October 31, 2014

Elyria
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Petrak on Browns: Big tests coming soon

 Some people have dismissed the Browns’ two-game winning streak because the opponents, Miami and St. Louis, are both 0-8. Those people are misguided.
Sure, the Browns were expected to win those games and the streak isn’t as significant as it would’ve been if it had come against the Patriots and Colts. But a win is a win, especially in Browns Town.
The offense continued to show sustained explosiveness and the defense made just enough plays to secure the wins. The team’s confidence grows with each victory, and the doubts that dominated in recent years drift away.
Bad teams don’t overcome 14 penalties on the road. Bad teams don’t erase a 14-0 deficit in the blink of an eye. Bad teams don’t shrug off a 15-yard penalty for helmet removal. The Browns did all three Sunday vs. the Rams.
They were expected to be hanging out at the bottom of the league and searching for a new coach at this point in the season. Instead they’re 4-3 and on a roll.
Now the real fun begins.
Fans are excited by the surprising success and dreaming of the postseason. The final six games are against teams with losing records, so reaching the playoffs isn’t as farfetched as it once seemed.
But before the Dawg Pound begins foaming at the mouth, the Browns must prove they’re for real. That chance has arrived.
The next three games are home vs. Seattle (4-3), at Pittsburgh (5-2) and at Baltimore (4-3). It’s the toughest stretch of the season and will let the Browns know if they deserve to be mentioned among the league’s contenders.
Three losses in three weeks would bring everyone back to earth and silence the playoff talk. A 1-2 record would keep hope alive, and anything better would make people forget the Indians’ collapse and transform the Browns into a major player in the AFC North race.
The Browns did what they had to do vs. the Dolphins and Rams. That made the rest of the season relevant.
It begins Sunday.
Finally fun
We all know how bad the Browns have been since their return, but even worse was how boring they were. Huge losses, unimaginative offenses, no reason to watch — except that you’ve been doing it every Sunday in the fall since you were old enough to remember.
Well, this year is different. Not only have the Browns matched their win total from all of last season, they’ve matched the offensive touchdowns, 22. And Derek Anderson’s 17 touchdown passes are two more than he and Charlie Frye combined for in 2006.
Coordinator Rob Chudzinski and Anderson are the primary reasons for the turnaround, because they’ve been able to take advantage of Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, Jamal Lewis and Joe Jurevicius.
The only problem for Chudzinski, and it’s a good one to have, is getting all his playmakers the ball. That got even tougher after third-string tailback Jerome Harrison made an impact in limited action vs. Miami and St. Louis.
FINAL THOUGHTS
The Browns have gone younger on the defensive line, with end Shaun Smith and nose tackle Ethan Kelley starting ahead of Orpheus Roye and Ted Washington. Smith and Kelley showed signs of life Sunday, and that will need to continue if the last-ranked defense is going to improve.
** The Kevin Shaffer-Ryan Tucker rotation at right tackle seems to be working just fine. Shaffer continues to start, while Tucker gets a few series during the middle quarters. There have been no signs of a letdown.
** Inside linebacker Leon Williams made a couple of nice plays early against the rush and pass.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.