It’s the one thing we as football fans can always depend on. As sure as the sun sets over Lake Erie each night, we can depend on a new season bringing hope for the city’s beloved football team.
Unfortunately, this hope creates anxiety in Browns fans, which leads to optimism and ultimately frustration. That frustration mounts over the years, creating a black hole of disappointment and later, hatred. Eventually that hatred brews and festers until it manifests itself and eventually the unthinkable happens:
They convert into Steelers fans.
Browns fans, I bring you good news today – this year will be different. Expectations will be met, and you will see a Browns team worthy of your praise and adoration. Head coach Eric Mangini will deliver on the promise of a better tomorrow, and the Cleveland Browns will field a competitive football team.
…Or at least I hope so.
While the NFL remains as unpredictable as ever, there are several measurable goals we as Browns fans can expect from this year’s incarnation of the football team.
The Browns will NOT make the playoffs in 2009.
Let’s not kid ourselves, this team is still a year away from playoff contention. Despite his work ethic and his passion for football, Eric Mangini cannot perform miracles. Until I see Eric Mangini turning water into Gatorade on the sidelines, my playoff expectations shall remain dormant.
For one, the AFC North is one of the toughest divisions in football. Defensive juggernauts in Baltimore and Pittsburgh will undoubtedly impede any 2008 Dolphin-like progress the team may see. Anything can happen in the NFL, but some things are more realistic than others. While the Browns should be much improved from the team we saw in 2008, it is unlikely that improvement will land them a playoff birth.
Cleveland will rank in the top 10 in terms of fewest penalties committed.
Regardless of how the Browns fare on either side of the ball, Cleveland will field one of the most disciplined teams in professional football. One of the hallmarks of an Eric Mangini coached football team is an emphasis on execution and a minimization of self-inflicted wounds.
From 2006 to 2008, Eric Mangini’s Jets ranked third, second, and sixth overall terms of fewest penalties committed in a season.
Eric Mangini has already put measures in place to ensure the Browns continue the positive trends he started in New York. Players routinely learn and practice through noise in OTAs. Those who commit “mental errors” such as false starts and turnovers are forced to run laps as atonement for their mistakes. Such practices will undoubtedly allow the Browns to function and remain competitive against the toughest of competition.
The Browns will win at least 7 games this season.
It’s hard to predict wins and losses, and it’s even harder to do so accurately, but the Cleveland Browns should find a way to win at least 7 games this season. Contrary to popular belief, this team is not the rebuilding project their 2008 record seems to suggest. Many players from the 2007 season (in which the Browns finished 10-6) are still with the team.
Defensively speaking, the Cleveland should be much improved from the team that finished 28th overall in total defense. Another year in the books means more experience for the promising D’Qwell Jackson along with cornerbacks Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright. Defensive lineman Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams have played their first full year in the 3-4 defense, and that experience may prove invaluable heading into the 2009 season. All of these factors will enable the Browns to field a competitive football team that finishes right around the .500 mark.
Jerome Harrison will have an expanded role on offense.
There will be more #35 in 2009.
Since he was hired as head coach, Eric Mangini has taken the players and systems he developed in New York and transitioned them directly into Cleveland. So far, the Browns have used similar draft philosophies, players, and personnel from Eric Mangini’s past.
Assuming these trend continues, the Cleveland Browns’ offense should look very similar to that of the 2008 New York Jets.
Last year with the Jets, Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was part of an offensive system which featured the thunder and lightning combo of Thomas Jones and Leon Washington. In this system, the speedy Washington received 123 touches (76 attempts plus 47 receptions) while accounting for 18% of the Jets' carries.
Under former Browns coordinator Rob Chudzinski, Jerome Harrison received 46 touches (34 attempts plus 12 receptions) while accounting for a mere 8% of Browns carries.
Daboll and Mangini have placed an emphasis on the change of pace running back, and that should benefit not only Harrison, but the Browns’ running game as a whole.