How to Change Fortunes

How can the Browns can flip the script on season and home openers Sunday vs. Saints? OBR contributor Jack Burton has a few ideas...

The Browns now hold the NFL record for consecutive opening day losses.

0-10. Think about that for a second and let that set in. Even the worst teams of this past decade have some how snuck an opening day win somewhere. You know the saying "even a blind squirrel finds a nut." Not the case here.

Admittedly, it has been a tough stretch of football here as the Browns have had numerous NFL records bestowed upon them - none of them good.

Most yards given up to an individual running back — and I am too scared to look it up — but I believe it may have happened twice.

Most consecutive quarters without scoring an NFL touchdown.

All in the record books. So yeah, it's tough to be a fan. It's even harder to be optimistic.

But here we go again.

New coach. New scheme. New quarterback. A large percentage of new faces. And so far, same results.

Coach Pettine however is the first Browns coach we have hired recently to at least be cognizant of these issues. He didn't take the podium Sunday afternoon and look like a deer in the headlights, he didn't try to use buzz words or phrases. Didn't mention moral victories or how proud he was that they battled.

He said what we were thinking.

We lost. It's a simple league where you are measured on a very simple principle — it's wins and losses, ladies and gentleman, and we lost. Again.

The question is should we be looking forward to Sunday? Generally, the answer is "buckle up, this is going to long road."

But this looks a little different to me.

Initially, it had the look and feel as if I was on a 30-minute speed date with all the lousy teams since 1999.

Can't tackle.

Can't score.

Can't stop the run.

Can't pressure the QB.

Ill-prepared, poorly managed and flat out not ready to play.

Then, the next 30 minutes was the opposite. I couldn't believe it. So yeah, I am a little optimistic. Drinking the Kool-Aid a bit. All right, just sipping it but they have my attention.

What needs to happen on Sunday? I believe this is a game they have punchers chance if they play it safe.

What you ask? Let me tell you.

Ball control. They have to keep New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees off the field.

Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell and the offensive line have to be ready to build on the momentum they had in the second half.

Hoyer has to make plays. I give the receivers credit, they aren't very good as a complete group but they found the soft spots and moved the chains. That also has to continue.

Hoyer has actually put up points in his four starts as the Browns QB. It's a positive trend and something to build on, it needs to keep building as the blitz-crazy Rob Ryan returns and will blitz Hoyer as soon as the Saints get off the team bus.

On defense? Tough match up and test for the secondary. You can rattle Brees, he doesn't like pressure from up the middle. Hopefully, the Browns capitalize on that.

The front seven was active and taking Ben Roethlisberger down is no easy feat, but Brees is a different animal. He gets rid of the ball, but the hits over 60 minutes can take a toll on him. In the end it's the secondary. Tashaun Gipson and Donte Whitner are going to have to help young rookie CB Justin Gilbert. I was more disappointed in our safeties and their lack of recognition on Sunday against the Steelers than the play of Gilbert.

Gilbert will get beat, but Whitner has to sniff out those early screens and audibled runs at the blitzes. T.J. Ward had loud critics, but he had good instincts to sniff those out. Maybe Whitner just needs to get comfortable.

Tight end Jimmy Graham is the main target for the Saints. How they defend Graham will be the key. The only teams that slowed him down last year are the ones that used a cornerback on him. Maybe we see Haden vs. Graham, the big tight end gobbles up safeties and linebackers but has been shut down by cornerbacks. (Watch the New England vs. New Orleans games last year.)

How defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil and head coach Mike Pettine decide to defend the Saints offense is the key.

As I said I think we have a punchers chance and the potential good news of possibly have the union voting to potentially reinstate Josh Gordon is a game-changer not only for the offense but the defense as well.

A good showing on Sunday may have us hooked back in and it would be nice to be 1-1 right?

Well, let's not get to ahead of ourselves but there is a reason to be optimistic with this organization, this staff and team in 2014.

I hope....


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