Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Three things that could derail the Browns' season
No reason to be negative about Cleveland's favorite team, and no reason to bring people down about something the region is genuinely excited about.

But if this Indians' season has taught us anything, it's that expectations and reality are often not even distant cousins.

In the Tribe's case, it was injuries and inaction that did them in. Should the Browns' season fall apart, it won't be due to inaction. Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel worked like crazy in the offseason to improve.

But there are a number of things that can wreak havoc with what looks like a sure-fire success. In the NFL, this happens two or three times a year. Remember how everyone was excited about the Saints a year ago?

The Browns season could turn into a disaster. My friend Erik Cassano will probably refer to this as a defense-mechanism column. He'd be right. But it's been a long time since I have been this excited about the Browns. You'd have to go back to the late 1980s to match this feeling.

I wrote sometimes last year that I felt eight-years-old again watching the Browns win.

Maybe it can be like that again. But if it's not, there are some things to look out for.

Here are the three things that can derail the Browns' season.

1. Injuries
This is an obvious one. It's the biggest reason why NFL teams fail. The Browns have already had injury issues, before the first snap of training camp. Defensive back Daven Holly is out for the season, and receiver Joe Jurevicius will be out for at least the first-third of the regular season.

Neither are likely to be crippling blows. Jurevicius is a valuable piece, but he's not the best at his position on the team. The Browns signed Donte Stallworth, paying him a great deal of money. His job will be to be the third receiver, behind Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow.

The Browns will miss the maturity and the sure hands of Jurevicius, and it will be important that he returns at some point. But Cleveland should get by and then some with the receivers they have.

The secondary is another story. Holly's not a pro bowler, but he is a decent player who can provide help to a thin position.

With him out and Leigh Bodden traded, the Browns will rely heavily on Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright, two-second-year cornerbacks who were very good at times last year.

The Browns likely will look for help after the final cuts, but if Wright and/or McDonald don't produce (think Asdrubal Cabrera and Ryan Garko) look out.

There will no doubt be injuries. Should quarterback Derek Anderson go down, Brady Quinn could step in and most fans (and probably the front office) wouldn't lose much sleep.

But if the Browns suffer injuries to the offensive line, or if injuries start to pile up, things could get dicey. What if Kellen Winslow and Jamal Lewis, both with recent health issues, go down again?

In short, no team, no matter what its depth, is immune to injury problems.

2. Quarterback Controversy
Derek Anderson threw 29 touchdowns a year ago, while Brady Quinn quarterbacked all of one series in the regular season.

Yet the majority of fans I talk to seem to have more faith in the Notre Dame kid.

For all of his success, Anderson had a few crucial bad games. He was the one most responsible for losses to Arizona and Cincinnati. He seems to believe he can fit the ball in to a receiver no matter what the situation.

It's good to have confidence, but Anderson seemed to play on the edge.

He will start the season as the team's No. 1 QB. But if the first game against Dallas goes badly, the calls will start coming, and will build with every mistake.

There wasn't too much pressure on Anderson last season. Crennel and Savage were committed to keeping Quinn on the sideline.

They won't be that way this year. Anderson will have leeway because of last season, but if the Browns struggle and are in need of a so-called "spark," pressure could build and a mess could develop.

Quarterback controversies can wreck a season. Everyone in Berea knows it.

3. The Schedule
Every schedule looks tough on paper. Last season's schedule looked awful too. The Browns had all of their home divisional games within the schedule's first four weeks.

But who'd have thought Cleveland's games with the Jets, the 49ers and Ravens would be games with sub-.500 teams?

Still, this season looks brutal.

The Browns start with NFC East champs Dallas, then the Steelers. It's my firm belief Cleveland will beat Pittsburgh this year, but it can hardly be called an easy game.

The AFC North is always tough, but the Browns also host the Colts and the Super Bowl-champion Giants.

Then come the road games.

Some have said the Browns could go 9-7 and win the division. That's how tough play is not only for the team, but for the division.



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