<
>

Is the magic gone for last year's Cinderella?

9/17/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

BEREA, Ohio -- This week was a classic, gloomy Monday in Browns Town.

Coming off a 10th consecutive loss to their biggest rival, the first player Cleveland Browns head coach Romeo Crennel singled out for praise was the punter.

"Looking at it, I thought [Dave Zastudil] did a really good job, considering the wind and the weather," Crennel said about 12 hours after a 10-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The statement pretty much summed up the first two weeks for the 0-2 Browns. There aren't many kudos to go around for a group that hasn't resembled the 10-6 team of a year ago.

In fact, name five of the NFL's most disappointing teams so far, and Cleveland is likely on everyone's list. Just a month ago the Browns were the trendy pick to wreak havoc in the AFC.

Now Cleveland is wreaking havoc only on itself.

Here is a snapshot of what's gone wrong:

  • Star players have underperformed, particularly on offense. Pro Bowlers Braylon Edwards and quarterback Derek Anderson are well below their projected numbers. Anderson's 57.1 passer rating isn't getting it done, and Edwards has as many drops (five at least) as catches (five for 46 yards) through two games. It also appears Edwards has lost some confidence.

"I think Braylon is trying pretty hard when a ball comes his way because last game he dropped some," Crennel said. "Sometimes when you try hard, you tighten up a little bit and you don't relax. I think he's got to get to the point where he can relax and look the ball in and let it come to him the way it used to."

  • The offensive line has struggled. The Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers had their way with the right side of Cleveland's line, which has failed to dominate the way it did a year ago. The unit was widely considered one of the best entering the 2008 season.

"It's a lack of execution," Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said. "One or two guys on each play are not getting on the right guy and that's what happens when drives are stalling."

  • The coaching staff also deserves some of the blame. It's been well publicized this week that Crennel has struggled with his decision-making and clock management in the first two games. Also, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski strategically is failing to stay one step ahead of the defense. For example, having 5-foot-9 receiver Syndric Steptoe attempt to block the Steelers' front seven was a disadvantage for Cleveland every time. Steptoe, playing the role that the larger Joe Jurevicius normally plays, was unable to execute several seal blocks on running plays. That's an important part of the Browns' offense. And continuing to call plays for Edwards when he doesn't have it going only complicated matters. It's vital for Chudzinski to find his rhythm as well.

But the positive news for the Browns is it's extremely early.

Cleveland isn't the only NFL team with high expectations to get off to a disappointing 0-2 start. The San Diego Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks are also winless and hope to turn things around quickly.

Teams have reached the postseason before despite similar odds. In fact, the New York Giants accomplished that feat last season. They started 0-2, got hot at the right time and won the Super Bowl last February.

"We are that caliber type of team," Cleveland defensive lineman Shaun Smith said. "I feel like we're a good team. We're just trying to get over the hump."

The Browns will have to get back in the hunt with back-to-back games on the road before their bye week. It starts Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, who are 12-4 at home in division games since 2003, but one of those four losses did come against Cleveland last season in an overtime thriller at M&T Bank Stadium.

"The thing that has the impact is the next game and what we do in the next game," said Crennel, who also gets the Cincinnati Bengals on the road in Week 4. "The fact that the Giants went 0-2, I could talk to them about that, but we are not the Giants. We are the Cleveland Browns. What we need to do is win a game, so that is what my focus to the guys will be."