Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday leftovers

Looking to lay the blame on someone for the Browns’ offensive woes lately? Here’s a shocker. Let’s start with Pat Shurmur and then quickly bring in Brad Childress.

When these two are released by the club at or shortly after the end of the season in a few weeks, the only people they can correctly blame for the failure to improve the club’s offense can be found by looking in a mirror.

Shurmur, with a much less talented cast, tried to do it all by himself last season by coordinating the offense and callings the plays. That didn’t work, so he brought in Childress after an exhaustive (sarcasm intended) search, but clung to play-calling duties.

After 14 games, it’s safe to say that plan hasn’t work well, either, although it’s somewhat better than last season. That doesn’t cut it with the fans, many of whom can’t wait for the season to end so Shurmur will get his building pass to 76 Groza Blvd. revoked. Childress, too.

These two have managed to take a couple of extremely talented rookies in Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden and turn them into mediocre performers.

OK, Richardson will probably be a 1,000-yard rusher – big deal; that’s 62.5 yards a game – and will wind up with at least 12 touchdowns in his first National Football League season. And Weeden will wind up with about 3,700 yards, probably 16 or 17 touchdowns passes and roughly 20 interceptions in his freshman campaign.

Not bad, you say? Au contraire. 

With any kind of decent coaching, the kind that would have allowed these solid talents to really shine, those numbers almost certainly would have been higher. Shurmur and Childress tried to fit the square peg in the round hole with both of these young men.

Weeden is not a west coast quarterback and has proved it time and again with his troubles in completing the short-range passes so important in that scheme. He’s a spread formation quarterback who is best at airing out the football. We saw evidence of that Sunday on the 69-yard scoring play to Travis Benjamin.

Wonder why Weeden has had so many passes (21) batted down at the line of scrimmage this season? Shurmur’s and Childress’ insistence at relying on short crossing routes. They are timing routes and Weeden has been unable to get that timing down.

“If the defensive linemen aren’t getting to me, they just kind of stand there, watch my eyes and stick their arms up,” Weeden said by way of explanation, then touched on the real reason. “I’m trying to throw over guys three yards down the field and that can be challenging.” Try a pump fake or two.

Better yet, Shurmur and Childress should strongly consider ripping those plays out of the playbook and shred them.

Richardson, meanwhile, is not a running back who can just power his way past a wall of tacklers. He’s fine when the Browns are deep in the red zone and that’s why he has scored so many touchdowns.

But when it comes to punching out the long-yardage runs that were the hallmark of his career at Alabama and the reason the Browns made him the third pick of the draft, Shurmur and Childress failed once again.

The stocky running back has only a dozen runs of 10 or more yards this season and just three have been for 15 yards or more. That’s because the blocking schemes Shurmur and Childress have devised mitigate against what Richardson does best.

He is a cutback runner and the holes for the cutbacks are never there. Or maybe his vision is not what we thought and he doesn’t see the cutback lanes. Either that or the offensive line is a lot worse than we thought.

How many times have we seen Richardson try to run the dive play or wham play and meet a wall of tacklers? Or the stretch play, which the offensive line has trouble executing. Most of his yards this season seem to be gained after contact at the line of scrimmage.

There is precious little sophistication in the running game. Rarely do we see the draw. Or the trap, Not once have we seen my favorite the counter trap and/or counter trey.

And running the ball 15 times in the loss to Washington Sunday is not the recipe for winning football games. I realize the west coast if a pass-first offense, but 15 runs in a game? That’s an invitation to lose.

Hopefully, the club next season brings in a coaching staff that caters to the strengths of these two talents. Otherwise, the first round of the 2012 college player draft will be considered nothing more than just another blown draft opportunity by the Browns.
*          *          *
With only two games left on the schedule, neither of which is winnable, Browns fans once again face the prospect of another double-digit losing season. That makes 11 such campaigns since The Return in 1999, five in a row and nine of the last 10. In fact, the team has experienced just two winning seasons in the last 14.

