Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita (99) celebrates at the end of their NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010, at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. In Fujita's first game against his former team, the Browns won 30-17. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)
The Browns are off Thursday through Sunday because of their bye week, and I am, too. However, this blog will be back in full swing Monday morning when activities resume at the team's training facility in Berea. Until then, follow my lead and take some time to reflect on the first half of the season. Here are some thoughts that might help you get started with your own assessment of the team:
- What do you think of the 2-5 record? Obviously it's not a good record, but it meets my expectations. I actually thought the Browns would be 2-5 at this point, though they earned that record much differently than I anticipated. I thought they would win their first two games and lose five in a row. Instead, they fell to 0-2 after encountering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs. Their wins, of course, were against the Cincinnati Bengals and the New Orleans Saints. Every team can kick itself and ask, "What if?" But we all know the Browns could have and should have won those first two games. Too bad 4-3 is just a fantasy at this point.
- What will their record be at the end of the season? Well, before the season began, I picked them to finish 7-9. To do that, they must go 5-4 the rest of the way, and I still think they can. Here's a look at Cleveland's remaining opponents (and their records): New England Patriots (5-1), New York Jets (5-1), at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4), Carolina Panthers (1-5), at Miami Dolphins (3-3), at Buffalo Bills (0-6), at Cincinnati Bengals (2-4), Baltimore Ravens (5-2), Pittsburgh Steelers (5-1).
- Who's the offensive MVP?: Running back Peyton Hillis. He leads the team in rushing (104 carries, 460 yards, 4.4 average, five touchdowns) and is second in receiving (27 catches, 193 yards, one touchdown). He has also gained 38 of the team's 113 first downs (34 percent). Runner-up: Tight end Benjamin Watson. He's the leader in receiving (30 catches, 336 yards, two touchdowns) and second to Hillis in first downs with 18.
- Who's the defensive MVP?: Linebacker Scott Fujita. He's second on the team in tackles (44), second in sacks (3.5) and first in forced turnovers (three -- two forced fumbles and one interception). Runner-up: Rookie safety T.J. Ward. He leads the team with 54 tackles, and he has also forced a fumble and broken up three passes.
- What was the best play on offense?: Wide receiver Josh Cribbs' 65-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Seneca Wallace in Week 2 against the Chiefs. And the worst?: Left tackle Joe Thomas' failed pass block against Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Abraham, who rolled Wallace's ankle while dragging him down for a sack in Week 5.
- What was the best play on defense?: Linebacker David Bowens' 64-yard interception return for a touchdown, his second of the game, in Week 7 against the Saints. And the worst?: Pick any of cornerback Eric Wright's touchdowns allowed against Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin in Week 3. I'll take the second one during which Wright appeared to be completely turned around.
- What has been the biggest disappointment on offense?: I could say the lowly production from the wide receivers, but my expectations for that group were never high to begin with. Therefore, I'll pick the offensive line's letdowns, especially in pass protection. The team's top two quarterbacks were both sidelined after five games.
- What has been the biggest disappointment on defense?: Wright and fellow cornerback Sheldon Brown have been burned time and again for big passes, many of which have resulted in touchdowns. The entire defensive secondary played well against the Saints, but overall, Wright has regressed this season and Brown has not provided the upgrade the team had hoped for when it traded for him.
- What has been the biggest surprise on offense?: Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy didn't get to spend this season learning from the sideline. As for his performances in his two starts, he has been solid in two extremely hostile environments: Heinz Field and the Superdome.
- What has been the biggest surprise on defense?: Many of my predictions will prove to be wrong, but I was actually right about nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin. His performance late last season was not a fluke. He's tied for fourth on the team with 33 tackles, and he also has an interception. Shaun Rogers has been hindered by injuries all season, but Rubin is not starting because of Rogers' health. Rubin is starting because he deserves to be starting.
- Did you forget special teams? No. Punter Reggie Hodges is the MVP for filling in admirably for the injured Dave Zastudil. His 68-yard run on a fake punt in Week 7 against the Saints was Cleveland's best special-teams play of the season. The biggest disappointment on special teams has been Cribbs' inability to return a punt or a kickoff for a touchdown. It would be shocking if it doesn't happen at all this season.
- How have the coaches done? Coach Eric Mangini and Co. can't control turnovers, penalties and injuries. But they can control whether or not their players are in the best positions to succeed. They have not always done that this season, but they did it against the Saints. Their creativity in Week 7 -- Brad Seely's tricks on special teams, Rob Ryan's disguise of coverages and Brian Daboll's call for Hillis to throw to McCoy on a crucial third-down -- must be commended. If the Browns want to win more games in the second half of the season, that kind of play calling and game planning must continue.
- What has been the best part about watching the Browns this season?: The development of Ward and cornerback Joe Haden, the team's top two picks from this year's draft, gives hope for a bright future. Ward has started every game, and Haden plays in nickel and dime situations. Both have been stellar on defense and also on special teams.
- What has been the worst part about watching the Browns this season?: They blew fourth-quarter leads in each of their first three games. Also, it's been agonizing to wonder how good the running game might have been this season if rookie Montario Hardesty could have stayed healthy and complemented Hillis.