Mixed Signals at the Halfway Point

The Browns have reasons for both optimism (see photo) and pessimism as we hit the bye week. Here's a look at how the team is performing as we near the midway point of the season, according to the experts at Scout.com.

The Browns entered their bye week with sufficient reasons for both optimism and pessimism.

The good news for the Browns is they have proven they can play with an elite team by taking Philadelphia to overtime before losing 34-31. The Eagles had beaten every previous opponent by at least 10 points.

But a loss is a loss, and the Browns have two weeks to sit on a 3-4 record. Worse, Cleveland's next three opponents - Baltimore, Pittsburgh and the New York Jets - have a combined 14-4 record.

The Browns follow those three games with a road game against Cincinnati before returning home to play New England. The Browns will be underdogs in the next five games with the possible exception of the Bengals. If Cleveland is to make a playoff run, it has to hit its stride immediately.

There are positive signs, however. Quarterback Jeff Garcia finally has a handle on the Browns' offense, in part because offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie has learned it's best to allow Garcia to make plays outside the pocket.

The running game with William Green and Lee Suggs has been productive. Though neither runner is particularly happy about sharing time, they have handled the shared role diplomatically.

The offensive line finally is settled now that Enoch DeMar has solidified the left-guard spot and the tight end combination of Aaron Shea and Steve Heiden has enabled the Browns to fill some of the void left by the injury to Kellen Winslow Jr.

Antonio Bryant looks to be an upgrade over Quincy Morgan at wide receiver once he learns the playbook, and Andre Davis is a bona fide deep threat.

Defensively, the Browns have been erratic. Last year, they had trouble against the run. This year, Cleveland's defensive deficiency has been allowing big plays. The Eagles opened the game with a 65-yard completion to Todd Pinkston against Daylon McCutcheon, and Anthony Henry was beaten twice for touchdowns of 39 and 40 yards by Terrell Owens.

The Browns have allowed seven other pass plays longer than 35 yards this season.

To try to correct that, Chris Crocker will replace Earl Little as the starting free safety after the bye.

"A year ago, it was the run defense," Browns coach Butch Davis said. "Everybody was on a crusade, `We can't stop the run! We can't stop the run! Now we're doing a good job stopping the run, but we've got to stop the big pass plays. That has got to be the No. 1 thing we have to eliminate."

The Browns have received excellent performances from kicker Phil Dawson and punter Derrick Frost, but penalties and turnovers in the return game have been costly. The Browns lost the ball twice on kickoff returns against Philadelphia.

During the bye week, the Browns practiced for a couple of days before getting a long weekend off. They practice again on Monday.

The coaches will spend the time self-scouting the Browns, trying to pick up tendencies that other teams can exploit.
 


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