Through two games, the Cleveland Browns have scored one touchdown. Browns players have had nearly as many traffic mishaps as the offense has had productive drives. They’ve played two competitive games against two teams that might end up being pretty good, but despite the new start and the new names and the new coaches they’ve looked too much like the same old Browns.
Injuries. Delay of game penalties. Quarterback ratings lower than the posted side-road speed limits the wide receivers have trouble observing. A gifted yet totally unproven receiver coming off suspension just in time to see his starting quarterback get hurt. Bad decisions. Bad luck.
It’s all been there. And it’s just been two games.
Below are 10 suggestions, observations and fixes that might help at least a few of these remaining 14 games go a little better than the first two have and chart the course for what all involved want – a better, more competitive future…
1. Driver’s education classes.
2. Trade for a running back. Trent Richardson is clearly in a funk, and whether that’s because of offensive line woes or trouble catching on to the new system or something none of us know about, that’s a big problem. Through two games, no other running back on the current roster has gotten even a single carry, even as Richardson has averaged just 3.4 yards per carry. The Browns called 19 straight pass plays in a stretch of the second half last week; they quit even trying to run. Somehow, some way they have to add a running back who can — at very least — catch a few passes out of the backfield, pose some sort of threat to opposing defenses and light some sort of something under Richardson, who’s way too gifted to not be getting more on at least some of these runs. The Dion Lewis injury in August was a crushing blow because Lewis had been really good through the start of camp and looked to be the perfect complement to Richardson’s style. But injuries happen all over this league, and good teams adapt.
3. Get a fullback. A real fullback. The second coming of Lorenzo Neal may not be available, but someone who can play fullback and try to help create holes and running space is. The days of the true fullback may be limited, but it’s hard to believe the species is already totally extinct.
4. Which would lead to the next change: Brandon Weeden is a shotgun quarterback. Richardson is probably best as an I-formation runner following a fullback. We don’t have official word from inside the building yet, but it’s reasonable to expect Weeden to miss at least this week’s game (and possibly much longer) with the thumb injury he suffered last week. Hello, transition point.
5. If a real fullback is not available, how about using Billy Winn in some situations? Winn is big and tough and mobile and since necessity is the mother of invention, why not give it a shot? The Bengals use Domata Peko in a (very) part-time fullback role and have used receiver Mohamed Sanu at running back and at quarterback in spots. For the sake of a shakeup and the sake of survival, it’s time for the Browns to look at using what they have both better and differently.
6. Whether Weeden is out one week, four weeks or eight, it’s pretty clear the Browns quarterback of the future is not currently in the building. It’s also pretty clear that the team’s top decision makers thought that before this season and went ahead with this crew anyway, so in that regard having to go with Campbell or Hoyer the rest of the way isn’t a total deviation from the long-term plan. However, if those decision makers were going to be satisfied with saying they used 2013 to build and develop a stout defensive front seven and simply to evaluate everywhere else, they might want to be really careful with leaving that group on the field way too long over the next 14 games. How not trying to upgrade the quarterback spot/the offense in general after this miserable start might play in the locker room could be a concern as well. Players see things and know things. They’ve seen very little work so far, and even though 0-2 is far from the end of any road, hope is not a strategy.
7. About the whole quarterback mess, even if all resources are already in on getting thorough evaluations of Johnny Whatshisname, Teddy Bridgewater, Tajh Boyd and the rest of the potential 2014 draft class, that’s all a long way away. And a really big gamble. It’s worth picking up the phone now to at least explore other options at the NFL’s most important position. If the rumors about Josh Freeman wanting out of Tampa Bay are true, the Bucs would probably give him up for a late-round pick in this, the final year on his contract. Even if he’s not the answer, having a discussion and making a phone call to hear the validity of the rumors and the potential asking price would be worth the time. The Raiders would probably trade Matt Flynn for a case of footballs and some new facemasks, so maybe clean out the equipment room and free up another phone line on that? The Browns offense doesn’t scare defenses. It will scare defenses even less with a quarterback who barely even got any — and quite possibly zero — first-team reps throughout the entire offseason.
8. I know, I know. The 2013 Browns aren’t going to the playoffs with Josh Freeman or Matt Flynn anymore than they’re going with Brian Hoyer or Jason Campbell or Brandon Weeden. It’s OK if it’s all about the future. It’s just a lot easier to evaluate a competitive team than one that might not win more than a couple games in its current state. If the plan really is to play for the future with this new administration’s guys, maybe Mike Lombardi could shoot his old friend Bill Belichick a text message: “If Gordon and a QB for Mallett and Dobson would make you call me back, this is my number. BTW this is Mike.”
9. It’s time for a sitdown with Greg Little about both making plays and abiding by traffic laws. He’s either going to have change his ways on and off the field and start helping the team, or he’s going to have to go. There are player’s association rules about suspensions and fines and discipline and the like, but he can sit. There are 53 guys on an active NFL roster and only 46 dress each Sunday. His 93 parking tickets in college and what’s starting to seem like that many dropped passes in his first two NFL seasons and two games of 2013 didn’t change anything, but threatening his job might.
10. Starting Sunday in Minnesota, the Browns play three games in 11 days. They don’t play Jacksonville until Dec. 1.
BONUS: The 2014 NFL Draft begins May 8.
Just in case two games in to the season was a good time to wonder.