Despite his confident protestations regarding his job status in Cleveland, Hue Jackson has to be at least a little wary of what awaits his fate as the Browns' head coach the next two weeks.
The bye week can seem awfully long to a coach who has won only once in 23 attempts, especially when that break comes exactly midway through the 16-game season. And you never know what ownership thinks.
Up to now, owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam III have been eerily silent. “I totally have the support of Mr. and Mrs. Haslam,” Jackson boasted following the Minnesota loss Sunday in London.
The dreaded vote of confidence, that harbinger of doom in the sports world, has not been uttered by anyone who is someone at 76 Lou Groza Blvd. Everyone, it seems, is tight-lipped.
Maybe that’s because Jimmy Haslam III is gun shy about beginning yet another makeover for his billion-dollar investment. There’s a chance he is conflicted. His previous history of being trigger happy with regard to the front office and coaching of this team has drawn criticism in the past.
Where is the consistency, argue critics of previous changes.
But it’s not like progress of any sort is being made on any front, whether it’s in the front office or the coaching on the field. The Haslams’ investment, for whatever reason, has become a joke around the National Football League.
If the team showed any signs of progress, it would be a different story. But it’s the same thing week in and week out. There has been precious little progress, certainly not enough on a consistent basis to dispel any notion of making changes.
This team has problems from top to bottom. The only consistency is it always manages to find ways to lose. It has become habit forming and more often than not eventually has to lead to frustration in the locker room. The fact it hasn’t yet borders on remarkable.
If nothing else, the Browns are No. 1 in the NFL in dealing with losing. They are so used to it, it has almost become commonplace. Maybe now after eight games the players have figured out the roster as now constituted is unable to overcome numerous mistakes because it does not have enough talent to do so.
Someone has to pay the price. But is paying that price right now the correct solution from a timing standpoint? That depends solely on who is eventually brought in to straighten out this mess.
If the Haslams do, indeed, choose to make the move in that direction now instead of waiting until the day after the final game of the season or shortly thereafter, you can bet it has been done surreptitiously through back channels.
This franchise is on a downward spiral that shows no signs of getting even close to reversing direction. There are teasing moments along the way. That occasional positive glimpse within a game that causes fans – and probably coaches – to think maybe there is hope.
And then it all comes crashing down like a house of cards when the team reverts to the myriad reasons that have caused a 4-41 record since the latter part of the 2014 season.
The monotony of losing week after week after week with no hope remotely in sight wears on the players. It also wears on Browns Nation, that global-wide group of ardent fans of this franchise who still cling to the fantasy of being around to celebrate when this all changes.
That all rests with the decisions of the Haslams. The big question is how much more of this can they take?
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Jackson offered an explanation for his team’s inability to score more points than the opposition at the end of games. It was part truth, part bullroar.
“Everything has to be perfect for us to have a chance to win a football game,” he said following Sunday’s loss to the Vikings. “We get it and we work that way. But we all know that’s not how football is played. You can’t be perfect. (Really?!)
“You’re going to make mistakes. But that’s where we are. . . . Today, we didn’t make as many (mistakes), so we were in the game for quite a while. . . . And then the game flips.” If two-and-half quarters constitute a while, then yes, he is correct.
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Spencer Drango was the first player other than Joe Thomas to start at offensive left tackle for the Browns since the final game of the 2006 season. And he did very well against Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, who entered the game with nine sacks in seven games, including at least one in every game.
Drango helped keep DeShone Kizer clean until the final stages of the fourth quarter, when the Browns were in pass-only mode attempting to make the final score look more respectable and the Vikings were in full attack mode.
The second-year tackle had occasional help with Griffen from left guard Joel Bitonio, fullback Danny Vitale, running back Isaiah Crowell and a tight end. Griffen wound up with just one tackle, one tackle for loss, five quarterback hits and a sack that came on the final play of the Browns’ penultimate series.
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Even though it wound up as an incomplete pass, a late third-quarter play proved Jackson does have at least one creative page in his playbook. If rookie tight end David Njoku had held on to a perfectly thrown pass by Kizer on a misdirection play, the Browns would have been well into Vikings territory down only 23-16.
The Cleveland offense is so predictable, anything other than zone blocking right or left on a run play, a rare trap play, an even rarer screen play or a long pass along the boundaries is a surprise.
This play had the Minnesota defense fooled except for one defender who recovered and arrived late to momentarily disturb Njoku’s concentration. Had the pass been delivered a second or two earlier, Njoku might have been able to pick up a large chunk of yardage.
More plays like this please.
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Full disclosure: I heartily endorsed the selection of placekicker Zane Gonzalez in the seventh round of the last college draft. Great pick. He’ll be the team’s kicker for many seasons.
Halfway through the season, Gonzalez has been a large disappointment. Not that his foot is the difference between winning and losing. It’s not. But his inconsistency is baffling.
The youngster from Arizona State is a modest 7-of-11 overall on field goals. But he has missed half of his four attempts from 30-39 yards and is 2-of-3 from 40-49 yards, distances that are practically automatic to good NFL kickers.
The Browns score rarely as it is, so it’s almost paramount Gonzalez be almost perfect inside midfield. To add to his misery, he tacked on his first missed extra point of the season after the first touchdown against the Vikings in the opening moments of the game.
Wouldn’t be surprised if Jackson holds auditions for a new kicker during the bye break in an effort to scare the kid.
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Carl Nassib, standing in for the injured defensive end Myles Garrett, had a strong game with three solo tackles, one tackle for loss, two passes defensed, a quarterback hit and the club’s lone sack of Case Keenum. He also used his 6-7 height to deflect two passes, the first of which led directly to a Joe Schobert interception and the Browns’ first touchdown.
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Finally . . . The Cleveland linebackers had a terrific statistical game against the Vikings. Schobert rang up 11 solo tackles, Christian Kirksey had eight stops (seven solo) and Jamie Collins checked in with seven solos. That’s 26 tackles in 85 snaps, all but one solo. . . . From the department of great stats: The Browns have lost the last 25 straight games played on a Sunday dating back to mid-December in 2015. Their only victory last season was on a Saturday. . . . Jackson on not playing wide receiver Kenny Britt, who suited up: “I made a decision to start the other guys and play them. I just knew I was going to play some different people at X and try my hand at that, so that’s what I did this week. . .. No (discipline) issue at all. I just felt I was going to put the best version of our football team out there and that’s what I did.” Roughly translated: Kenny Britt is in my doghouse and will remain there for the foreseeable future. . . . The Browns committed five penalties (that were accepted) for 74 yards. All resulted in Minnesota first downs. . . . Running back Jerick McKinnon and wide receiver Adam Thielen combined for 210 of the Vikings’ 375 yards Sunday. . . . Duke Johnson Jr. touch watch: Six carries for 33 yards; four pass receptions for 10 yards. Total: 10 touches for 43 yards before he left the game with concussion symptoms. He cleared protocol following the game.