The Cleveland Browns Factory of Sadness has been operating under overtime hours for much of the season as they have crawled to an 0-4 start that includes a number of disappointing losses. The only game in which they have not been competitive this season was the opener against the Eagles, who also handed the Steelers their only loss in painful fashion.
But today they are dealt no easy task. They are the first team to have the opportunity to face a likely very antsy Tom Brady, who is coming off of serving a four-game suspension that a litany of court cases strongly suggests he feels was unjust.
It’s generally not considered to be a luxury to face Brady and the Patriots’ offense, but adding into the mix a dash of that ‘us against the world’ mentality that had driven great New England teams of the recent past would seem on paper to be setting up the Browns for a slaughter.
And yet Cleveland has actually had success playing Brady and the Patriots in the recent past. In 2013, the Browns fell just a point shy behind New England, who put together a 16-point fourth quarter to secure the victory. In 2010, they actually won by 20 points with Colt McCoy at quarterback in his rookie season.
The Browns have another rookie under center in Cody Kessler, who bears some similarities to McCoy in ways beyond phonetics. Both were regarded as highly accurate passers coming out of college without significant arm strength, but with high football IQs and a mind for schemes and game planning, if I recall correctly.
Of course, a win six years ago doesn’t do much for Kessler and a young Browns offense that is far from establishing its identity, although they have had success running the ball, and are actually averaging more yards on the ground per game than anybody in the league, as I wrote about recently.
What might help is the possibility of getting some important pieces of the defense back this week. Although all of them are listed as questionable, three players who missed last week’s game are expected to return today with a degree of optimism behind them—remember, there is no ‘probable’ designation any longer.
The most significant name in the group is probably Ibraheim Campbell, who moved into the starting lineup at safety this year after the Browns lost both of their starting safeties over the course of the offseason.
Also making his way back is Tramon Williams, who moved into the slot as the nickel defender for Cleveland this year. The Browns have had mixed results in his absence from the slot position. And rookie defensive end Carl Nassib is expected to be back on the field after breaking his hand.
Will that be enough to stop an angry Top Brady? Well…probably not…not even close. But the Browns have exceeded the football world’s expectations of them against the Patriots before, as their last two results indicate.