Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Likes, Dislikes, Hopes & Fears

Now that the bye week is out of the way, it’s time to take a look at the Cleveland Browns at the quarter mark of the 2011 NFL season.

Through four games there are things about the team that we like and dislike, plus some things we hope to see over the next 12 games and a few things we fear we’ll see.

Like: The Browns 2-2 record is their best since 2007.

Dislike: Both of the losses have come at home, although that is a little skewed by the fact the Browns have played three of their first four games at Cleveland Browns Stadium. But for a team that is 28-44 at home over the past nine seasons, that’s not a way to send the fans home happy.

Hope: That the Browns can stay competitive as they still have the NFC West and Jacksonville on the schedule; those five teams are a combined 8-16 on the season.

Fear: There are more games like the Tennessee one on the horizon.

Like: After giving up a ridiculous 11 penalties in the season opener, the Browns have settled down to the point where they have given up fewer penalties through four game (27 to 29) than they did through the same point last year. Turns out you can treat professional athletes as adults – rather than junior varsity high school players – and still see positive results.

Dislike: While the penalties are down, the timing and type of penalties that are being called are a bit troubling. The two penalties – even though one was highly suspect – at the end of the Miami game almost cost the Browns a win.

Hope: That whatever the coaching staff told the players after Week 1 continues to stick.

Fear: The Browns will commit a penalty at an inopportune time, costing the team a win.

Like: The Browns were able to get a sense of what Montario Hardesty can do at running back in the game against Miami. After missing his entire rookie year to a knee injury, Hardesty had a solid – if not spectacular – game against the Dolphins, showing that he can be a nice compliment to Peyton Hillis.

Dislike: The reason why Hardesty was on the field against Miami – Hillis missed the game because he was sick and, two weeks later, there are those who won’t let it go. Hillis didn’t play because he is soft. Hillis didn’t play because he wants a new contract. The nonsense has gotten out of control.

Hope: The Browns remember what they have in Hillis – a player who accounted for 71.5 percent of the Browns rushing yards and 84.6 percent of the team’s rushing touchdowns in 2010. If you factor in his 61 receptions for 477 yards and another two touchdowns, he was responsible for 34 percent of the team’s total offense and 50 percent of the offensive touchdowns last season.

Fear: The coaching staff can’t figure out the best way to use Hillis and Hardesty, meaning both players are ineffective and the offense suffers.

Like: The overall play of Dick Jauron’s think fast defense, especially the front four of Ahtyba Rubin, Phil Taylor, Jayme Mitchell and Jabaal Sheard who have been rather frisky through the first part of the season. Joe Haden is quickly turning into an All-Pro corner back in his second season. And D’Qwell Jackson has looked good after missing large parts of the past two seasons with injuries.

Dislike: 4-3, 3-4, 1-10, doesn’t matter, the Browns still can’t stop the run. They currently rank 26th in the NFL against the run. Because Haden is so good Sheldon Brown is seeing more activity on his side of the field and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Hope: The young front four continues to mature during the season and the Browns figure out a way to at least slow down opposing running backs.

Fear: Injuries will take their toll on the defense – which is still lacking in depth – and the players will start to break down in the season’s last quarter. Haden may miss this week’s game against Oakland, and on Monday Marcus Bernard suffered a broken arm in a motorcycle crash. This team can’t afford to have that happened and hope to be at least competitive.

Like: Colt McCoy has mostly done more good than bad through four games. He had a good game against the Colts, led a game-winning drive against the Dolphins and was OK against the Bengals.

Dislike: On of McCoy’s strong suits is supposed to be his completion percent, but on the year he’s only at 58 percent – good for just 23rd in the league. His 5.7 yards per attempt leave him 30th out of 32 quarterbacks. Of course, not all of those numbers are totally on McCoy’s shoulders (more on that in a minute).

Hope: The McCoy we saw on the final drive against the Dolphins – when he led an 80-yard drive by completing 9-of-13 passes, including the game-winning touchdown to Mohamed Massaquoi – is the real McCoy and he will continue to grow during the season.

Fear: The McCoy who throws a preponderance of check-downs, holds onto the ball too long and seems unsure of himself is the real McCoy. Which would mean the Browns will be in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes next April.

Like: Jason Pinkston’s play at left guard. The fifth-round draft choice switched positions after Eric Steinbach was put on injured reserve for the year and hasn’t been all that bad. We’re sure playing between Joe Thomas and Alex Mack has made his transition easier, but we don’t go into a game worried that Pinkston is going to be the weak link on the offensive line.

Dislike: The play at right tackle. Artis Hicks and Oniel Cousins showed why they were available on the waiver wire as they filled in the first three weeks for starter Tony Pashos. They also needed help from a tight end, which meant that Alex Smith was on the field at the expense of Evan Moore, a stronger offensive threat that the Browns need.

Hope: Pashos can stay healthy the final 12 games of the season and the offensive line can work itself into a stable unit.

Fear: Pashos hasn’t played a full season since 2008, so we haven’t seen the last of Hicks and Cousins.

Like: The (albeit) slow development of rookie Greg Little at wide receiver. After not playing his final year at North Carolina, Little has been adjusting to the speed of the NFL. In a part-time role he is second among the wide receivers with 14 receptions and third with 131 yards. Those numbers should go up as the Browns have promoted Little to one of the starting spots.

Dislike: Brian Robiskie taking playing time from anyone on offense. It’s clear by now that Robiskie just is not an NFL wide receiver. Doesn’t mean he’s a bad person, or that he doesn’t try hard, but the Browns just can’t afford to keep giving him playing time.

Hope: Little can turn into a reliable playmaker, Josh Cribbs can stay healthy, Mohamed Massaquoi can be at least a decent third receiver, and Ben Watson and Moore can continue to make plays at tight end.

Fear: The wide receivers will continued to not be able to gain separation, meaning McCoy will have to hold onto the ball too long – opening him up to repeated hits – or he will continue to have to dump the ball off for four-yard gains.

Like: The approach the coaching staff is taking with the team. The lockout took away weeks of key preparation time that the Browns – who have eight starters in either their first or second year – desperately needed. The coaches have used the first four games of the season as a sort of extended training camp as they continue to learn about the players.

Dislike: The defensive breakdown against Cincinnati that lead to the game-changing touchdown by the Bengals, the way coach Pat Shurmur has used Hardesty at the expense of Hillis, the overall play against Tennessee in the last home game before the break. The slow starts by the offense – the Browns have been outscored 27-3 in the first quarter this year.

Hope: The team will show improvement as the year moves along, giving the coaches and front office a clear indication of where the team needs help.

Fear: More games like the one against the Titans, more nonsense over Hillis, that Shurmur is in over his head as a first-year head coach.

We’ll give Shurmur the final word.

“What you’ve noticed from the first four weeks is we’ve got some good young talent that’s out there getting better each week,” he said on Monday at his weekly press conference. “I feel like our schemes are in place. As I mentioned earlier, there are some things that we’ll do more and emphasize and then there are some things about our scheme that we’ll, both sides of the ball and our kicking game that we’ll set aside. I felt good about that.”

(Photo from Cleveland Browns.com)

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