Monday, October 01, 2007

How High is Up?

If you expected the Cleveland Browns to be 2-2 four weeks into this NFL season, you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din. We all knew there was some talent on this team, but we also knew that there were glaring weaknesses at key positions, and we saw every last one of them against Pittsburgh in week one.

With the QB position apparently in complete disarray after the Steelers game, who would've thought we'd manage not just to be competitive, but to take not one, but two games from Central Division foes in three weeks? The Browns have won more divisional games in September than they won during the entire 2006 and 2005 seasons.

The Browns face Bill the Cheater next week, but they follow that with two games against teams (Miami and St. Louis) that currently sport 0-4 records. Following those games, they quickly get thrown back into the fire again, with a game at home against the Seahawks followed by road games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore. After that, they play only one more team that had a winning record last year (the Jets), and while the Steelers found out yesterday that teams like Arizona are definitely improving, that part of the schedule still looks a lot less intimidating than the first six games of the season.

So with the Browns unexpectedly standing at .500 and more than halfway through the most challenging part of their schedule, it's fair to ask the question, how high is up for this team? Don't go printing the playoff tickets just yet, but if the offensive line stays healthy, then the answer may be quite a bit higher than we all thought it might be, possibly even 8-8.

Right now, the Cleveland Browns offense ranks 4th in the league in points scored. That's a truly remarkable turnaround, and there are a lot of reasons for it. Certainly, the coaching staff and Rob Chudzinski in particular deserve a lot of credit, and I've got to concede that the change in the QB position helped as well, but I think the biggest factors in the improvement on the offensive side of the ball are what is starting to look like a vast improvement in the offensive line, and the addition of Jamal Lewis.

It's amazing what a fun game football is when the fat guys knock people down and running backs punish people who try to knock them down. Jamal Lewis is fourth in the league in rushing and is averaging 4.9 yards per carry. But it isn't just the running game that's opened up. Braylon Edwards is starting to show that there is more to him than just a mouth, and his 20.8 yards per catch average is currently the fifth best among all NFL receivers. K2 ranks second among tight ends in receptions and in yards per catch, and all Joe Jurevicius seems to do is show up and catch a touchdown pass every week.

At this point in the season, the turd in the punch bowl is the Browns defense, which has been underwhelming. Although the Browns defense turned in its best performance of the season yesterday, there are still holes just about everywhere, especially the defensive line. That's reflected in the fact that the Browns currently rank 30th in the league against the run, and 29th against the pass. Yikes.

But let's worry about the defense later in the week, huh? They spanked the damn Ravens yesterday, and that's something they haven't managed to do a whole lot. So let's allow ourselves a little optimism on Monday morning about a team that most of us thought would be 1-3 or worse heading into week five. Predicting an 8-8 record is a bit of a stretch, but for that matter, so is a 2-2 record after four weeks.


epdaws said...

The defense is not underwhelming, it is disgusting.

Best of the game of the season yesterday, yes: but they failed to force even one punt all day. Wow.

Erik said...

Whether Bill Belichick engages in espionage or not, there really isn't a question in my mind that the Patriots are going to drop 40 on the Browns next week. But, hey, you take your lumps against teams like New England, and this is arguably the toughest game on the Browns' schedule.

All I know is that I watched the game on TV Sunday, and I was pretty sure that I saw a stat box that said the Browns lead the league in yards per rush. I wish I had TiVo, because I don't totally believe I saw that.

Maybe a lot of it had to do with Jamal Lewis going crazy against Cincy, but if the Browns offense can play like they've played the past three games, they'll win their share this year. Above .500 isn't even out of the question.

peter said...

what did i tell you after the Pittsburgh game? Be patient, there are pieces in place that are very good (most pleasantly the OL, but also receiver, running back, tight end, kick returner, special teams, a couple of linebackers and a couple of cornerbacks.

The Patriots aren't going to drop 40 on the Browns, unless the Browns counter with 42. The Browns are going to win. The gods hate it when people get so full of something they like a lot they immediately start calling it the best ever. The gods strike down hubris like that, and the Browns striking down the Patriots would be much more a shock than the Cowboys the next week. So I think the gods are going to carry the Browns to victory this week.