Are the Cleveland Browns for real? One season isn’t going to prove anything, but if you start stringing a couple of years of solid performances together, then there is a discussion to be had. The Browns are looking to have that discussion around this time next year as they look to build off of their best season in decades—even if that isn’t saying much.
The Browns finished third in the AFC North this year, yet their 11-5 record was good enough to earn them the sixth seed in the AFC and they advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Not only that, they took down the division-winning Pittsburgh Steelers in the opening round, recording their first playoff victory since 1994.
Considering the fact that they hadn’t even had a non-losing record of any kind before this since 2007, that is pretty remarkable progress. Even as recently at 2019, they only went 6-10, which was actually a regression from 7-8-1, coming to tantalizingly close to a winning record, the year before that.
“You all have seen that we have a hell of a team all around”, star defender Myles Garrett said after the Browns lost to the Kansas City Chiefs earlier this month. “We are out here to prove ourselves and anything we set ourselves to or that we think we can do, we are not trying to impose any limit or standards for us that keep us from going as far as anybody else says we can do”.
“We can make it to [the AFC Championship] and we showed that. We showed that we can go to the AFC Championship”, he said, even though they, of course, did not make it there. “We were just one play away. We just have to make that play. They were able to get it done, but I like our odds next year just because we have a lot of guys here that are young and we can keep getting better”.
Garrett, who missed two games in 2020, finished the season with a career-high 48 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss, with 12 sacks and four forced fumbles, the latter also representing a personal best, in addition to three passes defensed. He added another sack in two postseason games.
Still, as the Browns move forward, the reality is that a lot of the work will come on defense. They ranked 21st in the league in points allowed, for example, and 17th in yards allowed, 23rd and third down conversions allowed, and 14th in red zone defense.
It will help to get a couple of starters back in the secondary. Greedy Williams never played this year, and rookie Grant Delpit was expected to start as well, but both were injured throughout the season. But that won’t be enough to solve all their problems.