Browns vs. Bengals: How good can this offense become?

A quick dialogue providing sporadic insight from Browns writer Rich Primo and Browns gamblCroweller Mike Hattery.

Mike: Alright Rich, as EHC’s resident Cleveland Browns writer, it seems as if they are facing their first big litmus test of the season. The Browns have had the softest strength of schedule in football so far in 2014, the question being are they a solid team taking care of business or the best bad team? Can they make a statement tonight?

Rich: I think they’re a mediocre team, which is a step up from being a bad team like last year. They’re dangerous. If you look at their numbers, they’re kind of middle of the pack and I think that describes them pretty well. I think if Mack doesn’t go down that they are a bit more dangerous than now, but I don’t think they’re the kind of team that can get walked all over. They need to get the run reestablished.

What I wonder is how they’ll be in 3 weeks when Gordon is back. Will teams be able to crowd the box like they did in the past?

What do you think?

Mike: I think the re-establishment of the run is absolutely essential. This is a team that with Alex Mack was one of the best teams at running the football, once he goes down, they are one of the worst. Ultimately, this isn’t all Nick McDonald’s fault, Tate has lacked vision at times especially for a guy this experienced with a zone blocking scheme. The Gordon question is really interesting. In a way it has had its blessings, Taylor Gabriel looks like a really solid, complimentary type who can stretch the field, Austin is a veteran who makes a lot of important plays, and Hawkins has shown an ability to be both a security blanket and a guy who can grab 20 plus in the open field.

With Gordon they can really open it up, I think it clears out a little safety help which we have seen lately. If they can get Cameron and Gordon back for six weeks, this offense could be a top 10 offense. Not popular but a secretly compelling offense to watch in the second half.
I think if they can steal one or two of the next three, and get those offensive reinforcements back, it gets really interesting, they become very dangerous.
How do you think it shakes out the rest of the way?

Rich: Honestly I would be happy if they went 4-4 the rest of the way, and that’s a bit of what I am expecting. That would finish out the season at 9-7, which for me would be impressive. I don’t feel great about tonight’s game, but pretty good about the Texans game. After that I have no real expectations because of the entry of Gordon and hopefully Cameron staying on the field. That’s been a challenge for him this season.

I think we see Hoyer finish out the season as the starting QB, barring a complete collapse, which I am not expecting. (I’m actually working on an article about that) I’d also like to see our front seven get and stay healthy. I don’t want to be THAT Browns fan who blames everything on injuries, but it has been a bad year for that.
I have been very underwhelmed with Tate, which I was expecting good things from. Last week was a good example of that. I like West, but sometimes he runs like Tate. Crowell is a nice back, and it disappoints me that they don’t play him. Maybe other parts of his game are missing, but that guy’s like a run away tank, especially if he gets past the line.
What do you think?

Mike: The injuries have been particularly daunting, fans tend to overestimate skill position injury impact and underestimate that of the trenches. While the Cameron injury has been frustrating the injury to Mack, and further almost constant injury issues with the defensive front has been a major issue.

I see three and five the rest of the way with the caveat that a motivated Josh Gordon and healthy Jordan Cameron could make this an actual contender. Gordon is an absolutely incredible athlete, special really, and when motivated it sets this Browns team up to be able to score with a lot of teams due to its effect on all aspects of the offense.
As for Crowell, you know where I stand. I love this guys talent, I think he is the most explosive back on this team, a pounding runner with the burst to make big plays. How they handle the running back situation moving forward is one of the really interesting subplots for the remaining eight games. I have the sneaking suspicion that due to the limited size of Tate’s contract, cutting him after the season and turning over the keys to West and Crowell is very likely.
Which brings us to today’s game. I have the Browns surprising the Bengals 23-20. What do you have Rich?
Rich: Browns lose an ugly one 23-13.
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