AIRING IT OUT: The soft midsection of the Browns' schedule suddenly seems harder.
With Braylon Edwards and Lee Suggs lost for the Baltimore game and beyond, the offense lacks two big-play weapons. And this is a team that needs big plays to win. Five of their six touchdowns have come on plays of 28 yards or longer.
Depth at wide receiver and running back are potential problems as well. Neither Edwards nor Suggs figures to be out long enough to place on injured reserve, so the Browns can't bring in reinforcements without casting off someone else. As it stands, the only receivers behind starters Antonio Bryant and Dennis Northcutt are two converted college quarterbacks. Frisman Jackson's hands haven't proven reliable, and preseason phenom Joshua Cribbs is not quite back at top form after his opening day knee sprain. He's yet to see an NFL pass come his way in the regular season.
Through four games, running back Reuben Droughns has handled 83% of the team's rushing attempts. Even Jim Brown never got more than 63% of the team's carries in a season. Droughns has been rock solid with the rock, but if anything, the Browns need to rely on him even more. William Green has yet to get untracked. He's the type of back who needs plenty of action to get into the flow of a game, but how many tackles-for-loss and short-yardage failures must we endure in the meantime?
Romeo Crennel certainly deserves all the credit he's gotten on his overall job performance, but even a 58-year-old coach is not immune from a few rookie mistakes. The head coach known for his straight talk seems to have bobbled the public handling of the injuries to Edwards and Suggs.
He apparently did not know that he needed to promptly report the change in Edwards' status to the league on Saturday, when the rookie receiver was received at the Cleveland Clinic.
Then at his Monday press conference, he said "Lee's O.K." The running back saw surprisingly little action on Sunday and had an X-ray taken after the game. It wasn't until Tuesday that the team announced that Suggs' thumb was broken.
That's disappointing, but at this point it's fair to chalk these missteps up to communication lapses rather than any intent to deceive. We can expect Crennel to do just as he demands of his coaches and players: identify problems forthrightly and take immediate action to fix them and get better.
CONJURING IT UP: It doesn't make matters any easier that the Browns will be traveling to Baltimore to face a Ravens squad especially desperate for a good showing. Their disgraceful Motown meltdown puts them on the verge of internal anarchy. If the Browns could pull off this upset, Billick's bilious bunch would bottom out at 1-4, and any playoff hopes would be far-fetched.
Dennis Northcutt could be the dude to sink the dagger into these derelicts. His past performances against their much-ballyhooed defense include
- a team-high five catches for 45 yards to help the Browns secure a sweep of the defending Super Bowl champs
- eight catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns in the memorable Sunday night near-comeback in 2002
- game highs of 62 and 67 yards receiving in the teams' two 2003 tilts.
‘Cutt hasn't come close to those figures in any game this year. His three best plays have all been nullified by penalties. Look for the skinny vet to sneak into some open spaces as a receiver, dart upfield on punt returns, and maybe run an end-around to help keep the Ravens defense honest, if such a word can ever be applied to them.
EXTRA CREDIT: I recently had the good fortune to have delivery problems with two Browns-related purchases. That's no typo. The items did not arrive when expected, but the product's creators were more than responsive to my queries. In fact, they each sent me a free extra copy for my troubles. So for their customer service, plus the outstanding efforts they produced, a brief plug is in order.
If you're not among the 600 or so who have already purchased the documentary DVD Bleeding Orange & Brown: A Cleveland Tradition, you really should check out the trailer and at least add this great glimpse of Browns fandom to your Christmas list. There are surely faces, voices, and sentiments you will recognize, whether you're a season-ticket holder or a fan from far afield.
Finally, Frank M. Henkel has written a fine detailed narrative entitled, simply, Cleveland Browns History, available through the author's site. There are many excellent Browns books worth a look, but this one is remarkable for its fascinating assortment of well-captioned photographs. From early action photos to candid off-the-field moments, there are many you have never seen before but which resonate with the full range of Browns emotional memory.
These works by Browns fans, for Browns fans, deserve wide distribution and can be had for roughly the price of the average fan's Sunday afternoon stadium beer spillage.
Ace Davis maintains the first weblog devoted to the Cleveland Browns, located at http://www.fanmonster.com/blogs/ace and accessible through the front page at http://browns.scout.com.