5 Reasons for Optimism: Week 3 Preview

Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

 

Just two weeks into the 2013 season, Browns fans have plenty of reasons for despair.  Quarterback Brian Hoyer takes the reigns of a reeling offense that ranks 28th in the NFL for offensive yards (550), 30th in yards per offensive play (4.1), and 31st in total touchdowns scored (1).  Literally during the writing of this article, Trent Richardson was traded to the Colts, drastically changing the look of the Browns offense.  This is disappointing for fans hoping to see some sort of improvement over Pat Shurmur’s offense in 2012.  With years of futility setting the table for this seasons rough start, Cleveland fans could use a shot in the arm to hope for a turnaround looking towards the upcoming game against the Minnesota Vikings.  Here are five reasons to be optimistic about this weeks game.

 1.)  The Browns pass rush is as good as they were advertised to be.

 The Browns are ranked 10th in the NFL in sacks (10) and 4th in interceptions (3).  The pass rush is working and the pressure created is resulting in turnovers.  All the major free agent pick ups this offseason have recorded sacks (Groves, Kruger and Bryant).  First round linebacker Barkevious Mingo notched a sack, hurry and batted down pass in 12 pass rushes against the Ravens.  Jabaal Sheard also had a sack on Sunday, as well as being involved in 8 tackles.  While cornerbacks Chris Owens and Buster Skrine continue to struggle with coverage, the Browns have slowed the bleeding secondary with an effective front seven that are consistently getting through opposing offensive lines.

 2.)  The Minnesota Vikings have a Quarterback as bad as ours has been in Christian Ponder.

 When Ponder has been protected well, he has performed decently.  The Vikings offensive line allowed just 8 pressures on Ponder last week in their loss in Chicago, and that translated to a 75.3 quarterback rating.  When Ponder has been pressured however, he has coughed up 4 interceptions and his accuracy has been less than impressive.  Offseason pick up Greg Jennings will have trouble finding open looks against cornerback Joe Haden.  While the offensive line of the Vikings should prove a challenge, pressures on Ponder should result in more success for the Browns defensive backs against the pass.

 3.) Kicker Billy Cundiff has done an admirable job so far, taking the place of Phil Dawson.

 Fan favourite Phil Dawson moved on this past offseason when the Browns were unwilling to give him a salary raise.  Dawson, one of the few bright spots on past Browns offenses, was nearly automatic within 50 yards.  Cundiff, a ten year NFL vet, stepped into that roll with a lot of pressure to perform and avoid mistakes this year.  In his first two starts of the season, Cundiff has been reliable with a perfect 3 for 3 in field goals, including one this past Sunday from 51 yards out.  If the Browns continue to struggle in the red zone, Cundiff gives the Browns the ability to keep games competitive and reward the offense with points on shorter drives.

Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports

 4.)  The Browns run defense has been surprisingly good.

 The Browns defense has allowed a stingy 2 yards per rushing play so far this year.  Inside linebacker Craig Robertson has been a pleasant surprise in his second season, racking up 12 tackles and a forced fumble.  Together with the always reliable D’Qwell Jackson, the Browns have a strong presence between the hash marks.  The Ravens struggled to get their run game going this last week, averaging 3 yards per carry.  Ravens running back Ray Rice ran for 36 yards on 13 attempts, amounting to a non-factor in the game.  While rookie Bernard Pierce had more success with 57 yards and a touchdown, it took him 19 attempts to get there.  With nose tackle Phil Taylor injured, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen did a good job up front against the Ravens.  The defensive line is deep and has been resilient against the run.  They will need every shred of talent against Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

 5.)  Wide receiver Josh Gordon finally returns from his suspension.

 Boy, that felt like a long suspension.  Gordon’s ability to stretch a defense and create big plays was badly missed in the first two games of the season.  If Hoyer is able to get Gordon the ball, he should do damage against a Vikings defense that has already given up 5 passing touchdowns and 639 yards in two games.  Greg Little has just been awful, continuing to drop balls, despite all the hard work he turned in this offseason.  Moving Little to the 3rd spot and giving the Browns a true number 1 in Gordon should produce results.  Gordon lining up opposite Davone Bess should give the Browns a much more potent passing attack.  Can Josh Gordon stay out of trouble off the field?  Who can know.

