Yes. Finally. It's time for us to start our Cleveland Browns breakdowns as we lead up to the Bills' biggest game of the season. We're starting these breakdowns in spectacular fashion, as we're lucky enough to be joined this morning by Chris Pokorny, author extraordinaire of Dawgs By Nature, SB Nation's Browns blog. I posed five questions to Chris in regards to his beloved team, and he fired back some interesting responses.
On to the interview. My questions appear in bold.
Cleveland has a potent offense, and it's led by the surprising Derek Anderson. Is he now the "quarterback of the future"? What happens to Brady Quinn?
DBN: If for nothing more, Derek Anderson has secured a spot as the team's starting quarterback for next season. A win over the Buffalo Bills would basically clinch a postseason berth for us, making Anderson 10-4 as our starting quarterback. This isn't a Kyle Orton type of 10-4 record either, because Anderson has been vital in getting the football in the hands of our playmakers. He's had some issues that fans have complained about, but this is his first year as a full-time starting quarterback.
The deciding factor in whether or not he'd be our "quarterback of the future" would come next season. If Anderson is able to duplicate his effort (or perform better), then he should be the starter heading into the next decade. If regression is seen or if he starts throwing game-costing interceptions, then we'd have the luxury of going to Brady Quinn (who doesn't have too big of a contract).
Romeo Crennel entered this season squarely on the hot seat; 8 wins later, he's on the verge of a playoff berth. What changed for Crennel in his third year at the helm of the Browns? Is it safe to say he's off the hot seat now?
DBN: Winning games is the cure-all to coaches on the hot-seat (with the exception of some cases, i.e. Bill Parcells last season with the Cowboys). Overall, the changes for Browns came through the organization's offseason acquisitions on offense more than it did from anything Crennel did specifically. There was one primary goal for Crennel heading into the season: win two of our first three division games. In the first four weeks of the season, we played Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Baltimore all at Cleveland Browns Stadium. After we were blown out by the Steelers in Week 1, fans were counting the days down until Crennel would be fired. But then, everything changed. Anderson was the team's new starting quarterback, and we beat the Bengals and Ravens, as well as many other teams up until now.
With that said, I have liked some of Crennel's decisions better this season. He used to be horrible at deciding when to challenge plays (throwing the red flag on plays that didn't make sense to throw it on). He used to punt the ball in fourth-and-short situations, but now he's letting the offense go for it (a better offense probably has something to do with that). He never used to get fired up on the sidelines, but now there have been times where he has ripped into some players or referee decisions. Crennel's seat isn't hot anymore; we've got different (positive) issues to worry about at this point of the season compared to the past few years.
Cleveland has struggled a bit defensively this season. What has been their biggest problem - aging personnel, or a lack of great talent at certain positions?
DBN: That's the one thing that has frustrated me, especially over the past three weeks. Our defense has made drastic strides against the Houston Texans, Cardinals, and Jets, but every game comes down to a situation where you really wouldn't know it based on the end result. Against the Texans, we held Matt Schaub and company to ten points all game, but played prevent at the end to give up an easy touchdown. Against the Cardinals, the offense cost us 14 points early, while the defense kept sending Kurt Warner to the sidelines (until the end of the game, when Edgerrin James started to gash us). Meanwhile, the Jets couldn't do anything on offense all day last week, until the mid-way point of the fourth quarter when we were gashed by Thomas Jones. The common problem in each scenario? Our defense has problems closing out games.
The problem is not in the secondary, because our defensive backs hardly give up the deep ball anymore. That provides some problems because smart quarterbacks can consistently take what we give them. Our defensive line and linebackers have combined for higher energy in the first half of games at stopping the run, but the key for opposing teams is to wear us down and don't give up on the ground game. Also, we are completely lost when a team goes into the hurry-up offense because we either stop blitzing completely, or our blitzes take extra long to develop due to improper set-ups and fatigue. Our defensive line has made progress overall, but it remains the weakest part of our football team. This is the first year since returning to the league we've been able to protect a quarterback; we hope we can say that next season will be the first year in which we can knock the opposing quarterback down.
The Browns have a relatively easy road to clinching a playoff berth. Is this Bills matchup Cleveland's best and scariest game remaining on the schedule?
DBN: Everything changed when the Tennessee Titans lost to the San Diego Chargers this past Sunday. If the Titans had won, I would have said the game against the Bengals would have been the scariest game. The Browns have taken out everyone at home under Anderson this year, but we've been very vulnerable on the road and Cincinnati still has a high-octane offense.
Since the Titans lost though, the primary attention has become this week's game against the Bills (since we could afford to lose out after this game almost). I'm not taking Buffalo's offensive surge last week too seriously considering it came against the Miami Dolphins, but it doesn't help that the Bills are confident and fired up knowing that their season is on the line against us. Some teams simply find a way to win without knowing where it'll come from. There isn't a specific unit that beats a team because it's often a team effort that may see a different person shine each time. Two weeks ago, it was the running back everyone made fun of due to his college -- Fred Jackson -- and kicker Rian Lindell. Last week, it was tight end Robert Royal stepping up in the receiving game. With the Bengals, the Browns know we need to stop Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh to win. With the Bills? We could stop Lee Evans and Marshawn Lynch only to see Anthony Thomas leap off the injured reserve and change the complexion of the game.
If you had to choose one current Bills player to insert into Cleveland's lineup, who would it be and why?
DBN: I'd have to take cornerback Terrence McGee. I haven't been able to see many of the Bills' games this year, but historically I liked the role that he played alongside Nate Clements. McGee always seemed to provide a nice little spark with an interception or a big return (although we wouldn't need him on kick returns since we have Joshua Cribbs).
Be sure to frequent Dawgs By Nature this week for all the Browns news, info and expert opinions as you can stomach. Chris will be posting a reciprocal interview with me later on today as well, so be sure to check that out as the DBN community dissects my answers, and fear of the Bills floods their hearts.
We'll have one more quote from Pokorny later on this week - most likely Sunday morning - as he's given us his prediction for the game. We'll keep it saved up to get you all fired up on Sunday morning for the game's open thread.