The Most Notable Browns Players In An Up-And-Down Season
By Steven King
NFL seasons have now turned into rollercoaster rides. Teams are way up one week and way down the next.
So players, coaches and fans have to buckle their seatbelts and hang on tightly for their rollicking, 17-week ride.
The Cleveland Browns are at the top of that list this season – or maybe at the bottom, as it were. Through the first half of the year, they have been the poster children for this phenomenon. The swings have been dramatic and numerous.
The Browns went into the season on a real high, with plenty of optimism generated from the way they performed in the preseason. But preseason games are just that, exhibitions that really don’t count for anything. As such, that hopefulness crash-landed right away as the club opened the year with two disappointing losses to the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens in which it scored a combined 20 points.
Then, just when things had bottomed out and there didn’t seem to be any chance they would get better for the rest of the year, a change at quarterback from Brandon Weeden to Brian Hoyer sparked a meteoric rise with three consecutive wins.
But Hoyer suffered a season-ending knee injury, prompting another nosedive with three straight losses. Cleveland was without hope once again.
Then it quickly got turned around when QB Jason Campbell – whom the Browns finally went to only after it became painfully obvious to everyone that Weeden wasn’t the answer – put together his second straight good performance and led them to a 24-18 win over the Baltimore Ravens, whom the club hadn’t beaten in 11 tries dating back to 2007.
It was so good, in fact – 23 completions in 35 attempts for 262 yards and a career-high three touchdown passes with no interceptions for a gaudy 116.6 quarterback rating – that Campbell was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week. Interestingly enough, he is the first Browns’ quarterback to earn the honor since Derek Anderson in that 2007 season.
So the Browns are on a high again as they observe their bye this weekend, standing 4-5 and just two games behind the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals. It is their best record after nine games since – you guessed it – 2007, when they were 5-4.
The Bengals, who lost 17-6 in Cleveland six weeks ago, play at Baltimore on Sunday and then host the Browns on Nov. 17 in what is shaping up as a huge game – certainly Cleveland’s biggest since, once again, 2007.
But before we look ahead – we’ll do plenty of that next week – it’s time to look back more in-depth and hand out the Browns’ mid-season awards:
Most Valuable Player(s) – Hoyer and Campbell. Without them and the way they performed in five games, showing that the rest of the team is not really that bad if it simply gets good quarterback play, the Browns might be 1-8 or 0-9. Good quarterback play equates to winning games. It’s that simple.
Most Valuable Members of the Team – Coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner. They have steered the offense through all the quarterback issues and managed to work WR Josh Gordon back into the offense rather seamlessly after he missed the first two games due to an NFL-imposed suspension. And did we mention that the offense has had to function without a running game? Chudzinski and Turner have pulled off a Houdini act.
Most Pleasant Surprise – DB Buster Skrine. A year ago at this time, he was getting toasted on a regular basis while at cornerback. It was so bad you almost had to feel sorry for the guy. But this season, he has played very well. As the season has gone on, he has performed better and better and, as such, keeps getting more and more confident. He is far from being a liability now. In fact, he’s even played some at safety.
The runners-up for this award are K Billy Cundiff and P Spencer Lanning. Cundiff had the dubious task of replacing the iconic Phil Dawson and has done well, hitting 13 of his 15 field-goal tries. Lanning, whom nobody had heard of when he arrived in Cleveland for the second time in February, is averaging 45.7 yards per punt, which would be the third-best mark in team history if it holds up. He is also the holder for Cundiff’s kicks.
Most Disappointing Player – RT Mitchell Schwartz. As well as he performed last year as a rookie, he is playing that poorly this season. He is constantly getting beaten off the edge by speed rushers. What seemed like a position of strength on the team as late as early September now appears to be a weakness, one that Cleveland may have to address in the off-season, either through the draft or free agency.
Players Most Living Up To Their Hype – CB Joe Haden and OLB Barkevious Mingo. Haden has been pretty good since being the team’s first-round draft pick in 2010, but he has really stepped it up this season and has truly developed into one of the league’s top players at his position. It is a moniker that he was predicted to assume at some point and he has done it. Mingo is leading the club with four sacks, which is exactly what was expected from the No. 6 overall pick in the draft.
Player Most Failing To Live Up To The Hype – OLB Paul Kruger. The Browns paid him a lot of money when they signed him away from the Ravens in the off-season and he was easily the prize of their free-agent class. He hasn’t had any glaring errors but, at the same time, he hasn’t been the game-changer he was advertised to be. The Browns need him to get better -- now.
The runner-up for this award is CB Leon McFadden. A third-round draft pick, he appears lost and has contributed nothing.
Comeback Player – WR Davone Bess. In one short week, he went from being the goat for the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs – with three dropped passes and a fumbled punt return – to one of the heroes in the win over the Ravens with the first two-touchdown reception game of his career and a crucial fourth-down catch late in the fourth quarter that paved the way for the club to add some insurance points.
But the bottom line is that the way the season has gone thus far, with so many dramatic highs and lows coming on the heels of one another, it would come as no surprise if Browns’ year-ending awards featured a completely different cast of characters.