As both a fan and an old coach, there are so many things to like about the Browns win over the Bengals Thursday night in Cincinnati. As a fan I like the divisional win, a big win on national TV, and a win over an obvious rival. It has been a very long time since the Browns had a winning record this far into the season.
But it’s the things that I saw through my coaching eyes that really make me feel good about the win and the future of the team. I saw a defense completely dominate their opponent. I saw guys off the bench coming in and making big plays. I saw a running game the Bengals could not stop. And I saw another week of a short passing/play action attack that keeps getting better and better.
Even with all the rule changes over the years that favor the offense, defense still wins games. The Browns defense took it to the Bengals. They completely shut down not only a pretty good quarterback, but also one of the premier receivers in the league. A.J. Green was held to three catches for 23 yards. Mohammed Sanu, who is another solid receiver, was held to two catches and 20 yards. Quarterback Andy Dalton had his worst game ever, held to 86 passing yards on 10 for 33.
The defense was lead by the usual suspects, including Joe Haden, Tashaun Gipson, Craig Robertson and Paul Kruger. But it was some other guys that stepped up too. Buster Skrine had two picks; Desmond Bryant had six tackles including two sacks on two consecutive plays; rookie K’Waun Williams had some big plays; and Jim Leonhard played more than usual and had four tackles.
On offense with both Alex Hawkins and Jordan Cameron out, Miles Austin stepped up with five catches, and Gary Barnidge had two, including a key catch in coverage that was all over him. The offensive line keeps improving in the post Alex Mack era, and it was Terrance West’s turn to lead the rushing with 94 yards.
The Browns are good enough to challenge for a playoff spot. As I have said before, it is amazing to see the talent that has been accumulated under all the different front office and coaching changes over the last five years or so. General Manager Ray Farmer did a great job with the draft this spring, and also with signing undrafted players and free agents. Another off-season like the last one and the team could be challenging for a championship, not just a playoff spot.
With the success with Brian Hoyer at quarterback the Browns are left with a major decision at that position. There are many variables. Do they sign Hoyer for the long term? What do you do with Johnny Manziel? Are they completed sold on either player being a championship level quarterback?
Next spring’s draft could be filled with many talented quarterbacks. Johnny Manziel’s reputation could be a thing in the past if the Browns wait too long to move him or to play him. Does Hoyer warrant big money or a long-term commitment? Is Manzel in the team’s long-term plans? I doubt vey much the team wants to have both quarterbacks in camp when summer practices begin next year.
Where should we go from here? Fans and the team should be on the same plan for the long weekend and enjoy the time off. Get healthy and clear your heads, the rest of the season could be a heck of a ride.