Injuries = Losses for Cleveland Browns

By Will Burge

The 2011 Cleveland Browns season kicks off Sunday afternoon with a ton of excitement and enthusiasm. Excitement for a younger, more skilled and athletic team that can compete with anyone on any given day. There is enthusiasm about the prospects of a weak schedule and relevant football in December.

The schedule presents seven opponents to start the season who don’t have a quarterback that strikes fear into anyone. The argument can be made that Chad Henne is the best quarterback that the Browns will see until they face the Houston Texans with Matt Schaub in week 9.

The only thing stopping the Browns from a fast start, and dare I say, jumping out to a lead in the AFC North, is health. The Browns have a very talented front line with young emerging stars on both sides of the ball. Behind that front line, however, lies a dirty little secret in Berea. There is no depth.

I have put together a list of the most valuable players on the Browns. Not necessarily because of what they bring skill wise but because of who is backing them up and how much an injury at that position will hurt the team.

How many losses would result from injuries to these players? Let’s take a look.

Colt McCoy injury = 3 more losses (Backup: Seneca Wallace)

Say what you want about Colt McCoy but he is the undisputed leader of the offense on this football team. Seneca Wallace has been around a long time and has been one of the best backups in the league everywhere he goes. But he is just that, a backup.

Wallace can “manage” the offense but if he is in the game, the deep passing routes disappear and the pocket poise is gone with the wind. Teams would be able to load the box and focus on stopping Peyton Hillis, Montario Hardesty, and whoever else runs the ball out of the backfield. Even in the west coast offense, you need the threat of the deep ball and a physical run game to score points.

Peyton Hillis injury = 3 more losses (Backup: Montario Hardesty)

Every Browns fan rejoiced when Peyton Hillis was awarded the cover of this year’s Madden game. Every Browns fan will rejoice even more if Hillis is still standing and effective in week 17. Pat Shurmur has installed a “pass first’ offense but even he said it has to have a physical run game to keep teams honest.

If Hillis were to go down with an injury the workload would fall squarely on the shoulders of Montario Hardesty. Despite repeatedly saying he is 100% healthy, I don’t think anyone in the greater Cleveland area feels comfortable with Hardesty carrying the ball 20 times a game. As much as fans love Armond Smith, there is a reason he went undrafted and is nowhere near big enough to carry a run game in the AFC North.

An injury to Hillis would force the Browns to go out and bring in another running back.

Joe Thomas injury = 4 more losses (Backup: Oniel Cousins & John Greco)

Joe Thomas was the recipient of a 7 year $84 million contract extension because he is durable and plays one of the most valuable positions in the NFL. His backup, Oniel Cousins, has experience starting at both tackle positions. Unfortunately, Cousins looked terrible at the end of last season for the Ravens and looked even worse this preseason.

To compound matters, Cousins is also the backup for Right Tackle Tony Pashos. Pashos is constantly injured so Cousins would most likely need to be at that position. If this scenario happens, John Greco could be a starting tackle, either on the right or left side. Greco is a backup in every sense of the word. He is described as a “utility guy” who can play any position on the line. Translation: He doesn’t play any position on the line good enough to start, period.

Chris Gocong injury = 2 more losses (Backup: Kaluka Maiava)

Chris Gocong is not an all-pro. He is not even in the top third of linebackers in the league. He is, however, a veteran who knows the 4-3 defense like the back of his hand and the epitome of the word solid. Gocong has good coverage skills and reads the run at an above average level. He is strong enough to shed blockers and fast enough to track down a running back on the sidelines. Kaluka Maiava is none of the above.

Maiava is regarded by most as a special team’s player. He is undersized, not very quick, and gets lost in blockers when the offensive line is able to get out to the second level. Maiava is a decent rotation guy, especially on run downs because he is stout, but if he has to play any extended period of time, teams will game plan to take advantage of his weaknesses.

T.J. Ward injury = 2 more losses (Backup: Ray Ventrone)

It is not a secret that T.J. Ward is one of the up and coming secondary superstars in this league. Last year he showed the ability to be the punisher for the Browns’ defense and has added coverage skills to his arsenal this season. If he goes down, Ventrone is very similar to Maiava.

Ventrone is undersized and is best suited for special teams. He can pack a punch in the run game but isn’t as fast as Ward and certainly cannot cover backs or slot receivers every play. The secondary needs T.J. Ward.

Ahtyba Rubin injury = 2 more losses (Backup: Brian Shaefering)

Rubin has adjusted to the change in the defense better than just about any other holdover from the old coaching regime. Many questioned whether Rubin could thrive inside on the defensive line but he has exceeded expectations thus far in preseason. Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron loves to have big athletic players for his inside d-lineman and Rubin fits that mold.

If he goes down, so does the athleticism. Shaefering is big but not very agile and can be manipulated in the trenches. Rubin is someone other teams need to keep in mind when they make a game plan. Shaefering is too, but it has a lot more to do with the fact they can exploit his presence.

Follow Will on Twitter @WillBurge


1 Comment

  1. Im Sick of hearing about the browns lag of depth as a problem… They have a 53man roster and a Salary floor they have to meet. if they donthave depth then Hercket needs to get off his rear and get it fixed as thats his job.

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