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Browns go into Week 3 at 1-1, Playing Ravens at Home. Kickoff at 1p.m.
K-Dubs the Soldier: I could not believe my eyes when Billy Cundiff’s last-second field goal sailed through the uprights last Sunday to give the Browns a win over the Saints, a team many talking heads had picked to play in the Super Bowl this season. The terrible preseason and even worse first half of the opener against the Steelers now seem like a lifetime ago. As Hoyer & Co. calmly drove the length of the field in the waning seconds of the game, they did it with a cool tenacity that Browns teams have lacked for years. No small part of the success on that final drive was the scheming of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. On the last play to set up the winning field goal, Shanahan drew up a play that left Andrew Hawkins—Hoyer’s top receiving target—so WIDE OPEN it looked like he was catching a punt on the play.
The team’s toughness was also display on defense, where the tackling has greatly improved since the opener. I do say that even though the Saints racked up 174 yards on the ground, particularly by running around the ends. It seems that success on the ground, though, resulted from players being out of position, rather than from an inability to wrap-up. I think as the personnel continues to adjust to Coach Pettine’s 3-4 scheme, the defense will be clamping down. For the first time in about forever, this team has given fans a reason to care. Win or lose, they have finally shown the perseverance worthy of cheers from Northeast Ohio’s stiff-necked faithful.
Big Money: Not so fast, my friend. I know as a life-long Browns fan that no victory should be taken for granted. However, I still think there are a few reasons we need to temper our exuberance. First, anyone who has made $ in a suicide poll (cough) knows that road teams in out-of-conference games are sitting ducks (you’re welcome). Second, after viewing the Steelers and Falcons (who were victorious over the Saints in Week 1) in Week 2, I'm not overly impressed with the level of competition the Browns have faced. Third, I am no Ravens fan, but I do think John Harbaugh is one heck of a coach. The Browns left plenty on film last Sunday for a top notch coaching staff to exploit. Specifically, the Browns are unable to tackle outside of the hash marks, and with their Arena-League-grade receiving corps, I fully expect nine Ravens in the box come Sunday.
Big Money: Stock Up: Paul Kruger: From Andre Rison to Ben Tate, the Browns are batting an Adam Dunn-esque average in relation to their free-agent signings. On Sunday it was awesome to see Kruger look All-World. Let’s hope he keeps it up against his former colleagues. Special honorable mention goes to the enigmatic Machine Gun Kelly, who was rumored to have killed during his halftime performance.
Stock Down: Joe Haden: Now I'm not sure that Night Train Lane could have contained Jimmy Graham last week, but Haden looked helpless at times. Of whom much is given ($$$), much is expected Mr. Haden.
K-Dubs the Soldier: Stock Up: Andrew Hawkins. In his first year as Brown, Hawkins has emerged as the Browns top receiving threat despite lacking the size of a typical number one receiver. With his speed and elusiveness he is also a weapon in the screen game and on jet sweeps.
Stock Down: Justin Gilbert. The rookie cornerback played about 20 percent fewer snaps in Week 2, and although he has shown the toughness to fill run lanes within the tackle box, his inexperience continues to render him a liability on the outside. I do expect to see his name in the Stock Up column by years-end, though.
Q & A
Q) Rumors continue to swirl about an upcoming change to the Browns iconic uniforms, including talk of the possible incorporation of the Brownie Elf or a dog into the gear. Should the team change its uniforms?
Big Money: There is no possible scenario where I could envision an elf on the side of an NFL helmet. I also think the "Dawg" thing has been done to death (see new mascot Swagger). I have heard the possibility of a helmet with a wider stripe (a la the Buckeyes’ alternate unis) is being considered. I’m cool with that.
K-Dubs the Soldier: I am no slave to tradition, but I don’t think the team needs to change their uniforms. A few years back, they introduced orange jerseys and gun-metal grey pants, mix and matching them with the traditional brown and white gear. I thought those looked pretty cool, and they were change enough. I also see no reason to alter the helmet either. If you want to sell more merch, win more games.
Q) Looking at the first two weeks of the season, how tough are the teams of the AFC North, which many view as the toughest division in the NFL?
Big Money: As I referenced earlier, I’m not too confident in the 2014 Steelers, and I’ll hold my judgment of the Browns and Ravens until 4 p.m. Sunday. With that said, and it pains me greatly to say this, I think that the Bengals may be the class of the AFC. Even with A.J. Green sidelined, the passing game continued to excel and their defense is nasty. Dalton and their ever-maligned front office are well on their way to making a lot of people eat their words (myself included). Now excuse me while I go dry heave.
K-Dubs the Soldier: I know Big Money is selling the AFC North, except for the Bengals, but who is he going to buy? Outside of the NFC West, I don’t see a division as strong top to bottom, even if the Steelers and Ravens have down years. Although it’s only the third week of the season, the Browns’ three division rivals all rank in the top 10 for offensive yards per game, and both the Ravens and Bengals rank in the top 10 for scoring defense. I expect these teams to retain these results throughout the season, as they make hay against opponents from the NFC and AFC South.
Q) Who would you like to see the Browns start LeBron James in place of this week?
K-Dubs the Soldier: I would love to see the Browns start LeBron in place of punter/placeholder Spencer Lanning this week. The sure-handed NBA MVP would not fumble extra-point snaps like Lanning did last week, and I would not be surprised if King James secretly has All-Pro punting skills.
Big Money: This week I would play LeBron over his buddy Johnny Manziel. I don't know how much of a change of pace takes place when a 5’ 10” QB with a slightly different skill set enters a game but imagine the curveball a 6’8” athletic freak with a refurbished hairline would present.
Q) What is your prediction for this week’s game?
K-Dubs the Soldier: The Browns will need to shore up their defense on the outside against the Ravens, who have added to an already explosive passing game with the signing of veteran receiver Steve Smith. Ravens QB Joe Flacco has missed practice this week because of a sickness, rather than injury, but he is a gamer and I fully expect him to play. The Browns currently rank last in yards surrendered per game, so Baltimore should be able to move the ball. The key for them is putting pressure on Flacco the way they did to Drew Brees early in last week’s game. Linebacker Kiki Mingo has practiced this week, and his return to the field would help Kruger and crew in giving Flacco a rough afternoon.
On the other side of the ball, the offensive line must continue to open running lanes for the Browns tandem of rookie running backs. If they don’t, it may be a long day in Cleveland. Hoyer has a proclivity to hold the ball too long or chuck it down field when under pressure. These are dangerous tendencies when playing a Ravens defense. Tight end Jordan Cameron was practicing this week. His availability Sunday is uncertain, but he would provide greatly needed support to the passing game.
What I am really looking forward to this week, though, is the continued change in culture of the Browns. Expect a hard-hitting game and watch the Browns to bring the noise against a team that has all but dominated them since their return to the league. I know at the outset of the season, I predicted a loss to the Ravens, the tide has turned. Browns 20 Ravens 17.
Big Money: I’m the king of tempered exuberance. That 1st win was a big monkey off Pettine's back, but this week we return to Earth, Ravens 24 Browns 13.