Who said it was going to be easy?
I am not sure why so many people are so down on the Browns after their opening day loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. While hope springs eternal, it was unreasonable to think that the results of that game would be anything different. Before the game, General Manager Phil Savage told me that whatever happened in the game wouldn't change the team's approach. What he meant was that ‘win or lose' he and Coach Romeo Crennel would sit down on Monday and say that ‘there is still plenty of room for improvement'.
That is exactly what the attitude should be, as long as the honeymoon period continues. Back when the franchise returned in 1999, the front office, coaching staff and fans got fooled by the opening exhibition win over Dallas in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton. That inflated expectation led to the panic that set in after the real opening game 43-0 shutout at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers. In fairness to Carmen Policy and the late Al Lerner, that decision was totally made by Coach Chris Palmer, although the two top men in the organization eventually signed off on the decision.
It is easy to point out some of the obvious problems that showed up in the Browns loss to the Bengals. But I'd like to point out some of the positives. QB Trent Dilfer was the least of the Browns problems. His two interceptions, in 43 attempts, were not his fault. One deflected off the hands of Terrell Smith, while the other, by most accounts, took place when rookie Braylon Edwards ran the wrong pattern.
Most importantly, Dilfer had plenty of time to throw those 43 passes. No QB in the previous six years would ever be able to make that statement. The performance of the offensive line was the biggest bright spot of the day.
The next most encouraging event was that the head coach saw no reason to put spin on what we all clearly saw. There was no hint of ‘except for 5 or 6 plays, we really stopped the running game'. There was no coach's show, where the host has to submit questions in advance. And there was an honest self-evaluation that there is a lot of work to do. It was somewhat refreshing to hear the head coach use the word ‘suck' a couple of times to describe what we all saw.
Now for the glaring problem from the opening game, although it is not fair to put too much stock in what we saw. The offense must get better yardage on first down. Out of nineteen second down situations, on only 5 occasions did the Browns have better than second and seven yards to go. There must be an improvement in this area, so that the defense can be kept off the field.
I have heard from numerous fans who said that the game would have been different if two touchdowns were not called back for penalties. It's true that Leigh Bodden's interception return had nothing to do with penalty on the other side of the field, but it is doubtful that Dennis Northcutt's punt return would have happened without the illegal block that took place. It doesn't matter. Cincinnati appeared to be able to score at will, even if one or two of those scores counted. The reality is that the loss to Cincinnati will probably help this team in the long run. They now see how much improvement is needed to compete in the AFC North, considering most pre-season prognostications placed Pittsburgh and Baltimore ahead of the Bengals.
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