Their record may say otherwise, but these aren’t the same Cleveland Browns of the past few seasons.
Though they’re still searching for a win to break a lengthy losing streak which now sits at 19 games, the Browns could just as well be unbeaten entering Thursday’s meeting with the New York Jets.
Improvement on both sides of the ball has been evident through two weeks, while it’s been special teams that’s unexpectedly been their downfall. In their opener, the game-winning attempt by kicker Zane Gonzalez was blocked in overtime, forcing Cleveland to settle for a tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Miscues by Gonzalez were even more costly in Week 2, when he missed two field goals and two extra points in a three-point loss to the New Orleans Saints, resulting in the Browns waiving him the next day.
Considering the way they’ve played and the talent on their roster, the elusive victory Cleveland are searching for is a matter of when, not if.
Of course this week, the Browns are dealing with an added distraction after the team traded the talented but troubled Josh Gordon to the New England Patriots to cut ties with one of their best skill players.
While the loss of Gordon means one less weapon for quarterback Tyrod Taylor to work with, the team is already used to practicing and playing without the wide receiver as he was absent for much of training camp and sidelined this past weekend against New Orleans.
Despite the loss, Cleveland’s air game took a step forward as Taylor looked more comfortable and completed 22-of-30 passes for 246 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Rookie wideout Antonio Callaway shined in his first start in place of Gordon, hauling three catches for 81 yards and a score, which came on a 47-yard deep ball near the end of the fourth quarter to tie the game.
Tyrod Taylor finds Antonio Callaway for SIX! 😱 pic.twitter.com/BCWPGQ7PWL— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 16, 2018
The Browns defence, meanwhile, more than held their own against two explosive attacks. Against Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees, Cleveland allowed a combined passer rating of 86.4, which ranks 12th in the league. They’ve also racked up the fifth-most sacks with seven as Myles Garrett and the rest of the pass rush has looked formidable.
With the Jets coming to town on Thursday, the Browns may finally be ready to break through.
FEELING THE HEAT
After a nearly flawless debut, Sam Darnold is learning just how difficult it is to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
In his second start, Darnold was far less efficient as he completed 25-of-41 passes and tossed two interceptions for a mediocre passer rating of 74.6 in the loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Now, he’ll have a short week to prepare for Cleveland’s defence under coordinator Gregg Williams, which will look to put as much pressure as possible on the rookie quarterback with a variety of blitzes.
Darnold has displayed impressive footwork and athleticism in throwing on the run, but he’s also struggled to dissect zone coverages, which could hurt him if the Browns can get pass rushers in his face.
It’ll be the next test for the third overall draft pick in the early stages of his budding career.
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