Saturday, September 23, 2017

A winnable game

It’s refreshing every once in a while to look back at what the Browns did in the exhibition season. To remember what it was like to actually win a football game. 

Then the regular season commenced following an unbeaten exhibition season and remembrances of those four fake game victories have all but disappeared in the wake of yet another miserable start.

The 2017 National Football League season is barely a couple of weeks old and the Browns find themselves languishing in the same position with regard to winning football games.

Pairing the words “winning” with “Cleveland Browns” in the same sentence is oxymoronic at best. Winning football games on a fairly regular basis during the regular season has been stupefyingly near impossible for this franchise.

And now, just two weeks into the brand new season, the Browns again find themselves in a familiar – and still uncomfortable – position, looking up at the rest of the AFC North.

Yes, I know Cincinnati is down there, too, but the Bengals are more talented. We’ll find out soon enough who wins the race for the bottom of the division next week. But first, a Sunday date with the Indianapolis Colts is next on the docket.

An interesting team, these winless Colts, trying to slog through the early part of the campaign without their best player, quarterback Andrew Luck. The Browns catch a break with Luck off again for the third week in a row, recovering extremely slowly from off-season shoulder surgery.

The Colts’ offense sans Luck means the Browns actually have a chance to win and snap the 14-game road losing streak they drag into the game. This just might be their best chance to win away from home this season.

After facing quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco in the first two games, this week they get Jacoby Brissett, who is just as big physically as the aforementioned, but far less experienced and, thus, far less talented.

Brissett, who replaced the awful Scott Tolzien in the season opener, is not a neophyte to the NFL wars. When Jimmy Garoppolo was injured while filling in for the suspended Tom Brady at the beginning of last season in New England, Brissett took over and was 1-1 in two games.

Tolzien flamed out in the season-opening drubbing by the Los Angeles Rams – he threw a pair of pick sixes in the 46-9 rout – and has firmly entrenched himself as the backup to Brissett until Luck returns.

The Colts also catch a break with news Browns rookie defensive end Myles Garrett is not ready to return from a high ankle sprain and veteran outside linebacker Jamie Collins is out with a concussion.

The teams are in some respects mirror images of each other. Neither team has an offense that will scare you, especially with Luck idled. And their defenses give them the best chance to win games.

If there is an edge on offense, it belongs to the Colts, who boast of wide receivers T. Y. Hilton, Kamar Aiken and Donte Moncrief and tight end Jack Doyle. The Browns counter with Kenny Britt, Rashard Higgins and . . . and . . .

There are those who believe Jordan Leslie, who flashed during the exhibition season, was cut, brought back and placed on the practice squad, then activated off the squad Friday, will be this week’s Higgins, the surprise no one saw coming. It will be interesting to see much coach Hue Jackson involves Leslie in the game plan.

The Colts rely heavily on running back Frank Gore to set the tone for the offense. Gore might be 34 years old – that’s ancient for a running back in the NFL – and not nearly as quick and fast as he used to be after 13 seasons, but he is still a threat.

The Colts, who pushed the Arizona Cardinals to overtime last week before falling, 16-13, in overtime, are starving for any kind of awakening on offense. They have registered only 28 first downs, 491 total yards and just two touchdowns, both on the ground. 

Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski – hmmmm, that name rings a bell – has yet to unlock the mystery of how to effectively run an offense with one of the best quarterbacks in the league in civvies on the sideline.

In theory, the Cleveland defense should not have much of a problem slowing down the Indy offense. Conversely, the Browns do not pose any great threats against a Colts defense that is better than the stats show.

Last week against the Cardinals, the pass rush dropped Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer four times and held the offense in check until the fourth quarter before the Cardinals rallied to win.

The Cardinals’ offensive line is average at best, which just might be the best description of the Browns’ offensive line. And even that might be a little too charitable.

After embarrassingly leading the NFL last season in giving up sacks with a club-record 66, the guys up front this season for Cleveland are off to a roaring start with 10 surrendered, several of those because DeShone Kizer held the football way too long. And the running game has yet to get untracked.

This one shapes up as a low-scoring affair that very well might be determined by whoever wins the special teams, time of possession and field position battles. In other words, have the No-Doz ready just in case.

Get ready for some dull, unimaginative football for the most part as two young, hard-throwing quarterbacks try to figure it all out with the defenses dominating. The critical edge that separates the teams belongs to the Colts – the wide receivers.

It won’t be pretty and will look downright ugly at times. In a game many consider winnable for the Browns, their road losing woes continue. Make it:

Colts 16, Browns 7

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