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Dissecting the anatomy of a trap game

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Going Long with Geisler

By Andrew Geisler, For The Miami Student

After a week of praise, the Cleveland Browns lost this Sunday to the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars. The team now sits at 3-3 - the same place it was last year before losing all of its last 10 games, going 4-12 and ending Rod Chudzinski's run as coach after just one year. This offseason, the Browns were forced to settle for longtime Rex Ryan hand Mike Pettine after numerous more highly regarded potential coaches turned down an interview.

So far, Pettine's Browns have been impressive. Blowing out the Pittsburgh Steelers, mounting the biggest road comeback in NFL history and beating the New Orleans Saints on an impressive last minute drive. Until Sunday, the Browns had been in every game, losing by a combined three points before going down 24-6. Browns fans are likely allowing their thoughts to turn dark about the team and coach they felt so good about just a week ago, but there's no reason to despair after the Browns simply fell into a classic NFL trap game. Three main factors worked together to ensure the Browns fell into a well-set trap.

First was the weather. The Browns are used to going 50 to 60 degree weather this time of year. That's what they practice in. It was 80 degrees in Jacksonville. This might sound like a pathetic excuse, but it is a typical factor in an NFL trap game. The long trips and the different weather often cause road teams to struggle. Second, few NFL teams go 0-16. These teams, even the very worst, are not particularly far apart in talent level. The Jags lost the week before because they missed a game winning field goal. They played the Steelers close the week before and only lost 17-9.

Professional athletes, even if their team is horrible, get sick of losing after a while. Even if the Jags win just two or three games this year, the rest of their wins will be in trap games as well. And it's quite easy to trap a team that's too high on itself.

That was the Browns this weekend; they played like a team that read its own press clippings heading into an "easy" game. Peter King had the Browns in his Fine 15 of his widely read 'Monday Morning Quarterback' column and others really started buying into the Browns.

Browns players began buying into themselves too. The news broke this week that quarterback Brian Hoyer, whose contract is up this year, won't sign back with the team if Johnny Manziel is on the roster. A story like this tends to be leaked from the players' camp of associates.

Pair all these factors together and you get a classic NFL trap that shouldn't have shocked the commentators as much as it did.

It's understandable to be high on yourself after a big win. Crushing the Steelers was great for Browns fans, but it may have made all of us a bit too high on a team whose best case scenario is to go 8-8 or 9-7. This kind of a finish would please Browns fans. It has been far too long since Cleveland saw a winning, or even average football team.

Hoyer has been good this year too, but it was a bit early to start making roster demands. If he has too many repeat performances of Sunday, when he went 16 of 41 passing with a key interception, the team will have no qualms about letting him walk.

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It's likely that when all is said and done this season, the AFC North will see two of its teams playing in the first round of the NFL playoffs. The South is down, and the Colts are the only likely playoff team from there. Same with the East; despite some early glitches, the Patriots appear to be on track.

Early on this year, it looked as if the Bengals were the class of the division. Now their lauded defense has seen some chinks in its armor, and they've caught the injury bug in a serious way. The Ravens are on track, and the Steelers appear to be down again.

It is safe to bet the Bengals get back on track and make their third straight post-season appearance. This may not be a pleasant thought for Browns fans who thought this year might be the first year since the 2002-2003 season they would see a playoff game, but net-net, things are looking up for the Browns.

The key to sustained success is allowing Pettine to develop a culture and keeping offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan around as long as possible. Hopefully owner Jimmy Haslam stays out of the way enough.

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