Time for a small exercise. Close your eyes and put yourself back to the morning of Sept. 8. It was opening day for the NFL and the Cleveland Browns were getting ready to play at Pittsburgh.
OK, I’m there. No, I promise this won’t get weird. If I told you then I have the power to make the Browns 6-4 entering their Week 12 game at Atlanta AND Josh Gordon will return that week, would you have accepted my proposal?
Yes, the Browns arrived at this point with some questionable performances. The inability to close out a beaten Baltimore Ravens team at home in Week 3, the loss down in Jacksonville after a big win against the Steelers and last week’s stinker at home to Houston after a big Thursday night win against the Bengals.
Big picture: The Browns have six games of meaningful football remaining to be played. This hasn’t happened since 2007. This is a good thing.
We can defer draft talk for another two months, or so.
Back to the games. The conventional wisdom is that Gordon’s return will help the offense that has mostly struggled since center Alex Mack was lost for the season. Without Mack anchoring the offensive line, the Browns running game has slowed down and play action passing rendered useless. As the Browns suddenly displayed the inability to run the football most pointed to this week as to when the Browns’ running backs will get relief.
Few expected Ben Tate not to be in the mix.
Tate was released this week meaning the running back duties fall upon two rookies — Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West. Crowell appears to be the better back, but fumble issues are holding him back. Last Sunday against the Texans, Crowell’s red zone fumble was a huge momentum swing. When Crowell isn’t putting the ball on the ground he’s running well and West’s spot duty is more than admirable.
The Falcons run defense is allowing 4.0 yards per carry and allowed 25.5 points per game. This game sets up perfectly for the Browns. Run the football, save Brian Hoyer from having to throw the ball 50 times and keep the Falcons offense off the field.
Sounds simplistic enough, eh?
When the Browns defense is on the field that’s when the concerns begin. Oh, how the Browns run defense struggled.
Alfred Blue gashed and beat down the Browns for 156 yards on 36 carries. In seven of the Browns’ 10 games, the opponent has rushed for at least 127 yards. Meanwhile, the injuries keep piling up on the Browns defenders, which make for scary circumstances with these final six games. They can’t stop the run and they haven’t been able to get to the quarterback. Uh oh.
Unfortunately, the same powers I had giving the Browns a 6-4 record and Gordon back in the lineup have failed when trying to give the Browns a 5-1 record in these final six games.
The question Sunday will be can Gordon have that big of an impact? Doubtful. He amassed 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns in 14 games last year and the Browns still only won four games.
It seems, based on what has happened so far this year, that the rookie running back duo will have a bigger impact. If the Browns can establish the run and commit to the run it takes the onus off Hoyer.
Go ahead, close your eyes and again and picture that.
Sunday should be fun.