CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – It takes a cataclysmic series of events for an NFL team in this era to go winless during a season but the stars aligned to conspire against the Browns in 2017.
This has to be rock bottom, right?
The same thing was said after a 1-15 campaign in 2016, but the good news is that they won’t finish 2018 with a worse record because there’s only one way to go from here: up.
Here’s 16 thoughts on what led to the Browns to joining the 2008 Lions as the only teams to accomplish 0-16 during the ‘Season of Misery.’
16. – 10 of the Browns 16 losses were by 9 or more points. The other 6 losses were by 4 or fewer points.
15. – The Browns were outscored in every quarter this season: 48-27 in the first, 155-82 in the second, 99-53 in the third and 70-63 in the fourth, 9-0 in overtime. Do the math and that equals 0-16.
14. – Punter Britton Colquitt finished the season with a 40.6 net punting average, the highest in franchise history and breaking the mark he set in 2016 by .3 yards. In 2015 Andy Lee set the record with a 40.1 average. When your punter setting records is a highlight, there’s a problem.
13. – Penalties were a major problem in 2017. They killed drives, took big plays off the board and extended drives for opponents weekly. Cleveland was penalized a total of 110 times for 924 yards. The lack of discipline will be an area of focus in need of correcting for 2018.
12. – The Browns took a box score beating in 2017. Opponents outscored them 410-234, gained more first downs: 315-290, converted on 40.6 percent of third downs compared to Cleveland’s 33.8 percent rate, out-gained the Browns 5,250-4,942, sacked Browns QBs 50 times while the Browns totaled just 34 sacks and scored 19 more touchdowns. The one positive for the Browns was they out-rushed the opposition 1,714-1,566 begging the question why didn’t Hue Jackson try to run the ball more?
11. – Don’t blame Duke Johnson Jr. or Isaiah Crowell for 0-16. Johnson, named the ‘Player of the Year’ by the local chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association of America, ranked 33rd league-wide with a total of 1,041 yards from scrimmage this season – 348 rushing and 693 receiving. Crowell ranked right behind him at 34 with 1,035 yards – 853 rushing and 182 receiving despite getting inconsistent work in the backfield that saw him receive 15 or more carries just 7 times. Cleveland ranked sixth in average rushing yards per attempt in 2017 begging the question, why didn’t Hue Jackson try to run the ball more?
10. – The Browns’ defense gave up 42 fewer points, allowed 1,029 fewer yards and showed statistical improvements in several categories in 2017 but it still wasn’t enough to win a game. Cleveland went from 31st to 14th in total yards allowed, 26th to 12th in yards per play, 31st to seventh in rushing yards per game, 29th to second in rushing yards per attempt, 21st to 19th in passing net yards per game, 29th to 20th in sacks per pass play, 31st to 18th in first downs allowed per game, 30th to 24th in third down efficiency and 30th to 19th in fourth down efficiency. Unfortunately Cleveland went from 30th to 31st in points per game and remained 32nd in points per game differential.
9. – The veteran purge and youth movement doomed the Browns. Cleveland opened and ended the season with the youngest roster in the NFL. By the time the season finale in Pittsburgh rolled around the Browns’ roster featured 15 rookies, 2 first-year players, 25 in their second year, 9 in year 3, 4 in their fourth season, 5 in their fifth and just 5 with 6 or more years of experience. The Browns lacked quality veteran leadership and maturity on and off the field.
8. – The Browns’ leading receiver(s) who actually played the position in 2017 were Ricardo Louis and Rashard Higgins. Both had 27 catches, which ranked fifth on the team behind running back Duke Johnson (74), tight end Seth DeValve (33), tight end David Njoku (32) and running back Isaiah Crowell (28). Louis had 357 yards with 0 TDs and Higgins 312 with 2 TDs.
7. – As the losses mounted and hit double digits, week after week players scoffed at questions about trying to avoid going winless. Unlike in 2016 when linebacker Christian Kirksey declared after a Week 9 loss to Dallas they weren’t going 0-16, there was no bold, emphatic declaration from anyone. Understandably, players just became annoyed with the questions about it week after week. The gravity of going 0-16 didn’t seem to hit them until a DeShone Kizer fourth-down pass went through Corey Coleman’s hands with 1:46 left in the season.
