A week and a half after the Browns were in first place and ready to fold on the season, they head into October 2-2 and in a tie for the division lead in the AFC North with the Ravens and Bengals. After losing to the Dolphins and Ravens, the Browns have come up with back to back victories against the Vikings and Bengals. It may not last, but it is better than many people expected after the trade of Trent Richardson.
Sep 29, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer (6) leaves the field after the Browns beat the Cincinnati Bengals 17-6. at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Hoyer has emerged as a competent quarterback. He is not a franchise changing player, but he makes enough plays that combined with a great defense, the Browns are going to be in a lot of games. Hoyer is able to get the ball into the hands of the playmakers on this offense including Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon which have been able to do enough with the way the defense is imposing its will on opponents.
The Browns offensive line is still not back together as Shawn Lauvao was not able to return this week, but the much maligned group suddenly is not getting so much of the blame. Joe Thomas did not miss a single snap for the 100th time in his career and he shut down the left side while the rest of the line was able to sustain and hold up against a loaded Bengals defensive line until they got tired late in the fourth quarter and the offensive line was able to impose their will and move the ball down the field to secure the win.
The defense is what defines this team right now and they just continue to be impressive each week and give the Browns opportunities to win games. Ray Horton has been good, but the investment in their talent, especially in depth along the front seven has been great and incredibly important. Normally, when a player like Jabaal Sheard goes down, the Browns are replacing them with a significant downgrade. In this case, the Browns have an impressive rookie in Barkevious Mingo who may not be as good as Sheard yet, but has the potential to be a superstar and gives opponents a different look with his speed and explosiveness. The Browns were without Billy Winn and Athyba Rubin and rest of the defensive line made up for it, something that could present a problem in normal circumstances. It also does not hurt they have a clear, strong leader in D’Qwell Jackson.
They cannot afford an injury to Joe Haden and while he needs to secure the opportunities he has to get interceptions, his level of play has only gone up this year and he has been more consistent. Haden will give up the occasional play, but he is always going to be able to compete against any wide receiver opponents can throw at him.
The Browns have a number of pieces they need to acquire for the future, but there are certainly bread crumbs in the form of legitimately great young players that should be here for quite a while and if they can continue to add to them, especially on the offensive side of the ball, they have the potential to be a serious contender and soon. The defense needs a couple small additions, but the Browns need to continue filling in the rest of the offense to get them to a high enough level to consistently compete and have enough ammo to win a Super Bowl. In any case, as the Browns have a short week and prepare to take on the Buffalo Bills, your Cleveland Browns are in first place in October.