The Browns’ only prime-time game could not have come at a better time. They will welcome the Buffalo Bills to town on Thursday night in front of a boisterous and re-energized fanbase. For once, there is actually some buzz around the Browns as they take the national stage.
Cleveland has proven it can hang with playoff-caliber football teams through the first four weeks of the season. Quarterback Brian Hoyer has proven he can win his team games and make plays in clutch situations.
Consistency is the key for the Browns, however. They will need to prove they can maintain this level of football for the long haul.
AFC North Standings
Defeating the Bengals did more than just add to the Browns’ win column. It was also a victory over the favorite to take home the AFC North crown.
The Baltimore Ravens had all kinds of offensive issues against the Buffalo Bills in Week 4. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw five interceptions, and running back Ray Rice had just five carries for 17 yards.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are in uncharted territory. They look like the worst team in the NFL. While most people think that the Steelers and offensive coordinator Todd Haley are headed for a midseason divorce, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says that won’t happen.
At this point, it looks like it would take much more than one firing to fix Pittsburgh anyway. It would need something much closer to a miracle.
|Jabaal Sheard||OLB||Knee||Did not participate in practice on Monday|
|Bill Winn||DE||Quad||Did not participate in practice on Monday|
|Quentin Groves||OLB||Ankle||Did not participate in practice on Monday|
|Shawn Lauvao||OL||Ankle||Limited in practice on Monday|
|Billy Cundiff||K||Quad||Limited in practice on Monday|
|John Hughes||DE||Knee||Limited in practice on Monday|
|Brandon Weeden||QB||Thumb||Full participation in practice on Monday|
|Josh Gordon||WR||Forearm||Full participation in practice on Monday|
|Oniel Cousins||OL||Chest||Full participation in practice on Monday|
|Chris Ogbonnaya||RB||Thigh||Full participation in practice on Monday|
Short weeks are an injured player’s worst enemy. Defensive lineman Billy Winn and outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard and Quentin Groves are all fighting an uphill battle to play Thursday against Buffalo.
Offensive lineman Shawn Lauvao could possibly make his season debut on Thursday night, but with Oniel Cousins’ improved play, there is no reason to hurry him back. If Lauvao is not 100 percent, the Browns should let him take the long week and get completely healthy.
The fact that kicker Billy Cundiff is still limited in practice raises concerns over whether or not he can play to his potential. He missed two field goals against the Bengals. Often, six points is the difference between winning and losing.
The most interesting storyline on the injury report is quarterback Brandon Weeden. Head coach Rob Chudzinski said during his Monday press conference, via ClevelandBrowns.com, that Weeden is healthy and cleared to play. He also said Hoyer will remain the starter. His reasoning was that there is only one full practice before Thursday night’s game.
The real reason is that Hoyer is 2-0 as the starter and led a fourth-quarter touchdown drive in each victory.
What Must Improve
This was the weak link of the Browns Sunday after being one of the main reasons for the team’s first victory. The biggest problem is Billy Cundiff’s health. The Browns are not talented enough to let six points slip away.
Especially when one of his missed field goals was from 37 yards. That should be automatic in good weather.
Another issue is the revolving door at kick returner. While wide receiver Greg Little did a nice job filling in Sunday, Cleveland needs to find a permanent solution. Little could be just that after returning two kicks for 60 yards.
The Browns also claimed running back Fozzy Whittaker off waivers from San Diego Monday, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com). As a former All-Big 12 kick returner, he could be an option as well.
Create More Opportunities for Travis Benjamin
I preached all last week that wide receiver Travis Benjamin needed to be a bigger part of the offensive game plan. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner added a bubble screen for Benjamin to the playbook. It resulted in 39 yards.
This was his only target on the day.
At some point, teams will start double-teaming wide receiver Josh Gordon on the outside. This will create opportunities for Benjamin underneath and over the middle. Anytime you can get Benjamin in space with the football it becomes nothing more than a punt return. He is pretty darn good at those.
People also forget that Benjamin had six carries for 66 yards in a far less creative offense last season. He could add some spice to a very bland running game that will struggle to break 100 yards every week.
Continue to Improve on the Offensive Line
The Browns' offensive line finally did a pretty good job of protecting the quarterback. Hoyer was only sacked three times Sunday and hit just six. It even did a better job of run blocking on Sunday. It allowed Norv Turner to rush the ball 30 times, which was a season high.
Despite multiple injuries at the right guard position, the line is starting to jell. Whether guard Oniel Cousins continues to start or guard Shawn Lauvao returns from injury, this progression needs to continue.
While this will never be a dominant run-blocking line, it must take some pressure off of the passing game. The Browns’ increased ability to run the football Sunday put the team in less obvious passing situations.
The less the Browns’ opponents can pin their ears back and come after Hoyer, the more successful he will be.
All quotes were gathered first hand unless otherwise noted.