The Great Cleveland Browns Experiment: How Far Can a Team Go Without an Elite QB

Omar Zahran
6 min readNov 23, 2023

In a league predicated on passing and scoring a lot of points, the Cleveland Browns are currently offering us a counter argument to our conventional thoughts on winning in the NFL

The greatest runs of NFL success historically are typically tied to stability at the quarterback position. The New England Patriots were consistently in the championship hunt for 20 years thanks to the sustained excellence of Tom Brady, and the current iteration of the Kansas City Chiefs have seen their success in large part thanks to Patrick Mahomes. A team that has not had this level of good fortune at the games most important position is the Cleveland Browns.

A number that may be hard to believe is that the Browns have had 36 different quarterbacks start a game since 2000. By comparison, their AFC North rival Pittsburgh Steelers have started 13 quarterbacks in that same time period. This instability among other factors has led the team to have only 3 winning seasons in the past 22 seasons with a winless season thrown in for good measure. But this season has been a promising one for Cleveland. They are winning games and in contention for a playoff spot, and it is all thanks to their defense. In the age of the quarterback, the Browns are defying the odds, winning with defense and in spite of whoever is under center.

Below Expectations

For years, Browns fans have felt that they were just a quarterback away from contending in the AFC. This was the thinking behind drafted players like Brady Quinn, Johnny Manziel, Baker Mayfield, and so on. These players were brought in to “save the Browns” and repeatedly have failed for a variety of reasons. The answer to these questions was supposed to be DeShaun Watson, the former Houston Texans QB that the team traded for in the 2022 offseason.

Watson came with his fair share of risks. He was embroiled in a slew of sexual assault allegations in addition to having suffered multiple shoulder and knee injuries in college and the NFL. But at his best (and when healthy) he led the Texans to two straight…