This morning, I posted some thoughts about the press coverage of the Browns loss to the Ravens on Sunday night. What particularly caught my attention was the media's reaction to Butch Davis' comment that the Browns were "on the threshold of turning the corner".
Davis' comments seem ready-made for mocking, and I would happily take up that torch if I thought it was humorous and not... well... somewhat true.
But, I will tell you right here and now that I think that Butch Davis is right.
I will admit that I tend to see the world through brown-and-orange lenses, and that I desperately want this team to win, and soon. I don't pretend to be objective on the matter.
Please allow me to abuse my position with website to offer some reasons why I think Davis is right, and the Browns are remarkably close to taking their game to the next level. I believe that there's still reason to be optimistic about the Browns. In fact, I can think of at least Baker's Dozen of reasons.
Keep in mind, if you want to comment on this article in the forums, that "Pollyanna" is spelled with two "L"s and two "N"s. Thanks.
Barry's Reasons for Optimism
1. Competing with the Best. The Browns are 1-2 in games against near-playoff locks (Baltimore and Philadelphia). The Browns win against the Ravens was dominating, and both losses went down to the last minute or to overtime. In my opinion, after watching these games, the gap between these playoff teams and the Browns are not too large to be overcome in the short term, likely as early as next season. That gap might have been overcome this season, if the Browns had been luckier with injuries.
2. Taking Care of Business. The Browns have taken care of business against two teams - Redskins and Bengals - without much difficulty and will be able to beat the Bills, Bengals, and Dolphins during the latter half of the season if they play at the same level. You have to beat the teams you should beat, and the Browns look capable of doing just that, along with staying close to the best. The Browns are clearly not in the lower tier of NFL teams.
3. Adjustments are Done. Of the Browns five losses, only one (Dallas) was to a team that they clearly should have beaten, although the loss to the 5-3 Giants could be placed in a similar category. Those losses may have been largely the result of a quarterback and offensive line adjusting to a new offense. If the teams played again today, particularly Dallas, I believe the Browns would win.
4. The 2005 Super-Draft. The Browns will have the equivalent of four draft picks in the first two rounds in 2005, if one considers Kellen Winslow, Jr, and Sean Jones to be rookies again next season. Assuming the Browns draft reasonably well in 2005, this will be an impressive talent infusion for the Browns before any free agent acquisitions are made, and should help the Browns close the gap between themselves and the top tier of NFL teams. Every Browns fan should be enthused about what Winslow and Jones can bring to the team.
5. The Steeler Exception. The Browns have only been soundly beaten by one team this season - Pittsburgh. One year ago, the Browns were thrashed by a number of quickly-eliminated playoff teams, including Kansas City, Seattle, and Baltimore. The loss to the Steelers looked worse than it was because it was before the Steelers were just emerging as the NFL's surprise team and subsequently pounded pre-season Super Bowl favorites New England and Philadelphia. In retrospect, the Browns arguably gave Pittsburgh as good or better a game than either of the two pre-season Super Bowl favorites.
6. Shades of Bernie and Company. Lee Suggs, William Green, Terrelle Smith, and Jeff Garcia are here, they're wearing Brown and Orange and aren't going anywhere else in the near future. The offensive backfield is stable and more talented than at any time in the last twenty years. Garcia is the most savvy presence behind center since Kosar left in 1993.
7. Money, Money, Money. The Browns are in a very comfortable salary cap situation and have the ability to go out and acquire some talent during the off-season Offensive guard is the most needed spot for a talent upgrade, and guards typically don't demand top dollar. If the Browns are focused on obtaining a top-flight left tackle, their job will be harder, but not impossible.
8. A Go-To Guy in Waiting? Sunday, Antonio Bryant played just his second game with the Browns, and didn't even start, but still led the Browns in receptions. He is an upgrade over Quincy Morgan, who would have likely left Cleveland in the near-term anyway. Davis, Bryant, and Northcutt give the Browns a nice trio of receivers, and Bryant has the ability to emerge as a go-to receiver as soon as the second half of the season.
9. Defensive Upside The Browns young linebackers will continue to improve and, with some off-season changes behind them at safety, should enable the Browns to adopt a more aggressive pass defense in 2005. Already, Chaun Thompson is not a liability at strongside linebacker and still has considerable upside. In the computer biz, it's often said that nothing works until Version 3.0. The 2005 season will be Thompson's third with the Browns.
10. Evaluation Doubt Proved Wrong. Kevin Johnson and Tim Couch have both proven Butch Davis more right than wrong in the last twelve months. Johnson is a non-factor for the Ravens and Couch hasn't even landed with another NFL club. The Browns might have been able to get something for both players, but Davis' evaluation looks spot-on at this point.
11. Canny Defensive Staff. The Browns biggest liability in 2003, run defense, is now arguably a strength as the coaching staff has adopted schemes which take advantage of the talent that they have. Defensive coordinator Dave Campo should be lauded for his efforts, and his gameplans for some teams - notably Baltimore in Game One - have helped make a difference on the field.
12. Perfect Time for Tweaking? Assuming that he doesn't jump back to the college ranks and is as smart as he appears, the timing is perfect to get Davis to agree to changes to his staffing and approach. Randy Lerner will be the catalyst for such changes, and so far has not appeared to be a meddling, shoot-from-the-hip owner who makes abrupt changes. If Davis can swallow hard and admit that he can't do it all, Lerner may be able to create changes that enhance the organization without derailing the progress the team is making.
13. Aggressive Roster Moves and Personnel Evaluation. With the possible exception of Bill Belichick, there isn't a team more aggressive about using the bottom part of their roster to evaluate players than the Browns. Davis continually brings in new players to look at, and has fiddling with the bottom of the roster since he arrived in 2001. This effort has benefits on special teams and in finding hidden talent like Richard Alston, Mason Unck, and Leigh Bodden. The improvement in Browns special teams coverage is partially a result of the roster moves. Pete Garcia and Butch Davis seem determined to unearth the bargain talent that is the difference between the lower and upper-tier teams in the salary cap era. Combine that with the Browns willingness to spend on scouting, and it bodes well for the Browns long-term competitiveness.