Cleveland Browns: 5 keys to success in 2015

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Nov 16, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer (6) is sacked by Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt (99) during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

We may as well all agree that Josh McCown is going to be the Browns starting quarterback when the season opens on Sept. 13 against the New York Jets as it will make things a whole lot easier.

If the Browns are getting the McCown that started eight games for Chicago in 2013 and threw for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and just one interception, then the team have something going on offense.

But if it is the Tampa Bay-version of McCown? Well, then, you probably don’t need to keep any weekends open in January for playoff games.

“I think it was pretty clear to us when we looked into the results of what happened for (Josh) a year ago that a lot of those circumstances were outside of his control that made the year as difficult as it was.” – Head coach Mike Pettine

McCown went 1-10 for the Buccaneers last season as a starter, while completing just 56 percent of his passes, throwing 14 interceptions. He also took 36 sacks while playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. (Pro Football Focus ranked Tampa’s offensive line as the 25th-worst in the NFL, noting that “any time you’re forced to start Oniel Cousins it’s unlikely to go well.”)

No matter who you are, it is extremely hard to play quarterback if you are being sacked more than three times a game and getting hit numerous other times. With the return of Alex Mack from injury, and the addition of first-round draft pick Cameron Erving, the Browns clearly have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, so if they can keep McCown clean more often than not, he can be, in the words of Pettine, a “functional quarterback.”

While much of the attention this off-season has been focused on Pettine’s comment that it is “fair to say” that McCown is at the top of the quarterback chart, the real focus should be on the steps the team is taking to build a team that can carry McCown, rather than the other way around.

Next: Start Strong, Finish Stronger