Good morning, Cleveland Browns fans, and welcome to gameday! Be sure to check out our game preview and prediction for the Browns' Week 3 contest today against the Minnesota Vikings. In this week's edition of "The Sunday Five," I talk more about the departure of Trent Richardson, the demotion of Greg Little, wanting to see Brandon Weeden back in the lineup after this week, and more.
The Trent Richardson trade obviously dominated trade headlines this week, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the Browns heavily discussed in the pre-game and post-game shows today. When I was talking to a couple of Browns fans in-person this week, all of them seemed to be in favor of the trade for Richardson, and expressed a similar sentiment that I had: they were certainly shocked upon hearing the news, but they think it will benefit the club in the long run.
One of the people I was chatting with got to talking about the history of recent Browns running backs. Peyton Hillis was the talk of the town for one year (even making the cover of Madden), but then before we knew it, "poof," he was gone after a bizarre turn of events. Although the removal of Richardson from the roster came under very different circumstances, this is the second running back in a row who seemed to be highly touted before being sent elsewhere.
Then, we got to talking about Jerome Harrison and how he was also traded away from the team after the team put their faith in Hillis. That got me to thinking: believe it or not, I was actually more upset when we traded Harrison to the Eagles than I was when we traded Richardson to the Colts. That should tell you all you need to know about how average Richardson has looked so far, and how stunning it is that we actually got a first-round pick back for him.
During my training camp preview on wide receivers, I said the following:
You can debate who this team's No. 1 receiver is, but I'm going with Greg Little for the turning point he had mid-way last season. There are fans who still like to rag on Little's dropped passes, but anyone who watched the second half of last season would know that dropped passes are a thing of the past for him.
In a poll asking who fans thought the team's No. 1 receiver should be considered, 43% of the votes went to Little. How much a difference of two weeks make. Little was universally praised for the effort he gave in training camp, but his reputation has quickly gone down the tubes after consistently dropping on-point passes against the Dolphins and Ravens. He has been the single-most disappointing player for me of the 2013 season so far, and the coaching staff let him know it by announcing his demotion with the return of Josh Gordon this week.
There is still room for Little to get more focused and get back to the type of player he was the second half of last season, but taking a seat for the moment is the right move. Also, I think I dramatically under-estimated the value that Gordon has on the offseason when I made my preseason assessment. Gordon led the Browns in the preseason with 9 catches for 200 yards, and that is when Brandon Weeden and the offense looked like they were moving up-and-down the field with ease. We'll see how the chemistry between Gordon and Brian Hoyer today.
How can the Browns' coaching staff keep this team motivated after the trading of Richardson? First off, I think the veteran presence and overall demeanor of RB Willis McGahee can help smooth things over a bit. I can't stress how much an acquisition like that, on paper, is the perfect stop-gap solution for a team like Cleveland. Second, the coaching staff needs to tell this team to keep their eyes on the prize: with a win this week, the Browns could find themselves atop the AFC North.
Right now, the Ravens and Bengals are each 1-1, while the Browns and the Steelers are each 0-2. The other three teams in the division have home games, which plays in their favor. They face some incredibly tough competition, though. The Bengals will have to beat Aaron Rodgers and the high-octane Packers offense. The Ravens haven't looked impressive through two games, and get the Texans. The Steelers have looked pretty bad, and they have to face the Bears. If the Browns pull off a win and all those teams lose, Cleveland will be tied for first place and will return home to face the Bengals for the division lead in Week 4.
I am rooting for Brian Hoyer to be efficient this week en route to a Browns win, but I'm really hoping a possible good performance from him doesn't lead to a quarterback controversy dominating the headlines.
I will remain a supporter of Brandon Weeden, despite the events of this past week and the likeliness of the Browns drafting a new quarterback next year. I won't rest easy until I see how he performs with Gordon back in the lineup, and Shawn Lauvao protecting him as well. Here is a whacky possibility too: what if Weeden looks very good when he returns? Cleveland could consider using their two first-round picks on other areas of need in 2014. I'm just saying, let's not write him off completely after just two starts in this offense.
Last week, the inactive that I got wrong was DE Armonty Bryant -- he was inactive, but I didn't project that. With the injuries to QB Brandon Weeden and OLB Quentin Groves, and the return of WR Josh Gordon this week, the inactive list could look quite different. Here are my guesses for the Browns' gameday inactives against the Vikings (there are seven inactives required): QB Brandon Weeden, TE Keavon Milton, TE MarQueis Gray, OG Shawn Lauvao, OT Martin Wallace, DE Ahtyba Rubin, OLB Quentin Groves. A change this week would have OLB Paul Hazel playing with Groves out, and Milton being inactive by process of elimination.