Derry: Looking Past the Bottom Line

The 2004 Browns, like the team last year, finds itself at 3-4 after seven games. But if you look past the "bottom line" won-loss record, the numbers are saying that something good is happening in Cleveland. Frank Derry offers his analysis of the Browns heading into the bye week... and, yes... the photo has nothing to do with the story. We just thought it was funny.<BR><BR>

Major League Baseball takes the liberty of calling the annual All-Star Game the midway point of each season …  the Mid-Season Classic, if you will … even though most teams have already played about 90 of their 162 regular-season games.

Likewise, I will call the Browns' bye week this year their mid-season point, even though only seven of their 16 games have been played. Hey, seven or eight, what's the difference?

The point is, with the team now off until Nov. 7, this is a good time to sit back, kick your shoes off, loosen your belt and digest all that has taken place thus far.

Even though statistics can be very misleading, we'll look at the numbers to try and determine if the team has made any progress this year. I'll compare the Browns' performance through its first seven games in 2004 to the first seven games of 2003.

Of course, the most important statistic is the win-loss record and, following Sunday's gut-wrenching 34-31 overtime loss to the Eagles, the Browns are 3-4, which is the same mark they had last year after seven games en route to their 5-11 finish.

All three victories this year have come at home where, as the undefeated Eagles found out first hand, the Browns are playing very good football, their best since returning in 1999.

The Browns have scored 147 points (including one defensive score) for an average of 21.0 this year, a number that has been bolstered by back-to-back 31-point games. The main reason for the offensive outburst appears to be the fact head coach Butch Davis and offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie are now allowing Garcia to play his game, which is to roll out of the pocket on virtually every pass play.

Garcia's improved play has also kept teams from concentrating solely upon stopping the Browns running game.

Early on in the season, it appeared Davis was dead set on trying to covert Garcia into a pocket quarterback, a game-plan that definitely was not working.

Last year at this time, behind a combination of Kelly Holcomb and Tim Couch, the Browns had scored 112 points (including one defensive score) for an average of 16.0 points per game.

Advantage: 2004

Defensively, the Browns have allowed exactly 147 points, which again works out to 21 points per game. Last year, after seven games, the defense had allowed 121 points for an average of 17.3 points per game.

Advantage: 2003

One of the big things Davis emphasized during the off-season was to improve the run defense. How has it done?

In seven games this year, opponents have run for 752 yards, an average of 107.4 per game.

Last year at this point, the defense had allowed 129.9 yards per game, a number that was bloated by the Ravens' Jamel Lewis, who single-handedly rushed for 295 yards in Week Two and 200 yards by San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson who had 200 yards in Week Seven.  No opposing running back has even come close to those type of individual performances this year as the Browns have done a much better job of staying in their lanes and gang tackling.

Advantage: 2004

The Browns also wanted to improve their own running game, which included bringing in a solid run-blocking guard in Kelvin Garmon and veteran fullback Terrelle Smith. Has it worked?

Well, through seven games, including a 165-yard day against the Eagles, the Browns have run for 843 yards, an average of 120.4 per game. Last year at this point, they had run for just 674 yards, an average of just 96.3 per game. 

Starter William Green's total yards are slightly behind his 2003 pace when he had 559 yards on 142 carries through seven games, an average of 3.9 yards per carry. His 64-yard performance against the Eagles upped his 2004 totals to 431 yards on 102 carries, an average of 4.2 yards.

The reason Green's total rushes are down is because Lee Suggs, now that he's healthy, has been getting as many, or more, carries than Green most games.

His 78 yards against the Eagles now gives him 209 yards on 61 carries, an average of 3.4 yards per carry.

The three rushing touchdowns the Browns scored against the rather porous Eagles run defense gives the team five rushing touchdowns this season. Last year after seven games, they had just two touchdowns on the ground.

How far has the running game come? In the 2000 season, the Browns gained 1085 yards on the ground, not for the first seven games, but rather for the entire season!

Advantage: 2004

The numbers which probably interest people the most are those put up by Garcia compared to the two-headed quarterback monster Davis created last year when he decided to bench four-year starter Tim Couch in favor of career-backup quarterback Holcomb.

This year Garcia has completed 111 of 192 passes (57.8%) for 1382 yards, an average of 197.4 yards per game. He has thrown nine touchdowns, seven interceptions and has run for two touchdowns.

Holcomb and Couch combined to complete 145 of 235 passes (61.7%) for 1358 yards through seven games, an average of 194 yards per game. They had thrown nine touchdowns and nine interceptions, plus Couch had run for one touchdown.

Garcia has been sacked 17 times for 69 yards, while Couch and Holcomb had been sacked a combined 14 times for 102 yards. Garcia has a quarterback rating of slightly over 80, while last year Couch was at 80.1 and Holcomb 69.9 after seven games.

Advantage: Too close to call


One very interesting statistical comparison comes in the number of passes caught by the tight ends. Last year after seven games, Steve Heiden, Darnell Sanders and Aaron Shea had combined for 17 catches for 118 yards and one touchdown.

This year, despite the loss of first-round draft choice Kellen Winslow Jr., the tight ends have caught 23 passes. Shea, who has been a bull after getting the ball, leads the way with 12 receptions for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Heiden and Winslow, who is out for the year with a broken leg, both have five receptions. Heiden's catches have been good for 61 yards and Winslow's for 50 yards. Chad Mustard also has one catch for nine yards.

Obviously, the loss of Winslow was a huge blow to the offense. But thanks in particular to Shea, who is finally healthy and showing what the Browns had anticipated when they selected him in the fourth round in the 2000 draft, Winslow's loss hasn't been as devastating as it might have been had no other tight end stepped up to at least partially fill his huge shoes.

It's very that Garcia's No. 1 target when he has to scramble is his tight end.

What we've seen the past two weeks gives a glimpse at just how good this offense should be next year when Winslow does return. The offensive numbers put up the first seven games this year will likely pale in comparison.

All things being equal, the Browns have shown enough strength both offensively and defensively through seven weeks to compete with nearly anyone and possibly contend for the AFC North crown.

Unfortunately, all things are not equal. The Browns will be forced to play four of the AFC's toughest teams in their first five games after the break. Included are unbeaten New England (6-0), once-beaten Pittsburgh (5-1) and the New York Jets (5-1) and twice-beaten Baltimore (4-2).

Two weeks ago, I would have said that schedule would be far difficult to overcome. But Sunday's spirited effort against the Eagles has me believing that if just a few more adjustments can be made to the passing game during the bye week, things could be very interesting when the Browns reach what, on paper, figures to be the weak part of their schedule against the Bills, Chargers, Dolphins and Texans over the final four weeks of the season.

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