Browns Are Passing Force So Far This Season

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

BEREA, Ohio (AP) - A no-huddle offense. Four, five receivers at a time. Spread formations. Fifty pass attempts. An average of 30 points a game.

Anybody seen the Cleveland Browns?

The franchise that brought the NFL Hall of Fame running backs Marion Motley, Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly has suddenly gone pass happy.

They've looked more like the Brigham Young Browns through three games this season.

"I love it," said quarterback Tim Couch, the AFC's offensive player of the week. "I've got a lot more weapons this year."

And the Browns have shown that they're not afraid to use them. Cleveland's receivers have carried the Browns' offense so far this season, making 81 receptions and catching nine touchdown passes to tie them with New England for the conference lead.

They're also the main reason the Browns have scored 90 points in three games -- their most productive three-game stretch since 1989.

Kevin Johnson (21 catches) and Quincy Morgan (16) have become a solid 1-2 punch and are ranked in the AFC's top 10 in receiving yards. Rookie Andre' Davis (12) has four TD catches already, and running back Jamel White (15) creates mismatches with his speed.

After three games last season, the Browns had only one receiver with double-digit receptions.

"Week in and week out all those guys are making plays," said Couch, who went 36-for-50 for 326 yards in his season debut last week. "Not only are they catching the deep ball, but they're taking short passes and turning them into long gains. That's all you can ask for."

The Browns are airing it out these days out of necessity. With their offensive line reshuffled because of injuries and with rookie running back William Green struggling, they haven't been able to run the ball.

Cleveland, the NFL's worst rushing team a year ago, is averaging just 75 yards a game on the ground for a ranking of 24th.

Coach Butch Davis wants to establish the Browns as a grind-it-out-between-the-tackles team. But until his line gets healthy and Green -- averaging just 2.4 yard per carry -- gets straightened out, that's not possible.

"You want to be balanced," Davis said. "Ideally, I'd like to be able to go out there and throw for 300 yards and run for 150. But some days you have to throw for 400 and run for 70.

"We're going to do whatever it takes to win and utilize the weapons and talents that we've got. Right now, we're throwing the ball better than we are running the ball and we're throwing it more than maybe some people envisioned."

The Browns wasted no time showing off their air arsenal last week in a 31-28 overtime victory at Tennessee.

Using a no-huddle, spread formation -- lining up receivers and backs far to the outside -- on their opening drive, the Browns went 78 yards and took a 7-0 lead when Couch hit Davis with a 14-yard pass.

Trailing by 14 points in the fourth quarter, the Browns again emptied their backfield and Couch picked apart Tennessee's secondary with short, quick passes.

That could be the game plan for 60 minutes on Sunday when the Browns (2-1) visit the Pittsburgh Steelers, whose pass defense has been exploited twice this season.

The Steelers have given up 649 passing yards in losses to New England and Oakland. In both games, the Patriots and Raiders used multi-receiver formations and threw underneath the coverage to expose Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense.

"People have been throwing a lot on them," Couch said. "What surprised me was that it was mostly short passes and crossing routes. They threw it 60, 70 times, but there weren't a lot of deep balls. That's kind of what we've been doing, so hopefully this could work out good for us."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)