When the Washington Redskins stopped Cleveland's Jim Brown last Sunday, they proved rather clearly why the Browns will win the Eastern Conference championship in the National Football League. While the Redskins were gang-tackling Brown on nearly every play, Cleveland's fine halfback, Bobby Mitchell, skittered like a frightened water bug through the weakened Washington defense. He gained 232 yards in 14 carries, scored three touchdowns and showed that Cleveland's is a many-splendored attack, no longer pegged exclusively on the running of Jim Brown. Cleveland defeated Washington 31-17 and moved into a tie for first place in the East with the New York Giants, who lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 14-9.
The Giant- Pittsburgh game pointed up the other reason why Cleveland will be Eastern Conference champions. Each club in the National Football League is made up essentially of two football teams—an offensive unit and a defensive one. The Giant defensive team is probably a shade better than Cleveland's. But the Brown offensive team is far superior to the Giants. In their last two games the Giants have not managed a touchdown; this is no disgrace against the very strong, intelligent defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but a week ago Sunday the Giants could not cross the goal line of the Chicago Cardinals, who are resting comfortably in last place in_ the East, having given up 183 points in eight games.
"Your defense can't carry you forever," Coach Jim Lee Howell said after the Pittsburgh loss. "You have to put 7 on the scoreboard once in a while to win."
Jim Brown, of course, is still a big part of the admirably balanced Cleveland offense, but he is only a part. Early in the year he comprised the Brown attack. He is still the best running back in football—big, very-fast and incredibly well balanced when he runs. No longer, though, can a team delegate most of its defense to stopping Brown; Washington did and found itself winning a battle but losing a war.
The pattern of what was about to happen for the rest of the afternoon was set in Cleveland's first series of downs from scrimmage. Milt Plum pitched out to Brown, and the entire Redskin defense fell on him for a three-yard loss. On the next play Plum faked to Brown, pitched out to Mitchell, and the halfback went 90 yards to a touchdown.
But the added threat of Mitchell outside would not in itself make the Cleveland offense the deadly weapon it has become. A great deal of the credit goes to Milt Plum, and even more to the man who has been the Cleveland Browns since the team's inception in 1946—small, balding, intense Paul Brown, the head coach and general manager of the team. Brown is a brilliant football strategist but, more important, he is a patient man. It took all of his patience to wait while Plum learned the intricacies of the pro quarterback's trade.
"He is a young man," Brown said recently. "He had a good deal to learn. But he is learning it." One of the lessons which Plum has mastered is the art of waiting. This is not as easy as it sounds, since it is natural for a quarterback, in imminent danger of being demolished, to throw too quickly.
"The other day Plum showed how well he has assimilated this lesson," Brown said. "He dropped back to pass, and his primary receiver was covered. He looked for the next receiver, and he was covered. Finally, he threw to Billy Howton, the third man, and connected. Our patterns are designed so that the successive receivers will break open at two, four and six seconds. Plum a year ago might have seen the second receiver, but he would never have waited for the third."
Plum, too, has corrected some of the very small faults which can mean the difference between good and great quarterbacks. The nearly imperceptible head and eye fakes which help the league's best quarterbacks come naturally to him now. Plum used to drop back to pass with the ball held at waist level and then lose a precious fraction of a second in cocking his arm. Now he carries the ball at shoulder level, in position to pass instantly.
"I feel a lot more confident this year," Plum says. "For one thing, I've got three good receivers in Renfro, Howton and Preston Carpenter. Last year I had only Renfro and Carpenter. And by now I can anticipate their moves and throw to where they will be. Last year I had to wait until they actually made the move. I'm getting better protection, too. Last year the blocking was set up to open holes for Brown, and it seemed that whenever I called a pass there was no blocking at all."