And the beat goes on and on and on
The Dysfunction Express continues to roll at 76 Lou Groza Blvd.
And why not? It has been moving along at a stunningly rapid (and unsuccessful) clip for the Browns for the vast majority of the last 16 seasons. Why stop now?
The latest round of dysfunction comes in the form of the Browns Thursday permitting offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to leave after just one season and the firing of quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains.
Just like that, the two brains responsible for making the Cleveland offense go (during the early stages of the season) and then stumble badly in reverse (the rest of the season) are gone.
That means the Browns once again will have a new philosophy on the attacking side of the football this season. That will (sarcasm warning) thrill (end sarcasm warning) those who operate on that side of the ball.
Yep, another change in philosophy. Just when players are starting to get comfortable with one style of play, along comes someone else with a completely different approach. No wonder they grumble when coaches leave almost as quickly as they arrive.
Whoever is anointed the new offensive boss will be the unlucky 13th man to hold the job since the resurrection in 1999. Think about that. That’s 13 new philosophies in 17 seasons. No wonder the Cleveland attack suffers year after year after year.
Since 1999, the Browns’ offense has been guided by Chris Palmer, Pete Carmichael, Bruce Arians, Terry Robiskie, Rob Chudzinski (who held the position twice in different seasons), Maurice Carthon, Jeff Davidson, Brian Daboll, Pat Shurmur, Brad Childress, Norv Turner and Shanahan.
Arians ran the offense for what can now be considered a record three seasons (2001-03), while Robiskie ran it before taking over the head reins for the final five games of the 2004 season after Butch Davis quit. Palmer and Shurmur were head coaches who ran their own offenses.
No matter whom the Browns bring in to replace the departed duo, unless he’s a combination of greats like Paul Brown, Sid Gillman, Blanton Collier and Don Coryell, you can count on only token improvement of the offense.
Adapting to new philosophies, new nomenclature, new system, new everything takes time for an offense. It doesn’t gel just like that. Offenses are predicated on rhythm and timing. It’s the opposite for defense, where belligerence and aggression are essential requirements.
An offense runs more as a total unit whereas the defense does not require the precision of all 11 men to be successful on a play. That’s why in training camp, exhibition games and the early part of the regular season, the defense is clearly ahead of the offense. Most good offenses start catching up a few games into the season.
The mutual parting of the ways by Shanahan and the Browns did not come as a surprise. Speculation he might be leaving arose when other National Football League clubs inquired about his availability for at least a lateral move, if not one that involved a head coaching vacancy.
When it was learned his father, Mike, wanted to return to the league, it was only natural that Shanahan’s name was linked to the possibility of his father hooking up with some team.
Shanahan leaves an offense that was predicated on the running game, which, to his credit, was the single greatest improvement on the team this season on either side of the ball. The Cleveland running game, which broke down in the last month of the season, was well respected around the NFL until then.
When a team goes from four rushing touchdowns in 2013 to 17 this past season, Shanahan must get a majority of the credit. His zone-blocking scheme was the main reason the Browns gained nearly 350 more yards in 2014.
It also allowed rookie running backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West to emerge as definite threats with the ball. The only drawback was Shanahan’s reluctance to involve his running backs in the passing game.
What hurt the offense ultimately was the inability of whoever was under center to be proficient enough and dangerous enough to get the opposition to back off crowding the line of scrimmage.
Once teams realized the best way to beat the Browns was to put as many as eight men in the box, take away the run game and force the quarterback to throw the ball more than he or his coordinator wanted, the offense sputtered badly. The result was a season-ending five-game losing streak.
Maybe that’s why coach Mike Pettine at the end of the season called his quarterback situation “messy” and General Manager Ray Farmer did not slam the door on selecting a quarterback in the next college football draft.
Pettine holds the key to where the Browns are headed offensively. He makes the calls on his coaching staff. In choosing Shanahan, he obviously was a fan of the running game. Shanahan’s successor most likely will have the same philosophy if Pettine has anything to say about it.
It’s a tricky situation because the offense has the potential of becoming something better than decent. (Full disclosure: I hate potential. It does not necessarily guarantee success. Only hope.)
The good news is Alex Mack will be back. That’s a huge difference right there. The offensive line struggled after the Pro Bowl center was lost for the season after breaking a leg in game five.
Farmer has two first-round draft picks to play with and wide receiver, a position that suffered all season despite his protestations to the contrary, is certain to be one of his targets. Depending on what happens with Josh Gordon and in free agency, as many as two might be taken.
There is no question, though, the Browns definitely need a quarterback better than whom they have now. In his brief time with the Browns, Shanahan could not solve the passing game problems. That should be the top priority for his successor.
However, Browns fans should not expect whomever that man is to arrive and right the ship immediately. That’s not going to happen.
The learning curve for the sixth different offensive coordinator in the last six seasons will be painfully slow. It will be even slower for the players, who face the tough task of learning a completely new system.
Don’t expect much from the new Cleveland offense right away. That’s because the club clearly took a step back Thursday.