Monday, December 24, 2012

Monday leftovers

How long after the season will Browns fans have to wait before Pat Shurmur has the word “ex” attached to his current job?

Let’s see now. When does the season end? Next Sunday in Pittsburgh against the Steelers.

And what time will the Browns’ final loss of the season become official? Somewhere around 4 p.m. local time.

OK, here’s the answer to the original question. Shurmur will be cashiered roughly one minute following that game. Somewhere between the field and clubhouse. If not, he should be.

In the span of two quick and very depressing seasons, Shurmur has managed to do something I believed was impossible. He actually made Romeo Crennel look like a good head coach.

In those two seasons, he has managed to take a bunch of modestly talented players and helped them underachieve. The Browns’ 9-22 (soon to be 9-23) record under Shurmur is not an aberration. It truly represents how poorly he coaches.

Rarely did the Browns show up to play a game of professional football in those 32 attempts. Rarely did they play smart football. Rarely did they play aggressive football. And consequently, rarely did they play winning football.

It became readily apparent early on that Mike Holmgren’s handpicked choice to succeed Eric Mangini was in over his head. When he chose himself to be his offensive coordinator in the first season, red flags were run up the pole.

And when he ceded the coordinator’s job to Brad Childress but clung to play-calling duties, that pretty much sealed it for the offense. As if that weren’t bad enough, he compounded that by forcing his rookie quarterback to play in a system that was foreign to him.

That new system turned the quarterback into something he wasn’t. He was force-fed the entire season and failed to grow as a result. His inconsistencies with the intricacies of the position were evident all season. And the fault lies with Shurmur and Childress.

Some of Shurmur’s critics, including yours truly, believe that if the Browns had been able to outbid Washington for Robert Griffin III, the phenom from Baylor would have been saddled with an offense that would mitigate against his talents.

In Washington, coaches Mike and Kyle Shanahan catered to Griffin’s unique skills and tailored their offense around them. As a result, the Redskins are on the verge of making the playoffs. That never would have happened in Cleveland. Shurmur would have stunted his growth.

To his credit, Shurmur’s best move was leaving defensive coordinator Dick Jauron alone and it paid off it some very competitive games, most of which wound up in losses because of an offense that failed to come through in the clutch.

After it was all said and done, Shurmur can blame no one other than himself for his club’s failings. He can blame no one other than himself for being outcoached on a weekly basis. There are arguably three games the Browns should have won but didn’t because he was outsmarted.

He can honestly say his team played hard for him. Not necessarily smart, but hard. They competed. Never gave up. Crennel said that, too. But in a bottom-line world, it did not add up to what enables coaches to keep their jobs: victories.
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It doesn’t take much research to figure out why the Browns have lost the last two games. It all comes down to play-calling ratio.

In the losses to Washington and Denver the last two weeks, Shurmur called for 33 running plays (15 and 18, respectively) and 79 pass plays. That’s a ratio well above 2-1. It’s also a prescription for failure.

In the previous three games, all Cleveland victories, Shurmur dialed up 99 running plays and 100 pass plays, including 35 in the Kansas City victory and 34 in the Pittsburgh triumph. Don’t have to be a math genius to figure out the difference. Shurmur should turn in his genius card.

The hallmark of most successful teams is a run/pass ratio that settles in around 50/50 or at the very worst 55/45. When you have an offensive line that run blocks better than it pass blocks, why throw more?

It’s not as though the Browns were desperate to play catch-up football. They led the Redskins, 14-10, at the half of that one and trailed Denver by just 14-3 at the half Sunday. There was no need to panic.

Yes, the west coast scheme is a pass-first offense, but not to the almost total absence of the running game. Shurmur’s love affair with the pass, especially with a rookie quarterback still learning how to play from a pro set, is what has led to his soon-to-be disconnect from Cleveland.
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Jauron’s star has fallen so far, it would be surprising if he is asked to return next season. The Browns’ defensive coordinator can use the excuse that the inability for the offense to sustain drives has not given his defense a chance to recover.

It doesn’t wash, especially in the last two games when Washington and Denver hung 72 points on the Cleveland defense. Even though it’s week 16 and teams are tired, the Browns’ defense should still be able to get off the field once in a while.

And because that hasn’t been the case, Jauron’s’ tenure as the coordinator for the Browns might be cut short by whomever Jimmy Haslam III and Joe Banner select as coach. Not saying it will happen. But it’s a distinct possibility.
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What in the world was Shurmur thinking Sunday when, trailing the Broncos by 22 points, he called a timeout with less than four minutes left in regulation? The game, for all practical purposes, was over. The Broncos had liberally substituted by that point.

What was he trying to prove? That he wasn’t giving up? That the game is played for 60 minutes and he was going to fight to the end? It made absolutely no sense to prolong the agony.

The Browns trailed by three scores, the defense was dragging and the offense was in struggle mode. The coach called his first timeout with 3:45 left after a three-yard gain by Knowshon Moreno on a first-and-10. He called his second on the next play following a 19-yard run by Moreno.

By then, you’d have thought Shurmur got the message. Nope. He called his third straight timeout following a four-yard run by Ronnie Hillman. Apparently, he does not know when he’s beaten. They had to be laughing on the Denver sideline after each timeout. What a joke.
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Notebook: Ten more penalties for 69 yards, a few of them of the pre-snap variety. Hopefully, the new coach will emphasize discipline. . . . Has anyone noticed how reliable Greg Little has become? He’s caught just about everything thrown his way the last several weeks. . . . The only way Brandon Weeden doesn’t start in Pittsburgh is if he can’t raise his right arm. Otherwise, the rookie should be allowed to finish the season. . . . Happy holidays to everyone. May 2013 be the year the Browns finally begin the road back to respectability and long-term success.

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