Things did not go as the Cleveland Browns planned on Sunday, to say the least. After all, they were leading a four-game winning streak and were scoring more than 30 points per game during that time. Nobody expected them to be held to just seven points for the entire game—or to lose by 31 points.
But they are now 4-2 on the season, still by far the best record that they have had in some time—yet they are 1-2 in the AFC North, and 0-2 against division opponents with winning records, being outscored 76-13 combined in those two games, having been blown out by the Baltimore Ravens in week one and then earlier this week by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
What does that say about their place in the division? What does it say that their victories have come against the Bengals, Washington, the Cowboys, and the Colts? Of that group, only Indianapolis can even make a coherent case for being a good team.
After Sunday’s blowout, Pro Bowl cornerback Denzel Ward, a former top-10 draft pick, was asked about this, and if it feels as though the Steelers and Ravens are playing on another level within the division that they haven’t shown they can reach.
“No, I do not believe that they are necessarily on a different level”, he said. “There are things that we have to get better at and work on. Missed some opportunities yesterday. I do not think the final score was a tale of how the game went. Like I said, we let some things get away from us, but we could definitely compete with these teams and compete with whoever in the league. There are just things we have to work on”.
There is quite a bit to work on, to be fair, as the defense has also been giving up more than 30 points per game. They simply have been able to outscore their opponents. The defense was producing splash plays, but the Steelers did not allow that to happen, and they couldn’t get anywhere.
The Browns have been riding their own hype train for two years now and they have yet to really leave the station. After a blowout loss with a 4-1 record heading into it, they may have as many doubters as they have had at any point in the past year and a half, even though they are well-positioned to reach the postseason via the wildcard.
That’s not to say they can’t put things together. This roster does have a lot of talent, and Kevin Stefanski doesn’t seem to be as naïve as his predecessors. Maybe he can eventually turn things around and allow this team to be competitive when it matters. But they have a lot to prove before they get to that point or are taken seriously.