If you look at the Browns since the re-birth in 1999, the one common theme with the franchise’s struggles has been an overall lack of toughness on the field. As a whole, the offense usually failed to run the football with any consistency. Defensively, the Browns failed miserably to both stop the running game and rush the passer, period. Throw in the failure to develop a quarterback and there really isn’t a more perfect recipe for losing. Folks, we are talking about 11 years of this crap and are all very familiar with this story by now.
However, something did indeed finally seem to take shape when you look at the end of the 2009 Browns season. By now all Browns fans are well aware of the four-game winning streak to close out the season. Sure, those wins were against four below average teams, but so what? What really should stand out is the manner in which the Browns were able to accomplish this.
For the first time since the Bill Belichick coached teams in the mid-'90s, the fans of
Most importantly to Browns fans, the team beat the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first time in seven years. What made the victory all the more satisfying wasn’t so much the 13-6 score, but that the Browns dominated the Steelers physically. The victory was led by running the ball well against a very good defense and a Browns pass rush that took down Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger eight times.
Do you sense a theme yet?
All this came under the leadership of former Belichick disciple, first year Browns head Coach Eric Mangini. Some reasons for the improvement are as simple to explain as the acquisition of first round draft pick Alex Mack to play center and anchor the offensive line. Other reasons for the team’s developing turnaround include Mangini and Ryan bringing some of "their guys" to step into their defense to help out during the weeding out process.
That process is only going to now be expedited with the help of new Team President Mike Holmgren and a man whose strength is the draft in GM Tom Heckert. Both men bring a lot of experience from winning programs. Most importantly, for the first time since the expansion birth, the Browns will not have either a rookie head coach or rookie GM forced to learn on the job.
The results of the first offseason of the Mangini/Heckert program look promising and seem to be following Mangini’s plan. The recurring theme in the three defensive backs the team badly needed is that all can tackle well against the run and all aren’t afraid to play physical. The team’s top offensive selections, running back Montario Hardesty and offensive lineman Shaun Lauvao, will only enhance the improved running attack. Free agency and trades added veteran depth and leadership to both the linebacking unit and secondary.
What does all of this finally add up to? Finally, there is a Cleveland Browns team that looks like it may finally be ready to consistently compete in not just the NFL, but the black and blue AFC North. With both a running game and a defense they will, more often than not, stay in games.
Also, regardless of the fate of third-round pick QB Colt McCoy, the team looks to be finally in position to develop a top notch quarterback in the near future thanks to having the right support pieces around him. This is a scenario Tim Couch would have dreamed for a decade ago.
Granted, there is quite a ways to go for this franchise. For the first time in nearly two decades it looks like the Cleveland Browns may finally have a visible plan that is making some sense with a lot of promise to compete year in and year out in the one of the NFL’s toughest divisions.