Only the 10-6 miracle Romeo Crennel rang up in 2007 and the 9-7 Butch Davis compiled in the club’s only playoff year in 2002 stand as something about which Browns fans could be proud. Four- and five-victory seasons have been the norm.

This franchise, which will have a 73-151 record in the last 14 seasons after the losses in Denver and Pittsburgh, has given a whole new meaning to the word pathetic. That’s a winning percentage of .335. Maybe that’s why the fans welcome the new ownership of Jimmy Haslam III.
*          *          *
Richardson took Sunday’s loss a little too hard. “Today, we let ourselves down and we let the whole city of Cleveland down, especially the season-ticket holders” he told reporters following the game. “I feel bad for them and I want to say as a man, I just want to . . . apologize because this was the last home game. . . . It was a big ballgame and we didn’t do what we were supposed to do.”

The kid, who never had to worry about losing games at Alabama, is being a little too hard on himself. He did, however, go so far as to obliquely blame the coaches for the absence of the running game. “The game plan we had at the beginning of the game, we should have stuck with it,” he said. “But we didn’t. “
*          *          *
Weeden may have also taken an oblique shot at his coaches when discussing how well fellow rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins played for the Redskins. “Coach Shanahan put him in a great spot,” he said, referring to Washington coach Mike Shanahan.

“They tailored what he does well. It seemed like they were doing naked (bootlegs) and play-action passes through the middle. . . . I think Kyle Shanahan (the coach‘s son and Washington’s offensive coordinator) called a great game and tailored what they do very well to the personnel they have.”

Tailored, as in why don’t my coaches tailor our offense to what I do well? He didn’t actually say it, but you don’t have to read between the lines to catch his drift.
*          *          *
Notebook: Shurmur, on whether Weeden will ever become a top-flight quarterback: “I think he’s a rookie and he’ll be much better in his second year.” Fortunately, he won’t be around to witness it. . . . The Browns planned for a massive dose of RG3 Sunday and instead get a massive dose of KC1. Kind of figure the Redskins knew what they were doing when they grabbed Cousins in the fourth round of the draft. . . . The Washington loss showed just how much farther the Browns have to travel to become a winning team. They’ve moved up to competitive status. That last hurdle could prove the toughest. . . . Joshua Cribbs may have played his last game in Cleveland as a member of the Browns. He’s not the same since the kickoff rules were changed. . . . The sooner the Browns get rid of punter Reggie Hodges, the better. They can certainly do better. He was a far better punter a couple of years ago. . . . Up next, Peyton Manning in Denver and a relatively healthy Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, looking to avenge a loss several weeks ago in Cleveland. 


  1. A few random thoughts...

    I thought Mike Martz did a fine job calling
    the game. No obvious bias toward either team
    and some interesting comments about Weeden's
    play. The guy knows his stuff.

    Given Banner's background, Andy Reid will
    probably be coaching the Browns next year. This
    isn't necessarily a bad thing. The fans want a "name"
    coach like Gruden or Cowher to be hired, but that
    isn't going to happen. These guys can have their
    pick of teams in the NFL. Or keep their TV jobs.

    So it's either Reid or take a chance on someone
    from the college ranks. (Unless, of course, Reid
    ends up coaching the Chargers.)

    Happy Holidays,

  2. Hi Richard,

    Agree with you on Martz. He knows his stuff, as you pointed out, and his TV limitations and did a very good job.

    As for Reid, the possibility exists he might wind up in Cleveland. Wrote about that possibility way back on Oct. 16 (check the archives), but have since changed my mind slightly.

    One of the reasons Joe Banner left the Eagles was because Reid had accumulated too much power. Guessing here that if Reid is offered the job, it will come with certain restrictions attached. And if he isn't comfortable with that, San Diego or other vacancies we don't yet know about come into play.

    Cowher and Gruden are way too comfortable doing what they do because they come with a stress factor of about zero. Not sure any team will offer either man the keys to the palace.

    As for the college ranks, please no. No, no, no. As a general rule, college coaches have difficulty when making the jump to the pro ranks. A recent exception is Jim Harbaugh, but he had an NFL pedigree working for him.

    And finally, happy holidays to you and yours.