Saturday, October 4, 2014

It's time to step up

There’s a nasty little rumor circulating that declares the Browns are not a very good football team coming out of a bye week. In fact, it says, they stink.

Not true. Not even close. Unless you think a 5-8 record after a week off is terrible. With the Browns, though, that’s not bad at all.

Now when you break down that 5-8, certain factors do come into play. The Browns have played eight of those games on the road and have won just twice. At home, however, they are 3-2.

And since Sunday’s game is in Tennessee, that 2-6 road record, at least in the minds of some, predetermines the Browns’ fate and they will sink to 1-3 even though the Titans are struggling at 1-3 themselves.

That one victory did come at home in the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, who eviscerated and embarrassed the New England Patriots last Monday night on national television.

Some consider this a trap game for the Browns, which, when you stop and think about it, compliments the Browns. They are 1-2, but could just as easily be undefeated with a break or two here or two in divisional games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

The Titans are two-point favorites, indicating oddsmakers pretty much rate this an even game even though the game is in Tennessee, which gets three points for home field advantage

Never mind that the Browns have lost their last three road games coming out of a bye. The way they played in the first three games has prompted veteran observers to take notice there might be something brewing in Cleveland after all these years.

At the onset of the season, most people thought the defense would keep them in games while the offense struggles to find its identity. Thus far, it’s been quite the opposite.

The Cleveland defense has surprisingly struggled as Pittsburgh, New Orleans and Baltimore have moved through it with stunning ease, especially on the ground. But running the ball has not been a top priority for the Titans.

Head coach Ken Whisenhunt loves the forward pass and uses it to set it to set up the running game. The Browns are exactly the opposite with the vastly improved ground game helping quarterback Brian Hoyer become quite effective in the passing game.

Two-thirds of the Titans’ yards have been gained through the air. And with Jake Locker returning at quarterback after sitting out a game with an injured throwing wrist, look for more of the same Sunday.

And why not? The Cleveland secondary gives up nearly 240 yards a game. You can count on Locker, who completes only 56.4% of his passes, to play pitch and catch a  lot with the Walkers, tight end Delanie (22-317-3 TD) and wide receiver Kendall (19-176-1 TD).

Whisenhunt’s critics wonder why he doesn’t inject running backs Shonn Greene and rookie Bishop Sankey more into his scheme. They have combined for just 57 carries in the four games for 277 yards, almost five yards a pop.

Against a Cleveland run defense that allows 133 yards a game, one would assume Whisenhunt might try to more evenly distribute the football. Considering that offense has put up just 34 points in the last three games, expect the Tennessee coach to come up with some new wrinkles.

The Titans’ defense, run by former Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton, has taken a beating since the opening victory against the Chiefs, surrendering 100 points in three straight losses.

Bottom line for the Browns is to finally start playing the kind of football on defense that coach Mike Pettine promised when he took over – the in-your-face brand of football he coached in Buffalo last season is AWOL in Cleveland.

If the Browns mount the kind of a pass rush Pettine envisions and start making life miserable for opposing quarterbacks, then everything else should fall into place with regard to the disappointing performance of the secondary.

The Browns haven’t played a well-balanced game all season. They are due for one where the offense clicks, the defense plays up to its capabilities and the special teams make impactful plays.

There is no reason they can’t go into Nashville and make the Titans’ season even more miserable. This will not prove to be a trap game. And it shouldn’t be close. Make it:

Browns 27, Titans 13

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