PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 08: Greg Little #15 of the Cleveland Browns reaches out for a pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game on December 8, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
"The Sunday Five" is a loosely-titled piece where I talk about five NFL- or Browns-related topics related to this past week. In today's edition, we take a look at the continued need for the a top wide receiver and what other positions the Browns should improve upon next season.
There's no game today for the Browns after the team's loss to the Steelers on Thursday Night Football, making Colt McCoy's record against the AFC North an unimpressive 0-8 over the span of two seasons. It's not easy to win in this division without a good supporting cast, but an example of one of the games the Browns should have had in the bag after Ben Roethlisberger's injury was Thursday's game. All the Browns really needed was one score, and they couldn't get it. Of course, it wouldn't be Cleveland if there weren't a lot of "ifs" thrown into the situation. "What if the Browns had better receivers?" "What if Pat Shurmur had called a QB sneak on the first drive?" "What if McCoy hadn't been put back in the game after his 'concussion'?"
Having better receivers would certainly help the Browns' cause. It didn't help that their best receiver at getting open, Joshua Cribbs, left early on with a groin injury. When you look at the past two games, drops have definitely been an issue. Meanwhile, you've seen young receivers flourish on our fellow AFC North teams. The Bengals had A.J. Green go in the air to make some great, game-changing plays. Against Pittsburgh, we saw Mohamed Massaquoi fail to break up an interception with the game on the line. Right after that, we saw the Steelers' Antonio Brown make a great individual play to seal Cleveland's fate.
Speaking of receivers, how many of you have been really turned off by Greg Little's lack of production the past several weeks? I understand that he is a rookie receivers, but just because a guy has been given a lot of playing time, that does not mean he is very good. Like the rest of our receivers, he doesn't seem to get very good separation. He doesn't catch the ball very well, and he when he does catch it, there is often a big bobble. He hasn't adjust well to balls that are thrown deep. The only thing I've seen from Little that is impressive is his ability to move a pile forward for a few yards after the catch, like a running back. If the Browns get a true No. 1 receiver next year, I don't think Little deserves to be handed the other starting receiver role.
How many positions can the Browns seriously improve in just one year? Amidst the lockout (pre- and post-lockout), the positions Cleveland were able to improve included defensive tackle, defensive end, and nickel back. Let's assume Cleveland can improve three more positions next season. At the top of the list has to be wide receiver -- if we want a quarterback to succeed, whether that is McCoy or someone else, they need to have a top target they can depend on. The other two positions I would go right now are right tackle and a linebacker.
Why linebacker? D'Qwell Jackson has done great this year, but there still has to be some questions about his long-term durability. Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita are very average in their production. We need one of the two outside linebacker positions to be better at defending the run. Our depth behind our current starters is very suspect. After a strong preseason, I've been disappointed with the production of Kaluka Maiava the past couple of weeks. If you bring in a new starter, Gocong or Fujita move to a backup role. That might end up being Fujita, as we have seen Gocong have some terrific backfield stops this season, including a great four-play stretch at the goal line this past Thursday.