On Sunday, Oct. 3, I made my yearly pilgrimage to Cleveland Browns Stadium. The best I could do when I live out of state.
Sitting in section 533, Row 29, seats 6 through 10, me, my wife, and some other family members looked on as the Browns got physical against in-state rival Cincinnati.
Our nosebleed seats were close enough to hear the hits and in perfect position to feel the energy. Seeing the Browns coming of age was truly remarkable.
Head Coach Eric Mangini had been under fire in recent days after leading the Browns to a 0-3 start. All that talk came to a screeching halt when the Browns delivered their first win over the suddenly weak Bengals.
The radio airwaves and blogosphere are filled with optimistic tangents of how the Browns could/would/should be 3-1 or even 4-0. Realistically, they could also be sitting at 0-4.
Lost in the celebration is the fact that once again they did not score in the fourth quarter. The Browns only touchdown of the second half was aided by an iffy pass interference call.
When the Bengals were driving late, Wide Receiver Chad Ochocinco was flagged for offensive pass interference. Pushing field position back and eventually leading to a Bengals punt rather than a field goal attempt.
So the question must be asked: How good are the Browns REALLY???
I’m not dogging (pun intended) on the team, so much as setting up the significance of this week’s match-up against the Falcons. Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Baltimore all have questions about the validity of their programs. The Falcons have no such questions.
Atlanta Quarterback Matt Ryan has proven to be a legitimate starter. In his third year with the Falcons, he has guided his team to a 3-1 record, good for first place in the NFC South. Though they struggled last week against San Francisco, they also have defeated the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints.
Ryan will bring the league’s ninth-best scoring offense into town. On the roster are future Hall of Fame Tight End Tony Gonzalez and a bruiser of a Running Back in Michael Turner.
The Cleveland Browns run defense will be tested in a big way. Standing 5’10 and 244 pounds, Michael Turner is the real deal.
After joining the Falcons in 2008, Turner put up 1,699 rushing yards with 17 touchdowns. Last season, in only 11 games he recorded 10 touchdowns with a 4.9 yard average.
In a perfect compliment to Turner, Jason Snelling is a viable option. He has crossed the goal line twice while maintaining a 4.8 yard average.
Considered to be a rising star by many, if Turner cannot get things done, then Snelling is plenty capable off the bench.
T.J. Ward is becoming a cult hero to the fans of the orange and brown. Though the NFL disagreed, the shot he put on Jordan Shipley was something beautiful. The Browns will need every ounce of that toughness if they are to get success against the Falcons.
Browns’ Cornerback Eric Wright did not have a bounce back game against Cincinnati. After allowing three touchdowns to Wide Receiver Anquan Boldin in a loss Baltimore, Wright was victimized again at the hands of T.O. last Sunday.
Tony Gonzalez, who became the first Tight End in NFL history to amass 12,000 receiving yards last week, could prove hard to stop.
Roddy White is no slouch by anybody’s standard either. His 362 receiving yards are good for sixth-best in the NFL, one spot higher than aforementioned Boldin.
Cleveland Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan must get his secondary right if the Browns have any chance at beating Atlanta.
The Browns are very close to becoming a good team. Just how close is a matter of speculation.
The Atlanta Falcons have emerged from the Michael Vick era better than they were before. Solid coaching and a core of good young talent make the Falcons the optimal opponent for the Browns.
Are the Browns good enough to be mentioned with the good programs in the NFL? Or have we been deceived by overachieving games against lesser opponents? We will know on Sunday.