Own the ball, win the game
Here’s one solution for the betterment of the Browns this season. Be the team with the football at the end of the game.
It’s really that simple.
Based on what has transpired thus far this season, the team with the football at the end of the game has won. That’s right . . . three games, three game-winning field goals with no time left.
That’s how close the Browns are to a 3-0 record as they head back into action Sunday in Tennessee. Or a 0-3 record for you pessimists. So 1-2 isn’t as bad as it looks right now.
The fact they had a chance to be unbeaten with any kind of luck at this juncture is fairly incredible. That they were in all three games against three pretty good teams speaks well, so far, of the progress they have made.
This is not a bad football team. It has flaws, especially on defense, but it also has strengths, especially on offense, that were not foreseen. Unless catastrophic injuries occur, it is not a team that will compile another double-digit losing season.
Unless the coaching staff completely and utterly suffers severe brain cramps, this team has a chance in the next five weeks to make some noise in the AFC North.
The combined record of the next five opponents is 4-16 and the Pittsburgh Steelers, coming up a week from Sunday at home, own half of those victories. Tennessee and Tampa Bay are 1-3 and the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders are winless. Three of those five games are at home.
Sure, it's easy to look at the schedule and strongly suggest certain games are winnable. Based on the way the season has begun, it becomes even easier once teams establish winning and losing patterns.
For example, the Jags and Raiders have scored a combined 109 points and permitted 255, a point differential of 146. They are clearly the worst teams not just in the AFC, but the entire league.
The Browns should have no problem handling them, right? Certainly not based on how they have played to this point, right?
Yes, they were extremely competitive (except for the first half of the Pittsburgh game) in the first three games against tough opposition. But you always have to factor in how they play against the so-called bottom feeders of the NFL.
It is possible – not probable – that they play down to their opponent’s level. It’s definitely a mind-set when you enter games you are supposed to win only to play poorly and lose.
With these Browns, though, that should not be the case because they know what it’s like to be considered fodder for the opposition. They should have no problem staying humble. For some reason – and I’m having trouble putting my finger on it – I don’t see that happening with this team.
There seems to be a confidence, especially on offense, that has been missing since the 2007 season, when the Browns shocked the league and turned out a 10-6 record. Credit quarterback Brian Hoyer with that.
Once Mike Pettine has enough confidence in his defense to turn it loose and play much more aggressively than it has, that fine balance of offense and defense will begin to take hold.
The most surprising aspect of this season has been Pettine’s reticence to unleash his brand of defense. It’s anyone guess what he’s waiting for.
Maybe he doesn’t feel confident enough in his personnel with Cleveland to replicate the ultra aggressive style he championed last season while guiding the Buffalo Bills’ defense. If he does, he’s keeping it to himself.
Then again, perhaps it takes time for the personnel to feel comfortable enough with the new scheme and realize positive results. Thus far, that has hardly been the case as the offense has been the saving grace.
If the season continues to unfold with no appreciable changes in that defensive approach, it would be fair to assume the Browns will heavily target that side of the ball in the next college draft.
But that’s next year. Dead ahead are the Titans. And if the Browns have the ball in the waning moments of that game and the score is close, expect good things to happen, at least based on what we’ve seen thus far. Unless, of course, the lead is secure enough not to worry about that.
With a shaky defense and an offense that is playing relatively flawless football, it is not out of the realm of possibility that a fourth straight nail-biter could be in the offing.