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The Cleveland Browns were a major disappointment in Phil Savage and Romeo Crennelâ€™s second campaign. The Browns finished the â€™06 season with a 4-12, two games off their pace from â€™05. At mid season, the Browns seemed to be turning the corner with wins coming against the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons (away) along with close losses to San Diego (away) and Denver. At 3-6 and with 3 straight home games and some real optimism for a .500 campaign, the team tanked once again losing 7 of their last 8 and finishing the season with forecasts of gloom and doom from many observers. Crennelâ€™s future was shrouded in doubt.
Injuries once again played a major role in the teamâ€™s misfortunes starting with LeCharles Bentleyâ€™s knee injury on day 1 of training camp. The Browns finished 0-6 in the AFC North in 2006 leaving them with just 1 win in division play in the last 2 years combined. The Browns scored only 238 points all year, a mere 14.87 per game while giving up 356 points or 22.25 per contest. That math doesnâ€™t cut it in a division that includes the Ravens, Bengals, and Steelers. Itâ€™s hard to get wins when you turn the ball over, as the Browns managed a season ending minus â€“ 15 takeaway / giveaway margin to rank 31st, or next to last in the NFL.
The offense in 2006 was a story of mixed messages. The play at QB improved in the 2nd half of the season as Charlie Frye made strides in reducing critical turnovers before his injury in December and then back-up Derek Anderson contributed adequate play at times, albeit mostly inconsistent. The development of TE Kellen Winslow (89 catches for 875 yards) who was overlooked for the Pro Bowl and WR Braylon Edwards (61 catches, 884 yards, 6 TD) provide the Browns with a solid 1-2 punch catching the ball. Conversely, the running game never got untracked and the team finished 31st in the league rushing the football. The leading rusher was Reuben Droughns who managed just 758 yards on 220 carries for a sub par average of 3.4 yards per carry.
To have any success on offense in 2007, the Browns must vastly upgrade their running attack. The offensive line play has long been a problem for the Browns and the possible return of Bentley in 2007 should help stabilize the unit. Cleveland changed Offensive Coordinators in 2006 as Maurice Carthon was dismissed at mid-year in favor of Jeff Davidson. Now the team has hired Rob Chudzinski to replace the departed Davidson. "We have a number of holes," GM Phil Savage said. While he was talking about the team overall, it’s clear that a good number of those holes — and issues — are on the offensive side of the ball, keeping that unit on the front burner as the Browns begin preparing for 2007.
The Cleveland defense, like the offense played inconsistently throughout 2006. The final rankings reflect a unit that ranked near the bottom in total defense, allowing 344.8 yards per game. The Browns ranked 29th in rushing defense.
The pass defense earned a respectable ranking of 15, but teams were able to move the ball on the ground so itâ€™s difficult to accurately gauge the improvement, particularly when you consider the plethora of injuries in the secondary. On whole, the unit demonstrated some â€œbend but donâ€™t breakâ€ tendencies finishing 22nd in scoring defense. The team is banking on the recent draft class to build a respectable unit, and is particularly optimistic with the success achieved by first year player OLB Kamerion Wimbley who led the unit with 11 sacks and ILB Dâ€™Qwell Jackson who was a tackling machine before being injured late in the year. There are some older players on the line such as NT Ted Washington (38) and Orpheus Roye (33). The secondary was forced to find help as injured starters CB Gary Baxter and CB Daylon McCutcheon were replaced in the line up by promising young players like Daven Holley and Jerome Perry.
The most consistent unit on the Browns roster is their special teams grouping, particularly reliable kicker Phil Dawson and Punter Dave Zastudil.
The pressure is already mounting on Head Coach Romeo Crennel and one more losing season in 2007 would more than likely spell the end of his coaching tenure in Cleveland. The defense has potential to grow in 2007, but the offense needs to demonstrate marked improvement in the play of the offensive line and the running game can no longer remain dormant. GM Phil Savage seems committed to RB Reuben Droughns, but they may need to add a draftee or a free agent to establish more balance in the offense in order to complement an improved passing attack. It is clear that the future of the offense rests in the hands of WR Braylon Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow. QB Charlie Frye will likely remain the starter at QB, but donâ€™t be surprised to see the Browns make a move in free agency to bring competition to that position before training camp begins. Realistically, this team is still a couple of drafts away from becoming a playoff contender and the most optimistic observer cannot expect better than a .500 finish in 2007 for the Cleveland Browns.