The Browns are rebuilding after sweeping aside the Mike Holmgren era. Their 3-3 record suggests things are looking up. Is this a legit team or is there a lot of work to be done?
If you consider finding a top-notch NFL quarterback a lot of work, then, yes, there is a lot of work to be done.
But make no mistake, there is talent on this team and it has increased since the end of the Eric Mangini Era. Once Mangini exited, Mike Holmgren came in and hired general manger Tom Heckert, who was decently consistent when it came to hitting on his top-level draft choices. Yet the latest influx of talent the newest regime obtained through the draft (linebacker Barkevious Mingo) and free agency (linebacker Paul Kruger and defensive lineman Desmond Bryant) has truly upped the talent level on the Browns, especially their defense.
But for all the good that has been done, this team is still in desperate need of a capable NFL starting quarterback. Until that happens, this team will probably flounder around .500. Although, for Cleveland Browns football, which has averaged 4.6 wins every season since 2008, even 6-10, 7-9 or 8-8 is looking up.
Need more of an explanation?
Browns fans are so frustrated that Hoyer blew out his knee Oct. 3 because they finally saw what a decent quarterback could do for a team.
Hoyer was 3-0 as a starter this season. Weeden is 0-3.
Hoyer doesn't have the same arm strength as Weeden, but what Hoyer did well is what Weeden does poorly. As a result, the Browns got on a roll. Here's why they won three consecutive games:
Hoyer goes through his progressions, he had good pocket presence, he got rid of the ball quickly and he generally made good decisions. Now that the Browns are back to Weeden, the quarterback play has returned to doing the exact opposite of those aforementioned things.
The result was 6 yards in the third quarter against the Detroit Lions last Sunday and the Browns' 10-point halftime lead turned into a Lions' 14-point victory.
I'm not sure how many of us here looked too deeply at the trade of Trent Richardson, other than to say, "Wow!" after they dealt the No. 3 pick of 2012. What were they trying to accomplish with that trade?
Value. Trent Richardson was the third overall pick in 2012, but he certainly did not have the production one would expect from a skill position player selected that high and carrying that many zeros on his paycheck.
He was average. Nothing more, nothing less. When the Indianapolis Colts came calling with a first-round pick, Browns' CEO Joe Banner had an offer he couldn't refuse. Consider in 2010, the Buffalo Bills received a fourth-round pick in 2011 and a conditional pick in 2012 from Seattle for Marshawn Lynch.
A first-round pick for a third overall pick in his second season averaging 3.5 yards per carry? It had to be done, as shocking as it was.
The defense, statistically, has been impressive. What has that unit done well, and does it have the horses to stop a pretty watered-down Packers attack?
The Browns have turned their fortunes of picking first-round busts to first-round productive players. Beginning in 2010, the Browns selected cornerback Joe Haden first followed by defensive tackle Phil Taylor the next year and linebacker Barkevious Mingo last year.
(We won't focus on 2012 where the Browns took RB Trent Richardson and QB Brandon Weeden.)
In addition, the new regime signed linebackers Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves and defensive lineman Desmond Bryant to bolster an already strong and deep front seven.
Joe Haden is a lockdown cornerback. Haden limited A.J. Green to seven catches for 51 yards and no touchdowns in the Browns' 17-6 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 29. With Haden proving he is a lockdown corner, the Browns are able to roll coverage to the other side of the field.
Meanwhile, that front seven gets after the quarterback. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton dials up pressure early and often and the Browns fast — yes, fast — defense is able to get after the quarterback.
If the Packers' offense is watered down and Haden takes Jordy Nelson out of the game, the Browns have a chance. But the Packers have one thing going for them — a top-notch NFL quarterback. Advantage, Green Bay.
For Cleveland to spring the upset, can you point to two or three factors that must swing in its favor?
Again it goes back to Haden vs. Nelson. Haden's ability to shut down the opposing team's No. 1 wide receiver helps this defense in numerous ways. Moreover, teams are now finding it difficult to rush against the Browns. Adrian Peterson managed only 88 in the Minnesota Vikings' 31-27 loss to the Browns on Sept. 22.
The Browns' defense will keep them in games. It is up to the offense to respond. They didn't in the second half last week against the Lions and the result was Detroit's 24 unanswered points that eliminated Cleveland's 10-point halftime lead.
Weeden must avoid any dumb decisions, which I'm sure by now Packers fans have seen Weeden's dumb-decision potential in GIF form in numerous places on these here Internets.
Wide receiver Josh Gordon is a home-run threat in the passing game. Tight end Jordan Cameron creates mismatches with opposing defenses and old-man Willie McGahee has shown some life carrying the ball.
The Browns need to sustain mistake-free drives throughout the game to allow its defense to rest and, most importantly, keep Aaron Rodgers off the field.