The Bengals and Browns will kickoff their first meeting this year on Sunday, as the Bengals aim to win their ninth consecutive game against the AFC North. But who are these Browns? Many characterize them as a team that's finally getting their act together. Not in the sense that they'll knock over the division and win themselves a playoff berth this season. Rather, they're finally getting the pieces together to be hopeful for Cleveland fans. So who are these Browns?
Chris Pokorny of Dawgs by Nature sits down with us to talk about his team.
The Browns made several big changes at quarterback. Do you see the Browns being a better team with Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace? How long before Colt McCoy discussions start to pick up steam?
Given their limited experience running the Browns' offense, it's hard to give a definitive answer. Based on the preseason and the first couple of regular season games, I'd say that both quarterbacks end up being pretty even when you weigh their pros and cons. Although the media has portrayed the Browns' quarterback situation as being laughable, I think there are several teams right now that are worse at the position (Buffalo, Jacksonville, Arizona). The difference between the quarterbacks right now seems to be which receivers they favor. Seneca Wallace seems to have chemistry with Joshua Cribbs and Ben Watson, while Jake Delhomme seems to have chemistry with Mohamed Massaquoi, Ben Watson, and Chansi Stuckey.
The only way the Colt McCoy discussions will pick up steam is if both Wallace and Delhomme are injured. Otherwise, the discussion will revolve more around who starts between Wallace and Delhomme. We're content with letting McCoy sit on the bench, and even then, he's not necessarily our long term answer. We don't need to throw him in there and have the Bengals do what they did to Jimmy Clausen last week.
Along with having a monster game against the Baltimore Ravens, rushing for 144 yards, Peyton Hillis has a touchdown in each of the Browns' first three games. He also leads the Browns with 14 receptions. Give us an overview of how the Browns are using Hillis this year.
Peyton Hillis had a great preseason by helping move the football any time he entered the game. He is a north-south runner out of the backfield and pushes the pile forward every time. As a receiver, he catches the ball well out of the backfield and can even line up at receiver and run some short routes. With that type of versatility and physicality, the Browns are using Hillis early and often this year. He has done so well over the first three weeks that he has surpassed Jerome Harrison on the depth chart. If you look back at the Brady Quinn trade in which the Browns acquired Hillis, you can definitely see which team got the better end of the deal.
In all three games, the Browns entered the fourth quarter with the lead. Cleveland's defense has given up 20 total points in the fourth quarter, yet the offense has only scored seven points all season in the second half. What happens between the Browns' first half, where they score 38 points to their seven points in the second half?
I need to break this answer down into two sections: the first two games, and then last week against the Ravens. Over the first two weeks, the playcalling was just awful. The Browns excel at running the football, and for whatever reason, we had Delhomme or Wallace lining up in shotgun and trying to throw the ball from deep in their own territory. Our team doesn't have receivers known for their route running abilities, so naturally our quarterbacks didn't have anywhere to go with the football. That became a rinse and repeat cycle.
Last week against the Ravens, the Browns made a commitment to running the ball still in the second half against Baltimore, and it worked. There was an unfortunate play in the fourth quarter where the Browns made the right decision to run the football, but Hillis and the rest of the line was running the counter play while Wallace pitched the ball into the backfield. That ended up being a 17-yard loss or so, and killed our offense the rest of the fourth quarter. If the improved playcalling continues into this week, I think the team's second half offensive woes can be cured, which should help the Browns win some of those closer ball games.
Joshua Cribbs is the most productive wide receiver with the Browns this year, leading the team with 143 yards receiving. Is he finally developing into Cleveland's number one receiver?
As far as being Cleveland's No. 1 receiver right now, I would say yes. He still isn't a great route runner, but he has compensated for that by improving upon the little things -- he catches the ball well, he shields off defenders with his body as the throw is coming toward him, and he blocks well when a running play is called. If you compared the tape of Cribbs last year at receiver vs. this year, you would see a remarkable difference. In terms of being an NFL No. 1 receiver, he still needs to continue working at it.
Rookie T.J. Ward has had a strong opening three games to the season, leading the team with 27 tackles and forcing a fumble against Tampa Bay. Is Ward strongest in run support or in coverage?
Heading into the season, the scouting report on him was that he was a hard hitter who excelled against the run. Since joining the Browns though, he hasn't been a liability in pass coverage, making him a very well-rounded player to this point. There have been several times where a receiver catches a ball and he'll run up to make sure they don't get any yards after the catch. When Anquan Boldin torched Eric Wright for three touchdowns last week, the only other time they went to Boldin was in the end zone with T.J. Ward in coverage. Ward stayed with Boldin and broke up the play in the end zone. I haven't been crazy about any of our safeties for years, but I think Ward could develop into a future Pro Bowler.
Situation: Browns are at the Bengals three-yard line, down by four points and two seconds left in the game. Who would the Browns go to scoring the winning touchdown?
TE Ben Watson. Both of our quarterbacks have faith in him, and being a veteran player he is used to those types of situations where a clutch play needs to be made.
Roles reversed: Bengals are at the Browns three-yard line, down by four points with two seconds left in the game. Which defensive player would you expect to make the game-saving play?
It's been ages since the Browns have been in a situation like that and actually made the game-saving play, so this is a tough one. I'll pick another veteran -- LB Scott Fujita.