I feel bad writing this, what with all the high hopes and everything surrounding the Cleveland Browns this season. They have some of the league's best and most dedicated fans. The Dawg Pound is possibly the roughest fan section in the NFL.
Cleveland fans haven't won a championship since Jim Brown was running wild in the old days before Lamar Hunt cleverly devised the Super Bowl. They've even endured the loss of their team to Baltimore, then got back an expansion squad a few years later, only to watch the Ravens go on to Super Bowl glory.
But I must say, while this is the best Browns team since the return of football to Cleveland, they will not make the playoffs. The winless preseason was an indicator, but wins and losses in the preseason can't be taken too seriously. The opening day loss at home was tough, but the Cowboys may be the most talented team in the league, so it's not a travesty to lose to them. The problem is how totally and thoroughly the Browns have been dominated.
A Super Bowl contender doesn’t come out and get thrashed 30-3 in the first 16 minutes of a preseason game, as happened against the Giants. Especially when the team hasn’t made the playoffs since Kelly Holcomb was running the show and when they are facing off against the defending champs on Monday Night Football.
Yes, it's just preseason, but a real contender comes out and puts on a good display for a quarter before taking it easy. You have to actually prove something before you earn the right to completely mail in an entire preseason (as the Patriots did).
Derek Anderson’s concussion is a shame, since he played so well for much of last year. A QB with 29 TD passes is no joke. But he did hit a wall down the stretch, with eight INTs in the final month, so he has yet to prove he can do it over a full season. With the lingering nature of concussions, it’s not a given that he’s going to stay on the field for 16 games this year, let alone produce for 16.
Another thing Cleveland bandwagoners seem to be forgetting: Jamal Lewis is getting old. He’s been in the league for nine seasons and just turned 29. That age is by no means a death sentence, but as far as running backs go, 30 is ancient. So it stands to reason that there’s not a ton of tread left on his tires.
After a remarkable 1,300-yard bounce-back year in ’07, how long can he realistically keep it up? Don’t forget, he ran for just 1,015 yards per season in the previous three years and is far removed from his 2,066 yard performance in ’03, in which he mounted a serious assault on Eric Dickerson’s rushing record.
But what this Lewis point has led us to is this: The more things change, the more they stay the same, and that is true of Cleveland’s defense. No matter how dynamic Braylon Edwards (who was terrible against Dallas, but will pick it up soon) and Kellen Winslow are, and no matter how explosive Donte’ Stallworth can be, the defense remains one of the most wretched units in the league.
Do you remember who made Lewis’s 2003 season possible? Well in two games against the Browns that year, he racked up 500 rushing yards on just 52 carries! As astounding as that is, they haven’t managed to get much better. They ranked just 30th in the league in total defense last year, and began this campaign by allowing 487 total yards and 30 first downs against Dallas.
That is not championship-caliber defense. Lewis should have let them know that. I’m sure he hasn’t forgotten that the Super Bowl ring he won with the Ravens was based 85 percent on defense, 10 percent on his running talents, and 5percent on Trent Dilfer not messing up.
Against the Cowboys, Cleveland’s D let Tony Romo do as he pleased in the pocket, as he felt absolutely zero pressure all day long. Romo is prone to mistakes, and he gave the Browns a few gifts. Unfortunately, their awful pass defense couldn’t accept the gestures, and dropped some easy interceptions.
There’s nothing wrong with having no-names on your defense, but these guys just aren’t good. Outside of Shaun Rogers, Corey Williams, and Kamerion Wimbley, not a single player on that defense would start for another NFL team.
And as bad as it was with Romo, it will continue to get worse. The Browns face one of the NFL’s toughest schedules and play a lot of primetime games, something they haven’t done before. To adjust to primetime is one thing, but to do it against the league’s elite is a whole new ballgame.
They still face the Steelers twice, along with the Jaguars, Colts, Bills, Titans, Eagles, and the Giants. Though the Bengals and Broncos may not be contenders, Carson Palmer and Jay Cutler could have field days against this defense.
It’s sad for me because I really want this team to do well. Braylon Edwards is one of the league’s best receivers and Derek Anderson is a great story. Romeo Crennel is a very good coach who deserves better defensive personnel than he has. But with the lack of defense being played and the brutal schedule, not to mention the lack of any positive signs so far, I find it hard to believe this team could rally to make the playoffs.
I’ve got just one thing to say to Cleveland if they don’t like this: Go out and prove me wrong.