Passan: Realistic Expectations

Trent Dilfer said after Saturday night's game that the Browns problems were fixable. Perhaps so, but Rich Passan suggests that you brace yourself for more of what you saw in the first quarter. Still, there were positives for Browns fans to take away from the game...

It's all about expectations. Realistic expectations.

How can anyone be upset at – or critical of – a team very few people expect to win as many as six games this season?

Yes, the Browns' first-team offense and defense looked awful in Saturday night's 17-14 victory over the New York Giants. Yes, the run defense was abysmal. Yes, penalties again blunted drives. Yes, the defensive line will be a problem area all season. And yes, poor tackling has not yet left town.

What did you expect? Really.

Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage to shut their eyes, click their heels three times and saunter down the yellow brick road? OK, wind up back in Kansas.

The Browns are in transition, much like they were when ol' Paul Hilton rode in on his white horse in 2001 and made Chris Palmer the Houston Texans' offensive coordinator. This is no different.

Back then, the Browns were coming off two seasons in which they were 5-27. Now, they're coming off two seasons in which they were 9-23.

So the Browns won. Big whoop. What did they win? An exhibition game. A meaningless game. A game that had more rough edges than a chainsaw.

Mistakes were coming at such a feverish rate, it became laughable. They started early with three holding penalties on the first drive, causing one to think that nothing had changed.

Following the game, quarterback Trent Dilfer said the mistakes were "correctable." Hmmmm. Where have we heard that one before?

Start with Jeff Garcia last season. Follow that with Kelly Holcomb the season before. And finish with Tim Couch. Notice a trend?

Hopefully, Crennel won't make the same mistake Paul Hilton made last season with his starting quarterback. Garcia was ill prepared when the 2004 season began because he saw so little action in exhibition games. His complaints for more reps fell on deaf ears.

Dilfer and the first-team offense needs to work as much as possible to hone their game. There are too many new faces to trust that everything will be OK by the season opener Sept. 11 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Right now, this is a team in search of itself. It is trying to be a run-first-, pass-second team on offense and a scheme-oriented team on defense. It will not overpower opponents defensively as much as it will fool them.

Don't use what happened Saturday night as a barometer as to how good or bad this team will be this season. And don't get too giddy that the Browns won.

They could go 4-0 in the exhibition season and still struggle to win six games when it counts.

There are still a truckload of questions that need to be answered. Like:

  • How are the Browns going to stop the run with a nose tackle who gets blown off the ball way too many times?
  • How long will it take before the players are comfortable with the 3-4 defense?
  • Why wasn't the first-team pass rush as good as that of the second and third team? Are the Browns' second- and third-teamers that much better than the Giants'?
  • Why weren't the wide receivers incorporated more into the offense against New York?
  • Will tackling technique now become a part of the club's practice routine?
  • Why can't the offensive line stop holding?
  • Why is it so difficult to catch a pass when you get your hands on the ball? And
  • Will the Browns ever get a pass rush?

There are plenty more, but why belabor the issue. This is a team deeply in need of talent and it's going to take a lot of time to assemble it.

Crennel, of course, was happy with the victory even though it was uglier than Cinderella's stepsisters. But he can't honestly be happy with the way his team played.

Of course, it wasn't a total disaster.

The positives: The poise of quarterbacks Doug Johnson and rookie Charlie Frye; the pass rushing of outside linebacker Justin Kurpeikis; the special teams play of rookie Josh Cribbs; the performance of the second-team offensive line, especially Melvin Fowler and Greg Randall; the running of William Green; safety Sean Jones enjoying his blitzing role; Orlando Ruff's solid play at inside linebacker.

The highlight of the evening, however, was the microphone malfunction of Channel 19 sideline reporter Sharon Reed, a news reader at the station. Her mouth moved furiously during a fourth-quarter report, but the television audience heard nothing but dead air.

If that report was as interesting and relevant as her other reports, we didn't miss a thing.

It was a little like the Browns' performance. Lots of effort, very little substance.

What else did you expect?

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