Yesterday I posted my preview of this week’s game in Cleveland. After reading a reading a review of the Browns as they head into the game, written by Terry Pluto of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, I feel justified in my belief that the Bengals can win. Terry’s job, like Joe Reedy’s for the Enquirer, requires that he be honest about the warts as well as the bright spots for the team he covers. He lists several of the concerns that I did, plus a few more.
Since their return in 1999, the Browns have been in perennial transition. This year will mark the fifth head coach and tenth quarterback to begin Opening Day for Cleveland. This year, new coach Pat Shurmur is bringing back the variation of the West Coast offense that was scrapped by Romeo Crennel in 2005. DC Dick Jauron is also taking the team back to a 4-3 defense. So once again, change is the constant in Cleveland as they grope for the right combination to put wins on the board.
The offensive line has injury concerns. Eric Steinbach’s back injury forces Cleveland to start either a rookie in Jason Pinkston or a waiver wire pick-up in Artis Hicks, released by the Redskins, at left guard. Further complicating things is that injury-riddled Tony Pashos has been in a walking boot. Of course the team insists the boot “is not a big deal,” but we know about right tackles in walking boots. Cleveland could be forced to play Oniel Cousins, pick-up from the Ravens, more than they would prefer. They are dangerously close to fielding a front five with two players who have taken very few snaps with the others.
Patchwork offensive lines are dangerous things. Ask Carson Palmer. Colt McCoy could learn the same lesson. The hard way.
There is likely trouble at linebacker. Starter Scott Fujita was out part of the preseason with injury, and starter Chris Gocong is still not practicing after suffering a neck stinger which is causing weakness in his arm, leaving him questionable for Sunday. Weakness here will further open the Bengals’ running game as well as the short passing game.
Running back could be a thin position. The Browns like Montario Hardesty, but he has had problems staying healthy. I noted yesterday that Hardesty will likely be of little impact against the Bengals as he has hardly worked in the preseason and is still getting into game shape. If his health problems continue, the Browns will have to find help for Hillis before he takes too much pounding.
Football has always been a game where an injury can change everything. The loss of Steinbach is already one significant blow to a team short on depth. If right tackle, running back and/or linebacker remain shaky, trouble is brewing for the Browns.
Cautious optimism for Game 1 is reasonable, Bengals fans.