Browns Bye Week Analysis: Underachieving Units


Already Week 4 in the NFL and already the Cleveland Browns have their Bye Week. For a younger team this isn’t the worst thing as the coaches have a chance to review film and get the players ready for the rest of the season. For older teams this bye means their older bodies will go through the remaining 13 games with very little rest. Far worse for them. No team likes the early bye but the Browns could benefit greatly.

The team took this week to game plan for itself. The offensive coaching staff game planned against the defense and vice versa. A really interesting concept that will help the sides of the ball understand themselves better. Just another sign that increases fan confidence in Mike Pettine and his staff.

Today we will take a look at a few units on the team that have underachieved compared to expectations this off-season. Later we will look at units on the field that have overachieved expectations.

We start with the units that have been relative disappointments. With these realize that the narrative about these units entering the season greatly impacts how they are looked at at this point in the season. Like a movie with a ton of hype and commercials that your friends tell you is the best movie of all time. Your expectations are high going into it. Can lead to disappointment once you see it.

Defensive Line

During Training Camp much of the conversation was about whether the Browns would trade one of their talented defensive linemen because they had so many. The thought was that the Browns had 6 or 7 linemen who could start for many teams. With Desmond Bryant, Phil Taylor, Armonty Bryant, Billy Winn and John Hughes on the outside as well as Ahtyba Rubin and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen on the inside, the Browns seemed to be stacked. Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo were also seen as players that might play on the line. Even practice squad rookies Calvin Barnett and Jacobbi McDaniel were seen as players with high futures.

Instead, due to injuries and poor performance, the line has been a disappointing and under achieving. The Browns currently rank 28th against the run and 27th against the pass (yes the DBs are next on the list). The team as a whole is only credited with 5 sacks on the season, tied for 18th in the league. Their pressure has led to 3 interceptions but in general the line has almost made plays all season in the pass rush. In the run defense the team has gave up huge runs, and consistent yardage, all season.

Given the expectations going into the season the Browns defensive line is a huge disappointment. They have a great chance to turning things around in the rest of the season. Giving credit where it is due, the Browns have faced 3 top flight QBs so far this season. Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees and Joe Flacco give many defenses fits. The Browns ability to stop the run and get to the quarterback with the defensive line could define the rest of the season.

Defensive Backs

With Mike Pettine coming in as the head coach the Browns put a big emphasis on the defensive backfield. The Browns extended Pro Bowl corner Joe Haden to a huge contract, drafted Justin Gilbert and Pierre Desir as well as signing free agent safety Donte Whitner this off-season. Those additions, along with the new system, were suppose to be enough to turn the unit into a Top 5 to 10 one in the NFL. Last year the Browns gave up the 8th fewest passing yards in the league. The expectation was that the new players would help “Lock Down the Lake.”

Instead the defensive backfield has had problems in 2 out of the 3 games, and in the lone game they played well Jimmy Graham lit them up. In less than a quarter of the season the Browns have given up 20% of the passing yards they gave up last season. Teams have found ways to exploit the secondary to pick up yards short and long. The two units, defensive line and secondary, are complimentary pieces. The struggles of the secondary hurt the pressure by the line and vice versa.

After expecting the Browns to shutdown other team’s passing games the secondary has done the opposite. Instead, paired with the struggles of the line, the Browns defense has let the team down. Instead of being the strength of the team it is a weakness, at least so far. With the talent on the field and the history of Pettine’s defense both the line and DBs are likely to show significant improvement in the next 13 games.

Special Teams

A much different issue than the first two is the Browns special teams. Browns fans have been blessed with solid to great special teams play for years. It really isn’t even something fans have spent much time thinking about. Whether Phil Dawson, Josh Cribbs and even Travis Benjamin the Browns have had some stars in this unit. Cribbs even doubled as a special teams ace in chasing down kickoffs and punts.

This season has been different. It isn’t just the blocked and missed kicks last week. It has been the lack of explosive and sometimes even solid plays that have been a part of the Browns special teams for years. Catching punts instead of allowing them to be downed inside the 10 or 5, making clean tackles and making the simple parts of field goal attempts all have been complicated for the Browns this season.

Unlike the first two concerns this area is generally fixed with new players. Whether that is changing out players on the unit or bringing in a new long snapper or kicker, the Browns have ways to improve the unit both internally and externally. Giving more time to these units also will be helpful during the bye week. With new units going in on offensive and defense, it is possible that the Browns did not give enough attention to special teams during camp. It is also possible that the players, overwhelmed with the new information, spent most of their energy and time in preparation elsewhere.

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Tight End

Really this is about Jordan Cameron. Obviously he was injured for one and a half games so far but his production during the game and a half has left something to be desired. Cameron, coming off a Pro Bowl season, was expected to be a big piece of the Browns offense. He is the only starter with the big play capabilities and that has the kind of height to be a big weapon in the redzone.

Instead Cameron has been limited to three receptions for 70 yards. He has only been targeted 8 times as well. With Brian Hoyer making quick decisions he needs his receivers to run their routes cleanly with sharp breaks. Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel have excelled in that type of offense, Cameron hasn’t adjusted his game quite yet to do so.

With his talent, and a bye week to get healthy, Cameron could quickly break out of his season slump. Adjusting to Kyle Shanahan’s offense and being the primary target of the defense is not an easy task. Cameron’s numbers may not rise to the level of last season but his impact could be even greater.

So who has disappointed you? Do you agree with our list?