2004 Cleveland Browns Season Preview

<b>Head Coach: </b> Butch Davis (Fourth season, 22-29) <br><br> <b> Last Season's Record:</b> 5-11, Fourth Place, AFC North <br><br> <b> Last Play Off Appearance: </b> 2002, Lost in Wild Card Playoff

09/12/04 Baltimore
09/19/04 @Dallas
09/26/04 @NY Giants
10/03/04 Washington
10/10/04 @Pittsburgh
10/17/04 Cincinnati
10/24/04 Philadelphia
11/07/04 @Baltimore
11/14/04 Pittsburgh
11/21/04 NY Jets
11//28/04 @Cincinnati
12/05/04 New England
12/12/04 @Buffalo
12/19/04 San Diego
12/26/04 @Miami
01/02/05 @Houston
Quarterback Jeff Garcia #5 of the Cleveland Browns hopes to turn the Browns struggling offense into a high powered balanced offense. It will be key to beat rival Baltimore Ravens in week one.
Getty Images/Dave Kaup

Key matchup(s): Sept 12 Baltimore (CBS); Oct 10 Pittsburgh (CBS); Oct 24 Philadelphia (CBS); Nov 7 Baltimore (ESPN); Dec 5 New England (CBS)

Star Power: Jeff Garcia, QB, 6-1, 195; Courtney Brown, DE, 6-5, 270; Lee Suggs, RB, 6-0, 201; Kellen Winslow Jr., TE, 6-5, 250

Notable Additions: Jeff Garcia, QB, 6-1, 195 (free agent, San Francisco); Kellen Winslow Jr., TE, 6-5, 250 (draft choice); Warrick Holdman, LB, 6-1.5, 235 (free agent, Chicago); Kelvin Garmon, OG, 6-2, 350 (free agent, San Diego); Ebenezer Ekuban, DE, 6-3, 282 (free agent, Dallas); Terrelle Smith, FB, 6-0, 246 (free agent, New Orleans)

Notable Subtractions: Tim Couch, QB, 6-4, 227 (released); Chris Gardocki, P, 6-1, 200 (signed with Pittsburgh); Shaun O'Hara, OL, 6-3, 287 (signed with NY Giants); Barry Stokes, OL, 6-4, 310 (signed with NY Giants)

Notable Returnees: Andra Davis, MLB, 6-0, 246; Andre Davis, WR, 6-1, 194; William Green, RB, 6-0, 221; Robert Griffith, SS, 5-11, 197; Kenard Lang, DE, 6-1, 281; Daylon McCutcheon, CB, 5-10, 180; Quincy Morgan, WR, 6-1, 209; Dennis Northcutt, WR, 5-11, 175; Gerard Warren, DT, 6-4, 322;

Offensive Overview: While most of the media focus is on the change at quarterback from Tim Couch to Jeff Garcia, new offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie has no intention of adopting the West Coast Offense or any other pass-happy scheme. Robiskie and Davis want to run the ball down the throats of opponents, and they may finally have the players in place to win on the ground. The tandem of Lee Suggs and William Green have looked impressive and the offensive line has shown the ability to open holes on the left, middle, or right. The Browns will have a legitimate fullback for the first time in the expansion era, as Terrelle Smith will look to help the team convert the short-yardage and goal-line situations that were the bane of the team's existence in 2003.

The Browns have the weapons to be successful through the air, as well, as long as Jeff Garcia can get the time he needs. Wide Receivers Andre Davis, Quincy Morgan, and Dennis Northcutt are a solid three-some, and the Browns hope that new tight end Kellen Winslow, Jr. will create match-up nightmares for opponents. The confident rookie hopes to put up Jeremy Shockey and Tony Gonzalez-like numbers, and has all the physical tools to play at that level.

The wide open question for the Browns is around pass protection. During pre-season, Garcia was frequently harassed and the team made a large number of mental mistakes which helped to cancel out the stellar running of Suggs and Green. New acquisition Kelvin Garmon has struggled in pass protection, and Garcia may have to rely on his legs to stay healthy in 2004.

Defensive Overview: The Browns were humiliated last year by giving up three 200+ yard games, including an NFL-record 295 yard to Ravens RB Jamal Lewis. The team hopes to improve against the run in 2004, but made curiously few personnel moves to overhaul their run defense. The only major addition on defense is new weakside linebacker Warrick Holdman, a six-year veteran from Chicago. Clearly, the hope is that the second-year in Dave Campo's defensive scheme will mean that the players are reacting, rather than thinking, as plays develop. Browns players claim that this is the case, and anticipate better performance against the run.

The team's safeties continue to cause concern within the team and among the fans. Strong safety Robert Griffith, the 11-year veteran, is considered a leader on defense, but is accused by some observers as being more concerned with making "the big hit" than sure tackling. Free safety Earl Little has led the team in interceptions, but will be checking in his rear-view mirror for Chris Crocker as the sure-tackling second-year player has made a push for the starting job. Starting cornerbacks Daylon McCutcheon and Anthony Henry are solid.

In addition to Holdman, the Browns anticipate adding another new starter, Chaun Thompson, to the mix as the season continues. Thompson has been called a "freak" by his teammates for his athletic ability, but is still overcoming the jump from tiny West Texas A&M as he enters his second season. LB Andra Davis emerged as the team's starting linebacker in 2003, and has the potential to put up Pro Bowl caliber numbers in 2004.

The defensive line consists of five first-round draft choices: Courtney Brown (number 1 overall in 2000), Gerard Warren, Ebenezer Ekuban, Kenard Lang, and Orpheus Roye. Now, the team hopes they will play at that level. Courtney Brown was the team's defensive star before getting hurt again in 2003, and Gerard Warren has shown up lighter and quicker than he has before as a pro. The two defensive linemen hope to live up to their draft positions in 2004, as does pass rushing specialist Ebenezer Ekuban, signed by his old coach Dave Campo. If Brown and Warren can step up in 2004, the Browns have a chance to improve on their inconsistent performance in 2003. Butch Davis' fate as the Browns head coach may be determined by their play.

Special Teams Overview:
Some consider the Browns biggest loss this off-season to have been, not Tim Couch, but punter Chris Gardocki. Gardocki was signed by the team in 1999, and for five years was the model of consistency, and never had a punt blocked. Gardocki's foot is now in Pittsburgh, and the Browns hope that newcomer Derrick Frost can improve on Gardocki's gradually fading numbers. So far, Frost looks like he is getting greater hang time on his punts than the team had with Gardocki, and punt coverage appears to have improved as a result. Placekicker Phil Dawson looks like he will be in Cleveland for a while, and is a consistent and high-percentage kicker, although his range is in the lower half of the league's kickers.

Dennis Northcutt didn't run a punt back for touchdown in 2003, and hopes to change that this year. Northcutt remains an explosive presence on punt returns. The Browns haven't found a kick-off returner who matches Northcutt's big-play ability, but may have stumbled on to one in Panthers' reject RB Dee Brown. Brown has shown a canny ability to time his runbacks and allow blocking to set up, and has consistently given the Browns good field position so far this year.

The Browns look to bounce back to their 2002 playoff form... but will have a hard time doing so if they don't stop the run and protect the passer better than they did in 2003. So far, the results look to be mixed, but Butch Davis anticipates that the team will improve as the year goes on. If they don't, the Browns head coach may get a new opportunity to explore career options at the collegiate level.

TheInsiders.com 2004 NFL Football Preview

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