Deep Breaths

Okay, Browns fans… everyone needs to take deep breaths.  Seriously.  I know we lost to the Lions last Sunday.  I know you’re upset.  I am, too.  But, let’s calm down and try to find some perspective here.

If you had told me at the beginning of the season that the Browns were going to start the season 3-3, I would have been totally pumped.  (Yes, my expectations were low.  Having low expectations is a defense mechanism and survival technique honed after years of being a Cleveland sports fan.)  Also, if you had told me that Brandon Weeden would be our quarterback at this point in the season, I would have been good with that, too.  (Actually I probably would have stared at you strangely for stating what we all believed at the time to be completely obvious.)   So, here we are… 3-3 with Brandon Weeden as our quarterback.  So why is everyone so sad?

Because Hoyer messed up everything.  Listen, I know that sounds mean, especially because he’s hurt, but stick with me.  See, this third string journeyman quarterback showed up out of nowhere and made Cleveland look scary good, even division-winning good.  And, without our knowledge or permission, our expectations rose.  We let our guard down.   We thought we could win all the games.  This was stupid.  As Browns fans, we should have known better.  And now it hurts.

I’m not talking about the crushing let down (slash total misery) we felt when Hoyer was injured.  We already covered that.  I am talking about the slow, painful process of lowering our expectations back to their preseason status.  But it needs done, so here goes:

Let’s start small by being realistic about Sunday’s game against the Lions.  The Browns were projected to win by several analysts, and I was hopeful that we might.  But, realistically, that was not going to happen.  With Calvin Johnson recovered from his injury, the Lions had all three pieces of their offensive trifecta–Stafford, Megatron, Bush–on the field and ready to play.  On defense, the terrifying duo of Suh and Fairley were gunning for a quarterback known to hold the ball too long and blink under pressure.  Listen, the Lions are leading the NFC North, ahead of both the Packers and Bears, and there’s a reason.  They are really good.  And, so they won.  Of course they did.

Are you feeling a little better?

Let’s move on to the bigger picture.  Last year, with Weeden starting, the Browns won 5 games.  There is no reason to assume that he cannot repeat this (sad) performance this year.  Then, we add on the three wins from Hoyer’s starts, and we have eight total wins on the season.  This would mean that the Browns would finish the season at .500.  If someone had told you at the beginning of the season that the Browns would finish the season 8-8 with a better record than the Steelers (like how I threw that in there?), would you have been happy with that?  Or at least marginally satisfied?  I think you would have.  So, there’s some perspective.  Deep breaths.

Now that we’re breathing, here are five quick thoughts from the game versus the Lions:

1.  Defense was not good.

The Browns went into Week 6 ranked 4th in overall defense, and came out of Week 6 tied for seventh.  Defense struggled.  They allowed the Lions to convert on 8 of 14 third downs, resuscitating floundering possessions and leading to points for Detroit.  They had no stop for Reggie Bush in the second half, which was unacceptable for one of the best rush defenses in the league.  And, most upsetting, they gave up 24 points in the second half, allowing the Lions to come back for the win.  Overall, there needs to be major improvement this Sunday.

2. Joey Haden… No more pass interference!

Seriously, though.  Two pass interference calls in the endzone in two games???  Would you like to start just handing out touchdowns to opposing teams?  Totally unacceptable.  If you want to be considered one of the elite corners in the league, you have to be able to execute tight coverage without getting called for pass interference.  I expect better this week.

3. Buster Skrine!!!

The one bright, shining spot in the Brown’s defense last Sunday was Buster Skrine.  After last season I would have been fine never hearing his name again.  He finished the 2012 season with 12 penalties, the most of any Browns player and tied for fifth in the NFL.  This year, he looks like a completely different player, and he seems to be thriving under Ray Horton’s guidance.  Also, Horton seems to be using him more effectively.  Last year, when Browns corners were assigned to one side of the field instead of covering particular receivers, Skrine struggled.  This season, covering number two wideouts and slot receivers, Skrine leads the Browns with 14 pass breakups, seven more than Haden. He may also be the team’s best open-field tackler.  Thank you Buster for being the one member of the Browns defense that showed up to play the Lions.

4. The run looked way better.

I am impressed with Willis McGahee.  He may be old and have bad knees, but he is clearly working his ass off.  During the week, he has been losing weight and getting back in shape.  On Sundays, he has clocked more run yardage each week.  Against the Lions, for the first time this season, the Browns actually looked like they had a viable run game.  And most of the credit for this goes to Willis McGahee, both for his effort and his leadership.

Chris Ogbonnaya also deserves special mention.  His ground game still isn’t stellar, but he is making some big waves catching short passes, especially in the endzone.  Since the Richardson trade, Ogbonnaya has caught 17 passes, two for touchdowns.  As he continues to improve, he could become a crucial component of the short pass game while also demanding coverage and freeing up McGahee on the ground.

The most exciting run play in Sunday’s game against the Lions, perhaps surprisingly, came from Travis Benjamin.  (Then again, perhaps it wasn’t so surprising given Benjamin’s penchant for explosive plays this season.)  Is there anything this kid can’t do?  Punt returner?  Check.  Slot receiver?  Check.  And now running back.  Benjamin recorded a massive 45-yard run play against the Lions in the first quarter last Sunday, begging the question: Why aren’t the Browns using him more in the run game?  If there is a way to get this kid a football and let him run down the field, the Browns need to do it.  Period.

5. Weeden

And now we arrive at the most talked about subject pertaining to the Browns game against the Lions.  Except, I don’t really have anything else to say.  Did he play a good first half of football?  Yes.  Did he throw a disturbingly hideous interception in the fourth quarter?  Yes.  But I’m over it.  The Browns are ranked in the top ten for execution of red zone touchdowns this season (When was the last time that happened?), and at least half of the credit for that goes to Weeden.  And in terms of interceptions, Weeden is tied with Drew Brees, only has one more than Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, and has 10 FEWER than two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning.  Do these statistics make Weeden a pro-bowl quarterback?  No.  But is he the worst quarterback in the league, or even the worst quarterback the Browns have had recently?  Not even close.  So everyone take a few deep breaths.