Did the Browns learn how to win?
Entering last Sunday's game against Cincinnati, the general consensus was of a Browns team that needed to learn how to win. It made sense considering the Browns led in the fourth quarter of their first three games before being unable to close out and end up on the losing side of the ledger.
Last Sunday, the Browns hung on for victory over the Bengals 23-20.
"These guys are resilient and we're going to get into a ton of tough games throughout the course of the year," coach Eric Mangini said after last Sunday's win. "Understanding what we have to do to win those games and finish the games is so important. I thought we got a lot closer to that or we have been getting close to that and we finally did here (last Sunday)."
Mangini reiterated those comments during a conference call with the Atlanta media on Wednesday.
"You go through steps with every team," Mangini said. "One of them is being competitive and the other one is learning how to win. That's an important step."
Just how big of a step the Browns made will be determined Sunday at home against the Atlanta Falcons. Some think the Browns were lucky to hang on to win last Sunday. Luck has been hand-in-hand with Atlanta the last two weeks.
After losing their opener to Pittsburgh 15-9, the Falcons have won three consecutive games over Arizona (41-7 on Sept. 19), New Orleans (27-24 in overtime on Sept. 26) and San Francisco (16-14 on Oct. 3). Atlanta has been fortunate to win its last two. Two weeks ago, Saints kicker Garrett Hartley missed a 29-yard field goal in overtime before the Falcons won with a 46-yarder from Matt Bryant. Last week, 49ers defensive back Nate Clements appeared to have sealed the win with an interception before fumbling during his return. That led to another Bryant game-winner, this time from 42 yards with two seconds left in regulation.
Suddenly, this looks to be another winnable game for Cleveland. As well as the Browns have run the ball and defended the run they are still 1-3. Sunday's game will come down to which team can get more production from its wide receiving corps.
Roddy White is the Falcons No. 1 wide receiver. The Browns have had issues covering those wide receivers in their last two games … if you haven't heard.
In the last two weeks, Baltimore's Anquan Boldin and Cincinnati's Terrell Owens combined for 18 catches for 364 yards and four touchdowns. It doesn't get easier this week. White is sixth in the NFL with 362 yards receiving.
"(White) does a nice job at the line of scrimmage of getting the defensive back to move, which creates some opportunities on deep balls like fades," Mangini said. "There have been some balls, that really were going to be contested balls down the field, that he goes up and gets."
The Browns were able to disrupt the Bengals passing game with pressure on Carson Palmer with a season-high four sacks. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan cannot be allowed to sit in the pocket with all day to throw. Baltimore's Joe Flacco had all day and he and Boldin picked apart the Browns defense.
The Browns wide receivers, a preseason question mark, continue to be an underachieving position group. Entering Sunday's game, the Browns players with most receptions are tight end Ben Watson and running back Peyton Hillis.
It may change this week with the return of Jake Delhomme at quarterback. Unlike Seneca Wallace, Delhomme is believed to involve his wide receivers more often. In the season opener against Tampa Bay, Delhomme connected with Brian Robiskie, Josh Cribbs, Mohamed Massaquoi and Chansi Stuckey nine times for 93 yards and a touchdown.
In the three games since, the aforementioned four have a combined 19 catches for 249 yards and one touchdown. In all, Browns wide receivers have 342 yards and two touchdowns on 28 catches, which are comparable numbers to Roddy White. Not good.
The Browns have options at tight end with Watson and Evan Moore, but the wide receivers need to play a bigger role in today's NFL, which is designed to give them the advantage. Delhomme, not Wallace, appears to be the better option to get them involved. Even more so after seeing the success Delhomme has had against Atlanta. In 12 games, Delhomme is 6-6 with a 90.1 passer rating and completed 220 of 358 passes for 2,683 yards, 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions.