Without a doubt, the Browns’ experienced one of their worst offensive units of the expansion era this past season, accumulating only 218 total points (the fewest since the 2000 season and only one more point than the 1999 team). It was another season full of injuries to offensive playmakers, off-field issues, and questions at the quarterback position.
Here’s how this familiar story unfolded in 2011:
There wasn’t much about this offense to be excited about, though quarterback Colt McCoy showed signs of development at times. It’s still uncertain whether he can lead this team to the next level, but he deserves a real shot at it. Another season of draft picks and incoming free agents should provide just that.
And despite the storm of controversy that followed him throughout most of the season, running back Peyton Hillis closed out the 2011 season by showing glimpses of his break0ut 2010 season. In his last three games, Hillis rushed for 99, 112, and 30 yards, respectively, playing as if he realized that a new contract was on the line. It might not be enough to bring him back to Cleveland, but Hillis showed that, when healthy, he’s a key part of the offense.
McCoy finished the season completing 57.2 percent of his passes for 2,733 yards and 14 touchdowns to go along with 11 interceptions. Those are by no means stellar numbers, but he certainly did enough to warrant another look next season. Should the Browns choose to spend some of their top draft picks on offensive playmakers and sign a veteran or two, McCoy – and the rest of the offense – should look much-improved.
After all, it couldn’t get much worse.
There’s no dancing around the fact that the Browns’ offense was bad across the board. While you could argue that the quarterback play was hampered by a shaky offensive line and poor receivers, it doesn’t take away from the fact that neither Colt McCoy nor Seneca Wallace were all that exciting to watch under center.
But, at the same time, McCoy was also dealing with Chris Ogbonnaya being his starting running back at one point in the season. With injuries and off-field issues hampering Hillis, and Montario Hardesty proving once again that he can’t stay healthy, McCoy was stuck with third and fourth-string running backs through long stretches of the season.
The instability at running back has turned a once-solid position (for a year at least) into another that the Browns must address in the offseason. Neither Hillis (should he be re-signed) nor Hardesty can be counted on to last for an entire season, meaning a player like Trent Richardson must be considered with the team’s fourth-overall pick in April’s draft.
When it comes to the Cleveland Browns offense, it doesn’t get much worse than the receiving corps. This current group of wide receivers is likely the weakest bunch since 1999, leading the league in drops with 43. As a group, they accumulated only 1,935 receiving yards, which is only 254 more yards than the NFL’s leading receiver (Detroit’s Calvin Johnson - 1,681 yards).
Addressing this position in the offseason is an absolute must if the Browns intend on improving their record in 2012. They need solid route-running receivers, which is one of Justin Blackmon’s strengths. If he is there when the Browns draft at No. 4, don’t be surprised to see him selected.
No matter how you try to spin it, this was one of the worst offensive seasons for the Cleveland Browns since their return in 1999. Part of it stems from the front office’s conscious effort to make almost no offseason moves in an effort to truly gauge where the team was at talent-wise. Part of it also stems from the fact that the team is still trying to recover from some tremendously disappointing drafts before Tom Heckert and Mike Holmgren arrived.
Whatever the case may be, the point is that the Browns now know what they have, and it isn’t much. It is imperative that changes are made to the offense this offseason; otherwise, “blowing it up” and starting over once again will be a much more viable option.
Overall grade: D-