The Cleveland Browns find their record at 2-1 after three weeks of play, a position that some predicted but few believed attainable. Cleveland football has not sniffed this level of early-season success since 2002, when Butch Davis led the team to a wild-card playoff spot with a record of 9-7. While it is far too early to presume that this year’s team will approach 2002’s level of success, there are some points of interest that give Browns fans those familiar optimistic butterflies.
- This secondary is going to be very good — According to the excellent data at footballoutsiders.com, the Browns currently rank as the No. 8 passing defense, and it’s not hard to see why. Joe Haden has been developing as fast as anyone could have hoped, and while he’s not shutting down his assignments a la Darrelle Revis, opponents have quickly learned to take their chances with Sheldon Brown and Dimitri Patterson after Haden was credited with five pass breakups in Week One. T.J. Ward has been a consistent presence as well, playing hard on run plays and displaying his penchant for big hits.
- Options on the ground – It’s only a one-week sample size, but Montario Hardesty is playing like a man who has missed playing football. Hardesty hit the hole hard and decisively, ran with a purpose and showed excellent speed when he reached the second level. He and Peyton Hillis will make a unique combination, and Pat Shurmur will have to find a way to use both backs efficiently. While their skill sets do seem to overlap somewhat, Hardesty’s speed should keep him on the field, and the abilities that he showed in this past game could form a lethal combination with Hillis’ abilities as a pass-catcher.
- They call him Colt McClutch – I’ve said on multiple occasions that one of the big things we should look for in a developing quarterback is his ability to lead the two-minute offense. Well, Colt McCoy has certainly looked the part so far, hasn’t he? McCoy hasn’t exactly inspired a ton of confidence with his play thus far, but much like Josh Freeman in Tampa Bay, he just seems to want the win more than the defense he’s staring down at the end of the game. His longer throws downfield have been a mixed bag, but he’s completed a number of pretty end zone throws, and I expect him to start looking better each week as Shurmur opens up the offense more and more.
- The schedule could be a confidence-builder – Leading up to their Week 13 matchup against Baltimore, I count no less than five games in which, if I had to pick today, I would favor the Browns. Next week’s home game against the Titans could be problematic, and both the Raiders and Texans scare me. But apart from those three teams, the Browns host the Seahawks, Rams and Jaguars, and travel to San Francisco and Cincinnati. Furthermore, they have a matchup against Arizona sandwiched in the middle of the Steelers/Ravens gauntlet that finishes the season. If the Browns can use the middle of the season to oil the machine and gather momentum, the AFC North might not be decided until Week 16 against the Steelers.
What aspect of the Browns has inspired the most confidence in you so far this season?