The first-place Cleveland Browns.
Has a nice ring to it. A sweet ring, in fact.
OK, so the Browns share first place in the AFC North with three other teams after handling the Indianapolis Colts Sunday.
But long-suffering Browns fans don’t really care that it’s week two of the National Football League season. They don’t care how the top spot was achieved. They don’t care if there’s company up there.
Their Browns are in first place and that’s all that matters. Fans will take good news like this any way they can get it. The Browns won’t win the division, not with Baltimore and Pittsburgh as residents, but for one week, the team is in first place.
And don’t think that won’t put a bounce in the step of Browns Nation this week. The next few days will be spent reminiscing about how good it felt when Colt McCoy took a knee to seal the 27-19 victory.
Instead of wondering how the Browns blew yet another one, conversation will center on how efficient and cool McCoy was under pressure; on how well the defense played, especially in the red zone when it forced the Colts to kick field goals instead of scoring touchdowns; on how hard Peyton Hillis slugged it out with the Indy defense; on how the attack was better balanced; on how well the offensive line protected McCoy (with one early exception); and on the lack of penalties.
All the good things will be dwelled upon. That’s what usually what happens after a victory. Nothing wrong with that.
But a few negatives should not be overlooked. Little things that might not be noticed in the big picture.
Things like failure to realize that it’s OK to pass on first down, particularly when your offense is predicated on a pass-first philosophy. In fact, a perusal of the play-by-play reveals that passing on first down is far more productive.
Coach Pat Shurmur’s offense had 22 first-down plays against the Colts, 13 of which were executed on the ground. On those 13 plays, the Browns netted 39 yards. On the nine pass plays, including one incompletion, the net gain was 68 yards.
Breaking that down, McCoy and Co. averaged three yards on first down after they ran the ball. That meant the average distance to go on subsequent second downs was seven yards. Conversely, the average per pass play on first down was 7.55 yards, leaving second-down distance at 2.45 yards.
In other words, each time the Browns ran the ball on first down, they were forced into second and long because of their inability to gain substantial yardage. When they threw, second down became much more manageable.
The idea is to make it easier for an offense to pile up first downs. Granted, the Browns were 8 of 16 on third-down conversions against the Colts, which makes McCoy’s afternoon that much more notable. But it could have been a whole lot easier – and possibly more productive – if the passing game had been ratcheted up.
Hillis’ afternoon became more bountiful when the Browns’ defense stymied the Indianapolis offense and produced five straight three-and-outs in the second half, including an interception and strip sack/fumble recovery.
The gassed Indy defense had virtually nothing left by the time Hillis rumbled for the game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. Stuff like that usually happens to the Browns.
As with most winning teams, luck plays a vital role.
In the first quarter, for example, Dwight Freeney beat Joe Thomas on the second offensive series and sacked McCoy, who fumbled. Thomas redeemed himself by gathering in the fumble at the Cleveland 45 as Colts defenders scrambled for the loose ball.
Then there was McCoy’s touchdown pass to Evan Moore midway through the second quarter that got the Browns on the board. It was close, but it appeared on the replay as though McCoy released the ball just past the line of scrimmage.
Colts coach Jim Caldwell, who won a replay challenge earlier in the same drive, chose not to challenge this one. The first challenge was on a dinky – almost meaningless – two-yard pass to Cleveland fullback Owen Marecic. He passed on what was a scoring play.
Luck, it is said, is the residue of hard work, That certainly was the case Sunday against the Colts.
Quick thoughts: As hard as Hillis runs, he’s got to know that the opposition always tries to get a helmet on the ball as they attempt to tackle him. Or they try to rake the ball out when he attempts a second or third effort. . . . Wondering why Shurmur put in Montario Hardesty following Usama Young’s interception early in the fourth quarter. He hadn’t played a down up to that point. Where was Hillis? . . . Why was Moore targeted only once all afternoon? Shurmur is misusing him. He could be the Aaron Hernandez of the Browns. The New England Patriots incorporate Hernandez perfectly into their offense. The Browns would be wise to do the same. . . . The run-pass ratio was much better against the Colts with 35 runs to 32 pass attempts. . . . Is Brian Robiskie still on the team? . . . The only way Joshua Cribbs will not return a kickoff is if it’s booted out of the end zone. Otherwise, it’s coming out. Guessing here: Cribbs’ ultimate goal is to catch a kickoff nine yards deep and return it for a touchdown, which would be an NFL record. . . . McCoy is still having trouble hitting his receivers in stride, which is essential in the west coast offense. It seems as though most of his completions are on dig or hitch routes. . . . Other than his one hiccup against Freeney, Thomas had a solid afternoon. . . . Nice to see the penalties cut down to nearly zero. Only one on the offense. Must be those drawing-board sessions. . . . Funny sign held up by a Browns fan late in the game: Where’s Your Peyton? A not-so-vague reference to the absence of injured Indy quarterback Peyton Manning and the performance of Hillis.