Monday, September 28, 2015

Monday leftovers

Judging from the visceral negative reaction from Browns Nation after Sunday’s loss to the Oakland Raiders, the guys in the Ivory Tower now have no choice but to shift into damage control mode.

The fans, even some of those who believe the club can do no wrong, are royally ticked off at their favorite team. Some even threaten to make them their ex-favorite team.

The Browns’ dismal performance against the Raiders, it seems, was the final blow. Playing bad football had been tolerated for too long by the local faithful and it seems as though this one loss epitomized the frustration that had been built up over the years.

There is a lot of damage that needs to be addressed for the front office and frankly, those who make all the command decisions are not in a position to defend themselves because they are unarmed. You don’t enter battles weaponless.

What makes it even more frustrating is that 13 games still remain on the schedule and the Browns will be underdogs in every one. Not exactly something to look forward to at the beginning of October.

All of which makes Mike Pettine’s job that much more difficult. The head coach has to maintain respect, especially during losing times, in his locker room. Or, according to some fans, whatever respect he has left.

This is not to indicate Pettine has lost his room. Far from it. But the longer this type of bad football is played, the less likely he will be able to maintain that respect. His play-like-a-Brown mantra is ringing hollow. Playing like a Brown is playing losing football.

Pettine revealed after the Raiders loss that “our theme for this year is ‘Words Into Action’ and we have to play better.” Those words don’t seem to be translating into anything resembling action.

The coach also didn’t couch words about his team’s performance against Oakland. In a rare moment of brutal honesty with the media, he said. “There were times out there, and I didn’t mince words with the staff, that we looked like a scout team.”

Losing seven of the last eight games dating back to last season isn’t helping his cause. And the loss to the Raiders Sunday, during which the club made the same mistakes repeatedly, serves as a microcosm to what ails this team.

Going back to the drawing board seems to be an exercise in futility in the short term. A coach can pound just so much into a player’s head. Reaching what motivates the players seems to be a hurdle that can’t be topped.

In the Browns’ case, losing begets losing. Instead of a mind-set that gives birth to winning, like stepping up and making a play when it is needed, it seems as though the Browns sit back and wait wonderingly for something to go wrong. That’s a loser’s mind-set.

Think like a winner and you’ll find ways to overcome problems that impede progress. Think like a loser and you’ll never find those ways.

Coaching is as much mental and emotional as it is educational. It is a delicate balance that separates the great ones from the good ones, the good ones from the average ones and the average ones from the poor ones.

It has been the Browns’ misfortune since the resurrection in 1999 to tap into the poor-coaching category with one exception. Butch Davis was a solid coach who became very average because he was given way too much power to run the club from a personnel standpoint instead of concentrating on coaching. It cost him his job.

Pettine, on the other hand, is not a bad coach. He very likely will wind up being one of those many coaches who is a better coordinator than head coach.

Unfortunately, that does not mollify the growing number of Browns fans who once again must prove to the rest of the sports world that you’ve got to be tough to be a Browns fan.
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Don’t blame Pettine for this mess. He has been tasked to run a football team that is fundamentally flawed in so many different ways. Yes, his opinion has been solicited with regards to player personnel, but all ultimate decisions rest with a higher authority.

If fingers of guilt are going to be pointed, they should be directed at General Manager Ray Farmer and his crew, most notably Bill Kuharich, the club’s executive chief of staff running the team from a personnel standpoint while Farmer serves his four-game suspension.

Other culprits whose names you never read or hear are Morocco Brown, vice president player personnel; Dan Saganey, manager pro personnel; Brian Decker, player personnel strategist; and Ken Kovash, director football research/player personnel.

There are 25 names, including the aforementioned, linked to the Browns’ player personnel department. That’s 25 men whose main responsibility is to put a winning team on the field. To that end, they have failed miserably.

In this buck-stops-here-world, Farmer should correctly absorb most of the blame for what is about to unfold this season. All Pettine can do is try to extract maximum value out of a talent challenged roster.
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So in what ways, exactly, is this team flawed? A 36-year-old journeyman whose success quotient is extraordinarily low runs the offense. His backup is a collegiate hot shot whose predictability factor scares most coaches. And the position they play is the most important on the team.

The wide receivers corps might be the worst in the entire National Football League. The offensive line has forgotten how to run block, which is somewhat ironic because the success of this offense is supposedly geared around a successful ground game.

On defense, stopping the run is only a dream. Whether it’s up the middle or on the edges (another sizable weakness), the Browns cannot stop the opposition. The Raiders came into Sunday’s game averaging 80 yards a game on the ground. They pounded out 155 against the Browns.

In three games, the Browns have averaged 86 yards a game on the ground and given up 158 yards a game. Extrapolate those figures and they will surrender more than 2,500 yards infantry style this season, surely a club record.

The pass rush is hit and miss, the so-called strong secondary has a difficult time  covering  receivers (notice how much trouble the veteran Joe Haden had with rookie Amari Cooper Sunday?) and the tackling has been amateurish. Someone should teach safety Donte Whitner how to wrap up a runner instead of using his shoulder.

And yes, that falls under coaching. But if the talent is lacking, all the coaching in the world is not going to make it better. The talent on that side of the ball is highly overrated.

It all starts up front in football. Run the ball well and stop the run, odds for a winning season rise substantially. Fail to run the ball or stop the run and those odds sink rapidly. It’s really that simple.
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If Josh McCown can be blamed for anything in the Raiders loss, it’s for being rusty for the better part of three quarters. Missing the equivalent of two games definitely affected his timing in the passing game.

Once he was dialed in, and with the help of an Oakland defense that kicked it into prevent mode, he threw well until the Charles Woodson interception. He was helped by great catches from Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel. 

Tight end Gary Barnidge, neglected all afternoon by the Raiders, cashed in with six catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. But when a tight end whose primary job is to block is your leading receiver, you’ve got problems unless that tight end is named Rob Gronkowski.
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There are no patsies along the way from now on. The schedule gets only tougher from here on out. All three AFC North opponents have strong running games. That’s six games right there. Then there are dates against Arizona, Denver, Seattle and Kansas City.
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Notebook: A perfect example of fundamentally flawed football by the Browns took place in the third quarter. Reserve Oakland running back Marcel Reece hauled in a swing pass from Derek Carr in the left flat and was met almost immediately by safeties Whitner and Tashaun Gipson. Gipson tried to arm tackle the 6-2, 240-pounder and whiffed. Whitner bumped him with his shoulder and bounced off. Reece went for a 55-yard romp before being brought down. . . . The Browns have just one interception this season. That was by Gipson, who immediately fumbled and gave the ball back to the opposition. . . . Three of the next four games are on the road with a visit by Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos Oct. 18 the only home game. . . . Just how bad is the Browns’ running game? Of their 39 total first downs in the first three games, only 14 have been achieved on the ground. Any wonder why teams stack the box against Cleveland?


  1. I've already made my plans to do something else besides watch the Browns lose again next Sunday.

    1. Ah, c'mon, doesn't everybody enjoy a good train wreck?

    2. Anon,

      Considering what I think will happen the next 13 games, you might want to consider making those plans more permanent for the rest of the season.

  2. Southie,

    I used to shop at Train Wrecks R Us. I know the feeling.