Surging Browns Head to Washington

Craig Garrison SrSenior Analyst IOctober 16, 2008

The Cleveland Browns have an opportunity, in Week Seven of the 2008 NFL season, to even their record at 3-3 when they travel to the nation's capitol on Sunday to face the 4-2 Washington Redskins.

The Browns should be feeling pretty good about themselves. They knocked off the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants in Week Six, handing the Giants their first loss of the season. And they did it in convincing fashion.

Browns' quarterback Derek Anderson found a rhythm (and some accuracy) for the first time this season, throwing for over 300 yards for the first time and didn't throw an interception for only the second time this season. He also added two touchdowns to finish with a 121 quarterback rating, by far his highest of the season.

Brown's wideout Braylon Edwards also had a breakout game with five catches for 154 yards and a touchdown. Edwards had a rough start to the season, having missed most of the preseason to injury. Anderson (along with several other receivers) also missed time in the preseason to injury and the result was a less than cohesive passing game.

Anderson posted a lowly 74.7 quarterback rating in the Browns' win over the hapless Cincinnati Bengals two weeks ago (his highest rating until the Monday night win over the Giants) but showed improvement as that game progressed. The Browns' bye week followed, and the Browns were able to build on that improvement with the extra practice time.

Anderson connected with eight different receivers and converted numerous "third and long" situations into first downs to lead his team to an impressive overall "third down percentage" of 69 percent, reaching first downs nine times on 13 third downs. This against the NFC's best defense entering the game. Impressive indeed.

Not only was Anderson clicking with his receivers, but the offensive line was clicking as well. Browns' running back Jamal Lewis had 21 carries for 88 yards and Anderson WAS NOT SACKED. Even once. Time and again, Anderson and his teammates recognized the Giants' blitz, blocked it well, and Anderson hit a receiver with pinpoint accuracy to keep things moving.

Anderson's jersey was very clean, thank you very much, and the result was a big step forward for the Browns' offense.

Defensively, Cleveland has perhaps been ignored. Since the season-opening loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland's defense has held their opponents to 14 points or less. This includes the Giants, at the time the NFL's best offense. The defense has played well.

They are ranked eighth in the NFL in points allowed, and 11th in passing-yards allowed. Although they have not defended the run well, currently ranked 25th in the NFL, they were able to pressure Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning all night, forcing him to make poor decisions and throw three interceptions, one of which was returned 94 yards for a touchdown by second-year corner Eric Wright.

The Redskins, on the other hand, will be entering the game with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. Having completed a brutal stretch of games in the first five weeks of the season with an impressive 4-1 record, the Redskins came home following a successful two-week road trip in which they were victors IN Dallas, and IN Philadelphia.

Their divisional road games completed (going 2-1 in perhaps the toughest division football), the Redskins were said to be prime for a let down. But the team coming to town was the long suffering St. Louis Rams.

Surely the Redskins wouldn't allow a winless team to get their first win of the season (first win since Week 13 last season) IN Washington.

But the Rams had other ideas. Entering the game with a new head coach in Jim Haslett, the Rams didn't overpower the Redskins, they didn't use trick plays to catch the Redskins off guard. They simply played hard, played smart, and let the Redskins offer opportunities for them to make a few more plays, and eek out a win with a game-winning field goal as time expired.

The Redskins had not committed an offensive turnover in the first five games of the season, an NFL record. The Rams were the recipients of three fumbles from the Redskins, one of which they returned for a touchdown. After playing mostly mistake-free football for four straight weeks, the Redskins found themselves missing blocking assignments, dropping passes, and playing overall sloppy football. And they paid for it with an embarrassing loss.

As these teams prepare for Week Seven, each will be looking for a win obviously, but they both also have something to prove.

The Redskins will be looking to show that their performance against the Rams was indeed an aberration, and that the four-game winning streak was a better example of the team they really are. They will be without running back Clinton Portis' primary backup, Ladell Betts, due to a knee sprain.

They signed former league MVP and Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander to take his place. The Redskins have also made a change at punter, signing another former Seahawk Ryan Plackemeir to take over for the released Durant Brooks. And yet a third former Seahawk was signed to fill the void left when special teamer and backup safety Reed Doughty was placed on injured reserve.

The Browns intend to keep things moving in a positive direction. They have now won two in a row, and in the process, have put themselves back on track to have the successful season many had predicted entering the season.

The will likely have Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. returning to the lineup, having missed the Giants' game due to an undisclosed illness for which he was hospitalized. His absence from the lineup on Monday Night made their dominance of the Giants that much more impressive.

Derek Anderson had the fourth biggest passing day and Braylon Edwards had the second-most productive receiving day last week. The Redskins' defense will need to slow that progress this week. They should be up for the task.

The Redskins' defense has faced top six quarterbacks in five of their six games this season, and in each case have held them to at least their second-worst day of the season.

The Browns have not been able to stop opponents' running backs in any game this season. Despite the lopsided loss, the Giants were able to produce 181 yards rushing. This week they will face the league's leading rusher in Clinton Portis. 

Turnovers are "the great equalizer" in the NFL and Redskins' quarterback Jason Campbell is yet to throw an interception this season (setting a Redskins' record in the process). With three interceptions last week, the Browns will attempt to pressure Campbell into his first this week.

This is the first time this season the Redskins will face an AFC team, and the Browns have won two of the last three meetings between them. Winning 33 of 43 with one tie, the Browns have owned the Redskins and look to continue that trend in Week Seven.

Can the Redskins "right the ship" and get back to their winning ways?

Will the Browns continue their climb out of the basement of the AFC?

Week Seven has many intriguing matchups, and this one should be fun to watch, with two teams in position to take big steps forward, and desperate to do so.


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