 and I’m not making excuses for them, but the fact is that, without losing both Anderson and Quinn to season-ending injuries, the 2008 Browns would have been more like 7-9, not 4-12. Their 4-12 record was an aberration caused by key injuries, and there’s no reason to think those same injuries will recur in 2009.

    Fact 4. The 2008 Browns had one of the toughest schedules imaginable. The 2009 Browns have a much easier schedule. This year we play teams like the Lions and Chiefs. There were no such cupcakes on our 2008 schedule.

    Fact 5. Ever heard of the Plexiglass Principle? If you’ve read anything from baseball guru Bill James, this will be familiar to you. Basically, James studied hundreds of teams over an entire century and found that, when a team has a good season followed by a bad season, that team almost always improves in the next season. He called this the Plexiglass Principle. The Browns fit that pattern. They were 10-6 in 2007, 4-12 in 2008. Peter King seems to think we’re going to go 2-14 or 1-15 in 2009, but that would be an unusual pattern. I’ll spare you the math, but from Bill James’ findings, a more likely result would be something like 7-9, which is nothing to get excited about, but a 7-9 team is certainly not the worst team in the league. For a team to decline two years in a row following a 10-6 season would be VERY unusual. Obviously there had to be some talent on the 2007 roster, or else the team wouldn’t have posted a 10-6 record. Peter King seems to think that all of the talent from the 2007 squad has magically vanished into thin air as a result of one bad season. That seems like a strange thing for anyone to think.

    Fact 6. The “experts” seem to be wringing their hands over the idea that Brady Quinn might be our starting quarterback, because (as many of them say), he hasn’t proven anything yet. Look, nobody knows for sure what Quinn will do, but there’s a lot more reason for optimism than for skepticism. Brady Quinn was a superstud at Notre Dame. He took them to the Sugar Bowl; the minute he left, they went right down the tubes. The FOOTBALL OUTSIDERS, who have an advanced metric system to determine how college QBs will do as pros, rated him as a future star. Nothing that has happened since then has given any reason to think otherwise. He sat for a year and a half, learning the ropes and waiting for his chance. When he got it, in his first two starts, we scored 30 and 29 points. Then he got hurt, and we didn’t score another offensive TD the rest of the year. And people wonder whether he’s got a chance to be good? Let’s recap, people. With Quinn in the lineup for two games, we scored 59 points. With him out of the lineup, we didn’t score that many points THE REST OF THE SEASON. Call me crazy, but I think scoring points is somewhat important for an offense. And since we seem to score a lot more points when Quinn is on the field, I think I can live with the idea that Brady Quinn might be our starting quarterback.

    The bottom line is, there’s plenty of evidence (not wishful thinking, but solid evidence) that the Browns of 2009 will post a better record than the Browns of 2008. And I can absolutely assure everyone, including Peter King, that the Cleveland Browns, while they may not be one of the NFL’s strongest teams in 2009, will certainly not be the worst team in the league.