 Questions remain.  Can the Browns score more touchdowns than they rack up turnovers?  Can Hoyer run this offense and get the ball to his receivers?  Who will be running the ball?  We will find out this Sunday in Minnesota.  If the offensive line and quarterback positions continue to disappoint, the Browns could be in for a long day.  An improved defense and the return of Josh Gordon allow the Browns to match up well against the Vikings.  If the defense can turn Viking mistakes into points, and Hoyer can avoid turnovers, the Browns may be celebrating their first win of the season.

Topics: Cleveland Browns

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  • elee62652

    I feel sick. sick to my stomach. i’ve been a
    browns fan all my life, and i’m 61. i love the game of football. i
    believe in rooting for the home team no matter how good or how bad they
    are. i have friends and relatives who root for other teams. they either
    feel sorry for me or laugh at the ineptitude of the team i love. i have
    gone thru the good years of the browns, namely the cardiac kids,
    remember them? that’s when you could have pride in them. then our team
    was knee-jerked away from us and taken to baltimore. there they have won
    a couple of super bowls. i still held my head high, because after a few
    years we had a team again. thru all the regime changes, all the
    miserable seasons, i still believed the next regime would bring about a
    winner. i believed in the different ownerships. and i truly truly
    believed that haslem, banner, chud & turner were finally finally
    going to be the winning combination. now this. why the best option for
    offense on our team??? he may be mediocre, but now we will never know if
    he would have worked out for us. i believe he will be a star in indy.
    the combo of rich and luck will give browns fans nightmares for the next
    8-10 years.

    today, i’m still a fan. but here’s fair warning to the ownership of
    the cleveland browns, the team i have loved for 61 years… “With this
    a$$inine move, you had best produce a winning team
    soon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

    i mean who’s next, Joe Thomas???

    hey, i bet you could get ANOTHER first round pick for him!!!

    PRODUCE NOW!!! or i’m done…

    • NickNorthern

      All good points elee. This one hurts. I do remember the cardiac kids. I grew up watching Metcalf, Newsome, Kosar and Hoard. With all that has happened to the franchise, long-term fans deserve a metal for sticking with it. I believe the bottom line and business first mentality in the NFL has hurt the sport. Fan favorites get chucked out for that bottom line and I think Trent is another example. The Browns office wants a franchise QB to build around. It is going to be hard to replace a guy like Richardson, but the real shame here is that he was a guy the fans wanted to see play, and he is gone now. I feel your pain man.

    • Will Haight

      I’ve been a fan, not as long as you, but almost. I was won over to football watching Jimmy Brown on black-and-white TV. Maybe that’s why I hoped all through the winter and spring of 2012 that TR would be the Browns’ pick. Mr. elee62652, I salute your loyalty to the Browns, which I used to share, but can no longer. I am sure Joe Banner calculated that he might alienate some fans with this move. But I don’t think he thought he’d lose a 50 year fan. You and I are the ones who’ve stuck around; Joe Banner is a Johnny come lately. Two years ago he was a freaking Philadelphia Eagle. He doesn’t know the Browns, he doesn’t understand the Browns, he doesn’t give a damn about the Browns. So I don’t give a damn about Joe Banner. I’m out. Go niners.

      • Pete Smith

        I’m sorry. They did not trade Paul Warfield. They did not trade Bobby Mitchell. As talented as Richardson might have been, he was not as productive as Jamal Lewis was his first year here. They got a premium price on a player who was was… pretty good at a position that is easily replaced. If people want to quit the Browns over it, go nuts, but it is an incredibly silly reason to do so.

