Some thoughts on what turned out to be another entertaining Browns-Bengals game….
But first, QB TALK, CLEVELAND GUHHHHH!
1. Compared to Week One, Brandon Weeden looked remarkably efficient against the Bengals. After an early stumble (literally), Weeden looked much more comfortable and made some nice passes throughout the afternoon.
2. Weeden's best pass proved to be the running back checkdown, which was a symptom of some improved offensive line play, some tentative Bengals' pass coverage and the emergence of running back Trent Richardson – who looked as advertised.
1a and 2a. But to avoid being labeled a "hater", yes – Brandon Weeden looked much better compared to Week One – although even the most optimistic of Browns fans would have to admit that the proverbial bar of expectations could not have been set any lower.
3. Speaking of the checkdowns, credit has to be given to the Browns' offensive staff for putting Weeden into more positive situations this week.* With the threat of a running game, Pat Shurmur (Brad Childress) was able to offer a more varied game plan – one that relieved Richardson of eight-man fronts and Weeden of seven-man blitzes.
3a. And what has happened to the Bengals' defense? After two games, the Bengals have surrendered a 1,000 yards of offense. Just a year ago, this was a well-coached and fairly deep defense.
4. Again, while Shurmur didn't stray far from his Holy Trinity of slant/crossing route, screen and end around early in the game, more progressive downfield routes were available later.
5. And similar to Weeden raising up and reaching competency, credit has to be given to Shurmur for achieving the same thing. Call me negative if you will, but what Shurmur and Weeden accomplished on Sunday is what 31 other teams execute on a weekly basis.
6. It's obvious that Weeden is the strongest armed quarterback the Browns have featured in the expansion era. Weeden's arm was clearly the determining factor on a couple sideline routes – and on countless over the middle throws. However, I don't think I was the only one a bit concerned when Weeden threw into a crowd of three defenders.
7. Most importantly, Richardson was a difference maker and was clearly the type of offensive threat the Browns have lacked since the magical half season in 2007. Yet again – now is the time to truly evaluate what this offense can become. If Shurmur started the game by repeating on a loop the best plays in the Eagles' game, opposing defenses will easily catch on.
8. The next few weeks will be intriguing to watch from a coaching perspective. As we painfully realized (again) yesterday, football is more than just offense. Yet again, the special teams suffered a breakdown and beyond sloppy tackling, the Browns' young secondary took some of the worst angles imaginable.
9. And knowing what will happen, everyone will pile on Buster Skrine and Dmitri Patterson this week, but it's worth noting how impossible it is for anyone (Joe Haden included) to cover A.J. Green under the league's current rules.
10. Anyway, there is a much more positive feeling exiting Cincinnati. While the coaching staff still has A LOT of work to do in ensuring that fundamental football (you know, blocking, tackling, etc.) improves along with continuing to evolve the offense into a consistently competent unit, there are reasons to feel better about the Browns including:
1. D'Qwell Jackson off to another Pro Bowl start.
2. Trent Richardson making us all feel a little relieved.
3. Alex Mack's downfield blocking.
4. Travis Benjamin's downfield blocking.
5. Greg Little deserving his TD dance.
6. Scott Fujita barely playing.
7. Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker energizing the defensive front.**
8. Jabaal Sheard showing up in run defense.
9. Wondering what Brandon Weeden will get trapped under or trip over next week.***
10. Just waiting for that Buffalo defense to arrive in Cleveland.****
*Anyone completely satisfied with what happened yesterday completely misses the point. Yes, it was an entertaining game and yes, the rookies delivered and yes, Shurmur called a better game. But the Browns merely reached a competent level yesterday. If you're satisfied with that and you don't want to see anything better out of these Browns, then I can't offer you anything here.
**Rucker and Parker are great in September, but I wonder how I'll feel in December.
***Someday, this will be a montage in "The Brandon Weeden Story."
****Oh, my. This is the defense that Mark Sanchez destroyed.