Why Has The Browns Offense Been So Bad This Season?

Through six games the Browns offense has registered performances that have ranged from passable to putrid.  Their biggest output came against the still winless Colts when they were aided by a few big Josh Cribbs returns, and an opposing offense that was listless for most of the game.  And their worst games have been much closer to the expansion years than that of a team that is still .500.

But why has it been such a struggle to get things going?  Certainly there are litanies of possibilities, but I have boiled it down to what I think are the biggest issues on offensive side of the ball.

 The offensive line shuffling.    It’s hard to get anything done without a good offensive line, and the Browns have not had one this year.  One of the biggest factors has been the changing personnel up front. 

Last year’s line went from left to right:  Thomas, Steinbach, Mack, Womack, Pashos/St. Clair.  With Steinbach out for the season this year the only full-time holdovers are Thomas and Mack.  Substituting a rookie and a second-year player with 0 starts didn’t feel like an upgrade, and it hasn’t been. 

The pass-blocking has been leaky, especially right up the middle, and the run-blocking has lacked the same punch from last year.  The fact that they let Lawrence Vickers go in Free Agency, and replaced him with another rookie certainly didn’t help.  The Browns took what was an area of strength and managed to turn it into a weakness in just one off-season.

Everything starts up front, and that’s where the Browns offensive issues begin.  Change this and most of their other issues would look more like blemishes and not serious concerns.   How different would the offense look if Colt McCoy had all day to throw, and the RB’s had big holes to run through?  Undoubtedly their productivity and points would be way up, which is why I have this ranked first.

However, there is still:

Odd personnel.  The Browns personnel just doesn’t fit what they are trying to accomplish offensively.  Most of that has to do with the fact that they have tried to transition from one offensive philosophy to its polar opposite. 

Last year the Browns had an offensive identity for the first time in a while.  They were a run first, smash mouth unit that overpowered several opponents (Including the Patriots and Saints).  They have tried to go from that to a quick striking West Coast philosophy that emphasizes finesse and execution over brute strength, and their component pieces aren’t yet built for that type of operation.

The West Coast would appear to suit Colt McCoy better, but they don’t have any quick burst running backs, and jettisoned their fullback for a rookie who was touted as a better fit, but who has been a disappointment in the passing game so far.  On top of that, they have a mishmash of receivers who don’t really complement one another, and a group of 3 TE’s that combined they essentially add up to one really good TE.

Add all that up, and you essentially have the awkward teenager offense.  It also doesn’t help when the groupings that have been used on the field have been questionable at best.  Rotating WR’s, not using Evan Moore,  and a strange use of the RB’s when both were available have helped prevent any real cohesion.

Lack of Playmakers.  This one is obvious, and it gets amplified by the first two points.  We know that the receiving corps needs to be improved, and the one playmaker from last year, Peyton Hillis, has been both absent and underused.  The problem is that the offense doesn’t have anything it really does well, or anything that can use as a ‘go-to” in a time of need.

Last year they could dial up a Peyton Hillis dive play in short yardage and it worked like a dream.  Throwing to him out of the backfield was also an effective fall back in a time of need.  A different offensive system and Hillis not being the superbeast he was last year has left the team with little to game plan around.

Bill Belicheck has always said that when game planning for an offense he tries to take away what they do best and make them beat you by doing something they aren’t as good at.  If you are a defensive coordinator facing the Browns, there is really nothing that would scare you.  There is nothing that needs to be game planned around.

I think the good news, if there is any, is that the offensive line will get Eric Steinbach back next year, and then just need to upgrade one position, and they do have two first round picks.  And if any one of those problems gets remedied it helps the other two.   I also didn’t mention Colt McCoy’s play, which would be greatly benefitted by fixing the glaring issues.   But, anyway you slice it, it’s not going to be a quick fix and it probably won’t happen this season.

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