Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Browns offense sharing space with some good company

browns offense three gamesWhile fans of the Cleveland Browns deal with the frustration of the team’s 1-2 start, they can take solace in the fact that we’re witnessing a side of the offense not seen in these parts for a long, long time.

Through the season’s first three games, the Browns are fourth in the AFC in scoring with an average of 24.7 points per game, only one point behind the Denver Broncos, who have Peyton Manning at quarterback. (The fact that the defense has given up more points than just three teams in the AFC helps explain, at least in part, the 1-2 record.)

To put the offensive output into perspective, only once since 2004 has a Browns offense scored more points on a per game basis – the 2007 team with an average of 25.1 points, the only offense in the past decade that has broken the 20-point barrier for a season average.

Much of the credit for the offense’s strong start can be attributed to quarterback Brian Hoyer. While Hoyer is a middle-of-the-pack quarterback in terms of completion percentage (15th), yards (13th), yards per attempt (12th) and touchdown passes (18th), he has only taken four sacks and is currently 10th in quarterback rating at 97.5 – ahead of such quarterbacks as Nick Foles, Andy Dalton, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick. (Perhaps you have heard of them?)

More importantly, Hoyer doesn’t turn the ball over. He has now gone 156 consecutive passes without throwing an interception, currently the longest streak in the NFL and the fourth-longest in franchise history. While not losing fumbles has an element of luck associated, not throwing interceptions is more about the quarterback making the right decisions, even when things are falling apart.

And Hoyer is doing it with a trio of rookies in the backfield and a wide receiving group that is missing Josh Gordon and playing with an injured Jordan Cameron.

“Brian’s had an opportunity to play for some really good football coaches,” quarterback coach Dowell Loggains said in published reports. “He’s got a great knowledge of the game and he’s been trained well, so we feel like as he learns the system and understands defenses, and understands really the thought process that Kyle (Shanahan) has and the offense, and the coaching staff, he’ll continue to get better that way.”

That last quote won’t appease those in the national media who remain so desperate to see Johnny Manziel take over as the starting quarterback, but that’s their problem. There is simply no reason currently for the Browns to even consider making a change at quarterback.

The one stat that jumped out at us about the current offense is that this is the first time since 1969 that a Browns team has scored 21 or more points in the first three games of the season, which seems hard to believe but it’s true.

In the final year of the old NFL, the Browns averaged 25.1 points per game (good for third in the NFL) and scored 21 or more points 12 times when you include the playoffs. (Interesting that in an era where defenses were supposedly so much more terrifying, the Browns were able to rack up so many points.) They won the Century Division title for the third consecutive season with a record of 10-3-1.

After beating the Cowboys in their opening playoff game (to this day Cleveland’s last road playoff win), the Browns fell to Minnesota in the NFL Championship game, missing out on a trip to Super Bowl IV. It was the second consecutive year that the Browns missed out on the Super Bowl, as they had lost to Baltimore the previous season (the first of five times the Browns would be one win away from making it to the renamed NFL title game).

Under the headline Vikings Repulse Browns, 27-7 (funny, since it is usually the Browns doing the repulsing these days), The Plain Dealer’s Chuck Heaton described the day’s events by writing that:

History does repeat itself. Just ask the Cleveland Browns.

It was almost a repeat of last November here at Metropolitan Stadium. There also was more than a slight resemblance of the title game flop of a year ago, as the Browns fell before the Minnesota Vikings, 27-7, before a capacity crowd of 47,900 on a sunny but very cold day.

So the Vikings, a team organized back in 1961, captured their first National Football League title with a fine clutch job yesterday. And these huskies from the North Country will be a strong representative for the NFL next Sunday in the Super Bowl at New Orleans.

THE BROWNS, beaten by Minnesota, 51-3, earlier this season and by Baltimore, 34-0, a year ago in the title game, could do little right the first half. They seemed tense and cautious at the outset and were 14 points behind almost before their feet got cold on an afternoon which saw the thermometer at about 8 degrees above zero most of the time.

In contrast to their fine showing against Dallas only a week back, the Eastern Conference champions lacked that pursuit and determination. The Browns looked as though they were on ice skates, as the Western rulers showed the way with drive and second effort.

The Vikings perhaps have a team better suited to the elements – the biting cold and somewhat slippery field. At any rate, they seemed right at home.

The Browns, who were in the last days of their NFL dynasty, would not make it that close to the Super Bowl again for almost 20 years. The game against Minnesota also was the last one for Paul Warfield in his initial stay with the team. In the off-season, Warfield was traded to Miami so the Browns could move up and select Mike Phipps in the NFL Draft, starting the franchise’s ongoing quest to find a championship quarterback.

It would be folly to suggest that the current edition of the Browns is going to follow in the footsteps of the ’69 squad, and there is no way of knowing if they will keep up with the current offensive pace, but at least for the opening weeks of the season this has been a fun team to watch.

After what we’ve witnessed for the better part of the past decade, we’re definitely ready for some fun.

(Photo courtesy of The Plain Dealer)

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