Rich's Rant: Ready for Prime Time

Rich Passan loves what he's seen from Derek Anderson and the Browns offensive line to date, and offers his thoughts on the team's offensive progress in 2007.

The more he leads the Browns to victories, the harder it is to believe Derek Anderson did not open the National Football League season as the Browns' quarterback. 

The complaints ranged from "he locks onto receivers too often" to "he didn't do enough to win the starting job in training camp" to "he's too inconsistent" to "his long-range accuracy leaves a lot to be desired" to "he throws too many interceptions." 

Here we are four games into the season and the Browns, thanks in large part to Anderson, are a successful Phil Dawson field goal away from being 3-1 and the talk of the league. 

Why? Because that supposedly not-ready-for-primetime quarterback has proven thus far this season that he is, indeed, quite ready for primetime.  

As the linchpin for the offense, he has done more to help this team win in the last three weeks than any quarterback since the return in 1999. There now seems to be a semblance of order with Anderson in control. 

The offense operates more efficiently. Teams can no longer load the box, daring the Cleveland quarterback to throw the ball because this quarterback will take that dare as a challenge and reduce attendance in that box. 

The Baltimore Ravens threw everything at Anderson in Cleveland's victory Sunday and he never flinched. He didn't have to. That's because he wasn't touched. 

His buddies along the offensive line saw to that. And that has been the big story of the Browns this season. Not the running of Jamal Lewis or the electrifying kick returns of Joshua Cribbs or the poor showing of the defense, although it showed up against the Ravens. 

No, the big story is the bonding of Anderson and his offensive line. 

Normally, statistics do not tell the whole story, yielding only what you want them to mean. But the following numbers are telling and explain why the Browns are surprising a lot of people with their offense. 

Since taking over for Charlie Frye against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener, Anderson has dropped back to pass 122 times and been sacked only twice. Twice! Forty possessions, 208 plays and only two sacks. And those 40 possessions have produced 18 scores – 12 touchdowns and six field goals. 

He's been hurried a few times, he's been touched a few times and he's been knocked down a few times. But he's been sacked only twice. Twice! That is keeping big-time company these days in the NFL. 

The first sack was of the strip-sack variety in his first possession against Pittsburgh after taking over for Frye. The other sack, questionable at best, was when Gerard Warren pressured him on the fifth play of the game in Oakland and he lost control of the ball. He was never tackled. 

Frye, on the other hand, was sacked five times in 23 plays before catching the next plane to Seattle where he began his career as a backup quarterback.  

Here's another stat of interest. The 102 points the Browns have scored in the last three games is the highest three-game total since the first trio of games in 1989 when they put up 112 against Pittsburgh, the New York Jets and Cincinnati in Bud Carson's debut as the Browns' coach. 

Anderson has thrown the ball short, he has thrown the ball long and he's thrown the ball in between. He has thrown passes to wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. He has also thrown them to the opposition. 

He has completed 61 passes in 116 attempts for 964 yards and nine touchdowns. That's 15.8 yards per completion and 8.31 yards per attempt. Impressive numbers for someone with just six NFL starts on his resume. 

OK, enough of the stats. 

The main thing is that Anderson has had time to throw the ball. He receives primo protection from Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach, Hank Fraley, Seth McKinney and Kevin Shaffer. And when the pocket collapses, he steps up and makes plays. 

He's making mostly good decisions and is not honing in on receivers as much as he used to. But the best part – and most important part – is that the ball is leaving his right hand quickly and decisively. It is gone well before the defense can get to him. 

Anderson and the offensive line are scratching each other's backs. The line is giving him the 3-4 seconds he needs to make a decision and he's making that decision quickly enough to give the line the confidence they need to keep doing it. 

Usually, it takes at least a couple of months for a new offensive line to gel, but the Browns' front five appear to be authoring a new chapter in that book.  

The Ravens, who averaged nearly four sacks a game and sacked Cleveland quarterbacks 13 times in two games last season, tossed the defensive playbook at Anderson Sunday and his uniform was pristine at the end of the game. They never had a chance because the ball was gone by the time they arrived. 

Terrell Suggs, one of the top pass rushers in the NFL, was a non-factor in the passing game. Ditto for Ray Lewis. And with the exception of his interception when Anderson had a testosterone rush and tried to squeeze the ball into double coverage, Ed Reed was a non-factor. When was the last time Browns fans could boast that? These guys have been terrors in the past. 

With massive help from offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, whose play-calling kept the Ravens guessing all afternoon, Anderson was like a maestro under center. And the Ravens guessed incorrectly most of the time. 

(Props to Romeo Crennel and his staff for having the Browns ready to play the Ravens. Two victories in three division games? Wow! What's next, a victory against the New England Patriots this Sunday?) 

Will Anderson keep this up? Who thought he would dial up five touchdowns passes against the Bengals? Or come within that aforementioned field goal of winning in Oakland? Or baffle a damn good Ravens defense? All good questions.  

Here's another: What in the world is going on here? 

One thing is certain: The season does not look nearly as bleak now as it did just a few short weeks ago. And Derek Anderson, who was supposed to be the caretaker for the quarterback position until Brady Quinn was pronounced ready, is one of the main reasons. 

Arguably the main one. 

 


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