The Browns 51-45 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday may go down as the biggest win of the Romeo Crennel era to date. Getting to 1-1 on the season was important, but it was the manner in which the team won this game which is important.
Coming off a loss to the Steelers in the season opener when the offense performed terribly, the team's offensive unit on Sunday had an entirely different look. Quarterback Derek Anderson struggled at the onset and the team could have folded its tent early, but Anderson would not fall into the trap Charlie Frye did just one week earlier.
Anderson's performance has to gratify many within the Browns organization, as they had believed he was capable of playing the game at this level. Granted, a five-touchdown performance is far from likely to be a regular occurance, but it was the manner which he led the team that will be remembered. With the Browns offense looking for a leader, Anderson fought through a shaky beginning, missing on his first five passes, only to come up big against a Cincinnati defense which played well a week ago against the Baltimore Ravens.
Armed with plenty of time to throw the ball, Anderson was accurate enough to get the ball in the vicinity of Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow, which was all he needed to do. The Cleveland offensive line played exceptionally well protecting Anderson as well as any Cleveland line has guarded its quarterback in ages, and Anderson made the reads and throws when they mattered most.
Assisting was a quarterback's best friend, a significant rushing attack led by Jamal Lewis. Looking much like the Lewis that battered the Browns defense while a member of the Ravens, Lewis plodded away for a few yards at a time, then exploded for three carries of 31 yards or more, including a 66-yard scamper in the third quarter.
Having the ability to run the football changes the complexion of the game. It forces the defense to respect the run, and provides the opportunity to beat the defense when while they focus on the rush. The key difference between Sunday's game and the opener against the Steelers is that the Browns ran the football effectively enough to force Cincinnati to respect the run. A large part of the success was due to the Bengals inability to get to Anderson. The Browns exposed the Cincinnati defense when blitzing.
As in the season opener, receivers were open, only against the Bengals Anderson was calm and composed, and made the throws. In comparison, Anderson read the defense much more deliberately, and the Browns offensive game-plan was to attack the Cincinnati defense. A solid week of preparation was instrumental for Anderson as he looked the part of a starting quarterback on Sunday.
Although Anderson did a remarkable job considering all the events and issues leading up to this start, we need to remember this was only his fifth start in the NFL. He got away with throwing into coverage on numerous occasions, which has been a knock on him since receiving playing time last season. With consistent reps and coaching, this negative tendency can be minimized. Anderson depends on his strong right arm, not only to make plays, but to attempt to make something out of nothing, which could prove costly for the Browns in the future, as it did at times during the 2006 season.
After the Browns selected left tackle Joe Thomas in the draft, many have waited in anticipation to see the rookie and left guard Eric Steinbach line up together. The left side of the Browns offensive line opened up numerous holes for Lewis to run through, just as the organization had hoped would be the case. Once the offensive linemen took control of the line of scrimmage, the confidence level of this much-maligned offensive unit sky-rocketed.
Enough cannot be said regarding the outstanding play and desire of wide receiver Braylon Edwards and tight-end Kellen Winslow. There was an energy coming from these two talented receivers on Sunday that the team has waited to see materialize. Against the Bengals, both players would not be denied, making a series of acrobatic grabs of Anderson passes downfield throughout the game. Veteran Joe Jurevicius hauled in four passes, including two which went for touchdowns. Jurevicius narrowly missed hauling in a third scoring reception, as an Anderson pass was overthrown in the end-zone.
For all the good which transpired offensively on Sunday, the Browns yielded 45 points, which should alarm all their fans. The rush defense again did not play well, although running back Rudi Johnson was not a deciding factor due to the Browns second-half lead. With the Bengals trailing throughout the second half of the game, Cincinnati chose to throw the ball.
Missed tackles again plagued the Browns defense, and far too often Cincinnati running backs and receivers were able to power through the body checks Cleveland defenders laid on them, rather than wrapping up the ball carrier. Defensive ends Orpheus Roye and Robaire Smith played reasonably well, though the interior of the defensive line was silent and moved out of position often.
Against a very good offensive team such as the Bengals, a very good defense can look bad, as the Browns did on Sunday. Especially in the defensive backfield, as Cincinnati receivers found open spots in the secondary all afternoon and made it look too easy at times. Thanks to a lack of a pass rush against one of the best quarterbacks in the game, Carson Palmer kept the Bengals within striking distance until the final whistle sounded.
Loose coverage and a lack of what appears to be continuity in the defensive backfield at the safety positions could be part of the issue. Sean Jones, Brodney Pool, and Mike Adams were consistently late in coverage.
Heading out to Oakland to meet the Raiders next Sunday should provide a more realistic opportunity to evaluate the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Oakland is a physical and strong defensive team, which should test the progress and growth of the Browns offense.
Defensively, the Raiders are an improving offense under first year head coach Lane Kiffin. Oakland will challenge the Browns down the field in the passing game, as well as pound the ball with LaMont Jordan leading a resurgent rushing attack.
Coming off an explosive performance, the Browns must maintain consistency as this team hopes to be more than a whipping post for the rest of the National Football League.