INTERIM REPORT GRADE: C+
REVIEW: The Browns have put the bulk of the pressure to find a pass rush on the shoulders of the defensive line. With strongside linebacker Jamir Miller out for the year with a torn Achilles, the Browns relied less on the blitz in 2002, instead asking the front four to generate its own pass rush. The results have been underwhelming with Courtney Brown finally recording his first sack of the year just last week. After a slow start that earned him some heavy criticism from the fans and media, Brown came alive against the Steelers, finally authoring a performance worthy of a No. 1 overall pick. He was a force both against the run and the pass, where he sacked Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox twice and had another called back by a penalty. If he just has a game like that once every three weeks, he gets Pro Bowl consideration. Gerard Warren continues to improve as the season goes on. He and Roye are working well together against the run. Kenard Lang is a force against the run and has at times provided some big plays rushing the passer. He has emerged as one of the leaders of the defense. The most pleasant surprise has been the depth provided by pass-rush specialists Mark Word and Tyrone Rogers and defensive tackle Alvin McKinley, who made Mark Smith expendable. Moving Courtney Brown to from right to left defensive end on passing downs appears to be a good move, and the emergence of Word, who has looked like an experienced veteran while working against some pretty good left tackles, made that possible.
COMMENTS ... . The seven-man rotation on the line has been the strength of the defense. They have actually played better against the run than the statistics would suggest. The key to the second half will be their ability to generate a pass rush. The Browns would benefit from taking a few more chances with more blitz packages to help open up some opportunities for the linemen.
INTERIM REPORT GRADE: C-
REVIEW ... The Browns are playing a more traditional 4-3 with Darren Hambrick replacing the injured Miller. After a slow start, Hambrick seems to be catching on to the scheme and making more plays against the run. The Browns still miss using Miller at the line of scrimmage more than they will admit. Earl Holmes has been an improvement over Wali Rainer at middle linebacker, but he hasn't been the difference maker the Browns had hoped. Right now, he looks like a stopgap until either rookie Andra Davis is ready to take over or a better option emerges in the draft or free agency. The big disappointment of the year is Dwayne Rudd. The weakside linebacker spends a lot of time hooting and hollering when he makes a play. Unfortunately, he just doesn't make many plays. Rudd has the speed to pursue sideline-to-sideline, but he often fails to finish the play when he gets to the ball. Rookie Kevin Bentley seems to make more plays as a nickel linebacker, and that has led to some speculation that he could supplant Rudd at some point in the second half of the year. Overachiever Brant Boyer has often been spectacular as a special-teams performer and steady as a nickel linebacker.
COMMENTS ... The Browns need more production from Rudd and Holmes. With the potential for a playoff berth already slim, another loss and the Browns could use the second half to allow Bentley and Davis more opportunities to develop on first and second downs.
INTERIM REPORT GRADE: C-
REVIEW ... The Browns secondary hasn't come close to equaling its incredible 2001 season. A big reason for that has to be the lack of a pass rush. Another reason is injuries. Cornerbacks Corey Fuller and Daylon McCutcheon and saftey Robert Griffith have all missed time. The other starting safety, Devin Bush, has struggled with injuries and consistency. The Browns had hoped to improve their safety play with the addition of Griffith. Unfortunately, his injury and the Bush's play has led to Earl Little, who lost his starting job at the start of the year, ending up as the team's most productive safety. Anthony Henry has fallen off significantly from his brilliant rookie season and Lewis Sanders has failed up to the promise of his rookie season after missing last year with an injury. Henry and Sanders, once considered the bookend cornerbacks of the future, have been consistently picked on by opposing quarterbacks.
COMMENTS ... Again, being more aggressive and using more blitz packages might help the pass rush, thus taking some pressure off the defensive backs. The key to the Browns rallying for a possible playoff berth in the second half will be the return to health of Fuller and Griffith.