There’s nothing concrete that I can point to that will make Browns fans feel any better heading into the final preseason game and then Week 1’s contest against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team has performed badly and it would appear that they’re completely unprepared to start the season. It would appear that this Browns’ preseason is worse than last year. A year ago, Brandon Weeden and company looked good for two games before faltering in the third game and sitting out the fourth. This year’s Browns have struggled for three straight games as Brian Hoyer and the Browns have looked mostly horrendous. All that said, I haven’t given up hope just yet and I feel like I want to provide a calm message with this team right now.
I’m impatient just like the rest of you. And maybe my opinion is partially informed by the fact that I didn’t have to live through every second of the Browns latest game the way the rest of you did–I was streaming bits and pieces as I could on my Slingbox. I was back at the scene of the crime from the Browns’ cautionary third preseason game a year ago in Indianapolis. Last year, I was in Lucas Oil Stadium to see Brandon Weeden reveal the truth about what kind of quarterback he truly is. After putting up two good performances, in the “dress rehearsal” Weeden and the Browns’ offense appeared unworthy of the laundry they wore.
So, how can I feel any better about this team this year? There are a few reasons.
First of all, I don’t believe that the running game completely reveals itself in the preseason and the Browns have a good one. The running game is the kind of thing that gets better and better as a football game goes along. It’s something that builds over the course of a full game, but is more difficult to project from the preseason when starters are giving way quickly to backups. In the Browns’ supposed “dress rehearsal,” Ben Tate only carried the ball three times. I refuse to believe that’s the Browns game-plan for Pittsburgh. The Browns’ running game has been good in the preseason and I think it will prove to be more valuable once the Browns are using it for a full game.
Same with the defense. I’m nervous about some of what I’ve seen as well with the defense, but one of the things I love most is the team’s depth on the defensive line. The idea is that the Browns defense is well-stocked with Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, and Desmond Bryant, but are that much more oppressive when they use the full complement including Billy Winn, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, John Hughes and the rest. Depth in a high-intensity spot like defensive line is something else that I think reveals itself better over the course of a full NFL game.
Lastly, and I don’t think anyone’s going to like this, but this is a team that I think can finish a season stronger than it starts it. Assuming the Browns stay somewhat healthy, I really believe this one to be true. The price that the Browns pay for instability is real. If the Browns had made all the same roster moves, but had kept Chud and staff around, would the Browns have shined in the preseason? I think the chances are decidedly higher. This isn’t an excuse mind you, but the reality is that this offense is learning another new system. I expect them to pick it up eventually and for the team to actually figure out which plays and players the team utilizes most effectively. They haven’t yet, of course, but I believe in some of these guys like Jordan Cameron, Andrew Hawkins and even guys like MarQueis Gray and Travis Benjamin. I still expect one of the younger receivers to start to get a feel for things this season.
It stinks to have to wait and see. You’re supposed to be able to see some of this take shape in the preseason and the Browns are mostly misshapen. I’m not terrified just yet, however.
There are no guarantees. The Browns need to execute and play better than what they’ve shown. They need to get some consistency from the quarterbacks and receivers. They need to start quicker so that they aren’t playing from behind all the time. I would much rather have the Browns actually show their strengths in the preseason by taking leads into the locker room before giving way to backups.
But absent that evidence, when I’m thinking about this team and what they’ve done to the roster since last year, I still believe they’ve made some nice improvements. I know it hasn’t shown up in the preseason, but I still think there’s a good chance they can get it together and win some games this year.
At minimum, I’m not ready to talk about having two draft picks in the top five of the 2015 NFL draft.