Here is my five-point breakdown of the Browns’ offense halfway through the season:
>>Three times is the charm at quarterback. A team that has three different starting quarterbacks through the first nine games normally doesn’t still find itself in contention for a division championship. The Browns do, however, because two of those quarterbacks – Brian Hoyer and Jason Campbell – have provided much-needed sparks for the offense. Hoyer won his first two starts, the second against the AFC North-leading Bengals, before suffering a season-ending knee injury. After replacing Brandon Weeden after Week 7, Campbell proceeded to have a mostly impressive performance in a loss at Kansas City. Then, he had one of the best games of his nine-year career to lead the Browns to one of their biggest victories in recent memory to snap an 11-game losing streak against the Ravens. It’s fair to say that the Browns were fortunate to have not one, but two answers, at the position, but the team’s decision-makers knew what they had Hoyer and Campbell. Did they know they were going to have to play both in the first half of the season? No. The plan was to see what they had in Weeden, because they knew far less about him than they knew about Hoyer and Campbell, and needed to find out what they had in the 2012 first-round draft pick. What they concluded was that Weeden isn’t the long-term solution at the position. Campbell, who should be fine after allowing his bruised ribs to heal during the bye, isn’t a long-term solution, either, despite bringing considerable smarts, savvy, leadership and playmaking to the offense. But he appears to be a solution and possibly a bridge to a quarterback who likely will be drafted in May. And, perhaps, Hoyer will be that bridge once he returns from knee surgery.
>>Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron form dynamic duo. The Browns have two exceptionally talented offensive difference-makers in Gordon, at wide receiver, and Cameron, at tight end. For most of the season, they have consistently made big plays. Despite missing the first two games with an NFL-mandated suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, Gordon has made dramatic improvement since his rookie season in 2012. He has utilized every bit of his tremendous combination of size, strength, speed, and athleticism, making him extremely difficult to cover. And Gordon had to overcome a major distraction in having his name linked to trade rumors right up until the league’s trading deadline on Oct. 29. From the beginning of the season, Cameron quickly established himself among the better pass-catching tight ends in the NFL. He no longer is merely a former basketball player using the skills he developed in that game to his best advantage. In his third NFL season, Cameron is a full-fledged football player now. He is running precise routes and has a better understanding of how to gain separation from defenders.
>>Greg Little and Davone Bess emerging as role players. The plan all along was for Little and Bess to be complementary receivers to Gordon and Cameron. They haven’t been consistently effective in those roles, largely because they both had serious problems hanging onto the ball. However, both had their respective coming-out parties against the Ravens Sunday. Little caught a career-high seven passes for 122 yards. Bess’ two-touchdown receptions gave him the first multi-scoring-catch game of his career. But Bess had an equally important reception on fourth down to keep alive the Browns’ late drive to Billy Cundiff’s insurance field goal.
>>The Browns need to find some semblance of a running game. As amazing as it was to see Campbell overcome bruised ribs to throw for three touchdown passes against the Ravens Sunday, it was equally impressive that he did so without the help of a running game. But let’s be realistic here. You don’t find a transformative player at any position in November, and running back is no exception. The Browns are going to have to find improvement with who they have on the roster: Willis McGahee, Fozzy Whittaker, and Chris Ogbonnaya. At 31 and returning from major knee surgery he underwent last season, McGahee is giving the Browns all that he has, and it obviously is far from dominant. But his experience is helpful, especially with younger teammates. Whittaker has shown flashes of being an explosive runner and he demonstrates effectiveness as a receiver out of the backfield. It wouldn’t be surprising to see coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner work at incorporating more perimeter run plays into the offense to utilize Whittaker’s speed. It also is incumbent upon the Browns' offensive line, which has done an increasingly solid job in pass protection (especially with Campbell at quarterback), to work at opening up more holes, especially inside.
>>Living on the edge with highly aggressive play-calling. Since the start of the season, Chudzinski has demonstrated that he has absolutely no hesitation going for it on fourth down and using gadget plays. And he has done so with success, hitting a long touchdown pass at Kansas City in Week 8 on a flea-flicker and scoring another touchdown and picking up a crucial late first down on a pair of fourth-down calls against Baltimore Sunday. The bold, brash approach sets a tone that these are not the same, old Browns. They won’t settle for what they’re given. They look to take what they want.
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