Despite what all the little chicks with the crimson lips say about Cleveland rocking, the Browns have been stuck in the doldrums of the NFL ever since they re-entered the league as an expansion franchise in 1999. This isn't to incite anger in another teams fanbase, it's just the way it's been for the Browns in the last 12 seasons, and I imagine the added insult to injury is the fact that the Baltimore Ravens have been so good during that exact same timeframe.
The Browns are now on their sixth head coach since coming back into the league, they've posted two winning seasons, and they have yet to estabish a successful and sustainable offense or defense during that time. Ironically, the original Cleveland Browns were coached by Bill Belicheck from 1991-1995 before they moved to Baltimore, and their efforts to pluck coaches from his staff in New England with Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini have failed.
They have been unable to find themselves a true stars on offense or defense, and each time it appears that one is stepping up, the next season takes a terrible turn for the worst. What do the Browns have to do in order make themselves a viable franchise? Have they found themselves any franchise cornerstone players in the last two years? Is the city cursed? Are jokes about the city of Cleveland being lame well-founded, or is it as I suspect: Nobody has ever really been to Cleveland in person and it's existence is merely a fictional place created by Hollywood?
Normally on Mondays I would do notes on the previous days game, but it's my understanding that the Seahawks didn't play yesterday. Normally during the week I would give an eight-point profile of the oppositions star player, but the Browns don't have one. Even if I did want to do one on Peyton Hillis and "Eight Simple Things About Being a White Running Back," it appears that Hillis may not play this week.
Instead, I'm not going to count the number of points I want to make about the Browns, I'm just going to say some things that I'm thinking in preparation of Cleveland, and things that I think you should know about them if you don't already.
Peyton Hillis's 2011 Season is a Step Back for Equal Rights for White Running Backs
"I have a dream that one day white running backs won't automatically be listed as fullbacks..."
I don't know if Peyton Hillis has ever said this, but he did do what few white people have ever done before when he became one of the top running backs in the league in 2010. He ran for 1,177 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, 11 touchdowns, 61 catches for 477 yards and another two scores to not only win the hearts of Browns fans, but the hearts of white men everywhere who voted him as the Madden cover boy for this season.
Too bad for him that the curse has struck again, and not only was he disappointing this season (3.5 yards per carry, no 100-yard games) but it appears that a bum hamstring will keep him from playing the Seahawks and potentially sideline him longer than that. Instead, Hillis will serve as a consultant on the movie "White Men Can't Run."
It's So Hardesty to Say Goodbye
The Browns will most likely be using second-year running back Montario Hardesty. So far throughout his college and NFL career, Hardesty has chosen the Willis McGahee/Frank Gore path to running back stardom by amassing as much physical damage to his own body as humanly possible.
The former top recruit to Tennessee recieved a medical redshirt after just 6 carries in his freshman season due to a knee injury. He recovered to become the Volunteers top back in 2009 with 1,345 yards and 13 TDs, which prompted the Browns to draft him in the 2nd round last season.
The door for Hillis would not have been open last season if not for the fact that Hardesty tore his ACL in the first pre-season game of his career. So far, injuries have been the only thing holding him back from being a solid NFL running back and so it's not like the Seahawks will be facing a scrub at running back if Hillis isn't able to go. Hardesty has rushed for 143 yards on 40 carries (3.58 yards per carry) and added 10 catches for 86 yards, but will get his first shot at being an every down back against the Seahawks.
Don't Be Haden
As I eluded (edit: alluded, because I don't use this word nearly as often as affect/effect) to earlier, the Browns have always had difficulty finding players that not only play well for a season, but finding players that continue to play well after that.
Most of the high-profile guys are on offense: Kelly Holcomb, Derek Anderson, William Green, and Braylon Edwards to name a few. In their 12 seasons of existence the Browns have had eight different leading passers, nine different leading rushers, and seven different leading receivers.
They have found just as much inconsistency and disappointment on defense: Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren were high-profile busts on defense, and the franchise has still been able to find superstars that can realize their potential and maintain that level of play every year.
Cornerback Joe Haden hopes to buck that trend.
Right after the Hawks selected Russell Okung in the first round of the 2010 draft, the Browns took Haden out of the University of Florida. He was one of the top recruits in the country out of Maryland, and chose to play for Urban Meyer. He then became the first true freshman to start a game at cornerback to begin a season in the history of the Gators.
