Does Last Year Matter for the Cleveland Browns?


The Cleveland Browns are a team that always seems, and often is, in transition. From head coach to head coach. From General Manager to General Manager. From philosophy to philosophy. Last year the Browns went from a 4-3 defense back to a 3-4. They went from Pat Shurmur’s west coast offense to Norv Turner’s vertical game. From Pat Shurmur’s laid back style as the head coach to Rob Chudzinski’s aggressive approach. Now we once again turn the page to the Mike Pettine/Kyle Shanahan system with Ray Farmer in charge of the roster. It leads to the question: Does last year even matter?

Last year the Browns defense looked stellar at times, but as Terry Pluto points out, fell flat in late games:

"It’s up to Pettine and defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil to change this. When Pettine talked about being “better” than a 4-12 team when he watched tape of last year’s games, perhaps he meant the late-game collapses on defense.They allowed 9.1 points in the fourth quarter, most in the NFL."

Pluto also did a great job at looking at how the pass rushers did, not just sacks but the team’s internal tabulation of QB harrassments:

"Here was the harassment breakdown for those with at least 10:Bryant: 32Kruger: 24Jabaal Sheard: 16Barkevious Mingo: 13Billy Wynn, Phil Taylor and Armonty Bryant: 12John Hughes and Ahtyba Rubin: 10."

So Desmond Bryant, who missed 4 games with a heart issue led the team in embarrassments while the trio of outside linebackers followed in behind. A good sign, to some extent, that the main cogs in the Browns defense this year are all back, all relatively young and all should be improving.

Last year Josh Gordon led the league in receiving and had a span of games where he looked unstoppable. Jordan Cameron was a boon for the team as well, finally putting together his athletic skills with on the field production. Both of them had career years all while having 3 different QBs, with 3 different styles, throwing them the ball. While Gordon’s off the field issues will create problems this year, his on the field future is bright if he can get his act together.

So the question becomes: Does all of that matter? Does the defenses pressures predict future success this year? Will Cameron have another big year? Would Gordon have done so if he was/is allowed to play?

That is where understanding becomes important. Mike Pettine runs a similar system as Ray Horton in that they are both considered 3-4/hybrid defenses.  Yet what Horton values and what Pettine values varies greatly. In Pettine’s defense Bryant may be asked to hold the point of attack more so that the linebackers can make plays, while in Horton’s system that was not as important. It may not be good enough for Pettine if Paul Kruger only gets 4.5 sacks no matter how many harassment he gets, so Mingo or Christian Kirksey could see more time.

On offense Shanahan is less likely to force the ball to Gordon or Cameron the way Chud and Turner did last year. Had Hoyer started the rest of the year the odds are against Gordon having the same numbers he had. Hoyer, unlike with Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell, was willing to find the right receiver on time. The other two often forced the ball to Gordon or Cameron, either by design or lack of trust elsewhere. Hoyer on the other hand found the receiver that was open. Shanahan is also more likely to have a balanced run attack, something the previous regime was unwilling/unable to do.

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Does last year matter? Yes and no. We have learned a ton about some of the players ability to play the game but we know little about their ability to play winning football. Bryant’s stats could come way down while him being a far more productive player. Cameron, or even Gordon, aren’t likely to have the season or per game stats when balls aren’t being forced their way. Within the systems they were in, we learned a great deal. The new systems means what we think we know isn’t accurate anymore for the team. Wipe the board clean and start fresh once again, even as a fan.

What do you think does and does not carry over from last year?