The Browns host the Giants Sunday afternoon in search of their first win of the season.
Here's what we're watching in Cleveland. [
1. How will Josh McCown and the Browns offense fare?
In his third start and fifth appearance this season, quarterback Josh McCown will take control of a Browns offense that has sputtered in recent weeks. Head coach Hue Jackson said as much earlier this week, taking ownership for Cleveland's struggles. Now, McCown, who steps in for injured rookie Cody Kessler, will have the chance to help the Browns start trending back in the right direction.
"The best thing is we are all frustrated at this point, but it never takes a bad turn. It is kind of frustration that turns into motivation to get it right," McCown said, adding Jackson has helped buoy the team through these tough times.
"He is doing a great job of leading us in that regard. Obviously, how much we can improve across the board on things with the type of offense that we want to be, I know we have to do everything better. Obviously, we want to get the run game going for sure and play more efficiently in the passing game. Whenever you are not doing the things that you are expected to do, there is a level of frustration, but he has done a great job of coming in and teaching every week and bringing great energy and drawing that out of us. It is on us as players to grind and to do some little things different maybe, to study a little more, to watch more tape, whatever it takes to continue to build your process. That is going to get us over the hump and allow us to win football games."
2. Can defense build on bright spots?
To be sure, the Browns' defense was far from perfect in a loss to the Steelers Sunday, most notably giving up more than 200 yards to running back Le'Veon Bell. But, Cleveland buckled down when it mattered most, holding Pittsburgh's high-powered offense to three field goals in the red zone. It was an effort that ultimately went unrewarded, but the Browns have the chance to build on what they liked and fixed what went wrong against the Giants.
"I keep telling our guys is to keep working your tails off. It is hard to see from the score and the record but, we are getting better," defensive coordinator Ray Horton said.
"Our guys are getting better and we are going to put this together. I go back, obviously most people go off of their experiences because you cannot experience something through someone else's eyes. Being in this as a player, I know you can get better, I know we will. So I am encouraged every day because our guys are getting better. They are understanding more, they are seeing more. They are getting live action out there."
Against a defensive line that includes All-Pro players in Jason Paul-Pierre and Olivier Vernon, the Browns are well aware they'll have to protect McCown better than they did last week (Cleveland surrendered a season-high eight sacks to the Steelers).
"We are playing a tremendous front. I think we all know that," Jackson said. "They have good players. At the same time, I have said this before, we play good players every week, and every week we have not given up eight sacks. Can we fix the things that hurt us last week? That is that we are doing this week in practice and that is my expectation that we will do. Our guys will go and play their tails off, and our goal is to not let our quarterback get hit. It is a unit issue. It is not just one person. It is everybody. Everybody has to do their job and do it to the best of their ability to give us an opportunity."
4. Re-establishing the run game
This has been a recent theme, but it's no less true against the Giants. Browns associate head coach of offense Pep Hamilton made as much clear, saying Cleveland has to figure out a way to re-establish a once-powerful ground game.
"We have to do a better job. It starts with myself. We have to do a better job of making sure that we find creative ways to get Crow (RB Isaiah Crowell) the ball and to get (RB) Duke (Johnson Jr) the ball," he said. "We expect that teams are going to come in at times and just really focus their attention on stopping us from running the football, but that is still no excuse for us to just not be able to run the football. We have to do a better job that way."
Hamilton also said a good run game will help alleviate pressure off the Browns' quarterbacks.
"We have to be able to throw some body punches early in the game, wear those guys down and make it tough on them to just pin their ears back and rush our quarterback," Hamilton said.
"It has a compounding effect when you can run the football early in games, especially on first and second down. I shouldn't just say first and second down in the first and second quarter. You invest in those body punches. "They play tremendous dividends in the second half. We have to be able run the football. That will take some pressure off our pass protection, as well as we have to more effect on the first and second down in the general sense. We have to be a lot more effective executing our offense on early downs so that we can stay out of third-and-long situations."