Browns Lead NFL in Wrong Category

Prior to this weekend's game against the Baltimore Ravens, the Browns lead the NFL in one important category: injuries. Bernie talks about the effect that this can have on a team and, specifically, this year's Browns squad. Analysis that you will ONLY get on Bernie's Insiders!

The good news is that the Browns lead the NFL in something. The bad news is that they lead the league in players on the NFL's various injury lists.

At the time this column was written, which was before the Denver game, the Browns had 14 players on either the injured reserve, the non-football injury or the physically unable to perform lists. The way the cards - or should I say players - have fallen for the Browns this year, that number could be even greater by the time the team lines up to play Baltimore at the Stadium next Sunday.

The offense has been hit the most by the injury bug. As a matter of fact, that unit must feel like the boxer who keeps getting dropped by a punch, staggers back up and gathers himself only to be hit and dropped again. And you know it's bad when your kicker gets hurt.

Don't underestimate that loss. Phil Dawson has been one of the Browns' most valuable players. If there has been one comfort in all the close games the Browns have been involved in, it has been the dependable leg of Dawson. Now that's gone, too.

The Browns have been easy targets this year for criticism from everyone.

Some of the criticism has been warranted, but to be fair, some of it hasn't. You can't overlook the devastating effect an avalanche of injuries can have on a football team.

The players aren't going to blame their poor performance on injuries. They have too much pride to do that and no one wants to hear the excuse anyway.

As a player, you're trained to fight your way through injuries. Many times, you'll ignore them just so you can keep playing. I've said this before and I'll say it again; players work too hard to earn the right to be on the field, so it takes quite a bit to get them off it. It takes things like broken arms, broken ankles, ripped up biceps and knees that can't support another snap. All of that and more has happened to the Browns.

I heard coach Butch Davis say that when his team has been able to start the same offensive line two weeks in a row, they've been effective on offense. He's right, but guess how many times that has happened this year? The Browns have started six different offensive line combinations. Nine different players have started in the five line positions. The only reason that number isn't higher is because the Browns have many linemen who can play multiple positions.

The only guy on the line who has been a constant is Ryan Tucker. I've said many times in this space that I think he's a very good player. John Madden agreed with me on the Monday Night Football broadcast when he said, if he was asked to select one player from the Browns to help start a team, he would take Tucker. I hope I haven't jinxed Ryan now.

Listen, injuries are part of the game and we all know that, but you've got to give the Browns a little break here. Okay, maybe not a break, they've had enough of those, how about some consideration.

Consider if the Browns don't lose their most valuable offensive lineman to a season-ending injury on the doorstep of the season opener. Consider if their top running back doesn't bang up his shoulder and if his very effective back-up doesn't hurt his knee and consider if the anchor of your line, the No. 1 draft pick center doesn't miss the final seven games of the year. Close your eyes for a second and tell me what you see. I see a chance. At least, a chance to be good.

The loss of Courtney Brown is disappointing for a few reasons. One, he was leading the team in sacks and quarterback pressures. Sure, Brown was playing well, but I have to say he's still not playing to the disruptive level that you'd expect from a number one overall pick. His injury is also disappointing because for the third time in four years, he won't make it through an entire season. Come to think of it, that's a disturbing, not disappointing, pattern.

I worry about the health of Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb, too.

Way back in training camp, I said it's not important which quarterback starts the season, rather which quarterback ends it. The Browns have certainly needed both Tim and Kelly this year. The question now is: will either of them be standing when the final whistle blows on the season?

That's not a knock on the young guys frantically trying to hold the line together. They are doing the best they can. Let's just hope that no one gets killed.

Deep down inside, I truly believe that good teams are able to adjust to the challenges that injuries bring about during a football season and still succeed. The New England Patriots have done that this year. Maybe that's where the problem lies. Maybe this year's Browns team wasn't ready to be labeled good. Let's face it, this team, in many ways, was counting on a lot of unproven people. The Browns had a rookie at center, no fullback, they lacked a true tight end and the linebackers were all cutting their teeth.

Today, the team limps, literally, into the final turn of the season.

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