The bye week doesn't get much better than this. The Browns bask in the afterglow of a great win. Meanwhile, both AFC North teams that played this weekend lost. The Browns needed this time to get healthy and to regroup a bit as they head into the rest of the season.
Let's take a look at the state of the Browns after seven games.
The quarterback question has not been answered yet 12 seasons into The Return. The Browns have spent two first round picks and two third round picks. They've signed many veteran free agents. They've brought in young players from other teams. None of it has worked. This year's strategy to bring in two veterans to allow rookie Colt McCoy to watch hasn't worked out because of injuries.
I'm of the opinion that veteran Jake Delhomme is not the answer. I know he has had one healthy half, and played decently. But Delhomme always seems to make a critical mistake. Seneca Wallace improved during his four starts, but he is a career backup for a reason. He doesn't see open receivers at times. Still, I think Wallace did a solid job and is a valuable player. Colt McCoy played smart during his two starts. I like his ability to throw long and do so accurately. He did not look overmatched.
How the Browns will handle the quarterback position will be the most important and most interesting decision for the rest of the year. I think there is a case to be made for Wallace if the Browns think they can get back in the race. Playing McCoy may not be throwing up the white flag -- I think he may give the Browns the best chance to win now. It's a tough call, to be sure.
Rarely do see a position remade during the season like the Browns have done here. Peyton Hillis is becoming a star. His tough style is a perfect fit for Cleveland. Unfortunately, his tough style also leads to injuries. Meanwhile, the star of the late-season winning streak last year, Jerome Harrison fumbled and sulked his way out of town. I'm not sure he got a fair shake, and I really don't think the Browns got much for him in Mike Bell, but he was done. Oft-injured James Davis was also sent packing in favor of Thomas Clayton. Lawrence Vickers has blocked well, but needs to catch the ball!
With the tough running Hillis does, Bell and Clayton have to contribute. This is a concern.
The Browns had problems here going into 2010 and chose not to meaningfully address them in the offseason. It seemed to me the thinking was that the team would let the young guys play and grow. Mohammed Massaqoui has had a disappointing start to the season. Brian Robiske was a training camp star, but has done little in the real games. Chansi Stuckey has made some plays, especially on third down. Joshua Cribbs has done his best work at wide receiver this year. His use in the wildcat has been limited. Rookie Carlton Mitchell has at least been on the field for a handful of plays. Perhaps recent pickup Demetrius Williams can contribute.
This group has to step in up in the second half.
Benjamin Watson has been the "go to" receiver so far. He is a good addition to the team, but he is prone to mental lapses that lead to penalties. He's had pretty much one every game. Evan Moore has shown flashes, but he had a concussion that I think may have limited his playing time and effectiveness. Moore could be a threat in the second part of the season. Robert Royal has largely been a blocker, and that is a fitting role for him.
The right side of the line was a concern heading into camp, and it has remained a concern due to injury. John St. Clair was injured early on, and I think the line has performed better without him. The Browns tried Floyd Womack at guard and Tony Pashos at tackle, and that worked pretty well until Pashos was injured. Veteran backup Billy Yates has stepped in at guard and Womack has moved to tackle. Promising rookie Shawn Lauvao was injured heading into the regular season and has yet to play. That's a shame because he had a good camp.
Meawhile, the left side has been steady. Eric Steinback was criticized a lot last year, but you don't hear that kind of talk in 2010. Joe Thomas is a great player, but he has struggled at times. He had a poor game against the Falcons that led to Seneca Wallace being injured. Alex Mack has been solid, but he too has had some struggles. In general, these three have played well, but there have been more problems than I expected.
This group includes older veterans and some younger up-and-coming players. Unfortunately, Robaire Smith has been lost for the year, but this will provide chances for the younger players. Also, veteran Shaun Rogers has played sparingly until the last two weeks.
Ahtyba Rubin is a great young player who has been a key to stopping the run, something the Browns have done rarely since 1999. Kenyon Coleman has come up with some big plays here and there. I've been impressed with Brian Schaefering and Derreck Robinson. Both have made plays.
