Who’da Thunk It?

I ripped the Browns and their management earlier this week when they traded Trent Richardson, accusing them of giving up on the season and disrespecting their diehard fans.  So it’s only fitting that the Browns somehow figured out a way to score 31 points today and beat the Minnesota Vikings on the road, 31-27.

IMG_4861Let’s not kid ourselves — Minnesota isn’t very good, and the Browns aren’t either.  But I am amazed that this Browns team could figure out a way to score 31 points against any NFL team.  Of course, they frittered away lots of opportunities and had incredibly ill-timed turnovers, but this was the first time a lot of these guys had ever played together.  How in the world did they manage to gain more than 400 yards on offense and win on the road?

This week Browns fans everywhere will be tantalized.  Brian Hoyer looked a lot more comfortable in this offense than Brandon Weeden — could Hoyer and his quick release be legitimate?  The Browns D held Adrian Peterson below 100 yards, forced a fumble from him, and recorded six sacks.  Could the defense actually keep the Browns in games this year?

That’s the maddening thing about the Browns that only charter members of the Browns Backers can fully appreciate.  They usually don’t just stink up the joint — they always manage to raise your hopes before crushing them with an embarrassing loss or an impossibly inept play, and you look back on seasons and see countless losses that could have been wins and wonder about what might have been.  With today’s win, that process will start all over again.  Browns fans everywhere will see their hopes raised — at least until next week.

Send In The Clowns — Don’t Bother, They’re Here

The Browns sucked in their first home game, and they sucked even worse in their second game.  After starting the season 0-2 and scoring precisely one touchdown, the Browns today traded their only legitimate offensive skill player, running back Trent Richardson.

When I heard about the trade on the radio driving home tonight, the announcers acted surprised.  They shouldn’t have been.  Trading Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round draft choice means the Browns have given up on the season after only two games of futility — which is just a little bit earlier than in past seasons.  This week they will start a third-stringer at quarterback, cast-offs and nobodies at running back, and receivers who can’t catch the ball.  They’re clearly aiming to break the Seattle Seahawks’ record for fewest points scored by an NFL team in a 16-game season — 140 points.  Does anyone honestly see this Browns team scoring 140 points?

This Browns organization is laughable, but the real joke is on me, Russell, and the rest of the poor diehard fans and Browns Backers who shelled out for season tickets this year.  What fools we were!  We should have realized what everybody else knows — this franchise is the most inept, dysfunctional, pathetic, mismanaged team in the history of professional sports.  It’s appalling that they’ve taken the money of season ticket holders and given us a product that could well be the worst offensive team in modern NFL history — and then driven home the spike even farther by trading away the one player who gave us a glimmer of hope.

The Browns organization and front office could not have done more to completely crush the hopes and aspirations of Browns fans than making the trade they did today.  They clearly are counting on the loyalty of Browns fans, who have patiently endured season after season of train wrecks and stuck with the team because it’s in their orange-and-brown blood.  I’m one of those poor, hopelessly hooked fans, and in the past I’ve shook my head and laughed off the blunders and the mishaps and cursed bad luck.  But not today.

The trade today reveals a team that doesn’t give a shit about its fans, or the money they’ve spent.  The way this team is treating its loyal fans is unconscionable.  The Cleveland Browns organization just sucks.

Trying To Play The Spoiler

One compelling measure of how far into the abyss the Cleveland Browns franchise has fallen:  fans were encouraged by last week’s 7-6 win at home over a reeling San Diego Chargers team.  An occasional win on a cold, wet field doesn’t really mean much, of course, unless it leads to something.  When a team is down and out at midseason, it must take small steps.  The first step is to play spoiler, and knock off a team that is fighting to stay on the Road to the Super Bowl.  Another step is to put together back-to-back wins.  Today the Browns try to take both of those steps when they play the Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Stadium.

The Ravens have beaten the Browns like a drum for years.  In fact, the Browns haven’t beaten Baltimore during the entirety of the Obama presidency — and I’m not making a subtle pitch for Mitt Romney in mentioning that embarrassing statistic.  It’s just a sign of how one-sided this series has been.  And, true to form, the Ravens beat the Browns earlier this year, 23-16.

