August 27, 2014

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Browns: Big Three looming large for 4-3 team

 BEREA — Braylon Edwards leaping and diving to make catches along the sidelines.
Kellen Winslow beating linebackers and safeties down the seam for touchdowns.
Joe Jurevicius finding the holes in the defense to convert vital third downs.
This is what general manager Phil Savage envisioned last year when Winslow and Edwards returned from injury and Jurevicius signed to play for his hometown team. This is what deposed offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon and traded quarterback Charlie Frye failed to use to their advantage. This is what new coordinator Rob Chudzinski and new quarterback Derek Anderson have relied on to enhance their resumes.
This is a huge reason the Browns beat St. Louis 27-20 Sunday and are 4-3 on the year.
“We’re a heckuva 1-2-3 punch,” Edwards said Sunday.
If the third punch is the knockout, then Edwards is No. 3.
He has 37 catches for 669 yards (18.1 average) and nine touchdowns. (Jerry Rice has the season record with 22.) He has five touchdowns in the last two games, including two Sunday to go with 117 yards on eight catches.
“He’s playing like a top receiver,” coach Romeo Crennel said Monday. “He has made some tremendous catches.”
Edwards is the first to admit he wouldn’t be having the same success without the first two punches. Winslow is a mismatch for most teams in the slot, and Jurevicius can’t be ignored on the opposite side.
“Let’s not get crazy. Without Joe’s plays out there (Sunday), a lot of those situations and setups wouldn’t have been there,” Edwards said.
Jurevicius has 20 catches for 236 yards and three touchdowns. He had five catches for 76 Sunday, including three third-down conversions on scoring drives. He’s among the league leaders with 15 catches on third down for 189 yards and all three touchdowns.
“He’s consistent,” Crennel said. “He can read the defense, he is where he is supposed to be and he’ll go get the ball.”
Jurevicius isn’t complaining about playing a supporting role to the team’s two biggest stars.
“That’s where I’ve made my money in the NFL, on third down,” he said Sunday. “I’m the blue-collar, dirty-work guy. You know that ‘Dirty Jobs’ show on the Discovery Channel? That’s what I want to be.
“I’ve always felt that on a football team guys have to realize their roles. I realize my role and I relish it.”
Jurevicius converted third-down situations of 17 yards (24-yard hook), 11 yards (29-yard leaping catch and run) and 7 yards (hook inside) vs. the Rams.
“He’s a big target,” the 6-foot-6 Anderson said of the 6-5 Jurevicius. “He’s like me running routes. He’s a little faster, though.”
“He has been a great leader,” Chudzinski said of Jurevicius. “He gives us big-time stability. He’s a guy you trust and you know he’s going to come up with those kind of plays. We count on him heavily.”
The Browns have converted 46 percent of third downs compared to 33.5 percent last year under Carthon and replacement coordinator Jeff Davidson. The Browns have also shown significant improvement in the red zone, going from a 48.7 percent (19 of 39) touchdown rate to 65 percent (13 of 20).
On the most important plays, Chudzinski’s found a way to get the ball to his Big Three.
“He’s using a lot of the tools and resources that we have,” Savage said. “That was probably the biggest disappointment last year.”
Winslow had just two catches for 26 yards Sunday, but one was a 21-yard touchdown on a beautifully thrown ball down the left seam.
“He’s an athletic guy and made a good play for me,” Anderson said. “It’s not as hard (a throw) when that guy’s catching it.”
Of course, the 4-3 record and 27.7 points per game wouldn’t be possible without Anderson. He’s played two straight nearly flawless games and his rating has climbed to 95.5. He’s thrown 17 touchdowns to eight interceptions.
“All of a sudden this guy named Anderson from Oregon State has the second-most touchdown passes in the NFL,” NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci said. “They are for real on offense.”
Just like Savage envisioned.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.