Only two weeks into a fresh NFL season and it already feels like it’s over for Cleveland fans. The skeptics of the 2013 Browns are almost gleefully singing the demise of the franchise and are somehow excited to see Jason Campbell or Brian Hoyer start next Sunday. The believers in this team (like me) are ready to admit that we may been higher on this squad than we should have.
I for one don’t feel stupid for picking this team to go 10-6. I was betting on Ray Horton and Norv Turner to do what they’ve always done as coordinators and that’s to put solid, well-executing, units out on the filed on Sunday. Horton has held up his end of the bargain with glowing praise. The Browns are only allowing a league-best 2.0 yards per rushing attempt. And even though we are often critical of Buster Skrine and Chris Owens for the pass coverage, the Browns D is top 15 in the NFL in passing yards per game, yards per attempt, sacks, and opposing QB Rating. The fact is that Horton’s defense has played well enough through two games to get the win. If you only give up 14 points in an NFL game these days, you usually win. Only the Jets this week gave up fewer than 14 points (13 to the Patriots on Thursday night) and still lost, and they had a rookie QB who threw three picks. From a gambling (and my picks column) standpoint it’s unfathomable that the Browns only allowed 14 points and still failed to cover the spread!!! I’m more than pleased with what Horton and the Browns D has done through two games. They’re keeping the team in the game and giving the offense a chance to win, and that’s all you can ask for in a league so dominated by offense.
I cannot, however, say that I’m pleased with The Norv. I was lead to believe that this guy is was the guru of offensive football, that he was going to use Brandon Weeden’s strong arm in a vertical passing game and that he was going to figure out how to get Trent Richardson going. Through two games he has accomplished nothing. Weeden looks as lost as he did under Pat Shurmur and Richardson looks like he’s running with lead shoes on his feet.
I would like to believe that all our issues will be solved by the return of Josh Gordon but that’s a bit of a stretch, even for an eternal optimist like myself. Gordon will undoubtedly help by stretching the defense in a way that Travis Benjamin hasn’t really been able to. This should open up Greg Little (who we’ll get to more in a second) to do what he did so well in the second half of last season and that’s eat up all the middle stuff with Davone Bess getting everything underneath. At least let’s hope so because right now it appears that the only person capable to getting open and catching passes is Jordan Cameron. If The Norv can’t figure out how to get more guys open for Weeden then teams will start to take away the tight end leaving the Browns to run the ball with their “plodding” running back who only gets 3.5 yards per carry. All of this is of course behind an offensive line that apparently can’t pass or run block.
All of the issues can’t be placed on The Norv, just like you can’t put everything on Weeden or Richardson. It’s a whole team issue. No one on offense has played well through two games. Little has reverted back to “I can’t catch anything” Greg Little from the first half of last season. Cameron has probably been the best of a bad bunch, but even he had a pass go off his hands for a pick last week. The question that The Norv needs to figure out is if the issues are with scheme, personnel/talent, or just execution. While I don’t consider the 2013 Ravens to be a good football team by any means I did find it interesting to look at the team stat comparisons for yesterday’s contest. Both teams averaged an identical 4.2 yards per play yesterday. If you take out Jason Campbell’s woeful four plays (1-4 for six yards) the Browns actually would have come out ahead. Weeden averaged 6.9 yards per attempt on his 33 throws compared to Flacco’s 6.4 on the same number of attempts. The Browns rushed for 3.3 yards per carry compared to the Ravens at 2.8. What made the difference in the game is two other factors that fortunately have a stat attached to them. Weeden was sacked five times losing 39 yards compared to Flacco’s two for 14. The other big number? The Browns were 4-15 on third down while the Ravens were 8-16. That’s the difference, folks. It’s all about executing when you need it most.
Look, I realize that the Browns don’t have the most talented team in the NFL. But you can’t sell me on the Ravens being a far more superiorly talented team than the Browns. Other than at the QB position (which is obviously super important) where exactly are the Ravens that much better? They don’t have exceptionally better receivers. They’re top guy was effectively neutralized by Joe Haden on Sunday. I mean, can you remember a guy having a more empty seven catches for 85 yards than Torrey Smith did yesterday? I for the life me don’t remember him doing anything game-altering. Their pass rush is good but not significantly better than what the Browns have. Even at the QB position, it’s not like Flacco was even good yesterday.
I understand that everyone wants to pin the loss and the 0-2 start on Weeden because that’s easy and there were enough haters from the moment that he got drafted that he becomes an easy target. But there’s plenty of blame to go around and I don’t think it starts with Weeden. It starts with the offensive line that has been beyond awful, surrendering 11 sacks in two games, the most in the NFL. Mitchell Schwartz has been exceptionally terrible and doesn’t appear to be able to block anyone rushing off the edge. I don’t how you can even begin to do an accurate evaluation on Weeden’s talent level and potential when he’s handicapped by that offensive line. Until this line starts doing something productive then the team will go nowhere.
While we’re on the topic of crappy line play, this has given rise to already-too-soon talk about drafting a QB in the 2014 Draft. I must say, however, that if the team cannot improve the line play then a switch to a mobile QB might be a necessity. I like Weeden as a passer but his lack of mobility is an issue with this line. It’s tough when you watch a guy like Terrelle Pryor, who I don’t think is as good of a QB as Weeden, have success behind a crappy O-line because he can make plays with his feet. It’s also tough when you watch Sunday Night Football and see two of the best young QBs in the NFL in Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick who are both mobile and can make plays with more than just their arms. I don’t know yet if I’ll fall into the camp of being in favor of drafting Johnny Manziel or anything like that, but I’m certainly leaning that way.
I want to re-emphasize…I don’t think the Browns’ issues through two games are all or even mostly on Brandon Weeden. I’ll be pissed if he’s out for any games and we have to watch Jason Campbell or Brian Hoyer under center. I want to see him with some time to throw and I want to see him with Josh Gordon taking the top off the defense. But given all the circumstances of the line, no running game, the front office, and the current state of the NFL, it doesn’t look good for Weeden’s future in Cleveland.Follow @ClevelandFlack
 I still can’t figure out why the majority of fans give Richardson a pass for his lack of production. He was drafted at the No. 3 pick because he was supposed to be a game-changing play-maker. The best running backs in the NFL makes runs out of nothing and are able to bust runs for huge gains every game. Richardson, through 17 games, has yet to show that he’s that type of a player. I think he runs super hard and he’s a tough guy who breaks and powers through tackles. But with 31 rushing attempts so far this season he has a long run of only ten yards. We need him to be more than a short-yardage guy. It’s telling to me that the Browns as an organization don’t trust him on third downs which only creates more issues. That pick by Tom Heckert (especially to move up to do it) is starting to look to me like his biggest mistake.