Games 1 and 2 was a team that played solid defense against the run and put pressure on the quarterback, but no one outside of Joe Haden could cover. The defense would be exhausted by the end of the third quarter because the offense couldn’t stay on the field, and would start to surrender all they had fought to hold. The offense managed one touchdown in the first two games, and a total of 16 points. When the first two games ended, the team was 0-2 and looked like they may be lucky to win five games when the season ended.
Then came Games 3 and 4. The offense started moving the ball. They scored six touchdowns and complied 48 points. The defense was able to finish because they had a chance to breathe. In Game 4, the defensive backs did an excellent job of covering up receivers. The team won both games to even their record at 2-2. Both games saw the offense drive down late and score the winning touchdown. This two-games team would demolish the other two-games team.
All of us who were watching saw the one variable between the two teams: Starting quarterback. Brandon Weeden started Games 1 and 2 and looked completely ineffective. Because he held the ball too long and lacked any mobility, he was sacked over and over. The offense, who couldn’t move the ball under normal circumstances, found itself in a lot of long-yard situations. Brian Hoyer started Games 3 and 4, and erased both of those problems: He could move in the pocket, avoiding costly sacks and he got rid of the ball when he needed to. Hoyer lacked Weeden’s cannon-arm, but had touch and accuracy.
Comparing the Weeden-Browns to the Hoyer-Browns: 550 total yards vs. 745, with total time of possession being 56:38 vs. 60:01. Third-down efficiency: 5-29 vs. 15-33. Sacks: 11 vs. six with the yards lost to sacks falling from 84 to 48. But could it all be as simple as Weeden vs. Hoyer? Maybe Hoyer helped the team’s rushing per carry, which grew from 3.45 to 4.55, because of his threat to complete passes, but did Hoyer’s play help the DBs learn to cover receivers? Could the addition of Josh Gordon, who had been suspended those first two games, help the offense more than Hoyer did? Was it coaches who were learning their players and making adjustments?
That brings us to Game 5. Hoyer started, but was lost for the game, as well the season, as it would turn out. In came Weeden with a chance to play with the same personnel that Hoyer had. He looked awful in the pocket. His first cannon pass whistled high over the head of his intended receiver. The fans booed, the Browns punted, then came a trip into the red zone that ended with a very Weeden-Browns-esque field goal because the team couldn’t get in the end zone. At that point, the game was knotted at 17, but it sure felt like the Browns were losing.
How did it end? The Browns on top 37-24. Back were the sacks (five), but Weeden did not play a bad game. He completed 54.2 percent of his passes, threw a touchdown and no interceptions. It’s nothing to start casting a bust for the NFL Football Hall of Fame, but a decent return. Now the Browns are 3-2, and in first place in the division.
What are we to make of this team? I had originally predicted that the Browns would finish 5-11, 6-10. Now? Who knows? I tend to stay with what I saw in the beginning, though with NFL teams, you never know how a team will be until they get a few games under their belts. But we now have those few games by which to judge and we are still in the dark.
What lends itself to this, as a fan, is that the team has disappointed so many times that it’s hard to believe in them. Yes, it was a different team with different leadership, but fans don’t see the personnel; they see the name in the standings: Cleveland Browns. To be fair, regardless of the changes, the results tend to be the same. Who can blame the pessimism?
So who are the Browns? I still don’t know. But it’s making for an intriguing 2013 season.