        • Will Haight

          Trent Richardson set Browns records for rookie runners with over 950 yards on the ground, 13 TDs and 51 catches — with shaky knees and cracked ribs all year. The guys you mentioned had long careers on winning teams. Richardson was one of few strong players to build upon. The hope was that we’d build a TEAM. You cannot build a team when you are continually tearing down what’s been built by a previous regime. Sooner or later the Browns will have to hire a front office which is willing to try to win with some of the players already in place. Trent was a player which gave the team an identity, and could have become an integral part of a winning tradition. But, Banner and Lombardi are more concerned with trying to show they’re smarter than Heckert and Holmgren. Incredibly silly? When is enough enough?

          • Pete Smith

            That is a really weak record. It just is. The 13 TDs are impressive. 950 yards is not. The Browns have had an ugly run of running backs in the era of 16 game seasons.

            The Browns have an identity. It’s that front seven and an emerging defense. Taking what the previous regimes built in Phil Taylor, D’Qwell Jackson, Athyba Rubin, Billy Winn, John Hughes, Jabaal Sheard along with Joe Haden and Ward in the secondary and expanding on it. Adding Paul Kruger, Desmond Bryant, Quentin Groves and Barkevious Mingo has them in position to be great; a unit you tell your kids about. We’ll see if it happens, but that is where they are going.

            The Browns have a strong offensive line in spite of what the first two weeks have shown. Cousins is a disaster which is why he was 3rd string after Plans A and B got hurt and Plan C was not ready yet in Gilkey.

            They need a QB, period. If they can get one and continue building around players like Cameron, Bess, and hopefully Gordon, they are competitive in a hurry.

            This front office has to deliver a QB. You do not have to trust them or anything else, but that is what they HAVE to do for this to work. Anything short of that is a failure and Richardson still being here does not save them from that.

          • NickNorthern

            I can see it the way you put it Pete. The big problem I have is that watching Richardson hit people was fun. Richardson was fun to watch and his being gone detracts from the current team for the rest of the season. They wouldn’t have gotten into the playoffs with or without Richardson, but he was fun to watch. So the way I see it, the Browns didn’t throw away the season with the trade (7-7 was optimistic). But we did sacrifice watchability of the Browns offense with the trade while waiting for next year. That is pretty much my biggest beef with the trade. You have to sacrifice short term gains for long term ones in a sports franchise so I get the strategy. Those long term gains are just…a long way away for a franchise that hasn’t had any continuity. I’m not going to quit on the Browns, but I really do get the anger.

          • Will Haight

            You are wrong, it is not a really weak record. It bested Jim Brown and Leroy Kelley, and it was done on recently repaired knees and cracked ribs. 950 yards for a rookie RB, particularly one with cracked ribs on a team poorly supplied with other offensive weapons is rather good, as are the TDs, as are the 51 catches.

            I like the players you list, but they all play on defense. I don’t mind if the Browns want to become a team primarily identified as a defensive team. Trent was a featured player in an offense which lacks, not only stars, but even competent players. This season was going to be Trent’s first opportunity to play uninjured. In the first game, he only got 13 carries. You cite problems with the O-line; do you think poor O-line play might have effected TRs effectiveness this season? We need a QB, I don’t contest that. Do you think that perhaps if we had some kind of effective passing attack, opposing defenses wouldn’t be stacking 8 players in the box to counter our one reliable offensive threat in TR?

            I agree that a running back will not carry the team in the modern era. At one time in the NFL, a killer running back could be used to open up a so-so passing attack and mount a sufficiently potent offense to post a winning season and make the playoffs. Nowadays you must have a smart QB who can think on his feet and make enough throws to reliable receivers to move the ball across the goal line. Reliably. In the modern NFL, the passing game opens up the run. I agree that we need a passing game. Shedding Richardson doesn’t help us get a passing game. Now that we have no running game (and I mean NO running game), opposing defenses will be able to stack fewer players in the box against TR and leave more in the backfield, to make Greg Little drop passes (can you imagine?) and cover more receivers. Jordan has shown some good play, but many of his receptions came as he was left uncovered by opposing defenses.

