The Bengals would benefit greatly from a dependable running attack; they had to go to the air more than all but four other teams last year. The jury is still out on Archie Griffin. But the jury is in on Boobie Clark. He refuses to apply himself the way he did as a rookie in 1973, and this year he reported to camp overweight.
Coach Bill Johnson won't miss Bacon, who popped off about the Bengals' coaching and was dealt with Parrish to Washington, because he is switching from the 4-3 to the 3-4. "I lost my guts not going to the 3-4 last year," he admits. "I didn't feel comfortable doing it." Cincinnati is well stocked with young linemen, including Ross Browner, a first-round pick from Notre Dame, and Eddie Edwards and Wilson Whitley, first-round choices last year. However, Johnson will miss Casanova, who has retired to devote full time to medical school, and Parrish. They were the most dependable backs, for what that's worth, in a secondary that last year ranked 21st in interceptions and 23rd in the percentage of passes opponents completed.
badly needs more home-run punch. Like a team of singles hitters, the Browns have to put a lot of offense together to do any scoring. Last year only Miami achieved a greater first-down frequency than Cleveland, yet the Browns ranked 12th in points scored.
Greg Pruitt, who is nagged by injuries because of his small size, represents about 90% of the Browns' offense. He rushed for 1,086 yards in 1977—his third straight 1,000-yard season—and caught 37 passes for 471 more. Pruitt and Cleo Miller, small for a fullback at 214, helped the Browns rank third in the league in yards per rush. Unfortunately, Cleveland didn't capitalize on this strength, running the ball less than the average team.
With a high completion percentage, the Browns' passing attack seems effective, but appearances can be deceiving. The two leading receivers are the backs, Miller and Pruitt. The fastest receiver may well be Tight End Ozzie Newsome, a first-round draft choice from Alabama. What new Coach Sam Rutigliano needs is a deep threat. Sadly, even if the Browns had a wide receiver who could get open deep, weak-armed Quarterback Brian Sipe probably couldn't get the ball to him. When Sipe throws the ball upfield, instead of on the flank to his backs, he is often intercepted.
The Browns' defensive line sorely needs Tackle Jerry Sherk to make a healthy return from knee surgery. The unit is just average against the run and applies little pressure in passing situations. Fortunately, behind it is a solid line-backing corps led by Gerald Irons and bolstered by the addition of another rookie first-draft choice, Clay Matthews of USC. Matthews is the best of a good crop of Brown draftees. A few more drafts are needed, however, before the Browns can regain control of the AFC Central.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]