2012 Year in Review – the Cleveland Browns – Part I
Well, it was a slight improvement from the 2011 campaign (in terms of the win total), but the 2012 Cleveland Browns were once again an unsuccessful group. They had a painfully slow start, enjoyed a few victories in the middle games, and suffered injuries and a couple of losses to close things out. Depending on how Rob Chudzinski fares next season (as well the upgrades on the roster), the team could be leaps and bounds ahead of where they began last season. Alas, that is down the road – for now, let’s take a look back at 2012.
Offseason injuries/suspensions: The Browns received three crushing blows before (and one during) the season began in September. Second-year pro Phil Taylor injured his pectoral lifting weights in May and missed nearly half of the regular season. The former University of Baylor star had a solid rookie season and was looking to become one of the leaders of the defense. His absence was felt early on, as two rookies (John Hughes and Billy Winn) were forced into action earlier than expected.
During an August practice, starting linebacker Chris Gocong tore his Achilles tendon and was lost for season. This extremely hurt the unit, as he and D’Qwell Jackson were expected to influence many games. Fortunately, the front office drafted a pair of linebackers in the April draft, but Gocong’s injury put these athletes in a difficult position. Couple that with the fact that one of the two (Emmanuel Acho) went on injured reserve before the regular season, and the team had to find someone who could hold down a couple linebacker spots over the course of the season.
Number three overall draft selection, Trent Richardson, had to take some time off in training camp practices – as a result of his left knee scope. Before being drafted, the running back had surgery on it but further work was necessary to clean out additional issues. As a result, the athlete missed the entire pre-season (both practices and exhibition games) and some wondered if not being acclimated to the NFL game would make it rather difficult for the rookie.
It was rumored that veteran Joe Haden had taken the drug Adderall in the offseason; a looming four-game suspension appeared to be imminent. Following the season opener that was indeed the case for the cornerback. The defense (specifically the secondary) struggled as a result, and Haden apologized to the team and fans but the damage had been done. As far as post-season awards went, this eliminated the veteran from Pro Bowl eligibility – something he was looking forward to.
Preseason: The team’s first game was at Ford Field against the Detroit Lions; the Browns pulled out a 19-17 victory. But as with many exhibition games, the final score did not tell the whole story. The four quarterbacks for the visiting team all threw for relatively the same amount of yardage (just under one-hundred) but they got to that point in different ways. Rookie Brandon Weeden performed the worst – for starters, he was a victim of a fumble and an interception. Many attributed this to growing pains in the position. With Richardson out, Chris Ogbonnaya took the most carries but had little success – this would be replicated in the regular season. Passes were spread out evenly over the roster; Josh Cooper lead the team with three, while Jordan Cameron had the most yardage with fifty-eight. Defensively, the front four looked rusty as the Lions racked up 198 yards on the ground. No defender recorded more than four tackles, and Juqua Parker had the only sack. Starting cornerback Sheldon Brown had an interception and the secondary only surrendered 170 yards through the air. Looking at the statistics, several of the veterans made a play or two while the rookies and younger players struggled to play well – obviously this was not a surprise.
The second pre-season outing was a visit to Lambeau Field; here the Browns defeated the Packers 35-10. Brandon Weeden played much better than his previous game (not turning the football over), but the rookie still could not find the end zone. Although both Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson scored touchdowns, neither of the backs could achieve a high rushing total (or average, for that matter). Starting to get into regular season form, Greg Little and Josh Gordon were the two leading wide outs for the team – both in terms of receptions and yardage. Granted, a majority of the contest did not include Aaron Rogers, but the Browns were able to force four turnovers from their counterpart (unfortunately, linebacker James-Michael Johnson was the only member in this group to contribute during the regular season). Using a more “vanilla” or plain defensive game plan, no sacks were recorded once again and the team’s leading tackler had just four stops (L.J. Fort). If anything, this contest gave the young team confidence heading into the regular season.
In a preview of the regular season opener, the Philadelphia Eagles came into Cleveland Browns Stadium for an exhibition matchup. Here, Weeden regressed – completing just nine of his twenty throws, losing one of his two fumbles, and not throwing a touchdown. Along the same lines, both Jackson and Hardesty could not get anything going; it would have been nice to see Richardson take some hits here and work his way into the NFL game. Rookie Josh Gordon was the leading wide receiver once again (similar to many times in the regular season) and had a catch and run of twenty-eight yards. Overall, the home team could not find the end zone until the fourth quarter (when backups dominated the contest) and lost the game 27-10. It was concerning to see the Browns surrender solid passing totals to quarterbacks Nick Foles and Trent Edwards; the former was a rookie and the latter had a subpar career to that point. Both were efficient (combining for a 72% completion rate and three touchdowns). In a contest that featured first-teamers getting additional playing time, Joe Haden notched his first interception of the 2012 campaign – it was only a matter of time until the veteran made his mark on a game.
Facing the Chicago Bears in the final contest before the regular season, the Browns employed several reserves a majority of the game (and it showed). Thaddeus Lewis, active for just the regular season finale, was the leading passer with fifty-six yards. The leading rusher (Adonis Thomas) was released before the season started, while little-used Josh Cribbs tallied thirty-four receiving yards. The offense was stagnant and rather boring to watch; the defense was on the same disappointing level. Josh McCown, a reserve backup who did not play a single down in the regular season, completed almost seventy percent of his passes and tossed two touchdowns. A duo of running backs gained over eighty yards each – depth did not appear to be the strength of the 2012 Cleveland Browns, who dropped the contest 28-20. However, the coaching staff believed the players learned a lot and would step up in the regular season – leading to victories.