Monday, October 29, 2007

The Browns Are Actually FUN Again

After slogging through year after year of boring, predictable and downright horrible football, my frustration level with the Cleveland Browns had just about reached the boiling point. As I would drag myself to the Stadium to attend their games week after week, I'd get the same feeling that I had when I was heading off to have dental work done.

That wasn't exactly the experience I was looking for when I shelled out money for season tickets year in and year out, but for some reason, I kept on writing the checks. Now I think I remember why. When done right, NFL football is a downright thrilling experience -- and for the first time in years, the Cleveland Browns are doing it right.

I'm not deluding myself into thinking this is a good football team. I've seen the defense play, so I'll leave that kind of hyperbole to the talk radio guys. But it is an extremely entertaining football team when it has the football, and what's more, it is a young team that fans have legitimate reasons to believe is going to get better with time.

A lot of people thought the Browns would have an interim head coach and a full blown a QB controversy raging by now. I was one of them, and after the team's horrendous performance against the Steelers in week one and the subsequent decision to trade the guy who'd won the QB job in training camp, I wouldn't have given you odds on the length of Phil Savage's remaining tenure in this town either.

Instead, the shake-up at the QB position appeared to be exactly what the doctor ordered, and has resulted in six weeks of the most explosive offensive display that we've seen in this city since the late 1980s, and by some measures, since the late 1960s. That being said, it isn't all sunshine on the offensive side of the ball. As the performance against the Rams proved, the team still has an uncanny ability to repeatedly commit penalties that leave them looking at 2nd or 3rd and long too many times. Braylon Edwards' antics with his helmet at the end of the 3rd Quarter also shows that the ghost of Dwayne Rudd is still hanging around, and that we should continue to expect various members of the team to periodically engage in conduct that suggests that they have somehow suffered severe brain damage.

While the offense is good and the play of the QB and receivers seems to get better every week, the defense is awful, and is ultimately going to be what keeps this team out of the playoffs this season. That point was really brought home yesterday, when the banged-up Rams, who are averaging less than 300 yards in offense per game, were able to put up almost 400 yards of total offense against the Browns. Most of it came through the air, particularly after Steven Jackson left the game in the second quarter.

Jackson's departure was particularly good news for the Browns, because as bad as they are against the pass, they may even be worse against the rush. There are a lot of reasons why Phil Savage may have decided to pass on signing Grady Jackson to bolster the run defense, but maybe the biggest thing that decision tells us is that the holes are so big and so numerous that he doesn't think there's much that can be done to improve that aspect of the defense this season.

Fortunately, the Browns defense stiffened at key times and forced some turnovers to keep the Rams from putting points on the board. Unfortunately, however, the team is going to face better offenses over the course of the next four weeks, especially when it travels to Pittsburgh and when the Texans come to town.

While I'm enjoying the Browns, the ineptitude of the defense and the inability to eliminate stupid mistakes on offense makes me very dubious of claims that this is a team headed for the playoffs this year. Check back with me in a month, though, because if the Browns manage to get through the next four weeks and still have a record above .500, then those playoff dreams may not be so crazy after all.

1 comment:

Chocolate Starfish said...

I watched the second half of this game with some good friends at a downtown establishment and could feel the excitement coming from the lakefront after this great victory as we walked to the Springsteen concert. Bruce started 45 minutes late as the Browns fans took their seats. The place was buzzing from this come-from-behind thriller. Springsteen took the stage at 8:15 pm, stating, arm in the air, "Welcome football fans ..." He proceeded to blow away the crowd for the next two hours with another of his awesome shows for which the term "concert" does no justice ... Really, really great.

Great Browns win. Springsteen & Band. About as good as it gets.

Pretty decent November Sunday here in Cleveland ....