Monday, October 19, 2015

Monday leftovers

It was about 10 days ago when Browns defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil schooled the Cleveland media about the aspect of the game of football that helps pay his salary.

The Browns were at the time – and still are, in fact – scraping the bottom of the National Football League statistical barrel when it comes to stopping the opposition. O’Neil defended his position.

He used various forms of the word “execute” a lot. As in “at the end of the day, you have to execute it.” And “it’s an execution league.”

Now you have to take into consideration O’Neil was speaking following two losses in which his guys surrendered 907 yards. In the two games that followed, they improved that stat to 819 yards in splitting back-to-back overtime games.

So in theory, the Browns are improving in that area and executing better. Not necessarily much better, but better relatively speaking. Which, when you stop and really think about it, isn’t really better generally speaking.

O’Neil zealously defends his role with the Browns. Although technically a second-year coordinator, he is really in his first season in the role after receiving plenty of help from head coach Mike Pettine, his mentor, last season.

In falling on the old bromide of the NFL being an execution league, he fails to take one very important thing into consideration. It lies within the following statement: “I don’t feel like I need to over-scheme against the offenses we’re going against because we have good players at every level of the defense.”

Whoa.  Hold on there, pardner. Good players at every level of the defense? O’Neil is either delusional or trying to convince himself of something that is not there.

I can understand defending the guys who play for him. Criticizing them publicly is not the route to go. But to come out and call them – at least most of them – something they are not is just plain wrong.

No, O’Neil does not have good players at every level of the defense. He has a few. But most of the players on that defense, with only a few notable exceptions, are average at best.

“We just need guys to do their job,” O’Neil said. “We need to do a better job executing more consistently.” There’s that word again. He’s hiding behind it. It’s not my fault, he seems to be saying obliquely. It’s the players’.

Saying it is one thing. Doing it is entirely different.

Former Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer always used to say, “Deeds, men. Not words. Deeds.” Right now, O’Neil is just spouting words and his men are not translating them into deeds.

The Browns, putting up worse defensive numbers than last season through six games, are bad at just about every aspect of defense. It’s a credit to the offense the club has won two games because the defense certainly can’t hang its hat on them.

It surrenders 407 yards a game (397 last season through six games), 150 on the ground (155 last season) and 268 through the air (241.5 last season).

When Ray Horton guided the defense in 2013 before Jimmy Haslam III blew out the front office and coaching staff, the Cleveland defense permitted just 312.5 yards a game, 214.3 through the air and 98.2 on the ground. And no, the last figure is not a typo.

Imagine where the Browns would be today with defensive figures like 2013. Certainly not at 2-4.

Apparently, if we are to believe O’Neil’s creed, Horton helmed a defense that executed well. Unfortunately, the Browns that season didn’t have an offense that enabled the defense to stay off the field for long periods at a time.

After winning three of the first five games, the Browns won only once in the last 11 games, the defensive stats plunging as the 2013 season wore down. The defense simply wore down along with it.

The current defense won’t get any better than it is right now. It will wear down as the season progresses. Last season, the defense was scorched for three 200-yard games on the ground, including two of the last three. That’s what fans have to look forward to this season.

The current defense scares no one. Opposing offensive coordinators need a bib to absorb the drool that occurs whenever the Browns’ game hits their schedules. Game planning made easy. Run against it? Of course. Throw against it? Why not?

It’s time O’Neil realized he has been saddled with a mediocre defense that hemorrhages not only yards on the ground, but real estate through the air. And that his men are incapable of executing what he draws up.

So falling on the execution bromide is nothing more than an exercise in futility. The Browns’ defense is exactly what it is. Statistics do not lie. In this case, they say the Browns’ defense is awful. They are absolutely correct.

And if the team’s offense is unable to sustain what it has produced thus far, the slide down the standings ladder this season will make last season’s five-game plunge at the end of last season look like a minor slippage.

Under O’Neil’s stewardship, the Browns have held an opponent under 300 total yards in a game just twice in 22 games (against Cincinnati and Buffalo last season). On 13 of those 22 occasions, they have given up at least 375 yards. Not exactly stats to be proud of.

Time to seriously think about either changing defensive philosophy or bringing in someone whose philosophy produces more positive results.
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What happens when Browns quarterback Josh McCown is off his game as he was Sunday against Denver? When his receivers wander into the secondary of a team that plays solid pass defense? Like Denver’s Sunday? You discover why he’s nothing more than a journeyman.

When presented by his defense with a gift-wrapped opportunity to win the game moments into overtime, courtesy of a Barkevious Mingo interception in Denver territory, he failed to take advantage (trying to be nice here).

The Mingo pick might turn out to be the highlight of his season – especially considering how his reps have dropped – and McCown turned it into a study in frustration and no doubt anger for the fans, who saw a potential victory slip away.

Slamming his offense into reverse with three straight negative plays and winding up back in Cleveland territory serves as a microcosm as to why McCown was never able to become a quality NFL quarterback. That he has remained in the game for as long as he has is a testament to his ability to convince teams he still has it.

The main reason the Browns took the Broncos into overtime only to lose Sunday was the relative ineptitude of the Denver offense. The figures don’t reflect it, but Peyton Manning was no more effective than McCown. He just has a better defense to bail him out. A much better defense
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Despite being on the field for around 30 snaps against the Broncos, rookie nose tackle Danny Shelton was parked at the bottom of the final stat sheet with one assisted tackle. Wasn’t he supposed to be a three-down player? If he’s not injured, he appears to have fallen into disfavor with the coaches. Another first-round bust?

Last season it was Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel. This season, it appears to be Shelton and offensive lineman Cameron Erving, who played just well enough in the exhibition season to earn a spot on the bench and become the first backup to everyone else on the line in the event of an injury.
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More Browns stats if you can stand it: Their opponents average three touchdowns a game . . . The defense has caused only eight turnovers (three of them against the Broncos) . . . It allows opposing quarterbacks to complete 60% of their passes . . . In 71 drives thus far this season, the offense has a per-drive average of 5.8 plays, 30.8 yards and 1.79 points.
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Notebook: Reason for Aqib Talib’s pick 6 at the beginning of the second quarter Sunday? A poor McCown throw on a sideline pattern to Travis Benjamin. Instead of firing the ball, he seemed to take something off it. The ball hung up and the Broncos’ cornerback took it 63 yards for an easy score. . . . Rhetorical questions: Why do the Browns have all kinds of problems stopping the opposition from running the ball on the flanks (or as they are called now the edges)? And why do the Browns have all kinds of problems running the ball on the flanks?. . . Pierre Desir, subbing for injured cornerback Joe Haden, sat quietly atop the Browns’ stats sheet with 12 tackles against Denver, 10 of them solo. Probably felt as though he was picked on. He was.  . . . If Karlos Dansby doesn’t get some sort of postseason recognition, he will be shortchanged. He is easily the Browns’ best defender. Too bad he doesn’t get much help. Maybe it’s because the veteran linebacker knows how to execute.


  1. What are your odds that this coaching staff returns next year?

  2. Unless the situation changes dramatically and I don't see that happening, you have a better chance of being head coach of the Browns next season than Mike Pettine. So do I.