CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Heading into just the third week of the season there are 2 words that Pat Shurmur and Cleveland Browns players didn’t want to hear this week.
True, it is still early in the season and there is a lot of football to be played, but that’s the situation the Browns find themselves in Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.
Only 4 teams since 1990 have made the playoffs following an 0-3 start to a season.
4 of the 5 teams that make up the 2.8 percent to have accomplished the feat lost in the wild-card round and the other lost in the divisional round.
The Browns are 0-2 for the 7th time in 14 years. The best they’ve finished is 5-11.
No one had the Browns as a playoff contender entering the year. There were some that had the team going winless or 1-15.
A loss Sunday to the Bills could send them careening that way.
With trips to Baltimore Thursday night, then to New York to face the defending Super Bowl champion Giants the following week, it behooves the Browns to come out on top against Buffalo.
Otherwise there’s a good chance that when Jimmy Haslam III takes over in mid October, they could be winless.
That is not the kind of impression that Pat Shurmur wants to make on the incoming owner.
The Browns come into the game feeling pretty good offensively following bounce back performances by both Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson against the Bengals.
Hall of Famer Jim Brown will be on hand to watch Richardson, who is coming off of his first impressive performance of the year during last week’s 34-27 loss at Cincinnati.
Richardson scored twice – a 32 yard run off the right side and a 23-yard touchdown on a dump off pass in which he made 4 Bengals miss in 15 yards.
Weeden looked much more poised, comfortable and confident as well as he completed 26 of his 37 passes and set a new franchise rookie record with 322 yards through the air.
Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz faces another tough task – keeping the Bills defensive end and $100 million man Mario Williams off of Brandon Weeden. Williams is sack-less through the first 2 weeks and is hungry to get off of the schnide.
While rookies Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin remain a work in progress, Mohamed Massaquoi is off to a fine start to his fourth season. He leads the team with 8 catches for 131 yards.
The Bills roll into town sporting their own prolific back – C.J. Spiller.
His accomplishments through 2 weeks are well documented as he’s averaged 10.1 yards per carry – the second highest yards per carry total through 2 weeks since Jim Brown averaged over 11 per carry to start the 1963 season.
The Browns secondary was picked apart by Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton last week as he torched them for 318 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Dimitri Patterson and Buster Skrine will start at corner for the second straight week and both look to put week 2 behind them.
Veteran Sheldon Brown should see much more action after being on the field for just 1 play last week. Brown likely moves to nickel when the Bills go to 3 and 4 receiver sets.
Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron admitted this week that they need more production from Eric Hagg. Hagg will reportedly be replaced in the starting lineup by Usama Young.
While much of the focus is on stopping spiller, Ryan Fitzpatrick can sling it when needed – but he is susceptible to giving it up. He’s thrown 5 interceptions in 2 games.
Fitzpatrick likes to spread the ball around and has yet to be sacked this season.
Frostee Rucker, Juqua Parker and John Hughes had sacks last week and are hoping they’ll put Fitzpatrick on the ground as well.
D’Qwell Jackson remains the heart and soul of the defense but he is only 1 player. Jackson is tied for second in the NFL with 2 interceptions and 3 sacks.
The defense as a whole has done it;s part to give the offense as many possessions as possible. They are tied for second in the NFL with 6 takeaways including 5 interceptions.
The punt and kick return units will be tested again.
Leodis McKelvin returned a punt 88 yards for a touchdown last week against Kansas City while the Browns gave up an 81 yard return to Adam “Pacman” Jones.
McKelvin leads the league with a 31.3 average.
Josh Cribbs is chomping at the bit to take one to the house.
Cribbs’ last return came last December at Baltimore – an 84 yarder but it’s been his only return 48 games.
He hasn’t returned a kickoff for a score since returning 2 against Kansas City in 2009 – that’s a 33 game drought but Cribbs has been hindered by the rulebook as well as significant turnover on the return units.
Players and coaches didn’t want to hear about a ‘must win’ this week but that’s exactly the situation that they are in.
Otherwise an 0-3 start could be a sign of things to come.