SUCCESS AT HOME
The Browns have won three straight at home after winning just two at Cleveland Browns Stadium all of last year. The team, especially the offense, has played much better in front of the home crowd, which deserves to see something good.
Well, dominance might be a stretch, but the Browns have made tremendous strides inside the AFC North. They’re 2-1 after beating Cincinnati and Baltimore — twice as many wins as coach Romeo Crennel managed in his first two years.
Derek Anderson, the Week 1 backup, is the biggest reason for the team’s turnaround. He’s thrown 14 touchdowns, has an 88.9 rating and has given the rest of the offense the confidence that it can score on any possession. His strong arm has allowed coordinator Rob Chudzinski to open up the playbook.
Braylon Edwards’ attitude adjustment has allowed his enormous athletic ability to shine through. His seven touchdowns are one more than he had all of last year, and he’s totaled 29 catches with a 19.0-yard average. He’s also cut down on his drops, which gives Anderson the confidence to keep throwing his way.
GAS IN THE TANK
Running back Jamal Lewis quieted many of his doubters with a 216-yard outburst in Week 2. He was able to pick up yardage inside, as well as outrun the safeties downfield. He missed all but one play of the last two weeks with a foot strain, but should be back next week.
The run defense continues to be a huge weakness, as the Browns rank 30th, allowing 149.5 yards per game. The line is old and beat-up, and the linebackers haven’t made much of an impact.
FLOP AND TRADE
Charlie Frye won the starting quarterback job in the preseason, but his Cleveland career was over before halftime of the opener. He was yanked, then traded to Seattle for a sixth-round draft pick. It was a sad ending for an Ohio kid who grew up dreaming of playing for the Browns.
BLOCK (FOR) THAT KICK
Nat Dorsey was pushed back and the Raiders blocked Phil Dawson’s 40-yard field-goal attempt that would’ve won the game and given the Browns consecutive wins for the first time since 2003. If Ryan Tucker hadn’t been serving a steroids suspension, Dorsey wouldn’t have been on the field.
STILL NOT READY
Safety Gary Baxter and offensive lineman LeCharles Bentley created excitement with their recoveries from torn patellar tendons, but the progress has been slower than hoped and neither has played. The return of either would be a boost, but the Browns can’t count on that.
SAFETY’S AN ISSUE
Sean Jones had a breakout year in 2006, but has regressed. He has given up a handful of touchdowns trying to cover tight ends and looks overmatched. The coaching staff is considering switching Jones’ role with that of Brodney Pool, the other starting safety who has experience as a cornerback.
IS D.A. FOR REAL?
Five weeks doesn’t a quarterback make, so the jury’s still out on Derek Anderson. He’s been great at home and has shown the ability to bounce back from a bad half on the road, but his overall consistency is still an issue. If he continues to play well, rookie Brady Quinn will get the chance to sit as long as the team wants.
IS THE ‘D’ THIS BAD?
The defense is allowing 413 yards and 30.5 points a game. After being a relative strength last year, it’s been a huge disappointment. The coaches and players insist it will get better, but it needs to happen soon.
WILL THE REAL ‘Z’ STEP FORWARD?
Punter Dave Zastudil was hampered/sidelined by a back injury for five weeks before declaring himself fit for the Dolphins game. He proceeded to mis-hit both of his kicks. He swears the back’s fine and he’ll get better. The Browns need him to be right.
IS THIS THE YEAR?
The Browns have had one Pro Bowler since their return, so a visit to Honolulu after the season would be a significant sign of progress. Special teamer Joshua Cribbs, receiver Braylon Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow are the early favorites to end the drought.
IS A PLAYOFF RUN POSSIBLE?
The Browns in the playoffs didn’t seem realistic following the opening loss, but three wins in five weeks have changed that perception. The Browns must prove they can win on the road and in consecutive weeks to be taken seriously, but the schedule seems to be set up for an interesting last 10 weeks.