After two weeks, the Browns are 28th in the league in total yards-per-game. They are 29th in the league in rushing yards-per-game and 31st in points-per-game.
Help may be on the way, however, as wide receiver Josh Gordon is returning from his two-game suspension and right guard Shawn Lauvao is attempting to return Sunday as well. The two biggest weaknesses of the offense could get a boost.
The question now is who exactly will be starting at quarterback?
Brandon Weeden injured his thumb on his throwing hand late in Sunday’s loss to the Ravens. While Jason Campbell was the man who replaced Weeden, head coach Rob Chudzinski would not commit to who could be the starter next week if Weeden is unable to play.
“I’m going to keep all of our options open right now,” said Chudzinski. “Obviously we have two options in Jason (Campbell) and Brian (Hoyer) both.”
AFC North Standings
|Brandon Weeden||QB||Thumb||ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Weeden had an MRI on Monday. Status update Wednesday.|
|Quentin Groves||OLB||Ankle||Left game in first quarter. Status update Wednesday.|
|Ahtyba Rubin||DE||Calf||Missed Sunday's game. Will get status update Wednesday.|
|Shawn Lauvao||RG||Ankle||Missed Sunday's game. Will get status update Wednesday.|
After Weeden banged his thumb on a defender’s helmet in the fourth quarter, the Browns now have a new offensive issue. Just when his top passing target was returning from suspension, Weeden may miss time with an injury.
This comes on the heels of Weeden’s best outing of the year.
While he is taking a lot of heat for the offensive struggles, he played pretty well on Sunday. He was extremely efficient and ranked sixth in the NFL for Week 2 quarterbacks, according to ProfootballFocus.com (subscription required).
Shawn Lauvao told the media Monday afternoon that he has been running for the past few days and is working “his butt off” to get back for this Sunday’s game.
If Lauvao can return, it completely changes the dynamic of the Browns offense. The pass protection has been so porous that, no matter which quarterback plays, they would struggle to handle the pressure. Weeden has been hit 28 times and sacked eleven times through the first two weeks.
What Must Improve
Offensive Line Play
This has been the Browns biggest weakness thus far. Oniel Cousins has been abysmal filling in at right guard, but he is a third-stringer playing out of position. The bigger issue has been starting right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
Every lineman has a bad week here and there, but he has had two terrible weeks in a row. It is quite surprising after Schwartz was so solid through the final fourteen weeks of his rookie season.
He has been getting beaten on outside speed rushes and inside power moves—and he hasn’t created any room for the running game on his side either. While he has faced two top-tier edge rushers in Cameron Wake and Elvis Dumervil, the competition doesn’t get any easier.
He will now face one of the best defensive lines in the NFL as the Browns travel to Minnesota. Schwartz needs to elevate his game, or this could be a very long season for Browns’ quarterbacks and running backs.
While the offensive line has struggled to create opportunities for Trent Richardson, if he wants to be an elite back in the NFL, he needs to create his own. Richardson has yet to rush for sixty yards in a game and has not reached the end zone.
What is most troubling, however, is that the coaching staff does not trust him to stay in on third downs. As poorly as Chris Ogbonnaya has blocked on third downs, one would hope Richardson could do a little better.
Until Richardson can prove that he is a playmaker in the run game and can keep his quarterback upright on third down, there will be questions about whether or not he was worth the third overall pick in the 2012 draft.
The return of Josh Gordon at wide receiver could loosen up defenses that will now have to worry about a legitimate downfield threat. If this is the case, Richardson could finally start to produce the way the front office had hoped entering the season.
Improve on Third Downs
Third downs need to improve on both sides of the football. While the Browns defense has played very well, it is still allowing its opponents to convert 50 percent of their third down attempts.
On the other hand, the Browns are only converting 17 percent of their attempts. Whether it has been the offensive line allowing sacks, the wide receivers dropping passes or Weeden missing his target—the Browns just can’t seem to move the sticks.
Both on offense and defense, this boils down to playmakers. On third down, they rise to the occasion. These stats tell me that the Browns are devoid of playmakers on both sides of the football.
I think Barkevious Mingo can develop into a playmaker on defense, but there are not many others. On offense, no one has established themselves as a playmaker.
For guys like Joe Haden, who drops too many interception opportunities, or Josh Gordon, who needs to stay on the field, to take that next step, they need to prove they are difference makers on third downs.
(All quotes were gathered first hand unless otherwise noted.)