Haden recorded six interceptions and 18 pass deflections as a rookie, despite the fact that he only took over as starter midway through the season. So far this season he has eight pass deflections in only four games, and if he plays on Sunday, he will be hell for whoever he's covering and whoever the quarterback is.
Yes, I said if.
Haden missed the last game with a sprained knee and it's too early to tell if he'll be back in action on Sunday. That would be a huge break for the Seahawks offense, as backup cornerback Dimitri Patterson was picked on all day by the Oakland Raiders. This being an Oakland Raiders team that was led by Kyle Boller for half the day.
Browns went H.A.M. on Defensive Line in the Draft and It's Paying Off
While the Seahawks have worked on building a solid offensive line in the draft, the Browns went hard on defensive line in 2011, spending the 21st and 37th overall picks on defensive ends Phil Taylor (Baylor) and Jaabal Sheard (Pittsburgh) respectively.
It's going to be a battle of talented youth versus talented youth on Sunday for James Carpenter and Okung, with results forthcoming. Sheard has recorded two sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and 18 tackles in five games this season. Taylor has record two sacks and 23 tackles in five games himself.
The pass rush, in combination with the play of Haden and a soft schedule against lesser-talented passing teams, has vaulted the Browns to fourth in the NFL in pass defense.
Where Cleveland will be vulnerable is a rushing defense that ranks 27th in the NFL and hasn't allowed less than 100 yards in a single game this year. Without Joe Haden, the Seahawks will be able to throw it around a bit whether its Charlie or Tarvaris Jackson, but either way expect a heavy dose of Beast Mode on Sunday. The Browns allow 129.8 yards per game on 3.9 yards per carry.
Let's Take a Trip to Cleveland
The Seahawks will travel to the midwest this weekend and why don't we all learn a little something about the city together. Or maybe you already know stuff about Cleveland, I don't know. I know a lot of random things about the Sleepaway Camp horror movies but you don't see me bragging.
Their water is so clean that it's flammable. I mean, inflammable.
The Cuyahoga River is famous for many things. Just kidding, it's only famous for one thing: the fact that it's been so polluted at times that it's caught fire. And more than once. Times magazine famously once said that the river "oozes rather than flows."
The fires and pollution got so bad that it received the harshest punishment of all: Randy Newman wrote a song about it.
For they loved their founder so, that they almost named their city after him.
Much like the lie behind Jebediah Springfield's real name and identity (Hans Sprungfeld) the city of Cleveland was founded by a man not technically named "Cleveland."
General Moses Cleaveland led the expedition into the area we now know as Cleveland, Ohio thanks to payment in goods valuing $1,200 to Indians for the rights to enter the area and eventually traded enough goods to claim the land. In July of 1796, the party entered the Cuyahoga River and found the land that would become the city that eventually owned the Browns and then LeBron James for seven years.
Several days later, the River was packed with six-ring plastic soda can holders and empty pizza boxes so Moses Cleaveland got the hell out of there and never returned. (The part about Cleaveland founding the town and then going back to Connecticut the same year, never to return, is actually true. The guy who actually founded the place couldn't be there for too long. Ouch.)
The growth of the city was anything but rapid, starting out with four settlers in the first year, and then growing to only 150 people by 1820. Population peaked in 1968 at a count of 1,506 people and it's back down to about 150 now, which still ranks them ahead of Detroit.
Originally, it was called "Cleaveland" with the "a" but in 1830 they debuted their first newspaper and legend has it that they couldn't fit the entire city name on the paper so they just dropped the one letter that wouldn't change how you pronounced it, and so you had Cleveland Advertiser instead.
Rather than go with "Cleaveland Times" or "Cleaveland Local" they decided to just change the name of the town because that would be much easier. They thought about changing the name back to Cleaveland in 2004, but they still didn't have the technology to fit "Cleaveland Plain-Dealer" on the front of the newspaper.
The city was booming in the 1940's and 50's and at one point was the ninth most populous city in the US with estimated 914,000 people. Then things started to change and people started to bolt.
Population fell 4.2% from 1950-1960. Then it fell 14.3% from 1960-1970. Then it fell 23.6% from 1970-1980! By the time Thriller had hit, only 573,822 people were still in Cleveland. When the Browns came back to Cleveland in 1999, the team and staff alone rose the population by 700%.
In the 2010 census the city reported a population of 396,815, a 57% loss from the 1950 census. It can't all be blamed on LeBron, but it can't help that the Indians haven't won a World Series since 1948, the Cavaliers have never won a championship, and the Browns haven't had a title since 1964, six years before there was officially a Super Bowl. (The Browns/Other team names were one of the most successful pre-merger franchises.)
