Passan: A Matter of Perspective

Did the win over the Falcons look like a rousing victory? Or a warning sign of troubles to come? Rich Passan shares his perspective, one which has proved prescient at times this year, and offers his thoughts about the upcoming battle with the dreaded Steelers of... (mutter)... Pitts... (dismissive snort)... burgh...

It clearly depends on your perspective.

The Browns' victory over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday can be classified as beautiful (for those who believe a win is a win is a win) or ugly (for those who understand the game and are concerned with the club's offensive shortcomings).

It all depends on your perspective. It is decidedly in the eye of the beholder.

The Browns have won two of their last three games and are 3-6. What difference does it make how they have arrived at the nine-game mark with this record? After losing five of their first six games, who cares? Right?

For those who will take a victory no matter how it's dressed, you must be in National Football League heaven right about now.

Bring on the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday. It's time to show them and the rest of the National Football League that the Browns are ready to ball. Time to avenge last Christmas Eve's embarrassing nightmare. Right?

Wrong.

The beauty that is winning cloaks much of what is wrong with the Browns offensively. The salve of victory, neatly applied to the warts, masks problems on that side of the ball that portend trouble down the road.

Let's take a close look at the underbelly of the latest victory.

Sure, you can point to Charlie Frye's first pick-free game since . . . well, since his first start as a professional against the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 13 last season. A huge step in the right direction.

And you can point to the fact that the Browns parlayed good field position and a turnover into a stunning (at least for them) 14-0 lead three minutes into the second quarter.

What's this? A lead in the second quarter? A two-touchdown lead? Will someone please pinch Romeo Crennel?

Nearly everyone became giddy after rubbing their eyes to make certain the guys in the Orange and Seal Brown really had the lead.

Winning is nice, of course. Hanging on for dear life, however, is an invitation for ulcers. And that's exactly what the Browns did against the Falcons.

The Browns' offense, which makes Ugly Betty look like a runway model by comparison, Rip Van Winkled its way through the rest of the game.

Even a sight-challenged squirrel could have seen that if it hadn't been for the Cleveland defense, this one most likely would have slipped away, as have so many others. Like last week's loss in San Diego, for instance.

Defenses count on their offenses to give them a breather from time to time. The Cleveland offense provided no oxygen against the Falcons.

Seven plays constituted the longest sustained Cleveland drive of the afternoon. And that was halfway through the fourth quarter. It turned out to be the drive that led to the Phil Dawson field goal that required the Falcons to score a touchdown to win.

And the way the Browns' defense performed, that wasn't going to happen. But not without a "wonder how they're going to blow this one" moment.

The Browns went three-and-out in half of their fourteen possessions. In the second half, they were three-and-done in six of their eight series. Only three first downs in the final 30 minutes. Nine for the game against a banged-up Atlanta defense.

Those are danger signs.

That's not how you put teams away. That's not the sign of a team with aspirations of winning. That's the sign of a team hanging on.

No telling what we'd be discussing today had Michael Vick not gotten careless with the ball and fumbled it away deep in Cleveland territory as the Falcons seemed to be driving for the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter.

Todd Grantham and his staff performed another miracle. Playing with a defensive line that scares and stops no one, a group of linebackers that includes two rookies and a former All-Pro definitely past his prime and a secondary that resembles a M*A*S*H unit, Grantham and his men somehow have cobbled together a formidable unit.

When the Jereme Perrys and Daven Hollys and Ralph Browns of the world step in and perform without missing many beats, you know there's something special going on in the secondary.

When players like Simon Fraser and Leon Williams execute as though they've being doing this for years, that's noteworthy.

Holding Vick and Warrick Dunn in check for the most part is not an easy task and Grantham's scheming took Vick's favorite receiver, Alge Crumpler, out of the game. Rendered him virtually invisible.

But somewhere along the way, the offense must help. You can't count on the defense to take it to the highest level every week.

The big question is whether the offense is capable of taking over a game. Based on what we've seen thus far, they're not even close.

It looks as though we'll have to wait until next season when Jeff Davidson implements his system rather than trying to retool the one he inherited from Maurice Carthon.

The effort cannot be questioned. The talent, on the other hand, can be.

Some of the pieces and parts are there. It's up to Phil Savage to cull the other necessary ingredients and give Frye the opportunity to become what he and others in the organization envisioned when they drafted him.

You can posture and gloat all you want about this victory, but be forewarned that if the Browns play the same way offensively against the Steelers Sunday at CBS, the results will be significantly different. Especially if Crennel considers this just another game on the schedule.

And that doesn't depend on your perspective.


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