The coils under Hue Jackson’s hot seat are hotter now than ever. Never mind those who would argue the Browns coach is not on a hot seat. A 1-19 record in 20 games on the job wins that argument.
When a National Football League team sports that kind of record over such a comparatively brief span, it is only natural that thoughts of change begin to waft in the air.
When the product goes sour, and this product can’t get any more sour after that 31-7 drubbing against Cincinnati Sunday, changes need to be made. If Jimmy Haslam III does not see that, perhaps that is where the problem lies.
It is understandable if the owner, known for his knee-jerk reactions to past ineptitude, is reluctant to make a move now. He wants to shed that reputation, but the current state of his billion-dollar acquisition is making it difficult.
A winless start to the 2017 season was not in Haslam’s crystal ball. Neither was bad football, embarrassingly bad football. That aspect was not even a consideration when the club broke training camp a month or so ago after posting an unbeaten exhibition season.
When looking to identify the problem(s), Haslam might consider looking no farther than the office down the hall. The one occupied by de facto general manager Sashi Brown, at whose desk the buck stops.
The ill-equipped Harvard graduate is in charge on a daily basis of what the roster looks like. These days, it’s beginning to look like a merry-go-round of mediocre talent (and that’s being charitable).
The man is clearly in over his head. He might be successful in the business world, but he has no business running the personnel end of this franchise or any football franchise for that matter. Bottom line: It . . . isn’t . . . working.
If Brown is allowed to continue in his current capacity, the giant finger of blame should be pointed squarely at Haslam because his desk is where the ultimate buck stops.
It is high time the owner and his wife, Dee, realize this team needs a genuine football man at the helm, at the top of the corporate football ladder. The Browns have not had one since Haslam took over. In fact, they haven’t had one since the return in 1999.
Not just any football man. A football lifer who has known nothing but success. Someone who knows how to cobble together a winning product in a short period of time and sustain that success.
Haslam is slowly losing his core audience, the age 35-to-60 and over crowd old enough to actually remember what it was like to be proud to be a Cleveland Browns fan. Slowly but surely, they are falling to the wayside due to the incessant losing.
He is not picking up any new fans. Why would anyone looking for a professional football team to glom on to pick this team? The product is not interesting enough or good enough to glean their attention and/or devotion. At the risk of painting with a broad brush, the younger crowd couldn’t care less about the Browns.
That crowd needs a hook. It needs a reason to get interested. In a town once owned by its professional football team, the Indians and Cavaliers have provided that hook. How? Simple. By winning in entertaining fashion. All age groups are enjoying the bountiful results.
The Browns are not only the NFL’s stepchild, they have become Cleveland’s stepchild as well for the last 18 seasons. Their return in 1999 after a forced three-year absence was supposed to be a joyous blessing, a reward for being so loyal in spite of an NFL blunder.
Instead, it has been a curse no one saw coming. There was always next year at the end of each season. Next year came, but the curse remained. The losing was so monotonously prevalent, it became comical. It became the butt of jokes.
Ardent fans began dropping off season after season when it became obvious progress was just another word. The club charged outrageous amounts of money for a product that didn’t warrant it. The fans began spending their sports dollars elsewhere.
The Browns’ fan base is dwindling slowly with nothing in sight to provide even a sliver of hope. Unless, of course, Haslam makes a move. This time, such a move will be much more understandable than those of the past. But only if a wizened football man is brought in, placed in charge and left alone.
This time, such a move will be for the greater good of a franchise desperately looking for love from a community that has bundles of it. All the Browns have to do to earn that love, and not by just showing up on Sundays from September to December, is produce winning football.
It’s that simple.
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To paraphrase the late Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green after a frustrating loss to the Chicago Bears many years ago. “DeShone Kizer is who we thought he was.”
Fans were warned in advance about Kizer. Brian Kelly, his coach at Notre Dame, said the kid was not ready for the NFL. It’s been only four games, but so far, Kelly is looking pretty smart.