This group was nondescript coming out of camp. It did not help that D'Qwell Jackson never played a down. But Scott Fujita has emerged as a leader and improved each game. Matt Roth has been a disruptive force. Marcus Benard has been good as a pass rushing specialist. Chris Gocong got off to slow start, but has improved. Even Eric Barton has made a play or two. David Bowens has seen more and more action up to a career performance in New Orleans.
This group needs to continue to step up their play. It would help if there was more of a pass rush coming from this bunch.
While Eric Wright, and to a lesser extent, Sheldon Brown have been much maligned for being burned, a good deal of that has been aided by a gambling defensive style that has left them on an island. Neither player is as bad as some want to say they are, though I'll be the first to admit that both have had some problems tackling. Rookie Joe Haden has seen meaningful playing time and done pretty well. Mike Adams has been pressed into action at corner and has not done as well as we have seen in the past.
The safety position is the weakness of the defense. Rookie T.J. Ward has been a pleasant surprise and is the strength of this group, despite being out of position at times. Abe Elam has had a miserable start to the season. He has missed a lot of plays along the way. Nick Sorenson and Ray Ventrone have played a fair amount on defense. They have not been awful.
This group has been the strength of the team in the past, but it has had its problems this year. The return game has struggled as teams key on or kick away from Cribbs. The normally reliable Phil Dawson missed a makeable field goal in a two-point loss to the Chiefs. Punter Reggie Hodges was inconsistent at first, but has steadily improved. Chansi Stuckey filled in for Cribbs returning punts and was a disaster.
Yet, there are several bright spots. The kick coverage teams are smothering. Ryan Pointbriand is a rock at long-snapper. The Browns hit on two huge trick plays against the Saints, with Cribbs and Hodges both making great plays.
Special teams must contribute for the Browns to continue their success.
The coaching staff has been inconsistent as well. Eric Mangini has made some very questionable decisions, such as sticking with an injured Jake Delhomme against Tampa Bay. But, the team has played hard and has trailed at the half just once, and that was 7-3 at Pittsburgh.
Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll has had his problems, and I think he does not always call a good game. But he has also had three different quarterbacks, a variety of running backs, lack of talent at receiver, and constant shuffling of the offensive line. Daboll has to get this team to move the ball in the second half and must improve in making in-game adjustments.
Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan has maybe taken too many chances, leading to the secondary being burnt numerous times. Yet, the defense has kept the team in most every game. The defensive game plan against the Saints was masterful.
Brad Seely has done a good job with special teams. He needs to continue to be creative to allow some of the heat to be taken off Cribbs.
I had this team at 6-10. The sad fact is, the Browns let the first two games get away with mistakes and an inability to adjust in the second half. Rather than 2-5, this team could easily be 4-3 and in the thick of the playoff race. OK, yes, they play hard, but if I am in Mike Holmgren's place, this is not a positive for me. This staff has to find a way to win those games. That is what they are paid to do. Despite many injuries, though, the Browns have been very competitive and have been in every game. This team doesn't seem to have any quit in them.
Given the remaining schedule, the Browns could set a great tone for the rest of the year if they could steal one of the next two games. The Patriots are a good team, but they are not invincible. The Jets showed this last week that they have not yet arrived.
The following four games include three teams that have struggled in 2010: Jacksoville, Carolina, and Buffalo. Also in that stretch is Miami. The Browns may not be favored in these games, but they should have a chance in each of these games. The Browns finish with all three AFC North teams, and the final two of those are at home.
I like the Browns chances to win at least four more games, and five is not out of the question if some things come together.
Keys To The Rest Of 2010
•Settle on a quarterback.
•Run the ball, and not just with Hillis.
•Get the receivers in the game.
•Get to the quarterback.
•Shore up the secondary.
•Better production from special teams.
Our old friend Bill Belichick comes to town with the New England Patriots.
The season is short. Bark hard!