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Published: Wednesday, 10/16/2002

Play of Browns last season sent wrong message

You're preaching to the choir, Butch Davis. I understand your frustration. I understand your pain.

But it's your own fault. You created this dilemma.

You coached the Cleveland Browns to a 7-9 record in your first season. You gave Browns fans hope and inspiration.

A year later, you're 2-4 and preaching for patience. You're asking the congregation to love thy neighbor and cut the Browns some slack. Treat 'em like they're still an expansion team.

It's too late for that.

From Davis' standpoint, what he said this week about not being able to build the Browns into winners overnight, that is absolutely correct.

Davis is new around here, of course. Otherwise he wouldn't underestimate the power of optimism as it pertains to Browns fans.

Davis' comments on Monday weren't the first time he has openly discussed the state of his football team. For those paying attention, that same theme of hold your horses was repeated by Davis last year.

The Browns are an organization, on the field and off, in transition. They've changed coaches, but players from the Chris Palmer era remain. Players like quarterback Tim Couch and defensive end Courtney Brown.

Remember, players make the system, no matter who's wearing the headset.

The Browns still can't run the football. Their offensive line still springs leaks. And their quarterback still looks confused.

It says right here that we still don't know if Couch is the best quarterback to lead this offense, because there isn't enough balance between the run and pass.

Davis loves Couch's upside, but Couch has played poorly in three of his four starts this year. Couch was 20 of 40 for 151 yards and one interception in Sunday's 17-3 loss at Tampa Bay.

Just as significant, however, the Browns had 18 carries for 60 yards against the Buccaneers. Rookie disappointment William Green gained 22 yards on eight carries.

Kicker Phil Dawson, whose 50-yard field goal averted a shutout, remains Cleveland's most reliable offensive weapon.

Defense, the linchpin of last year's team, isn't producing enough big plays to ignite the work-in-progress offense.

Last year the Browns led the NFL in turnovers. Without the defensive cushion it enjoyed last year, the offense is being exposed.

The first player selected in the 2000 draft, Brown is a target of offensive coordinators who consider him a weak link. As Brown struggles to remain on the field, it's important to remember that Davis didn't draft him.

Davis has only two drafts under his belt with the Browns. That's not enough time to make an accurate assessment of his coaching ability. He's going to need a couple of more drafts before he puts his stamp on the team.

Last year Davis received too much credit for the Browns overachieving. This year he's receiving too much blame as they seek their true level.

After six games in 2002, Cleveland resembles a fourth-year expansion team rather than a playoff contender. Go easy on Davis, because his Browns are right on schedule.

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