Reasons for Optimism and Objectivity While the Browns and Fans Plunge Deeper into Despair

Cleveland Browns fans react during the second half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, in Orchard Park, N.Y. Buffalo won, 33-13. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

|By Mike Young|

Inherent negativity, combined with a lack of perspective, are the biggest issues surrounding the coverage of the Browns on a weekly basis.

I’ve used this space to vent about the team — particularly how their actions affect the loyal fanbase — but hope to provide some sort of rational analysis each week. As 92.3 The Fan’s Anthony Lima points out, the media is largely from Northeast Ohio and have a vested interest in the team improving.

When the Browns appear to be moving backwards, and that is certainly the case record-wise, then we see more overt cynicism. For example, not even a year into the regime, lead Cleveland.com beat writer Mary Kay Cabot  is suggesting owner Jimmy Haslam hire a “football general manger.” First off, it is incredibly disrespectful to executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown to suggest he isn’t qualified for his current position. Hiring a “football GM” in the past hasn’t worked out, so the Browns doing something different with their player personnel department shouldn’t be met with such resistance — regardless of the winless record.

Cleveland radio personalities, such as the heavily shtick-driven Tony Rizzo on WKNR, disparage the team on a daily basis and even hilariously propose to fight fans when they dare to do something as dastardly as plan a fun, charity-driven parade to “celebrate” a potential 0-16 season:

No one should be appreciative or content that the Browns have reached this point, especially considering the success of the other sports teams in Cleveland and the ability for nearly every other NFL team to turn things around quickly. Still, what they’re trying to accomplish long-term should keep this season in perspective.

What’s the difference between 0-16 and another 4-12 or 5-11 type season? Well, that guaranteed No. 1 overall pick could drop out of the top five. Even winning a game, at this point, might mean the 49ers jump them for the top pick. Skeptical Browns fans and media might respond to that statement with tired rhetoric referencing the Browns’ past draft failures as a reason to explain why it doesn’t matter where they pick.

If the Browns believe, as I do, that Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett can elevate the pass rush and defensive line, becoming a strength of the team in the process, then this season is worth it. Garrett  averaged a pressure every 4.8 pass rush attempt this season and had a top-five grade among edge linemen in run defense, all according to Pro Football Focus.

Aligning Carl Nassib across from Garrett, along with linebacker Jamie Collins and using Emmanuel Ogbah as a rush linebacker in passing situations, should generate some excitement among the fanbase — along with fear from opposing offensive lines.

If building talent along the lines on both sides of the ball is what leads to winning games, and plenty of evidence suggests that’s the case across all levels of football, then maybe the Browns’ outlook shouldn’t be so negative. On the offensive side, much-maligned center Cam Erving just posted his highest grade of the season against the Bills. The Browns also average 2.61 yards before contact on runs up the middle, the second-best mark in the NFL this season behind Buffalo, who leads the league in rushing yards per game. Maybe all of that is evidence Erving is progressing, finally.

Running back Isaiah Crowell is proving he can be a piece to build around, which should be the baseline of expectations for anyone on the current roster. Worth noting his first down numbers are slightly skewed by his 85-yard touchdown run in week two, but still a relevant stat:

Sustained success may appear to be unattainable considering the failures of previous regimes. Even going 0-16 on the heels of the annual disasters since 1999 shouldn’t cloud the media coverage or inhibit the signs of progress shown within this organization in 2016.