We knew Kizer had accuracy problems at Notre Dame. We knew he held on to the ball too long. We knew his ability to process quickly needed serious work. His inconsistency was maddening.
We knew he was clearly a project who needed lots of help transitioning to professional football. And he has proven it thus far. Being force-fed by his head coach is not helping his growth. If anything, it’s counterproductive.
Kizer has two tools that enticed talent scouts – his bazooka arm and his athleticism. That alone, some believed, would be good enough to overcome other deficiencies. And yet, he still has accuracy problems, holds on the ball too long and has not improved his processing.
Some would consider judging the kid after only four games unfair. Maybe so, but he is trending downward after a semi-impressive start against Pittsburgh. The only consistency fans see is his inconsistency. A thrill followed by heartache followed by another thrill followed by . . .
Quarterbacks like Kizer don’t get any better. Bad habits are difficult to shed. It’s in their DNA to repeat mistakes. They eventually level off and become just good enough to stick around as a journeyman.
New York Jets quarterback Josh McCown is a perfect example. He is just good enough to stick around and play 15 seasons for eight NFL teams, including the Browns the last two seasons. He will always be remembered as some team’s ex quarterback.
Kizer claims the game has slowed down for him. Results do not back up that contention. The inability to adjust to the speed and quickness of the game have stunted the growth of potentially great quarterbacks in the past. Right now, he is a prime candidate to join that crowd unless he miraculously changes.
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After the Bengals loss, Jackson was asked if his team has regressed. “I can see you saying that about today,” he said. “We got beat so soundly in every phase. We’re going to work. I’m not going to let this team go backward. . . . We’ve got some work to do.”
When you stop and think about, he had no recourse but to answer honestly. Whatever credibility he had built up would have been destroyed if he had answered otherwise. The fans aren’t stupid. To handle that question with anything positive would have been an insult to the team’s fan base.
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Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was asked what he said to Jackson when he met with his former offensive coordinator and friend at midfield for the post-game handshake. “Don’t let them quit on you,” Lewis told the media.
Was Lewis suggesting that’s what he saw in the game Sunday? Or was he trying to warn his coaching buddy of impending trouble in that regard?
One other thing. Why did Lewis call that timeout with the game firmly in hand as the Browns were threatening to score in the game’s final moments? Why did he reinsert some of his defensive regulars as the clock wound down and his team ahead, 31-0?
The Browns had done a good enough job humiliating themselves during the game’s first 55 minutes. They didn’t need the opposing coach to add to that humiliation by trying to preserve the shutout.
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It looks as though the Browns have a few serious challengers for the top pick in next year’s college football draft. After four weeks, the NFL standings show four teams seeking their first victories.
Challenging the Browns are the New York Giants, Los Angeles Chargers and San Francisco 49ers. The only serious one among that group is San Francisco. The Giants and Chargers have quarterbacks who will eventually pull them out of whatever tailspin they are in.
The 49ers, on the other hand, have Brian Hoyer at quarterback, which means it could be a race to the finish line.
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Further proof Jackson either loves the forward pass or hates the run, maybe both: The Cleveland offense ran 61 plays against the Bengals. Of those 61 snaps, 48 were designed to throw the football; 13 were designed to run it. That’s a 78.7%-21.3% ratio, far from the 55-45 or better ratio the head coach said was his goal this season.
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Finally . . . It has become clear the Cleveland defense is not ready to play the first half of games. It has allowed 84 points in the first 30 minutes of the four games. That’s 21 points a game. The second half is quite different. The opposition has scored just 28 points after all the adjustments are made. And the game is out of hand. The offense, in case you are interested, has scored just 23 points in the first half, 35 after intermission. . . . The Browns had 14 chunk plays (20 yards or more) in the first three games of the season, but only two against the Bengals (Kizer and Kevin Hogan each had one). . . . Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton sure loves to play against his old coordinator. In three games, he has completed 64 of 86 passes (74.4%) for 774 yards and eight touchdowns. And zero interceptions. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. touch watch: Nine pass receptions for 47 yards; four runs for 13 yards. Total touches, 13 for 60 yards.