Week 4 of the NFL season is upon us and for the first time in a long time the Browns have something to play for. Since they returned in 1999, we’ve gotten used to the Browns being 0-3 and out of the picture and the AFC. However, this year is different. There’s a sense of optimism considering the Browns have staked claim to a 2-1 start and a share of the lead in the AFC North with Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
If the Browns can find a way to win today against the Titans and bring their record to 3-1 heading into their bye week they will be in excellent position moving forward. The entire city might also collectively crap their pants. Honestly, when was the last time a Browns team was 3-1? If that happens, Browns songs will start popping up like they did back in the 80’s. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or bad thing. Oh who am I kidding? That would be effing incredible!
Getting to 3-1 won’t be easy. To the surprise of everyone, the Titans have played great so far to start the season. A lot of that is due in part to the stabilizing force that has been Matt Hasselbeck. Healthy for the first time in what seems like years, Hasselbeck has helped lead a potent Titans passing attack. Luckily for the Browns, their star wideout, Kenny Britt, is out for the remainder of the season with a blown out knee. Britt is an absolute beast and his absence makes things a million times more difficult for the rest of the Titans receivers and their star running back, Chris Johnson.
Speaking of Johnson, he’s been a complete bust coming out the gate to start the season. We’re not talking a William Green level bust here. It’s more like Kijana Carter blowing out his knee and never being the same kind of bust, minus the actual injury… sorry Cincinnati fans. That’s either really good for the Browns and he’ll keep up his craptastic ways, or really bad and he’ll run for 365 yards and 6 touchdowns.
In all seriousness, the Browns need to be careful when it comes to Johnson. After receiving a hefty pay raise, he’s been anything but his normal self. All of the whispers about how he’s lost it or how he’s cashed in stopped trying have to be making their way to Johnson which means he’ll be more than motivated to shut everyone up. It goes without saying, but the Titans’ fate will be directly related to how Johnson runs the ball.
For the Browns and their less than impressive offense, things won’t be any easier today. The Titans have the top ranked defense in the NFL through three weeks, again to the surprise of everyone. If the Browns want to prove they are serious contenders in the AFC this is the type of game they have to win. It will also serve as a gauge for the true progress the Browns have made. Their first three opponents are probably three of the worst teams in the NFL with a combined record of 1-9. If they can compete with the Titans, or even win this game, we might have to begin taking them seriously.
Of course, scoring points and moving the ball in the first quarter would be helpful. The Browns are the worst first quarter team in football at any level. No that is not an exaggeration. They’ve yet to score a single point or accumulate 100 yards of total offense in three first quarters combined. That’s not good. Hell, you don’t even need to know the first thing about football to understand that’s not a good sign. The Browns will need to make progress in the first quarter. Unlike in previous weeks, they won’t be able to come from behind against the best defense in football. I’m sorry, it’s just not going to happen.
Anyways, here are the top five things the Browns need to do to beat the Titans…
1. Contain Chris Johnson: I explained this point above, but it bears repeating. The Browns need to continue the struggles of Chris Johnson. With Kenny Britt out, the Titans passing game won’t be what it normally is. Yes, Nate Washington has been great and should transition nicely into the #1 wideout slot, but he’s no Kenny Britt (for the sake of my fantasy team, I hope he is). That means more carries for Johnson and a renewed focus on running the ball for the Titans. I can almost guarantee that Johnson’s performance will be the main determining factor on the outcome of this game.
2. Get Greg Little involved: The Browns drafted Greg Little to be a play maker and a difference on the offensive side of the ball. Naturally, it makes sense to not throw him the ball and that’s exactly what the Browns have done. So far through three weeks he’s been anything but. 8 receptions for 74 yards on 13 targets. He finally showed last week that he can be relied on in clutch situations to makeplays. He’s a big physical guy that can cause matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. If the Browns can get him involved early and keep him engaged, things should open up for the rest of the offense. Besides, what is there to lose taking a chance down field with Little? None. Throw him the damn ball.
3. Balance the offensive attack: I know, I sound like a broken record with this one, but it’s true. The Browns have looked good when they balance the run/pass attack and have looked like crap when they get pass happy. Yes, Colt looked great last week when it mattered, but up until that point he was serving a poop sandwich. The Browns will have Peyton Hillis back which should help things a lot. The performance of Montario Hardesty last week should mean more carries for this week too. In all honesty, he should get more carries. I don’t know a single Browns fan that wasn’t impressed with the way he ran the ball and caught it out of the backfield. With two good running backs, why not take the pressure off the QB and pound the rock?
4. Score in the first quarter: I already explained this so I won’t waste much time here. Do whatever it takes to get into an offensive rhythm in the first quarter. This trend of not doing jack crap in the first quarter has to stop. in related news, if the Browns can score some first quarter points, stress related beer sales will decrease substantially. My liver thanks you in advance.
5. Protect the ball: The Titans are the number one defense in the NFL for a reason. They create turnovers and don’t make stupid mistakes in coverage. With that said, the Browns need to hold onto the ball. They can’t give an offense that has a key cog missing and another playing like crap extra possessions and a short field to work with. In all honesty, that goes for any game against any team, but more so against the Titans given their style of play. Turning the ball over also increases the chance that the Browns will be playing from behind and as I mentioned earlier, they can’t let that happen. They should also considering protecting their heads with Cortland Finnegan patrolling in the defensive backfield. Last thing we need is Josh Cribbs going out as the headless horseman for Halloween this year.
So what happens in today’s game. I feel like this will be another close game, but given how the offense has played I don’t feel confident. This is the first real test for the Browns and I’m a little afraid they might come out and get punched in the mouth in the first quarter. I also think they’ll play from behind again and against this Titans defense that can’t happen. So, as much as it pains me to say it, I think the Browns lose to the Titans by a final score of 24-17 and head into their bye week with a record of 2-2. I’ve never wanted myself to be more wrong in my entire life.