Saturday, November 10, 2012

Bye-week thoughts

More and more, especially on the collegiate level, we are witnessing the disappearance of the offensive huddle.

That little respite where players get a chance to catch their breaths and prepare for the next play is going the way of the telephone booth.

And it’s not as though some National Football League teams haven’t noticed. Just about every NFL team has a no-huddle scheme in its playbook. Only problem is most use it only when in desperation mode, such as battling from behind with precious little time left in the game.

Then there are those teams that break out the hurry-up in the middle of a game. Or at the beginning of the game.

It is a strategic little gem that teams brave enough to use it usually succeed because it generally catches the opposition off guard. And in the sophisticated football world of today, that mitigates against situational substituting.

The idea of the no-huddle is to keep the opposition from changing personnel between snaps, creating an immediate advantage. If you don’t change your personnel, they can’t. Not enough time.

Teams like the New England Patriots, New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos and even the Indianapolis Colts run the no-huddle effectively. Why? Smart quarterbacks. Quarterbacks who have no problem identifying opposing defenses on the fly and making the correct call to beat them.

So why do the Colts have a rookie guiding their offense? Because he’s smart, that’s why. Oliver Luck, who has the perfect pro football pedigree, has stepped right in with the Colts and performed like a seasoned veteran.

Sure, he has made mistakes, but his knowledge of the game from the neck up might not be as good right now as that of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning, but he’s catching up rapidly.

There are others in the NFL capable of running the no-huddle like New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers, but their coaches are satisfied they can be just as effective operating outside that world.

The no-huddle is all about quickness and execution, two of the reasons Browns coaches probably have no plans to break it out in the middle of a game. Catch the opposition off guard. Control the tempo of a game. That’s primarily what an effective no-huddle does, requiring the aforementioned attributes.

But it’s not as though Brandon Weeden can’t operate the hurry-up. He gathered plenty of experience in that scheme in his final two seasons at Oklahoma State, where Cowboys coach Mike Gundy’s offense dials up up-tempo for 60 minutes.

Weeden thrived in this offense at OSU, throwing for 9,004 yards in 26 games with 71 touchdowns and 26 interceptions, and completing 69.8% of his 1,075 passes. Breaking that down, he averaged 41.35 passes and 346.3 yards a game, all the while operating the no-huddle from the shotgun.

Weeden obviously has the brain power to operate such an offense. But this is the NFL, where defenses can be complicated and confuse a young quarterback. However, those defenses lose their effectiveness when called on to do something out of the ordinary. Like remain on the field and get ready for the next snap in a matter of seconds.

All it takes is streamlining the play calls. Instead of the complicated nomenclature coaches love to assign plays, a much easier approach is using a number or letter to designate the play. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen in Cleveland. At least not with this coaching staff.

When Pat Shurmur leaves, his successor hopefully will be much more flexible in his offensive approach to the game. He needs to be open to any and all avenues that take advantage of the personnel on hand.

Shurmur is trying to fit that square peg into that round hole with Weeden and it’s not working. By refusing to take advantage of Weeden’s natural talent by stubbornly jamming the west coast offense scheme down his quarterback’s throat, he’s greasing his slide out of town.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s not a bad thing after all.
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Then, there’s the pass rush. Or lack of same.

The Browns have racked up 20 sacks thus far this season, which puts them on a pace to better last season’s total of 32.  But a perusal of the figures reveals some interesting conclusions.

Of those 20 sacks, 10 have been produced by the defensive line, six by linebackers and three by the secondary with one team tackle. Of those 10 sacks, eight were recorded in the first two games and 13 in the first four games.

In the last five games, the Browns have totaled seven sacks, including four in the loss to Indianapolis in week seven. In four of the last five games, they have sacked the quarterback two or fewer times.

The inconsistency is startling and has to be a concern for the coaching staff, which doesn’t seem to know what kind of a defense it wants. Sometimes, it lies back and plays zone, relying on the four men up front to create pressure. Other times, defensive coordinator Dick Jauron employs the blitz with man coverage.

The Cleveland defense does not have a personality. You don’t know what you’ll see from series to series. There’s nothing wrong with disguising the defense. But choosing one approach and sticking with it might not be a bad idea.

Aggressive or passive . . . that’s the question. I’m an aggressive guy who likes to create havoc against the offense and that means pounding the quarterback at every available opportunity. Make him throw the ball before he wants.

Will that happen with the Browns in the final seven games? With the passive Jauron calling the shots, probably not.
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New Browns President and CEO Joe Banner says in an interviews with the Plain Dealer that wins and losses will not be the determining factor in how he structures his front office and coaching staff.

He also says the possibility exists that Shurmur and General Manager Tom Heckert Jr. will survive what most believe will be a purge of that front office.

Pardon my cynicism, but I don’t believe a word of that. Not one syllable. At least the part about Shurmur.

But if I’m wrong and Shurmur is retained as the head coach of the Browns next season, it will prove once and for all that this franchise can’t help itself from making the same mistakes over and over and over again.

The dark shadow of doom continues to hang over this franchise. When Mike Holmgren was brought on board, I thought the culture in Berea would change. And then he retained Eric Mangini as his coach.

What is it about this franchise that leads relatively smart men to make dumb moves? Takes those same smart men and moves them in the opposite direction of where they should be heading?

What did Cleveland do to deserve such backhanded treatment? Their fans do not deserve this. Hopefully, Banner is ducking behind a smoke screen and calming any nerves that might be on edge in the current front office.

This offseason should prove mighty interesting. Unfortunately, we’ve been saying that far too often.

For the Browns’ sake, changes better be on the docket. 

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