Feeling a sense of déjà vu after another win-less September? No matter how you look at it, the Cleveland Browns’ 0-3 start to their season is tough to sugarcoat. That being said, there are encouraging signs in the development of these Browns that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Improved production from quarterbacks
Here are the combined stats after three games from the 2009 Browns quarterbacks (Quinn and Anderson): 56 for 93, 492 yards, 1 TD, 6 INT.
After three games this season, the Browns QB statistics look like this: 54 for 92, 597 yards, 3 TD, 3 INT. When you consider that Seneca Wallace has already stepped in for an injured Jake Delhomme, these stats could be much worse. Both quarterbacks have proven they are substantial upgrades over their predecessors.
Stopping the run
In 2009, the Browns defense allowed a staggering 553 yards in its first three games. During the first three games in 2010, that number has taken a drastic downward trend to 368 yards.
While credit should go to the defensive line and linebackers, perhaps the greatest difference from last year is having a safety on the field that understands how to defend the run. Rookie safety T.J. Ward is leading the team in tackles with 27. His sound tackling is something that was sorely deficient in 2009.
Emergence of Peyton Hillis
It’s tough to believe that running back Peyton Hillis was basically an afterthought in the Brady Quinn trade with Denver.
“I really felt strongly about Peyton when we had the chance to trade for him,” said head coach Eric Mangini. “He had close to 200 yards between his carries and his catches; that to me is not a fluke. He’s a good player and I think he’ll continue to get better.”
Hillis’ 144-yard performance against the vaunted Ravens run defense proved he’s more than just a blocking back. Bowling over defenders and wearing number 40, you might mistake him for six-time Pro Bowler Mike Alstott.
The list of Browns injuries grows longer after every game, and it’s only week four. The Browns lost their running back of the future in training camp (Montario Hardesty); their starting QB has missed two games (so far) with an ankle injury, and they’ve seen a bevy of other starters sit at least one game (Shaun Rogers, Brian Robiskie, Jerome Harrison).
Despite all the injuries, the Browns have fought their way to second-half leads in all three games thus far. Not being able to seal the deal is a signal that either players are gassed by the fourth quarter, or that the coaching staff has a game plan for quarters one through three, but runs out of tricks needed to earn a victory.
“The issues that need to be corrected are not going to correct themselves,” Mangini explained.
Yes, this season’s Cleveland Browns have shown improvement, but it still doesn’t change the fact that they’re 0-3. Many problems still exist, including a non-existent pass rush, continued weaknesses in the secondary, some play-calling head-scratchers, and a wide receiver core that is all but invisible.
“There’s a conscientious, determined effort, a collective effort to fix them [problems],” said Mangini. “And it is each individual making sure that they’re holding their end of the bargain to get that done. If we do that, the outcome will be different.”
Competitive football is a welcome change from last season, but fans are getting a bit antsy for some Browns wins. The team will look for its first of the season at home against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Press Conference, Eric Mangini, 9/27/10.