The Cleveland Browns kicked off the NFL season in typical, expansion-era Cleveland style. The once-storied franchise disappointed its fans yet again when its defense cracked in the fourth quarter, allowing the Miami Dolphins to score 10 unanswered points and widen their lead to 23–10. The defeat marked the ninth consecutive season-opening loss for the Browns.
In seasons of the past, these first-game losses have been indicative of the quality of play that was to come in the games that followed, but that may change this year. The top-down culture of failure that has so long plagued the Browns’s organization may have finally been vanquished.
Following a 4–12 first season, the Browns’ second-year owner, Jimmy Haslam, has taken great steps to distance the team from its past failures. In the past 15 seasons, Cleveland has had six different general managers and seven different head coaches. Until this season, no matter who was in charge, the organization appeared utterly devoid of a cohesive grand strategy to achieve success in the long run. The most representative example of the chaos and misplaced confidence of the Browns’ personnel department is the team’s 14 season–long quest for a true franchise quarterback.
The Browns may not have found that much-coveted franchise quarterback in new starter, Brian Hoyer, but the Lakewood, Ohio native is certainly an upgrade on quarterbacks of the past. Since taking over for former first-round pick Brandon Weeden, Hoyer has led the Browns to two consecutive wins over 2012 playoff teams, the Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals.
Hoyer, who had previously been a backup for the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals, is nothing flashy, but he holds up better behind the weak Cleveland offensive line than Weeden ever did.
Hoyer gets sacked less. He throws fewer interceptions. He throws more touchdowns and gains more yards, too.
That the new front office was able to make the decision to have Hoyer start without getting hung up on Weeden’s status as a former first-round pick demonstrates a maturity that was lacking in the Browns’s leadership before this year. Hoyer is simply better for the Browns right now, and the team’s front office brass knows it.
Since 1999, the Browns have started 19 different quarterbacks, three of whom were drafted by the team as first-round picks, and none have had any type of prolonged success with the organization. Fortunately for Browns fans, however, there are several strong indicators that the organization is finally on the right path.
Another great sign for the team is the vast improvement of the Browns’s defense this season. Four games into the season, the Browns’s defense is ranked third in the league. At the end of last season, it was ranked 23rd. A flurry of quality offseason signings has helped. Both linebacker Paul Kruger and defensive lineman Desmond Bryant were given over $30 million to join the team, and rush linebacker Barkevious Mingo was chosen with their first-round pick. The results from these moves have been overwhelmingly positive thus far.
Heading into week five, the Browns are tied for first place. There is no reason why they should not be considered a contender in the AFC North. The team may not be a Super Bowl contender just yet, but it’s highly likely that they will finish the year with at least a .500 record.
For Browns fans, after seasons with their team languishing in last place, hope like this is a welcome sight.