Today the Browns will be looking for a better performance from their offense, which has shown some glimmers of hope.  Although banged up, Trent Richardson ran very hard against San Diego; his 122 yards in miserable conditions were the difference-maker in the Browns win.  Rookie quarterback Brandon Weedon seems to be adjusting to the speed of the NFL game and is improving his decision-making; he’s also shown the big arm that caused the Browns to make him a first-round pick.  Neither Richardson nor Weedon played particularly well against the Ravens in the loss earlier this season, and if the Browns hope to win they simply have to make a difference this time around.

The Browns defense, on the other hand, has played better since getting sliced to ribbons by the Giants a month ago.  With tough starting defensive tackle Phil Taylor returning from injury, the Browns D is as close to healthy as they’ve been all season.  This game will provide a meaningful test of how good the Browns defense is when playing in good conditions against a quality NFL offense.

One final point:  if Pat Shurmur wants to keep his job, he’ll play this game to win.  If that means trying a fake punt, or going for it on 4th and 1 inside the Ravens’ 50-yard-line, now is the time to do it.  This teams needs to develop a winning attitude, and taking a few risks and showing confidence in your offensive line is part of that process.  It’s time for Pat Shurmur to let his inner riverboat gambler shine forth.

How Bad Will The Browns Be?

NFL training camps are underway.  Up north, Cleveland Browns fans are flocking to watch the team go through drills.  The Browns are setting attendance records and don’t even have room to admit everyone who shows up to watch practices.

Is this because the Browns are expected to contend for the Super Bowl this year?  Hardly.  Most pundits expect that the Browns will be one of the worst teams in the league this season.  But the Browns’ faithful are just that — full of faith — and they are hoping that some high-profile draft picks turn the team around.

Last year the Browns were awful.  They finished 4-12 and lost every game they played against the other teams in the AFC North.  The Browns’ “three-and-out” offense was so putrid it was unwatchable.  Their running game was laughable, quarterback Colt McCoy had a dismal year, and the Browns probably had the NFL’s worst receiving corps. The defense was better than the offense (which truly is damning with faint praise) but still gave up lots of yards on the ground.  Neither the offense nor the defense had a true NFL-caliber playmaker — someone who would command the attention of opposing coaches and make them change their standard approach to the game.

This year, the Browns hope they got some offensive playmakers by using their high draft choices to select running back Trent Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weedon, and receiver Josh Gordon.  In the NFL, one or two true playmakers can take a moribund offense, energize the returning players, and turn it into a powerhouse.  If Richardson runs the ball effectively and add a few breakaways, and Weedon throws with more zip and accuracy than McCoy managed, the Browns could be significantly improved.  Whether there is enough improvement to convert an abysmal offense into one that is even decent remains to be seen.

Defensively, the Browns already are struggling with injuries to key players — Phil Taylor and Chris Gocong among them —  and it’s not clear that the Browns will be any better against the run this year than last.  The real hope for the defense is that the offense will move the ball, allow the defense to get off the field, score some points, and put some pressure on the opposing offense.  If that happens, the defense may be in position to force some turnovers.  The defense clearly won’t be one of the most feared units in the league, but it could keep the team in games with a bit of help from the offense.

I’m not expecting anything much from the Browns this year, but I don’t think they will be as bad as many experts are forecasting.  I’ll watch their games and hope for improvement, secure in the knowledge that things really couldn’t be much worse than last year.

Help Us, Trent!

Tonight is the first round of the NFL draft.  The Browns made a bit of a splash by swapping first round picks with the Minnesota Vikings — and giving the Vikings three later round picks, to boot — and then drafting Trent Richardson of Alabama.

Every Browns fan knows the team is cursed and can expect only miserable failure come draft day.  Against that backdrop of complete and utter pessimism, I have to say that . . . I think Richardson is a good pick.

Richardson was a mainstay in the Alabama attack last year.  He gained 1679 yards on the ground in 2011, averaging 5.9 yards a carry, and caught 29 passes for another 338 yards.  He scored 24 touchdowns and showed the ability to make big plays with long runs and pass plays.  Equally important, he played well in the big games, including running the ball effectively against the tough LSU defense in the BCS championship game.

The Browns need offensive punch — their offense somehow managed to both suck and blow last year — and Richardson looks like someone who can make the defensive coordinators on opposing teams sweat a little.  Now, if only the Browns can find another playmaker (a speedy wide receiver would be nice) and somebody to block, they’ll have taken their first, tentative steps toward respectability.

In the meantime, I suggest that Richardson promptly identify and buy the largest insurance policy he can get his hands on, and keep his eye out for falling anvils.