For the first installment of this series, check it out here.
The 2012 Browns were better than the 2011 Browns. Not in every facet of the game, but as a team, this was an improved bunch. While not a model of brilliance and efficiency, there was marked improvement from Cleveland’s offense this past season. Let’s look at the numbers.
The Browns finished the season 24th in points scored and 25th in yards. They were 19th in pass yards, 24th in rush yards, 28th in pass touchdowns, 13th in rush touchdowns, and 17th in turnovers. Also, the Browns were 29th in first downs, 25th in yards/pass attempt and 21st in yards/rush.
Those aren’t very good, so let’s dig a little deeper. In short, it’s better than last year. More points, more yards, and even in the bad category – first downs – the 2012 squad eked out one more than the 2011 gang. I’m not happy with a 5-11 showing from them, but I’m not going to write off the fact that it’s an improvement.
In August 2012, knowing that the Browns were going to be anchored by a rookie quarterback, a rookie running back, and a seemingly unimproved lineup of wide receivers, imagine if you had been told the following things:
- The Browns will score over five points per game more than last year
- The Browns will be in the top half of the league in rushing touchdowns
- Greg Little would stop dropping passes after Week Six
- This Josh Gordon guy will average over 15 yards per catch
- Three players will have 50 receptions
- Montario Hardesty will average over four yards per carry
- Ben Watson (now 32) and Brandon Weeden (29) will be the only players over 26 years old to make any substantial plays for the offense.
Think about those facts for a minute. Josh Cribbs is 29, but his importance to the Browns’ 2012 season was almost exclusively in the return game (where he did very well, but we’ll get to that later).
There is a lot of room for improvement on the overall statistics, and the team is young enough to actually make those improvements. This is not an age set where mistakes are hard-wired into these players’ DNA (this is something I speculated over for a while, as I lamented the likelihood of guys like Mohamed Massaquoi never having been on an even mediocre team during their first contract).
Speaking of Massaquoi, his numbers from this year were pretty minuscule and I had some fairly high hopes for him after a couple of solid games to start the season. However, the injury bug took over and Massaquoi found himself behind Josh Gordon on the depth chart once he was healthy.
The passing game had flashes of very good in addition to two incredibly bad games. Weeden managed to simultaneously remind fans that he could do things no previous Browns quarterback could do and that he was a rookie who makes some terrible throws at really inconvenient times. On the bright side, his dad never mentioned his concussion status in a local newspaper.
As for the running game, the big story is as simple as watching Trent Richardson decapitate Kurt Coleman. There are other stories here, obviously: Hardesty becoming a solid option, Richardson’s nagging rib injury slowing him down, Richardson’s massive impact as a receiver out of the backfield (two catches behind Little for the team lead, nabbing 51 on the season), Pat Shurmur’s inexplicable desire to not run the ball in the second half of games, and Shurmur’s inexplicable desire to do…well, a lot of things. These were and are all stories. But seriously. I mean, seriously. Like…really.
So the point is this: the Browns improved. They still have a lot of work to do going forward, but they have pieces in place that are all young, have room to improve, and have a new system coming into place that – in theory – will be formed based on the personnel instead of just…not formed at all. This, to me, is a reason to be optimistic.