When given a choice, I prefer to receive the bad news first. The initial blow is then softened by the good news and I end on a positive note.
I’m going to reverse that strategy for this column, opening with what I expect to be the bright spots in the upcoming Browns season. Why risk driving you away before I get to the good stuff?
I’m confident the Browns defense will be much improved and fun to watch.
New coordinator Gregg Williams has changed the culture, the attitude and the scheme. The defense is versatile and complex while still playing fast. During training camp and the preseason, the players flew around the field and played with an aggression that had been missing under previous coordinators.
The Browns also significantly upgraded the personnel at key spots.
No. 1 pick Myles Garrett looks like the real deal at defensive end, and I’m expecting double-digit sacks. No. 25 pick Jabrill Peppers has surprised me with his intelligence, field coverage and ability to settle in at free safety. Veteran linebacker Jamie Collins is back for his first full season with the team and might be the best player not named Joe Thomas.
The defense, though dealing with depth issues at linebacker and in the secondary, will be light-years better than the unit last year that allowed 28.3 points and 392.4 yards per game. The string of turnovers forced in the preseason should continue once the games count, because Williams has preached attacking the ball and coming away with it from the moment he was introduced to the players.
If the Browns exceed expectations in the win column, the defense would’ve dragged them there. Turnovers change games and seasons, and if they come in bunches, the chance for upsets and a confidence boost goes up dramatically.
But fans should be worried about an inexperienced offense that lacks playmakers sucking the life out of the defense. Even the best defenses get worn down when forced to head back onto the field after the offense repeatedly goes three-and-out or, worse, commits a quick turnover.
The offensive line should be better after the Browns invested $120 million in the interior in the offseason. Coach Hue Jackson has the tools to run the ball and has vowed to commit to the ground game with running back Isaiah Crowell.
Playing good defense and controlling the clock sounds like a solid recipe for success. But unless the Browns can pick up third downs and threaten defenses with the pass, the recipe will go up in smoke.
Rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer was the right choice as the starter and has a bright future. The front office just hasn’t given him enough help.
The receiving corps lacks proven talent, struggled throughout the preseason and was shuffled over the weekend with a trade for Sammie Coates and the waiver claims of Kasen Williams and Reggie Davis. The tight ends are young and inexperienced.
A rookie quarterback needs to be supported with playmakers. He must have targets that can beat defenders one-on-one and turn a slightly wayward pass into a completion. Cleveland’s receivers and tight ends have yet to show they can do that consistently.
The defense, assuming its key pieces stay healthy, is good enough to win at least eight games. The offense, unless Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt and Seth DeValve surprise, doesn’t have enough firepower to win five.
Put me down for 4-12.
It’s better than last season’s 1-15, but there’s still a long way to go.
AFC NORTH: Steelers
AFC EAST: Patriots
AFC SOUTH: Titans
AFC WEST: Raiders
AFC WILD CARDS: Broncos, Ravens
AFC CHAMPION: Patriots
NFC NORTH: Packers
NFC EAST: Giants
NFC SOUTH: Panthers
NFC WEST: Seahawks
NFC WILD CARDS: Saints, Cardinals
NFC CHAMPION: Packers
SUPER BOWL CHAMPION: Packers
MVP: Aaron Rodgers, Packers
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Christian McCaffrey, Panthers
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Myles Garrett, Browns
COACH OF THE YEAR: Bill Belichick, Patriots