The Cleveland Browns have a share of the AFC North lead after five weeks for the first time since 1995. It has been a long, tough road for the Browns, but they finally seem to be reentering relevancy. Whether or not they can stay there will now depend on quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Head coach Rob Chudzinksi seems to be the right guy for the job as the team is playing with determination and confidence.
Despite the great start, however, the front office is still open to moving pieces if it helps build for the future. Adam Schefter of ESPN reported Monday that the Browns and San Francisco 49ers have had preliminary trade talks about wide receiver Josh Gordon:
Browns-49ers have discussed trade for WR Josh Gordon. Deal unlikely with Mario Manningham coming off PUP, Crabtree slated to return in Nov.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 7, 2013
Trading running back Trent Richardson looked like a move for the future. Trading Gordon would look like a white flag for now.
While the front office treads through the murky waters of competing now but building for tomorrow, the fanbase wants victories. The next few weeks should tell a lot about whether or not the Browns are contenders or pretenders.
AFC North Standings
There is a logjam atop the AFC North standings. The Browns kept themselves as part of that jam by defeating the Buffalo Bills on prime-time television Thursday night. Next week, they welcome in a very tough Detroit Lions team to close out their three-game homestand.
The Baltimore Ravens will host Green Bay after squeaking out a victory over the Miami Dolphins. They finally got back to basics and fed running back Ray Rice the football. He touched the ball 33 times for 102 all-purpose yards and one touchdown.
The Cincinnati Bengals had their most impressive showing of the season, dominating the New England Patriots. The defense many thought Cincinnati would have finally showed up Sunday and made Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady look mediocre. They travel to Buffalo next Sunday to face the Bills’ third-string quarterback Thad Lewis, via CBSSports.com.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were dormant as they celebrated their bye week. I say they celebrated it because for the first week this season they did not lose. They will take on the New York Jets when they resume action next Sunday.
- OLB Jabaal Sheard (knee): Did not participate in practice on Monday.
- DE Billy Winn (quad): Did not participate in practice on Monday.
- OLB Quentin Groves (ankle): Did not participate in practice on Monday.
- RB Chris Ogbonnaya (concussion): Did not participate in practice Monday.
- QB Brian Hoyer (knee): Out for season.
- Desmond Bryant (shortness of breath): Left game Thursday. Practiced Monday.
Billy Winn said Monday, via Nate Ulrich of Ohio.com, “Everything’s coming along great” and “I’m just really eager to get out there." Winn’s return is less imperative now that Desmond Bryant’s shortness of breath was just a scare and he is back in action.
Jabaal Sheard still seems to be a few weeks away from returning. He was wearing a knee brace as he worked with trainers on Monday.
Rob Chudzinski said that there is no timetable yet for Brian Hoyer’s surgery and recovery. He currently has one more doctor looking at the torn ACL.
What Must Improve
Brandon Weeden’s Urgency
Quarterback Brandon Weeden needs to understand that his time is running out quickly, both in the pocket and in his starting career. He stepped in and made some big throws to help lead the Browns to a victory on Thursday, but it certainly was not pretty.
Too often Weeden holds the ball and takes a sack. At some point, he needs to realize that consistency in the pocket will lead to consistency down the field. It‘s as simple as take the snap, read the defense and make a decision.
When he doesn’t take a sack, he often panics and forces a pass into a bad spot, creating a turnover. This offensive line just isn’t good enough to give him four seconds on every play, so Weeden must adjust.
If he can limit his turnovers, the defense and coaching staff is good enough to win games. Weeden doesn’t have to win games—he just has to not lose them.
The offensive line took a huge leap in run blocking last week. The return of guard Shawn Lauvao was an obvious upgrade and allowed running back Willis McGahee to move the ball on the ground efficiently. He was not dominant, but he was good enough to take pressure off of Weeden.
The line’s pass blocking is a different story, however. It was extremely shaky early on as Lauvao was knocking off some rust. While the pass blocking improved throughout the game, it still needs to be more efficient. John Greco missed two easy assignments, which both resulted in sacks.
Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is still struggling and could benefit from some more tight end help on his side of the line.
I know, I know. How can you say that the best part of one of the best defenses in the NFL needs to improve? Well it certainly could have done better against the Bills.
Most of last week’s issue was injuries. Without Billy Winn, Jabaal Sheard and Quentin Groves, the defense was already thin. Then it lost Desmond Bryant as well. This left the defensive line thin and Barkevious Mingo exposed.
As the depth returns, so should the dominance. In the meantime, inside linebackers Craig Robertson and D’Qwell Jackson need to do a better job of helping on outside runs. They have been very good on the inside but need to expand their realm.
If the defense plays near the level it has all season long, it will be just fine.
All quotes and observations were gathered first hand unless otherwise noted.