Monday leftovers (Friday edition)
Let’s get one thing straight. Hue Jackson is a good head coach. That needs to be said.
It also sounds like a strange statement to make in the wake of his coaching performance Thursday night in the 28-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Jackson will always be known as the only coach in Browns history to lose his first 10 games. He’ll also be known as the coach who was crippled strategically and tactically by injuries to his quarterbacks corps
Losing game after game after game has a telling effect on the coach not only from a strategic standpoint, but a personal standpoint as well. The season seems to be wearing Jackson down. He suffered a brain cramp against the Ravens and had trouble justifying it after the game.
Without warning, he yanked rookie quarterback Cody Kessler from the game after one third-quarter possession, a three-and-out, and inserted travel-weary, baggage-enriched journeyman quarterback Josh McCown.
The Browns clung to a 7-6 lead at the time and Kessler had done nothing egregiously wrong up to that point. Jackson thought otherwise and tried to explain the switch after the game.
“I made the switch at quarterback because I felt we needed a spark,” he said. “I didn’t think we were doing some things even in the first half I thought we could do. Nothing against Cody, It’s tough when you’re a young player and you come in, you play a week and you’ve go to play on a Thursday.”
Then Jackson leaned on an old excuse. “I thought there were some plays we left out there on the field, so I wasn’t going to sit there and keep watching plays be missed,” he said. “You’ve go to try something different.” Leaving some plays on the field has been a common occurrence all season with this offense. Why should this time be any different?
That, it would seem, is the reason Kessler exited in favor of McCown. What a weak excuse. Jackson is oh and nine at this point of the season. What the hell does he have to lose by sticking with Kessler? Another loss? So? Is he that desperate?
“I don’t think it’s desperate times call for desperate measures,” he said, then used faulty reasoning. “ I think it’s any situation if you feel like something is not going the way you want to, you’ve got to change it every now and then. That’s what I decided to do. Obviously being up 7-6 was good. I’d like to have been up 20-6.”
Even after McCown’s sorry performance – five possessions, three turnovers, two punts on 20 snaps – Jackson offered no regrets. And remained dispassionate on the sidelines.
He said he never contemplated returning to Kessler after McCown’s struggles. “No,” he said. “Once I put the other guy in, I’m going to stay with him. I’m no going back and forth.”
That is so old school. It’s as though the coaching manual states that once you make a switch at the most important position on the team, you stay with it unless the new guy is either maimed or bumped off.
Old school coaches tend to be inflexible, even stubborn at times. They coach by feel and are unwilling to look at how a game is unfolding in a logical, rational manner. With each McCown mistake against the Ravens, and they were coming at a furious pace, all Jackson could do was shake his head in disbelief as the game slipped away.
As for what happens at quarterback now, Jackson bristled, “What do you mean what do I do now?” he said. “Cody is still the quarterback. I took Cody out of the game because I wanted a spark.”
Oh yeah, the spark. That’s what the Baltimore defense extinguished the entire second half while Jackson did nothing.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers come to town a week from Sunday, Kessler will be back in control of the huddle. If he looks behind him every now and then, you can bet it will be to check on how long his leash is.
* * *
Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs didn’t exactly light up the game statistics sheet, but there is no question he had a significant impact on making the Browns’ offense look inept (being kind here).
He was credited with only one tackle (it was solo and for a loss), a sack, a pass defensed, a couple of quarterback hits, one caused fumble and general mayhem, which does not show up on the sheet.
The 34-year-old veteran, who assumed the club’s emotional leadership role after fellow linebacker Ray Lewis retired a few years ago, was either making plays or setting them up all evening. The Browns ran only 48 plays, nearly two-thirds of them through the air, and Suggs seemingly disturbed every one of them. Look for the ball and more often than not, he would be close by.
Most of the evening, he worked against Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas with the battle pretty much ending in a draw. Even though he was playing with a torn left biceps, Suggs got the better of Thomas on two vital occasions in the second half, altering McCown’s motion on one of his two interceptions and later on causing the fumble.
He is the kind of player the Browns need – but lack – on that side of the ball. The kind of player who torments the opposition on a weekly basis. The kind of player who makes plays and inspires his teammates to overachieve.
* * *
After the game, McCown looked at the Browns’ situation pragmatically. “It’s fair to say we didn’t expect to be here (winless), but it’s fair to say we expect to grow from this,” he told the media.
The only problem there is it is difficult to grow if the talent is not there. This is a very young team that learns the hard way. The Browns have come close on a few occasions this season, but always seem to find a way to lose.
If and when the growth arrives, McCown will not be around to be a part of it. He will be long gone. Can’t imagine the Browns will invite him back next season. So when he uses the pronoun “we”, it’s done so in the very short term.
* * *
Linebackers Christian Kirksey and Jamie Collins got fat statistically because the Ravens ran 77 plays from scrimmage. Kirksey is rapidly becoming more consistent and looking like the solution to a problem after his move inside this season. He was credited with 13 tackles, eight of them by himself.
And you can see why the recently acquired Collins is already a star with this defense. His quickness, speed and football intellect enable to him to be in the right place most of the time. He had nine tackles, seven solo, a sack, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hit.
He is tough against the run, drops back into pass coverage smoothly and might be the Browns’ best edge rusher. At 27, he is in the prime of his career. It’s only two games, but it looks like he is the real deal. Now it will be up to the Browns’ brass to sit down with Collins’ representatives at the end of the season and hammer out a well-paying, long-term contract to keep him in Cleveland.
* * *
Isaiah Crowell’s problems running with the football continue. He ran the ball nine times against the Ravens and gained 23 of the Browns’ 33 yards on the ground. In the last six games, the club’s main running back has carried the ball 60 times and gained 157 yards, an average of 2.62 yards.
Whatever the reason for such poor stats, it’s obvious Jackson and his offensive staff are clueless as to how to make those numbers climb. You can blame the mediocre offensive line just so much. The again, maybe it’s opposing defenses zeroing in on stopping the run and daring Cleveland quarterbacks to throw the ball.
* * *
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh sure is a cutthroat coach. After his team took a 19-7 lead on the Browns in the third quarter and the Browns in non-threatening mode to make a game of it, Harbaugh ordered a two-point conversion and got it.
Then with the score 28-7 and the Browns pinned at their 1-yard line with about 3:30 left in regulation, he challenged a spot after Crowell barely escaped the end zone. Three-plus minutes left, a three-touchdown lead and he’s challenging a spot? Cold. He lost the challenge.
* * *
The touchdown scored by Baltimore wide receiver Breshad Perriman midway through the fourth quarter really wasn’t a touchdown. Even though referee Jerome Boger said it was after watching the replay, it wasn’t.
Perriman did not totally control the ball as he fell into the end zone. The ball moved and touched the ground before he secured it. Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant has had touchdowns taken away with the same kind of ball movement.
* * *
And finally . . . Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had thrown only six touchdown passes in the first eight Baltimore games. He had three against the Browns Thursday night while raising his record against Cleveland to 15-2. . . . We finally found out what tight end Seth DeValve can do. The last of the Browns’ four picks in the fourth round of the last college football draft is also known as “who’s he?” He ran a nice route to score the club’s only touchdown in the second quarter on a 25-yard pass from Kessler. . . . Fellow tight end Gary Barnidge caught only one pass for eight yards. What’s with that? He was targeted four times. . . . Cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun experienced the highs and lows in this game. He picked off Flacco once and was the victim of the Perriman not-really-a-touchdown catch. . . . In the last seven quarters of the season series, the Ravens outscored the Browns, 51-7. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. watch: two carries, six yards; three pass receptions, 25 yards; five touches, 31 yards.