Passan: Now It Gets Interesting

Will the real Browns please stand up? Is the glass half-full (Bengals) or half-empty (Steelers)? Is the Browns offensive explosion led by William Green (pictured) a vision of the future or a one-game mirage? Bernie's Insiders columnist Rich Passan offers his insight as to the answers of these questions following this weekend's thrashing of the Bengals... <BR>

Warning, Browns fans, warning.

Do not be fooled by what you saw Sunday at the Stadium. Do not be fooled by that deceiving victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Yes, it was overwhelming. Yes, it proved the defense's shabby performance a week ago in Pittsburgh was just a burp. And yes, the team is slowly getting healthier.

It also proved:

  • The Browns can unravel in a Cleveland minute.
     
  • Offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie still has some coaching chops left.
     
  • The Browns can overcome some stupid – and, yes, skittish – coaching by Butch Davis.
     
  • The defensive coaching staff finally figured out it's OK to blitz a first-year quarterback.
     
  • There is still life left in Jeff Garcia.
     
  • Terrelle Smith is vitally important to the overall offensive scheme.
     
  • There is no place like home.

But do not get carried away with the impressive nature in which this victory was achieved. Keep this victory in perspective.

Truth be told, the Browns should have shut out the Bengals. A good football team would have done just that. And the Browns aren't even close to residing in that neighborhood.

The Browns gift-wrapped Cincinnati's 17 points with four turnovers. Good teams do not turn the ball over four times. You don't protect the ball, you don't deserve to win.

That's a truly terrible football team along the Ohio River. Only one year after shedding the title, the Bungles have returned to Cincinnati. These are the types of teams the Browns should beat.

Of course they should feel good about the victory. Of course it's better to be 3-3 than 2-4 at this point in the season. That's where a lot of us thought they would be after six games.

But the Browns should not pretend all is well again. Nor should you. Beating up on the Bengals, the pitiful Bengals, was to be expected.

To those of you who belong to the half-empty club, you know all is not well. There are way too many areas of concern to go around feeling good today. Especially with the Philadelphia Eagles dead ahead at the Stadium Sunday.

For those of you in the half-full club, a serious dose of reality awaits.

To keep the Browns on an even keel, perhaps another screening of the Pittsburgh loss would keep things in perspective.

The greatest areas of concern are in the trenches – the two lines. The offensive line still has a great deal of difficulty protecting Garcia in straight dropbacks. When Garcia scrambles, he's OK. But he can't be scrambling all the time. Count on the Eagles forcing him to run until he requires oxygen.

Now if Robiskie continues to call plays the way he did against the Bengals and feature the running game, then the rest should fall into place. But Smith has to be somewhere on the field on at least first or second down. He makes things happen with his fierce blocking.

It looks as though William Green, who ran in a single-back set at Boston College, is feeling more comfortable running behind Smith. If he keeps it up, there's no telling how effective the passing game can become.

On the other hand, the defensive line, while dramatically improved against the run, has struggled at putting pressure on the quarterback. It's not there. Good teams know how to bring the pressure. Watch the Eagles this weekend and see how.

In order for the Browns' secondary to become effective, the front four needs to harass the quarterback. It does not need to sack him. Just make him throw before he wants to. Make him alter his arm angle. Make him move out of the pocket. Make him do something that will make him uncomfortable.

That's what happened in the 2002 season, when the Browns intercepted more than 30 passes and caused numerous fumbles. Pressure on the quarterback produces takeaways and shortens fields for the offense.

It also should be a concern that the wide receivers are not more in tune with Garcia, or vice versa. They caught only six passes against the Bengals. That number must improve substantially if opposing defensive coordinators are to seriously consider paying attention to them.

Now we'll see how good – or bad – the Browns really are. They have yet to put two solid efforts together this season.

In order to beat the Eagles, they will have to play a near-perfect game, one bereft of any of the stupid mistakes by the players and coaches that have pock-marked this season.

No dumb penalties. No clock mismanagement. No dropped passes. No fumbles. Solid tackling. Aggression on defense, good rhythm on offense. Zero defects.

And we better not see Butch Davis play conservatively against the Eagles, whose liberal approach to the game is one reason they are unbeaten and one of the favorites to wind up in the Super Bowl.

This is the Browns' opportunity to find out just how good they are. It is the perfect litmus test. And it couldn't come at a better time and in a better venue.

After five years of suffering at the Stadium, the Browns have finally learned how to win there. It's about damn time.

They no longer go into home games hoping to win. They go in expecting to win. Confidence, misplaced or not, enables players to rise above their normal capabilities.

In order to beat the Eagles, they will have to play well beyond those capabilities. It won't be easy, but then again, this team does nothing easily.


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