Sadly, this is where Seattle is headed in population decline if we don't get a ring you guys.
Colt McCoy and the Cleveland Longhorns
The Browns have searched desperately for a franchise QB in their history and have so far come up short each time. The first pick in the history of the expansion team was Tim Couch.
Couch was a highly-recruited football player, but he got confused and chose to attend the University of Kentucky, because he thought he was a highly-recruited basketball player.
Still, Couch set several NCAA records and put up some huge numbers during his two years as starter, including 75 touchdown throws and setting the record for highest completion percentage in a game with at least 40 attempts. The Wildcats threw the ball more than anybody else, and like players recently at Texas Tech, Houston, and Hawaii, Couch benefitted from that style of play to the tune of some pretty eye-popping numbers.
However, he also threw 36 interceptions during those two years and maybe in retrospect we can say that he was a bit overrated entering the 1999 draft. (I guess that's a major understatement.)
Couch had a few highlights during his five seasons in Cleveland, including being the only NFL player to complete two game-winning Hail Mary touchdowns passes (greater than 50 yards) at the end of regulation in his career, but mostly he was just bad. And the Browns have been trying to atone for that mistake ever since.
The latest hopeful project is former University of Texas quarterback Colt McCoy.
During his career at Texas, McCoy became one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NCAA history. He's the most winningest quarterback in the history of college football and the only quarterback to win at least 10 games in four different seasons. Like Couch, he also holds some completion percentage records, such as the highest single-season completion percentage (76.7%) and the UT record for completions in a game with 41 against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
McCoy returned to Texas for his senior season for a chance to play for the national championship and he reached his dream only to leave the BCS title game in the first quarter after suffering a shoulder injury. One of the few times in his career that he's ever been hurt.
Flash-forward to the 2010 NFL Draft and after all of the hype around McCoy coming out of high school, and breaking records at Texas, and finishing 2nd in the Heisman voting, he faced the same questions as many others before him have about whether his size and ability would really make him suitable for the NFL.
The Browns were able to draft McCoy in the third round last year, and though they had planned to let him sit third on the depth chart all season long in order to learn and develop, they made one fatal error: They made him third behind Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace.
Whether it was injuries or a desire to not watch Delhomme play quarterback, McCoy ended up starting half of the games, having to make his first start in week six against Pittsburgh.
The Browns would lose that game, but McCoy led them to wins over New Orleans and New England the following two weeks and they scored 30 points for the first time last season in those games.
Those would be the last and only wins of Colt's rookie year, but it seems apparent that they are better with him than with any other QB they've had in the last few years.
In his short career he's completed 58.3% of his passes with 14 TD against 12 INTs. He's accurate and he's made fewer mistakes this season, with 8 TD and 3 INT on the year, but he's still far from perfect. McCoy is last in the NFL in the percentage of pass attempts that go over 15 yards (12.9%) and his 4.5 yards per pass attempt is less than Donovan McNabb. The only thing you want to have less of that McNabb has, is fans that hate you.
The player who helps out McCoy the most, and one of the few non-bust draft picks that has ever come to Cleveland, is left tackle Joe Thomas.
The third overall pick in 2007 out of Wisconsin, Thomas has made the Pro Bowl every year he's been in the NFL. Seattle, while not adept at getting to the quarterback much this season anyway, will have an even harder time getting to McCoy, who has been sacked just eight times in five games.
Though McCoy is throwing for more yards per game this year, so is every single player in the NFL. Jon Ryan is on pace for 3,000 yards passing. In fact, McCoy is throwing for less yards per completion and per attempt than he did as a rookie. He's completed less than half of his throws on three occasions this year, and if it wasn't for the fact that he went a ridiculous 40-of-61 (ridiculous that he actually threw 61 passes in a game) against the Titans, his completion percentage on the year would be much lower.
I don't know if McCoy is going to turn out to be a franchise quarterback for the Browns eventually. Honestly, I think he was seriously underrated in the 2010 draft and probably should have been picked up sooner than he was. But I do know that at this point in his career, the Seahawks are facing a Colt McCoy that they don't necessarily have to fear. He's a good quarterback, and we're a suspect pass defense, but this isn't a matchup that swings heavily in the favor of Cleveland.
I will say more things about Cleveland later this week, and potentially tell you more things about the Sleepaway Camp movies (the younger sister of Bruce Springsteen plays the main character in Sleepaway Camp 2 and 3) but that's all I've got for you today.
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