It seemed like the Cleveland Browns were giving up on the 2013 season when the team traded running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round draft pick two weeks ago. Instead of leading the race for the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft, the Browns are 2-2 and in the hunt for the top spot in the AFC North.
The Buffalo Bills, who are also 2-2, will visit Cleveland at 8:25 p.m. Thursday in a primetime game on the NFL Network.
The Daily Messenger asked Steve Doerschuk, the Browns beat writer for the Canton Repository, some questions about this year's Cleveland team.
Q: How have things changed with the start of the Rob Chudzinski/Mike Lombardi regime?
A: Chudzinski is more dynamic than his predecessor, Pat Shurmur, and there is a better energy and confidence within the team. That counted for little prior to the two-game win streak, but then, it may have caused the two-game win streak. Lombardi is a highly secretive GM who operates with a very heavy Belichick influence. He has not been afraid to make controversial moves, a la bringing in Brian Hoyer and trading Trent Richardson.
Q: Why have the Browns started to win after trading Trent Richardson?
A: Richardson was one of the reasons the team lost last year and was off to a slow start. While it was shocking to trade a No. 3 overall pick from just a year ago, Richardson had mostly been ordinary or worse in most of his games, including the two he played this year. The spark provided by Brian Hoyer has offset any shock of trading a high pick. Plus, the three years of roster building done by GM Tom Heckert is paying off.
Q: Is Brian Hoyer the real deal at quarterback?
A: Nobody knows that, including Hoyer. One can't dismiss the limitations that kept him from being drafted in 2009 or persuaded Belichick to cut him last year. Yet, he had never gotten an extended chance in the NFL, and in the snippet of a chance he has had, he has excelled. The early evidence suggests he could be at least a competent long-term starter. He must prove he is more than that. If not, he will be replaced by a 2014 draft pick.
Q: The Browns don't have a lot of big names on defense. What makes that unit so effective?
A: They aren't big names, but they are good players. Marvin Lewis says inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is one of the most under-appreciated players in the league. Nose tackle Phil Taylor was a 2011 first-round pick who is emerging. No. 6 overall pick Barkevious Mingo looks like the real deal as a pass rusher (three games, three sacks). Cornerback Joe Haden has snuffed out Mike Wallace, Torrey Smith and A.J. Green and seems likely to make his first Pro Bowl. The starting lineup is filled with good players, if not stars.
Page 2 of 2 - Q: The Browns will come away with a win on Thursday if …
A: The offensive line gives Hoyer time to throw and the defensive front seven makes EJ Manuel look like a rookie. The latter is more likely to happen.
Follow Steve Doerschuk on Twitter at sdoerschukREP and Dan Goldman at MPN_Dan Goldman.