The (2-3) Cleveland Browns are a difficult team to get a bead on. On one hand, they have a young, talented roster, especially on defense. On the other, they seem to struggle to find consistency as a team.
The Browns are coming off of a big win vs. Baltimore and emotions are running high. They firmly believe that they can be the first team to hand the (5-0) Denver Broncos their first loss of the season.
Let's take a look at some of the more intriguing aspects of the Browns, with the hope that it can illuminate what we can expect to see on Sunday in Cleveland.
Josh McCown Playing Well
Last week, Josh McCown went 36-of-51 for 457 yards and two touchdowns. He made plays and didn't turn the ball over. And he did it against a Ravens defense that Peyton Manning failed to score a touchdown on in Week 1.
For his efforts, McCown was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week. He's been in a groove. In each of the last three games, he's eclipsed the 300-yard passing mark—the first Browns QB in franchise history to accomplish the feat.
And he's doing it without the Browns No. 1 weapon, Josh Gordon. Travis Benjamin leads the team with 22 receptions (on 39 targets) for 411 yards and four touchdowns. Tight end Gary Barnidge has developed into an athletic, reliable pass-catcher, making arguably the best catch of Week 5 (with his legs).
Where McCown really seems to be thriving, however, is on third down—the money down. He leads the NFL with a 123.2 third down QB rating. McCown clearly out-played second-year QB Johnny Manziel in training camp and has absolutely set himself apart as the undisputed starter.
McCown and the Browns No. 8 offense face their toughest matchup of the season going against the Broncos No. 1 total defense. McCown is known as a bit of a gunslinger, but he'll have to mind his P's and Q's against a Broncos defense that has taken the ball away 14 times and sacked the QB 22 times already.
Talented, Underperforming Defense
The Browns have some talent on defense. A lot of talent, actually. This past spring, they drafted two of the stars from the Senior Bowl in nose tackle Danny Shelton and outside linebacker Nate Orchard, and one of the underdogs—safety Ibraheim Campbell.
Cornerback Justin Gilbert, the No. 8 overall pick from last year's draft, has been a disappointment. He's been disciplined by the team multiple times in his short career, for tardiness and off-the-field issues. He's played just nine snaps on the season.
But Joe Haden is still around. He might be one of the most overrated cornerbacks in the NFL, but he is savvy and talented. I just don't like how often he gives up touchdowns. Former Green Bay star Tramon Williams balances out the other side for the Browns.
Perhaps that stems from a lack of consistent pressure on the QB. They've tallied just 10 sacks thus far, led by outside linebacker Armonty Bryant's 3.5.
The Browns have consitently gone back to the defensive well in the draft. They swung and missed on Gilbert. And on Barkevious Mingo in 2013. They've truly struggled in the first round of late, generally speaking. When you look back on it, it's jaw-dropping.
2013: Barkevious Mingo (No. 6). Just this side of being a bust.
2014: Justin Gilbert (No. 8) & Johnny Manziel (No. 22). Too early to call, but both players have been problematic.
2015: Danny Shelton (No. 12) & Cameron Erving (No. 19). This duo looks good thus far.
Three of the Browns seven first round picks dating back to 2012 have been on the defensive side of the ball. Their inability to capitalize on the RG3 trade must frustrate the Cleveland fans to no end.
Only one defensive draft pick is making an impact right now and it's the rookie Shelton. The revolving door at head coach over that time certainly hasn't helped.
Current Browns head man Mike Pettine seems to have a vision and if given enough time, could shape this Browns team into a real threat in the AFC North. Many might laugh at that statement, but the Browns have a lot of talent.
Of course, the future depends entirely on whether or not Johnny Manziel can turn the corner and become a franchise quarterback. As well as McCown is playing right now, he's 36 years old. The clock is ticking.
At some point, Pettine and the Browns will have to turn the keys over to Manziel and see where it leads them. For now, though, they're rolling with McCown. In fairness, McCown is 1-3 as the Browns starter, while Manziel is 1-0 (this year).
If the Browns find ways to win, fans will have to wait til 2016 to get a long look at Manziel. If McCown continues to throw up tremendous numbers in losing efforts, it'll be Manziel's team by mid-November.
To get instant Broncos notifications, download the NEW Scout mobile app for iOS HERE!
Be sure to check out the ever-growing benefit package of being a Mile High Huddle Insider! Check it out HERE.