They are only two games into their schedule, but one thought has become crystal clear about the 2018 Browns. This is not a bad football team.
That is something one could not say for at least the last five years and probably beyond that. That’s not to say it is a good team. It’s just not embarrassingly bad.
It is definitely a step in the right direction as this franchise desperately attempts to apply a tourniquet to the bleeding. Based on the heavily massaged and reconstructed roster, this team is going to win games this season.
The talent is there. General Manager John Dorsey has elevated the skill level on both sides of the football to the point where the Browns are no longer the team you can kick around on a weekly basis between September and December.
Most of the players on this team have no idea their club lugs around a few losing streaks. All they know is the team, as now constituted, is one with the enough talented pieces and parts to be not just competitive, but winners.
That day is coming. It might not happen next week or the week after that, but it will arrive. And once they figure out how to win, that’s the day a frustrated fan base begins to finally rejoice.
You could sense it in the season-opening tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many of the players were angry even though it was the first time in 17 games they didn’t lose. And Sunday’s 21-18 gut-wrenching loss down in New Orleans had to hurt as much as the tie because they knew they played well enough to win both games. Not tie and lose.
“That’s a good football team in there,” intoned coach Hue Jackson after the game. That wasn’t idle talk, designed to make them feel better or a morale boost after a tough loss.
No, they actually played well enough to win. They made plays that had to be made. There was a crispness, particularly on defense, that epitomized the way the game is supposed to played on that side of the ball.
The offense, which is getting untracked seemingly in slow motion, is still a work in progress, but there are signs that progress is being made. For example, quarterback Tyrod Taylor is getting more comfortable with the dumbed-down offense of coordinator Todd Haley.
It took Haley a couple of games to realize he was no longer working with Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown and what worked in Pittsburgh the last six years was not going to work in Cleveland.
It’s unfair to expect those on board now to perform beyond their capabilities. Their better-than-expected performances thus far is a strong indication the coaching staff has made as much of an adjustment to that end as the players have made to the coaches.
Because of the massive turnover of personnel, a large majority of this team deals with losing and adversity much differently than their predecessors, who sort of got used to it and expected it.
It is incumbent then for Jackson and his staff to take advantage and win the games they should win and help them go out and prove what he said after the Saints loss: “That’s a good football team in there.”
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There are probably a few members of Browns Nation lamenting the departure of Josh Gordon, who was shipped to the New England Patriots Monday for a fifth-round draft pick next year.
The talented wide receiver will be missed for sure because of what he can do on as football field. But he won’t be missed after leading a soap-opera-like life when you never know what to expect from him. It took six years to finally wear out the Browns’ patience.
It will be interesting to see how he gets along with stern Pats coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady. It is a marriage that brings together three very headstrong individuals. Let’s see if Gordon can adjust to the Patriot Way.
It is also a blessing in disguise for Browns rookie receiver Antonio Callaway, who flashed with a brilliant 47-yard touchdown catch of a Taylor prayer against the Saints.
Up to now, there was little or no room on the play chart for the rookie. Most of the reps belonged to Jarvis Landry and Gordon, as it should have been. But now that Gordon is gone, time for Callaway to step up and show why he was a fourth-round pick with a first-round grade.
His off-the-field problems in college drew enough red flags at draft time. He fell precipitously until Dorsey decided to take a flyer on the speedy, field-stretching wideout.
If his performance in the Saints game is any indication, Callahan has already made his first down payment of thanks. He was targeted only four times by Taylor (that will increase) and caught three balls for 81 yards, including the 47-yarder that temporarily tied the game at 18-18.
As he learns the finer points of being a professional wide receiver, he’s going to get even better. He is already the fastest of the receivers. Once he learns to smooth out his route running, there’s no telling how good he can be. It never would have happened with Gordon still around.
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For those of you (including myself here, I guess) waiting for Taylor to fail to the point Jackson sits him down, that’s not going to happen any time soon. He hasn’t done enough to warrant such a move.
Disappointing a little, sure. Most of us want to see Baker Mayfield. The sooner, the better to get on with the future. It’s going to take monumentally bad quarterbacking to uncuff the rookie.
The fact Haley has uncomplicated the playbook somewhat for Taylor and places him in a more comfortable situation with regard to successfully operating the offense, it could be as long as a half season before then unless, of course, injury becomes a factor.
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Myles Garrett was kept awfully quiet by the Saints’ defense, which double-teamed him all afternoon. The big defensive end had one solo tackle. That’s the negative.
The positive? It opened opportunity after opportunity for tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who plays next to Garrett, to make plays. And make plays he did with four solo tackles, two sacks (a third was wiped out by an iffy penalty against safety Derrick Kindred) and a couple of quarterback hits.
It was easily the second-year pro’s best game and it came against a pretty good offensive line. It gives future defensive coordinators something to think about when trying to figure out who to double on passing downs.
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The signing of Greg Joseph to replace the released Zane Gonzalez as placekicker brought a huge ho hum and a collective “who?” by fans Monday. Some fans had hoped Dan Bailey, who was released by the Dallas Cowboys, would be in the Browns’ crosshairs.
Maybe he was, but there was no way the veteran was going to sign with the Browns no matter how much money they offered. He wanted to kick for a contender. That’s why he signed with the Minnesota Vikings Monday, probably for less money.
Joseph spent the summer kicking for the Miami Dolphins after signing as a free agent out of Florida Atlantic. He was perfect on three field-goal attempts (including one from 54 yards) in exhibition season before being waived.
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Why do I get the feeling Haley has no idea how to use Duke Johnson Jr.? Submitted for evidence: 11 touches in two games for 35 yards. Eleven touches? That’s nearly what he averaged in one game last season. Thirty-five yards? He averaged that in one half of a game last season.
The versatile fourth-year running back is a weapon, but Haley doesn’t seem to realize it. He is a bundle of talent being relatively chained to the bench with an emphasis on the running game. Johnson is much more valuable when he’s on the field far more than 40% of the time.
He was on the field for just 37% of the Browns’ offensive plays against New Orleans. He can’t make plays when he’s on the sidelines. Jackson needs to help Haley remember to call his number more than he has. Much more. He’s way too valuable to be a relative spectator.
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Finally . . . Once again, special teams were a factor in the New Orleans loss. Gonzalez, of course, shouldered much of that blame, but another flag flew on the punt return team, the dreaded illegal block in the back. It has become almost expected. . . . Two more takeaways against the Saints (both caused by cornerback Terrance Mitchell) boosts the season total to eight in two games, only five behind last season’s total of 13. . . . If you watch Callaway’s big catch closely, notice he catches the back half of the ball before gathering it in as he races into and then out of the end zone. Great hands. . . . There were only seven punts in the game. Britton Colquitt’s 39.3-yard average was disappointing, He’s better than that. . . . Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas is having a terrific season. Drew Brees has targeted him 30 times this season. The ex-Buckeye has caught 28 of those for 269 yards and three touchdowns. . . . All three of Brees’ sacks were of the coverage variety.