Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cleveland Browns: Regression, Injuries, and Schedule Strength

Cleveland fans are all too familiar with the story: a successful but unsatisfying 2007 season leading to a disappointing 2008 season. It started when the Cavs lost in the NBA finals and failed to repeat that success the following year. The Indians made it to the ALCS in 2007, but injuries and inconsistency kept them out of the playoffs in 2008. Now, it looks like the Browns are repeating that storyline. But how and why?


When teams and players play above their head one year, you can expect them to come back down to earth the following year. That may be the case for the team as a whole, but not necessarily for all of its players.

The Browns offensive core of Derek Anderson, Josh Cribbs, Braylon Edwards, and Kellen Winslow are all 25 years old this year. The NFL may have a rapid aging curve, but it's not that rapid. Anderson, Cribbs, Edwards, and Winslow are, in theory, still young enough to have an equal chance of improving with age as they are to regressing to the mean.


The 2008 Browns are eerily similar to this summer's Indians when you take injuries into account. Even those players who did recover from preseason injuries still showed lingering effects in the regular season. Prior to the Giants game, Braylon Edwards had more drops than catches. Joshua Cribbs, meanwhile, has rarely seen the other side of the 50 on his returns so far this season.

Injuries to an already thin wide receiver corps have also hurt the Browns this season. Joe Jurevicius has yet to see the field, and may not at all this season. Joshua Cribbs was nursing his preseason injury. Donte Stallworth was out until last week's Giants game, which was perhaps not-so-coincidentally a Cleveland win.

Before that, the depth chart had Edwards, Syndric Steptoe. No disrespect to Steptoe, but he was a seventh-round pick taken mostly for his return potential. Prior to Stallworth's return, opposing defenses could smother Edwards and Kellen Winslow and leave Derek Anderson with few other reliable options.

Schedule Strength

In 2007, the Browns had arguably the easiest schedule in the league, and were bound to have a tougher slate this year. I tried to play the optimist with this situation, reasoning that the players didn't necessarily know that their 10-6 record was a result of weak competition, and that it had given them the confidence to beat anyone.

Five games into the season, that may not be the case. To paraphrase that one commercial, Cleveland is 2-3 and knocking on mediocrity's door with many talented opponents on the schedule this year. This year may end in disappointment, but 2009 is looking good once again for the city of Cleveland.