Wednesday's summer film study takes a look at the Cleveland Browns, who have some talented players in spots, but not nearly enough of them. When you compare them to teams like the Eagles, Giants and Ravens, this is really a talent-poor team.
The challenge for Browns President Mike Holmgren is to balance the way he goes about trying to add talent to this roster. There was many of those in the scouting community who believed that Holmgren would draft a quarterback early, then focus on a receiver later in the draft with the selections he received from the Falcons in 2011's Julio Jones trade.
When Holmgren selected Alabama running back Trent Richardson, the pick made total sense. He plays in a division where a physical running game can go a long way in not only handling the weather conditions, but also keeping your quarterback from taking a pounding by the defenses of the Steelers and Ravens. Richardson was undoubtedly the best running back in the draft, and he deserved to be selected where he did. I know his predecessor at Alabama, Mark Ingram, won the Heisman Trophy, but when you studied the games, Richardson in my view was a more impressive player. What the Browns have in Richardson is a physical, point-of-attack runner who is not limited to carry the ball inside, but has the vision and skill to bounce the ball to the outside and get the corner. More importantly, he finishes with power. Richardson also does a nice job of catching the ball well in space. He could help Brandon Weeden much like Marshall Faulk during Peyton Manning's rookie season.
I have always been a big Colt McCoy fan from his days at Texas. I loved his durability and his leadership. He had that winner's mentality. In scouting, you look for traits to define these quarterbacks. I have always believed that if a quarterback was successful in high school and the same in college, he had a chance to be successful in the NFL. It was my way of eliminating the one year wonder during the draft. I felt like McCoy just needed some better weapons around him. I remember the Patriots and Saints games from 2010 where the Browns did an outstanding job of running the ball with Peyton Hillis, and McCoy was able to make some quality throws in the passing game. When I studied him recently, I didn't see any help for him. There were too many times when he was playing from behind, and when he did deliver the ball, there was a 50–50 shot it was going to be dropped.
The Browns do not have a threat at wide receiver unless you find a way to get the ball in Josh Cribbs' hands, but that's a struggle when Cribbs has to fight to get off the jam in press coverage. Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi were the starters in 2011, but I have never seen a receiver drop more catchable balls than Little. There were simple catches that he could not make. He didn't fight hard to get open on the slant. He was a liability in every sense of the word. Massaquoi physically looks outstanding and you see him make one catch, then totally misjudge the ball in the air. There was a reason Mike Holmgren had to use a second round selection on troubled Baylor receiver Josh Gordon - the inconsistency of this group.
The Browns, like the Cowboys of 2011, will start a rookie at right tackle. But Mitchell Schwartz isn't Tyron Smith. Joe Thomas at left tackle is a very steady performer who requires little or no help when it comes to blocking his man. It will be an outstanding matchup between Thomas and Ware during the Week 11 contest. Alex Mack is a dependable center and right guard Shawn Lauvao plays with a nasty streak. There were plenty of times against the 49ers, Ravens and Steelers when McCoy was scrambling for his life. If Brandon Weeden is the starter for the Browns, there are going to be problems, because he is not as mobile as McCoy. Offensive coordinator Brad Childress is going to have to rely on Richardson to take the pressure off of Weeden and find ways to get the ball quickly out of his hand.
On defense, the Browns have two outstanding players in cornerback Joe Haden and middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, but that is really it. It's a group that doesn't put much pressure on the quarterback with the rush. Defensive end Frostee Rucker was added from Cincinnati, and defensive tackle Billy Winn from Boise State should give the Browns some push inside.
Jackson is a very active Mike linebacker. He is all over the field, the one player the Browns have who consistently gets to the ball. It's rare that you see him blocked, and if he is out of position it is usually his fault because he overreacts to the play. Jackson is one of those linebackers who never comes off the field. He shows up in the running game, but you also see him reacting in the passing game.
Sheldon Brown plays cornerback opposite Haden, and Cowboys fans should remember him from his days with the Eagles. He is a dependable tackler who doesn't have much speed or quickness, but he reads well and plays with instincts. Haden is an outstanding press man corner that can also play off coverage. When he gets his hands on the receiver, he can take them out of the game. In the Arizona game this past season, Haden took Larry Fitzgerald all over the field and limited him to three catches and no touchdowns. Haden runs well and plays with outstanding quickness. He drives on the ball and is very sure-handed when the quarterback makes a mistake. Whoever he is matched up against for the Cowboys will have to fight for every catch.
The Browns will most likely not be very good when they visit Cowboys Stadium the week before Thanksgiving, but the Cowboys cannot allow them to come into their own backyard and take a victory.
Every game will be important down the stretch, with matchups against the Eagles, Bengals, Steelers and Saints ahead of this one. It's a game the Cowboys must win.