The secondary is shredded with injuries, but key players at other positions who returned to help the Browns beat Oakland are eager to put on a good show Sunday in Charlotte where the Browns will face the Panthers for just the third time.
Running back Reuben Droughns, wide receiver Joe Jurevicius and defensive end Orpheus Roye played against the Raiders after missing the game against the Ravens the week before. Jurevicius missed two games with torn cartilage in his ribcage.
The Browns are not a deep team, so every injury is magnified. They expect Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme to attack a secondary that could be minus its top three players -- Gary Baxter, Leigh Bodden and Daylon McCutcheon.
Whether the players that have returned are enough to offset the injuries to the defensive backs remains to be seen, but clearly the Browns are a different team with Jurevicius in the lineup to complement Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow Jr.
Jurevicius caught the winning touchdown pass in Oakland. Instead of going into Charlotte 0-4, the Browns believe they might have turned a corner when they fought back from a 21-3 deficit with 21 unanswered points.
"You can't underestimate the confidence that comes from winning," said Jurevicius. "We showed in the Baltimore game we can play pretty well (a 15-14 loss). Obviously, winning is the name of the game. We finally got that first win under our belt."
Droughns struggled in his first two games and then rushed for 100 yards against the Raiders. The game against the Panthers will let Coach Romeo Crennel know as the Browns head into their bye whether a seemingly improved offensive line really is better or whether they looked good because the Raiders are having so many troubles.
Roye is an integral part of a run defense that has been a major disappointment this season. The Browns gave up 150 yards rushing to the Saints, 165 to the Bengals and 194 to the Raiders. Ironically the only time they did not give up at least 100 yards was to the Ravens, the game Roye missed with a shoulder injury, but Roye is good at getting penetration into the backfield.
"Everybody along the front has to concentrate on defeating blockers and not looking for the ball as much," Coach Romeo Crennel said. "They have to tackle better and they have to squeeze down the running lanes so they are not as large. (If they do that) a guy falling off a block has the chance to make the tackle as well as the guy in the hole."
Ted Washington, the 38-year-old nose tackle, has had an up and down season. If the Browns are to slow DeShaun Foster it starts with him. Washington played well against the Ravens when it appeared the run defense was improving, but he was part of the collapse against the Oakland run defense.
"We're going to try and coach him better," said Crennel. "If we can coach him better, he can play better. Sometimes, the defensive linemen start looking for the ball and forget about the blockers."
Washington responds to coaching despite playing 16 seasons, Crennel said.
GAME PLAN: Charlie Frye is not afraid to throw into tight coverage, but this week more than ever he has to be cautious and not give the Panthers an opportunity to play on a short field against a depleted Browns secondary.
Frye can dink his way downfield while relying on running back Reuben Droughns. The run offense struggled in the first three weeks but was better last week against the Raiders. The Browns will need a push from the interior of the line. That is something they have not had this season.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Browns RT Ryan Tucker, a 10-year veteran, vs. Panthers LDE Julius Peppers -- Tucker is not the quickest tackle but he has good footwork and knows how to handle quick pass rushers like Peppers. Pass protection for Charlie Frye has been an issue from the start of the season, but part of the problem is Frye holds the ball too long. He has to learn to throw the ball away without risking an interception.
Browns CB Ralph Brown, a backup, vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith, who has 17 catches in two games -- Brown will start if Gary Baxter cannot. The Browns expect Jake Delhomme to pick on Brown. Consequently the Browns could end up playing more zone defense than usual or use free safety Brian Russell in a double-team. Daven Holly could end up on Smith.
SEASON HISTORY: 3rd meeting. The Panthers lead the series 2-0. Both games were against the Browns in the expansion era. This upcoming game will be the first for Coach Romeo Crennel against the Panthers.
BROWNS HEAD COACH JOHN FOX? When the Browns were looking for a head coach in 2001 former president Carmen Policy considered John Fox, now the Panthers coach, but Policy wanted a flashier name so he hired Butch Davis.
FIRST TIME: This will be the first regular season game for the Browns in Charlotte. The Panthers are the only team the Browns have yet to play on the road.
BY THE NUMBERS: 7 -- Charlie Frye has thrown seven interceptions in four games. At that rate he will throw 28 interceptions in his first season as a starter.