The Browns may have found a home away from home. If the Super Bowl is ever hosted by Jacksonville, I am making the Browns favorites to make it there. After their 23-17 win on Sunday against the Jaguars, the Browns have won their last four games in Jacksonville. Maybe they feel comfortable in Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, or maybe they mistake it for old Municipal on the Lake.
Nevertheless, I am here to give my midterm grades on the 2008 Cleveland Browns.
Offense: The offense has been so spontaneous all year that it is hard to tell what kind of team this Cleveland Browns team really is. In 2007, they were explosive (near the top of the league in big plays), while this year, they have shown glimpses of the old explosive offense but have not been able to consistently get it done. Overall grade: C
- Derek Anderson: I just cannot figure out D.A. He has great games and then downright terrible games. I was never sold on him being our quarterback of the future, especially not with our first-round selection in Brady Quinn. He has all the tools, but has never shown the consistency. Overall grade: C-
- Braylon Edwards: I do not know if Braylon's struggles are due in part to the absence of Donte Stallworth for the first five weeks or if he is just having a down year. The drops are plaguing him, but he is still the most explosive weapon on our team. Overall grade: C
- Jamal Lewis: Jamal, despite his age, is still a solid running back. When he touches the ball 20 times, the Browns usually have good success. He is a reliable downhill runner, who is the type of back who can keep the clock running when you have a lead. Overall grade: B+
- Offensive Line: The line has been much improved since the Monday night game. The left side of the line is one of the best in the NFL, and the entire line has given D.A. ample time to throw the ball. The run blocking they showed against Jacksonville is what I expected to see all year long and is a big reason Lewis ran for over 1,000 yards last year. Overall grade: B
Defense: If you have watched the Browns all season long, you might wonder what is going on. It seems like the offense and defense have switched roles from last year. This year's defense is legitimate. The addition of Shaun Rodgers and Corey Williams is helping to stop the run and allowing our linebackers get into the backfield to disrupt plays.
The secondary, anchored by two veteran safeties, is beginning to become a solid defensive backfield. Overall grade: A
- Defensive Line: The front office went out and revamped this line to help stop the run and it has shown up in a huge way. The defense held Jacksonville to 113 yards rushing which is skewed because 59 were on QB rushes. Take that away and the defense held Jacksonville's potent rushing duo of Jones-Drew and Taylor to just 45 yards rushing on 20 carries. That is what Rodgers and Williams were brought in for. Overall grade: A
- Linebackers: For the first time in a while, Browns fans can get a glimpse at what linebackers should be doing. For a long time, the Browns' linebackers seemed nonexistent because they were being blocked by lineman. Now, with a solid defensive line, the linebackers can find holes and penetrate the backfield to help stop the run. Overall grade: A
- Secondary: Sean Jones and Brodney Pool are the anchors. They are all over the field and even help in run support. Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald are showing improvement and made some nifty plays late in the game against Jacksonville. Overall grade: B+
Special Teams: Although, Josh Cribbs has not been able to "break the long one" yet this year, he has had some decent returns while being hampered by injuries. Phil Dawson is one of the most underrated place kickers in the NFL, ranking fourth all-time in accuracy for active kickers. Dave Zastudil has done a solid job flipping the field, which in turn has helped the defense. Overall Grade: B+
Coaching: Romeo Crennel seemingly always finds a way to win when it seems like he may be coming under fire. However, I still do not believe he is the coach that is going to bring this town a championship.
He gets a reputation as a players coach, but it comes off as a little complacent and soft. That, in turn, comes out in his players. For this team to take the next step, they need that mental toughness along with the physical toughness attitude which Romeo lacks. Overall grade: C
Play Calling: Rob Chudzinski's offense has all the weapons. It is just a matter of calling the right plays. I loved the fourth-down call in Jacksonville that resulted in a 51-yard pass play to Steve Heiden. However, I have to question his decision to call a play-action naked bootleg at the goal line in the fourth quarter. The play resulted in an incompletion, stopping the clock.
In that situation, we had the lead and a touchdown would put us up by 10. Even if the run is stuffed to make it third and goal, it still makes Jacksonville either use a timeout or allow the clock to continue to run. It seems like he tries to get too cute with his play-calling instead of just pounding away.
I also have to question the play-calls starting the second half. Up by 10 and the offense comes out throwing. That is the time to pound the run game and chew the clock, which is what the great teams do. Overall grade: C
Through eight weeks, the Browns sit a game below .500 at 3-4. They have two games less than a week apart, hosting the Ravens (Sunday at 1:00 PM) and the Broncos (Thursday 8:00 PM) in Cleveland, which will tell a lot about this team.
How they will handle the short rest is an unknown, but if they can win both games and move to a game over .500, they could turn the season around. With Pittsburgh's loss, they are only two games behind in the AFC North and they still have the showdown with the Steelers in the final week of the season. Pittsburgh's schedule is the toughest in football, so it is not out of the question that this team can still push for a playoff spot.