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Have the Browns Turned the Corner?

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The Browns shocked the NFL with a 34-14 crushing of the New England Patriots.

The Cleveland Browns have been competitive in each of their games all season long. In four of their first five games they had leads in the fourth quarter, only to watch the defense tire out, give up the leads, and see the offense make a poor effort to win the games.

Then suddenly, two weeks ago something changed. A week after suffering their only blowout loss of the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Browns went down to New Orleans and destroyed Drew Brees and the defending Super Bowl champion Saints 30-17.

While this huge victory came as a shock to most, there was a part of me that was not surprised. The Browns beat the defending Super Bowl champions the previous two years, so to think they could not do it again was not in my mindset.

Another point from that amazing blowout was the Saints had suffered a similar defeat just two weeks earlier when they were blown out by the Arizona Cardinals. What makes it so similar is in that game, the Cardinals’ defense did all the work. Behind rookie quarterback Max Hall, the Arizona offense could only muster nine points off a very good Saints defense. The Browns’ offense did score the majority of points in their game, but the team’s defense was the difference maker.

Because the Browns offense has been far from great this season, I got the feeling that the only way the team would put up 30 points or more in another game this season was if the defense played like they did against the Saints, forcing opponents to make mistakes and converting them into touchdowns. Those thoughts all changed this past Sunday.

Like the previous two seasons, I figured the Browns were for having one great game against a great team, beating the Super Bowl champions and going on their way. Especially since their schedule did not get any easier. After the bye week, they were scheduled to play the 6-1 New England Patriots. Though they beat the Saints in remarkable fashion two weeks ago, nobody gave them a snowball’s chance in a hot climate to do it one more time against another elite quarterback in Tom Brady.

The critics turned out to be wrong again as the Browns scored ten points before Brady stepped onto the field and never let up, destroying the Patriots 34-14. Many Browns fans throughout northeast Ohio were left wondering over the last two games where the “real” Cleveland Browns are? The questions after the last two games are now “what changed for this team?” and “is this a fluke or have they turned the corner and become a good team?”

The answer to the first question may be the name Colt McCoy. Since he took over the quarterback position after Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace suffered injuries, he has shown flashes of brilliance. He appears very poised in the pocket, makes good decisions, and his passes are very crisp and accurate. Even more impressive is his first three games were against Super Bowl contending teams.

Of course, McCoy has not done all this alone. He is protected by a very good offensive line, an excellent power running game, and a good defense.

While McCoy did look very good against the Pittsburgh “steel curtain” defense when throwing the ball, none of his cushions held steady for a full game. The week after there was some measure of improvement. As I mentioned, the Browns defense did most of the work against New Orleans. The turnovers it forced gave the Browns short fields to work with, but only converted into a touchdown once. McCoy, though he played well again, was held in check by another very good defense.

Two weeks later the proverbial stars aligned. It is no secret the New England Patriots do not have a good defense. They are near the bottom of the NFL in every major defensive category. They rely on their offense to win games. Given two weeks to prepare, Eric Mangini and company came up with the perfect game plan to shut down this potent offense. The Browns offense took advantage, relied heavily on their power running game, threw in a few trick plays, and gave Colt McCoy every reason to feel comfortable in leading them to another victory.

All throughout the last two games, Browns fans watched on as Colt McCoy looked every bit the player he was at the University of Texas. Even I said to the TV that he made me do a complete 180 on my opinion of him. Then I realized what defense he was playing against.

Next week’s game, however, will be a different story. The Browns play another of Eric Mangini’s old teams, the New York Jets. Now tied with the Patriots for first place in the AFC East, the Jets are a team comparable to the Steelers, whom McCoy faced in his pro debut.

On paper the Jets have the edge, but I believe this is another winnable game for the Browns for a few reasons. First of all, the Browns defense controlled the Patriots, who have a better pass offense than the Jets. New York, like the Browns, relies on its running game to set up the pass. The Browns have shown throughout the season that they are very good at stopping the run. When under pressure to make plays, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez will make mistakes. So long as the Browns defense controls the running game and avoid the big pass play that has killed them this season, I think they can keep the Jets off the scoreboard.

Second is the coaching game. Eric Mangini used to coach the Jets and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was on his staff. Rex Ryan, the Jets head coach, is the brother of Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The ties the Browns coaching staff have to the Jets will give them ample knowledge to prepare another successful game plan.

The final reason I think the Browns can win this game is the crowd factor. Two of the Browns’ three victories this season have been at home. Had the offense played earlier in the season like it did this past Sunday, the team would be undefeated at home right now. Browns fans are some of the most rabid fans in the NFL. No doubt they will be into the game this coming Sunday. While the other two factors are up in the air, this one is a no brainer.

The Cleveland Browns are playing very good football right now. That much is true. Whether it is for real remains to be seen. Why it is happening is also a wonder. Many fans and media alike believe the reason lies solely on Colt McCoy taking over at quarterback. Though I proclaimed this past Sunday that I have taken a complete 180 turn on McCoy, I now think better of my words. What I said was probably a rush of excitement seeing the Browns play better football than they had all of last season and the first six games of this one.

Remember fans, other Browns quarterbacks in the past have excited us after two or three games like McCoy has, then failed miserably when anointed the starting quarterback. Also remember Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace, though injured, are still on this team and at least one will soon be healthy enough to play. Wallace has also shown flashes of good play, and perhaps more mobility than McCoy. So while McCoy has been very good so far, Mangini may decide to go back to Wallace if McCoy falters down the line.

As for me, right now I am going to sit back, watch the rest of the season, and enjoy the ride.

Credit for image:


Written by apokorny

November 8, 2010 at 8:34 pm

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