Talking Cleveland Browns With Football Outsiders

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Dawgs By Nature recently had the opportunity for a little question and answer session with Robert Weintraub, who wrote the Cleveland Browns section in the 2012 Football Outsiders Almanac.

We asked five questions about the Browns, including why the running game took a step back in 2011, how Greg Little was evaluated, what the addition of Josh Gordon does, if the Browns have another good linebacker after D'Qwell Jackson, and whether the defense can build upon last season's effort or not.

DBN: "Last year, the running game took a big step back from the previous season. Was this because of the offensive line, or were the holes there and our running backs just missed them?"

Rob: "The O-line took a small step back, thanks to the loss of Eric Steinbach before the season. The running backs took a giant leap back. Peyton Hillis was a disaster, of course, and his replacements were ineffective. The Browns were dead last in the league in Second Level Yards, which means that the line took care of the first level of defense OK, but the backs did nothing to make the linebackers and d-backs miss. There was virtually no outside speed, either -- the Browns ranked last in the NFL in runs around right end, and second-to-last in runs around left end. Methinks that all should change with Mr. Richardson in town."

DBN: "In your Almanac, you do mention Colt McCoy's inaccuracy as a reason our WRs didn't get much YAC, but you don't mention sophomore WR Greg Little. What is your evaluation of him?"

Rob: "As debut seasons go, Little’s wasn’t quite Cop Rock, but it wasn’t Mad Men, either. He had 13 drops, second- most in the league behind Roddy White (who dropped 16, but also was targeted 180 times). That’s what happens when Mohamed Massaquoi is your spirit guide in practice. Little became a target of fan venom, mainly because it seemed that when Cleveland’s quarterbacks were actually on target with a throw, Little dropped it. Still, there is reason for optimism. Little did lead the team in receptions and yards as a rookie, no small accomplishment despite his shortcomings. Presumed new quarterback Brandon Weeden had a great on-field relationship with a similarly sized-wideout, Justin Blackmon. Little missed his senior season at North Carolina after a suspension for taking illegal benefits and missed crucial NFL practice time thanks to the lockout. A full offseason of consistent work could do wonders for his game, and he reportedly showed up to minicamps in terrific shape."

DBN: "Does the addition of WR Josh Gordon temper your criticisms about the failure to add a reliable WR or speed to this offense?"

Rob: "He can only help, provided he doesn't fall asleep at any more drive-thrus. He reminds of Little, in that it's been a while since he's played regular, big time ball. He's got speed and length, but his route tree didn't have many branches at Baylor, and that was a while ago. I wouldn't expect much from Gordon this season. Still, the last Browns pick out of Waco worked out pretty well (Phil Taylor)."

DBN: "The Browns' pass defense was highly rated in 2011. Is this something you see the Browns doing again this season?"

Rob: "I would categorize the Browns pass D as more middle of the pack than highly rated in 2011 (we had them at 17th against the pass). A full season's worth of T.J. Ward would keep them pushing forward. In Joe Haden and Ward, the Browns have two potential studs in their secondary, and that's a good start. Much depends on whether the pass rush improves from a poor 27th in Adjusted Sack Rate. The age at corner is worrying as well. A breakout season from Buster Skrine would help mightily -- if he doesn't unseat Sheldon Brown by Opening Day, something is wrong by the lake."

DBN: "Outside of D'Qwell Jackson, do the Browns have another good linebacker?"

Rob: "No, not really."

Thanks again to Football Outsiders for their time!

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