Here is my five-point breakdown of the Browns as they prepare for the stretch run of the season:
>>The importance of experiencing meaningful games. Ultimately, the only goal is to win a championship. To win a championship, you have to reach the postseason. To reach the postseason, you have to win games such as Sunday’s AFC North showdown at Cincinnati, the upcoming divisional encounters against Pittsburgh, and pretty much all of the remaining games. Whether that’s realistic is actually less important than the opportunity for the players to prepare for and play in games that carry greater significance than what has been typical for the Browns this time of year. Win or lose, they’ll gain plenty from their first-hand knowledge of what’s like to be a part of a playoff-like atmosphere. It will be particularly helpful to the many younger players on the roster, but it also benefits the older ones who also have had little or no taste of something like this. It is something that can be carried into future seasons when, if all goes according to the organizational plan, the Browns will be playing many more of these types of games.
>>The value of Rob Chudzinski’s steady hand as head coach. The coach set the proper tone for the week by saying that he fully expected the players to return from the bye “stronger and hungrier” than they were previously. He also made a point of saying that the bye wasn’t a “vacation.” Sure, the players, and to a lesser extent, the coaches had a chance to enjoy a little time away from the training facility. But it was Chudzinski’s mission to make sure that no one lost focus before or during the bye. He and his coaching staff were determined to make the two days of practice and meetings count, with greater emphasis on what the Browns need to do better than on preparing for the Bengals. Chudzinski excels at maintaining a sense of perspective, which, for now, means not letting his team get caught up in all of the escalating expectations. He wants his players to be confident, to have a swagger, but he is careful to walk the fine line between expecting to win and understanding how much hard work goes into winning.
>>The Browns have to feel good about how they stack up against the rest of the AFC North. After watching the Ravens’ overtime victory against the Bengals, they – like many of us – can’t help but think they are, at the very least, on an equal footing with the teams generally regarded as the class of the division. Obviously, the Browns have every reason to feel confident after splitting their season series with the Ravens and beating the Bengals in Week 4. But they also can see the vulnerabilities that both clubs displayed on Sunday, especially at quarterback. Since the NFL named him AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October, Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton has thrown six interceptions.
>>The running game and other areas in need of improvement. The Browns are unlikely to develop anything approaching a dominant rushing attack any time soon. Chances are, they won’t become even consistently effective in that area, either, because they don’t have a dynamic back or their offensive line isn’t exactly built to plow open big holes on a regular basis. However, as with other parts of their offense and defense, they do need to find a way to manufacture at least some level of success on the ground – enough to be able to kill time off the clock to help protect a lead late in the game. Whether it comes from scheming or increasing the number of carries for players such as
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