To say the Browns offense has struggled during the last half decade is putting it mildly. In the last 5 years, the team by the lake has ranked 25th, 29th, 29th, 32nd, and 31st respectively in total offense. 2012 saw the browns offense led by a trio of rookies (quarterback Brandon Weeden, running back Trent Richardson, and wide receiver Josh Gordon) that showed flashes of talent, mixed with untimely mistakes. New offense coordinator Norv Turner has a history of turning around young, raw offensive players, and he will prove to be exactly what the Browns need.
THE BEST PLAY CALLER IN FOOTBALL
Fox NFL commentator and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman has said that Turner is the best player caller in football. Turner and Aikman paired up for 3 seasons in Dallas from 1991-93 that included back to back Superbowl championships. In Turner’s first year as OC, Aikman’s numbers flourished. Aikman cut his interception total down by 61%, his yards per attempt increased by over a yard, his completion percentage improved by almost 9%, and his passer rating improved by 20 points. Aikman and Turner are still friends off the field to this day, and Aikman credits Turner as the reason for his hall of fame career.
THE ALEX SMITH PROJECT
Before the Harbaugh era started in San Francisco, things weren’t so good for Alex Smith. In his rookie season, Smith was thrust into the starting spot after Tim Rattay proved ineffective. Playing behind the worst offensive line in football – while trying to learn the complicated playbook of 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy – led to some putrid numbers. In 2005, Smith finished the year with 1 td pass, 11 interceptions, 50.9% completion percentage, and a 40.8 passer rating.
In 2006, Turner entered the scene in San Francisco after McCarthy left the 49ers to become the Packers head coach. That year Smith’s numbers rose across the board. His completion percentage rose by 7.2 points, touchdowns increased by 15, interception percentage was nearly cut in half, and his passer rating shot up 34 points.
Not only was Smith drastically improved in 2006, but so was the 49ers entire offense. The 49ers gained 1,270 more total yards, ranked 6th in rushing, and their time of possession increased by almost a minute and a half. The 49ers were picked by a lot of experts to be 2007’s breakout team, but Turner accepted a head coaching job in San Diego late in the off season, and the 49ers offense became a shadow of its former self.
Quarterback isn’t the only position that benefits from Turners presence – several running backs have also flourished under Turner’s watch. In 1990, the Dallas Cowboys selected a running back few people were talking about named Emmit Smith. In his rookie season, Smith amassed 937 yards rushing on 3.9 yards per carry, with11 td’s and 24 receptions. During Turner’s first year in 1991, Smith’s numbers skyrocketed: 1,563 rushing yards, almost a half yard more per carry,13 total TD’s, and 49 receptions.
Frank Gore’s numbers thrived in Turner’s first year with the 49ers just like they did for Smith in Turner’s first year with the Cowboys. In his rookie year of 2005, Gore rushed for 608 yards, had 3 total td’s, and 15 receptions. In 2006, Gore rushed for over 1,000 more yards (1,695), had triple the number of total td’s (9), his receptions increased by 400% (61), and his yards per rush increased by over a half yard per carry (5.4).
As further proof of Turner’s influence, here are the offensive rankings for the year before, and the first year of, offenses under his guidance:
Offensive Ranking Year Before Turner – Last
First Year With Turner – 9th
Year Before – 28th
First Year – 11th
Year Before – 21st
First Year- 15th
Year Before – Last
First Year – 26th
As you can see, every team Turner’s called plays for has improved the first year – some of them dramatically. While the 49ers ascension may not seem impressive, consider this: the year after Turner left they regressed back to being the worst offense in the NFL. That’s the worst offensive in the NFL on the years directly before and after Turner’s presence, with an improvement of 6 spots and almost 1,300 yards.
At this point in Turner’s career, after 3 stops as a head coach, the Browns shouldn’t have to worry about him leaving abruptly – a luxury the 49ers and Cowboys didn’t have. Turner’s inheriting a team much like those he’s called plays for in the past: one that’s struggling to put things together on offense with an inexperienced quarterback turning the ball over, and a talented running back with potential yet to be actualized.
Nothing’s guaranteed in the NFL, and as brilliant as Turner’s been with offenses, his struggles as a head coach are well documented. But as far as play calling and player development are concerned, history shows that things could be getting a lot better in Cleveland. Turner may be the best hire of 2013.