Two wins separate the Cleveland Browns with Sunday's visiting opponent, the Carolina Panthers. It may only be two wins — the Browns are 3-7 and the Panthers are 1-9 — but there is a wide gap between the teams.
Carolina arrives in Cleveland at an excellent time. The Browns have lost two consecutive games. The Browns lost their promising young quarterback Colt McCoy to a high ankle sprain. What is old is new again as Jake Delhomme will get the start in place of McCoy.
"I'm looking forward to going out and just playing, just doing whatever this team needs to help us win," said Delhomme on Wednesday. "We've had two very tough losses in a row. Certainly we had a couple of weeks where it was very fun, but two very tough losses in a row. We are just looking for any kind of way to bounce back and get a win."
Delhomme played in Carolina from 2003-09 where he led the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2003 and in 2005 he was a Pro Bowl selection. That season Delhomme was 262-for-435 passing for 3,421 yards with 24 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. On March 5, 2010, the Panthers waived Delhomme and 10 days later the Browns signed him.
"It's unfortunate that Colt (McCoy) got injured because I thought he was doing a good job and I know Jake's excited to play," Browns offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. "(Delhomme's) really played one half of football for us healthy since we got him. He's been out there doing a nice job with all the guys. He hasn't shown over excitement about facing his old team, I think he's kind of steady for us, old savvy vet."
Delhomme's only start this season came in the Browns season-opening 17-14 loss to Tampa Bay in which he finished 20-for-37 passing for 227 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
As it turns out, Tampa Bay was a pretty good team. Carolina? Well…
The Panthers are allowing an average of 128.4 rushing yards and 203.5 passing yards a game and 25.2 points per game. In the offseason, they lost pass rushing defensive end Julius Peppers, linebacker Na'il Diggs and safety Chris Harris.
Offensively, the Panthers have truly struggled. The team released Delhomme because they felt their future was Matt Moore. He's now on injured reserve and rookie Jimmy Clausen is getting the start Sunday. Clausen, a Notre Dame product some thought might land in Cleveland, is struggling this season. He 67-for-138 passing for 692 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions.
As a team, Carolina is ranked last in points per game (11.7), yards per game (252.5) and passing yards per game (156.1). The Panthers are averaging 96.4 rushing yards per game, which places them not last, but 23rd.
Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew torched the Browns last week, as the tiny, but powerful, running back proved hard to bring down. Jones-Drew rushed for 133 yards on 23 carries and caught three balls for 87 yards including a back-breaking 75 yards screen pass that set up the winning touchdown.
Entering Sunday, there is plenty of good news remaining for the Browns.
Cleveland forced six turnovers last week leading to a plus-six on the season's turnover ratio. Despite Jones-Drew's performance last Sunday, the Browns are allowing fewer yards on the ground this season (116.4). Carolina's running back tandem of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams are missing a piece, with Williams placed in the IR several weeks ago.
Last season, with Delhomme at quarterback, those two each rushed for more than 1,100 yards. This season in 10 games, Williams has 361 yards on 87 carries and Stewart has 208 yards on 69 carries. Mike Goodson, a second-year player out of Texas A&M, is the most productive back average 4.4 yards per carry.
Individual statistics aside, for the first time since Oct. 3, the Browns are playing a team below .500. Nine of the Browns' first 10 opponents this season have above .500 records and the Browns have faced the toughest schedule in the NFL as their opponents have a combined 69-35 (.663) record.
Oh, and of the 14 NFL teams with six wins or better, nine have been on the Browns' schedule.
"It doesn't matter who you play, I think we've played nine teams with winning records or whatever it is out of 10 games," Ryan said. "When you're out there on Sunday, it's just the one opponent. Whoever it is, we want to win. We are working our tails off to prepare. We don't know if we are favored or not, but we really don't care. We just want to win."