By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com
As the choking fog from the Browns’ 33-14 loss to the Rams in Preseason Game 3 begins to fade, a bit of clarity has emerged from the cloud of desperation that grips an increasingly-uneasy fan base.
Whether it’s the reality that nothing is ever as bad as it initially seems, or just the unrelenting determination that assumes things must get better, because they can’t possibly get worse, there are several legitimate reasons to believe the Sept. 7 opener at Pittsburgh won’t be the embarrassment last Saturday night against St. Louis suggested.
If you feel like your fingers just can’t hold onto the railing of the 480 bridge much longer, here are four reasons to maintain your grip that the 2014 regular season might not start as poorly as you fear.
As bad as the Browns looked in losing to the Rams, at least they walked off the field hanging their heads in shame instead of being carted off in an ambulance. Imagine how you’d feel if the Browns had five starters go down in the first half.
St. Louis suffered that damaging reality, ultimately losing quarterback Sam Bradford for the season.
Sure, Brian Hoyer looked bad, and so did Justin Gilbert and Mitchell Schwartz, and….
But at least they’re all still vertical and their backups remain backups.
The Browns’ putrid performance earned the starters rare duty in the fourth preseason game, Thursday against Chicago. At the very least, that eliminates the first team having two full weeks off between games before they debut at Heinz Field.
The past two seasons, head coaches Pat Shurmur and Rob Chudzinski believed it wise to sit the starters in Preseason Game 4 to guard against injury. Better they had risked someone getting hurt and had the surviving portion of the starting lineup at peak efficiency for the opener.
We haven’t seen much of rush linebacker Jabal Sheard, a player Browns coach Mike Pettine raved about prior to training camp. Pettine must be saving something Sheard-related for Pittsburgh.
Where might be be deployed? Only Pettine knows.
But given the Browns’ coach’s expertise in scheming blitz packages, perhaps Sheard will be enough to significantly slow the Steelers’ offense.
Pettine said Sunday he’s confident the Browns will have a winning plan in place for their trip to Pittsburgh. Of course, what else is he going to say?
However, the calendar does suggest the Browns could dramatically improve over the 10 days between their exhibition finale against Chicago and the regular-season debut.
Because that period to tunnel in on Pittsburgh allows the Browns greater attention to detail than they were afforded during a stretch of playing their final three exhibition games over an 11-day span.
It stands to reason that 10 solid days of preparation for one game should result in a much sharper performance at Pittsburgh than exhibited in three games over an 11-day span.
|Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”|
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