Passan: A Work-In-Progress Rant

Rich offers his thoughts about Romeo Crennel's unfinished business following the Browns 27-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The conflict between optimism and pessimism matches the mixed-bag revealed by the rebuilding Browns first game...

The optimist says some good came out of the Browns' 27-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Counters the pessimist, "Are you kidding?"

"This is a work in progress," says the optimist. "Don't expect results immediately. It's not going to happen. This is a team in transition. Just wait. You'll see."

"Transition?" says the pessimist. "Did you see how badly Carson Palmer torched the secondary? Why do you suppose that happened? Never mind. I'll tell you. No pass rush. And then there's the running game . . ."

We interrupt this argument to lend a realistic perspective to what took place Sunday at CBS.

Both guys are right. This is a work in progress. There are too many new faces on the Browns to expect a cohesive performance against the Bengals, who returned all their starters on offense. And it showed.

It's going to take the better part of the season – perhaps as much as half the schedule – before Romeo Crennel's message is fully received and executed properly. To expect it to come any sooner than that is unrealistic.

The practically non-existent pass rush can't get anything but better. Can't imagine it getting any worse. Palmer had enough time to pick his nose – and the right guy to throw to. He rarely missed.

Where were the blitzes? And I'm not talking about the one-linebacker variety. Where were the creative schemes Crennel was so famous for in New England?

Of course he doesn't have the same personnel here that he did with the Patriots, but what's wrong with at least trying something different? We saw a little of that late in the game with some zone blitzes, but it was not nearly enough.

The defense has to be more opportunistic. Two plays before Palmer hooked up with T.J. Houshmandzadeh to convert a second-and-25 en route to a touchdown that broke a 10-10 tie in the final minute of the first half, Chaun Thompson sniffed out a screen pass and dropped what should have been an interception.

The Browns get that pick or at the very least prevent a 35-yard pass play on the second-and-25 and who knows how the second half would have unfolded.

What made that play more remarkable was that Houshmandzadeh was surrounded by four members of the secondary and Palmer dropped the ball in among them. Four on one! How could Brian Russell, Ray Mickens, Chris Crocker and Brodney Pool allow that?

The outcome could have been a lot worse had Bengals coach Marvin Lewis not suffered from brain cramps or greed. Maybe both.

Why in the world did Lewis permit his offensive coordinator to allow Palmer to throw the ball with a 27-10 lead? The Bengals' offensive line shredded the Browns' front seven most of the afternoon and Rudi Johnson was running almost at will. There was hardly any resistance. The Browns' underbelly was soft all day.

The Bengals had sustained drives of 79, 91 and 78 yards. Still, Palmer threw and ultimately turned the ball over twice. Yep, it could have been a lot worse.

Looking for bright spots? Let's start with the transition defense. It was superb. Even though Trent Dilfer coughed up the ball three times, the defense permitted only six points off those turnovers. Something on which to build.

And for those worrying about Phil Dawson's leg, time to move on. There's nothing wrong with his leg with two solid, down-the-middle field goals and effective kickoffs.

The offensive line did very well under the circumstances and could very well prove to be the best the Browns have had since their return. They kept Dilfer clean and opened up some nice holes for Reuben Droughns.

Idealists will argue the Browns should have wound up with no worse than a tie because they had two touchdowns called back because of penalties. Uh, no. It doesn't work that way. We realists realize penalties are a part of the game.

The first, which nullified Dennis Northcutt's 73-yard punt return for a first-quarter touchdown, was for blocking in the back. All members of return units are told that if you can read the name on the back of an opponent's jersey, keep your hands off him. A lot of players ignore that and hope an official isn't watching. Corey McIntrye gambled and lost.

The second penalty, a cheesy hands-to-the-face call on Mickens away from the play, wiped out Leigh Bodden's interception and trip to the end zone in the third quarter. But that's not why the Browns lost this one.

On offense, two things are clear: The Browns must improve their production on first down and Reuben Droughns should be the running back.

The Browns had 19 second-down chances against the Bengals with an average distance of seven yards to go. That puts way too much pressure on a quarterback and Dilfer is not good enough to handle it.

Of the 19 chances, 14 were for six yards or more, including eight in a row from the middle of the second quarter to the end of the third quarter.

Droughns, on the other hand, had a six-carry, 41-yard first quarter against the Bengals and was rewarded with a seat on the bench in the second quarter. Why? Change of pace? Leave that to a certain college football coach in the state capital and his quarterbacks.

Droughns is the kind of back who needs to get as many touches in a game as possible. Fifteen in this game was not nearly enough. The more touches he gets, the stronger he becomes. He cannot be allowed to languish on the bench. The fire he brings to the offense should not be extinguished. It was baffling to see him on the bench.

The man should handle the ball at least 25 times a game, minimum, in order to be effective and the kind of running back the Browns want in their smash-mouth attack.

Speaking of smash-mouth attack, where was it against the Bengals? What in the world was Maurice Carthon thinking? Forty-three passes from Dilfer? What was that all about?

OK, so the Browns scored their only touchdown of the day with William Green at running back. But that was more Dilfer and Frisman Jackson – and where did that eight-catch, 128-yard day come from? – than anything else.

This rebuilding thing is going to take time. Lots of time. That became crystal clear against the Bengals. And the solutions will not come this Sunday in Green Bay or the following Sunday in Indianapolis. But they will come.

Building the Browns into a winner will be accomplished one block at a time. Expect a lot of those blocks to drop into place in the next couple of months.

If patience is a virtue, then Browns fans best become virtuous until then. In the meantime, take a deep breath and prepare for a bumpy ride.

Any similarity between the Browns we saw Sunday and the Browns we see against the Bengals Dec. 11 in Cincinnati will be strictly a coincidence. By then, it will no longer be a work in progress.

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