(Our tawdry team of Russian mail-order Naughty Nurses check the statistical vital signs of each NFL team after each season. They use their pigskin probe and soothing, healing hands to take the temperature, and maybe a few liberties, with the Cleveland Browns. Our Naughty Nurse breaks down other NFL teams here.)
By Zachary Pierpoint
Cold, Hard Football Facts stat-master
The Cleveland Browns season is easily summed up in three words: No. Passing. Attack.
The Browns tried to pass the ball in 2011. They were 9th in the league in dropbacks (attempts + sacks), but they were remarkably inefficient at it, ranking 31st in Passing YPA and 30th in Real Passing YPA. By any measure, Cleveland lacked badly in the air. 29th in Offensive Passer Rating, 24th in Real Quarterback Rating, 24th in total passing yards, 27th in completion percentage, 27th in touchdowns, 30th in 20+ yard pass plays, and on and on.
Cleveland was, if anything, even worse running the ball, finding themselves 31st in Yards Per Attempt, 28th in total rushing yards, and 32nd in touchdowns, just four rushing TD all year. However, in today's pass-centric league, a team can get by without an efficient running game See: the 2011 Super Bowl winning New York Giants, the only team to rush for fewer yards per attempt than the Browns. But the Giants had an elite QB. The Browns did not.
Cleveland's inept offense kept a decent defense from making any noise, and until the Browns solve their quarterback situation, that's a trend that is bound to continue.
The 2011 Storyline:
Cleveland had a secondary to compete with the rest of the AFC North, but a division worst passing attack couldn't compete with the likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco, and Cleveland managed just 4 wins.
The Vital Signs
Pat Shurmur (4-12 with Cleveland; 4-12 overall)
4-12 (13.6 PPG - 19.2 PPG)
Record against the spread:
Record vs. Quality Opponents:
0-9 (12.0 - 22.4)
Record last five seasons:
Best Quality Stat in 2011:
Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt (6th)
Worst Quality Stat in 2011:
Real Passing Yards per Attempt (30th)
ALL QUALITY STATS
Overall= Overall position in Quality Stats Power Rankings; QS = Quality Standings; SCOR = Scoreability; BEND = Bendability; RPYPA = Real Passing Yards per Attempt; DRPYPA = Defensive Real Passing Yards Per Attempt; QBR = Real Quarterback Rating; DQBR = Defensive Real Quarterback Rating; OPR = Offensive Passer Rating; DPR = Defensive Passer Rating; PRD = Passer Rating Differential; OHI = Offensive Hog Index; DHI = Defensive Hog Index; REL = Relativity Index.
Statistical Curiosity of 2011:
Despite being ranked no. 6 in the league in Defensive Real Passing Yards per Attempt, Cleveland ranked 4th in the AFC North in the same stat. When your team's main strength is bettered by each of your divisional rivals, it's hard to do well in this league. Cleveland's plight was certainly uncommon, no other division had four teams in the top half of the DRPYPA rankings. Of the fourteen quality stats, only two saw a single division place 3+ teams in the top 6. The AFC North's four teams in the top 6 of DRPYPA and the NFC South's three teams in the top 6 of OHI (with Tampa Bay bringing up the rear at no. 16).
Best game of 2011:
14-10 win vs. Jacksonville (Week 11). Cleveland's most complete game of the season came in its win against the Jaguars. The Browns rushed for 5.3 YPA while passing for 7.8 RPYPA, simultaneously limiting Jacksonville to just 3.7 YPA on the ground and 4.8 YPA through the air. Colt McCoy proved uncharacteristically efficient, throwing for 8.3 YPA and completing 70.8 percent of his passes. It wasn't a dominating win, and the Browns had to survive 6 Jacksonville snaps inside the 15 with under a minute to play, but when the final seconds ticked off the clock, Cleveland was victorious.
