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Commentary: Browns have to depend on defense now that they no longer have an elite QB

So as we sit here today, consider this:

It’s entirely possible that the Browns could win their division or reach the playoffs as a wild card team — perhaps even reach the Super Bowl — in a season in which the quarterback in 12 of their 17 regular-season games was Dorian Thompson-Robinson, P.J. Walker or Joe Flacco.

According to Spotrac, the combined salaries of those three quarterbacks is $2,199,768.

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The other quarterback on the roster, of course, is Deshaun Watson, whose average annual salary is $46 million. Watson will play no more this year, following season-ending surgery on his right shoulder.

You don’t need a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback to reach the Super Bowl, but it helps.

It was just 11 years ago that Flacco himself led the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory. Other so-so quarterbacks who have led their teams to the Super Bowl include guys like Trent Dilfer, Mark Rypien, Jeff Hostetler, Phil Simms and Vince Ferragamo.

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Obviously, it helps having a future Hall of Fame quarterback on your roster if you have Super Bowl aspirations. But it’s not a necessity. Which brings us back to the makeshift quarterback room of the Cleveland Browns, who have never been to the Super Bowl, only because the Super Bowl wasn’t invented during Otto Graham’s career.

In today’s pass-happy NFL, having a gunslinging quarterback with the arm, the charisma and the leadership gene is the preferred and most common way to play your way into the Super Bowl.

Every so often, however, a team makes it to the league’s final game without a Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Peyton Manning or Patrick Mahomes. I mean, come on, it was just six years ago that Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback Nick Foles not only led his team to the Super Bowl, but won it for them.

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That’s the road less traveled in most years, but it’s the road the Browns have no choice but to follow, given that their $230 million quarterback is now officially a spectator for the rest of the season.

So the Browns are a really good team in a really bad predicament. They are also the latest example of the importance of the quarterback position, especially when the Lombardi Trophy is on the line.

The quarterback is extremely important, and if you don’t believe it, count the number of quarterbacks that get selected at the top of the NFL Draft every year. It’s because most teams can’t win without an elite quarterback.

Exhibit A: The Cleveland Browns.

As we all know, when it comes to quarterbacks, the Browns’ draft history is a sad and sorry one. So much so that when Watson, and all of his baggage, became available, Browns ownership basically said, “Name your price.”

Watson did, the desperate Haslam family wrote the check, and the hoped-for happy ending — for various reasons  — is nowhere in sight. At least not with Watson at the wheel.

He won’t play anymore this season, the outcome of which will in large part be dictated by how well the temporary help performs at the most critical position in professional sports.

How important is a quarterback to a team with championship aspirations? Those who run pro football franchises don’t have time to ponder that question for very long. Because at this point in any NFL season all the good quarterbacks are taken. Those teams still looking for help are on their own.

The best-case scenario is to find a quarterback who is not awful, and hope you can catch lightning in a bottle. That’s what the Eagles did with Nick Foles, and the rest became Super Bowl history.

That’s what the Browns are trying to do now with Flacco, in their better-late-than-never decision to finally acquire the experienced veteran backup quarterback the team should have had from Day 1.

Four of the Browns’ seven wins this season have come with Watson at quarterback, but one of them was not the first Steelers game, at Pittsburgh, when Watson threw a pick-six on the first play from scrimmage and got sacked six times, turning what should have been a very winnable game into a gruesome 26-22 loss.

Had the Browns won, they would now be 8-2, and ahead of Baltimore for the best record in the AFC.

Thompson-Robinson and Walker have combined for three wins, one by DTR. Everything considered, that’s probably as much as the Browns could have hoped for from the two backups.

Flacco at least brings experience and a track record to the quarterback room.

That, and the Browns’ monster defense, will have to do the heavy lifting the rest of the way. Indeed, it seems fair to say that even with a healthy Watson the Browns were going to need every bit of Jim Schwartz’s mad-dog defense.

The 1985 Bears rode their ferocious defense to a Super Bowl title. That should now be the recipe for the Browns.

They really have no other choice.

Jim Ingraham is a sports columnist for the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram and the Medina Gazette. Contact him at 329-7135 or and follow him @Jim_Ingraham on Twitter


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