The Cleveland Browns are thrilled to get CB Joe Haden back this week following his four-game suspension, especially after another game in which the secondary was torched by an opposing quarterback.
Haden’s return was supposed to signify a stretch endured by the Browns, a chance to bolster the defense and make something out of this season. Of course, one might have thought the Browns would actually have a win by now.
Instead, this 0-5 team has been mired in a pit of offensive mistakes and poor defense. Things are certainly bleak in Cleveland, and the how and why of the current situation has been looked at extensively.
Rather than doing that again, let’s focus on the Browns’ ability to turn their season around. Expectations must be tempered; no one is talking about the playoffs here. But to win four or five of their final 11 games would be a salvaged season, no?
The Browns have time to make things right, and here is how they can do it:
- Joe Haden won’t be the entire solution to the Browns’ problems, but he can be a major reason for any sort of turnaround. One only has to look at the victimization of the team’s cornerbacks in his absence, specifically Sheldon Brown and Buster Skrine. Haden will be making a tremendous difference right away by merely stepping onto the field.
- Ride RB Trent Richardson like there is no tomorrow. At times, QB Brandon Weeden looks ready to bust out, but his success is really connected to Richardson’s ability to keep a defense honest. And does he ever. One could say his true breakout game came against the New York Giants, when he had 81 yards rushing and one touchdown on 17 carries to go along with five catches for 47 yards. Still, though, Richardson is underutilized, and as his knee continues to hold up, the Browns would be wise to give him a heavier workload.
- After being dominated in the season opener against the Eagles, the Browns’ offensive line has begun to gel as a unit, helping to not only springboard Trent Richardson’s season, but to make Brandon Weeden feel relatively safe in the pocket. The line has really showed its dominance, though, when in motion. Whether it’s a pitch to the outside or a designed screen, the offensive line has been dependable in its blocking.
- While PK Phil Dawson remains as reliable as ever, the Browns would be smart to stay aggressive on offense. Head coach Pat Shurmur has taken a lot of heat after opting to pass on a third-and-one play deep in Giants territory last week (a pass that was intercepted, changing the entire complexion of the game), but it was the right move to make. The Browns are in no position to settle for field goals; when your team is winless, you should be pulling out all the stops.
- Speaking of staying aggressive, Weeden can’t let his early mistakes change the fundamentals of his game. Though he has struggled to make the right reads at times, his performance and presence has improved in each game. As Weeden continues to improve, there should be more plays in his future that are similar to Sunday’s 62-yard touchdown pass to WR Josh Gordon.
Believe it or not, the Browns’ schedule isn’t impossible going forward. Matchups against the Colts, Raiders, Chiefs, and Redskins are all, essentially, “winnable” games, though the Browns have had a few of those already.
More than anything, they simply need to find a way to put it all together in a game. The offense and defense have had impressive performances this season, just never in the same game. While these isolated occurrences are certainly encouraging for the future, the Browns need to figure it out on the same day at least once.
Maybe the return of Joe Haden sets all of that in motion. Maybe Trent Richardson gets more carries (which should be the case, as he is tied for 12th in the NFL in that department). Maybe Brandon Weeden puts together one of his better games on the same day the defense forces a few turnovers or simply doesn’t give up 500-plus yards of offense.
Whatever it is, the Browns need to make it happen, and they need to make it happen fast. The season isn’t dead just yet, but the buzzards are circling.