A Year Seems To Change Little for Browns

By: T.J. Zuppe

It was roughly a year ago at this time that the Cleveland Browns sat in nearly the same position as they do today. The record is the same, sitting at 0-2 through two weeks of the NFL season.

Yes, it is true that the manner in which they have lost their games is different but the end result remains the same.

The NFL is in the business of winning. The Browns have done little of that in the last decade.

If would-have, could-have, should-have could account for success, the team would be model for consistency. But with the state of the current squad of 53 and the coaches calling the shots, things seem bleak yet again for Cleveland.

Okay, in the interest of fairness, things are not exactly the same in Berea, for the Browns this season. That is something we have to give credence to, to preface any and every criticism.

Yes, the roster is improved over a year ago, as they have targeted and acquired players through free-agency and the draft that have tasted much success in their respective careers. It is for that reason that we know the team is making progress. We must remain patient in knowing this will not be fixed in just one year’s time.

However, yet again, through two weeks the Browns have received little production from areas of the team they desperately need.

Browns Quarterback Jake Delhomme

Last year it was Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson doing a poor imitation of leading this team. This season, it is not leadership in question, as newcomers Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace have the confidence of the locker room.

But the erratic play of the position continues through the upgrade, with Delhomme and Wallace both providing other teams with gift-wrapped turnovers and in both cases, costing the Browns a potential victory, in weeks one and two.

It is not simply on the shoulders of the quarterback though, as the offensive line has been average at best, an area of the football team that was supposed to be the strength. Hopefully, when Shaun Lauvao and Tony Pashos are completely healthy and ready to play full-go, that will help address those issues but thus far, the unit has been less than stellar.

The most glaring hole, at least on the offensive side of the ball has really reared its ugly head. The skill positions are lacking skillful players. There is not a single play-making, game-changer to even the score against even average defenders.

Benjamin Watson has been a solid addition in the redzone. But getting inside the opponent’s 20-yard line has been an issue. Even so, he is not a guy to stretch the field and scare opposite defensive coordinators into changing a game-plan.

One of the most disappointing thus far has been running back Jerome Harrison, for a couple of different reasons. In week one, he did not receive as many carries as needed to truly make a difference, despite breaking one run for a big-gain. But in week two, Harrison lacked any type of explosion or decisiveness, something he possessed a great deal of at the tail-end of 2009.

He and running back Peyton Hillis have also put the ball on the ground, costing the team points in both directions. Because of the fumbles, the small amount of confidence in them has already begun to dwindle.

The defense has been an improvement over last year but still does not possess the skill to carry this team to wins. The biggest bright spot has been the two rookie defensive backs, Joe Haden and T.J. Ward. Both have shown physicality not seen in the Browns’ defensive backfield in years and despite experiencing a few growing pains, have looked like true big-leaguers with the ability to only get better.

But it is still the same song and dance as far as getting to the opposing quarterbacks. The only way for the team to get remotely close to getting pressure on the opposition is through blitzing. It was one of those blitzes that allowed Haden to get beat for a touchdown, against the Bucs in week one.

Even in their improved play over a season ago, they still could not get off the field in crunch time, against the Kansas City Chiefs at the end of the ballgame.

Browns Head Coach Eric Mangini

Through all the ups and downs over the last year, the smallest margin of change has been at head coach, in Eric Mangini. The whispers of a lack of job security have begun to get louder and louder as his seat gets warmer and warmer.

What contributes to that temperature, is Mangini’s perpetuation to out-think no-one but himself on Sundays. It seems as if he wants to confuse the opposition, by not putting the ball in the hands of the few that can change outcomes. As a result, he just ends up looking foolish and only punishes the team and himself.

Furthermore, the problems that have plagued the Browns — turnovers and penalties — are both areas that Mangini stresses constantly as important to limit. Uncharacteristically, his pleas have fallen on deaf ears to this point.

Meanwhile, everyone is just left scratching their head and mumbling their disapproval.

How hot will team president Mike Holmgren allow that seat to get, before reaching a boiling point? That answer should get easier to answer, as the Browns face a tough stretch in their schedule, over the next few weeks.

So the calendar may say 2010, but Sundays still feel the same in Cleveland. At the end of the day, fans feel as if they have woken up the morning after a drunken stupor — confused, depressed, nauseous and left to make more excuses as to why their team cannot compete with the rest of the NFL.

How is that different from last year, again?

It is hard to try to remain honest and not fall into the trap of letting emotion take control of what is true.

My head knows the team is making strides; my heart just thinks it is lying.

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