Two weeks ago the Cleveland Browns traded Trent Richardson (their best offensive playmaker) out of nowhere and promoted their third-string quarterback to the starting job.
Everyone took it as a sign they were tanking — a controversial but rational move that made more sense than keeping the team together and trying to eek out a six-win season.
In their first game after the trade, they threw the ball 50 times and faked two kicks.
It sent the message that if the Browns are going out, they’re going out in a blaze of glory large enough to burn everything to the ground.
But now look at them.
They’ve won three-straight games and are sitting atop the AFC North.
Instead of being the slapsticky, awful team we thought they’d be, they’ve turned into the traditional archetype of the loveable underdog — bludgeoning teams on defence and getting enough big plays to squeak by on offence.
Here’s why they’re so good after seemingly tanking.
1. The defence was always good. Cleveland is one of only five teams the be ranked in the top 12 in both rushing defence and passing defence. Even in their two losses to open the season, they held their opponents to 4.2 yards per play.
The pass rush is solid (18 sacks in five games), and Joe Haden is among the best cover corners in the league. Here are the elite receivers Haden has shut down this year:
- Mike Wallace: 1 catch, 15 yards, 0 TDs
- AJ Green: 7 catches, 51 yards, 0 TDs
If the Browns start losing again, it won’t be because of the defence.
Brandon Weeden (who got benched in Week 3), completes less than 55% of his passes and turns it over a ton (five times in a little under three games). He was erratic last night but avoided any huge mistakes. Going forward, this is going to be a huge question mark.
Hoyer’s stats were middle of the road. But relative to Weeden, middle of the road is enough to make a huge, huge difference. Quarterback is the most important position in the NFL, and the upgrade from a below-average player to an average player had cascading effects on the Browns offence.
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