Work in Sports
Couch & Co. continue building for the future
The Cleveland Browns, 2-14 last season, go into their second season back in the NFL with dreams of doing something the last two expansion franchises did -- make the playoffs in Year 2. Here are a few questions from Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z, followed by CNNSI.com's perspective on some of the issues facing the Browns this season. You can find SI's season preview on CNNSI.com on Aug. 23.
Dr. Z wants to know:
1.) Why some people actually projected the Browns into the playoffs at this time last year?
2.) What 1999 statistics can be improved upon? Answer: Practically all of them, with the exception of yards given up passing-mainly because it was so easy to run on Cleveland that people didn't throw much.
3.) What statistic definitely will be improved? Answer: sacks. The league-low of 25 will get a boost because the Browns have stockpiled defensive ends, starting with top draft Courtney Brown, continuing with ex-Steeler Orpheus Roye (good name there ... bronze medal on my NFL all-names Olympics ... Kimo von Oelhoffen gets the gold, the Seahawks' Fabien Bownes gets the silver, the Dolphins' Olindo Mare is the fourth-place finisher) ... where was I? Oh, yes, DEs. Finally, ex-Packer sack specialist Keith McKenzie will guarantee that the sack totals will swell to at least 35, more if they decide to blitz LB Jamir Miller regularly.
4.) What lies ahead for QB Tim Couch, who proved his toughness the hard way last year?
The Browns can make the playoffs if ... second-year quarterback Tim Couch can not only remain upright, but also find some way to push an offense that has a suspect offensive line, an unproven starter at running back (free agent Errict Rhett) and young, so-so receivers. The Browns were the worst-scoring team in the NFL last season -- 13.6 points a game -- and Couch, the starter since Game 2, was sacked 60 times. Remember, too, the defense gave up more yards than anyone (almost 378 a game) and was especially bad against the run (allowing 171 a game, a league worst). No. 1 pick Courtney Brown, a defensive end from Penn Stat, will help some. The Browns were last in '99 in sacks. But the Browns need about three more of him just to get near .500.
Pivotal Games : One of the Browns' two wins last season -- both of which came away from Cleveland -- was against AFC Central foe Pittsburgh. The Steelers, with something to prove this season, too, come into Cleveland Browns Stadium on Sept. 17.
On the Hot Seat : Rhett, since the Browns had no one to beef about last season for their bottom-ranked running game. And another 2-14 season could put some heat on head coach Chris Palmer and VP Dwight Clark.
Up-and-comers : Couch looked like the real deal in a rough-and-tumble rookie season, but he still has little to work with. Brown will face a lot of double teams. And WR Kevin Johnson, after a nice rookie season, needs to be Couch's main man again.