Now that the NFL season is here, I’m putting a twist on my weekly Blogger on Blogger series. Each week, I will enlist a blogger who regularly writes about the Ravens’ opponent to help me break down the game. This week, I exchanged emails with Chris Pokorny, who blogs about the Browns for Dawgs By Nature.
MV: The Browns are now on their third starting quarterback after benching Brandon Weeden, who was benched in favor of Brian Hoyer before he got hurt, for Jason Campbell. How have the Browns been competitive with that revolving door at QB and what are your thoughts on Campbell’s first start?
CP: Although the Browns have had some serious issues defensively on third down (they are ranked 31st in the NFL), they have been resilient enough to keep Cleveland competitive. The success the Browns have had in spite of the revolving door at quarterback shows two things. First, Brandon Weeden is just flat-out awful right now, considering that both of the other quarterbacks have led respectable-looking offenses. Second, wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron are two legitimate weapons who can thrive regardless of what defense they are facing. Other key elements for the Browns staying competitive include having a good special teams unit, seeing the pass protection from the offensive line getting better each week and having two veteran coordinators in charge of the offense and defense.
MV: We are a few weeks removed from the surprising Trent Richardson trade. Now that it has sunk in, do you think it was the right move? And are the Browns actually capable of running the ball Sunday with Willis McGahee?
CP: Not only did I think it was the right move when it happened, I thought the Browns were fleecing the Indianapolis Colts. I was stunned that Cleveland could recoup a first-round pick for a player who has run with such poor vision like Richardson has. The Browns really haven't been able to sustain their running game this year, but that has nothing to do with not having Richardson and more to do with poor run blocking. Willis McGahee doesn't have any burst left in him. It's all about ball security, pass protection and picking the right hole if we do have a lead late in the game at this stage of his career. The Browns will certainly be looking for an upgrade at running back in 2014, but that doesn't mean a high draft pick.
MV: With the changes at quarterback and running back and the return of Josh Gordon from his suspension, how has this offense changed since we saw them in Week 2?
CP: The offense has still had some consistency issues. They either start really slow in the first half or in the second half, and that is where our games are being lost. Talent-wise, one of the biggest under-the-radar things that helped improve our offense was the return of starting right guard Shawn Lauvao. Former Raven Oniel Cousins was filling in for Lauvao back in Week 2, and he was part of a historically-bad revolving door for pass rushers on the right side of our line. Now that our starting five have built up chemistry over the past few weeks, the pass protection is much improved. Last week against the Chiefs, the unit only yielded one sack. Jason Campbell proved in one start that he does everything better than Brandon Weeden, and that includes mobility, accuracy, decision-making and even throwing the deep ball. The biggest change from our Week 2 offense is no doubt the presence of Josh Gordon. Although Brian Hoyer had a lot to do with it, Gordon's return is the reason we were able to rip off three wins in a row over the Minnesota Vikings, Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills.
MV: The Browns have allowed 31, 31 and 23 points in three straight losses. Is the defense being asked to shoulder too much of the load and is that unit showing cracks?
CP: As I mentioned earlier, the Browns' third-down defense has been a problem point. They have done such a good job on first and second down, but are allowing teams to convert third downs 46.4 percent of the time. Last year, Ray Horton's defense in Arizona was ranked second in the NFL on third downs, only allowing teams to convert 32.9 percent of the time. It's not like teams are picking up 3rd-and-1 plays either. Cleveland will force a 3rd-and-8 play and teams will convert them with ease. It's hard to explain why the team has struggled so much in those situations, but once they correct it, they can be an elite defense. In the second half against the Chiefs last week, they only allowed one conversion on seven third-down plays and had five sacks. The offense needs to help by not going three-and-out so often, but I don't like using that as an excuse. I feel teams that are really good defensively can overcome those issues, at least to a point where they aren't allowing 30-plus points in a game.
MV: The Browns are entering a critical stretch against their three AFC North rivals. Is there reason to believe they’ll still be in the division race once they get through it?
CP: Even if the Browns do well during this upcoming three-game stretch, it's hard to imagine anyone in the division catching the Bengals. If Cleveland establishes a level of consistency under Jason Campbell the remainder of the season -- let's be real, there's a reason he's been viewed as a backup at this stage of his career -- at best maybe the Browns can fight and claw their way to 8-8, which would give them a slight chance of being the AFC's final wild-card team.
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