One week ago, Brandon Weeden was still assumed to be the starting quarterback when healthy, Trent Richardson was the face of the franchise and the Cleveland Browns were winless. What a change a week can make.
With all those elements changed, it is tough to predict exactly how the Browns will play moving forward.
It is probably safe to predict that Brian Hoyer will be the starting quarterback against the Bengals when they travel to Cleveland next Sunday. It is also safe to predict that the Browns defense will show up and make some noise. It is currently ranked eighth in the league overall.
On Sunday, the Browns will begin a stretch of three straight games at FirstEnergy Stadium. All three are winnable if they play at the same level they did in their first win against Minnesota.
AFC North Standings
Cincinnati won a crazy back-and-forth game at home against Green Bay and remains the best-looking team in the division. The Ravens had their first really impressive showing as they blew out the Houston Texans.
The Steelers not only look like the worst team in the division, but they look like one of the worst teams in the NFL. They have no offensive rhythm and can’t figure out a way to get a meaningful stop on defense.
The Browns need to work on their minus-17 point differential. The defense has held up its end of the bargain. Now the offense needs to build on its 31-point performance Sunday.
|Jabaal Sheard||OLB||Knee||Left game Sunday. Head coach Rob Chudzinski called it a knee sprain. Will get status update Wednesday.|
|Billy Winn||DE||Quad||Left game Sunday. Will get status update Wednesday.|
|Billy Cundiff||K||Quad||Left game Sunday. Will get status update Wednesday.|
|Brandon Weeden||QB||Thumb||Missed Sunday. Will get status update Wednesday. Chudzinski would not name a starting QB for the game against Cincinnati.|
|Quentin Groves||OLB||Ankle||Missed Sunday. Will get status update Wednesday.|
|Shawn Lauvao||OL||Ankle||Missed Sunday. Will get status update Wednesday.|
Jabaal Sheard’s injury is very worrisome for the Browns defense. Groves, who missed Sunday’s game in Minnesota, has a high ankle sprain that will most likely keep him out for at least one more week. If Sheard cannot play Sunday, the defense will be extremely thin at outside linebacker. It will need to lean on rookie Barkevious Mingo, who has not played every down yet.
If Cundiff cannot play, it will need to bring in a kicker. The most likely candidate would be Shayne Graham.
The good news is that the team seems optimistic Shawn Lauvao could return this week, which would give the offensive line a much-needed boost.
Even if Brandon Weeden is healthy, it is tough to imagine a scenario where he is named the starter. After Hoyer led the team on a game-winning drive, it now has every reason to move forward with him as the starter.
What Must Improve
Offensive Line Play
I’m getting extremely sick of writing about how the offensive line needs to play better. If you take away the fake punt and wide receiver Josh Gordon’s 22-yard run, the Browns rushed for just 49 yards on 14 carries. That is 3.5 yards per carry.
Once again, the quarterback was under siege the entire game as well. Hoyer was sacked three times and hit seven. The only reason this number isn’t higher is because Hoyer was a magician in the pocket evading pressure.
If Lauvao is able to return this week, it could drastically change things. Lauvao played next to right tackle Mitchell Schwartz last season, and they looked like one of the most solid right sides in the NFL. Lauvao is also the most physical run-blocker the Browns have on the roster. His return cannot happen soon enough.
Even though the Browns won Sunday, they turned the ball over four more times. There are only seven teams in the NFL with a worse turnover ratio.
The Browns do not have the talent on their roster to lose the turnover battle every week. This is especially true if Bryan Hoyer is going to be the starting quarterback moving forward. He does not have the same arm strength to stretch defenses as Weeden, so he must take better care of the football throwing into traffic.
Also, Travis Benjamin cannot have gaffes like the one Sunday in the punt return game. The defense has done a stellar job getting the football back to the offense all three weeks. To give the ball back without an offensive play is inexcusable.
Be More Creative in the Run Game
It’s obvious the Browns are not going to run the ball down anyone’s throat this season, but they still must find a way to establish the run. They are 31st in the league in rush attempts.
They give up on the run too quickly and cannot continue to throw the ball over 50 times a game. It doesn’t matter who they play at quarterback, he will get killed if he drops back that often behind this line.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner used Josh Gordon on a sweep early in the game and needs to think outside the box more often. Last season, Travis Benjamin rushed the ball six times for 66 yards. He is a weapon that needs to be utilized.
Somehow Turner and Chudzinski need to figure out a way to run the ball more than 16.6 times a game. That number needs to be over 20 if this team wants to have a shot to win every week.
All quotes were gathered first hand unless otherwise noted.