Can the Cleveland Browns finally turn it around in 2020?
Coming into this season the Cleveland Browns have a roster full of talent but that was the case in 2019 and that talent didn't translate to wins as the Browns missed the playoffs.
Maybe the roster wasn't as good as everyone thought it was because there were several glaring holes and they showed but they addressed some of those problems in free agency and the draft.
By signing and drafting players at key positions and hiring general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski expectations are sky high once again in 2020. They also have Myles Garrett returning from suspension, a full year of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt working together, and a fully healthy Odell Beckham Jr.
Things have to be done differently this year on the field and in the locker room to avoid the same things that doomed this team last year. They have to be more disciplined and not commit as many penalties, they had 122 accepted penalties which was the eighth-most in the NFL.
They have to find a way to stop the run, they had the 30th ranked run defense. The signing of Andrew Billings at defensive tackle should help by eating up blocks and allowing the linebackers to flow and make plays.
Those are just some of the problems Cleveland faced in 2019. There will not only need to fix things they did wrong last year but also need to add some elements to their attack.
5. Utilize two running back system
The strongest position on the depth chart for the Browns is probably running back as they boast Nick Chubb who finished second in the league in rushing in 2019 and Kareem Hunt who was one of the best running backs in the league with the Kansas City Chiefs before being released and suspended for an off-field incident.
Hunt missed the first eight games last season and got some playing time when he returned but not as much if he would've had been with the team the entire season. Chubb was the Browns' workhorse and easily was their most valuable offensive player.
This offense was driven by the running attack and that will stay the same under Kevin Stefanski who is known for the zone rune scheme he ran with the Minnesota Vikings.
The zone run incorporates the offensive line moving sideways and the back finding the hole and exploding through it. That fits Chubb's style perfectly, he has breakaway speed and the ability to break a tackle in the secondary
It may take Hunt a little more time to adjust to that type of offense so early in the season he will probably be used more in the passing games on screens and short passes which is also a big part of this offense.
If they rotate Chubb and Hunt their individual numbers may take a hit but it will help keep them both healthy and on the field for the entire season.
4. Better situational play-calling and game management
If you go back and watch the tape the Browns played well in a lot of games but there were mistakes made on the field and by the coaching staff that caused them to fall short.
There were times when the game would be close nearing halftime and Cleveland would have a chance to seize the momentum, but they would call three bad plays in a row and give the ball up.
Or the passing attack wouldn't be working but pass plays kept being called while Browns fans were surely at home screaming for them to give the ball to Nick Chubb. But at times it seemed like they were just forcing things and getting away from what they were doing well.
For example, when they jumped out to a 20-6 lead against the Seattle Seahawks in the first half. They didn't run any clock and continued to give the ball back to Seattle who scored 10 points in the final eight minutes before halftime.
Cleveland still had the lead and lost the game on a touchdown in the fourth quarter but they had a chance to have a commanding lead going into the halftime instead they let them back in the game.
They didn't execute well sometimes but play selection failed the Browns too many times last season. If they can clean that up that should be good for at least a few more victories.
3. Get more help from the secondary and linebackers
2019 was a good season for the defensive line until they lost their backbone, Myles Garrett. There were several games last year where the defensive line didn't have a chance to make an impact because the linebackers and secondary couldn't hold their weight.
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Some of that was due to injuries. Nobody started more than 12 games in the secondary and their starting cornerbacks, Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams missed the first four games with injuries.
Starting free safety Morgan Burnett only played eight games before he got hurt and missed the rest of the season and Damarious Randall was the starting free safety for much of the season, but Browns fans know about all the troubles he had last year and those are a why he won't be with the team this season.
The linebackers also suffered key injuries as Christian Kirksey, a team captain, got hurt in Week 2 and missed the remainder of the season and was replaced by a rookie Mack Wilson.
Wilson and Joe Schobert both struggled to get avoid blockers and make plays in the running game. They were both good in pass coverage but didn't do much to help get pressure on the quarterback.
Schobert signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency for a big price tag so it is unclear who will occupy the middle this season. The Browns did sign B.J. Goodson who spent the last few years with the Green Bay Packers.
Goodson is far from being a sure thing at middle linebacker but he may be the best option Cleveland has right now. They need a much more consistent year from both units to help balance out their defense.
2. Make headlines with your play on the field
Too many times under Freddie Kitchens last year, the story of the Browns was something that didn't have to with their play. There was a variety of incidents and even Kitchens himself wasn't sparred from making negative headlines.
There was the incident with Baker Mayfield getting into a back and forth with long-time Cleveland reporter Tony Grossi. Grossi would later be caught making demeaning comments about Mayfield and it nearly cost him his job, but Mayfield should have known better than to engage him.
Then there was the most infamous incident when Myles Garrett ripped off the helmet of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph then hit him in the head with it. Then Kitchens poured gas on the fire by wearing a shirt poking fun at the situation.
Not to mention that you couldn't watch the NFL without seeing at least three different Progressive commercials featuring Mayfield. This wouldn't be a problem if he and the team were playing better.
The Browns had terrible discipline in 2019 and that contributed to a lot of problems. But this offseason has been vastly different, Kevin Stefanski seems to be a much more stable coach and Mayfield has barely made any noise.
When your leaders lead in that way everyone else will follow which has happened. The focus seems to be on football and putting all the talent on this roster to good use.
1. Better play from the quarterback position
Not breaking any news here, we all know what the quarterback is the most important position in football and the Browns didn't get enough production from Baker Mayfield last year.
There was a multitude of reasons for it; playcalling, offensive line, inaccuracy, and turnovers were a major killer. Not all of that falls on Mayfield's shoulders and they have taken steps to fix some of those things this offseason.
They fired Freddie Kitchens who was also calling offensive plays, and they signed Jack Conklin and drafted Jedrick Wills.
Browns fans should have faith in Mayfield after all, he did break Peyton Manning's passing touchdowns record as a rookie. But this is a big season for him, if he plays well he could get a new contract and a big payday and if he fails Cleveland may not pick up his fourth-year option.
Notice the title of the slide doesn't say Mayfield needs to play better because if he turns the ball over as he did in 2019 he may not be the starter. The Browns signed Case Keenum who was with Stefanski in Minnesota.
Stefanski believes in Keenum because he saw him take the Vikings to the NFC championship in 2017. That was possibly the best season for Keenum and Stefanski so he won't hesitate to turn to somebody that he has success with in the past.
Mayfield will start the season and has more talent then Keenum but he has to improve on what was a disappointing 2019 where he struggled but there was no threat of losing his job.
That won't be the case this season it's fight or flight or Mayfield but that seems to be the situation he thrives in.