Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Browns right where they should be

The anti-Holmgren crowd has been very vocal through six games of the Cleveland Browns season so far.

Struggling to accept that the Browns are in a better place with the power trio of team president Mike Holmgren, general manager Tom Heckert and head coach Pat Shurmur – after all, the Browns are currently just one game back in the loss column of first place in the AFC North – some have resorted to discrediting the team by saying they only beat “bad teams.”

Well, what did people expect?

The Browns are still very much a work in progress. They are going to struggle – and lose – to good teams; hopefully they can hold their own and find a way to win against other mediocre and bad teams (think Miami and Seattle).

But are they really any different than the other teams in the division?

The Browns three wins have come against teams (Miami, Indianapolis and Seattle) that are a combined 2-17, a “winning” percentage of .105 – which is about as bad as you can get.

Look at the first-place Steelers, though. Pittsburgh’s five wins have come against Seattle, Indy, Tennessee, Jacksonville and Arizona – teams that are a combined 8-24, a .250 winning percentage.

Is that really that much different than the Browns?

What about the Bengals? They’ve beaten four teams (Cleveland, Buffalo, Jacksonville and Indy) that are a combined 9-17 (.346). Not exactly an achievement that justifies all the attention they are receiving.

The Browns, Steelers and Bengals have all struggled against good teams, with their losses coming against teams that win at a .579 clip (Browns), .583 (Bengals) and .615 (Steelers).

The Ravens are the exception in the division as the teams they have beaten have a better winning percentage (.481) than the teams they have lost to (.385).

The Browns can’t control who they play, but they can control how they play. To show fans they are ready to take that next step, they need to start being competitive against better teams and pull off a win or two.

This week in San Francisco would be as good a time as any to get started.

***

Good news on at least one injury for the Browns, as Peyton Hillis was expected back at practice today and will get the start on Sunday if his hamstring holds out.

“I’m very confident and we’re looking forward to (Hillis) performing on Sunday and having a good game,” Shurmur said during his Wednesday press conference. “I’ve told this to players in the past that your next great performance is right on the horizon and we’re hoping for him it’s Sunday. He’s our starting halfback and if he’s able to go, he’ll be the starter.”

The Browns are going to need all hands on deck as San Francisco is second in the NFL against the rush, giving up just 74.7 yards per game.

“I think (San Francisco’s success) is a combination of number one the scheme as well as the talent of the players that play it,” <span class="blShurmur said. “They’re very good, they’re very good up front. They have a 3-4 scheme and they play it well. Against a 3-4 defense there’s not as many of combinations of runs that you can run at it. There’s five guys standing on the line and they’re very talented.

“I’ve seen them four times in the last two years at the last place I was and they’re very good and it’s a credit to them.”

And the team may very well be without starters Mohamed Massaquoi and Ben Watson, who both left Sunday’s win over Seattle with head injuries.

“I think the challenge is that the guys that replace them have to come in and play at a high level and that’s why you practice,” Shurmur said. “Whether you’re getting the reps or not, you’ve got to find a way to make sure you’re either getting mental reps or we throw balls after practice. In the run game, they’ve got to make sure they’re getting their fits.

“It’s important that the guys that step in do a good job. The challenge is of course that you’ve got to still be able to execute the scheme and then you maybe do a couple things a little bit differently. Other than that you try to still play the game the same way.”

What fun would it be if there wasn’t something for the team to overcome?

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