Happy Tuesday, WFNY!
Here we sit, two weeks into the Cleveland Browns season. The Browns are 0-2. That record probably isn’t surprising to anyone. When people looked at the schedule before the start of the season, I’m pretty sure most had the Browns at 0-2. The schedule makers didn’t do Cleveland any favors when they forced the team coming off a 1-15 season to have to open the year at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers and then in Baltimore against the Ravens. So everything more or less has played out exactly as expected this season.
Expectations aside, though, the Browns have now won only twice in their last 29 games. The Browns dropped 10 of their last 11 games in 2015, lost 15 of 16 last season, and are winless this year. There’s just no good way to sugar coat that. It’s just way too much losing. It’s been said before, but it’s actually really hard to be as bad as the Browns have been for as long as they have. In some ways, I think you could make an argument that it’s harder to be this bad than it is to win the Super Bowl.
The losing is bad, yes. Yet the thing that bums me out the most is that I’m not that bothered by it. Expectations have been set so low that all of this is just part of the plan. The front office of the Browns has signaled that this is going to be a long, slow process. They’re not trying to turn this into an overnight miracle. They want to try to build a foundation first and then build on that foundation. That’s fine and all, but it also has normalized losing. The Browns are so bad that we can’t even have enough realistic hope to be mad about the losing. Think about that for a second. That’s bleak.
But sports are funny. In looking at the upcoming schedule, the Browns now have three consecutive games that look very winnable. Even after those three games, the Browns have three more games that you could almost talk yourself into thinking the Browns could maybe have some chance of winning. Ok, winning at Houston may be a stretch, but hey, in a game between rookie QBs, anything could happen. Playing in London against the Vikings is a wild card. Tennessee is beatable if the Browns put together a great game. Alright, I’m stretching these, but the point is, I don’t count these as automatic losses like I did the first two games.
The larger point here is, I have no clue what to make of the start to this season for the Browns. I thought the Browns played outstanding in the opener against Pittsburgh. I thought the Browns looked like a real NFL team, something I haven’t felt in a long time. Sure, they looked like a bad NFL team, but just looking like an actual professional team was a huge step. Unfortunately, things regressed in Baltimore and the clown show made an appearance once more. Injuries, multiple QBs, a defense trying to give the team a chance but crippling turnovers undermining the defense at every turn. It was all there. That was a “typical Browns” type of game.
But still, those losses were expected. And overall, there are some nice things about this Browns team. The defense especially looks stout and should only get better when Myles Garrett returns. The offense is shaky and took a huge blow with Corey Coleman’s broken hand, but when you’re starting a rookie QB, especially a mid-second-round pick that nobody expected to start right away, you’re going to have to live with the growing pains that come with it. As Michael Bode pointed out yesterday, Kizer held onto the ball for too long and took too many sacks in the first game. So in the second game, he tried to speed things up. And as a result, he made more mistakes and threw some interceptions. That’s what learning looks like. It’s a sequence of trial and error and learning from your mistakes.
These next three games will be huge for the Browns, though. They simply cannot go 0-3 through this stretch. Even going 1-2 would be a bit of a disappointment, but 0-3 would be disastrous. These are the games where the Browns can show progress. If they lose all these games and show no sign of progress, it would signal some very dark things for this franchise. It would signal that the front office is failing, the coaching staff is failing, and the players are failing. It would signal that this simply isn’t working and I’m not ready to talk about what that would mean for the organization just yet.
On a personal level, though, I’m actually far more optimistic than the tone of this post might lead on. I actually think the Browns are going to go at least 2-1 in the next three and I have them at 3-3 over the next six games. I genuinely love the way this defense plays and I think the offense has even shown it’s capable of putting together drives here and there. A reduction in self-inflicted setbacks on that side of the ball will pay big dividends for an offense looking for an identity still.
In past seasons, the offense has looked not that unlike a fish out of water, flopping helplessly on the ground, gasping for air and desperately searching for anything else that might help it. This season, things aren’t quite that bad. The play calling has been suspect, Isaiah Crowell has been a pretty big disappointment so far, Coleman’s injury stings, and Kenny Britt’s amazing Dwayne Bowe impression would win almost any talent contest. There is work to be done. But I don’t see a helpless, flailing offense. I see an offense that just hasn’t been able to put a few things together just yet.
I’m excited about these next three games. I knew the Browns were going to lose those first two games. But these next three games are the ones that will give us some answers. These are games that the team can start to build some momentum with and take the first few steps on the path to mediocrity. And if mediocrity is something worth being excited about, then you haven’t been following the Cleveland Browns since their return in 1999.