This is the third of a three part series looking back at the 2007 Cleveland Browns, along with taking a look at the future based on nothing other than my b.s. beliefs. In the first part, I looked at the offense, and in the second, I looked at the defense.
Not Just Afterthoughts Anymore
You would normally look at the topic of this final review piece, and let out a big yawn…because this normally wouldn’t be a very sexy part of a pro football team…
Not So Fast, My Little Friend
You could actually argue that the three areas of this piece are by far the most important (you could also argue that Diet Dr. Pepper tastes as good as the original...but you’d be wrong).
Special Teams, with Joshua Cribbs stepping up to become a superstar, and Phil Dawson giving us two of the most memorable games we’ve ever witnessed from a Browns’ kicker, made this a year to remember for the Special Team.
The coaching staff, for many reasons good and bad, made this year memorable, as did the front office, for the genius moves performed by Phil Savage and his Lucky Rabbit’s Foot.
2007 Special Teams
In 2007, you were for once able to talk about the Browns special teams without feeling the need to go into your Church Lady impression and say “wellll…weren’t they just speeeessshheeellll”
In fact, take out the special teams this year, and you might make a case that the Browns would have finished no better than 8-8 or 7-9. They made that big of a difference.
Of course, this must all start with Joshua Cribbs, possibly the greatest Special Teams player the Browns have ever had. Is he a better return man than Eric Metcalf? I don’t know yet…he could be, as this was his first year as a full time punt returner, so I expect even better things from him next year.
But you wouldn’t in your wildest dreams think about Metcalf sprinting downfield on the punt coverage team and taking out the return man. Yet that’s what Cribbs did week in and week out. 20 special teams tackles this year. Hell, that’s more than Antwaan Peek had for the year playing on about half of the defensive snaps.
That’s all well and good that he’s also a head hunter, but it’s as a kickoff return man where he excels, finishing number one statistically in 2007 with a 30.7 yard average and two touchdowns, the most electric one being that tightrope walking act he did against the Squealers, keeping the Browns’ hopes alive in a game where they were being horribly outplayed.
It is hard to believe that anyone could take any of the return specialists’ spotlight away from Devin Hester, as E$PN had all but deified him, but Cribbs managed to do so, getting enough attention that many talking heads actually brought up the point that Cribbs is a better kickoff returner than Hester. He may not be as shifty as the diminutive Devin, but he has great instincts and acceleration; he never dances around after receiving the kickoff…just picking a spot and stepping on the gas. His selection to the Pro-Bowl was about the biggest “no-brainer” for anyone not named Tom Brady.
Cribbs is truly a unique and dangerous weapon, and it’s another tribute to Phil Savage that the GM recognizes what he has, and has signed him to a lucrative long term deal. Rod Chudzinski should have a lot of fun this off season designing up offensive plays for Cribbs, and I’d love to see him getting 15 – 20 snaps per game on offense.
Just as high on the WOW factor this year was the last remaining member of the 1999 Cleveland Browns, Phil Dawson. The man once called “the Human Battering Ram” for his early runs on fakes in the bad old days, Dawson has been dismissed by most Browns fans (including me) on a yearly basis since about 2001.
And all he does is ignore it, and go out and make the clutch kicks for a team that plays ¼ of their season in weather that would make most kickers curl up in the fetal position…or go out and buy battery operated leg warmers.
Dawson’s worth was showcased in two games that will live on forever in Browns Folklore.
Week 11 at Baltimore, and the Browns were looking at a second straight week of losing a tough game to a division foe, one that would have left the Browns at 5-5, with little playoff aspirations left. The Browns had squandered a 27 – 14 lead, and had allowed the hated Ratbirds to take a 30-27 lead with only 1:23 left.
But thanks to that man Cribbs again, the Browns had life after Super Ego Brian Billick decided he knew more than the rest of the planet, and kicked to him. 39 yards later, the Browns start the drive on their 43, where Anderson was able to miraculously (sarcasm intended) hit two passes in a row, leaving them with 11 seconds to go and looking at a 51 yarder to tie it.
Now just the week before, Dawson had fallen short on a 52 yarder to tie the game in Pittspuke, so it wasn’t looking good.
And then he steps up and hits the Double Doink. No good. Wait, let’s talk. Mass confusion…rats streaming into the locker room…Phil pleading his case.
Upon further…ehem…”talks”…it’s GOOD!!!! Pandemonium breaks out…Billick sheds tears in a manner that makes Hillary Clinton jealous…Dogs and cats living together…and Ray Lewis looks for his Ginsu set.
The Browns win the toss. Game. Set. Match.
As much fun as that was, Dawson truly earned demi-god status with his game in The Blizzard Against Buffalo, hitting two field goals that could only be described with two words.
The 35 yarder in the first quarter was ridiculous, moving as much as a Tim Wakefield knuckleball.