6. – If The Browns didn’t have bad luck they’d have none at all. No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett managed to rack up 7 sacks in 11 games played but he missed the first 4 weeks due to an ankle sprain and the trip to London because of a concussion. Even left tackle Joe Thomas couldn’t survive this miserable season. Thomas tore a biceps tendon ending his consecutive snaps, games played and Pro Bowls streak. Emmanuel Ogbah had 4 sacks in 10 games to emerge as a a force opposite of Garrett batting down passes and dropping runners for losses but a foot injury ended his season. Linebacker Jamie Collins suffered an MCL injury costing him the final 7 games after a concussion kept him out of 3 others. Defensive tackle Danny Shelton revealed on Monday that he played most of the year through various injuries. Sure, injuries hit every team, but when you’re young and not very deep they can derail a season quickly.
5. – DeShone Kizer had a horrific rookie season that saw him produce the worst play for a starting quarterback in the league. He completed 53.6 percent of his passes for 2,894 yards with only 11 touchdowns and 22 interceptions with a 60.5 rating. He ranked dead last in completion percentage, interceptions and rating. He also lost 6 of 9 fumbles meaning he was responsible for 28 turnovers. The Browns did him little favors by providing any type of veteran leadership to lean on in the quarterback room. Jackson also did him no favors by benching him on 4 occasions – including a start at Houston, which denied him the honor of joining Tim Couch (2001) as the only quarterbacks for the franchise to actually start all 16 games in a season. Instead of building an offense around him to minimize his deficiencies and feature the run game, which was supposed to be the plan, it felt like Jackson at times hung Kizer out to dry. Kizer finished with the 15th most passing attempts in the league and it’s indisputable that competent quarterback play would’ve netted a few wins.
4. – Red Zone efficiency on both sides of the ball doomed the Browns. Defensively Cleveland allowed their opponents to come away with points 42 times in 46 trips inside the 20 – 31 touchdowns and 11 field goals, ranking them last in touchdown allowed efficiency at 67.4 percent. Offensively they were tied for 25th with the Giants, scoring a touchdowns 48.7 percent of the time in the red zone. Cleveland made 39 trips inside the 20 and scored just 19 touchdowns and kicked 8 field goals.
3. – The death knell for the Browns in 2017 was turnovers. The Browns committed 41 of them – 28 interceptions and 13 fumbles – which led the NFL, while only coming away with a league-low 13 takeaways – 7 interceptions and 6 fumbles. Their turnover differential was an NFL-worst -28.
2. – Sashi Brown couldn’t survive 2 full seasons as executive vice president of football operations. Brown took a 4-5 year approach to rebuilding the Browns and it cost him, as it seems to cost everyone who works in Berea. While Brown made nearly 20 trades – a few of which will benefit the franchise come April when they have 4 of the top 35 picks, a few moves this season stand out. He ultimately wasted nearly $30 million in salary between quarterback Brock Osweiler and receiver Kenny Britt. Osweiler, who was acquired via trade in March along with Houston’s 2018 second-round pick, was cut at the end of training camp and Britt, who caught just 18 passes for 233 yards including 2 TDs but was a cancer in the locker room, got his walking papers on Dec. 8. The final nail for Brown was the botched trade with Cincinnati Oct. 31 at the trade deadline for Bengals backup quarterback AJ McCarron. The paperwork snafu derailed the deal and his relationship with Jackson.
1. – Head coach Hue Jackson blamed youth and a lack of talent in 2017 for much of their struggles but he could’ve done more to position his team to win at least a few games starting with building his offense around his running backs and tight ends until the receiving corps developed later in the year. Jackson fired a multitude of subliminal shots during the 5 weeks in which it was later learned that owner Jimmy Haslam was actually searching for a general manager before ultimately hiring John Dorsey on Dec. 7 a mere 12 hours after firing Brown about the quality of his roster. With Dorsey on board and adding Packers executive Alonzo Highsmith as VP of football operations the excuses need to disappear. It’s a pretty good bet that Jackson will enter the 2018 season on the hot seat with a 1-31 record as head coach.