Young Browns offense faces big test against Bills

Steve DiMatteo
Pro Football Weekly
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The grim reality of having an anemic offense has stayed away from the Browns this week. In fact, the Browns looked every bit like a legitimate NFL team against the Bengals last Sunday, with rookies like RB Trent Richardson and QB Brandon Weeden leading the way.

Amazingly for the Browns, that was exactly how they drew it up. After a disastrous season opener in which Weeden posted a 5.1 passer rating and Trent Richardson rushed 19 times for only 39 yards, the Browns’ second game allowed fans, coaches, and the front office to breathe a tremendous sigh of relief.

But they aren’t out of the woods just yet. In this week’s game against the Bills, the Browns are looking at a fork in the road of this season and, potentially, the future of the franchise.

Down one path is the continued development of players like Weeden, Richardson, ORT Mitchell Schwartz, and even WR Mohamed Massaquoi, a player left over from the previous regime. Here the Browns' offense would experience sustained success, perhaps even a win (with the help of the defense, of course).

Down the other path, though, is a dark route the Browns have traveled many times before. That, of course, is the letdown after an encouraging performance.

Even the worst teams are able to put together a good game every once in a while. But where the good teams obviously separate themselves from the bad is in their consistency on the field. For the Browns, that has felt like an unattainable abstract concept, something they are simply not capable of doing.

But there is the chance that this current crop of young Browns players could be helping the team turn a corner. When GM Tom Heckert began to mold a roster that would be built from the ground up, focusing on a youth movement, the experience would obviously have its set of ups and downs. However, the endgame would be a competitive NFL team, one that could soon hold its own in the grind that is the AFC North.

Players like Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson represent the possibility of a bright future for the Cleveland Browns. In the matter of a week, the apparent fortunes of the entire team changed.

There is a slight problem with all of this, though; all of that good fortune can be taken away in the matter of a week, as well. One can wax poetic about the future of this team, but the fact remains that the Browns are currently 0-2 and the Bills (specifically RB C.J. Spiller) are no pushover. Until there is actually something other than a zero in the win column, this supposed bright future remains as abstract and distant as ever.

This certainly places a lot of importance on Sunday’s game, but those are the stakes in the NFL. Good teams are built to rise to the occasion, fully aware there are only 16 games in a season, each one instilled with a great deal of significance.

That is why the Browns cannot start this season 0-3. As head coach Pat Shurmur surmised on Wednesday, no progress is truly made until the Browns start winning. And if they don’t win on Sunday, the schedule certainly doesn’t get any easier in the next few weeks: at Baltimore, at the New York Giants, and at home against the Bengals. The notion of progress won’t be finding much traction should the Browns be 0-5 heading into their rematch with Cincinnati.

Of course, this is the exact situation outlined above. This is adversity at its finest, a chance for the Browns to show what kind of team they want to be. Was Brandon Weeden’s efficient 322-yard performance simply a fluke? Was Trent Richardson just exploiting a weaker-than-anticipated Bengals defense? Did Mohamed Massaquoi actually amass 90 receiving yards in a game, and can that happen again?

These are questions that will be answered on Sunday. This is the opportunity to forge a new mentality that hasn’t been seen in Cleveland since the team’s return in 1999. Win, and the road to respectability gets a little bit clearer. Lose, and mediocrity, or worse, only tightens its grip on the organization.

Welcome to the pressure cooker that happens to be the Cleveland Browns.