Worst game of 2011:
13-12 loss vs. St. Louis (Week 10). While not Cleveland's worst game statistically (the Browns won the turnover battle, won the yardage battle, won the time of possession battle, and Colt McCoy managed 7.7 RPYPA), Cleveland's loss to St. Louis ranks as the worst of the season for a number of reasons. Most obviously, this Week 10 matchup marked just one of two wins on the season for the Rams and their only road win. Additionally, this contest marked the second straight home game in which Cleveland failed to score a touchdown. This reliance on field goals proved insufficient, as Cleveland found a new clever way to win, botching a 22 yard field goal attempt on a bad snap just before the two minute warning. The Browns never saw the ball again.
Pass Defense. The Browns figured out half the equation this season, successfully limiting the effectiveness of opposing passing attacks. The Browns ranked in the top 10 in each of the Quality Stats pertaining to pass defense (No. 6 DRPYPA, No. 7 DQBR, No. 10 DPR), as well as in traditional stats (No. 2 total yards, No. 4 touchdown alloowwed, No. 6 completion percentage, No. 5 in YPA). Cleveland's secondary led the team as a top 5 scoring defense, behind Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Baltimore, and Houston. Good company for a 4-12 team.
Weakness: Pass Offense. Here's the rub for Cleveland, despite having a strong secondary, they lost the passing battle week in and week out. Cleveland threw for fewer YPA, for a lower completion percentage, for a lower Passer Rating, for a lower Real Quarterback Rating, and for fewer RPYPA. While Cleveland did eke out a slim edge in total yards (3090 to 2959), readers of the Cold, Hard Football Facts know that efficiency trumps volume. A strong pass defense can overcome many weaknesses a team might have, but it must be coupled with a competent passing attack. When you cannot throw the ball better than your opponent, you cannot win in this league.
General off-season strategy/overview:
Everyone and his mother knows that Cleveland needs to address it's pass offense, most likely starting with a change at quarterback. Having bid outbid by Washington for RGIII, look for Cleveland to make a play for Matt Flynn. Many talking heads discuss Cleveland's lack of offensive playmakers as an excuse for Colt McCoy's (and Seneca Wallace's) failings this year, but the Cold, Hard Football Facts don't believe that Shiny Hood Ornaments make quarterbacks better.
Cleveland made the right call last season, forgoing an early wide receiver in the draft in exchange for a bounty of picks, but it may be harder for them to make the same smart decision this year. With RGIII out of the picture, and especially if Cleveland whiffs on Flynn, look for popular opinion to prevail and pressure Cleveland into drafting or signing several big targets for their quarterbacks.
Cleveland could enter next season with Colt McCoy as quarterback and that may not be the worst thing in the world. McCoy threw for an impressive 7.10 YPA as a rookie, though that number dipped precipitously this past season as he managed just 5.90 YPA in his second year. Even so, Donovan Mcnabb, Drew Bledsoe, and Matthew Stafford are all among the quarterbacks with a worse YPA than McCoy after their first two seasons, with Drew Brees' 6.34 YPA hardly inspiring more confidence than McCoy's 6.29 YPA. If McCoy can recover the efficiency of his rookie season, and prove he merely had a sophomore slump, he could yet be Cleveland's future. But since 1960, Phil Simms and Donovan Mcnabb are the only two quarterbacks to throw for fewer than 6.0 YPA in their sophomore seasons and follow it up with remarkable careers.
On defense, Cleveland finds themselves in a good position. With a strong secondary and a young defensive line, don't look for Cleveland to be too splashy this offseason on that side of the ball. While their Defensive Hogs were not great in 2011, their defensive line featured two rookies who showed flashes and likely will see improvement in 2012 without needing any new players.
For better or worse, Cleveland's focus this offseason will be on the skill positions on offense.
Totally premature 2012 diagnosis:
We see Cleveland once again looking at a losing record and a top 10 pick, thanks to an uncertain situation at QB. However, they have the secondary of a contender, and so if they can get significantly improved quarterback play, they could compete.