Hump Game

Tomorrow the Browns welcome the New York Jets to Cleveland Stadium.  It will be a crucial hump game for the 3-5 Browns, who are trying to claw their way back into contention.  If the Browns win, they will be 4-5 and will have completed a three-game winning streak against three of the best teams in the NFL.  If the Browns lose, they will fall to 3-6 and have a very tough time working their way back to respectability.

Ahtyba Rubin and the Browns' defensive line will be tested by the Jets running attack

The Jets clearly are one of the best teams in the AFC.  They are 6-2 and tied with New England for the top spot in the AFC East.  Offensively, the Jets have lots of weapons.  LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene are their two excellent featured backs, and their efforts have put the Jets fourth in the NFL in rushing yards per game.  Mark Sanchez is their celebrity quarterback, and he throws to Braylon Edwards — the cocky ex-Brown — and Dustin Keller.  This is a solid offense that will pose a huge challenge for Rob Ryan and the Browns’ quirky defense.  The Jets’ running game will test the Browns’ defensive line and linebackers, who have played extremely well in recent weeks, and Sanchez and Edwards will target the Browns’ secondary — and probably specifically Eric Wright, who has struggled at times this season.  This is another game where the ball-hawking Browns will be hoping to force turnovers to stub out Jets’ drives.

The Browns will be hoping that Colt McCoy doesn't need to do too much tomorrow

The Jets’ defense also is good.  It has been especially stout against the run, and this is where tomorrow’s game should get interesting.  The Browns have been very successful running the ball of late; last week Peyton Hillis ran through, over, and around New England for more than 180 yards.  With rookie Colt McCoy probably starting at quarterback, the Browns will want to establish a running game to take the pressure off McCoy.  If the Browns can’t move the ball on the ground and the offense has to move the ball exclusively through the air, it likely will be a long game for Cleveland.  I would expect the Browns to continue to pound at the Jets, even if they aren’t having much initial success, unless and until the score requires them to focus on the passing attack.  I also expect that the inventive play-calling that has been so successful in the past two games will be seen in tomorrow’s game, too.

The Browns’ excellent play in the last two weeks has Cleveland fans everywhere getting their hopes up.  This will be the biggest home game for the Browns in years.  I expect Cleveland Stadium and the Browns fans to be loud and proud tomorrow, at their boisterous and bellicose best, hoping that their cheering and rooting and jeering of the Jets can bring their team to victory in a vital game.

Bye Bye, Braylon

The Browns have traded Braylon Edwards to the New York Jets for a wide receiver, a linebacker/special teams player, and two draft choices. Except for one terrific year, Edwards was a constant headache and head case who seemed to drop more passes than he caught. I know nothing about the players the Browns received in return, but I guess I don’t really care. Edwards was the Browns’ legitimate deep threat, but a deep threat is meaningless if he can’t consistently catch the ball. I’d rather the Browns’ other receivers get a chance to play and develop and that the Browns stockpile draft picks in what clearly is going to be a lost year.

Edwards’ departure adds another dismal entry to the Browns’ record of incredibly inept use of first round draft choices in the years since their return to the NFL. Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, Gerard Warren, William Green, Jeff Faine, Kellen Winslow, and Braylon Edwards all were first-round choices who underperformed due to injury, lack of talent, poor coaching, or some other excuse. Whereas other teams are built on the strong foundation of first-round choices, the Browns have nothing to show except steady Joe Thomas, an underachieving Brady Quinn, and last year’s choice Alex Mack. No wonder they are so awful this year! With the economics of the modern NFL and the size of the contracts given to first-round picks, any team that does not get significant production from their recent top draft choices is crippled. The Browns’ record of first-round picks is so stunningly bad that they would be better served, as a matter of policy, by trading away the first-round choices to get proven NFL talent.

Bad Start

I watched the Browns lose to the Minnesota Vikings yesterday, and in many ways the game captured the futility of the Browns since they returned to the NFL. The Browns played a decent first half — particularly the defense — and led at halftime, 13-10. Even so, there were the normal danger signals. After the Browns got the ball on the Vikings 6-yard-line following a penalty, they could not punch the ball into the end zone and had to settle for three points. This has been a persistent problem for the Browns, who did not score an offensive touchdown in the last six games of last season. Other danger signs? A bad interception by Brady Quinn, apparently the result of a mix-up with Braylon Edwards, after the Browns were effectively moving the ball on the ground, and the usual assortment of ill-timed penalties.

The second half was a disaster from start to finish, marked by penalties, poor tackling, and almost comic ineptitude on offense. The defense, which had been stout during the first half, spent most of the half on the field, was worn down by repeated rushing attempts by Adrian Peterson, and finally gave up a long TD run by Peterson that put the game out of reach. In the meantime, the offense looked lost — relegated to two-yard runs and dink-and-dump passes without any meaningful effort to stretch the field. Brady Quinn had one of those embarrassing plays where he lost control of the ball as he got ready to throw and looked like Garo Yepremian during the Miami-Redskins Super Bowl. As the defense gave up scores, the offense never responded until the game was effectively over. The only positive was that the Browns ended their string of games without an offensive touchdown by scoring with a few seconds remaining in the game.

As usual, the Browns lost their home opener, and the season is off to a bad start. The Vikings are supposed to be one of the best teams in the NFL, so maybe the Browns aren’t as bad as they looked in the second half. Time will tell, but so far the signs aren’t very encouraging.