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Week 1 Reflections: Eagles at Browns - Why I shouldn't be discouraged, but am anyway

The Cleveland Browns defense looked awesome against an Eagles team that create a lot of offense.
The Cleveland Browns defense looked awesome against an Eagles team that create a lot of offense.

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory: The Cleveland Browns lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 17-16 in heartbreaking fashion that Browns fans are all too familiar with.

Why I shouldn't be discouraged:

The defense.

It's been said countless times since the game, but it's worth reiterating in times like these. The defense played incredibly well, despite allowing the second most yards of any team on Sunday, 456 total. They were creating turnovers. I want to emphasize "creating," because I've heard people stressing the idea that Michael Vick was just playing terrible. While that's true, it was a directly caused by the Browns' defense. The Browns' defensive line was phenomenal yesterday, consistently putting pressure on Vick. The defense took advantage of the opportunities and created turnovers.

I understand that some fans are going to have high expectations. I'm certainly not going to tell them that they shouldn't. But, there's also nothing wrong with being realistic. The Browns came into this game as very significant underdogs. The spread was anywhere from 7 to 10 points in favor of the Eagles. Not only did the Browns cover, but they were in a position to win the game on multiple occasions.

Ultimately, they couldn't pull through, but there are legitimate reasons for optimism.

Why I am anyway:

The offense.

They were terrible, up and down. There aren't really any excuses for how poorly they played, even against a very good Eagles' defense. This goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: They need to play better. The Browns defense gave them every opportunity to take control or put it away. The offense continually failed to take advantage of that. You can't seriously ask your defense for five takeaways every week. What's going to happen when those turnovers aren't there? That thought worries me a lot with this Browns team.

Weeden played historically bad, yes. But, he wasn't the only one with a poor outing. Trent Richardson, in his first real game since the 2012 BCS National Championship Game, only averaged 2.1 yard-per-carry on 19 rushes. He missed all of preseason after having his knee scoped. His only highlight of the day came on a game-long 9-yard rush where he knocked off the helmet of safety Kurt Coleman, who led the Eagles in tackles and topped it off with two interceptions, including the game-winner.

The Browns offensive line also struggled against a very good Eagles' Wide 9 defensive line. Meanwhile, the wide receiver corps is what we've come to expect. To quote the infamous Dennis Green line, "They are who we thought they were." Despite that, the Browns have to demand more from them if they want to win games.

Check out plenty of more specific notes from the game after the jump...

Other takes in the order that I noted them (chronological):

  • T.J. Ward is back: He had an absolutely great game. He needs to stay healthy, because his impact on this secondary is very apparent.
  • Billy Winn looked great: In Phil Taylor's absence, this rookie out of Boise State stepped up and played extremely well for a rookie, let alone a sixth-round pick. If he keeps this up, he's going to be the steal of the draft.
  • Weeden had two wide-open TD passes overthrown: I don't mean to pile on, but those plays were just hard to watch. He missed a handful of other open receivers throughout the game as well. There's nowhere to go but up at this point for the rookie, right?
  • Phil Dawson, in his 200th game, was great, as per usual: Congratulations to Phil Dawson on this 200th career game, all of them coming in the orange and brown. He deserves these accolades.
  • Josh Cribbs is back to returning and appeared to be on his way up again: Cribbs averages just over 30 yards per kick return. It appeared to me that he had that spark back. I think he's going to take one back for a touchdown soon.
  • Greg Little needed to make that catch when Travis Benjamin put them in the red zone: Things went down hill for this offense right after that happened. This is obvious, but the Browns need to fix the drops.
  • Penalties were killing the Eagles, but the replacement refs were fine: Consider me on the bandwagon of those that were pleasantly surprised with the replacement refs. It was said that games such as the Eagles at Browns were going to get the lower-end of replacement officials. If that was the worst of them, then the NFL is in fine shape as far as those negotiations are going.
  • Owen Marecic isn't good: Luckily for the Browns, fullback isn't a very important position for the West Coast offense. That's what I keep hearing. Marecic wasn't catching out of the backfield or blocking all the well either.
  • L.J. Fort dropped an otherwise game-changing interception, but so did Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: I've heard a lot about how the Browns were L.J. Fort's hands away from winning this game. While that may be the case, his hands also gave us one of the picks that helped them keep it as close as it was. Rodgers-Cromartie also dropped an easy interception.
  • D'Qwell Jackson is back and worth every penny of that contract: Jackson had a fantastic game. I cannot say enough good things about him. His performance was what the Browns linebacker corps desperately needed and he more than delivered.
  • Thank Andy Reid for continually passing the ball as LeSean McCoy averaged 5.5 yards-per-carry: This one still boggles the mind, even though it's status quo for Reid. We could all be having entirely different conversations had they Eagles not leaned so heavily on the pass.
  • I still blame the Browns' offense for the influx of fans demanding Colt McCoy: The most effective way to silence your critics, especially in football, is to simply play well. You don't want a QB controversy? Go out there and prove there isn't one. I say that understanding that there really isn't any QB controversy outside of the fringe fans whose "favorite player in town is always the backup quarterback." That cliche is as true in Cleveland as anywhere.