Within the last week, the Cleveland Browns and its fans have witnessed the power and ignorance of the national media. Last Saturday’s 27-17 win over the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers was televised nationally on the NFL Network.
Under the preseason spotlight, Browns quarterback Colt McCoy performed well to the tune of 9-for-10 passing for 135 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions (152.1 QB rating). Suddenly, the national mindset shifted and the Browns were a team on the rise.
Of course, take one step forward and two steps back. ESPN’s Mike Golic, when breaking down the Browns for the coming season, said the team needs to generate a pass rush from their 3-4 base defense.
Well, part of that was right.
Here’s what we do know: The Browns offense showed positive signs last week against a banged-up Packers defense.
This week, the Detroit Lions come to town for the 2011 edition of that was once pitched as the Great Lakes Classic. (Yeah, that’s a real thing.) To sound like a national media member, the Lions are a team on the rise, and perhaps a step ahead of the Browns. Detroit is slowly walking away from the rubble that was its 0-16 season in 2008. Instead of loading up on draft picks who are pass catchers, the Lions are beginning to have smart drafts that included defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and, well, one more wide receiver in Calvin Johnson.
Detroit comes to town for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on Friday. The game will be televised on WKYC-TV 3. The Lions have won three of the last four Great Lakes Classic showdowns including last season’s 35-27 game at Ford Field.
O-line Obstacle: The Browns starting offensive line of Joe Thomas (LT), Eric Steinbach (LG), Alex Mack (C), Shawn Lauvao (RG) and Tony Pashos (RT) may be the best in the AFC North, as well as in the discussion for best in the NFL.
Last week against Green Bay, this unit gave McCoy time and passing lanes. What else can you ask for?
Keep Suh from touching McCoy. Last week, Suh body slammed Cincinnati rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and subsequently was fined $20,000. Many have already forgotten last season when Suh grabbed Jake Delhomme’s face mask, twisted before wrapping his arms around the Browns quarterbacks head and slamming him to the ground.
“I think the key to the offensive line is that they get to play together,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “Which, unfortunately, we’ve done for a few weeks now. I feel like I see progress there. There are a lot of very talented guys that seem to be working well together.”
If the Browns offensive line can keep Suh in check, and stay healthy, it is a good sign this unit is ready for a productive 2011 season.
McCoy-Receiver Relationship: This is a quarterback driven league. So while we fret over the potential harm opposing defenders can bring to McCoy, we also wonder if he will continue to put up solid numbers.
Last Saturday against Green Bay, not only was McCoy accurate, but he was generous. He connected twice with Ben Watson (TE), twice with Evan Moore (TE), twice with Josh Cribbs (WR), and once each with Greg Little (WR), Peyton Hillis (RB) and Brian Robiskie (WR).
“At this point we want to just stay consistent,” Cribbs said on Aug. 17. “We had a pretty good showing of our offense and we want to do the same this week. “We want to capitalize on that and maybe open up the playbook a little bit more.”
Last season, Watson (68) and Hillis (61) were the Browns top two pass catchers. McCoy showed the ability to go through is progressions and find the open receiver and not rely too heavily on one position. It was a positive sign that hopefully continues against the Lions.
Dreary Defense: It’s been well documented on how disappointing the Browns’ run defense has been since 1999. Now, last Saturday, the Browns played a lot of nickel defense against Aaron Rogers and the Packers offense, but Green Bay was able to average 4.8 yards per carry in the first half.
It’s not like the nickel defense was very effective. Matt Flynn and Rogers combined to go 17-for-26 passing for 200 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Again, it’s not wise to rely too heavily on these numbers, and neither is Shurmur.
“I was pleased with the way they played,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said on Aug. 17. “There was a lot of good, physical play. We played a lot of man coverage. You didn’t see guys running wide open. I thought the coverage was tight. For the most part, the receivers were challenged and we did create some pressure and disrupt the quarterback. I’m pleased with where they’ve come in less than three weeks.”
Still, entering this game against Detroit, the Browns defense must perform well throughout the first half, as that is how long the starters are expected to play.
As easy as it was to focus on McCoy and the Browns offense last week, the defense will need to have a good game against a better-than-average Lions offense to keep these positive feelings moving forward.