Monday, September 01, 2008

The Browns and the challenge of expectations
The Cleveland Browns approach this season with more optimism and more expectations than at any time in the post-expansion era.

Expectations can be good, but they can also set a team up for disappointment. All the players have to do is look a few blocks away, where the Indians are slugging it out after playing for the American League pennant last season.

Of course, the Browns have more pressure, if only because no matter what LeBron James or Grady Sizemore do, the football team is always the No. 1 show in town.

A week from tonight, fans will either be predicting Super Bowl or disaster. There won't be an in between.

There are two guys who will catch the brunt of the criticism if things don't go well this season: coach Romeo Crennel and quarterback Derek Anderson.

That's just the way it is. Crennel took a team most people expected to flounder and coached it to 10 wins. Yet the credit from the Cleveland media didn't come to him. It came to offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and GM Phil Savage.

Derek Anderson came out of nowhere to throw 29 TD passes and make the Pro Bowl. It was by far the best play by a Brown quarterback since Bernie Kosar in the late 1980s.

And some people still want Brady Quinn under center.

Neither Anderson nor Crennel is perfect. As good as the Browns were last year, they lost a few games they should have won. In Arizona and Cincinnati, the Browns made countless mistakes. But it was the slow start that cost them. How they started slow in Cincinnati with the playoffs on the line is anybody's guess. That can reflect on the head coach.

Anderson was awful in the games listed above. His problem last season was he was a little like Charlie Frye -- he thought he could do things he couldn't. Unlike Frye, Anderson has the talent to have his gambles pay off. But they did not in Cincinnati, and it cost the Browns a playoff berth.

So despite the success of 2007, Anderson and Crennel will be under a magnifying glass again.

But people don't expect the offense to be a problem. The defense, specifically the secondary, is very concerning.

The Browns are thin there, having traded Leigh Bodden and having Daven Holly go down with a season-ending injury.

Brodney Pool was injured in the preseason and is questionable for the opener against the Cowboys.

And yet, the biggest disappointment of the preseason is probably Eric Wright, who after a strong second half last year, was getting beat regularly in preseason.

It was an 0-4 preseason, but no one should care about that. What is most concerning to me is the injuries to guys like Ryan Tucker, Rex Hadenot, Pool, Josh Cribbs, Antwan Peek and probably a half dozen others I've forgotten.

Even if the majority of the guys are back Sunday, it doesn't mean they'll be a tight unit. Remember week one last year?

That's what is so troubling. If the Browns get blown out by Dallas, they'll go into a primetime game with Pittsburgh with perhaps the season on the line. Don't believe me? Look at the schedule.

Tough weeks are ahead. But winning football games is never easy, especially for the Browns.



At 7:38 AM , Anonymous Erik said...

Expect the Cowboys to establish the Romo-to-T.O. connection early. Romo is going to look for Owens early and often, hoping to abuse the overmatched Browns secondary. If Romo has time to find T.O., it's going to be a long afternoon.

The only thing that will keep Romo from battering the Browns' secondary with throws to Owens and Jason Witten will be to pressure him. That's going to be a tall order, considering that SI recently ranked the Dallas O-line the best in football.

I think the only shot the Browns really have is to fight fire with fire and attempt to turn the game into a 40-37 shootout. They're not going to consistently stop Dallas on defense, so they might as well try to outscore them.

(Aside: Zach, no take on Cliff Lee's 20th win?)


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