            We may end up owning the number 1 pick in next year’s draft — in which case losing TR to Indy doesn’t help us get a QB. Who are the other candidates for that pick? It looks like the Jags are the worst team in football this year (well, until Joe Banner announced yesterday the Browns have given up on this season). They need a QB. Other candidates? Oakland? Will they stick with Pryor or spend the pick on a QB? The only way the Richardson trade helps us get a QB is by not finishing dead last this season, and then by bundling our two first round picks for the highest picking team willing to trade with us. There are a lot of moving parts in that machine, and it’s a rather narrow target to hit. In short, I agree we need a franchise QB, but losing TR doesn’t help us meet that goal. It only hurts the team now. And it alienates long time fans sick of rich egomaniac johnny-come-latelys blowing up the team to show how smart they are — and ultimately failing.

          • Pete Smith

            The record he broke? Jim Brown ran for 942 yards… in 12 games. Richardson got 950 in 16. That’s an average of not even 60 yards per game. That’s not great. It’s an incredibly weak record.
            We did not have a great running game with Richardson. Losing it and gaining a 1st round pick is a net positive.
            Blowing up the team? It’s one player. And not taking the team from the playoffs out of them. Taking a mediocre team and making them worse. Overreaction

          • Will Haight

            How old are you Pete? And how long have you been a Browns fan?

          • Pete Smith

            31 years old and 31 years long

          • Bern

            The Seahawks chose to build by acquiring Marshawn Lynch and then picking up Russell Wilson later after they had a running game established. They also didn’t need two first round picks to accomplish it. You need to show me you know how to make use of a first round talent first before you trade away a building block to get one. Also if you spend a 3rd overall on a running back, how about getting him a decent lead blocking fullback? Actually try to make it work.

          • Pete Smith

            Getting a franchise quarterback in the 3rd round is blind luck. If people thought he’d be a franchise quarterback, he’d have gone 4th overall… to the Browns, rather than to the Seahawks in round 3. More power to the Seahawks for it, but complete luck. That’s why Matt Flynn was brought in… he was gonna start.

  • Will Haight

    Thank you for your reasons for optimism. But with a front office so brain dead that TR became expendable, I take little comfort from the good points you make.

    • NickNorthern

      Understandable. I felt like I was hit with a frying pan as well. While the Browns got that much worse to watch, keep this in mind. Trent couldn’t make us a winning team on his own. Even if he rushed for 100+ games in every game, this has become a passing league and the trade gives us more fuel with which to find that franchise QB. That is what I keep telling myself anyways. Thanks for reading.

      • Will Haight

        No, he couldn’t — but it would be a mistake to expect that from any player. It’s a team sport, and success results from building a team which is more than the sum of its parts. As the Browns have been habitually devastated by personnel changes, both in the front office and on the roster, they’ve never become a team. The front office changes, and the new guys bring in new players; this constantly shifting roster fails to produce on the field, so it’s deemed a new front office must be installed. It’s a self perpetuating cycle which stifles team development. Trent Richardson is not god’s gift to football, but he’s a very talented player who can be an important part of a winning franchise. It takes little imagination to see that. But apparently, Banner and Lombardi don’t. They want to demonstrate superiority to the previous regime, so the key players are jettisoned and the revolving door twists away. And, long-suffering fans such as you and I buckle down and wait. Then, when the Browns finish 2014 at 5-11, the charges laid under the front office are deonated, and a few months later the new moron will arrive and commence another house cleaning. I’ve had it. Go niners.

        • NickNorthern

          Sorry to hear that Will. I’m afraid a lot of fans feel the same way you do and won’t be sticking with it this year. However, when the shock wares off, give it another think. I am too young to remember the title years, but the Browns went to the playoffs near every year in my childhood (the 80s). It grinds to see how far they have fallen. I guess if it was just about sports for me, I’d be rooting for another team by now as well. Right or wrong, it’s just hard for me to separate pride in being from Cleveland from my loyalty to the Browns. You are probably the smart one.