The 49 yarder off the “Dawson Bar” was just flat out sick. I would argue that out of all of the kickers that have ever played in the NFL, less than 1% could have made that kick 1 time out of 10 in those conditions.
The rest of the special teams? Eh…they were OK. Zastudil was hurt early, leading to the debacle in the first game with Paul Ernster and then Scott Player and his single-bar facemask and white Fu-Manchu hung around for a couple of games, giving me some comic fodder for my column.
Kick overage was better than in previous years…no TDs scored against the Browns in 2007…but stupid penalties still plagued them, as Cribbs should have had a few more TDs had someone not brain farted.
2008 Special Teams
Real simple. Make some improvements regarding the dumb mistakes.
Keep Joshua Cribbs happy. Keep Phil Dawson happy. Keep Dave Zastudil healthy.
2007 Coaching Staff
The Browns improved from 4-12 in 2006 to 10-6 in 2007. Usually, something like that means that everyone on the coaching staff is being praised for doing such a brilliant job.
But that ain’t happening here…because that ain’t the case.
Rod Chudzinski did a phenomenal job re-invigorating the offense. That statement is as much “news” to Browns fans as me saying that Joe Thomas had a good rookie year. That fact was not lost on the rest of the league, and Phil Savage acted quickly to extend Chud’s contract so that he wouldn’t be tempted to bolt for the Rats head coaching job.
Receivers coach Wes Chandler is to be commended for the job he did in finally getting through to Braylon Edwards. Don’t underestimate the value the former All-Pro receiver had in helping Braylon finally augment his enormous talent with the maturity and dedication needed to make that difficult step from “potential” to “reality”.
Other than that? Not much. But maybe that’s the point…good coaching allows good play from your players to garner all the attention.
On the down side, Todd Grantham’s struggles were well documented, as were the recent revelations that his ego had grown to Billickian proportions, and he had lost the respect of the players…which ultimately cost him his job.
Romeo’s leadership skills are to be praised, as should his demeanor with his young players.
His clock management skills, and his ability to make half-time adjustments border on a level best described as “criminal”.
2008 Coaching Staff
“Talks” are still going on for an extension in Romeo’s contact. I personally don’t think that he’s earned it, but I understand Savage’s desire to keep as much continuity as possible.
It has been rumored that there is a line of succession, and that Romeo may just coach another year or two, with Chud gaining more and more authority, until he steps into the HC role in 2009 or 2010. If things shake out like that, I’ll be happy.
But if the Browns struggle early next year with injuries and/or the tougher schedule, any extension could end up biting Randy Lerner in the wallet.
On the defensive side, I feel it was an excellent move in promoting Mel Tucker to Defensive Coordinator. The job Carter did in 2006 with the defensive backfield and all of their injuries was something akin to the loaves and fishes. He did an admirable job this year as well, getting top notch efforts from rookies Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald. He seems to be very smart, and relates well to the players…so if Phil can give him some actual players on the front seven, things could be looking very good.
The rest? Keep ‘em…they dun good.
But learn how to manage that damn clock.
2007 Front Office
Phil finally struck gold in 2007. The moves he made on Draft Day turned out to be the envy of every other GM in the league. Maybe Brady Quinn wasn’t able to prove his worth in 2007, but that’s more to the credit of Phil grabbing Derek Anderson off the scrap heap than anything negative about Quinn…and Quinn still showed enough flashes that there is serious hope of what he might become.
Drafting Thomas with the #3 pick was the best move he has made in the draft since he came to Cleveland. Anyone stating that he should have picked Adrian Peterson really doesn’t have a clue as to what it takes to succeed in the NFL; you succeed by building the line. And I fully believe Joe Thomas will have a Hall-of-Fame caliber career in Cleveland.
Phil also finally guessed right in Free Agency, as his he didn’t allow the unfortunate injury to LeCharles Bentley in 2006 dissuade him from trying again…and it paid out in spades with Eric Steinbach. Getting Seth McKinney in free agency, and locking up Hank Fraley made all the difference in the world.
And then there was Phil taking the huge gamble on Jamal Lewis. How’d that one work out?
He even had a couple nice pickups on defense, as Robaire Smith had a very good year, and Antwaan Peek and Shaun Smith both turned out to be decent players.
2008 Front Office
GET SOME DAMN DEFENSIVE LINE AND INSIDE LINEBACKING HELP!!!!!!
Other than that, just resign Jamal, figure out what to do with the QB situation, and find a way to ease Romeo into retirement in 2009 in a dignified and classy manner.
Not too much, is it?
As far as Randy Lerner…he needs to continue to be the type of owner that he is: One that stays the hell away and lets his football people take care of things.
Here is how I want conversations going between the GM and owner:
Phil: “Randy? This is Phil. I need $50 million to make our defense stop sucking.”
Randy: “OK. Cash, check, or American Express?”
It was a great year…made even better by signs of things to come.