Usually it's good to look back and reflect on the positive events of a season, but it is just as important to see what went wrong. With the free-agent signings that the Browns have made, it's pretty clear that we plan on competing this season. So, what better of a way to analyze how our new players will help us than seeing what went wrong in the dismal 41-0 blowout against the Steelers on Christmas Eve. The whole season, I actually believed that something magical would happen for the Browns that day, especially since we would've had a full season together under Crennel.
No one expected the Steelers to win the Super Bowl, especially since they were still fighting to make it as a wildcard when they faced us. They were on a roll though, and got off to a quick start by scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter. After Roethlisberger threw one incomplete pass, the Steelers recorded ten straight plays in which they gained at least a yard before Bettis drove it in for a touchdown. Meanwhile, the Browns did not record a first down in the first quarter. Reuben Droughns, who was supposed to be our biggest threat, only had three yards rushing for the quarter. Frye was on his backside all day long.
The events in that first quarter set the tone for the whole game: we were getting beat at the line of scrimmage. Sure, the Steelers do have one of the best offensive and defensive lines in the game, but they completely mauled us, even though our offensive line allowed Droughns to be our first 1,000 yard rusher in 20 years.
LeCharles Bentley will without question bring more intensity to our offensive line, making him the most important addition. He did not earn his Pro Bowl status for nothing, and he will not let a guy like Casey Hampton get through at will. Ultimately, Frye will also have to make sure he gets the ball off quickly. He already has a whole new arsenal of weapons though with Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards returning, and the veteran Joe Jurevicius providing a target that will not drop the ball at a critical part of the game(Antonio Bryant).
On the defensive line, Ted Washington is obviously not as dominant as he used to be, but he should be a hundred times better than Jason Fisk was last year. Too many times last year, Orpheous Roye would be the only person on our line that would come close to taking down a running back. It was almost as if teams were already focused on getting past our linebackers, because our defensive line was already down and out. Although Parker was contained last year(barring the 80-yard killer), Washington will draw some double teams that will allow our linebackers to find more room to blitz. We all know how painful it is to see the Steelers blitz and have three guys drill Frye right away, but when we blitz, three of our guys get picked up by the offense.
With Gary Baxter and Leigh Bodden in the secondary, we should not have any issues with the Steelers receivers. Hines Ward often has his way with us, but after losing Randle El to free-agency, the Steelers are very thin at the position. One question will be if our safeties will be able to step it up. As a unit last year, the safeties did an average job. Brian Russell was nothing spectacular, but he brought a veteran presence. Chris Crocker is gone, meaning that our past two second-round draft picks will have to show that they want to start. If both of them do good, don't be surprised if they even surpass Russell as a starter. Heath Miller will continue to grow, and we'll need one of our safeties to work on being able to take him out of the gameplan.
There is one final concern from last year: the lack of a pass rush. Roethlisberger stood in the pocket all day long and calmly threw the ball to Ward. Willie McGinest finally gives us someone with experience in being productive with the pass rush, but that's not good enough. We need four solid linebackers, and right now we have two. Andra Davis will be fine where he is at, and Chaun Thompson started to show some signs of improvement. Every year, the Browns miss out on linebackers that make an impact from the first or second round of the draft. We saw it last year with Odell Thurman of the Bengals, Shawn Merriman of the Chargers, and Lofa Tatupu of the Seahawks. It would be a dream if we could somehow get A.J. Hawk on the Browns, but right now I'm still leaning a little bit towards Chad Greenway.
That's just about it for now. Ah, I almost forgot the most underrated signing: no more duds from the punter.
One tidbit of player news today, as a former offensive lineman has signed with the Redskins:
Len Pasquarelli, ESPN